Founded in 1981, Isles, Inc. is a community development and environmental organization based in Trenton, New Jersey. With a mission to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities, we design and develop effective services that support this mission and share what we learn with others who can make a difference.
- revitalizes communities by working alongside local residents to plan their neighborhoods’ future, and by developing energy efficient, affordable and healthy homes, parks, gardens, shared facilities, and more
- trains and educates adults and youth through an alternative high school, vocational center, and family support services
- builds wealth through innovative financial services and loans that help restore credit and increase savings
- promotes healthy living by tackling environmental hazards, fostering energy efficiency, improving open space, and expanding access to locally grown food
Pathways to Self-Reliance
Isles offers multiple pathways to self-reliance. For some, the key step is to improve credit; for others, it is to earn a GED and gain job-readiness skills. Some communities convert vacant lots to gardens, others target abandoned buildings and substandard housing, or create redevelopment plans for their future. In each case, we look for practical solutions, offer them to the community, learn from the outcomes, then use what we learn to influence others. Here are some examples of our work.
For some families with low and moderate incomes, owning a home builds a bridge to financial success. Isles helps families make informed choices regarding where to live and whether to buy a home.In 2004, Isles developed 84 mixed income town homes at Monument Crossing in Trenton, on the site of abandoned industrial buildings and land left vacant after the ’68 riots. Since the 2008 financial crisis, many Trenton homeowners have faced foreclosure. Isles works with families to help them stay in their homes or achieve the best resolution to their problems.
Lower income, working families often fall into unsustainable debt. Isles developed an unusual blend of training and counseling services, coupled with low-cost loans, to help our customers budget, make wise financial choices, increase savings, reduce high cost debt, and improve credit scores.
Train and Educate
In Trenton, less than 50% of students graduate from high school. Students drop out for a range of reasons, including the need for income; to care for their own children, siblings, or relatives with disabilities; frustration about their own poor academic skills; the culture of their public school; or substance addiction. Most dropouts face multiple barriers to self-sufficiency. Many carry criminal records, some are parents, and countless students contend with unsafe home and street environments. They carry a high risk of future incarceration. Today, society pays dearly for these worsening trends. Investing in ways to break this prison and poverty cycle can be highly cost effective, with returns on investment up to 44 to 1.
In 1995, Isles began offering education and construction training to these young people. Today, Isles Youth Institute serves youth and families, providing education, vocational training, life skills support, and case management services. Because our approach works, Isles advocates for investing in youth before they enter the prison pipeline.
Isles plans and develops real estate projects including affordable housing, open spaces, and community facilities. Isles works with residents and other stakeholders to create neighborhood master plans. To implement those plans, Isles collaborates with funders, community groups, and public officials to find funding and help manage development projects on the ground.Isles has worked to create regional and statewide organizations that are needed as building blocks for local development. For example, in 1984, Isles identified barriers to financing community development in Trenton and statewide. In response, Isles organized state leaders and led the formation of New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC). NJCC, now an independent, statewide, nonprofit corporation, manages over $85 million in capital, investing in community development.
Promote Healthy Living
Our early work cleaning up environmental hazards showed us that the most dangerous place for children is their own home. Lead, asthma triggers, and other hazards affect children’s health daily. For example, poor housing conditions result in elevated lead levels for thousands of children in Trenton.
In 2000, we began testing homes in Trenton for hazards including lead. Over the next 13 years, Isles trained community members to test more than 2500 homes. Over the same period, Isles launched low-cost approaches to remediate hazards and educate residents on prevention. Based on this experience, Isles leads state and national initiatives related to home health. For example, Isles established the New Jersey Healthy Homes Training Center to train and certify people who visit homes on a regular basis. These individuals, including visiting health workers, building inspectors, and weatherization workers, form a network of professionals improving community health.
Click here to view our Learning Over the Years chart.