Founded in 2012, RETREET envisions a society in which the need to restore the urban environment is considered part of the standardized response to natural disaster and is provided for alongside other relief and recovery initiatives. RETREET offers a distinctive, hands-on experience for those who wish to volunteer in the wake of disaster, empowers donors to make a unique, long-term investment in devastated communities, coordinates diverse stakeholders to reestablish their communal environmental identity, and curates engaging programs that educate the public about the environmental, economic, and emotional impact of RETREET’s work. No other agency is focused on this important and underrepresented part of the recovery process. Through nearly a decade of excellence in the field, RETREET has become the national authority in post-disaster tree planting.
Working together, Keep America Beautiful and RETREET focus on a new Keep America Beautiful strategic priority: community restoration and resiliency. An October 2020 report by the United Nations notes a disturbing trend that natural disasters are occurring with greater frequency—3x more often than 50 years ago—and, unfortunately, with greater intensity and complexity, affecting more and more people. Given this, the time to focus on community restoration and resiliency is now.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second best time is now.”
Trees are essential to human life. They provide oxygen, food, shelter, medicine, and tools. They also increase property values, promote health and well-being, conserve energy, mitigate storm damage, and save water. Their environmental, psychological, social, and economic value to communities is nearly inestimable. When an urban forest is decimated by disaster, a professional, coordinated response is needed. Mature trees take the longest to replace of everything lost in a natural disaster and, while most survivors recognize the need to replace trees during the rebuilding process and badly want for that to occur, they do not have the time, resources, expertise, or physical ability to do the work themselves. Planting trees is a practical, effective, and unique way for volunteers to help a community rebuild. RETREET has created and perfected that opportunity.
Our plantings are genuine community events. They connect local volunteers with those who travel in from around the country to help. On RETREET, small, balanced teams are formed through which new friends are made. At the end of a long, hard day of planting trees, all the participants gather together to celebrate the work they have done. This is a truly special moment, during which residents, volunteers, partners, and RETREET staff gather to share stories from the disaster, the relief efforts, and the planting day over a hearty meal and lively entertainment.
Our model improves with each event. As we plant new species of trees in new areas, on new terrains, and with new volunteers, we better our outreach, organizing, and teaching methods. That being said, the most important element of RETREET’s ongoing success is the existence of an extensive and dynamic network of collaborative partners who play important roles in the setup and execution of every planting event. By offering these varied groups access to our model, our base of volunteers, and our resources, we empower and direct local desires to rehabilitate the affected area while learning from their existing expertise. These connections, and the trust associated with them, were forged through years of hard work and excellence in the field. Through them, we ensure that each native tree is planted at the right time, in the right place, and using the right methods.
In sum, our mission is to augment communities with volunteers to aid in the recovery process by planting powerful symbols of hope that will impact the urban environment for generations to come.
Over the past 9 years, RETREET has held 28 major planting events in 21 communities across North America that resulted in thousands of volunteers planting 5,953 trees for families at over 1,300 homes, a donation of more than 12,000 volunteer hours. Beyond that direct impact, we take pride in the untold number of people who have learned about the importance of their community trees through exposure to our programs, our social media, and our volunteers.
Better Together Fund, a program to drive large-scale social change by supporting nonprofits that come together in formal collaboration for a common purpose as a way to maximize impact, funded the merger of the two organizations through a series of grants for planning and implementation.