The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce was able to help revitalize and grow the community Thursday night when the organization gave a boost to the Grow Albany campaign while also supporting the latest Flint River Habitat for Humanity project at the special Backyard BBQ Business After Hours.
“I just really, really am glad that the chamber decided to partner with us on this Business After Hours event,” said Flint River Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Scooter Courtney. “It allows us to showcase what Habitat does.”
In addition to showing off the newly rehabilitated Habitat home at 817 16th Avenue, the after-hours event also featured the home’s new owners joining Habitat and chamber officials to plant one of 20 live oak trees being given to Habitat by the chamber as part of the Grow Albany initiative to revitalize Albany’s signature tree canopy. That natural community landmark was devastated during January’s brutal storms.
“Habitat is committed to providing opportunities for people, and Grow Albany is about restoring our habitat, so there’s a synergy there; it was natural for us to donate these live oaks to Habitat,” said Albany Area Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Rivera Holmes. “We’re donating 20 trees to Habitat, and we’re going to plant one today. This will be the first.”
The chamber’s support of the Grow Albany campaign aims to help restore the community’s tree canopy. From announcing the campaign at its annual dinner in January to generating the campaign’s first proceeds through the sale of a one-of-a-kind oil painting done by Albany-born Rob Matre through the Plaid Columns collective, the chamber has fully embraced the mission of replanting trees.
“From the get-go, we’ve been committed to helping our community recover, not just from an economic perspective and not just from a people recovery standpoint, but also from a landscape recovery perspective,” said Holmes. “I think this is a step toward re-engaging, of reminding people that we still have a long way to go.
“The campaign is still ongoing. We’ve been promoting Grow Albany in a variety of different ways, so this will hopefully serve as a kick-start again for Grow Albany. We’ve seen the damage and we’ve seen the destruction, but we can only recover, from a landscape perspective, by planting trees.”
From a Grow Albany campaign perspective, Judy Bowles, executive director of Keep Albany Dougherty Beautiful, which is managing the joint city/county initiative, said the donation of trees to Habitat for Humanity will help reinvigorate the campaign, which stalled a bit after the Jan. 22 tornado.
The campaign had just been announced when the EF3-strength storm roared through Albany, and Bowles said everyone’s focus shifted immediately to helping that area of the community with immediate needs.
“It’s like we’re starting over,” Bowles said. “We were set to go, and then the tornado came and I spent most of my weekends out with volunteers cutting trees and dragging trees curbside so they could be picked up. Now we’re poised to reintroduce our project to the community.”
Right now, Bowles said the project is in its infancy, with most of the focus going toward spreading the word about the campaign and trying to raise the funds that will be needed to plant trees. Unfortunately, Bowles said, it’s difficult to share more information simply because of the fact that an assessment of that total amount of damage created by the two storms has not been completed.
“We’ve had eight arborists from around the state come in and assess our trees, and until we get a report on how many trees need to come down, how many we lost, I don’t know how to put a long-range plan together,” she said. “I know we’re bad, but I don’t know how bad we are.
“We have a lot to do everywhere. I haven’t even pulled a committee together yet because I’m still waiting to see where I am. When I know how bad the damage is, and I’ve got my maps on where the storm went through and where the tornado went through, and when I feel comfortable about how bad we are, then I can bring a committee together and we can talk about where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.”
Despite not having a fully developed plan, Bowles said there’s already been a groundswell of support for the project with several organizations making commitments to help. Already KADB has announced the names of three corporate supporters, and Bowles said she expects more to follow.
“We have announced Phoebe; they would like to be involved in Tift Park,” Bowles said. “SB&T, we’ve announced that one, and they would like to be involved in the Radium Springs area. And, of course, we had the donation from Metro Power. They bought the oil painting. Those are our pacesetters.”
Additionally, Bowles said she’s gotten support and donations from individuals in the community as well, with many donating money to have trees planted in someone’s honor.
“I had a check come in last week and it’s a citizen,” she said. “We received that check, and that check is designated for four memorial trees. We’re certainly encouraging other citizens to donate funds in honor of or in memory of special people in their lives.
“We have a great project lined up, and I know the community’s going to get behind it and support it.”
Although that support is evident, Bowles said she thinks it will take some time for the project to truly gain momentum because so many citizens are still in a personal recovery phase.
“I think the support has been overwhelming, and our citizens want to be engaged in Grow Albany,” she said. “But we have to remember that they’re still in shock and in pain over what they’ve been through.
“I was with someone yesterday, and there’s not a tree left in her yard. And she had trees in her yard that were 75 to 100 years old. So where you live looks real different, and you’re not happy with it. I think we have to go through the shock and the mourning phase before we get to the phase where we’re ready to move ahead with a plan to replant. Our tree canopy has been heavily damaged, and it’s going to take the commitment of our entire community to bring it back.”
Fortunately, Bowles said, the prime tree planting time for this area is November-February, which means there’s ample time to raise awareness and funds and put a plan together in time for planting season.
“Because of where we live, we’re not in an area where we plant trees in March and April, and so we’re in the fundraising phase so that we’ll be poised in November to really go then and to go into Tift Park and to go into Radium Springs to offer trees to residents,” she said. “I want to always push that it’s a multiyear, multiphase project.”
To learn more about the Grow Albany project, visit the KADB homepage or www.growalbany.com.