Jersey Give Back Guide: Isles

December 12, 2014

Isles - Incubator Gardeners

Throughout December, we are highlighting each of the organizations featured in our Jersey Give-Back Guide, an online portal for year-end giving that makes it easy to donate to some of New Jersey’s most effective nonprofits. Today we feature Isles.

Community2Organization name: Isles, Inc.

Contact: Website | @IslesInc | Facebook

Communities served: Isles generally serves low to moderate income individuals in the Trenton region.

Founded: 1981

IslesWHAT WE DO: Since 1981, Isles has asked, and tested, a basic question: What are the best ways to achieve more self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities?

Creating and testing innovative approaches in the Trenton area, Isles developed a toolbox full of tools to:

  • Revitalize communities by helping residents plan their neighborhoods’ future, develop energy efficient and healthy homes, parks, gardens, and safe streets
  • Train and educate adults and youth through an alternative school and green job training  center
  • Build wealth through innovative financial services, loans, and social enterprises
  • Promote healthy living by removing environmental hazards, improving open space, and supporting over 60 school and community gardens

Beyond our central New Jersey base, Isles works to  influence policy and practices that support healthy, self-help agendas.

WHY WE’RE GREAT: Isles starts with a deep respect for the capacity of those we serve.  Even those in high risk, under-educated, distressed communities have the potential to choose, and build, their own futures.  As a result, Isles does not bring “programs” to needy “clients.” We offer products and services that customers choose to apply to their own goals and to their communities’ aspirations.

Over 33 years, we developed four cornerstone approaches to our mission:

  • Community Planning and Development: Isles partners with communities to research, plan and redevelop green homes. public facilities, community gardens, parks and more.
  • Asset and Wealth Creation: Isles provides financial training and loans, home ownership and foreclosure help, and social enterprises to build wealth and assets.
  • Education and Training: Isles Youth Institute offers high school degrees, life skills and vocational training to 16-25 year old dropouts.  Isles’ Center for Energy and Environmental Training trains and certifies workers in energy efficiency, environmental hazard cleanup, and warehouse training.
  • Community Environmental Health: Isles researches environmental hazards and family health, and develops innovative ways to reduce lead poisoning, asthma triggers, and more.

Isles finds practical, low cost solutions, grows them to scale, then uses our learnings to influence others.

In 2014, Isles: counseled 92 first time homebuyers, and 36 purchased homes; provided financial services to 62 new families and 104 total families; renovated 10 homes, and weatherized 160 more; trained 194 adults, with 45 earning nationally recognized certifications; supported 700 gardeners on over 60 community and school gardens; trained nearly 100 Community Health Workers (CHWs) to assess home health and educate residents; tested 100 homes for environmental hazards, finding that 30% of the lead dust samples show levels in excess of the EPA standard; led the Trenton Neighborhood Restoration Campaign effort to survey and map every property in Trenton to identify vacancies (See the data at; and offered 19 GEDs or high school diplomas.

HOW YOUR DONATION WILL HELP: Isles takes pride in its low cost, entrepreneurial approach to fostering community health. Funding for our work is split between public and private sources, which are 90 percent restricted to one of our particular service areas.

While we value learning and innovation, the vast majority of our grants and donations do not support research and development of new ideas, systems improvements (like our current transition to across Isles), a lean administration, insurance, utilities, teaching or public policy work.

Your donation will be leveraged by at least $5 in restricted funds for every $1 you give. Your gift will provide critical support for these vital functions.

As Isles is asked to step into new planning, technology and coordinating roles that the government used to play, our success will directly rely on our ability to raise flexible funding over time. What is the return on investment to the government, taxpayer and “investors” in Isles? Enormous.

We are keeping young adults out of the costly prison pipeline, saving youth from lead poisoning for life, training workers to be financially stable, improving health and budgets by growing tens of thousands of pounds of fresh food in the city, and the list goes on. Isles saves money on many fronts.  How much more expensive it would be if we did not exist!


Spread the word! Isles strengthens families and places in low cost ways.  More organizations should exist in the years ahead.

Volunteer! Opportunities for individual and group volunteers exist throughout the year. We are recruiting mentors for at-risk youth at Isles Youth Institute. Learn more at or contact our volunteer coordinator at 609.341.4738.

Donate goods! We accept donations of vans, seeds, fencing, or other materials.


— Marty Johnson, Isles Founder and President


The Dodge Foundation is offering $1,000 challenge grants to each of the organizations featured in the Jersey Give-Back Guide. To be eligible, each organization must receive at least 50 donations through the Guide by December 31st. Help them reach their goal and get that extra $1,000!