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A New Service Learning Initiative in Repairing the World: TREEkun Olam


By Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Community


Each January, two holidays remind our Kehilah/community of our responsibility to repair the world. Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish celebration of the birthday of trees, teaches us to be stewards for environmental justice. The National Day of Service, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us to dedicate our time and voices to be advocates for social and economic justice.


This year, Tu B’Shevat and the National Day of Service overlap, and this seemingly providential coincidence provides us with an opportunity to announce a new McGillis School initiative in repairing the world: TREEkun Olam. This day of service will provide our entire community with the hands-on experience of planting trees that will immediately impact our climate and community as well as be a meaningful way to honor our 30th anniversary.


Trees have always had a special place in Jewish tradition. Trees serve as symbols of creation, knowledge, family, the Torah, the land of Israel, honoring family members and others, as well as how to prepare the world for the next generation. One of my favorite stories from the Talmud is the story of Honi who came upon a person planting a carob tree. “How long will it take for the tree to bear fruit?” Honi asked. “About 70 years,” replied the planter. “Do you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” asked Honi skeptically. “I found full grown carob trees for me to enjoy during my life. Just as my forebears planted trees, so I plant trees for the next generation.”


Supported by parents, alumni parents, grandparents, alumni and community partners, our current generation of McGillis students will plant trees for future generations to enjoy. Our hope is to plant 41 trees, one by each Family Group. Students, teachers and volunteers that day will write their hopes, wishes, and blessings for the tree, community, and world on slips of paper to be planted with their group’s tree -- truly planting for a better tomorrow.


We are partnering with the non-profit Tree Utah for TREEkun Olam. Our partners at Tree Utah are arranging for the site where we will plant the trees, bringing the work tools for us to use, acquiring the trees from regional nurseries, sharing curriculum and educational materials with our faculty, and providing support staff for us at the tree planting.


The cost of this new initiative is $30,000 which includes purchasing the trees, transportation, and supplies for students and volunteers at the tree planting. Thanks to generous donations from a small group of donors and funds that we have used in past years to purchase supplies for Brownies-in-a-Bag, we are halfway to our fundraising goal.


Over the next few months, students will be asked to collect Tzedakah in Family Groups and classrooms to use to purchase trees. We also invite and ask each of you to also contribute so that TREEkun Olam will be a statement by our entire community of the importance of taking action to repair the world.


Please know that donating a tree in memory or honor of someone is a lovely symbol that ties past generations and future ones together. If you would like to donate a tree in honor or memory of someone, you can note that on the online donation page and we will share that honor with our entire community, if you wish, at the tree planting. If you are unable to donate an entire tree, please know that each donation makes a difference and allows us to reach our goal of planting 41 trees.


Finally, please put TREEkun Olam on your calendars and join us on May 11, 2022 starting at 9 AM as we plant trees today for future generations. As the date approaches, we will have an online sign-up for parent volunteers as well as information about the location and other details. We believe this event will be both memorable and inspirational. We hope you join us.



Bye-bye, Brownies


One of the longstanding traditions of our school has been Brownies-in-a-Bag. Started as a means for students to have a hands-on way to support the Utah Food Bank and raise needed funds for the School’s Ethics and Cultures program, Brownies-in-a-Bag, was a delicious way to help our school and the larger community.


From selling dozens of bags of brownie mix in the early years to selling thousands of bags in more recent ones, students of all ages loved the annual tradition of lining up in the dining hall to carry or fill the plastic bags with sugars, cocoa, flour, baking soda, and chocolate chips. The entire school smelled like chocolate and everyone looked forward to a yummy brownie by the McGillis kitchen staff after filling bags.


In recent years, we worked to ensure that the brownies were in line with our values by purchasing non-child labor/slave labor cocoa and chocolate chips, a remarkably challenging goal, while keeping the brownie bags affordable. However, the sourcing of fair trade ingredients, the quantity of plastic put into the waste system from brownie bags, and the challenge and cost of purchasing the quantities of humanely sourced cocoa and chocolate continued to weigh heavily on our minds and hearts.


The break from Brownies-in-a-Bag caused by COVID gave us the opportunity to reflect on our goals for our school’s service work. After much thoughtful discussion, we have decided to sunset Brownies-in-a-Bag and turn our focus and energy to a new project, TREEkun Olam. Our commitment to the Utah Food Bank continues to be as strong as it has ever been and the administration at the Utah Food Bank wholeheartedly understands and supports our new focus.  Learning about food insecurity and how we can mitigate it will continue to be part of students’ learning every year, as will our food drives in the fall during Sukkot and in late winter around Purim.


Planting trees will have an immediate impact on our community and address one of our students’ top concerns: climate change. This all-school focus also enhances our Science and OEE curricula, as well as furthers our institution’s sustainability work. While we will miss the smell of cocoa wafting through the building once a year, we look forward to the trees we plant helping to repair the world for generations to come.


We hope everyone will support this new service project with the same commitment as you have supported Brownies-in-a-Bag. Thank you for your commitment to Tikkun Olam.


Together, McGillis is repairing the world!


Click here to learn more about TREEkun Olam.