I Can Swim My Way

Gloria Buxton has spent the majority of her life on the expansive shorelines of Lake Erie with her brother William Otis Jordan, known as Billy to everyone who knew him. Born in Ashtabula, Ohio, she recalls memories of growing up on the docks with her family. “My father was a fisherman, so he would always take me and Billy down to the boats and we would ride with him. Our parents were instrumental in making sure we knew how to swim. I’m really thankful for that.”

Gloria Buxton and Billy together as children

Despite her positive relationship to water and the activities that come with it, many of those memories are now tinged with sorrow. During the summer of 2022, Gloria’s brother Billy tragically passed away after suffering a heart attack while swimming at the local YMCA. His passing came as an acute shock to Gloria, her family, and their community. In the months since, she has spent a lot of time and energy working through the trauma, pain, and depression.

On the day of his passing, Gloria was helping Billy find his way to the locker room when he looked up at her, clutched her hands and said gently to her, “Gloria, I can find my way.” These words struck her immensely and ultimately inspired the name of her project. I Can Swim My Way is a project dedicated to Billy and his love for the water. It aims to provide free swimming lessons to children in Lorain County who could not otherwise afford them. Gloria sees the project as a way to pass on her brother’s legacy by giving back to their community in Lorain County, and specifically to youth from working class backgrounds. So far her project has raised over $1000 in donations, but she hopes to reach her goal of $2000 by the end of January. 

William Otis Jordan (Billy)

Billy was Gloria’s brother, swimming partner, and closest friend. During childhood, their mother struggled with schizophrenia and their father wasn’t always around due to his struggle with alcoholism. As a result, she and her siblings spent a lot of time with their grandmother who died when Gloria was 13. “I remember being at her funeral when someone came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Gloria, you’re going to have to take care of the family now.’ I had no idea what that meant, but I soon learned.”

Although she was overwhelmed with the task of raising Billy and her other siblings (Pamela M. Carter, Francine and Jack Jordan), Gloria remembers bright spots during this period of their lives. She recalls swimming with Billy at the YMCA as some of her fondest memories. “We called ourselves the fishies. I was fish 2 and he was fish 1, because he was always better than me.” 

Billy with his sister Francine Jordan
Billy with his younger sisters Pamela M. Carter and Francine Jordan

Over the years, they fell in and out of touch. Billy developed schizophrenia, struggled to access treatment, and spent time living without a home. He was subjected to multiple forms of violence while trying to survive, and eventually returned home to Ohio and Gloria. She welcomed him home and continued to care for him, but he continued to struggle with the trauma of his experiences. Throughout all of it, the water was the place he felt safest, says Gloria. “Whether it was the waters of Lake Erie or the swimming pool of the fitness center, the water was one space Billy felt most comfortable.”

With I Can Swim My Way, Gloria wants to provide children in Lorain County with the same experiences Billy had. “Swimming was a joy to Billy. It was healing for him and a happy place. When starting this project, I was thinking about all the children that don’t know how to swim or  don’t have access to safe places to do so.” 

Gloria, Billy, and their mother Cookie (Karen Lou Jordan)

Accessing a safe place to swim can be particularly difficult in Lorain. According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, there were 73 Great Lakes Drownings in 2022 alone. Lake Erie’s current can be fatally strong, especially for people who don’t know how to swim. Global heat waves will only make the situation worse, according to Gloria. “As climate change continues to get worse, temperatures will get hotter and force people to the water to cool down, but what if those people don’t know how to swim? That’s a really dangerous situation!” 

In addition to keeping the community safe, Gloria hopes the project will bring children and families together as they learn to embrace the water, instead of fearing it. She wants people to open themselves to the power of the water, its spiritual capacities, and its healing properties. Her own relationship to water has been fraught since Billy’s passing, but through the water she has found healing in her grief. “I want to pass this love for the water down to future generations so they can understand and have the same relationship with it that I have.” 

Leading projects and bringing communities together aren’t foreign concepts to Gloria, as she has plenty of experience in both. Prior to this project, she successfully funded Arts in the Park, a program that provides art supplies and classes for children in the surrounding parks of Gloria’s county. She believes strongly in the power of fundraising to make change, saying “I tell everyone I know with a powerful idea to start raising funds and see that idea through to the end! You have the power to do it, don’t wait!”

For us, By Us: Uplifting the Black Autism Community

When Josselyn Okorodudu’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of five, she remembers experiencing a world of devastation and loneliness. Six years have passed since then, but during that time Josselyn has worked to carve out a space for her son Kai and other members of the Black Autism Community. “Now that my son is eleven and I have more space to consider what is going on in my community, I really felt compelled to reach back a hand to those parents who just learned of their child’s diagnosis. I know those parents feel just as isolated and lost as I did, so I wanted to help build a space for all of us.”

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Kofi Thomas Fundraises an Ecosystem of Change

When Kofi Thomas was volunteering at The Peoples Garden in Bushwick, an elder told him about a nearby piece of land that was being used as a trash dump. That space, now called the Good Life Garden, has grown into a green space, a hub for community gathering, and a place for celebration and joy. “When the project started, I just thought we were gonna grow some food. It’s been a lot more than that,” says Kofi. 

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News from ioby’s CEO Erin Barnes

I’m excited to share some news with everyone in the ioby community:  Next year, I plan to step down from my role as CEO and into a founder-in-residence role. When I shared my decision with the Board and the Senior Management Team a few months ago, I made a commitment to support a process and a timeline that centers equity and inclusion. Together we decided that the best time for me to transition into my new role at ioby would be late summer of 2023, about a year from now. 

Erin Barnes ioby CEO
Courtesy of The Obama Foundation

I’m deeply proud of what we’ve built together over the past 15 years. ioby began as a small idea to build political will for climate action by engaging real people in real places. The core concept was to center residents, who are often overlooked and underfunded despite their deep understanding of their own neighborhoods. And listening to and trusting residents has remained our main guiding principle as we’ve grown.

Little by little, step by step, one person at a time, deep listening has allowed our little idea to grow and evolve. An NYC pilot. A funding platform. Fiscal sponsorship. An expansion from a focus on just “environmental” projects to all positive change projects at the neighborhood level. City partnerships. National expansion. Researching civic capacity of places for deeper partnerships. Match programs. Flexing our services to be responsive to community needs during the overlapping crises of the past few years. 

I’m proud that these years of listening has allowed us, as an organization, to understand deeply and build our services around the unique needs of small, grassroots, movement-building organizations that often struggle to find funding and support elsewhere. 

Today, what ioby is and what ioby can do is far more powerful than my co-founders and I ever dreamed possible. We imagined ioby could help make positive change on a block level, like the community gardens and murals that are a bright point in so many of our neighborhoods. But the ripples from these individual projects are—I believe—fostering something bigger. We’ve seen an ioby-funded community composting pilot get adopted by city government; resident-led street improvements have become safer road redesigns; public health projects have resulted in real outcomes at the population scale; racial justice projects have tipped the scales (and monuments), and on and on. 

As I prepare for my next role, I feel confident in, and comforted by, my belief that this movement of resident-led change will continue to grow. Because at the soul of ioby are the people who lead positive change in their neighborhoods. These are an impressive, tireless group of nearly 4,000 and growing, who have decided to step into civic life, and whose passion and talent inspires and fuels me every day. Their work is critical to creating a healthy multiracial democracy, and they are critical to creating joyful communities for us all. I can’t wait to watch this movement grow.

I’m not going anywhere for awhile, so you’ll still be hearing from me and from our fantastic Board leadership and staff throughout this transition. And I’ll continue to be close to the organization in my founder-in-residence role. 

None of this would be possible without all of you, and the love and support that you give to ioby in so many ways. I am so grateful to all of you for this. Thank you for helping us create this beautiful community together. You’ve been an important part of ioby’s history, and I am so grateful to you for being a part of our future.

With immense gratitude, 

Erin Barnes

CEO & Co-Founder, ioby

ioby Announces Four New Members to Board of Directors

ioby’s Board is composed of many standout individuals. Each member brings a unique background and perspective to the table as they guide ioby forward.  Together, the Board members and their specialties form one of ioby’s greatest strengths. “Every nonprofit’s Board is a critical part of the governance structure,” says ioby CEO and co-founder Erin Barnes. “At ioby, we’re lucky that our Board of Directors are enthusiastic ambassadors of our work. They are expert advisors in everything ranging from community development to the arts, technology, and finance. They additionally work as trusted partners with our staff in co-creating our ongoing Racial Equity and Inclusion work.”

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What’s NEXT at ioby: A Conversation with ioby Product Owner Helen Poon

ioby’s Product is an essential part of our work serving project leaders across the country. The Product consists of our online crowdfunding platform and all other digital services which are tailored to meet the needs of ioby Leaders, ioby project donors, and the ioby staff who support them. 

Both ioby’s online Product and offline services are built around our principles of equity and inclusion. These principles, based on 6+ years of feedback from ioby project leaders, exist to keep our work grounded as we grow our organization and our work. 

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Announcing ioby’s Digital Inclusion Policy

Our new Digital Inclusion Policy is the latest component of ioby’s larger Racial Equity & Inclusion (REI) framework, which is currently under development in a co-creation process with our staff and Board. We see ioby’s Digital Inclusion Policy as a guiding tool so that we can hold ourselves accountable to make just, equitable product and marketing decisions in both long-term and daily work. The policy was created based on formal and informal feedback from ioby Leaders throughout the years, and drafted with input from our entire staff.

The new policy is rooted in ioby’s five Principles

  1. Local is Best
  2. Small is Big
  3. Inclusivity is Key
  4. We’re Whole People
  5. Learn, Experiment, Share 

In order to apply these principles into our product and marketing work, here are the actions we will take as part of the Digital Inclusion Policy:

  • We center the people we serve—ioby project Leaders and their teams, project donors, projects volunteers, and those who are learning with us—in our decisions about our products and marketing. We use feedback from the people we serve to inform the product roadmap. We use research recruitment guidelines to ensure the feedback we receive comes from a diverse pool of users. We use insights from ioby staff to prioritize our roadmap.
  • We meet people where they’re at. We create a user experience that is simple, easy to follow, and grounds the resident leader in their place in the experience. We do this with clear communication and stages, from ideation to disbursement and project implementation, with smooth transitions between teams and third-party apps. We make it clear that each resident leader is assigned a strategist, with a photo, a name, and list of responsibilities throughout the process.
  • We recognize that the people we serve are whole people with different abilities. We strive to make ioby.org and resources available in an appropriate language when we have the capacity to do so. We use videos, graphics, short-form content, and text that is accessible to the communities we serve. We use ASL interpreters or auto captioning for online events. We conform with Level AA Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure we’re including anyone experiencing any permanent, temporary, or situational disability. We have a design system to ensure functionality of User Interface elements are consistent across different devices.
  • We know that deep participation at the local level is meaningful and so we strive to provide the most relevant and location specific information. 
  • We value contributions and generosity of all kinds and so strive to make the most inclusive giving platform possible by accepting cash, check, credit / debit cards, digital wallets, employer-matched gifts, donor-advised funds, text to give, as well as sweat equity and volunteer time. We will continue to evaluate the ways that people contribute and give.
  • We serve as a bridge to give resident leaders more access to institutional funding through match programs. We communicate availability, and approach distribution based on eligibility.
  • We strive to simplify, streamline, and consolidate any tools to be as inclusive of all the people we serve (all ages, comfort levels with technology, and device capabilities). We strive to support any browser or device used by 1% or more of the people we serve.
  • We follow the best practices of privacy protection. We publicly disclose our methods of data management and analysis as well as how they are used by ioby staff. When conducting user research related to ioby’s online services, we provide a consent and authorization form detailing types of information ioby collects and how it will be used and shared internally.
  • We share learnings from our data and sometimes share raw anonymized data. Non-aggregated data is only shared when a non-disclosure agreement is in place with the third party.

To be truly effective, digital inclusion must go beyond ADA-compliant screen layouts, and must be rooted deeply in equity and inclusion. At the same time, it must be actionable enough to make a difference in the everyday user experience of ioby Leaders when they work with our staff and our digital products. 

By adopting this new Digital Inclusion Policy, ioby aims for full transparency in the principles with which we measure the success of our work together. At the same time, we want to share the actionable, concrete steps we pledge to take every day. We hope you will join us in holding us accountable as we communicate with and serve our neighbors.

Questions? Reach out! hello@ioby.org.

Awesome Project: Plena Cangrejera

Plena, an Afro-Puerto Rican musical genre, is in many ways part of the beating heart of the barrio of Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

“After [Hurricane Maria] passed,” Mariana Reyes Angleró said, “the first community meeting that we had was to try to figure out how to do an inventory of houses that were destroyed and people that needed help. That meeting ended with plena music. It is not only for celebration, it is for life in general. You can hear it at a funeral, or every baseball game or Christmas parties or whatever. So it is a kind of soundtrack for this community’s activism.”

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Awesome Project: WHIN Food Council

New York City resident Danielle Bagley absolutely loves living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights and Inwood (WHIN) in Uptown Manhattan. “I like to describe it as ‘lively,’” she says, and that’s why she feels connected to it. “You always have folks out on the sidewalk, chatting or listening to music; in the summertime, people are out playing games. It’s quite beautiful. There are lots of great community art projects. There’s an Audubon bird mural project. You can walk around and see murals [of different birds] that people have created.”

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Awesome Project: Easy Activism, Fundraising for Black Mental Health

New York City resident Dominique recalls the early days after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, when she and her friends Hannah and Stephanie were looking for ways to help the Black community. Like much of the nation, they were grappling with feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration that arose in response to the murder of Floyd, as well as the countless others who came before him. 

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