Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Friend,
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays – gathering with family and friends, (over)eating delicious food, and celebrating our common unity together.
Like for so many others, this Thanksgiving is a bit difficult for me. Our big family gathering is cancelled to protect against COVID. And I know I have it lucky – so many others have lost loved ones, are out of work, or are still recovering from personal battles with the pandemic.
It can be hard to think about gratitude right now, but we still have so much to be thankful for.
This year at Isles, we are thankful for how our community has rallied together to help one another – sewing masks, harvesting food from our gardens for local food banks, working with local restaurants to deliver hot meals to our students, and much more.
We’re thankful for the outpouring of love, support, and encouragement we’ve received from our friends. And in the coming weeks, we’ll ask for your support again. Many of you will soon be receiving our end of year appeal letter and highlights, outlining the extraordinary lengths the Isles team has gone to this year to make an impact in our communities. To keep making that impact, we need your help this year more than ever.
As the new CEO at Isles, I’m thankful for the opportunity to lead this dynamic organization.  Every day, I get to work with a passionate group of staff and board members who work tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.
From our Isles family to you, Happy Thanksgiving.

In community,
Chief Executive Officer

Isles’ Harvest Celebration 11.14.20

Join us on Saturday, November 14 at 6 pm for Isles’ virtual year-end event, the Harvest Celebration. Broadcast from the Social Profit Center at Mill One via Zoom, the Harvest Celebration will feature highlights of our work throughout the year, and a panel discussion in which new CEO Sean Jackson and Founder Marty Johnson answer your questions about our past, present, and future. For more information and to register online visit isles.org/harvestcelebration

A Message From Our New CEO

Dear Friend,
Last week, I started a new era at Isles, becoming our second CEO. 
For forty years, Marty Johnson led Isles with a unique vision and personal commitment. He built a dynamic, compassionate organization that created and tested new ways to meet an audacious mission – family self-reliance and healthy, sustainable communities. 
Our guiding principles that successfully shaped Isles’ work over the years will not change in this new era. We’ll train and educate youth and adults through Isles Youth Institute and our Center for Energy and Environmental Training. We’ll make homes healthy and efficient, support families working to build wealth, grow gardens and work alongside communities to plan smart, livable, and healthy communities.
This year has certainly tested all of us. For those we serve, especially so. COVID-19 deeply impacts health, jobs, homes and incomes. Gun violence still grips many neighborhoods as continued frustration with unequal criminal justice and broken institutions generate protest and anger. 
How does Isles lead in these turbulent times? 
First, we continue and adapt on-the-ground work that bolsters family self-reliance and community. This work ensures safer streets, homes, and workplaces that are threatened by virus, violence, or systemic racism. 
Second, we keep listening and evolving. What do families and communities need and want today? We honor those demands by bringing both the research on what works, as well as the resources, training, and connections useful for those we serve.
Third, we grow our influence. After forty years, we’ve learned a lot from the wisdom of the grassroots and research. As a result, we have an obligation and opportunity to take a place at the table with policymakers, fellow community organizations in statewide efforts. With Isles’ Social Profit Center opening this Fall, we’ll expand our efforts to bring groups and leaders together to collaborate and lead.
I’m so excited to join this seasoned, impressive team to guide the next generation of Isles. We stand on the broad shoulders of those who built Isles from the ground up, with valuable allies and supporters from across the region and beyond.  We couldn’t be here without this large village, and we’ll need you by our side in the years to come. Join us as we re-think how community building work is done in today’s New Jersey. 
Let’s go!  
Chief Executive Officer

An Important Step to Ending Childhood Lead Poisoning

Today New Jersey took another important step towards eliminating lead poisoning of our children. The Senate Committee on Economic Growth passed S-1147, a bill that will treat toxic lead like toxic radon, requiring inspections for lead paint hazards in both rental units and before a home is sold.

With New Jersey families spending increased time at home during the pandemic, it is more important than ever that we address this silent, invisible neurotoxin that causes permanent damage to children and health problems later in life. Isles, with decades of on-the-ground experience in home assessments, lead remediation, training, and policy, will continue to push for common-sense reforms to protect children.

The public sector cannot correct lead hazards alone. Landlords and homeowners need to be part of the solution.

Today’s vote is a critical first step. Next, the bill advances to the Senate Budget Committee, and public hearings will occur on the Assembly side in preparation for a floor vote in both houses. Stay tuned for more updates as it moves forward.
We thank Senators Ruiz, Cruz-Perez, Turner, Singleton, Smith, and Oroho, and all the other key legislators for their leadership and support on this issue. And we’re grateful for the work of our partners, including the Housing & Community Development Network of NJ, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, New Jersey Future, the The Fund for New Jersey, and many others.

It’s time for NJ to address lead hazards at the source of contamination—to prevent lead poisoning in the first place—before we pay the exploding costs of special education, criminal justice, and lost lives. We look forward to making this change happen, with the support of good people in New Jersey.

Isles Names Sean Jackson as Chief Executive Officer

Trenton, NJ – Isles, a nonprofit community development and environmental organization headquartered in Trenton, NJ, is pleased to announce that Sean Jackson has been selected to serve as its new Chief Executive Officer, effective October 1st. Sean will succeed President Marty Johnson, who founded Isles as part of a student-led initiative at Princeton University in 1981.

A long-term trustee of Isles, Sean brings extensive experience in public policy, law, and real estate development. He previously served as State Director for U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli before transitioning to the private sector as Sr. Vice President of Rosemont Associates, a government relations consulting and real estate development firm. There, in addition to serving as a consultant for dozens of New Jersey firms, Sean developed and managed more than 70k sq ft of commercial development, most of which is located in Trenton.  Sean joined Isles’ Board of Trustees in 2013, later becoming its Real Estate Committee Chair. He also served as Chair of the Pipeline Committee, where he helped develop and evaluate Isles’ services.

In early 2019, Sean stepped off Isles’ Board of Trustees to manage the Social Profit Center at Mill One, a 75k sq ft conversion of a formerly vacant historic mill into office, studio, and flex space.  The Social Profit Center will house charities (including Isles’ headquarters), other social profit organizations and artists under one roof, bringing shared services and a regional hub to improve the capacity of organizations across the region.

“Marty has built an innovative, barrier-breaking organization aimed at family self-reliance and community health, and I am honored to carry that legacy into this new, exciting chapter as Isles’ next Chief Executive Officer,” says Sean Jackson. “Our community, and indeed our country,  face awesome challenges that require innovative, disciplined solutions. Isles management team is talented, experienced, and resourceful.  I’m excited to work with them to meet these challenges in the months and years ahead.”

“Sean is the right person to lead Isles in this moment,” says Founder Marty Johnson. “We have learned a lot over the years, and Sean has been alongside us.  He is well versed in shaping public policy, launching the Social Profit Center, expanding our lead poisoning prevention work, and grounding our green energy work to jobs and development.  These are exciting times for Isles, full of potential.  I’m proud to have spent my adult life helping build it.”

Marty, who had been working as a part-time CEO/President while teaching Social Entrepreneurship at Princeton University and Lafayette College, will stay on in a part-time capacity  to work closely with Sean and Chief Operating Officer John Hart to support the transition. 

“As COO, John is key to this transition, managing Isles’ operations for over 6 years, building partnerships and bringing a social and racial justice lens to our work,” says Marty. “He and Sean are a powerful team, committed to Isles’ systemic change agenda.”

“I look forward to working closely with Sean to advance our unusual work,” says John Hart, who had previously served in senior roles in NJ government and regional nonprofits. “Sean has been a force as a trustee and colleague at Isles.  He is a coalition builder, vital to our policy and legislative work. He’s developed strong ties in Trenton and statewide and understands the on-the-ground challenges and opportunities in the Trenton region.”  

The Isles Board of Trustees created a subcommittee to lead the year long search process, which involved reviewing numerous candidates and comprehensive interviews with a select few.   

“After 40 years, we are replacing a founder – not an easy task!” says Willard Stanback, Search Committee Member and Vice Chair of Isles’ Board of Trustees.  “Concluding our broad effort, we are proud to select, as our next leader, someone who knows Isles very well – Sean Jackson.  It is truly promising to have Sean – who was a former board member with me and more recently has been a consultant supporting Isles – bring to this new role his array of skills and depth of knowledge about the organization, obtained through experiences in his prior roles.  We look forward to helping him lead Isles into its next era.”

Isles’ Day of Giving: Now and for the Future

Join us on Tuesday, June 16th for a one-day, virtual fundraising event to support fostering self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities!

Watch videos from Isles staff, volunteers, and customers on our Facebook page that share inside looks into our work and its impact in the region – now and for the future. We’re also raffling off one-of-a-kind giveaway packages.

Click here for full event details.

Reflecting on 39 years

On this very day 39 years ago, a fellow student and I borrowed a car from a Princeton classmate and drove to Trenton to officially incorporate Isles, a new kind of nonprofit development organization.  Motivated by my family experience with poverty in Akron, Ohio and my Anthropology thesis, I grappled with a presumptuous notion – that Princeton students could do almost anything.  

We thought we could create, in challenged places like Trenton, better ways to assist families and communities to become more self-reliant and healthy.  We took a leap of faith in two ways: we could learn what to do, and the universe would support us.

Over four decades, that faith felt mostly well-placed.  Despite larger trends towards inequality and environmental un-sustainability, our efforts were rewarded with steady growth, purpose-driven personal satisfaction and real, visible progress.

Then along came Covid.  It threatens all of us, but not equally.  It particularly hurts those without savings, room to stretch out, access to health care and steady jobs.  Of course, that means largely brown and black-skinned people.  

At Isles, we feel assaulted on multiple fronts.  As a species, we are social animals, wanting to be together, and Isles’ community development work builds upon that nature. Yet the virus forces us to separate.  Families we serve face immediate threats.  So does our organization.  Isles’ business model relies on donors, government partners, foundations, public contracts, volunteers and allies like local universities.  They also face their own survival threats, and they are re-trenching. So yes, our investments and livelihoods are at risk.

Once again, I feel like that senior at Princeton, taking a leap into the unknown, hoping we can learn, and cautiously hoping that the world helps us succeed.

Luckily, we’re not starting from scratch again. We’ve learned a lot.  We know how to keep staff and volunteers safe and healthy, feed hungry students in our alternative high school with a food pantry, move education and job training online, and offer phone and web-based financial counseling to families that face financial ruin.  We’re safely helping hundreds of families on 70 “Covictory” gardens – so Trenton can grow more of its own food. 

In these uncertain times, we return to that leap of faith. This Covid era that both threatens and teaches will not last.  It too will pass.  Let’s not just hope, but make sure, that we learn from it. 

Marty Johnson, ‘81

Founder and CEO, Isles