We are TreeFolks
A 501c3 nonprofit in Austin, TX
TreeFolks engages thousands of volunteers and community groups to plant trees in public parks, preserves, and schoolyards.
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.
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
Meet Our Hard Working Team
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.
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.
A Central Texas native, Annie grew up playing in the shade of magnolias and eating pecans from her parents’ backyard in Georgetown. After moving to the mid-south and living next door to the Old Forest Arboretum of Overton Park in Memphis, TN, she obtained her B.A. in Anthropology & Sociology from Rhodes College in 2021 and returned to Austin. She joined TreeFolks in the spring of 2022 and is thrilled to be part of the effort to Keep Austin Rooted. In her free time, she can be found on a volleyball court, on her bike, or hanging out with an almond croissant at Quack’s.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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!).
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.
Growing up surrounded by the ocean and mountains of Southern California, Layla gained an appreciation for nature at a young age but her passion for the outdoors grew when she served a term with the Texas Conservation Corps in Austin back in 2018. Being involved in improving public lands and getting to work outside daily drove her to continue in that field of work as a groundsperson and eventually a tree climber for a small tree care company in town. Since then her passion for trees has grown and evolved into wanting to share that passion with others. Her other passions in life are volunteering in disaster relief and psychology, which she hopes to someday combine with planting trees.
Outside of Treefolks, Layla enjoys making meals with friends, taking a dip in the springs, and paddling on the lake.
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 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 was born in Houston, TX but has spent most of her life in Austin, where she gained a deep appreciation for nature and the outdoors. She has been involved with the conservation world for the better part of ten years, working on a disaster response team and building trails with the Texas Conservation Corps and the National Park Service. In the fall of 2017, Valerie joined TreeFolks, where she worked as a field assistant for the Trees for the Blanco program and then as a field coordinator for the pilot program, Austin Environmental Heroes. She graduated in 2007 from Houston Community College with an Associates of Applied Science in photography.
Carolyn’s passion for nature grew from a childhood spent camping in national parks, collecting bugs with her biologist dad, and getting lost in Ohio forests. She is a Cleveland native who moved to Austin in 2015 after receiving her B.S. in Environmental Studies and Anthropology from Tulane University. Her professional experiences in community organizing, environmental education, organic farming and permaculture have strengthened her commitment to environmental stewardship. Carolyn enjoys hiking, photography, and engaging with the vibrant local music scene.
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
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 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 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.
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.
Abi Shirley joined the Treefolks Board of Directors in 2016. She currently works as an Audit Manager at Holtzman Partners, LLP. She specializes in audits of financial statements, as well as providing consulting services to privately owned businesses in the software & technology, retail, and not-for-profit industries. Prior to joining Holtzman Partners in 2014, she worked as Financial Manager at It’s Time Texas, an Austin-based non-profit company whose mission is to build healthier communities. Abi earned her Master’s degree in Accounting from St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX and is a Texas Certified Public Accountant. Abi is passionate about environmental protection issues and is committed to serving the non-profit community in Austin both through professional services and volunteer activities.
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 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 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.
Kyle is a business process consultant and software developer who loves spending his free time in the nonprofit community. Formerly a founder of a nonprofit, he’s been involved with several local nonprofits including serving as president of Austin Habitat Young Professionals. Kyle moved to Austin after receiving degrees from the University of Illinois in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Business. When he’s not at a computer, you’ll find him playing sports (too many to list), riding his electric bike he traded his car for, or out around Town Lake.
Kate is a native Austinite, a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, and is co-owner of Thompson Farms. For twenty years she worked in the software industry, mostly with technologies specializing in K-12 school management. Kate has a history of volunteerism. Kate is a sustaining member of the Junior League of Austin and serves on the boards of the non-profits, Horselink and Pease Park Conservancy.
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.
Chris Riley served on the Austin City Council from 2009 until 2015. He has since earned a master’s degree in Urban Placemaking & Management from Pratt Institute.
Previously, while working as an attorney, Chris co-founded the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and served as its president for five years. He also served on a number of city boards and commissions, and chaired both the Planning Commission and the Downtown Commission.
Chris is currently developing a small multifamily infill project in Downtown Austin. He also serves on the board of Safe Streets Austin, and is involved with several other non-profits aiming to improve Austin’s streets, trails, parks, and downtown.
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.
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.
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.
Tracy LaQuey Parker was born on a U.S. Air Force Base in Newfoundland, Canada, grew up in Chicago and Fort Worth and attended The University of Texas at Austin, where she received a bachelor of arts in Computer Science. She is currently Senior Vice President of Business Development for Parker Solutions Group. She is also active in the community and is a member of several boards, including TreeFolks, the Texas Tribune, the University of Texas Foundation, Permanent Legacy Foundation, the Texas Foundation for Innovative Communities, and Advisory Councils for the Wittliff Collections, and the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas.
Before her current position, Tracy was Director of the UTeach Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, which she founded in 2006 to replicate the nationally recognized UTeach math and science teacher preparation program that began at UT in 1997. Prior to her successful tenure with the UTeach Institute, Tracy worked in the Chief Technology Office of Cisco System, where she founded Cisco’s Worldwide Education focus and Cisco’s Advanced Internet Initiatives team in the early 1990s. In 2017 she was named to the Internet Hall of Fame, which recognizes a distinguished and select group of leaders and luminaries who have made significant contributions to the development and advancement of the global open Internet.
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.
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.