All posts by Erin Barnes

AWESOME PROJECT: Lifting Prince George’s County out of poverty and into the green job economy

You wouldn’t know it yet, to look at the empty storefront at 825 Southern Avenue SE, but there’s a green movement afoot there. Soon to become the face of Prince George’s Green Hub, a new non-profit devoted to green job training, the space is situated in a struggling commercial development in the primarily African American Washington Highlands area of Prince George’s County, Maryland. It’s a short 20-minute drive from the White House, but socioeconomically speaking, it’s worlds away.


It’s also worlds away in terms of awareness of issues around sustainability, in terms of environmental justice, and in terms of inclusion in today’s green economy. Green news site recently ran a piece full of abysmal stats that pointed toward all the ways in which African Americans have been locked out of the green economy. Just for starters: African Americans make up 12% of the US labor workforce, but (in 2013) only about 6% of the solar workforce. Prince George’s County is a perfect example: green jobs simply have not been on the community’s radar.

Resident Lisa Lincoln has a big problem with those numbers. She’s the woman behind the operation at Prince George’s Green Hub, and she’s on a fierce mission to bring green job training to her community. “For people in Prince George’s County who are suffering from a bad economy,” she says, “this is an opportunity that they’re just not necessarily aware of. So I decided to launch a non-profit to do some green awareness building and some workforce development training, and help some entrepreneurs get started with new green businesses.”

A green consultant with seven years of experience in grant writing and green project management, Lincoln knows the field inside and out. She recently worked on a massive weatherization program in the community, with a budget of $200,000 in its first year, $400,000 in its second, $600,000 in its third. “It really makes a difference for folks when their energy bills go down and their home is more comfortable,” she says of that project.

But before she can really get going at full throttle with the new green hub, it’ll need to be outfitted with the basics. A former laundry and cleaning operation, there hadn’t been a need before for an HVAC system, so right now there’s literally no heating in place. “If I want to run classes and help start up businesses, we need to have heat,” says Lincoln.

The hub will also need a storefront renovation, as the space still bears the scars of the multiple break-ins it’s seen over the years: broken glass, and a facade in desperate need of repair. Lastly, it’ll need classroom furniture. For all three, Lincoln has turned to crowd-resourcing, and to ioby. The project is past its halfway mark, with just about $2,000 to go. The space itself has been generously donated, for the hub’s first year of operation, by the mall’s developer.

Lincoln already knows which part of the green economy she’ll hone in on first: storm water management training. And for very, very practical reasons. The Chesapeake Bay region, which includes Prince George’s County, is currently under a federal mandate to clean up its watershed. “Right now there’s a lot of emphasis on urban storm water management,” explains Lincoln. In response, Prince George’s County has helped to develop a $100M public-private partnership with Corvias Solutions, through which it will be implementing and retrofitting 8,000 acres for storm water management, over the next 30 years.

“This is a big project,” Lincoln says, “because not only is it the design and the building of rain gardens and green roofs and things like that, but it’s also the maintenance of those storm water utilities. So that’s where the hot jobs are. The hot topic right now is storm water management.”

What does it all add up to? The county is predicting 5,000 new green jobs. That means landscaping, building rain gardens, building green roofs. Installing cistern to collect rainwater. It means all the construction work that goes along with installing paving systems that can handle storm water. It means knowing what’s a beneficial native plant, and what’s a weed that needs to be pulled because it’ll interfere with water filtration. And it means a lot, a lot of maintenance.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust has already awarded Lincoln a grant to develop a clean water class, which she’s slated to teach at the Prince George’s Community College this spring. She’s hoping that the new green hub will, in addition to being a classroom in itself, draw new students from the community into that clean water class.

She’s also slated to start offering green jobs training in a nearby correctional facility, preparing inmates to interview for jobs in, of course, storm water management, but also clean energy, the local food movement, and recycling. “That has the added benefit that when you give somebody a job,” she says, “they are much less likely to go back into the correctional system. So it’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for the economy, and it’s a win for decreasing crime.”

Lincoln’s green agenda is new to the community, no doubt about it, but it’s quickly garnering excitement. She remembers one particular day – a very cold day, so cold that in the absence of a heating system, they had to cut the class short – when she happened to be down at the hub teaching a green careers workshop. “There was one kid,” Lincoln remembers, “26 years old, and he said ‘Lisa, I’m working at Walmart on the night shift, and I cannot feed my family of four.’ So I said, ‘well, you need a green job!’” That student is now considering taking the clean water class, and looking into training for storm water management jobs.

Other folks have stopped by when Lincoln’s been puttering around the hub, fixing things up or making plans to install solar power on the roof, and asked her what she’s up to, how they can get involved. “So I think that once the doors are open, they will come,” she says. “If I build it, they will come. We need to have clean water everywhere, and water is such a precious commodity. It’s probably next on the horizon for the world crisis, and so we need to protect our water as much as possible. There’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurial activity. I’m excited about all the possibilities.”

To learn more, and to donate, visit the Prince George’s Green Hub campaign page. Let’s keep Lincoln and her students and entrepreneurs toasty warm through this cold winter, and then see what good green things sprout up come spring.

AWESOME PROJECT: Friends of Van Cortlandt Park Are Giving Their Garden a Makeover

Hey New Yorkers, did you know that there are over 20 miles of hiking trails in Van Cortlandt Park, up in the Bronx? That its 1,146 acres contain a golf course, a stable, and a house that George Washington slept in? That you can still go there and find green spaces that are actually wild?


New Yorkers pride themselves on knowing their city like the back of their hands, but few of us know that the third largest park in the big apple is the sprawling Van Cortlandt Park. A New York Times article shed light last year on why most New Yorkers don’t know parks like Van Cortlandt as well as they should, and why parks in the outer boroughs have historically gotten so much less attention – and money – than Central Park has. In a nutshell: wealthy donors tend to live near, and therefore feel most invested in, the parks that are already doing quite well, which has left the others pretty much out in the cold.

That hasn’t stopped the tireless Friends of Van Cortlandt Park (FVCP), a nonprofit founded in 1992 in response to exactly that problem, from giving Van Cortlandt the TLC, the respect, and the use that it deserves. They do incredible work in sustainability, forest restoration, and urban gardening in their beloved green space, and have evolved over the years to become the park’s primary free educational organization. Each year, they teach more than 5,000 students – and not just children, but adults as well.

Of the many programs they offer, one in particular is skyrocketing right now. “Our garden program has quickly become our most popular program,” says FVCP executive director Christina Taylor. “We get more volunteers on our garden days than we do on our forest restoration days. Everyone loves it.” FVCP’s garden is an ideal place for parents to bring their kids and show them how tomatoes come from soil and sun, not from the grocery store; it’s a controlled and contained, and yet wild, natural classroom. The perfect balance. “Something as simple as counting the cucumbers that are growing – they love it. With the compost bins, they get to see worms and hold worms,” says Taylor, of the sheer delight that the garden has brought to its littlest stakeholders.

Older kids are getting in on the fun, too. FVCP, through a partnership with Grow NYC, helps to run green markets for youths in the neighborhood, scraps from which come back to the garden to be composted. There are other signs that the neighbors want to get more involved with FVCP’s garden: they’re showing up with their own kitchen scraps at Taylor’s office door. Literally. “People will show up at the door with food scraps,” she says, “and be like ‘hey, is there room in your freezer?’” In the summer, if she happens to have been offsite for a few days, unexpected compost drop-offs can result in pungent mishaps. But Taylor laughs when she talks about it; carting spoiled compost to the trash may stink, but it shows that people are hooked. Garden-mania in the neighborhood, in other words, is at a fever pitch.

The problem is that the current garden needs a face-lift. Its first 400 sq. ft. raised growing bed was built on the cheap, of low-quality wood, in 2008, and is badly rotted. Well-loved shovels, rakes, and other tools are breaking down left and right, literally losing their handles. From our perspective, this is all a good sign: FVCP’s garden has run through its first round of equipment and is going stronger than ever. We can imagine the hundreds of stories of positive community change told by each dent, each missing handle, each rusted piece of equipment.

But new shovels don’t grow on trees, so FVCP is raising money through ioby for round two. Hand pruners, rakes, wheelbarrows, you name it. “We’d also like to get a new storage container to put these tools in that we’re buying,” says Taylor. “Right now our storage for the tools ends up being that we lay them on the ground and put the wheelbarrow on top of them, and that’s how we protect them from rain.” Not a rust-proof system. For the raised bed that needs rebuilding, the money will go to fresh lumber (of a much hardier quality, this time), brackets, and soil to mix with the compost.

“We’ve been thrilled with the response,” says Taylor, of the campaign. “We’re about two thirds of the way right now, we just have to meet another $700. We’ll definitely be able to replace the garden bed, and at this point it’s just determining how many tools we can buy.”

So pitch in a shovel or a rake for the holidays, all ye New Yorkers who talk about there being no green space in our city. This is one of those wonderful cases in which you can see very concretely how far your donation will go: $10 or so for a new shovel, which will see the fingerprints of hundreds of happy Bronx gardeners over the years to come. And check out the hugely exciting 20-year master plan recently put together by NYC Parks for Van Cortlandt; it includes plans for a community garden at least five or six times the size of the current site. Onward!


AWESOME PROJECT: ioby Hero SWAG Takes Sustainable Community Gardening to a New Level in Newark

Last year, we started cooking up a video series designed to feature some of the real heroes of the ioby community – projects and leaders we wanted to set squarely in the limelight, and hold up as role models and as inspiration. Among those we featured was SWAG of Newark: a thriving urban community farm that today educates around 700 local students per year, sells wonderful fresh produce at its own market, and has become a source of great pride and pleasure in the South Ward of Newark. The farm has even served as a wonderful resource for the unemployed or underemployed who seek a creative, confidence-building, social outlet while they search for new work.

In fact, so much has happened at SWAG since the video went into production – not least of all their latest ioby campaign, to which you can still donate here – that we wanted to accompany the video’s release with a little update. Here’s where they are now:

The last year has seen SWAG delve deeper than ever into an analysis of what sustainability means for the farm, and for the South Ward community. Becoming sustainable with a capital “S” will mean closing loops on environmental impact, on financial self-reliance, and in terms of community leadership. SWAG co-founder Alexandra Payne is thrilled about the developments on all three.

“In a lot of smaller communities that are poor communities,” says Payne, “you see these big ups and downs in how well projects work based on funding or based on how well things are going in the city or based on these small pots of money that are available. What this sustainability project is partially about doing is making it possible for the farm to continue its basic operations without having to worry about that. So without having to worry about where is our seed money from every year, or can we afford to buy seedlings, or can we afford that outside fertilizer, or can we afford to pay the neighbor for water? Can we afford local interns?”

group picture swag

How will SWAG close those loops? Well, first, they’ll make their own soil, for free. Plans are in the works for two huge new compost bins will turn organic farm waste into fresh soil for next year. “For a quarter-acre farm,” says Payne, “you do need a decent amount of soil additives, and we prefer not to buy those, not have them all be purchased cow manure or mushroom compost. We prefer to make them because you get a better mix of components, and because it means that we can do it right on farm and have more of a closed loop.” Second, a hoop-house for germinating seedlings will go up in the fall, so that SWAG won’t have to look to expensive nurseries at the start of each growing season. Taken together, these two new initiatives will mean greater security through the unpredictable ebbs and flows of external funding.

Another hugely important part of SWAG’s vision for its sustainable future is that they be able to afford to pay local interns. Some of the interns they’ve had have come back year after year, both shaping the project and being shaped by it – even choosing college majors according to new passions they discovered on the farm. “It’s really great for us to have interns who can really run small pieces of the project,” says Payne, “and who feel comfortable leading the classes and who when they’re at the market can talk to people about ‘this is why we’re doing this and these are our goals’ and who can really start to internalize that and see the project as their own.”


But Payne doesn’t want those dedicated interns to have to choose between the farm and earning money. Starting with their current ioby campaign and moving forward, she plans to offer interns a stipend, as well as lunches and travel reimbursements. “We really want to invest in interns from the local community,” she says.

As part of that transition toward even stronger community-directed leadership, Payne would like to see volunteer numbers going up, so that each person takes on fewer hours. “Like a co-op,” she says, so that the joy of the work spreads further, but the burden for each person is lighter, reducing burnout.

chantrice Carrots

Meanwhile, an exciting transition is afoot at the farm. Payne and her team are readying the farm for a passing of the baton, in terms of leadership. SWAG belongs, she says, to the South Ward community, and that is where its future leaders will be found. “We’re there to give some direction and help raise funds and help people dream about what the farm could be, and in the future I’d love to step back and have a group of residents and students who’ve been there really take the day to day reigns of the project,” Payne says.

She and her team plan to step back a bit, starting this spring – very slowly and consciously, of course – and she’s excited to start talking about where the first satellite projects might pop up. They already have small satellites in Baltimore and outside of Philly, and want to continue to expand in the model of SWAG. “I don’t think we ever see ourselves not being a part of those projects; I just think it’s important at a community level to have them be very community directed. So once it’s stable and on its feet, that’s what I see happening.”

To support SWAG during this time of innovation and transition, and to learn more about the farm’s new initiatives, click here.

Young farmers and Alex 2013 spring

AWESOME PROJECT: Youth Bike Rodeos in New Orleans

If you ask Kaitlin Joerger about the work she does for New Orleans cycling advocacy group Bike Easy, she’ll play it down, tell you she’s just a volunteer who comes in on Fridays, just doing data entry, just doing the “busywork” that the nonprofit’s staff doesn’t have time for. Then she’ll tell you how wonderful the organization is, and what they’re cooking up next.

bike easy kids rodeo

Well, Bike Easy is a wonderful organization (more in a second), and they are cooking up a very cool Youth Bike Rodeo workshop series for this spring and summer (more in a second), but it seems important to first take a moment to celebrate the behind-the-scenes workhorses of community activism. The Kaitlin Joergers of the ioby community.

Joerger initially got involved with Bike Easy because she’d just moved to New Orleans to town and was working entirely from home. Her office of one, though, was not cutting it. “I bike a lot and I enjoy biking, and also I needed to have some more human contact in my week,” she says. “I’d come from DC, and their biking situation has gone crazy. I think in the time I lived there, they put in over 50 miles of bike lanes. I’ve always been interested in transportation policy, so I contacted this organization called Ride New Orleans, which is an advocacy group, and met with a leader there, and she told me to talk to the director of Bike Easy. She said they were always looking for volunteers. So I started working with them, and they’re fun people.”

A patent examiner by trade, Joerger is nothing if not detail-oriented. She recently spent an entire decade of her career focused solely on the tiny pieces of machinery that move printer paper from the stack down into the printer itself. “Everything under the sun is patented,” Joerger says, “so we have a very subdivided office. I used to work on a very small area: paper feeding and delivery, so literally any piece of paper that was moved from a stack of paper in a printer, off of the stack and into the printer. That’s all I would look at, and I did that for about ten years.”

Only when pressed will she admit that that kind of work ethic and capacity for attention to detail could, possibly, be of huge value to the nonprofit where she’s “just” the data-entry volunteer who comes in Fridays. “I mean, there’s only two people who are on staff at Bike Easy,” she says, “and a lot of the time it’s just all the little things that they just don’t have time for. So that’s where I as a volunteer can come in and I’ll go and help enter new members into their giant member database and clear out old members who aren’t involved anymore, and fix email addresses. Which is just something that if you’re working for a nonprofit with a staff of two, you don’t have time for all that busywork. But I like that kind of stuff.

The golden moment of community activism, isn’t it? When what needs getting done – the thing no one has time for – is exactly the kind of thing the new volunteer happens to like to work on?

Okay, now let’s talk about Bike Easy’s awesome new project and ioby campaign:

In the two years since she arrived, Joerger has watched the New Orleans cycling community start to take root in the city. “It’s definitely growing,” she says. “Our streets are not that great in terms of potholes and such, but basically Bike Easy does a great job of advocating for bike lanes. Kind of anytime there’s a street project going on – a re-pavement or whatever – Bike Easy will advocate for getting bike lanes put in on major thoroughfares, so it’s getting a lot more connected via the bike lane system, which is great. It’s grown immensely since I’ve been here.”

Since these resources are so new, though, lots of kids whose parents don’t bike are now growing up in a city where cycling will increasingly be an option. Joerger and her teammates want to ensure that, in the absence of parents who can teach them the rules of the road, kids are getting the road-prep they need to keep them safe. “We want to make sure we educate the kids who are just starting to bike but may not have anyone to teach them,” says Joerger.

Enter Youth Bike Rodeos: playful workshops run by Bike Easy, in partnership with New Orleans charter schools. Think relay races, games, and obstacle courses that aim to teach good bike safety and preparedness. Bike Easy recently ran two experimental rodeos, which were a huge success on all fronts. The kids showed up in droves and loved them so much that lots more charter schools signed on to participate in a next round. Ten more schools are lined up for rodeos this spring and summer.

Everything’s in place – but there’s just one problem. There aren’t enough bikes to go around. “A lot of kids show up to the workshops but don’t have a bike,” says Joerger, “and so then they have to share with the kids who do, and it doesn’t work out as well as if we had our own fleet of bikes that are all the same and we know they’re well maintained.”

So Joerger and her team are raising the money they need to buy a fleet of 15 bikes and 30 helmets through a local bike shop, which has already agreed to give the nonprofit a good discount. If you’d like to donate to help outfit some burgeoning New Orleans cyclists, click here, and rest assured that the new Bike Easy fleet will be put to excellent use in the coming years – the team has big plans to expand the program, reaching more and more schools as New Orleans becomes ever more bike-friendly.

#GivingTuesday Special — Groupon Doubles Donations to ioby Projects

ioby is proud to announce our partnership with Groupon Grassroots. Beginning today, Giving Tuesday, and throughout the giving season until December 31, Groupon will be matching donations to ioby projects when donors purchase giving codes through Groupon Grassroots. Your $10 purchase will be doubled by Groupon and given to you to apply $20 to an ioby project of your choice. Don’t delay! Get your giving code doubled by Groupon today!


How it works

This Giving Tuesday, ioby is excited to be partnering with Groupon to help get these awesome neighborhood projects the funding they deserve. All of these projects are aimed at making neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable, and they all need some extra cash to come to life.


  1. Learn. Click on each project to learn more and decide which project you’d like to support.
  2. Make your gift. The giving code that you purchased from Groupon is worth $20, but you can choose to give as much as you’d like. Enter the full amount that you would like to give into the orange box on the right-hand side of the project’s page, and click the “Donate to this Project!” button.
  3. Look over your Donation Cart. You will be brought to your Donation Cart, where you will review your order. Once you’ve looked this over, hit “Checkout.”
  4. Redeem your code. On the Checkout page, enter your giving code and click “continue to next step.” If you entered your giving code correctly, you should see $20 applied to your donation. Now you can continue checking out as you normally would!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at


Fiscal Sponsorship Now Available to All Groups in the U.S.

Today ioby is pleased to announce the national expansion of our fiscal sponsorship program.

Effective immediately, ioby will offer fiscal sponsorship to informal and unincorporated groups in any community in the United States. To take advantage of ioby’s fiscal sponsorship service, you must have a live ioby campaign. See the details of our fiscal sponsorship policy here. To be eligible to use ioby, leaders must live in the neighborhood where the project is taking place, have explicit goals to make their neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable, make no profit and benefit the public, and have tangible, measurable and measured results.

Why are we doing this?

Since ioby’s beta launch in April 2009, we knew we wanted to serve those who many people call “the grassroots.” During our two-year NYC pilot phase, this meant serving the approximately 3,000 groups that steward green spaces across the five boroughs. According to research by the U.S. Forest Service NYC Urban Field Station, we know that more than half of these groups have annual budgets of less than $1,000 and nearly 70% are led by volunteers. The majority of these groups are informal; that is, they aren’t incorporated and certainly don’t have IRS recognition as a 501(c)3 non profit.

These groups, in NYC and in many other places, are critical managers of green space, open space and public spaces. They’re the unrecognized maintenance partners of plazas who run annual or seasonal cleanups. They start beautification projects. They run programs that activate public spaces and bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods. Most are powered by sweat equity, in-kind donations, small cash donations and small grants. And frankly, there is little incentive for these groups to incorporate and become 501(c)3s themselves.

We also found that ioby is a critical source of startup capital for new social enterprises and civic organizations. About 1/3 of ioby campaigns are explicitly startups and go on to raise additional funding from major gifts and grants.

Since our launch, ioby has provided a limited type of fiscal sponsorship to informal groups of neighbors and unincorporated groups in New York City’s five boroughs and Jersey City. In partnerships with the Miami-Dade County Office of Sustainability and the Memphis Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, ioby extended this service to the metropolitan areas of Miami, Florida in 2012 and Memphis, Tennessee in 2013. In these communities, ioby acts as a fiscal sponsor for approximately 60% of these citizen-led, neighbor-funded projects.

We surveyed ioby Leaders in New York, Miami and Memphis. Among other things, we found that providing tax deductions for donations was especially important in the lowest income neighborhoods where we work. (It wasn’t as important an issue for neighborhood leaders from wealthier families and neighborhoods, except when those groups were expecting to receive donations of $500 or more.) We’re serious about our mission to support leaders in low-income communities who are working to make positive change, and we believe that being responsive to about the services that matter to them and to their donors.

Why is it so important to fund these small groups at the hyper local level?

Well, for starters, we know that lack of non-profit status is a barrier to receiving philanthropic dollars, especially grants and large donations, but it may also be a barrier to effectively solving complex problems. In “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” by Sarah Hansen, we learn that environmental organizations with budgets higher than $5 million consistently receive more than half of all philanthropic dollars, leaving just half the pie for more than 80% of organizations. Hansen’s paper smartly argues that allocating funding explicitly for grassroots organizing in front line communities can effectively support national policies by mobilizing demand for change. But this citation from the Urban Institute only includes groups that have filed a 990 or 990-EZ with gross receipts of $25,000 or more, groups that are in many cases 5 to 25 times larger than a typical ioby Leader’s.

If this expert article assessing the landscape of the grassroots is looking to groups 25 times larger than who ioby typically works with, is anyone studying social change at the block level? What about the important work at an even more grassroots level?

Maybe more importantly, we believe that neighborhood leaders are not just underfunded and untracked, but that they’re an overlooked source of innovation to solve local problems that we believe can and already have demonstrably contributed to climate mitigation and resilience at the local level. To the ioby cofounders, this is worth underscoring. In this crisis, we can’t turn away from this important fountain of radical innovation.

Finally, resilience depends on the strength of community fabric. We believe more funding made available to these groups builds capacity and the strength of local networks. You can read more about ioby’s approach to neighborhood resilience here and here.

ioby Party In Our Backyards

Announcing ioby’s FOURTH annual Benefit: November 13th

Calling all community activists, all tactical urbanism fanatics, all environmentalists who believe that combatting climate change starts right at home, in our own backyards…

You’ve been hard at work, so you know firsthand that there’s nothing more rewarding than fighting the good fight – but who can keep going without sharing a beer now and then with like-minded citizens, optimists, and change-drivers? Who doesn’t to kick back now and then, and celebrate in the company of inspired peers?

This year marks our fourth annual ioby benefit, and we can’t wait. Thanks to an all-star list of sponsors this year, and thanks to YOU, the evening is shaping up to be a great time.

Teaser: Kombucha Brooklyn is prepping growlers and getting ready to tap some delicious elixirs (possibly jasmine) for us – all donated from the bottoms of their fermentation-crazed hearts. And the sustainability gurus at Williamsburg-based egg restaurant will be donating all kinds of brunchy deliciousness; check in later this week for the menu. Last but not least, the event space has of course been graciously donated by our longtime friends at Brooklyn Brewery.

So, to recap: Come join us at Brooklyn Brewery on November 13. Expect to reenergize with fellow activists and forward-thinkers, fuel up on Brooklyn brews and kombucha cocktails, and leave with more hope than you brought in. That’s crowd resourcing, baby.