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After Disasters, Dallas Non-Profit Helps Communities Regrow

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Storms and natural disasters can be merciless in Texas. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fire – the Lone Star State experiences it all.

For communities hit hard, that can mean not only the loss of homes and buildings, but the greenery that makes them beautiful.

"A community isn't only made up of people, it's made up of place," said Grady McGahan.

McGahan is the founder of the Dallas-based non-profit RETREET.

The grassroots group formed in 2012, and is rapidly growing, just like the trees they bring back to storm-struck neighborhoods across the country.

Right now, they're one of three finalists for a $100,000 donation from Reliant Gives. RETREET is the only non-profit from North Texas on the list; public voting runs through Friday, May 13.

This past January, volunteers went to Central Texas, and planted 206 trees at 37 homes and two parks, where 2015 spring flooding stripped the land.

Upcoming projects include Colorado, and California, and the City of Rowlett.

"They're replacing everything there. All these communities. You come in and there's work going on," McGahan says.

While programs exist to fund new buildings and homes, no disaster relief exists specifically for trees in urban areas, McGahan says. To add to that, it can take several decades for a tree to reach maturity. It means recovering what's lost in the landscape can take a long time.

"Disaster relief is by and large defined by the replacing of things – housing and infrastructure. Replanting trees is something a lot of people would like to be doing, but they just don't have the time or money or resources available," said McGahan.

Danita Harris knows what that's like. She is the administrator of Kids University Learning Center, in Lancaster.

In April 2012, Harris and other teachers huddled with a group of young children inside the building – right in the path of a tornado. "It was total devastation. No trees. The back of our building was removed. Everything was in disarray," she said.

She says they could have never replanted the trees lost, without the help of RETREET. The organization made two trips to Lancaster, replacing some 200 trees in 2012, and another 35 this year.

"It just gives life to everything. To be able to get this amount of trees is just a tremendous, tremendous boost to us," Harris said.

Turning their attention to Rowlett, RETREET is partnering with Keep Rowlett Beautiful and the Texas Trees Foundation to replant 1,000 trees in the city this winter.

Winning the $100,000 from Reliant Energy, McGahan says, would be transformational. "Especially when people see that as a turning point, in their road to recovery."

Voting for Reliant Gives runs through May 13. The non-profits will find out the results next week.

Looking around the playground at Kids University, where newly planted trees are taking root, Harris imagines what such a donation could do for other communities.

"It would mean so much to the families there."

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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