First published by the Fairfield Ledger, Nicole Hester-Williams, staff writer
Neighborhood Forest, a nonprofit organization that gives away seedling trees to children, plans to distribute nearly 1,400 free trees to Fairfield area students to be planted on Earth Day.
According to the organization’s website, the trees are given as part of an initiative to provide children a way to connect with the earth, assist with neighborhood beautification and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds in the air.
The organization, which plans to deliver more than 5,000 free trees April 22 in five states, including Ontario, Canada, has its roots in Fairfield.
Vikas Narula (1990 Maharishi School graduate) is Neighborhood Forest’s founder. He was a junior at Maharishi University of Management in 1993 when he initially conceived the idea for the project.
This photo, taken in 1993, shows Vikas Narula helping a Fairfield student plant a seedling tree. Narula, founder of Neighborhood Forest, launched the organization to provide students with trees to plant on Earth Day.
Narula said he worked with his fellow classmate, Belinda Hoole, who helped him launch a fashion show dance party called EcoJam.
The money raised from the first EcoJam was used to purchase several hundred trees for Fairfield area youth.
“It was a key fundraiser for us,” Narula said. “I can’t believe it’s still going on.”
After graduating from MUM in 1994, Narula moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and began working in corporate America.
In the midst of climbing the corporate ladder, Narula found himself bedridden for a month, and he realized he was dissatisfied with the direction in which his life had taken.
Narula said his “deathbed” experience brought the tree project back to the forefront of his mind, and he launched Neighborhood Forest in 2009.
“It’s a fantastic feeling really; it’s a feeling of coming home,” Narula said. “What started as a not so good experience with ill health, made me realize what I really loved and had a passion for. It was something that I had to go away from to realize how much it meant to me.”
Since 2010, Neighborhood Forest has provided trees to more than 10,000 children who have helped plant more than 5,000 trees across the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Neighborhood Forest garnered five local sponsors that underwrote the project in Fairfield.
Sponsoring one child to plant a tree on Earth Day costs $1.99 annually.
“We secured funds from wonderful sponsors, [such as] Hy-Vee, Everybody’s Agri-Industrial Plastics, Cambridge Financial Research and Iowa State Bank,” he said. “About one-third of families in Fairfield signed up.”
Students will participate from Washington, Pence and Libertyville elementary schools, Fairfield Middle School, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment and Home School Assistance Program.
Participating students will plant eastern white pine seedlings, and tree shipments will arrive at the schools prior to Earth Day, April 22.
“The beauty of it is that there is so much work that needs to be done,” Narula said. “The sky’s the limit. There’s so much joy to be derived from this.”