Among the mass of tents and booths at the Bellmore Street Festival two weekends ago, attendees may have stumbled upon a small table manned by Christopher Prainito and James LaSalle, John F. Kennedy High School seniors. They were promoting their nonprofit, Students Giving Trees.
Prainito, 17, and LaSalle, 16, both Bellmore natives, are the cofounders of the organization, which is just getting its start in the area. Prainito, the president and treasurer, and LaSalle, the vice president and secretary, have known each other since they were 3.
They share a simple mission: to plant more trees. “If you walk around the local parks and preserves, there are so many uprooted trees,” Prainito said. “Not only are they not removed, but it would be great to see more trees [standing up].”
Both he and LaSalle said they had learned in their earth science and biology classes in high school that trees were dying across Long Island, but particularly in the Bellmore-Merrick area. Due to both hamlets’ close proximity to the coast, trees fall victim to storms and the ocean’s saltwater.
“We just want to help out the community,” Prainito said. “We’ve been working on this for a year.”
Students Giving Trees has gone through all of the necessary steps to become a nonprofit, according to Prainito, who said it had recently attained official 501(c)(3) designation. Their goal is to be able to host their first tree planting at a nearby park next spring.
“We do want to do a big tree planting in the spring,” LaSalle said. “We haven’t done one yet because it’s winter soon. But we want to maybe get other clubs [at school] involved,” such as the Hope Club.
“We want to collect funds, in school and out of school,” Prainito said. “To keep it in the community, we plan to purchase trees from local nurseries. Then we want to organize tree plantings in parks, preserves and other public spaces.
“We’ve been in communication with local legislators to get the permission to plant on lots,” he explained. Getting in touch with those legislators has been “really easy,” according to Prainito, and he added that Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads put them in contact with the county parks commissioner.
“We’ve also been in communication with the Arbor Day Foundation as well — their mission is the same as ours, but on a national level,” Prainito said.
He and LaSalle plan to go away to college next year, but to stay within a three- or four-hour drive of the Bellmore area. Their hope is that their organization gains momentum, within and outside Kennedy, so that it’s passed on to future generations of students. They both said they wanted to stay involved in any way they could, even while away at school.
Asked if they envisioned the organization expanding beyond the Bellmore area, they agreed that it was definitely a possibility. Prainito, who is considering continuing his education at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, said that on a recent visit, he mentioned Students Giving Trees to an admissions counselor. “They said this is exactly the type of thing they’d be interested in,” he said.
Both teens find themselves in new leadership roles since they created their organization, something that has been rewarding and educational. “I haven’t done something like this before,” LaSalle said.
“I’ve been to tree plantings before,” Prainito said, “but this is the first time I’ve taken on a leadership role,” which, he added, has been a great learning experience.
At the fair, LaSalle said, they got a lot of donations — on Sunday in particular — and were “surprised, actually.” He and Prainito were accepting donations in cash and online, by scanning a QR code. “We were more successful then we thought we’d be,” LaSalle said.
Students Giving Trees is looking to attract as much attention as possible as it works toward a tree planting early next year. Its two leaders are active on Facebook, @studentsgivingtrees, and online at studentsgivingtrees.org. Donations can be made on the website, and inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our purpose — the purpose of this organization — is to just plant more trees on the Long Island,” Prainito said, which thus far, he added, has been embraced by a receptive and welcoming community.