Re-thinking Public Spaces During COVID

Isles helps transform outdoor spaces into areas that promote healthier communities and offer residents better amenities.  One way we’ve done this is by installing seating areas known as “parklets” across the city to engage residents with nearby businesses.  A parklet is a mini “park” that transforms a parking space into vibrant, useable public space. They consist of raised platforms with seating with the addition of planters that feature flowers, herbs, and native plants.

Isles installed the first parklet in Trenton in September of 2017 at a café across the street from the NJ Statehouse. The parklet was built to coincide with international Parking Day, where parking spots are temporarily taken over and converted for art, play, or activism. Originally intended to be in place for only one week, the parklet was met with such enthusiasm that the City of Trenton allowed the parklet to stay up for the rest of the season. Using best practices from successful parklet programs around the nation, Isles then worked with the City in the following years to develop and implement a formal parklet program and expand parklets to other neighborhoods.

This year, in partnership with the City of Trenton and the Trenton Downtown Association, Isles designed and constructed several outdoor parklets for qualifying Trenton businesses to assist with economic recovery during the pandemic by increasing options for outdoor dining. “The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to creatively re-think public space and promote more safe, outdoor social interaction,” said Jim Simon, Deputy Director of Community Planning at Isles, who oversees parklet construction and installation. “Parklets help shift the focus away from cars and parking toward a more human-centered experience.”

A recent parklet build was for the Trenton Ice Cream Parlor located at 969 South Broad Street. 

“Several days after our Grand Opening in March 2020, we had to close our business due to the NJ Statewide shutdown.  So the option of having outdoor seating once we decided to reopen had great appeal to us,” explained Trenton Ice Cream Parlor owners Eric McRoy and Konjit Hailemichael.

The shop is a passion project originated by the owners’ daughter Hannah—a nonverbal autistic teen who had a dream of building an ice cream parlor.  Hannah used her creativity to design a 3D diorama of the store in hopes of one day bringing her vision to life.  Her family had the idea to start a business using the ground floor of a building they owned on South Broad Street.  The shop had its official opening on March 12, 2020 but had to shut down shortly after due to the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Isles contacted the shop for a visit and to give an overview of the parklet grant program and its requirements.  After designing a layout, Isles’ construction team rapidly got to work pre-assembling and fabricating decks and planters for the parklets, making the installation process quicker once on site.  “All of the current parklets elements were designed to be modular, so they are interchangeable and can be adapted to different sites for future use,” said Jim Simon. “We used the modular concept to create a ‘mega-parklet’ on Warren Street that features an ADA accessible section at street level between two full parklet platforms with an additional picnic table and upcycled dinette booths. We wanted to show that these were not just for single businesses, but common spaces that anyone can enjoy.”

“The parklets have had a tremendous impact on the visibility of our business from the street view and the inherent safety and urban flair for our neighborhood,” commented McRoy and Hailemichael.  

What’s especially important for the family is how the community has taken great initiative to keep the outside area clean and inviting for future guests.

“The increased visibility and increased number of outdoor diners have also contributed to the overall cleanliness of our neighborhood.  Many neighbors and individuals passing throughout the community now make a concentrated effort to sweep, clean, and use nearby trash receptacles,” commented the owners.

Isles is proud to partner with Trenton Ice Cream Parlor to show how revitalizing public spaces can lead to stronger communities. 

“When you decide to partner with Isles, you are working with a partner that has had a solid track record of community involvement,” explained the Parlor.  “For over 40 years, they have been active in the Trenton community and understand those communities.  They know what actions need to be implemented to have the most dynamic impact.”

New Jersey Acts to Protect Children from Lead Hazards

Governor Murphy signed S1147/A1372, a major step in our efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey. This legislation, passed on June 24th, requires a proactive lead inspection process for rental properties built before 1978, closing a loophole that allowed all single family/two family rental units to go uninspected. Before today, thousands of kids were poisoned each year before lead was detected in a home – using kids as lead detectors. The new law will ensure that families know their home is lead-safe before they move in.

Read this press release to learn more about Isles’ work towards advocating for common sense policies to keep kids safe from lead and other environmental health hazards.

NJ Legislature Acts to Protect Children from Lead Hazards

Isles Successfully Advocates for Passage of New Lead Paint Inspection Law

Today, the NJ Legislature passed S1147/A1372, a major step in our efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey. This legislation requires a proactive lead inspection process for rental properties built before 1978, closing a loophole that allowed all single family/two family rental units to go uninspected. Before today, thousands of kids were poisoned each year before lead was detected in a home – using kids as lead detectors. The new law will ensure that families know their home is lead-safe before they move in. 

The floor vote passed unanimously 40-0 in the Senate and 70-3 in the Assembly, and is expected to be signed by Governor Murphy. 
Isles thanks the key legislators who drafted the legislation, especially Senators Ruiz, Cruz-Perez, and Turner, as well as Senators Sarlo, Singleton, Cunningham and Assemblymembers Holley, Wimberley, Benson, Mukherji, and Reynolds-Jackson.  
“We are grateful to Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin for demonstrating their commitment to ending lead poisoning and their leadership in pushing this bill across the finish line,” says Isles’ CEO Sean Jackson. “Isles also appreciates the work and support of our partners, including the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Advocates for Children of NJ, New Jersey Future, Lead Free New Jersey, Environment NJ, Lead Safe Cleveland, and the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning (Rochester, NY).”
Isles has been at the forefront of advocating for common sense policies to keep kids safe from lead and other environmental health hazards for decades. “We know this is one of the most impactful ways to prevent childhood lead poisoning over the long term,” says Jackson. “Today, the New Jersey legislature stops the usage of children as the canary in the coal mine.”
“The vast majority of the nearly 4,000 new childhood lead poisoning cases each year in New Jersey are caused by lead-based paint that deteriorates and turns to dust in the home. Most families do not discover they have a lead paint poisoning problem until their child tests positive for an elevated blood lead level. COVID and the related stay-at-home orders exacerbated this problem,” says Ben Haygood, Isles’ Environmental Health Policy Director. “This legislation creates a ‘primary prevention’ system — identifying and addressing lead hazards in homes before children get poisoned.”
In states and cities where similar policies have been implemented, childhood lead poisoning from lead-based paint has plummeted. In Rochester, for example, after requiring a lead safe certificate for all rental housing, lead poisoning of children dropped nearly 90% over 10 years. Maryland has reduced lead poisoning in Baltimore by 99%; Rhode Island and Massachusetts have had similar outcomes. 

No Safe Lead Levels

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that affects a child’s learning, memory, and even behavior, as it damages the part of the brain that controls impulse.  
“There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of lead,” says Elyse Pivnick, Isles’ Senior Director of Environmental Health. “Children with even low levels of lead are six times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system, thirty percent more likely to fail 3rd grade reading and math, and seven times more likely to drop out of school. Tragically, in 2015, 13 municipalities in New Jersey had a higher percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels than Flint, MI.” 
The costs and impacts of allowing the persistence of lead in paint and water affects all New Jerseyans. The costs associated with lead poisoning are immense — more than $62 million annually for NJ taxpayers.
Lead poisoning drives higher special education costs, higher levels of juvenile crime and incarceration, increased high school dropouts, higher rates of unemployment, and a variety of health problems that lead to earlier retirement, enrollment in Medicaid, and even death. New studies have shown the long-term effects of lead exposure on heart and kidney disease and neurological issues for seniors, as well.

Isles’ Leadership on Lead Poisoning Prevention

Founded in 1981, Isles, Inc. is a community development and environmental organization based in the Trenton, New Jersey region with a mission to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities. Since 1999, Isles has been engaged in environmental health and policy work from many angles:

Comprehensive Service Delivery: Isles developed the first project in NJ to reduce exposure to lead and other indoor hazards, creating energy efficiency, saving energy dollars, and creating comfortable homes for low income families. Trenton ReHEET (Residential Health, Energy and Environmental Transformation) provided comprehensive solutions to substandard housing, indoor health (lead, asthma, mold, safety) and energy efficiency needs of Trenton residents. ReHEET provided these services to more than 300 homes in Trenton.  
Lead Remediation and Abatement: Isles has completed more than 150 lead remediation and abatement projects since 2017, through a subgrant with the City of Trenton’s HUD lead grant and through the State of NJ’s Lead Safe Home Remediation Pilot. Isles is the only nonprofit organization certified as a Lead Abatement Contractor in the State of NJ.
Lead Testing and Healthy Homes Assessments: Isles has performed more than 3,000 lead and environmental (healthy homes) assessments over the past 4 years using trained Community Health Workers.
Technical Assistance: Isles has been a technical assistance provider to community development agencies participating in the DCA’s Lead Safe Program for the past 2 years. In that time Isles has improved the efficiency of operations, increased the knowledge of agencies on proper lead work procedures, created statewide Cost Guidelines for lead work, and vetted/managed a pool of lead risk assessors for use by all agencies.
Training: Isles provides lead training for lead workers and contractors for the EPA RRP certification for contractors and is a state certified trainer for professional lead credentials necessary for lead abatement work. More than 1,300 workers have received lead safe work credentials through Isles. In addition, as the NJ Center for Healthy Housing, Isles has provided environmental health training/workshops for home visitors (social workers, health workers, building inspectors, etc.) and community members for more than a decade. Isles has trained or facilitated the training of more than 1,300 professionals in the Healthy Homes for Community Health Worker course and our 8 Keys to a Healthy Home workshop.
Lead and Health Policy: In 2016, Isles released a study of NJ childhood lead poisoning revealing that in 11 municipalities and two counties in New Jersey a higher percentage of children were identified with elevated levels of lead in their blood than children in Flint, Mich. Isles, with others, successfully advocated the State of NJ to make available $10 million in funding to provide lead safe repairs and to lower the “level of concern” for lead blood levels in children from 10 ug/dl to the CDC’s recommended 5 ug/dl. Since then an additional $10 million was approved for lead hazard control across the State.

Registration is Open for Isles’ 2021 Forum

Trenton, N.J. – Isles, Inc., a community development and environmental nonprofit headquartered in Mercer County NJ, is hosting its first-ever virtual Forum from June 7 – 12, 2021. This free, one-of-a-kind event explores community development topics such as urban agriculture, lead safety, youth-violence prevention, healthy housing, and green jobs in a series of webinars, panels, and workshops.

The Forum is free and open to the public as part of Isles’ 40 Years of Impact Celebration, acknowledging the learning, sharing, and innovation that has been core to Isles’ approach since its founding in 1981.  

“Over four decades, we’ve tested different approaches to family self-reliance and healthy communities, learning what works, trying new things, and sharing with others,” says Isles’ Chief Executive Officer Sean Jackson. “This Forum is a way we can bring together folks from around the country to tackle a range of topics critical to fostering healthy, sustainable communities.”

The innovative event includes five themed days with 18 sessions that feature Isles staff, guests, and topic experts. Isles’ Founder Marty Johnson kicks off the Forum on Monday, June 7th with the session, “Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, and the City: What’s an Organization to Do?”, which explores the environment and critical urban issues. During Tuesday’s “Urban Placemaking” sessions, CEO Sean Jackson will highlight the Social Profit Center at Mill One.

“The Social Profit Center, which opened earlier this year, is building a collaborative environment where nonprofits and social impact groups can work together and learn from each other regularly,” says Sean Jackson. “This Forum is the embodiment of that spirit, and displays the type of programming we want to offer in the Center once we can safely gather together again.”

On Thursday, Isles’ Chief Operating Officer John Hart and others will lead a session titled, “Challenges and Lessons in Developing Anti-Racist Organizations,” which explores Isles’ journey to becoming an actively antiracism organization and the challenges agencies and people face in addressing biases and eliminating racism when in their lives and service delivery.

“As Isles and other nonprofits grappled with how to respond to the anti-racism protests of last summer, we recognized that a lot of work needed to be done both as individuals and as an agency,” says COO John Hart. “This Forum gives us an opportunity to have this important discussion and we’re grateful to the partners and sponsors who are making it possible.”

Current sponsors include Urban Placemaking Sponsor NJM Insurance Group, and Session Sponsors First Bank, Capital Health, Cathy Rizzi of Fox and Roach Realtors, Princeton Allergy and Asthma Associates, Rowe Carpentry, Withum, the Bank of Princeton and Santander. Interested in sponsoring a session of the Forum? Please contact Development Director Patricia Walker at 609.341.4732 or [email protected].

To view the complete forum schedule and to read descriptions of each individual session visit The website is updated regularly with additional panelist information.  

About Isles:

Founded in 1981, Isles, Inc. is a community development and environmental organization designed to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities. Isles revitalizes communities, builds wealth, educates and trains, and creates healthy homes and spaces. Beyond its central New Jersey base, Isles works to influence policy and helps others build healthy, self-help approaches.

Through an array of self-help services, Isles has empowered more than 1,000 students to receive educational opportunities and job training, 600 families to purchase homes and receive coaching for financial sustainability, and hundreds of gardeners to participate in urban agriculture across in the city. In addition, 500 homes were built or renovated through community revitalization, an additional 3,000 homes have been tested for lead, and more than 350 have been rehabbed to be lead-safe and energy efficient. This work in Trenton to convert dangerous, inefficient older homes into high-performing safe places for kids and adults, is expanding to other parts of New Jersey.

February 2021 Message

Dear Friend,
As a community development and environmental nonprofit, Isles focuses on both self-reliant people and healthy, sustainable places. That’s why we provide youth with education options, offer first time homebuyer workshops, as well as clean up homes to prevent childhood lead poisoning, build gardens, create green spaces, and so much more.
Today, as we ramp up efforts to tackle the existential threat of climate change, we must ensure that our urban areas are included as part of the solution. All too often, places like Trenton are left out of the conversation around electric vehicles, solar panels, or the green job economy. But cities will be the key to a sustainable future, and now is the time to invest in their success.
Isles’ decades of on-the-ground experience have prepared us well for this moment. To date, we have weatherized more than 1,000 homes, made nearly 500 lead-safe, and trained more than 3,800 adults in energy and environmental focused careers. We’ve taken what we learned through this experience and advocated for smarter, safer policies to ensure the health and sustainability of our communities.
To that end, I’m pleased to share exciting news! First, as you can read about in more detail below, Isles received funding in partnership with the City of Trenton to launch an electric vehicle transportation pilot! This pilot, which will include a carshare, rideshare, and shuttle service, will increase residents’ mobility and access to jobs, healthcare, and new opportunities while addressing public health challenges imposed by greenhouse gases and air pollution.
In addition, Isles has been invited to join the NJ Council on the Green Economy, where we’ll leverage our experience connecting those who have been left out of this economy in places like Trenton to future-focused green jobs. We look forward to continuing to develop economic and environmentally just solutions for places that need them the most.
So as you can see, February has been a busy month for Isles! We’re excited about the possibilities the future holds.
Thanks for being here for us – your support really matters.
In community,
Sean Jackson
Chief Executive Officer
Read more updates in our February newsletter

January 2021 Message

Dear Friend,
A lot of ideas here at Isles start with, “What if we could…?”
One important question for our energy and environmental health services was, “What if we could combine housing health assessments with lead remediation and energy efficiency? How would we do that?” 
The “why” is obvious, given the age and condition of Trenton housing. It’s some of the oldest in the State, and based on its age and the more than 3,000 lead paint tests Isles has performed in Trenton, at least 60% of those homes have lead based paint. Those home conditions lead to excessive rates of asthma, childhood lead poisoning and other health conditions.
The good news is that Isles recently re-acquired the weatherization program for Mercer County, so we can now apply our holistic approach to improving the living conditions of Trenton residents – tackling all the issues a home might have, be they lead, energy or health related.
This innovation, along with our novel approach to home environmental assessments in the face of COVID restrictions (detailed below), is a testament to how Isles staff innovates its way around challenges. I’m inspired daily by how our staff rises to every challenge. I hope you will be too.
In community,
Peter Rose
Managing Director, Community Enterprises
Read more updates in our January newsletter.

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