Thinking of branching out through a volunteer project at Emory? Trees Atlanta is a nonprofit citizens’ group that was founded in 1985. The organization has a multitude of programs, but Volunteer Emory works with Neighborwoods, a program that allows neighborhoods and communities to request trees and then plant and maintain them through the work of volunteers.

Volunteer Emory staff members and College seniors Laila Atalla and Jun Cai organize weekly trips to carry out the Neighborwoods program. The volunteers meet and go to various designated neighborhoods together.

“It’s an awesome way to get to know the city — to get outside of the Emory bubble,” Atalla said. “Because Trees Atlanta works [with many] different neighborhoods, and a lot of them are neighborhoods students would never go to otherwise. You can be contributing to Atlanta — to Emory’s broader community while, at the same time, getting to know it.”

Experienced planters will plant a tree in front of all of the volunteers teaching them how to get the dirt out of the ground, where to put the dirt, how much to dig, where to put the tree and how to position it correctly. The group then breaks off to plant trees in various local locations, for approximately a four hour experience.

“I love that by volunteering for just a few hours we can help make Atlanta’s ecosystem stable,” Trees Atlanta Volunteer and College freshmen Megan Withers said. “I think it’s really easy to live in a city and forget that we have these beautiful natural resources and so for me personally it helps [to] just get back in contact with nature and realize that you can live in a city, but you can also have your hand in nature.”

For many, apart from helping the environment, giving back in this fashion adds depth to their own lives.

“I think for people who haven’t planted a tree before it’s really an amazing experience,” Atalla said. “You know you’re putting this very young sapling in the ground and you can imagine 30 years from now it’s going to be here still giving shade to the city, providing a habitat for a bird and its eggs and reducing stormwater runoff. So it’s a very tangible and emotional way to interact with the Atlanta community.”

The more volunteers the program has, the more trees they can plant through Trees Atlanta, providing ecological stability as older trees die off, increasing real estate values of neighborhoods and improving air quality, among other benefits.

“If people have their own transportation they can sign up with Trees Atlanta as an individual, by going to treesatlanta.org, but if they want to volunteer through Volunteer Emory, they can email me and I’ll give them the details. We have service trips every Saturday from 8:30 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.],” Attala said.