While it is important to do innovative, good work locally, we want to impact the world.  To do that, we seek to learn, share with others, and influence public and private policies.

By testing and doing work on the ground to build self-reliance and healthy, sustainable communities, Isles learns better ways to improve policy ideas and priorities.  Research, data and stakeholder insights help us more deeply understand the challenges and opportunities our communities face, what really works, and why.  With that information, we help government, businesses and the public learn and craft better policies, practices and education.

For example, starting 37 years ago, Isles began testing for lead in the soil to assure that our community gardens were growing healthy produce.  As we learned about the pervasive threat of lead to community health, we began testing brownfield sites for potential contaminants.  Working with community stakeholders, we began to explore the myriad ways that children were poisoned by lead. We tested hundreds of homes, eventually discovering that over half of them had so much lead in their dust that they threatened children  living in them. 

This realization, that homes were the most dangerous places for children to be, led us to research and develop low cost ways to remove the toxins from homes.  We learned how Isles approach could be applied in settings across the state and country. We helped New Jersey government adopt new ways to support and fund lead remediation and abatement.  We also discovered new techniques to include energy savings home retrofits while we made them safe and healthy.  Isles also learned to train local contractors to perform this work, expanding jobs and direct economic benefits for local residents and workers.

Today, Isles is creating Healthy Green Homes New Jersey, a statewide effort to improve capacity of cities and community organizations to perform this same work, improve policies and broaden investment in healthy homes statewide.  The result will be healthier and smarter children across New Jersey – simply by cleaning the environment where they live.

“For impact, Isles tests new ideas on the ground, learns what works at scale, then helps other community-based “isles” grow in other settings.  That real life experience informs our policy ideas, and earns us a seat at the policy table.” 

Urban Agriculture

With little access to healthy, fresh, culturally appealing produce in Trenton and the region, Isles joins forces with local residents to grow food in the city.   Working with groups of community gardeners, schools and other stakeholders, Isles provides a range of technical, organizing, material and training support to nearly 70 gardens across the region.  The gardens improve healthy food choices, cool and beautify neighborhoods, improve health, generate income, clean toxins from the soil and make communities safer. 

For those interested in community gardening in other communities, our garden bylaws offer a model approach to working with groups that want to grow their own food on community gardens.

Better public food policies can help.  For example, this study of Food Security in Trenton shows how the duel challenges of both food insecurity and obesity tend to plague cities like Trenton.  

Should cities plan for food in their land use plans?  We think so.  Our work with the City of Trenton resulted in the integration of food access into their overall master land use plan.

Healthy Green Homes

In the Trenton region – and in nearly all urban communities – a high percentage of affordable homes have seen little to no investment in their energy efficiency.  As a result, families pay too much for heating and cooling, waste carbon, and suffer uncomfortably in their homes.

Working with utilities, government and community residents, Isles has weatherized many homes, made them safe, and developed new ways to improve the system that has evolved over the years to weatherize lower income homes.  In addition, we recommend ways to improve the policies and procedures of statewide programs in New Jersey.

Green Job Training

New Jersey and other states are developing new Energy Master Plans to counter climate change and reduce energy costs.  New technologies and industries, from solar and wind, energy efficiency and electric vehicles will grow, but how do we assure that urban residents will benefit from those new green investments?  Isles has developed the Center for Energy and Environmental Training (CEET) to train  entry-level and incumbent workers to participate in this new economy.  CEET is a training and certification center for the Building Performance Institute, National Center for Health Housing and others. 

New Jersey’s ambitious new Energy Master Plan should benefit the entire state, including lower income communities.  We work to assure local contractors and residents will benefit from jobs, more efficient buildings, cooler neighborhoods and expanded Electric Vehicles (EVs) to improve air quality and support affordable ride-sharing transit to jobs for new trainees. 

Isles Youth Institute

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