Mari Aviles is a community arborist at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, a nonprofit that connects volunteers with around 500 annual projects of community improvement. Aviles plants and cares for for thousands of trees across the city. Jenna Watson/IndyStar
Mari Aviles never expected that her studies would lead her to a career in the woods — she was never an outdoorsy kid — but after volunteering for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, it was clear where she wanted to be: in nature, while helping her city.
After hearing of a job opening at the nonprofit, where she volunteered at for several semesters in college, she was dead-set on returning.
“Coming back to Indianapolis and doing what I love in the city that I grew up in and with the ownership I feel of the city was very rewarding,” Aviles said.
What she loves — and does for a living — is planting and maintaining trees across Indianapolis as a community arborist. Although planting trees may not seem like a community-unifying activity, that’s Aviles’ and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s mission.
KIB connects volunteers to about 500 projects a year focusing on community improvement. The organization, which was founded in 1976 as Indianapolis Clean City, supports programs for planting trees, cleaning up neighborhoods and other initiatives.
Aviles and the organization hope to unite people through nature.
“KIB strives to keep the communities beautiful by increasing the green spaces around the city and increasing the canopy as well,” she said. “These projects take a lot of manpower in the form of volunteers who … become united by the work and the idea of a greener environment.”
They bring people together from diverse backgrounds, such as economic status, race, age and education.
“All of Indianapolis is diverse,” Aviles said. “Working in the various communities of Indianapolis will result in a diverse group of volunteers on any given project.”
Aviles emphasizes that it’s the little things that can bring people together and help the environment.
“I’ve faced the issue where people don’t believe they can make a change,” she said. “They see themselves as one person in the whole world of people who are doing the same thing. With that, it seems a bit cliche to say it, but I let them know that if they do anything, it’ll have a positive impact.”
Q&A With Mari Aviles
What does it mean to you to be an American?
“To be an American to me means being proud of where you live, helping out your community and the people who live in your community, and being open-minded. (It also) means to be open to diversity in every way because people should have the right to be different in (any) way.”
What moment touched and motivated you to launch this effort?
“The moment that motivated me to start my career in the environmental field was probably my orientation day at Purdue University the summer before I started my studies. I decided to switch my major to wildlife science without much prior experience and I never looked back.”
What gives you hope?
“What gives me hope is the people I surround myself with — a lot of positivity and my friends and family. I’m hoping that everyone around the world has the same thing — people (who) love and care about them.”
What concerns you?
“I’m concerned about what’s going on in the country right now. It’s nerve-wracking, but seeing people stand up for what they believe in and for what they love brings me away from being nervous about it. The violence across the world is something else that concerns me.”
What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?
“I hope to bring the community together — that’s the mission of this organization — through nature. I love nature and I want to see a lot of positivity in the city and I think this is the best way to do it. Although a tree planted in front of someone’s yard here in Indianapolis won’t (directly help) many of those suffering through some of these tough times, I hope to bring a bit of joy in the form of nature to the people of this city.”
About Mari Aviles
Profession: Community arborist.
Mission: To unite the community in Indianapolis through planting trees.
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