GreenCare volunteers help out with a mulching project. (Photo courtesy of GreenCare.)
The upcoming holidays are about giving, sacrifice, and community involvement regardless of your religious affiliation. Some organizations represent those tenets year round. If you and your family are able, think about sharing your gardening skills by volunteering for green programs, like 4-H, local habitat restoration projects, school gardens, or GreenCare.
GreenCare for Troops is a nationwide outreach program coordinated by Project EverGreen that connects local green industry professionals with men and women serving our country in the armed forces away from home. Project EverGreen acts as a green advocacy group. It is a national consumer education program spreading the word about the environmental, lifestyle, and economic benefits of greening. Gardeners are familiar with the inventory: improved air quality, water filtration, reduced pollution, safer neighborhoods, stress reduction, lower blood pressure, improved property values, etc. Project EverGreen has compiled quite an impressive list of benefits, and even the anecdotal ones have citation.
Executive director Den Gardner (whose surname is as apt as mine) says Project EverGreen "is the voice of reason about taking care of lawns and appreciating green spaces. We want people to understand that those beautiful golf courses, soccer fields, and parks didn't happen by chance."
GreenCare for Troops spun out of Project EverGreen in 2004, when Phil Fogerty, a lawn-care operator near Cleveland, offered free lawn care to military families. Phil was also a Project EverGreen board member and suggested the program go national. To get the word out the organization ran national press releases and ads in trade magazines, newspapers, and radio. It also contacted military bases and offices throughout America.
Along with lawn care, GreenCare volunteers perform a range of gardening activities. (Photo courtesy of GreenCare.)
The GreenCare Web site states, "Lawn and landscape maintenance becomes a definite hardship when a family's major breadwinner is on active duty away from home. GreenCare for Troops is designed to show the green industry's concern for this situation, helping affected families maintain their homes' green spaces."
Den explains, "This seems like a soldier's war. No matter if you think we should be there or not, our soldiers are there. When the head of the household is absent, military families need help with clothing, food, general maintenance, and yard work. We hope to eliminate a small burden with GreenCare."
The program was growing steadily, but after a spot on NBC nightly news this summer it experienced a spike in both volunteers and services. GreenCare originally expected a couple hundred registrants and volunteers. But it now has over 2,000 volunteers providing free lawn and landscape services for more than 7,000 military families nationwide.
"It's the third year and we are overwhelmed in a positive way from the response," says Den. "What's so gratifying is that the response is spreading elsewhere. Universities, radio stations, and corporations have joined the effort."
Families, individuals, and businesses are welcome additions to the cadre of GreenCare volunteers. (Photo courtesy of GreenCare.)
The Boy Scouts are planning collaboration as well. A pilot program where Boy Scouts would help military families with mowing lawns in summer, raking leaves in autumn, and cleaning up the yard in spring is set to begin soon. Future GreenCare projects may also include snow removal for military families in cold climates. This is a natural extension, as many landscape companies attach snowplows to their trucks in winter.
Volunteers may be individual gardeners, families, or landscape businesses. Get involved. If you are interested in helping a military family in your area, complete the online application at Project EverGreen or call (877) 758-4835 toll-free.
The Web site sums it up best, "While Project EverGreen's GreenCare for Troops program continues its mission to help our military families, we hope that the future will bring PEACE to everyone."