I have been keeping myself busy these past couple of weeks at the Urban Tree Connection. The more time that I spend there, the more I am learning about how complicated it is to keep a grassroots nonprofit organization up and running. Administrative work is an integral part of nonprofit organizations, but it can be very taxing sitting in front of a computer screen for seven hours a day. I have been working on a variety of tasks; I have been updating a spreadsheet as I look for prospective funding opportunities for UTC. I was sent a list of potential corporate donors to look into. I searched the website’s of these corporations to see the feasibility of applying for a grant or looking for an in-kind donation, and I typed up notes based on what I found. I spent time searching through one of their old databases to find information on some of their past individual donors. They are hoping to have a more consistent stream of money from individual donors. In order to do this, they need to leverage their current and past connections.
This past week, I helped to write and submit my first grant. It was a bit of a nerve-wracking process. I know how important each and every grant is to UTC, particularly as they have struggled with funding cuts in recent years. This grant is different from many of their typical grants as it involves having community members vote for UTC’s Neighborhood Foods Farm. It is my job to make social media posts and reach out to UTC’s network to encourage as many people as possible to vote. I am not confident that we will win this grant because I think it is incredibly difficult to actually encourage people to take the time to vote, but there is always a possibility.
My favorite days are farm days which only happen one or two times per week. I love being out in nature absorbing the sunlight and feeling the light breeze. The farm is a 2.4 mile walk from where I live; walking there gives me time to get lost in my own thoughts and reflect on the way that I am feeling about or perceiving certain things whether it be about my work with UTC or other aspects of my life. I think that doing physical labor outside on the farm (planting, weeding, hoeing, and/or packaging food) each week is good for me. I don’t get outside enough during the school; this is a good reminder to me about how important it is to get outside and connect with nature. Farm days are also fun because I have the opportunity to interact more with staff members and community members. I love the mindset that many of the UTC staff members have around the importance of taking the time to connect with the Earth. Many of them are avid supporters of herbal and traditional medicines. They believe that food and nature are medicine for the mind and body. My family has distanced themselves from the conventional medicine system in recent years and moved more toward viewing diet as medicine, so it is interesting to learn about other people’s perspective on this. The farm manager and assistant manager have also been teaching me about recognizing certain plants and how these plants should be cared for and harvested.
This week, I have also been thinking a lot about relationships—relationships between staff members and relationships between the organization and the community. I have noticed that there are a lot of tensions within the organization. The staff seem to get along well, but I think there are still tensions around roles, around feeling underappreciated, and around feeling burnt out. The organization has changed so much in the past couple of years. The changes involve embracing a community-based model as opposed to a charity-based one, giving community members autonomy over projects, and focusing on hiring people of color in leadership positions. These changes seem to have been for the best, but I think the transition has been painful. There are also tensions between UTC and the community. From what I have heard, many community members felt isolated by UTC as it was a predominantly white-run organization. I think it is more complicated than I am making it out to be. I don’t fully understand all of the tensions that exist, and I probably never will. I have a lot of questions about relationships and trauma that I am not sure can really be answered. Does time really heal all wounds? Are changes in organizational structure likely to heal old wounds? Are there some relationships that cannot be saved and some wounds that cannot be healed?