By: Ariel Worthy

Two Birmingham city high school student-athletes recently won $500 to plant trees around the metro area.

Jordan Embry of Ramsay High School and Kobe Howard of Wenonah High School won for their presentation on the importance of mitigating deforestation in Alabama which impressed a panel of judges at the Together Assisting People (TAP) Business Pitch Competition.

“I think it’s brilliant for them to come up with a concept talking about tree deforestation,” said Chris Rogers, founder and CEO of TAP. “They want to take the (prize) money (of $500) to do that. They want to get their teammates and TAP to plant more.”

The students want to start out by planting five trees in two Birmingham neighborhoods this summer but hope to plant more.

Embry, who is a junior and a running back at Ramsay, and Howard, who is a senior with the culinary program at Wenonah, provided statistical information about deforestation in their communities.

Embry said he came up with the idea of planting trees because he wanted to do something that makes a difference.  “I feel like trees are a necessity in life,” Embry said. “They help with oxygen and it has so many benefits for everyday life. When you cut down a tree I feel like you should also replant a tree.”

Howard said he was surprised by the number of trees cut in every year.

About 3.5 billion trees are cut every year around the world including about 500,000 acres of trees a year in the United States, he said. “We don’t cut down as much as Brazil, but they also have a rainforest,” Howard said. “So we don’t have as many trees . . . but we’re still losing a lot of the benefits that trees provide us.”

Howard said he learned a lot about research while working on the project.

“If you have the right people, the right materials, the right information, you can go far and do a lot,” he said.

Embry agreed.

“I think our idea was pretty good,” he said. “We learned about creating a budget plan for the project. For silver maple seeds (to plant the trees) it’s $20 for 100 seeds. We’re not going to plant over 300 seeds or anything, but we do hope it will make a difference.”

The students said they hope their project inspires others to take notice of issues like deforestation.

“If they want to help in another area and plant trees there, they should go for it,” Embry said.

Jordan Embry presents information about deforestation to a panel of judges during Together Assisting People’s first Business Pitch event. (Provided photo)

Rogers acknowledged that the topic wasn’t one that many athletes would care about.

“You’d never think that athletes would be into that kind of stuff,” he said. “Jordan is a kid who gets it. Kobe is looking to go to the University of South Alabama and major in business, but he has dreams of being a chef. He actually caters our events. So, we’re letting him fine-tune his skills by catering our events. He’s getting the opportunity to get real-life skills and we’re putting money in his pockets.”

Other pitches as part of the competition included ways to improve customer service. Students Lee Witherspoon of Parker High School and Jayst Dorion of Spain Park High School are trying to come up with an app to improve customer service, Rogers said.

“They said they see a difference between how you’re treated at Wal-Mart and Whole Foods,” he said.

This is the first Business Pitch, but Rogers wants it to become an annual event.

“We have some . . . guys doing exceptional work,” Rogers said. “To have them . . . researching and pitching. I think long term they all won. They’ve got something invaluable.”

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