DAYTON, Ohio – Trees are an incredibly important part of the severe storm recovery process – especially from an emotional perspective.
Next month will be three years since an EF-4 tornado tore through a 20-mile path in Ohio near Dayton. It cost millions in damage and more than 100 injuries.
Now, one group is trying to bring beauty from catastrophe.
"Being out here three years after this series of tornadoes came through Ohio and going home to home and replanting trees for people really helps heal the scar of the tornado that's left on the landscape," RETREET director Grady McGann said.
For McGann, providing disaster relief by planting trees helps recover the piece that takes the longest to replace from everything that's been lost. The fact is you can't simply rebuild an 80-year-old oak tree, you have to plant one and nurture it and let it grow for decades to come.
"A lot of these folks going through the recovery process also feel very forgotten about. Most of the groups have moved on, and yet we're still out here helping them actively recover," McGann said.
Years later, RETREET still has groups going home to home planting trees for people all across the Miami Valley. McGann said there were thousands of trees that were destroyed in the series of tornadoes.
"A lot of people at this stage have rebuilt housing and infrastructure. Yet when they walk out the door and they look up and down the street, they remember the way their neighborhood once was," McGann said.
And that is the piece that really strikes them. There are no birds singing or squirrels playing.
"There's no life. There's all this brand-new infrastructure and architecture, but it doesn't feel like home," McGann said.
That’s where RETREET comes in and replants trees to bring that sense of life back to a neighborhood in a way that people feel there is hope that it will be similar, someday, to the community that they once knew.
Trees are an investment in a community
"When we raise funds, and we plant these trees each year, they become more valuable as they grow. And our presence is really remembered by the residents who are coming out and witnessing that growth and remembering the day that we came out here and planted for these folks," McGann said.
RETREET has a broad source of funding from individual contributors to large corporations and foundations who want to help and donate.
"It really runs the gamut of funders. And we really bring all these different members of the community together, not just from the sponsoring side, but also from the local agency side. We work with all of these local partners to take care of all the pieces of the program that need to be done in order to have the right tree planted the right way in the right place at the right time," McGann said.
The organization also brings arborists out to have tree locations selected in conversation with the families in addition to utilities marked.
"We're not just handing them out. We're actually taking the time to concierge the service and serve these people in a way that makes them feel like they are they are really being thought of and helped at a time when often they feel very alone," McGann said.
Through RETREET’s nearly 700-member affiliate network across the country, they have identified countless communities that could use tree replanting.
"Every disaster destroys the trees, and there are no standardized mechanisms to replace the trees or willing to address that loss in these communities," McGann said.
And that is something RETREET feels they are uniquely doing as a program of Keep America Beautiful and pushing that through their affiliate network.