Competition for volunteer services is fierce. If the tree group fails to include minorities in its activities in a meaningful way, other groups more alert to the potential of this vast and skilled human resource, will. Connecticut's cities are places where people of diverse cultural backgrounds live, yet the state's demographic richness is often not reflected in community programs. As a black forester observed, "If America's minority population remains uninvolved, urban forests have little chance of thriving in the future."

Why Do Minorities Sometimes Fail to Volunteer?

Some minorities feel alienated or ignored by the "environmental movement" and perceive it to be mainstream and exclusive. Through careful surveys, United Way learned that minorities and women will not volunteer for any program if it gives them an uncomfortable sense:

It is important to note also that sometimes people don't volunteer simply because they weren't asked!

How Does The Tree Group Attract Volunteers From Minority Groups?

In communities that are culturally rich, the successful community forestry programs respect different cultural groups. All people seek connections to heritage, nature and other people, and forestry programs that are "culturally relevant" facilitate these connections and promote respect for trees and nature. Nearly all cultures incorporate trees into their mythologies, and the planting of trees can serve to bond people in a neighborhood and affirm an array of ethnic rituals. However, only programs that are innovative and respect the uniqueness of the people they are serving will work. People have to feel empowered by the program.

For example, the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System has created a program which links adult role models, such as police and fire fighters, with at-risk youth in Hartford, Meriden and Stamford, who work together with established tree groups to plant and care for trees. Other examples from around the nation include:

How Does a Tree Group Include Minorities In Meaningful Way?

To get started you need to:

How, Specifically, Can A Tree Group Enlist The Support of a Minority Group?

Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are among many minority groups in Connecticut and, where applicable, the special needs of each need to be addressed by your tree group. To illustrate, consider the advice of the USDA Forest Service on how to encourage Hispanics (chosen arbitrarily) to participate in your community forestry program:

In the poorest neighborhoods where Hispanics and other minorities too often find themselves living, one would think that the planting of trees and gardens would be a low priority when day-to-day survival is tested by crime, poor housing, inferior education, health issues and drugs. However, according to Luz Rudriguez Parris, a National Urban Forestry Coordinator for the USDA Forest Service, this is not so. Consider a success story from New York City, where vacant lots are planted to flowers and trees. One Puerto Rican gardener reports that his garden "is actually a piece of Puerto Rico... in New York. It has changed my life completely. Now I don't feel lonely like before."

Community forestry programs that integrate minorities and women are the product of hard thinking and hard work on the part of dedicated organizers, and they produce lasting results.

Robert M. Ricard
Extension Educator, Urban and Community Forestry
West Hartford Extension Center
1800 Asylum Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06117