As children, many played in treehouses and learned valuable life lessons with friends. Now, in Provo, three BYU students are carrying the same concept into young adulthood.
As stars light the Wasatch Front on a Thursday night, the decorative lights in a Provo home’s backyard illuminate the faces of hundreds of college students and friends at Treehouse Talks. The weekly TED Talks-esque event was born from a backyard and an idea — elevating conversation through sharing passions. BYU students Hollis Hunt, Mio Cannon and Michael Niemann did not know that this simple idea would end up attracting hundreds of people each week and turn into a non-profit organization.
“It was really cool, it was just like four or five of us just talking about things we were passionate about,” Hunt, an experience design and management student, said. “One of our roommates put lights up in the backyard, we found this projector, a random screen, and we did it. After that we said ‘we need to do it again.’ And it organically got bigger and bigger.”
With speakers hand-picked from an ever-growing list of volunteers, Treehouse Talks provides attendees with a diverse range of 10-minute talks and musical performances from local artists. The thought-provoking weekly event focuses on fostering an environment of understanding and open-mindedness.
“I think at different points in our lives we’ve all, at one point or another, been on the margins where we’ve had difficult things, seen or unseen,” neuroscience and Portuguese major Cannon said. “I think what Treehouse Talks has, and is growing into, is an opportunity to celebrate people and diversity and ideas.”
Recent topics have ranged from the importance of connectivity to crucial life lessons learned from a man who used to be involved with illicit drug production.
“Some of the things that are spoken about are near and dear to people’s hearts whether it be eating disorders, depression, etc. We really want to make sure that we’re putting real people with real experiences and stories up in front, so they can help the people who are going through those things right now, have a little more hope or light,” Cannon said. “We also want to make sure we’re being diverse with what’s being said, mixing fun with serious, heartbreak with love, balancing things.”
Encapsulating all that Treehouse Talks stands for, Niemann, an information systems major, said the purpose of the weekly event is for people to learn diverse ideas, connect and leave more aware.
“Every time I go to Treehouse Talks I hear new ideas, my mind is expanded, and it’s such a rare thing to have such a large community where people are so inclusive,” he said.
When Hunt, Cannon and Niemann planted the seed of connectivity and inclusivity, a space within the Provo community existed for an event like Treehouse Talks to flourish. However, as the community event gained momentum, the ramifications of COVID-19 brought any progression to a halt.
“COVID kind of shut us down,” Hunt said. “And then we started it back up again this last summer.”
Even though the pandemic created some roadblocks for Treehouse Talks, just like their message to all who attend, the trio said growth is the answer to a lot of the problems they have faced and will continue to face.
One area of growth they refer to is the expansion of Treehouse Talks to different cities.
“We got a text message from someone saying ‘we love what you guys are doing in Provo, and we need conversations like this in Rexburg.’ And this was kind of the first thought — Woah, Treehouse Talks is more than Provo, Utah,” Hunt said. “When we saw the potential of it growing, we realized we can create a community anywhere we go.”
Salt Lake, Logan and Rexburg are some of the latest auxiliary branches of Treehouse Talks and a chapter in Hawaii was announced to start in the near future.
Besides the physical growth of Treehouse Talks, the main type of growth that is fostered within the community is diversification of thought and empathy toward those around us.
“You might come and hear about something you disagree with. That’s the point,” Cannon said. “Whether you’re 100 percent behind what’s being shared, or kind of against it, you leave understanding that there are people behind the problem. There are stories and experiences that make people the way that they are and you can have a little more space to love and understand people after you’ve had an experience at Treehouse Talks.”
To create a “little more space to love and understand,” Treehouse Talks is collaborating with BYU Pride on Oct. 14 for a LGBTQ+ awareness night. The event will be a safe space for speakers, musical artists and participants to share experiences and to learn from one another’s perspectives.
“We’ve found that with proximity comes greater empathy. With proximity comes greater love,” Cannon said. “That’s what Treehouse Talks is trying to do.”
Treehouse Talks is held weekly at 9 p.m. at 326 E. 1900 N. in Provo. More information on Treehouse Talks’ location and event updates can be found on their instagram page.