June 1, 2022

Isles Forum Offers Creative Solutions To Challenges of Equity, Sustainability

GROWING GARDENERS: Isles, Inc.’s urban agriculture service will be one of the topics on the program at Isles’ Virtual Forum 2022, a five-day series of free webinars, workshops, and panels focused on community development, urban sustainability, and much more. (Photo courtesy of Isles)

By Donald Gilpin

How to build a more equitable and sustainable future in local underserved communities is the question, and Isles, a Mercer County-based community development and environmental organization, has an array of creative answers to that query. 

In a five-day, 15-session virtual forum from June 6 to 10, Isles will host webinars, panel discussions, and workshops on urban community development topics including access to safe housing, building a green work force, street violence prevention, closing the education gap, eradicating food deserts, and more.

Among the local initiatives featured will be GoTrenton, an electric vehicle pilot service offering carshare, rideshare, and shuttle service in Trenton; Trenton Climate Corps, offering youth training and employment in climate resilience and green infrastructure careers; Trenton Community Street Teams, a violence-interruption initiative adapted from a successful Newark program; and the new New Jersey Lead Safe Certificate Law, which takes effect in July and requires all apartments to be tested for lead paint before tenants move in.

Sponsored by NJM Insurance, PSE&G, M&T Bank, Capital Health, Bristol Myers Squibb, The Bank of Princeton, Santander, and Philadelphia Insurance Co., the  Isles Virtual Forum 2022 is free and open to the public. Registration and further information are available at isles.org/forum. Last year the Forum attracted several hundred participants from around the state and beyond.

“Over four decades, Isles has focused on building family self-reliance and healthy communities by innovating, testing out new approaches, learning what works, and sharing our findings,” said Isles’ CEO Sean Jackson. “Through this Forum we virtually connect a range of voices to tackle how best to achieve transformative change at the community level.”

Jackson pointed out advantages of the virtual format. “The exciting thing about being able to do this Forum online is that people can look at the program and see what’s there and choose what’s of interest to them,” he said. “if you’re interested in educational technology, you can find a workshop connecting young people and addressing digital access gaps. If you want to explore the need to remediate or renovate homes and make apartments safe, there’s a workshop available.”

Equity and Access in the contexts of health, energy, and technology will be the theme of the forum events on Monday, June 6. Questions on the agenda include: What lessons can we take from the pandemic in ensuring the safety of vulnerable populations from future crises? How do we transition to clean energy in a community-driven way? and How can we address gaps in digital access in Trenton and beyond?”

On Tuesday, June 7, the focus will be on Health, Wealth, and the Green Economy, with sessions at 10 a.m. addressing how we can use new lead policy to protect the health of children; at 12 p.m. confronting challenges we will face in developing a greener workforce; and at 2 p.m. a panel discussion on the need for safe and stable housing to support families facing housing instability due to COVID-19.

Safe and Sustainable Cities is the theme for Wednesday, June 8, with participants in three different sessions tackling the questions of how to encourage local food production, how to engage Trenton residents in the redevelopment and rebuilding of neighborhoods, and how a community-driven response to violence promotes long-term public safety.

On Thursday, June 9, the Isles Virtual Forum 2022 will discuss topics related to building more resilient communities in the face of change. Workshops will address the questions of how to adapt Trenton for the coming climate crisis, what the future of effective office space might look like in a hybrid world, and how to create a resilient culture of peace in working with local youth.

The final day of the Forum on Friday, June 10, will look ahead to Future-Focused Opportunities, including how to measure impact and meet changing needs in local communities, why safe housing is so crucial to building a better future, and how to collaborate most effectively on future projects.

Isles, Inc. is designed to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities. Over the years since its founding in 1981, Isles has empowered more than 1,300 students to acquire 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 the city of Trenton.

Also, through community revitalization, 500 homes have been built, an additional 3,000 homes have been tested for lead, and more than 450 homes have been rehabbed to be lead-safe and energy-efficient.

“One of Isles’ main goals is to build collaborative environments where nonprofits and social impact groups can work together and learn from each other regularly,” said Jackson.

In pursuit of this goal Isles opened its Social Profit Center in Hamilton last year, where 10 local nonprofits and social impact groups have located their offices together. “This has brought to life our vision of creating both physical and virtual ways to partner together to better serve the community,” Jackson added. “During the pandemic, we already have seen the fruits of this collaboration.”