Tree Foundation of Kern

Community Educator

To educate the public about the importance of trees in an urban environment

Community educators working on the front line of the urban forestry movement are the voice of the future, inspiring the community and helping to shape the urban landscape by instilling the value of trees in young and old.

Community education requires strong communication and public speaking skills, a love of teaching and a knowledge of trees and biology. While the primary aim of the educator is time spent teaching, much of the preparation that goes into public presentations and programs takes place in an office.

Dena Kirtley, a community educator with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, coordinates and conducts tree planting events at schools, parks and neighborhood groups. Before she can give a presentation or demonstrate tree plantings, there are a multitude of tasks that must be accomplished ranging from writing outlines and flyers to gathering resources and materials. In her role as a community educator, Kirtley moves between the office and the classroom to the field where she takes a hands-on approach digging holes, pounding stakes and demonstrating the correct way to plant and care for trees.

"You must be able to work under fluorescent lighting and at times in the rain," Kirtley said. Such work has tangible rewards - "thousands of trees planted and cared for by volunteers at schools, parks and other public places," Kirtley said.

Community educators are flexible and able to work with all ages and ethnic groups, tailoring presentations to produce the greatest understanding and impact. "The ability to expect the unexpected and to accomplish that which seems insurmountable," are rules Kirtley lives by each day in her career.

Like many professionals in the nonprofit world community tree educators work long hours for fewer dollars, but derive great rewards from the work they do and the impact they have on their communities.

For Kirtley, the end results of her work can be seen in the smiles of students as they take pride in planting trees and in the small saplings themselves as they are set in the ground to root. "You will love your work," Kirtley said. "Getting up each day to work with the community and trees is very satisfying." Kirtley recalled the excitement a kindergarten student experienced following a Seed to Seedling program she conducted. The student was doing poorly in school and held back by low self-esteem until he experienced success by planting a tree.

"He grew the tallest oak seedling and insisted on taking the tree to the principal to show how well he had done," Kirtley recalled. By sowing the seeds of knowledge, community educators help grow the forests of tomorrow.