Planting Trees, Growing Community Canopy 2020 Impact Report

Amid the challenges of 2020, you made it a year of bright spots.

Together, we found new ways to connect with nature, nurture young leaders, and keep community trees thriving. Here's a look at what your partnership made possible.

From Executive Director Catherine Martineau

As we share this report with you in March 2021, we mark a full year since COVID-19 upended all of our lives and put our resilience to the test like never before. This milestone creates many emotions in me. In the context of Canopy's work, however, overwhelmingly I feel a sense of gratitude.

I am grateful to Canopy’s dedicated Board, for their tireless efforts to support Canopy's staff and programs amid uncertainty. I am grateful to our wonderful staff who deployed treasures of resourcefulness and creativity, serving the community in new ways and finding opportunities to bring people together from afar. And I am profoundly grateful to you, our steadfast community of volunteers, donors, partners, and friends, without whom this work would not be possible.

Your enduring partnership kept community trees thriving, and connected people with the healing power of nature outside their doorstep. I cannot thank you enough.

Canopy’s report this year is fully digital—another way we’re adapting to changing times! As you explore what we accomplished together, I leave you with words I often turn to for inspiration, from Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai: "When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and the seeds of hope."

Thank you, from my heart, for working alongside us to plant seeds of peace and hope this year. May their roots grow strong and their branches provide shade for many decades to come.

From Board Chair Kammy Lo

For me, 2020 underscored the urgency of Canopy’s mission. As we sheltered at home, the trees outside our doorstep became a key connection to the outside world. Amid a devastating global pandemic and ongoing climate crisis, neighborhood greenspace—or the lack of it—emerged as an important factor in communities’ health, wellbeing, and resilience.

If 2020 was a year of reckoning and rapid adaptation, 2021 is a year for us to reflect, consolidate and deepen our learning, and to chart a bold course that meets today’s new challenges.

From January to June 2021, the Canopy Board is engaging in “Listen and Learn” sessions at each monthly board meeting to further ongoing conversations. We hope to start from a place of curiosity, listen actively, ask questions, seek understanding, explore biases, and be ready to be transformed by what we learn. Our focus will be on three interconnected themes:

  • Advancing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI)
  • Building community resilience
  • Contributing to a nature-based climate solution

Through dialogue with guest speakers, with each other, and with staff, the Board will deeply reflect on Canopy’s guiding compass and address key questions about the ways we work together to build a greener, more just future alongside our communities.

Throughout this journey, we look forward to sharing our learnings and inviting you into the conversation. We are excited to imagine a brighter future, and Canopy’s role in it, together with the community that we love and serve. Thank you so much for your partnership!

2020 By the Numbers

Your support advanced "tree equity" locally by planting and caring for trees where they are needed the most. In 2020, we worked alongside five Midpeninsula cities through tree planting and care, community education, and urban forest advocacy.

539 community trees planted

"Popcorn plantings" with households and small groups allowed us to continue planting new community trees. Each Canopy tree is planted with careful attention to site factors, species selection, and follow-up care.

2,400 trees tended & surveyed

Caring for trees when they're young supports healthier, longer-lived trees and a thriving urban forest for the future.

27 youth leaders employed as Teen Urban Foresters

Canopy Teen Urban Foresters ("TUFs") are paid high school interns who green local neighborhoods, hone their leadership skills, and advocate for trees in their community. The program went partly remote during COVID, with students taking on remote research and outreach projects, in addition to limited outdoor field work.

2,600+ students engaged across 15 schools (K-12)

Whether in-person (pre-pandemic) or virtually, Canopy found ways to help students discover, explore, and enjoy the trees around them. In addition to students served directly, Canopy's distance learning curricula was shared beyond the Midpeninsula through local, state, and national environmental education networks.

38 Community Forestry School graduates

This diverse cohort hailing from 12 different cities and myriad backgrounds came together for 8 weeks of virtual classes and outdoor field experience. Together, they learned about trees, urban forests, and how to champion neighborhood nature in their own community.

200,000 website visitors

As life went digital, visits to Canopy's online resources increased 35% in 2020 compared to 2019. People most often stopped by to learn about the benefits of trees, access webinars and tree walks, and explore tree species on Canopy's tree library.

1,250 volunteers, 450 donors and funders, and dozens of community partners making it happen

It takes a village to grow the urban forest. Thank you so much for being part of our community!

A group of volunteers at Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January 2020 (pre-pandemic!), where over 300 people came out to revitalize a site along San Francisquito Creek in East Palo Alto.


A a time when "nearby nature" has proven essential to people's wellbeing, your support planted and cared for trees that will sustain our communities for decades to come.

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!

COVID-19 shaped every Canopy program in 2020

When COVID hit in spring 2020, Canopy halted all in-person programs. After carefully studying and monitoring public health guidelines, program staff slowly resumed limited outdoor field work—in small teams and with robust safety protocols.

"We're fortunate that tree planting and care are outdoor activities," shares Tree Program Director Elise Willis. "Staff and volunteers who felt comfortable were able to work safely outside on their own, in household groups, or with careful masking and social distancing. We're grateful to continue caring for community trees, not to mention give people a chance to spend much-needed time outdoors."

Residents and partners worked to reforest Belle Haven and North Fair Oaks

A key part of Canopy's mission is working towards "tree equity" by partnering with communities where tree cover is sparse. This past year, Canopy partnered with residents in two new areas to green their communities: Belle Haven in Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks near Redwood City.

"These areas have been shaped by a history of redlining and other racist patterns of housing and development," shared Maya Briones, Canopy Community Forestry Manager. "Low tree cover today is part of this legacy, and it has a real impact on the environment and daily life for residents in these neighborhoods."

Maya has been working with community groups in both areas to offer residents free trees through a grant from CalFire and funding from San Mateo County. Spring plantings were postponed due to COVID, but Maya used "popcorn plantings" in the fall to plant 19 new trees in Belle Haven and 22 trees in North Fair Oaks, with more planting dates to come.

Many residents were thrilled to receive new trees. "Many people are excited and surprised that a program like Canopy's exists for them," shares Maya, "They can't believe that we're providing this service for free." But other residents are hesitant, or don't have the freedom to plant a tree even if they want to. "As much as these areas need tree cover, there are a lot of barriers to getting trees in the ground," confirms Maya. "Not all homes have a suitable site, especially when there's no sidewalk or park strip. Some renters are afraid to ask their landlords or encounter resistance when they do. Or people are worried that the tree will cost too much to maintain." Because of the barriers, says Maya, every tree feels like a win. "When we are able to plant and the resident loves their tree," she says, "it's super gratifying."

High school volunteer Gabe Ancajas joined Canopy plantings in North Fair Oaks in September 2020. Here's how he tells the story of Canopy plantings in this area. Thank you, Gabe! (4-minute video)

A new mapping tool helped identify where trees can bring the most benefit

Identifying suitable planting sites for a neighborhood tree planting takes time and resources, especially when Canopy begins work in a new area.

This fall, Canopy worked with students at Stanford Future Bay Initiative and other partners to develop a hyper-local mapping tool that evaluates individual parcels for their tree planting potential. The tool uses local government data to evaluate factors like plantable area, heat index, amount of foot traffic, and existing greenery. Based on six different data inputs, the tool gives each parcel a tree planting score. The Canopy team then uses these scores to help decide where to focus on-the-ground canvassing and outreach efforts.

"I hope that this mapping tool has significant impact not only with Canopy here on the Midpeninsula but also with other nonprofits doing similar work...With growing attention on the need for trees in neighborhoods, there's a lot of momentum for tools like this. By coming together, we can make the world a more forested, beautiful place." - Jena Louie, Stanford Future Bay Initiative graduate student

Great Oak Count volunteers supported native ecology through grassroots science

Oak trees are a cornerstone of local ecosystems, but their numbers have declined. Once dominant in over 80% of the Midpeninsula's valley floor, they now account for just 4% of local urban forests. Canopy’s Great Oak Count is a multi-year citizen science project to protect and grow native oak populations by surveying oaks in Palo Alto, collecting data about their size and location, and educating homeowners about the value and care of native oaks.

Great Oak Count volunteer trainings and tree surveys paused in 2020 when the pandemic hit. But with the help of volunteer leaders, Canopy found ways to safely resume surveying. Volunteers mapped 913 oaks and completed the Barron Park neighborhood in Palo Alto. Once complete, the survey will inform efforts to plant new oaks where they can have the most impact, supporting biodiversity and creating more climate-resilient neighborhoods.

"Native oaks are a legacy to care for and pass on, so it's important to share oak tree care tips with residents. We also want to see how the native oak population has changed over the last 20 years and determine where planting new oaks can have the greatest benefit for local ecology, wildlife, and people." - Elise Willis, Canopy Tree Programs Director

Volunteer Spotlight: In 2020, volunteer Christine Baker found peace among oaks, and helped other residents do the same

Christine Baker accepting a Canopy Volunteer Award in January 2020. She kept up her award-winning survey efforts throughout the year!

Christine Baker has been a volunteer with the Great Oak Count since 2018. In 2020, she kept the project going by surveying dozens of Palo Alto oaks on her own, and finding COVID-safe ways to share her passion for oaks with other volunteers, including another long-time Canopy volunteer, Jon Gifford. Learn more about Christine.

"It was really good for my own mental health to go out and survey. When I survey, I forget everything else; I just look at the trees. There are a few families that I've trained who go out as a whole family, observing...They really appreciate having this opportunity to enjoy being outside with a purpose. This year, it’s particularly valuable and appreciated." - Christine Baker, Great Oak Count Survey Leader

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees| Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!


2020 was all about finding ways to stay connected—to each other, to nature, and to the wider world. Your partnership supported youth, brought people together from afar, and nurtured an intergenerational community of tree stewards.

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and Tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking Ahead | Thank you!

Nature-based lessons met students where they were (at home!)

Canopy’s K-12 education programs are all about nurturing kids' curiosity and connection to nature, especially in their own community. While the pandemic halted in-person lessons, Canopy's Environmental Education Manager, Vanessa Wyns, knew she could still give kids moments of fun and relaxation by helping them explore the natural world.

Vanessa got to work creating bilingual distance learning curriculum, offering lesson kits for teachers and resources for parents. In the fall, Vanessa also delivered live virtual lessons in English and Spanish. One priority for Vanessa was ensuring lessons were culturally relevant for diverse student body.

“Cultural relevance in lesson material should always be prioritized, whether its choosing Latinx familiar foods like pozole and tamarind in the "Tree to Table" / "De árbol a antojito" lesson or representing students of Latinx, Black, Pacific Islander, and other non-white communities in lesson questions and sample student names and images. An inclusive learning environment is more than just one where everyone is heard; it's one where everyone is represented." - Vanessa Wyns, Canopy Environmental Education Manager

The lessons prompted enthusiasm from students and teachers alike. After requests for return visits, Vanessa is crafting follow-up lessons that build on what the students have learned and incorporate specific trees on each school campus.

“My students absolutely loved connecting what they have learned in class about trees to the real world around them. The second graders got to grab tree pieces from outside and the fourth graders explored spices and herbs. They loved it!” - Casey Kuhlow, 3rd Grade Teacher at Theuerkauf Elementary in Mountain View

Time among trees helped with hard times

Nature is a great healer. The power of trees to relieve our minds and refresh our spirits is not only felt intuitively; it's also well-documented by research. Here at Canopy, we naturally turned to community trees as a much-needed source of renewal during a difficult year, and it's been our goal to help our community find solace, too. Here are a few projects your partnership made possible in 2020:

  • Interactive Tree Walk Guides - with in-person arborist-led walks suspended, Canopy's team focused on bringing our classic tree walk routes into the digital age. Peak behind the scenes with intern Veronica Weber, who helped launch the project.
  • Community Wishing Trees - Trees are a powerful symbol of hope, life, and resilience. Canopy and partners installed 8 wishing trees throughout East Palo Alto and Palo Alto to provide encouragement and give voice to community hopes.
  • Tree Wellness Walks and Resources - from breathing with the trees to taking a virtually led wellness walk at Bol Park or Rengstorff Park, pausing to be with nearby nature is a simple way to care for your body, mind, and spirit.
  • Exploring trees and art through a virtual tour of the Palo Alto Art Center's powerful Rooted exhibit.

Community Forestry School students championed trees and forged community ties

Launched in 2018, Canopy’s Community Forestry School is an 8-week course that equips community members with skills and knowledge to champion trees in their own neighborhoods and cities. This year, the series combined virtual class sessions with socially distanced outdoor field work.

“After attending this Community Forester program, I feel that I am in a position to truly affect the growth and the health of our urban forest. The logical progression from basic knowledge to hands-on application to continued action seems to be a grand approach to helping our community grow in the right direction. I am excited about what I will be able to accomplish because of this course!” - 2020 Community Forestry School Graduate

The new cohort included 37 active students of all ages, plus Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters. Through a mix of guest speakers, group discussion, staff instructors, and hands-on field work, students covered a wide range of community forestry topics, including tree biology and identification, species selection, site assessment, tree care and pruning, and urban forest advocacy.

“Community involvement is central to Canopy’s mission and work, so it was important to find new ways to bring people together this past year," shares Canopy Education Director Natalie Brubaker. "I enjoyed building a mini community with our CFS students and seeing how much more invested they were in our work through that feeling of connectedness.”

“I love trees and want others to love them too. With this class I now have strong science based reasons to support my love for them. If I need help I now have a network of like minded souls to help me!” - 2020 Community Forestry School Graduate

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: For Clint Smith and his son CJ, planting and caring for trees is a chance to connect across generations and communities.

When COVID hit, Clint Smith found himself with more time at home than usual. He and his high school son CJ started looking for activities they could do during shelter-at-home, especially ones that might interest both of them, when they came across Community Forestry School (CFS). "COVID allowed many of us to be more thoughtful about how we spend our time and what matters to us in our community," shares Clint. "Planting and maintaining trees seemed like a perfect match for having more free time, wanting to spend time together, and wanting to engage in an activity that had a positive impact locally."

"One of the best things about the class for me was the way that it brought people from different generations together...It's great having a project where we’re all digging the same basin or we’re all carrying the same water buckets. There aren’t many activities where three generations can participate together." - Clint Smith, CFS graduate 2020 (and CJ's dad)
"In a year like this, it was so nice to see people so happy. Just being able to bring people joy was definitely special." - CJ Smith, CFS graduate 2020 (and Clint's son)

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!


In addition to equipping residents, your partnership impacts local policies and engages decision-makers and whose day-to-day work shapes the fabric of our cities.

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!

"More Trees Please" webinar series offered tools for practitioners

In addition to equipping local residents, your support provides tools for decision-makers across the Bay Area whose day-to-day work shapes the fabric of our cities.

In summer 2020, Canopy launched the "More Trees Please!" webinar series. Over the course of 3 sessions, more than 800 people participated, most of them practitioners like city planners and landscape architects.

Teen Urban Foresters made the case for "tree equity"

In summer 2020, Canopy's Teen Urban Foresters delved deeper into Canopy's advocacy work through a project focused on the "green gap"—the pattern of disparity in which low-income and minority communities consistently have less tree cover and green space than wealthier and predominantly white communities. Addressing the green gap locally is a key part of Canopy's work.

The TUFs tackled the topic this past summer by researching and crafting a presentation that outlines why the green gap matters, what can be done about it, and how local residents and leaders can help create "tree equity." The TUFs presented their findings to East Palo Alto's Planning & Transportation Commission, urging the city to invest in its urban forest.

"All of us understand the benefits of trees and we understand how inequality of trees can affect some communities. It's now our chance to fix this environmental, economic, and social issue...We can build a stronger community where more people are aware of the problem and willing to care about their environment." - Jonathan Villanueva, Canopy TUF since 2018


For fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020), revenues totaled $1,132,153 and operating expenses totaled $1,091,059. We are grateful for our many dedicated volunteers who make our tree plantings, tree care, education, and advocacy programs possible. In spite of COVID restrictions in the last quarter of the fiscal year, the total value of their work (close to 7,000 hours) is an estimated $221,000. The pie charts below include the value of this work.

Income: $1,132,153 - Income was up 16% year-to-year thanks in large part to two non-recurring grants, which helped compensate for our cancelled spring fundraiser.

Expenses: $1,091,059 - The distribution of expenses among programs and support services remained stable compared to last year, with a slight increase of resources devoted to programs.

Net Assets: $649,465 - Of this total, 46% constitutes a board-designated operating reserve, 37% is donor restricted, and 17% is unrestricted.

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!


  • This summer, Canopy will celebrate 25 years working alongside Midpeninsula communities to grow the urban forest. Stay tuned for ways to engage!
  • Canopy's Board is engaged in a process of "Listen and Learn" sessions to reflect on Canopy's guiding compass and our role in creating a more just and resilient future for local communities. The results will lay the groundwork for Canopy's next strategic plan. We look forward to inviting you into these conversations.
  • This spring, Canopy's Education team is hosting a Green Career Panelist Series for teens in Sequoia Union High School District and all high schools in East Palo Alto.
  • The Teen Urban Foresters continue their project-based learning and advocacy with a public education campaign around tree pruning and topping in East Palo Alto.
  • The "More Trees Please" webinar series continues, with panels on bridging trees and health, Google's resilient landscapes, and greening outdoor classrooms.
  • Several key advocacy projects continue, including creating a new Tree Technical Manual for the City of Mountain View, and supporting East Palo Alto's process to create their first-ever Urban Forester Master Plan.

We can't wait to update you on all this and more throughout the year. If you have any questions or comments, we'd love to hear from you. Please contact us anytime.

Back to report menu | 2020 by the numbers | Planting and tending trees | Fostering nature connection | Advocating for a resilient future | 2020 financials | Looking ahead | Thank you!

THANK YOU for nurturing our communities and trees!

Community is core to Canopy's success and identity. We are profoundly grateful to the volunteers, donors, partners, youth, leaders, and residents who worked alongside us this year. Learn more about the people who make it all possible.

Thank you for reading! We'd love to stay in touch. Visit canopy.org to or sign up for news and updates below.


Created with an image by Couleur - "oak tree deciduous tree"