Like the late Betty Campbell-Adams, the namesake of the Community Board 8 annual most valuable merchant award, this year’s honorees have followed with the same work ethic.
The veteran-owned-and-operated Tree Army and their principals Nicholas and Joelle Lynch will accept the award named after the former co-owner of Lloyd’s Carrot Cake on Oct. 3.
“Each year Community Board 8 seeks to acknowledge merchants who have demonstrated excellence business acumen and unselfish dedication to our community here in CD8,” CB8 chair of Economic Development Nicholas Fazio wrote to The Riverdale Press.
What stood out to Fazio and CB8 about Tree Army was just how committed the accomplished entrepreneurs are to serving others. The business provides tree services all throughout the city, doing trimmings, tree stump removals, and even rescuing cats from trees.
“The Tree Army refurbished (and continues to maintain) the flag pole on (West) 239th Street near the Bell Tower and the adjoining Veterans Park,” Fazio said in an email. “They participated in the Toys for Tots program during the holiday season, created local jobs, supported other combat service veterans with their transitions to civilian life, and deployed crew members and equipment to numerous disaster-relief efforts, including Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.”
For Joelle Lynch, it was “really meaningful” to hear she would win the award named after the late Campbell-Adams. Campbell-Adams and her husband Lloyd opened the carrot cake shop in 1986.
Joelle recalled going to the store with her now husband, Nicholas, when they were kids, and seeing Campbell-Adams smile. While she did not have a super personal relationship with her, Joelle has fond memories of her and all the things she did for the community.
When both Nicholas and Joelle returned from the military they made a decision to stay in Riverdale. While in the military, Nicholas was trained how to use a chainsaw. When he came back he spent hours a day cutting a tree down with his father. It provided both a good sleep when he was done and mental clarity. And what was a hobby would then turn into a job.
“And I was like, look, if I’m going to go with that at 100 percent, then I’m going to make it my company,” Nicholas said then in a video posted by Citizens Bank. “And hire people like me, people with PTSD, people with issues coming out of the military because there’s never an off boarding.”
Joelle, while providing care to a tree she had just ascended, explained to The Press how her husband recognized the principle of having what’s considered a dangerous weapon in your hands. Nicholas wanted to help those who were disabled, labeled and stigmatized.
“My husband recognized that was a huge uplifting factor, a huge moment for the events that he started Tree Army,” Joelle said. “Even for himself, it was kind of a turn-around point, putting a chainsaw in the hands of someone who was struggling. Because while running that machine, your focus is solely on the chainsaw. It kind of mimics the hyperfocus and vigilance in the military. It allows you to put aside thinking and stress, thinking about, and kind of have moments of clarity.”
The work allowed for veterans to simply feel the air, sun, nature, and feel grounded and peaceful.
“To be around other vets who are like-minded is so healing,” Joelle said. “With everyone sharing a mission focus. The mission is this, we’re all going to work toward that goal, the sense of accomplishment at the end, instead of just being told ‘take these pills,’ ‘this is what’s wrong with you’, ‘you’re unemployable.’”
When asked by The Press how often the business has to do cat rescues, Joelle said they receive a surprising amount of such calls. They more recently had to rescue a racing falcon that flew away from a handler and wound up in a tree.
For Joelle, it has been wild to look back at how far they’ve come since they started in Tree Army. She explained how just a couple of years ago there were jobs or projects that would have presented a huge hurdle or were impossible to accomplish. Now though? They can do those jobs on a daily basis.
At the end of the day when the veteran workers come back all sweaty and tired from a long day of work, they can still be seen energetically high fiving each other.
“That makes it all worth it,” Joelle said. “That’s the best part.”
For Tree Army, this is not the first award they’ve gotten. The business recently was awarded a $10,000 check as part of the Military Warriors Support Foundation Giveaway. In addition they were given a Vermeer mini skid steer, and, according to Joelle, that has been a “game changer.”
Looking at the future, Joelle is hoping to complete landscaping and hardscaping at Veterans Park near a veteran memorial and monument. In addition she anticipates a Veteran’s Day ceremony and hopes to have a Flag day ceremony. There may also be a veterans parade in the works one day.
Nicholas and Joelle Lynch, and the rest of their Tree Army team will be recognized for their hard work on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Yukka Latin Bistro.