A TreePeople Intern’s Deep Roots

Emma Schiffer - Young and Old

As a nearly lifelong Treeperson, I have responses for all the usual questions about my Treepeople volunteering. To the question, “So, you hug trees, right?” I answer, “Of course! But not as part of my work.” To the question, “So, you guys are people made of trees?” I respond, “You know ‘connecting with your roots’ is just an expression, right?”

I’ve had plenty of time to perfect these responses; I’ve been involved with Treepeople since I was nine. The road to my position this summer as a storytelling and photography management intern in Treepeople’s Yurt Village (“What’s a yurt?” I’m asked, “Is it an animal?”) started with a few bags of popcorn and a class full of chipper third graders.

Mrs. Friedlich—as I’m prone to call her, though I graduated Carpenter Avenue Elementary a long time ago—had the right idea when she mobilized her third grade class to sell popcorn at recess. Once a week, we spent our recesses honing our business acumen (discovering which of our friends got allowances and exhorting them to spend it) in a concerted effort to raise money for a nonprofit of Mrs. Friedlich’s choice—Treepeople.

I didn’t know anything about the organization at the time; I was just concerned with who got to present Andy Lipkis with our giant check at the end of the year. Although I was passed over for this distinction, I decided to write an article about the whole experience for the Carpenter Chronicle—cementing my position as Treepeople’s youngest storyteller.

Throughout high school, I continued to both write about and volunteer with Treepeople. I spent my Saturdays voluntarily waking up at times no self-respecting teenager should ever be awake to plant trees and care for trees. And, when my friend and I decided to start CARE Club—a club that collaborated with Treepeople and Heal the Bay—we somehow convinced other teens to wake up early as well. No, we weren’t crazy (at least when it came to volunteering); we just had Treepeople fever!

When I graduated high school and went away to UC Berkeley, I found myself missing those early mornings a little. Though I could wake up, guilt-free, as late as I wanted to, I hadn’t cared for a tree in a year. So, in true “trees need people; people need trees” fashion, I metaphorically connected with my roots by filling out an application for the Treepeople storytelling internship.

And here I am, back at Treepeople, typing this at my desk in a yurt—a fully-functioning, electricity-equipped, circular tent structure. Telling Treepeople stories, something I once did for fun, is now my summer college internship. And for those concerned, it starts at a very reasonable time in the morning.

Emma Schiffer has been a TreePerson since third grade; she got involved when her class sold popcorn to raise money for Treepeople. Although she wasn't selected to bear the symbolic giant check to Treepeople's headquarters, she harbored no grudges and continued to volunteer with them throughout high school. She currently attends UC Berkeley and is working as Treepeople's storytelling and photography management intern during the summer.

  • Courtney

    You are a wonderful storyteller, Emma! Hope you are enjoying your internship! You’ll have to tell me all about it when we return to school!