Penn Power’s Green Team, Western Pennsylvania Students Join Forces to Plant Trees and Enrich the Community

tree planting

A free bagged lunch. The opportunity to skip class (excused, of course) for the day.

That was the price of admission for 41 Seneca Valley students from Ryan Gloyer Middle School to “grow community” in Cranberry Township on a recent unseasonably warm October day. 

The kids joined forces with the Penn Power Green Team and the township’s public works employees in a blitz to plant 200 grey dogwood, flowering dogwood, redbud and black haw saplings in parks and common areas in 11 different neighborhoods.

“Typically, we plant in just one spot,” said Jessica Shaffer, a FirstEnergy scientist who heads up the Green Team, a group of employees who volunteer their time and talents to support environmental initiatives. “We’ve never spread out in this fashion, and it’s exciting to see the students so engaged.” 

View photos of Penn Power employees and local students planting the donated trees on the company’s Flickr page.

FirstEnergy, parent company of Penn Power, has donated and planted nearly 64,000 trees across its six-state service territory since 2021. Green Teams have planted about 4,500 trees in Pennsylvania so far in 2023. This initiative supports the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, promote responsible use of natural resources and advance sustainable practices.

Trees provide an array of vital benefits, including absorbing carbon, soaking up storm water that can cause erosion and preserving stream and riverbanks. They also offer food and cover for songbirds, small animals and pollinator insects. 

On the Road  

A municipal truck pickup hauling a trailer laden with trees, mulch, wheelbarrows and shovels led the caravan, followed by a bright yellow school bus and a dozen personal vehicles wending from housing plan to housing plan.

Mike Manipole, middle school physical education teacher, elected township supervisor and champion of “growing community”, expertly steered the organized chaos to keep the kids and volunteers on track for swift plantings at each location. 

“When you hear four horn blasts, that means it’s time to get back to the bus and move on to the next location,” Manipole told the group at the outset before leaving the township complex for the day. “How many beeps?”

 “Four!” shouted the kids. 

Stop one was Orchard Park to plant 45 trees at a playground and along the perimeter of a vast grass field. Encircled by students, teachers and adult volunteers, Shaffer demonstrated the right way to plant a sapling and stake it with a protective tube to prevent browsing deer or lawn mowers from ruining the day’s labor.

“If deer eat from the baby tree, they can’t come back from that,” Shaffer said. “We’ll leave the tube there for a year and by then the tree should be hardy enough that the deer won’t kill it.”   

One student asked if the tube would block light and prevent the tree from thriving.

“That’s a very good question,” Shaffer noted. “The sunlight comes through the top, and it will help the tree grow straight.” 

The lesson ended, 11 teacher-led student teams fanned out with shovels, saplings and mulch to make short order of the plantings before boarding the bus to hit the next 10 stops. The youthful energy and a bunch of extra hands made for a much more relaxed day than the Green Team was accustomed to.

“Our kids will walk away knowing they got to work with people who care about our community,” Manipole said. “And if people see us and ask why we are doing all this, what will we tell them?”

“To grow community!” of course.

Learn more about FirstEnergy’s environmental and corporate responsibility efforts to build a brighter and more sustainable future at

Last Modified: November 3, 2023