TREEcovery effort gives ‘hope, optimism’ three years into tornado recovery

As part of the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign and in honor of Make a Difference Day, volunteers came together Saturday to plant trees for property owners whose land was decimated by the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes.

Spearheaded by the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and Texas-based organization RETREET, the Miami Valley TREEcovery Campaign was launched on Arbor Day 2021 in an effort to heal the landscape devastated by the tornadoes. 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.

Volunteers met at Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp. Saturday afternoon for a quick planting lesson before heading out into the community to plant trees at various homes. Eligible residents may submit a request form for consideration online at retreet.org/mvtc.

“The work that we’re doing is really an expression of care; it’s a form of healing,” said RETREET Director Grady McGahan. “It’s years after the tornadoes, but we’re a volunteer group continuing to operate in the recovery space and we’re still here doing the work.”

The landscape at Sinclair Park, which is located less than a mile from the tornado-ravaged Foxton Court apartments, was devastated as a result of the 2019 storms. The once lush environment, filled with towering trees, is now nearly baron. “I was told (by members of the community) that if you were standing anywhere in the park, you couldn’t see the sky and the sun would not hit you,” McGahan said.

Rap Hankins, who lives nearby, is a big advocate for the TREEcovery efforts. Having lived through the tornadoes and seen the widespread damage, both at his own home and throughout his community, he knew recovery would not be complete until the landscape was repopulated.

As a former Trotwood councilman who is still involved in the community through his work with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and the city of Trotwood’s planning board, Hankins was instrumental in bringing the RETREET program to Dayton, working with local organizations and assisting with fundraising efforts, he said.

“This is important work because you can rebuild a home, but you can’t rebuild the trees that you’ve lost,” he said. “If you’re used to trees in your community and at your home, when those trees are gone, that wound never heals.”

Hankins said the TREEcovery effort represents much more than just trees.

“It gives you a sense of hope and optimism,” he said, adding that he hopes Dayton residents always remember the rallying support shown throughout the community in the wake of tragedy.

“When harm comes our way, we will rebuild and be better than we were before,” he said. “That’s what RETREET reminds you and that’s why it’s so important.”

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