As a lifelong Angeleno, Mary remembers a time when she could ride her bike anywhere she wanted and nobody had to worry about where their children were. A time when nothing interesting happened except for an earthquake in 1933. “It was very peaceful, very ordinary,” she recalls of her upbringing.
Then, in the late 70s, some terrible weather brought the threat of mudslides to her neighborhood. The residents could see a hill begin to ominously slump over. “We knew there was a problem when we saw the mud in the gutter water,” she remembers. At that time, the residents were on their own, as there was no municipal agency to help them. Luckily, volunteers from TreePeople came out that day with shovels and sandbags and helped the residents prevent mudslides.
After that act of kindness, Mary decided that she wanted to pay TreePeople back. So whenever she could, she would go out on plantings. Now that Mary walks with a cane she does a lot of TreePeople community outreach instead, mostly in East Los Angeles. “We need volunteers to come out and plant trees, especially the young,” she explains. A teacher for 35 years, she is amazed at how the work she is doing is so much like teaching. She carries an interactive “urban watershed” display in a suitcase. Passersby can squeeze the sponge “trees” to make it rain and learn why trees are so important.
At 84 years old, Mary is in no mood to slow down. When asked about the motivation behind her work with TreePeople, she says matter-of-factly, “There isn’t anything in it for anybody except everybody. I don’t get anything out of it except saving the world.”
Pictured above with TreePeople’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement Torin Dunnavant and Founder and President Andy Lipkis