Growing Futures

Project Profile

Project Location

Des Moines, IA

Project Lead

Trees Forever





Trees Forever, a non-profit with a nearly 30-year track record, has launched a new youth employment and tree planting program called Growing Futures that will address critical social, economic, and environmental needs in Des Moines, IA. In partnership with the City of Des Moines and Microsoft, Growing Futures will take a thoughtfully designed and hands-on approach to engage youth, provide a path to green careers, and plant more trees in under-resourced neighborhoods. 

Growing Futures is one of the first programs of its kind in the country. Picture this: a dynamic force of young people planting and caring for trees along city streets and in areas most in need of greening, planting the trees of their future.

Every tree planting project demonstrates impacts that create a more just and sustainable future. This project planted 629 trees along streets and in parks, including along student walking routes and multi-use recreation trails. The main project goals are to increase tree equity across the city by planting trees in under-resourced neighborhoods and major street corridor plantings, and work with volunteers and Growing Futures youth.

The Growing Futures program grows leaders by employing and training young people, with a special focus on youth from diverse backgrounds. In Iowa, the highest rates of unemployment are among young people age 16-19, with African-American and Hispanic youth experiencing unemployment rates of 14.8% and 9%, respectively. In 2020, 7 teens and 2 adult crew leaders were hired to water or plant trees. Teens also engaged in professional development opportunities nearly every week, including resume building, stress management, and green job shadowing. Trees will grow and thrive because of the care they receive from Growing Futures youth, all while improving residents’ quality of life.

Human Health

Air Quality and Respiratory Effects – 6
Urban Heat Effects – 10
Physical Activity and Active Living – 6
Wellness and Mental Health – 1
Connections and Cohesion for Social Health – 3

Social Equity

Inequity Context – 6
Site Selection – 5
Community Engagement in Project Design – 0
Community Participation in Project Implementation – 4
Economic Equity – 10


Site Prep and Implementation – 14
Climate Action – 11
Water Quality and Quantity – 7
Habitat, Food, and Wood Production – 1
Bioremediation – 0

The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs are a global call for action. These goals have the power to build a better future for everyone. Investment in this impact project drives action towards the following goals:

Good Health and Well Being

Trees planted near high-traffic roads improve air quality by screening fine particulates that are associated with higher risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. This project also plants trees along pedestrian corridors, encouraging recreation and nature-based activities that promote active living and prevent chronic disease.

Clean Water and Sanitation

Street trees filter water before it flows into larger bodies of water. No synthetic fertilizers are used, helping reduce the presence of these fertilizers in waterways.

Decent Work and Economic Growth

Investments in urban forests and other green infrastructure add significantly to green economic growth. The workforce training program hires local youth and teaches valuable career skills. The project also supports local and small businesses.

Reduce Inequalities

Tree planting sites were based on research of neighborhoods that lacked trees and green space. Local residents and users are engaged in tree management and care, empowering and promoting the social and economic inclusion of all people.

Sustainable Cities and Communities

Well-designed and managed urban forests make significant contributions to the environmental sustainability, economic viability and livability of cities. This project strategically planted trees, including in places where they will promote recreation, reduce, stress, and improve quality of life.

Responsible Production and Consumption

Planting trees in areas with impervious surfaces lowers summer ambient temperatures and saves electricity needed to cool buildings nearby. Trees also act as a natural buffer against wind and cold weather, which saves energy needed to heat buildings in the winter.

Climate Action

The project will deliver local climate action. Trees Forever used City Forest Credits’ quantification tools to project the values for sequestered carbon dioxide, stormwater reduction, energy savings, and air quality improvements.

Life on Land

Trees planted will help create and enhance wildlife habitat and food sources, increase biodiversity, improve soil quality, and improve water quality and quantity.

Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

The Growing Futures program employs teens from the community to plant and care for trees.

Partnerships for Goals

Program partners include Trees Forever, City of Des Moines, and Microsoft. Trees Forever shares their experience and knowledge with others across the country considering similar public-private partnerships or workforce training programs.

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