For years, Clarke Beach Park, in Mercer Island, Washington, home to ravines, wetlands, watercourses, and wildlife, has been overrun by ivy and invasive species, that would also choke native trees and destroy the natural habitat. Members of the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Lake Washington, led by the SSE (Sai Spiritual Education) teachers, partnered with the local Parks Department, to implement an ambitious challenge of restoring the park's natural beauty and nurturing native trees and shrubs – as part of the SSE lesson on the man’s interconnectedness with the planet’s ecosystem.  And so was born the "Sathya Sai Vanam," a forest restoration project, a heartwarming story of putting love for the planet into concrete action.

Since June 2023, a volunteer group of forty adults and children has been gathering at the park each month. Participants work in teams to carefully detangle and remove the thorny ivy from shrubs and trees, pulling it out at the roots. By the end of the afternoon, their efforts always bear fruit, with the ivy in plies often dwarfing even some of the children. When they return to the park the following month, the volunteers feel gratified to see native trees returning to life and growing new foliage.

One of the parents noted, “The entire family serves together and connects with the beautiful Mother Nature. It is a great family bonding opportunity, and we come out of it feeling closer to nature.” An eight-year-old SSE child remarked, “I am learning about many plants and how to take care of them. I shared what I learned here with my classmates, and everyone is eager to help.”

The lessons extend beyond the park. "Children are learning all the ways they can impact nature with their behavior—whether it is with single-use plastics, trash, pollution or with ecological responsibility and restoration. They are realizing that they have a choice to be part of the problem or the solution," noted one of the teachers.

Over the next year, children will grow native trees at home and plant them in the restored areas of the park. They will be able to revisit "their trees" frequently, and families will be encouraged to commemorate each child's birthday with a photo of the child and their tree. The goal is to instill the symbiotic relationship they share with nature.

Mercer Island Parks Department ranger, Jordan Fischer, recently shared: "I am truly blown away by your project. Building such deep love for nature is crucial for the long-term health of our planet. I want to see more groups follow in your footsteps." Jordan visited the site after a recent session and noted, "Your group continues to do incredible amounts of high-quality work in such short amounts of time. We are beyond grateful for all the effort you're putting into the park."

Each visit is a cherished moment, filled with love, laughter, and a united commitment to preserving Clarke Beach's natural beauty for the future.