Students improving life: One Bench One Tree Project | Ontario Agricultural College

Students improving life: One Bench One Tree Project

Posted on Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Written by Tahlia Dyer

Black plaque with silver text that reads One Bench One Tree. Thank you to all frontline workers for your sacrifices during the COVID 19 pandemic. May this gift grant you a moment of rest and peace of mind. 1Bench1Tree.
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario June 18 2021. (photo by Kevin Van Paassen/Sunnybrook)

A group of landscape architecture graduate students are improving life by offering front-line workers the gift of rest.

While reflecting over the winter break in early 2021, Everett Dejong, founder of the One Bench One Tree project, decided something must be done to thank front-line workers for everything they have given during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everett messaged his peers, sharing his thoughts, and asked if anyone wanted to join him in this “idealistic project”. Tiffany Adair, Ethan Aquino-Chien, Abigayle Lalonde, Marika Li, Alli Neuhauser, Casey Ross, and Manuel Spiller, all students in the master of landscape architecture (MLA) program, agreed to bring the idea to fruition.

“In the initial conversation, Everett mentioned a bench and trees on a natural part of the hospital grounds,” says Alli Neuhauser, the One Bench One Tree external relations coordinator. “The team conducted research on hospitals to see how to accommodate the idea and settled on the collaborative concept of one bench and one tree. We kept it as simple as possible so that everyone could participate.”

Alli was drawn to the project knowing that the efforts of the front-line workers, who have worked non-stop through the pandemic, should be recognized and appreciated.
“The two metres between the bench and the tree represent the social distance we’ve been keeping since March 2020,” shares Alli. “It’s important to let the front-line workers know that Canadians are thinking about them, and we are thankful for all their efforts they have put in since the pandemic started.”

The first two installation sites include the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and the Hamilton Health Science – St. Peters. 

“The hospitals have been very responsive and thankful that a group of MLA students took the time to think about them in this way”, shares Alli. “They were super appreciative of our efforts and getting these benches and trees in so their staff can have a place to think and reflect on this not so normal situation that we are in right now.”

The team aims to have 10 sites installed in Ontario this year. Through a combination of donations and sponsorships from local businesses and organizations, the project has been able to take flight.

“We are keeping the tree species native to Canada through a collaboration with NVK Nurseries and Maple Leaves Forever, an organization that advocates for and supports the planting of Native Canadian Maple Trees,” says Alli. “Other local suppliers include Maglin and Unilock, and support from Landscape Ontario.”

The experience of working on this project has brought new meaning to the MLA students and their studies, particularly during a time when they haven’t had the opportunity be together in person.

“We work together really well. It’s a great energy with this group, we all want the same things for the organization. We want it to be successful and grow to take on a life of its own as we build across the country.”

The MLA students on the One Bench One Tree committee are entering the second year of their studies and are hoping to continue past graduation and expand their team and efforts.

“We hope to get incoming MLA students involved in the project and continue to build volunteers to keep things going and help us expand throughout the province and country,” explains Alli.

This project marks the first of its kind across the globe. The gift will keep giving to front-line workers for future generations.

“It’s been really rewarding and amazing to be a part of this project,” shares Alli. “We are the first to put out a thank you in this way. We call it the gift of rest. Take the time you need to pause and reflect.”

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