By Dave Churchill, The Hamilton Spectator, April 17, 2015
People in some of Hamilton's most polluted neighbourhoods are breathing a little easier thanks to the work by Randy Kay and the group at the Hamilton Street Tree Project.
But on Thursday, it was Kay's time to bask in the sunshine as he was named Volunteer Hamilton's Community Builder of the Year.
Kay said the work wasn't about winning awards, or even how many trees are planted every year, but about the long-term impact on some of Hamilton's neighbourhoods with the worst air quality. More than 80 trees were planted in Crown Point last year. The year before, about 70 trees were planted in the Keith area.
"The impact on those neighbourhoods in 20 years will be tremendous," said Kay. "It will change those neighbourhoods. By then, people won't remember I got this award."
Kay, an environmental and clean air advocate in the city for years, dreamed up the Street Tree Project three years ago while looking at Google satellite maps of Hamilton.
What he saw struck a chord.
"You could see the difference when looking at Ancaster or Dundas," he explained. "You could see green — but other neighbourhoods were all grey."
Kay, who is co-ordinator of volunteers for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at McMaster University, decided to connect the university's student volunteers with the city's existing tree planting program. The city program had been in place since 2004 but has gotten a big boost from Kay and the Street Tree Project volunteers.
Students went door to door promoting the tree planting and the group hit immediate success. More than 60 trees were planted in the Keith neighbourhood in the fall of 2013, as opposed to the previous average of three per year.
Kay said the group will be back again this summer, canvassing an even wider section of the north end and hoping to top the 80 trees planted last year.
At the awards breakfast, Sam Cino, president of Volunteer Hamilton's board of directors, said volunteers make the city a better place and noted Hamilton has one of the highest percentages of volunteers in Canada.
"It's the most special gift of all," said Cino. "The gift of time."
The Community Builder of the Year award is sponsored by The Hamilton Spectator and includes a $1,000 legacy grant.
For more information on the city's free tree planting program, see treeshamilton.ca or call the city at 905-546-2489.