Principal Kevin Sudimack has a photograph hanging in his office that shows the school he now leads, Kennedy Middle, when it first opened decades ago. Interstate 485 didn’t exist yet. There was no Top Golf entertainment complex or office parks in its backyard. Instead, there were trees. Lots of trees.
So when Kennedy had an opportunity to benefit from a TreesCharlotte planting, the yes was resounding.
“Look at all the development in Steele Creek, it’s the fastest-growing municipality,” Sudimack says. “By TreesCharlotte focusing on Steele Creek and Kennedy Middle, you’re restoring the canopy to what Steele Creek and its people want to experience.”
While replenishing the canopy was fulfilling, the community buy-in really wowed Sudimack when a group of Olympic High students who had graduated from Kennedy turned out to volunteer at their alma mater.
“They will go off to college or a career and when they come back, they will be able to drive by and see the canopy they took part in creating,” Sudimack says. “They can bring their own children and say: I planted this tree.
“Our kids will always know they were part of something special.”
When you gift trees, each one is poignant.
When veteran Charlotte broadcaster Jim Babb celebrated his 85th birthday, Joan Zimmerman honored him with a tree planted in his honor at Renaissance West STEAM Academy.
When a friend of her grandson’s died in his 20s, Zimmerman gifted a tree in his memory. The young man’s mother will sometimes sit under the tree to remember him.
It’s a gift that promises years of giving.
“I feel there is nothing better than to leave a living memorial, something others can enjoy long after they’re gone,” Zimmerman explains.
Zimmerman has always loved the outdoors, but her love for trees began during a dark chapter in history. After World War II, much of her native England was in rubble. It was decreed that all major cities had to create small parks every two blocks as they rebuilt.
As an adult, Zimmerman and her husband Robert started the Southern Shows series, including the home and garden shows that cultivated close relationships with nurseries.
And then Zimmerman became an early adopter of the TreesCharlotte’s tree gifting program, in which a tree is planted in somebody’s honor or memory at a school planting event. Zimmerman has gifted at least 10 since the program’s inception, mostly in memory of friends who have passed but soon in honor of newborns.
“You’re helping the city, you’re helping the person,” she says. “It’s just such a meaningful gift, for the giver and receiver. It’s my go-to gift.”
Learn about the TreesCharlotte gifting program at TreesCharlotte.org/support-us/gift/.
We get a lot of emails at TreesCharlotte headquarters. But you can’t beat the exuberance of Rick Pennebaker’s.
Sure, Rick loves trees – as he says, “Who can be against planting trees?” But after helping plant 350 trees with TreesCharlotte at McClintock Middle School this fall, Rick was simply floored.
“Everyone was working together, and we just got it done. Three hours later and we’re looking at 350 trees, and it was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s like a sunset over the ocean or a mountain range.’ It’s such an inspiring feeling.”
Exuberance is how Rick defines his life, and his love for how trees bring people together is sincere. He grew up learning the outdoors as a Boy Scout and later hiking with his sons.
Although he’s a pediatrician in Spartanburg, Rick got involved in a Charlotte kayak club and fell in love with the city and its natural beauty. He has since scaled his practice back to three evenings a week to take a job lifeguarding and working the ziplines at the Whitewater Center just so he co
uld be here more.
TreesCharlotte grabbed Rick’s attention when he heard an interview on the local NPR radio station featuring city arborists and TreesCharlotte staff. He was so moved, he called up TreesCharlotte to get involved. In September, he got certified as a TreeMaster.
Now, after seeing his first baby urban forest take shape and meeting new friends through the TreeMaster program, he’s all in: “If we have to plant a million trees, I’m there.”