Co-Opers Provide ‘Releaf’ in Oakland

Contact Vincent Quan at [email protected]





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More than two dozen students from several UC Berkeley co-ops participated in an Oakland tree-planting program on Saturday as part of an ongoing volunteer effort to improve the landscape in urban environments.

Urban Releaf, an Oakland nonprofit environmental awareness agency, organized the 25 volunteers, who headed to 12th and Kirkham streets in Oakland on Saturday morning, ready to refurbish the block with about 20 new trees.

“It was a good opportunity to become friends with the people who live in co-ops,” said junior Mariko Miyahira, a Japanese exchange student living in Oscar Wilde House. “I’m interested in the community outside the university.”

Urban Releaf has planted 12,000 trees in Oakland since its inception in 1998, said Kemba Shakur, the organization’s executive director and founder.

The organization plants 80 percent of all new trees in Oakland and 90 percent of the trees in Richmond, where it started sending volunteers in 2005, said Ashley Du Val, the program’s community outreach coordinator and a former resident of Casa Zimbabwe and Andres Castro Arms.

“There were two (trees) when (Shakur) first started on 57th Street,” Du Val said. “There has been remarkable progress.”

While the co-ops participate in three community service projects per semester, this is the first time the University Students’ Cooperative Association planted trees with Urban Releaf, said Sarah Horwitz, the association’s vice-president of external affairs.

In past semesters, co-op members have worked with Rebuilding Together, which revitalizes houses, and The Berkeley Project, a student service organization, she said.

In addition to planting trees, Urban Releaf has conducted research and served as a safe haven for local at-risk youth, said Shakur. To date, the organization has trained more than 4,000 youths in tree planting and environmental maintenance.

“It is all about investing back into the community,” said Lara Roman, a first year graduate student in environmental science, policy and management. “Getting the youth involved helps maintain the sustainability of the program.”

Current co-op residents were actively recruited into the program by many Urban Releaf staff members and interns who were once co-op residents at UC Berkeley.

The organization will continue planting new trees in Oakland and Richmond through March, until the climate becomes unsuitable, Roman said. However, older trees in Oakland and Richmond will still be maintained on a daily basis.

Urban Releaf will be offering internship opportunities for UC Berkeley students, during which participants can receive course credit for planting trees.

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