Giving Trees to Children – The Story of Neighborhood Forest
Have you ever had a near-death experience? I have not, but I have had a death-bed experience.
In 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, I walked into my job one fine day only to learn that several of my peers had just been laid off. I was still standing, but my morale was obliterated. My dear colleagues were no longer with me. Furthermore, I had no adequate back-up plan in the event I was next.
I was already unsatisfied in my job, now I was overloaded with work and hanging on for dear life.
All this fretting led to a stress induced illness. First, I got shingles. Then, the medication for the shingles weakened my immune system and I contracted a viral infection that went from routine, to bad, to ugly.
I was so weak I could barely move. Even though my doctors assured me that I was going to recover, at age 37, it felt like I was dying. I was stuck in bed for a month and had to take an extended leave from work.
The Great Reflection
As you can imagine, this gave me more “free” time than I had in a long time. I read, listened to music and did a lot of reflecting. I reflected a lot about life, which all of sudden felt short. My time spent in the corporate grind felt all the more like an unfruitful, waste of time. I wanted to spend more time doing the stuff I loved, doing things that gave me a greater sense of meaning and purpose. I thought a great deal about the activities I had engaged in throughout my career that brought me the greatest joy.
When was I the happiest in my work?
My heart and mind kept coming back to a project that I was involved in during my college days. I was part of a program that gave free trees (on Earth Day) to school kids, which they would plant at home with their parent(s). In three years, a handful of us raised money and distributed over 30,000 trees to tens of thousands of school children across southeast Iowa.
It was the most rewarding work I had ever done. Seeing the smiling faces of all those kids, knowing that we were doing something that was going to beautify our communities, filled my soul with feelings that no amount of money could buy.
What if I had kept working on that project? Why did I abandon it after I graduated college? Where would it be today if I continued building on it?
As I laid there, reflecting on these questions, I made up my mind to rekindle this old college flame. I decided that I was going to do what I loved doing no matter what. Even if it was just a hobby, I wanted to give trees to kids again.
And like that, Neighborhood Forest was born. I didn’t have a website, a business plan or a budget, but I started nonetheless. I was determined to work on it, even if for a couple of hours a month.
Growing Like A Tree
In 2010, our inaugural year, Neighborhood Forest gave away 450 trees at 4 schools in Minneapolis.
This initial giveaway was made possible by a small group of forward-thinking, socially conscious businesses, including Seward Coop, Linden Hills Coop, The Wedge and Peace Coffee. They continue to support Neighborhood Forest to this day, along with many other new sponsors.
Thanks to them, like a tree, Neighborhood Forest has grown – 10 fold.
In 2010, Molly Kroll (kindergartener at that time) was the recipient of a Neighborhood Forest free tree (white pine). She planted her tree with the help of her parents and Grandpa at her Grandpa's cabin. Here is Molly and her tree...5 years later. Both are growing and doing great!
In 2015, we gave away close to 5,000 trees at 40+ schools across 6 states, including Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.
Part of our growth has been fueled by our young and charismatic spokesman – my 8 year old son, Ishaan:
Through this project, we are not just helping families put a small dent in their carbon footprint, we might be saving lives. New, scientific research suggests that urban trees play a big part in improved physical, mental and emotional health.
It brings me great joy to do this important work and it came about in large part due to a horrible, “death-bed” experience. A great example of how bad stuff can lead to really good stuff if we allow it to.
It is also a testament to the power of following one’s heart, doing more of the things you love and feeding the calling of your soul.
What are you doing to bring more meaning and purpose to your work and life?
Vikas Narula (@NarulaTweets) is Creator and Co-Founder of Keyhubs (@Keyhubs) – a software and services company specializing in workplace social analytics. He is also Founder of Neighborhood Forest (@trees4kids) – a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to kids every Earth Day.
Vikas is passionate about purpose-driven entrepreneurship and teaches on the subject at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
This article was originally published on the Keyhubs Blog.