Community losses recognized through nature

by Sarah Feinberg & Lyanna Tran, Features Editor, Features Reporter
photo courtesy of The Boston Globe

Hundreds of Newton residents have lost their lives to COVID-19, leaving a grieving community. In response to the ongoing tragedies, South alumna Elizabeth Sockwell said she launched the Capture Carbon Commemorate COVID-19 Tree Project, better known as the 4C Tree Project, with the hope of lessening this collective pain by bringing life.

Sockwell said this project raises funds to plant memorial trees to remember those who had died during the pandemic. 

“Our government failed to protect people, so I was angry, upset and sad to see so many people suffering,” she said. “In response to just feeling helpless, I was thinking, ‘Is there some way that I could help start something that would honor and remember those who have died tragically from COVID-19?’”

After researching climate change’s global effect and witnessing the worsening conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, senior Yoshi Futai said that she was motivated to help her community. She said that these intersecting crises, combined with her interests in sustainability, led her to become an active student leader of the 4C Tree Project, which had been introduced to her by her sustainability teacher, Andrew Thompson. 

“I wanted to find a way to help my community, as well as pursue my passions,” she said.

Project members like Futai educate students about the importance of planting trees as part of their mission to help the environment. To reduce the severe consequences of climate change, Sockwell said that it is crucial to teach younger people ways to mitigate factors of climate change, as well as its detrimental effects on communities.

“We want to educate students, especially on the value of how much planting a young sapling adds to our entire community and adds to future generations who will get to see these trees grow big,” Sockwell said. “Educating people that these trees are special, that they are memorial trees, and also the value that trees bring to the urban forest and why restoring our urban forest should be a priority of ours.” 

The 4C Tree Project has not only directly helped the environment through planting trees, but it has also brought beauty and life in this time of despair. By connecting spirits through planting new trees, Futai said the project has created a space for loved ones to commemorate the lives that were lost and to give back to the community.

“These trees are beautiful, living creatures, and rather than being mournful or sad, it was more about celebrating lives,” she said. “These trees are their legacies.”

The 4C Tree Project’s tree dedication ceremony took place on May 1. Sockwell said that bringing Newton’s neighbors and spiritual leaders together made it a lively, yet respectful event. 

“We wanted a spiritual component. [We had] religious leaders in the community come out and speak to the importance of honor, remembrance, prayer and reflection,” she said.  

Futai said that the dedication ceremony was significant to both the members of the project and the larger Newton community.

“It was a moment for us to really step back and just appreciate life. It was just nice seeing people come to this ceremony,” she said. “It reminds people that their loved ones and family aren’t being forgotten, and we also came together as a community.”

The initiative has allowed for more than 170 plantings around Newton, and their upcoming goal is set to plant 300 trees by this upcoming fall. Futai said that people can still support the cause by donating through the Green Newton Website and by staying engaged through the 4C Tree Project Instagram page.

“We’re not done fundraising,” she said. “When more people are vaccinated, we hope that we can hold more tree planting events where people could come and help plant trees. We still urge people to donate because COVID-19 is not going to stop anytime soon.”