RETREET event to replace trees lost during 2019 tornadoes

The RETREET foundation that has pledged to plant 1,000 trees lost during the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes has scheduled its first planting and received a boost from two big corporate donations.

RETREET is part of the national organization Keep America Beautiful and is working with its affiliates Keep Ohio Beautiful and Keep Montgomery County Beautiful to make this project happen. The Texas-based RETREET has been responsible for the planting of nearly 6,000 trees across the country to date, according to RETREET Director Grady McGahan.

The first RETREET planting as part of the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign will occur on Sept. 25. The species will be native to the area, locally sourced and will be 1.5-inch caliper, meaning they could eventually grow seven to10 feet tall, per McGahan.

Sign-ups for volunteers looking to help with the planting process will become available in early August. Individuals who lost trees during the 2019 storms can request a replanting at Individual donations to this RETREET project can be made through the Dayton Foundation’s website.

The replanting process is crucial for members of the Dayton region to reestablish the identities of their communities after such a devastating wave of storms, McGahan said.

“For a lot of people, they look around and see, ‘This is what my community looks like after that identity has been stripped away,’” he said. “And addressing that loss, it just creates a sense of hope that eventually this community will feel like home again.”

Trees are an important yet often overlooked aspect of many communities, he said.

“We have these connections with trees in our community, (and) people don’t recognize how valuable they are until they’re lost,” he said.

The organization also received two big donations last week. Cargill contributed $10,000. AES Ohio has agreed to match any contribution exceeding $500, up to $50,000 total. The AES matching grant has resulted in around $20,000 in donations so far, according to Community Outreach Manager Holly Wiggins.

Those large-scale donations are instrumental in helping RETREET accomplish the restoration goals of this project, McGahan said.

“It just helps us with our program mission,” he stated. “Corporate sponsors like AES and Cargill allow us to achieve our mission by making the megaphone that much bigger, the platform that much larger and allowing us to serve more and more families.”

Cargill is happy to contribute to this RETREET project, as it means the company will be able to help the Dayton community take an important step in the rebuilding process, according to Administrative Supervisor Diana Schaefer.

“Cargill as a whole, we believe it’s very important that these trees be replanted not only for the aesthetics of our communities, but for the minds, the well-being and the emotional stability of the people within our community as well,” she said.

The impact of the tornadoes on Cargill was significant, as the storms ravaged much of the area surrounding the company’s property. For this reason, the company is all in on helping restore the community in whatever way they can, Schaefer said.

“Riding by every day and seeing it just made my heart hurt,” she said. “It’s crucial that we as a large company in our community make sure that people know that we care and that we want this environment to be the best it can be.”

AES Energy has remained dedicated to serving the Dayton region throughout the aftermath of the 2019 storms. The utility company is proud of how far the community has come in just a few years, and believes its donation will make a positive impact, Wiggins said.

“The rebuilding that has occurred today is phenomenal,” she said. “It just helps cover the scars ... It helps people, helps them recover.”

One of AES Ohio’s primary goals in partnering with RETREET for this project was to ensure the replanting process was conducted safely. That includes a focus on planting sites that do not interfere with underground power lines or utilities, Wiggins said.

Another benefit in joining forces with RETREET is that the work it does will be beneficial not only for Dayton residents now, but for future generations as well, Wiggins noted.

“We’re getting back more than we’re giving in this instance in that it will be around for generations,” she said. “It’s something you can look back on and know that we and our employees were a part of something very positive.”