As part of the One Million Tree Planting initiative, members of the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization (SSSIO) of the Mid-Atlantic Region, USA planted 27 trees during their annual Memorial Day weekend retreat at Camp Westmont in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

Aparna Chitturi, the Mid-Atlantic Regional President, described the tree planting activity.  “On May 27, one tree was planted for each center in our region for a total of 27 trees. This tree planting activity was organized to educate and inspire all the centers across the region to undertake similar activities leading up to Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s 100th birthday.”

The Region benefited from the expertise of one of its members, Shailaja Rabindran, an employee of US Department of Agriculture. A member of the the Sri Sathya Sai Capital Area Group and the Om Sai Trees Task Force, she organized the service with help of her husband, John Cordts, a horticulturalist. She attended a retreat planning call, and she and her husband offered to help with identifying trees and assist with the planting. The camp’s owner offered some space on the camp property, and was very excited and supportive of the activity.

Since the space was shady, they decided to plant half of the area with dogwood trees and half with eastern red bud;  both types of trees are suited for the climate, and can tolerate the minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit weather.

Between 25-30 Sai volunteers donated their time. Following a 20-minute orientation, volunteers began putting down stakes for tree shelters to keep deer from destroying the saplings. Some of the volunteers had previous experience with planting trees, which proved to be helpful.

Cordts explained that despite the area already being wooded, there is always a need to plant trees, particularly with population growth and people wanting to clear land for agriculture and housing. It is important to replace trees that have been taken out because trees provide oxygen, and a good natural habitat for wildlife.

The tree planting service took two hours. The camp’s owner pledged to take care of the trees to ensure their survival. Rabindran expressed her gratitude to be part of the service activity, and the need to continue this effort even beyond Sri Sathya Sai’s 100th birthday. She stressed that the efforts of the SSSIO are pivotal to protecting and saving the earth. SSSIO members could conduct such tree-planting activities either as individuals, centers, regions, and/or with communities that have similar philosophies.

According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Forest Service, urban and community areas in the United States are losing more than 36 million trees each year.  Urban forests aren't just aesthetically pleasing; they provide a variety of benefits to cities that include shielding buildings from the sun, hence, reducing cooling costs and energy consumption; filtering pollutants from water and air; mitigating the effects of flooding and erosion; and help fight against global warming by storing carbon. In total, analysts estimate urban trees save the U.S. around $18.3 billion every year.