As a particular sign of LMM’s solidarity with people we serve, we are increasingly building awareness of and addressing the environmental conditions that directly affect their lives. Among other recent activities, LMM has launched an initiative to plant and maintain trees in our neighborhood, starting with our own property on Superior Avenue. I’m delighted to welcome guest blogger Claire Billingsley who worked with Michael Sering and a generous donor to connect with the project and coordinate our own tree planting! – Drew

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther

Thanks to Drew for the introduction and for letting me guest write this blog post! I’m actually writing from the LMM parking lot on Superior Avenue, sitting at a picnic table and looking out at freshly planted trees, landscaping and flowers. There’s a trellis in front of me with wisteria just starting to twist and curl around the wood slats. I’ve got my laptop and a reusable water bottle plus fellow VISTA Emily who was equally enthusiastic about working outside on this beautiful Friday afternoon. About an hour after we sat down, two staff partners and a former LMM participant came by (thanks Annie, Dani, and Carlos!) unprompted and unannounced, to help water the trees and flowers. Please note that the photo below is a fraudulent reenactment – I didn’t think to take a picture during the action.

So what are we doing here?

About a month ago, I met a generous and eager donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) who was passionate about trees and environmental stewardship, and who wanted to share this passion with LMM. She had connected previously with LMM staff as well as our local development corporation on an idea to bring trees to our urban landscape and foster resident and visitor engagement. This project was a natural fit for LMM’s newly founded Green Team, which since 2017 has already launched two large scale recycling programs and is currently exploring a wide array of sustainability initiatives.

As a member of this group I was able to reach out to LMM staff and invite them to join me in participating in a tree planting/team building activity. I sent the email on a Friday afternoon and was surprised when people emailed back Friday night, Sunday morning, and all throughout the week leading up until the event. “I’ve never planted a tree so it’s about time I learned how,” one responded. Another said, “I would love to help. Thanks for the opportunity.”

On the planting day, eager staff showed up at 9AM and throughout the morning, gardening gloves and coffee mugs in tow. Some stayed for the full four hours, while others filtered through and learned about the project while connecting with fellow staff partners they had never spoken with before. Drew played the radio from his car stereo as we weeded, hauled landscaping rocks, dug holes, and planted trees and flowers. It was an enlivening and enlightening experience in several ways. I’d say most importantly, I learned that we have a lot of people here at LMM who have genuine interest in taking care of our planet! In between lugging fifty pound bags of mulch, we managed to have some great conversations about trees, the environment, and our shared community here in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. I walked away proud of our accomplishment and eager to do my part and learn more about eco justice and Cleveland’s diminished tree canopy.

I started by reading the City of Cleveland’s Tree Plan (http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/sites/default/files/forms_publications/ClevelandTreePlan.pdf) which details the huge reduction in urban tree canopy – our current canopy is about a quarter of what it could be!

LMM is situated in a unique neighborhood often defined by its industrial corridors and warehouses, but also home to a beautiful and diverse residential neighborhood. This neighborhood, while it has much to offer, is lacking in green space and has long suffered from adverse effects of poor air quality and other environmental concerns. The map below (adapted from the Cuyahoga County Greenprint viewer: https://maps.cuyahogacounty.us/Html5Viewer/?viewer=greenprint) shows LMM’s location within the City of Cleveland’s near east side, with green areas representing land cover, forest patches, and the urban tree canopy, and red areas representing a lack of all three.

As you can see, there is a lot of room for improvement. Planting trees is an excellent place to start! But I also want to impress on us all that combatting environmental injustices in our neighborhood (like shorter life expectancies and higher rates of infant mortality and asthma) requires thoughtful proactivity. Sustainability is about a lot more than recycling or planting trees. It’s about preventing excess waste and emissions to begin with, thinking globally and long-term, evolving our behavior to match the changing needs of our community and planet, and understanding that our actions today affect the lives of our neighbors, clients, and coworkers tomorrow. These are some of the broader issues that the Green Team is working to tackle and that even a small, tree planting activity can help bring awareness to.

We don’t know what this neighborhood will look like 10 or 20 years from now. But, because of the compassion of LMM staff partners, we know it will be just a bit greener than it once was. I hope this activity, and the space it has left in its wake, encourages everyone to consider their actions and relationship with their surroundings. Caring for our neighborhood and our city is caring for the people we serve, now and for years to come.

Please venture out to enjoy the space during your lunch break or, if you are able, work outside for a bit. I promise it will leave you feeling inspired and refreshed! And if you are interested in helping to sustain and expand LMM’s tree project (weeding, watering, planting), please contact Lynda or Terri, our Green Team leaders.