A view of the tree and plaques at the Anne Frank Garden in Cayuga County.

Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project

“It’s a very meaningful place for someone to just come and visit, learn about Anne Frank and the tree and reflect.”

On any given day behind the Emily Howard Elementary School in the town of Aurora, you may see a person or two milling about, picking weeds from beneath the rocks and tidying up the landscape that surrounds a coveted horse chestnut sapling. It’s not just any sapling, though, but one from the very tree that grew outside of where Anne Frank and her family hid during the Holocaust.

The all-volunteer Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project (SCAFTP) committee is tasked with caring for the sapling and providing educational programming that furthers their mission. Ten others like it have found homes at historical sites around the country. Over time, the notoriety that the tree has received has attracted people from all over the region, including residents from Syracuse, Auburn, Ithaca and surrounding areas.

“It’s a very meaningful place for someone to just come and visit, learn about Anne Frank and the tree and reflect,” said SCAFTP committee member Dana Mandel.

The sapling’s popularity encouraged the committee to make the site appealing, providing imagery and symbolic landscaping to visitors. Over time, the site design has morphed into a calming place, complete with benches and signage – an addition that was funded through a grant from the Cayuga Community Fund, an affiliate fund of the Central New York Community Foundation. Mandel says the next enhancement in mind is to make the site 100 percent wheelchair accessible.

“Thanks to the Cayuga Community Fund’s support, we now have signs directing people to the tree site,” Mandel said. “Because people are coming from greater distances, it has been extremely helpful directing them to locate and find the tree itself.”

In addition to maintaining the tree, SCAFTP seeks to educate and empower children so that they recognize their abilities as individuals to cultivate and promote understanding, tolerance and justice through their words and deeds.

SCAFTP’s robust calendar includes productions within the school, school-wide and community book reads, movie nights, an annual celebration and field trips.

The Cayuga Community Fund awarded a second grant to SCAFTP in 2016 to purchase books and marketing materials for its annual community read event hosted in partnership with the Southern Cayuga School District, the Hazard Public Library and the Aurora Free Library.

“Our once local project in the Southern Cayuga School District has now expanded to the interest of residents from three counties and beyond,” Mandel said. “To have one of these historic saplings planted here at Emily Howard Elementary School is quite an honor and distinction.”

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