Breathe free… Hug a tree.

Global Youth Service is an international day of service and Pass It Along served in full force this year. With our beach clean-up trip as well as the tree planting opportunity at Hawthorne Hawks Healthy Farm in Newark, we were prepared to serve.
After months of partnering with the South 17th Street School in Newark an opportunity was offered to us and we thought of no better group to involve then those students.  Mitch Morrison of Sparta, NJ was bringing 1200 trees of all species to be planted in an empty plot that will soon become the Hawthorne Hawks Healthy Farm. The farm will include hundreds of trees and a community garden.
We met at the site at 9 a.m. where the students from the Sigma Beta club and their mentors were waiting for us, playing and taking pictures. It was nice to see these boys, who we are used to seeing as tough guys, playing and joking around outside.  We took pictures together and said our hellos before Terrance, from the Greater Newark Conservancy, gave us our demonstration.  The project was simple; take the tree sprouts, center them in the bucket and fill the bucket with dirt past the roots.  Now, do this 1200 times.
The students, their male mentors and Pass It Along staff were equipped with gloves and began the process.  It was fascinating to watch these students get excited over finding worms.  It only took a few minutes before Diane, Pass It Along CEO/founder, began naming trees which turned into the norm.  I’m happy to say there is a white spruce in Newark named after me!  The names started to get fancy; Starlight, Kennedy, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and Lafonda.  Twyla, our partner and the Communities in Schools site coordinator created a team and an assembly line, challenging every student to plant 2 trees a minute!  The kids smiled, laughed and were enthusiastically active all day.  What a difference from their normal day to day.  Darren Potts, the lead mentor for the group of boys from the Sigma Beta club was overwhelmed with how well his students worked together.  The Sigma Beta club is a group at South 17th Street School run by brothers from the Rutgers fraternity, Sigma Beta.  The Sigma Beta club provides an opportunity for young boys to be mentored by successful men of color in their community.  We at Pass It Along are so honored to be working with this group.
The day went perfectly, in fact we worked so fast that Terrance had to leave the site to get us more buckets to plant in. We played with worms, got our hands dirty and most importantly gave students of Newark an opportunity to give back to their community.  We couldn’t ask for anything more.  We said our goodbyes, took pictures with the trees named after ourselves and felt proud of the work we did.  I said goodbye saying my usual Earth Day saying,  “Breathe free…hug a tree!”
Alyssa Ciesla, AmeriCorps Program Associate

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