Mary Lee ’22
“As a global community, we use 420 million metric tons of paper a year,” reports Mary Lee ’22. “It made me wonder: What am I doing to offset the paper usage in my own community?” Mary has been interning for the non-profit Keep Oakland Beautiful since October 2021, serving as a youth advisor on the board with another student from Oakland Tech High School. The two were assigned to develop a capstone project. “I immediately thought about paper usage and ways to offset it,” Mary explains.
The duo launched an initiative to plant 295 trees, engaging O’Dowd and Oakland Tech High Schools, as well as the broader community. Partnering with Treeplenish, Mary and Ava sold apple, olive and cherry tree saplings for $10 each to enthusiastic East Bay residents who supported the girls’ environmental cause. “We made sure to be inclusive in our efforts,” Mary explained. “We designed it so people could pick trees up at O’Dowd or have a student volunteer deliver them.”
On planting day, Mary and her team were overwhelmed by the support of the community. “We had so many volunteers,” exclaims Mary. “Over 150 people came to help distribute plants on campus, and deliver and plant trees throughout the East Bay.”
Mary and her team hit their goal of planting 295 trees, while achieving exceptional community engagement. “There were complete strangers who connected with our goal and wanted to participate,” notes Mary.
Zoe Grbich ’22 participated because she enjoyed the chance to make an immediate impact. Not only did we get to help our environment, but we also connected as a community,” she says. “It’s amazing to watch two different schools working together to succeed in one goal.”
Projects like these illustrate why service learning is central to O’Dowd’s mission. “I always thought ‘making a difference’ was a huge feat,” shares Chloe Blume ’25. “Planting trees with other people who share this love for the environment helped me realize how simple it is to make change.”
The project also garnered the support of many local leaders, including Assembly Member Mia Bonta, Councilmember Dan Kalb, Councilmember Loren Taylor, and Kyra Mungia from the Mayor’s Office – all of whom joined the event and enjoyed a tour in our Living Lab. “It made me feel proud to share my love for Oakland and keep our city green,” says Mary. “O’Dowd’s Charism call of kinship with creation was really present in our work today. We brought new life to our planet, and built community, together.