Years before the term “sustainable development” was coined, we created Isles to foster it where it was needed most. How? By providing tools, ideas and organizing help to community-based groups (or “islands”) that wanted to develop their economy and restore their environment.
We started by helping neighborhoods build affordable homes, grow organic food on local land, and create parks. Over time, we branched into startup businesses, youth education, wealth building, green job training, anti-violence strategies and effective ways to protect youth from toxic environmental hazards. We converted a vacant factory into a special center for social impact groups to thrive together, we improved public policies, and also helped build other bedrock organizations, like NJ Community Capital, to grow our impact.
A set of beliefs guided us. First, families and individuals are capable – more than we tend to expect, even in tough communities, where residents rarely get to show those capabilities. Treat others the way we want to be treated, with dignity and capacity for self-determination and power. We also knew that restoring the environment was key for the health of future generations.
But these were just beliefs and ideas, and people tend to over-rate them. To actually build Isles, theory would not cut it, and we had no book or blueprint. For 39 years, we organized ourselves to research and debate good practices. We then carved our own path, trying to be thoughtful, pivoting, keeping faith while leaning on each other. As a team, we thought big yet focused on quality. We stayed independent enough to stay on mission, not follow the next new trend.
The results from this past year? Jorge, a kid who was kicked out of high school, joined numerous friends who now have full-time jobs after graduating from Isles Youth Institute. More than 150 homes were tested for lead and other health hazards: 60 of those homes were renovated, making them safe for children, energy efficient, and more affordable for families. We added three new community gardens to the nearly 70 we manage across the city.
That’s just one year of our work—we’ve been focused on our mission of self-reliance and sustainability for nearly four decades. Isles Youth Institute has supported over 1,150 students like Jorge. Six hundred homes have been purchased or saved from foreclosure. More than 350 homes have been renovated to be lead safe, nearly 500 have been fully rehabilitated or built from scratch, and more than 1,000 have been weatherized to be more energy efficient.
I look back with pride over the long arc of Isles’ evolution, filled with milestones, lessons, and key partners who made it possible. You are an integral part of that history. Isles is special; it has stood the test of time.
Your gifts to Isles invest in healthy communities – and the future of this work. You help us create community-based solutions and resources to face tough challenges. Your donation makes this work possible.
Especially during this transitional time, your contribution is more important than ever.
Founder and President