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About Us

We are TreeFolks

A 501c3 nonprofit in Austin, TX

Our Mission:

Our mission is to empower Central Texans to build stronger communities through planting and caring for trees.

Community Building

TreeFolks engages thousands of volunteers and community groups to plant trees in public parks, preserves, and schoolyards.


TreeFolks works to restore forests after natural disasters such as the forest fires of 2011 in Bastrop County, the devastating Blanco River floods of 2015, and now in the floodplains of Central Texas.


TreeFolks provides free, year-round education opportunities for all ages with an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning using the urban forest as our teacher.

Growing the Urban Forest

TreeFolks partners with the City of Austin to give trees to qualifying Austinites in the urban core through tree giveaways and consulting.

Our Core Values

TreeFolks identified and defined our Core Values with input from our Staff, Board, and Volunteer Supervisors, with guidance from The Acacia Company. These values explain what we center in our work, and our team intentionally included aspects we are already achieving and others we are working to improve.

Our History

During a celebration of the Winter Solstice on December 21, 1988, a group of Austinites had a vision. They were concerned with global warming and deforestation, and wondered if planting trees could be a solution to address these issues locally. Thus, TreeFolks was born.

Shortly after, a group including TreeFolks founders Ken Gaede, Dave Kettler, and Mark Dameron agreed to each plant one tree in Austin. Dave Kettler started by planting a tree in his front yard. At their next meeting, the group compared notes on the trees they planted. They realized that with their combined passion and effort, they could create something bigger.

“We wanted to be like a rock, dropping in a pond, and create the ripples,” says Ken Gaede.

In January of 1989, the group officially planted their first tree at a nursing home in Bastrop. “You could say we weren’t TreeFolks then….but you could say that was the first tree planted by the group,” says Ken.

From there, they agreed on the name.

 “We were about trees and were just plain folks,” says Dave.

The group approached then-City Forester John Giedraitis about how to get started. John helped the group find contacts and the trees.  From there, they began planting at schools and other public sites.

John suggested they plant trees in street medians, starting with Stassney Lane in South Austin. TreeFolks managed the volunteers and outreach; the City of Austin dug the holes; and Jack Brown Cleaners provided funding. Those same trees on Stassney Lane continue to thrive today.

TreeFolks officially became incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit on August 30, 1989. In the early 1990s, they were invited to attend a national tree conference in Washington, D.C. where they connected with federal funders who awarded the first grant allowing TreeFolks to hire its first Executive Director and first paid staff member.

Since then, TreeFolks has grown to work with communities throughout Central Texas in community tree planting, street tree and backyard tree giveaways, education and urban-wildland reforestation efforts. From a single acorn has grown a canopy to shade communities in Bastrop, Hays, and Travis Counties, and serve thousands of Texas’ people.

At a Glance

Winter Solstice 1988
A group of Austinites wanted to plant trees to combat climate change
January 1989
The first tree was planted at a nursing home
August 1989
TreeFolks becomes a 501c3 nonprofit organization
Early 1990's
TreeFolks attends a national tree conference in Washington, D.C.

Meet Our Hard Working Team

Benjamin Bertram (he/him)

Program Director

An Austin native, Ben hails from Oak Hill. His appreciation for people and nature blossomed at a young age and has flourished ever since. Ben grew up hiking the greenbelt of Barton Creek and Barton Springs, spending his free time researching native plants and trees and learning about soil, water, and life. In 2014, he completed his B.S. in Applied Sociology at Texas State University and began broadening his botanical knowledge working at the Natural Gardener. In 2016, he began at TreeFolks as a seasonal assistant for the NeighborWoods program. Ben is now our Program Director and Lead Arborist and continues strengthening the relationship between nature and society. Ben is a lifelong math (trigonometry) adventurer.

Rebecca Brenneman

Program Coordinator

I started off my career in Mechanical Engineering, doing projects with hybrid cars and my first job was in the manufacture of military and commercial aircraft and helicopter structural parts. But my passion was always in finding ways that nature (non-human and human) can thrive. I went on to do a lot of volunteering with various environmental organizations, including TreeFolks, and obtained a Master of Science certificate in Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management (halfway to a Master’s). I also have a level 1 GIS certificate and am a PMP. I served on the City of Austin Resource Management Commission for six years, advising the city council in developing and reviewing city plans and programs in the area of alternative energy technologies, renewable energy sources and on energy and water conservation. I am extremely excited to work with TreeFolks because I believe the benefits from their programs is greater than we can measure and I believe well-planned programs and data collection are fundamental. TreeFolks has the hardest working, honest, kind, and brilliantly talented staff I am honored to work alongside.

Katherine Brown (she/her)

Tree Distribution Coordinator

Katherine worked as the NeighborWoods program assistant in the 2021-22 season and is excited to come back on board as the Tree Distribution Coordinator. She just returned to Austin after spending a year traveling the US in her tiny camper with her hubbie and cat, Mr. Snuffles. As part of that year, she spent 4 months in the Rio Grande Valley volunteering at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where she advanced from beginning birder to solidly intermediate. Katherine enjoys all things outdoors: hiking, kayaking, and camping. Before joining TreeFolks, she was an elementary educator for 15 years, teaching 2 of those years in Guatemala. Katherine is a long-time Austinite and a graduate of the University of Texas.

Kayla Cormack

Reforestation Coordinator

Amy Dixon (she/her)

Director of Philanthropy

Amy sprouted on an island in the Great White North 🇨🇦where she grew a deep-rooted passion for exploring the natural world, inspiring her to leave and branch out on a career in education and non-profits around the globe. In 2009, she embarked on a mission to creatively build and sustain communities through meaningful, measurable impact across Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan, and the U.S. Amy joined Treefolks in 2023 as the Director of Philanthropy and is thrilled to facilitate the engagement of our Central Texas community in a culture of environmental stewardship and the mutual gifting between people and the planet. In her spare time, Amy enjoys reading in her treehouse, playing backgammon with her maple-manfriend (fellow Canadian!), and walking her dog, Sunny, on the greenbelt.

Héctor González (they/them/elle)

Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Héctor grew up in México, enamored with the trees and plants their mother lovingly grew in their backyard.

Their love for food has led Héctor to learn a lot about nature, with a particular passion for trees and all the great things they do.

Héctor approaches communications online and in person with kindness and compassion. They love to listen to stories about trees, foods, and other things that make you happy.

Maximiliano Gonzalez (he/him)

Community Tree Planting & GIS Manager

Max grew up in the suburbs of Chicago exploring the urban forests of Cook County. His interest in the environment transformed into his career path after he earned his B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since then, he has been doing environmental field work through two terms of Americorps service and two seasons with the US Forest Service. In his free time Max enjoys hiking, biking and being an amateur musician.

Gillian Hodler (she/her)

Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator

Gillian grew up in New York City, and always loved climbing trees. She moved to Austin in 1999, on a bicycle, and immediately felt at home in the beautiful parks and abundant green spaces. She studies plants through many different lenses, including organic gardening, permaculture, herbalism, and edible wild foods. As a community volunteer Gillian has worked with many local organizations, including the Central Texas Seed Savers, and the 5604 Manor Community Garden in East Austin, where she has been a volunteer organizer for the past 8 years. Gillian joined TreeFolks in October 2018, and has previously served as the NeighborWoods Program Assistant, and the Tree Watering Coordinator for Austin Environmental Heroes.  She loves to talk to anyone who will listen about why we should all be Tree Folks.

Elle Ignatowski (she/they)

Communications & Media Manager

Elle is a lifelong lover of nature and trees. She spent her childhood hiking and camping in Michigan, and after some time in the Arizona desert, found herself among the verdant green spaces in Austin. Elle brings 10 years of experience in nonprofit communications, with a focus on making programs accessible to diverse communities. She also brings a background in education, watershed management, climate activism, environmental justice, and advocacy. She enjoys cooking, writing, powerlifting, and board games, and is bilingual in Spanish and English.

Vít Kašpar (he/him)

Seed Collection and Nursery Manager

Born and raised in Prague, Vít spent summers in the Moravian countryside mushroom hunting in the woods, gardening, and learning homesteading crafts alongside his grandparents at their small farm. After moving to the U.S. in 2009, he got involved in local food systems and community gardening in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to the Rio Grande Valley where he established his own nursery, growing native trees for U.S. Fish and Wildlife reforestation projects. After coming to Austin seven years ago, he completed his Bachelor’s degree and focused on projects that combined education, native plant propagation, and sustainable food production. Vít is also fluent in four languages, and enjoys cooking Italian cuisine, organic chemistry, and exploring the wilderness.

Ashleigh R. Lassiter (she/her)

Business & Operations Manager

Ashleigh grew up on the Texas coast and discovered her love and appreciation for the outdoors through her grandmother, Rosellen. Together they spent countless hours fishing, hiking, gardening, and generally exploring the natural world. Ashleigh moved to Austin in 2003 and is proud to still call the city home. Ashleigh has over 15 years of experience in nonprofit administration with a focus on operations, strategy, and change management. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a proud alumni member of the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps and the University of Texas Longhorn Band. 

Ashleigh loves to spend time with her husband, Ryan, and their dog, Brixton, hiking and swimming all over Texas, followed by a cold beer at a local brewery. Ashleigh values kindness, resilience, learning, creativity, and achievement. She is an avid reader, game and card player, and craft dabbler (currently learning to paint with acrylics!).

Walker Pickens (he/him)

Tree Distribution Seasonal Assistant

A native Texan, Walker grew up in the Hill Country in an extended family of gardeners, conservationists, and naturalists who helped nurture in him an early appreciation for the Earth and its flora and fauna. Walker joined TreeFolks as a Tree Distribution Seasonal Assistant for the 2023-2024 planting season and is excited to get to work making Austin greener and more treeful!

He and his wife Emily live in a 1987 Holiday Rambler RV with their dog Flower and fourteen chickens on his family’s 13 acres in Driftwood (the chickens have their own separate lodging). In his free time, he can reliably be found puttering in his ever-expanding vegetable garden, binging podcasts, or wandering off into the woods mid-conversation to chase after unidentified bird sounds.

Anne Saythongkham (she/her)

Tree Distribution and Procurement Coordinator

Anne Saythongkham joined TreeFolks in October 2021, adding the perfect combination of extensive experience and vibrant personality to our team. Anne enjoys her post as the NeighborWoods Program Assistant, amplifying her passion for cultivating relationships and building community around greenspaces. That’s why she has worked in the horticultural industry for over 10 years. Outside of TreeFolks, she has a knack for finding good eats and magnificent plants everywhere she goes.

Andrew Smiley (he/him)

Executive Director

Andrew has 25 years of experience working in sustainable ecology and agriculture systems. His earliest professional efforts focused on advocacy for organic agriculture in Louisiana. Later, as Executive Director of the Baton Rouge Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance, he oversaw program planning and operations of the organization’s multi-location farmers’ markets and the development of a public market as part of a downtown revitalization effort.  Andrew went on to manage an electronic communications and marketing training program through the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. With the completion of that project, Andrew relocated to Austin, TX and worked with Sustainable Food Center starting in 2005.

Andrew’s initial role with SFC was Farm Direct Projects Manager, then Program Director, and then he served as SFC’s Deputy Director through 2017. Andrew’s next mission was the management of the Texas Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners Association Farm Aid Disaster Relief fund after Hurricane Harvey. This was followed by a year as Policy Director for the Kim Olson Campaign for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, solidifying the candidate’s reputation for a focus on food, ag, and rural issues. Andrew continues to dedicate his experience to sustainability as President of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. He recently had the opportunity to hone his grants management and administration skills during a short stint with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. Environmental sustainability, social justice, and community health continue to inspire Andrew’s professional pursuits and personal life.

During his time spent away from work and volunteer roles, Andrew can be found biking along the trails, swimming in the springs, and paddling around the lakes, rivers, and bays of Texas.

Valerie Tamburri (she/her)

Director of Reforestation & Lead Arborist

A proud native Texan, Valerie Tamburri has called Austin home for most of her life, fostering a profound connection with nature. Valerie’s journey into conservation was inspired by her love for the outdoors, where she found solace in activities like landscape photography, swimming in Barton Creek, camping, hiking, cycling, and kayaking.

Valerie’s conservation career spans over fifteen years, marked by diverse experiences in habitat restoration, trail building, and disaster response with the Texas Conservation Corps and the National Park Service. Her commitment to environmental stewardship has been a driving force throughout her journey.

Since 2017, Valerie has been an integral part of TreeFolks’ reforestation team, dedicated to restoring riparian forests on private and public lands. Her work extends to the distribution of pines in Bastrop, contributing to the reclamation of this vital ecosystem.

A Certified Arborist, Valerie brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as Director of Reforestation & Lead Arborist. Beyond her work at TreeFolks, she actively contributes to the broader conservation community. Valerie currently serves on two boards, holding positions on the Texas Riparian Association and the City of Elgin Parks & Rec Advisory Board, where she continues to make a positive impact on local landscapes.

Valerie Tamburri’s passion for preserving Texas’s natural beauty, coupled with her hands-on experience and leadership, brings a unique perspective to the broader conservation community.

Carolyn Weaver (she/her)

Deputy Director

Carolyn’s passion for nature grew from a childhood spent camping in national parks, collecting bugs with her entomologist grandfather, and exploring Ohio forests with her naturalist father. She is a Cleveland native who moved to Austin in 2015 after receiving a double major B.S. in Environmental Studies and Anthropology from Tulane University in New Orleans. Her professional experiences in urban forestry, environmental education, community organizing, organic farming, and permaculture have strengthened her commitment to environmental stewardship. She began working at TreeFolks in December 2018 and is now proud to help lead this impactful organization.

Marina Weikel (she/her)

Carbon and GIS Coordinator

Marina was born and raised in Austin, Texas where her fascination with nature bloomed beneath the shade of the Bull Creek greenbelt. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in anthropology and geography, and certificates in marine science and environmental studies. Particularly interested in sensory ecology, Marina assisted in research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panamá surrounding the nutritional preferences and foraging habits of frugivorous bats. Through her work at TreeFolks, Marina is excited to contribute to the amplification of the forest soundscape orchestra and help increase the connectivity of the lively canopy matrix.”

Meet Our Board Members

Kimberly White Erlinger


After receiving degrees in Drama and Radio-TV-Film at UT-Austin, Kimberly White Erlinger spent 15 years in DC as a producer, writer and researcher of non-fiction television. A few years after moving back to Austin, Kimberly founded e3 Properties, a residential real estate firm whose mission is to help clients with integrity and professionalism while giving back to the community and the Earth.

Richard Craig

Vice President

Richard Craig is a fifth-generation Austinite and attended Austin High School. He graduated from the University of Texas with a BA with honors in Government and earned a law degree from the University of Texas Law School. He served as Assistant General Counsel at the Texas Comptroller’s Office for 24 years, serving under four Comptrollers. After retiring in 2008, Richard established the Pease Park Conservancy, raised a quarter of a million dollars for a Master Plan for the park and steered that award-winning plan to unanimous adoption by the Austin City Council in 2014. Richard has received several awards for his environmental work including the “Mayor’s Award for Individual Environmental Achievement” in 2010 and Keep Austin Beautiful’s “Best of the Best” Award in 2011. He is most proud of the multitude of trees that he has planted in Pease Park and the Shoal Creek Greenbelt over the last twelve years! Richard is currently Chairman of the Pease Park Capital Campaign and is on the board of directors of Preservation Austin and the MUNY Conservancy in addition to the Tree Folks Board.

Katharine Beisner

Vice President

Katharine Beisner is passionate about decarbonization and believes tree planting and protection are crucial strategies for restoring our climate, expanding wildlife habitat, reducing urban heat island effects, and ensuring clean waterways. Katharine works for FTC Solar coordinating engineering resources to deploy single-axis solar trackers for utility-scale solar power plants. Katharine is an electrical engineer and has focused her career on cleantech solutions such as solar, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency. Katharine loves gardening, camping, international travel, spending time with her family and friends, and tree planting.

Marcus Gore


Gore began volunteering for TreeFolks in 1997 after receiving a newsletter at the office of MRGA Architecture. He began his career with The Colley Associates and continued with MRGA Architecture for a total of fifteen years designing campuses and buildings, (everything from toilet remodels to semiconductor fabrication plants) for Texas Instruments. With Beckham Design Group and Stone Soup 6 Architecture as a Senior Project Manager he spent ten years designing store interiors, buildings and sites for Whole Foods Market stores. Currently, he is working with Studio Robins Dempsey, designing and detailing modern residential experiences. Marcus has studied Architecture and Architectural Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in their dual degree program.

Nina Covington-Walker


Nina Covington-Walker is a certified public accountant, joining the Treefolks Board of Directors as Treasurer in 2022. An Austin native, she earned her Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Accountancy from Texas State University. Nina is currently an Audit Manager at Armanino, with 7 years of experience working at public accounting firms specializing in financial statement audits for technology companies as well as audits of employee benefit plans. When she's not studying financial statements, Nina enjoys being outside, taking advantage of all that central Texas has to offer, especially hiking, kayaking, and camping.

Mary Ann Neely

Mary Ann Neely is a pillar of Austin’s environmental advocacy community. She serves on the board of Save Barton Creek Association and the Barton Springs Conservancy’s board. She sits on the City of Austin’s Environmental Commission and is the vice-president of the Barton Hills Garden Club. She is retired from the Lower Colorado River Authority where she worked in Community Relations. She is the past state director of Clean Water Action and still serves on their political committee. A longtime Austin resident and Master Gardener, she has been a powerful force in shaping our environmental policies.

Gregory Ippolito

Gregory Ippolito is a research professor in the department of molecular biosciences at UT Austin. He is an avid naturalist who previously devoted four summers to the scientific monitoring of plant, bird, and animal populations (as well as the drilling activity of Big Oil operations) on the tundra of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. His lifelong passion for science, nature, and the environment includes a love for trees and in particular their ecological interdigitation and symbiotic relationship with bird life.

Ray Castillo

Vice President

Ray Castillo is AECOM’s Business Development Lead for their Program/Construction Management business line in Texas. AECOM provides comprehensive program, project and construction management as well as architectural, engineering, environmental, construction, and technical services to both public and private sector clients for a wide range of projects. Over the last 20 years, he has focused on K12 and Higher Education construction, helping districts plan and execute over $1 billion for their capital renewal/improvement programs.

In addition to serving on the TreeFolks board, Ray is currently President of the St. John Neighborhood Association and volunteers for both the Austin Parks Foundation and City of Austin Parks and Recreation. Ray is a graduate of Rice University, where he met his wife of 16 years, Anissa. Anissa and Ray have three energetic kids (2 boys, 11 and 9; and a girl, almost 5, going on 15), and look forward to serving the TreeFolks community.

Jessica Harris

Jessica Harris

Billie Jo Elbom

Billie Jo Elbom graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in Art. Post graduation, she studied Visual Communication at Austin Community College and went to work as a Production Artist and Graphic Designer with companies such as McGarrah Jessee, Texas Monthly and The Texas Tribune. In 2021, the joy she found in her gardening hobby led her back to the classroom to study Greenhouse Management. That experience along with years of volunteerism and concern for the environment inspired her to join the Tree Folks Board of Directors in 2022.

Sarah Garcia

Sarah Garcia

Sarah Garcia is passionate about environmental sustainability which has carried many forms in her professional life. From her former years in the food and beverage industry, she worked to cut down on plastic use, encourage and educate about composting and recycling, and practiced minimal waste where possible.

Her career shifted in the direction of marketing and advertising at EnviroMedia, an Austin based agency focused on public health and environmental initiatives. Here she developed her skills in media planning and buying, digital marketing and social media, budget and invoice management, experiential marketing, project management, and client services.

She continued her career at Envision Creative Group as their Project Manager, the Director of Client Services, and ultimately the Director of Operations. It was here that Sarah was introduced to TreeFolks and their mission in 2019. She supported the creative development of the Keep Austin Rooted campaign with the aim to fight climate change by planting over one million trees in Central Texas.

She currently works in the technology and social networking  space as a Creative Production Manager for Bumble. She is thrilled to bring her skills and insights to the TreeFolks board.

Karen Magid

Karen Magid

Karen serves as the Chief of Staff and the Director of Sustainability for Huston-Tillotson University. Karen holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of California, Berkeley. After completing a Postdoctorate fellowship at the ETH-Zürich, she transitioned her career to connect with her passions for the environment and education. In her environmental work she focuses her works across academics, engagement, and operations with a focus on environmental justice. She also serves on the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board.

Jason Radcliff

As a Principal with dwg., Jason Radcliff oversees the quality management operations of the firm. His work helps bring the firms’ dynamic and meaningful projects to fruition – always striving for more sustainable solutions through innovative green infrastructure. He is also responsible for dwg.’s research and evaluation of more sustainable building systems and ecological performance enhancements. In addition to his leadership role within the firm, Jason is keenly interested in exploring and promoting soil stewardship.

Kelly Corbet Weinschenk

Kelly Corbet Weinschenk

Kelly Corbet Weinschenk is a strategic environmental consultant, and mindfulness speaker and author of three books. She has a master’s in international environmental policy, and does all she can to mindfully upgrade how we interact with our world (which includes diving into carbon math and life cycle assessments). She’s passionate about trees and flowers and the dirt they live in.

Ryan Myers

Ryan Myers is a local graphic/web/brand designer in Austin, TX, is currently a PhD candidate in Learning Technologies program at The University of Texas at Austin, and is former secondary educator and instructional designer. He cares deeply about the environment and believes that planting trees is one important way we can make a positive difference in improving the health of the earth. In his spare time Ryan enjoys mountain biking and yoga, art, playing his guitar, and working outside in his yard. To this day he has planted 21 trees on his property.

James Odom

James Odom earned a B.S. in Environmental Technology and Management from North Carolina State University before beginning a career in consulting as an investigator of pollution related insurance claims. James currently works as a Senior Environmental Underwriter at a global insurance company underwriting pollution risk. James also helps run the TreeFolks Young Professionals group. Outside of his career and non-profit work, you can find James on one of Austin’s many basketball courts, hiking trails, or navigable waterways. He is passionate about environmental health, sustainability, and strong communities.

Ted Maas

Ted guides Maas Verde based on a calculated passion for the fundamentals of nature. A Master Naturalist and licensed Landscape Irrigator, Ted earned two degrees from Oregon State University in 2014 — one in Natural Resource Management (conservation focus), and one in Sustainability (fisheries and wildlife minor). As a volunteer, he has led multiple nature hikes and backcountry ski trips, and participated in wildlife studies. But he found his calling in landscape restoration, and now leads Maas Verde’s operations daily. While he’s not working, Ted loves seeing live music and going on long walks with his black lab, Pondo.