Alliance for Community Trees Mentor Exchange Program Connects Up With Trees with Trees Forever

Up With Trees inspired to re-envision program outreach by Trees Forever
Oct 29, 2018 8:00 AM ET

This year, Alliance for Community Trees hosted a mentor exchange program for members through a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. The mentor exchange program paired smaller non-profit groups with larger groups and allowed them to learn by travelling to their location and doing a site visit.

Guest post by Steve Grantham, Executive Director, Up With Trees

Before the Mentor Exchange, I had never been to Iowa.  Everything I knew about the Hawkeye State came from following the Iowa Caucuses, watching The Music Man, and being a fan of Big Ten football (GO BLUE!).  Three days in and around Cedar Rapids gave me a newfound respect and love for the state, the people, and the mission of my host, Trees Forever.

If you ever have the chance to talk to Trees Forever’s Executive Director Shannon Ramsey, do it!  Her passion for her community, her knowledge of our industry, and her love for her organization is infectious. 

She and I had the opportunity to discuss their history, their programs, and their vision — a vision that doesn’t stop in Cedar Rapids or even Iowa.  It now stretches into Illinois and Missouri.  I was awed by the maps that show each of the communities their program's impact.  There is not a single county in Iowa without multiple projects active and they have impacted most counties in Illinois.

Read: Nonprofit Partnerships Lead to Meaningful Projects with Employees

My greatest takeaway was their Community Visioning program.  This program brings together a myriad of partners — local communities, Iowa State University, Trees Forever, and the Iowa Department of Transportation are just a few.  The local community engages in a year-long process to set a vision for what their community can look like, feel like, and be, while guided by Trees Forever staff.

I had the chance to meet with a group of volunteers from Central City, Iowa who went through this visioning process.  They shared their experiences and all the good that has come from their collaboration.  We walked the city’s new trails lined with trees and pollinator gardens.  They expressed their city leaders' excitement about the planning – pointing out the new band shell at one end of the green space and explaining the dances and concerts that now take place in the park.

You might say, “Those are all great programs.  But what about the money?”  That was another great takeaway for me.   A major source of funding for this program is the Department of Transportation Enhancement Funds.  These funds help smaller communities establish or improve alternative transportation plans such as trails, bike lanes, and green space.  And, I looked it up — we have access to that through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation too.

As we, Up With Trees, look for ways to continue to grow our programs and reach, the lessons I was able to bring back with me will be invaluable. 

Thank you to Shannon, her staff, and all the Trees Forever family for being wonderful teachers and hosts. And thanks  to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Alliance for Community Trees program for making this exchange possible.  If you ever have the opportunity to stretch yourself, your programs, and your reach, consider an exchange within our tree network.  You will be better for it — I know I am.

Learn how your organization can become an Alliance for Community Trees member, visit