We support rural and urban forests and promote knowledge and understanding of the value of trees for present and future generations.


The non-profit organization, Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards (CATS), grew out of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) tree steward training classes of 2003 and 2004. VCE agent, Peter Warren, administered these two classes, with Adam Downing, VCE Forestry Agent. Following the end of the 2004 class, no other classes were offered and tree steward projects and activities were at a minimum.

In 2007, Jacki Vawter approached Peter to inquire about putting a class together, administered by graduates of the previous two classes. He provided the rosters of the two classes and encouraged Vawter to proceed.

Contacting every tree steward on the rosters, six others were found who were willing to meet and develop a tree steward community in the area. With Vawter, the tree stewards were…

Phil Stokes
Sue Knapp-Steen
Leslie Weinhardt
Rick Helms
Dorothy Tompkins
Joan Payne-Currier

During 2007, the seven discussed what was needed to create a training class for tree stewards. We met with Virginia Department of Forestry (VDoF) Paul Revell, who was especially helpful. Paul offered the classroom of the VDoF for our training and provided contact information for possible presenters and existing tree steward groups in Virginia. We visited the Lynchburg Tree Stewards for a day. They were welcoming, gave us tools and materials, and showed us their projects. Although small in membership, they were enthusiastic and eagerly answered our questions.

First CATS Training Class

By late fall of 2007, the seven tree stewards decided to offer a training class in the spring of 2008. We began advertising with flyers and inviting presenters. The flyer was worded,

Funding, donation of printed materials and cooperative support for this educational offering has been made possible by the following not-for-profit sponsors and associations:

Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards
Virginia Cooperative Extension Office of Albemarle/Charlottesville
Trees Virginia (The Virginia Urban Forestry Council)
Piedmont Master Gardeners Association

The 2008 registration fee for the first CATS training class was $50. Registration applications were mailed to the VCE office. The location for the training class was the VDoF classroom. Training took place on 14 consecutive Mondays beginning February 25. Presenters were from Blue Ridge Community College, VCE, VDoF, Lynchburg Tree Stewards, and Front Royal Tree Stewards.

The class limit was 30 and 30 people enrolled. Fourteen of the 30 enrollees were master gardeners. Many of those in this initial training class became dedicated and active tree stewards, contributing to the leadership of the organization. They continue to be active with CATS—Sallie Brown, Rosemary Connelly, Dan Fowley, Jay Gillenwater, Marjie Giuliano, Jane Ann and Gil Griffis, Maud Henne, Jack O’Leary, Pat and Steve Schnatterly, and Elena Speidel.

Development of CATS as an Organization

Following the training class of 2008, a few students from the class and the original seven “founding members” were interested in developing a tree steward organization. A Steering Committee was led by Jack Hardgrove, a 2008 class trainee, who had experience in organizational development. A mission statement, goals and officers with terms and responsibilities were identified. We chose to structure our organization with three basic committees—Projects, Communication, and Education. We determined that 25 would be the number of yearly volunteer hours to achieve “certification” as a tree steward, and membership criteria would be open to anyone successfully completing the tree steward training.

The CATS Organizational Document was approved by the assembled members at a meeting in July of 2008. It was revised a number of times in 2008 to 2010 and became the basis for the CATS Bylaws, approved by the membership in December 2013.

Our initial CATS Board of Directors:

President Jacki Vawter
President-Elect Phil Stokes
Treasurer Maud Henne
Recording Secretary Terri Keffert
Projects Chair Jack O’Leary
Communication Chair Rosemary Connelly
Education Chairs Pat and Steve Schnatterly

Early CATS Projects

The Education Committee has been responsible for the development and administration of the yearly training class. CATS considers this an important project because we recruit members from each class who wish to volunteer and be an active member with us. The training class has been held since 2008 and has enrolled 25 to 30 each year. In 2014, CATS chose to hold an evening class hoping to reach those who could not attend a class during the day due to work responsibilities. That class was held at a local high school and was under-enrolled. We returned to a daytime class in the VDoF classroom the next year.

The Education Committee is also responsible for acquiring the presenter or arranging a field trip for each of our monthly meetings. We decided to omit the month of August and in 2013, we began having a potluck picnic in June for members. Ten months of the year, CATS continues its education with our membership meetings.

Our first project was led by Phil Stokes in cooperation with the Ivy Creek Natural Area. CATS members began a woodland restoration at Ivy Creek, pulling invasives and planting native trees and shrubs in a specific area between the barn and the education building. It was necessary to have many workdays to achieve the intended outcome. Today the area is still maintained and labels identify the plants. Following this project, Phil led a second restoration of a wooded acre owned by the University of Virginia near Barracks Road. CATS continues to maintain and develop this area. Its location at a Rivanna Trailhead results in frequent foot traffic. It is in this place that a memorial tree was planted in dedication to Mara Evans, a member from our first class.

CATS member Rosemary Connelly took the initiative to develop an educational flyer for distribution to the public about mulch volcanoes surrounding the base of trees. This first publication for CATS was illustrated and written with English on one side and Spanish on the other. Copies are regularly made and used with our training classes and placed on our information table at community events. Individual members send the flyer to their home owners association. In 2012, CATS member Thayer Drew initiated a mailing of the flyer to all the landscape companies in the area with a cover letter.

Another continuing project begun in 2011 is the Tree Basics for Homeowners class given at local libraries without cost. Initially the class was three sessions but it has evolved to one session. The purpose is to give practical information to participants about selecting, planting and caring for a tree. Active CATS members teaching the class have been Janet Eden, Phil Stokes, Nancy Weiss, Rosemary Connelly, and Jacki Vawter. In 2015, Dan Fowley and Tim Maywalt held a class with the focus upon pruning, to include a demonstration with trees outside the library.

Newsletters and Website

A CATS newsletter was developed in January of 2009 and continued until December of 2011. Rosemary Connelly was the editor, filling the bi-monthly, online publication with meeting information and announcements, book reviews, tree species focus, photos, and links to more information. In 2011, the newsletter gave way to the CATS website and Rosemary Connelly volunteered to be our webmaster. The website is without cost to CATS and uses a Word Press template. Up-to-date brief stories and photos report current activities and announcements. The website holds archival information, a calendar, and a “Members Only” page with our membership roster and Time Sheet for recording volunteer hours. We have over 150 followers who receiving an email whenever a posting to the website is made. Our URL is www.charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.

Memo of Agreement with VCE

In 2013 CATS and the VA Cooperative Extension office in Charlottesville began discussions to clarify our relationship. Since supporting our initial efforts to begin as an organization, the support was examined from the VCE point of view for project management, use of office copy machine, volunteer hour record keeping and room reservations. If the relationship was to be maintained between CATS and VCE, then CATS members would have to become a VCE Master Gardener, attend their tree steward training, and be responsible to Virginia Tech policies on risk management and demographic record keeping. By June 2013, our then President, Jay Gillenwater, and VCE Extension Agent Cathryn Kloetzli, signed a formal “Memorandum of Understanding” between CATS and VCE. The effect was a disassociation with VCE.

Grants Received

Through the years CATS has been awarded numerous grants for our projects and activities. Every year we have received a Trees Virginia tree steward mini grant from $300 to $500. CATS was twice awarded a Charlottesville Area Community Foundation award through the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band up to $2500.

Non-Profit Status

CATS was limited in receiving grants from organizations that require a federal non-profit status. In addition, sizable donations to CATS would occur if we had such a designation. CATS member Cynthia Foulke volunteered to make application for a 501(c)3 to IRS. By-laws were developed from our Organizational Document of 2008 and approved by the membership. We received our non-profit status from the IRS in 2014.

To Be Continued

At this time in the CATS organization, leadership is strong and new members are joining. Financial stability has occurred as a result of fund raising efforts through tree sales and donations. CATS has evolved to become a known entity in the community and we continue to attract people wanting to be tree stewards. We have increased our collaboration with others and have established good relationships with professionals in the industry. In 2015 CATS developed a Facebook page and in 2023 an Instagram. We anticipate continued development and implementation of our mission.