Over 15 million households in America experience periodic food insecurity. That means over 12 percent of our population, at any given time, does not have enough food to meet their needs, or is uncertain they will be able to get enough. Continue reading Five food security projects that are helping to revive and sustain communities
From the Women’s March to the #metoo and #timesup movements—in the past 15 months we’ve seen many strong civic leaders step up and create grassroots movements that speak for women’s rights in all its facets.
Here at ioby, we believe that positive change starts in our backyards. Everyday we see on-the-ground women leaders combat racial injustices, advocate for bike safety, beautify public spaces, mentor young women of color, and SO much more!
Health foundations exist to improve the wellbeing of the communities they serve. That’s why their grantmaking is often focused on local nonprofit organizations. And that’s great.
But did you know there’s a way for foundations to get their funding even closer to the ground, and encourage more community engagement in health initiatives—while helping to generate additional money for beneficial programs and projects?
All these things are possible when foundations leverage the benefits of community crowdfunding to boost the impact of their efforts and dollars.
Sometimes a community garden just needs a little extra TLC, and this is one of those times for the Bryant Hill Community Garden, in the Bronx. One of only two community gardens in the South Bronx, and an easy 5 minute walk away for half of all Hunts Point residents – whose neighborhood is a food desert with asthma-triggering air quality – it’s desperately needed, and brimming with potential. Unfortunately, its vegetation and stone pathways, battered by years of rainstorms, are also brimming with debris.
The second round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is complete!
Building on the success of last year’s program, we teamed up once again with the New York State Health Foundation to help support resident-led health and wellness projects in seven neighborhoods in New York — across 12 zip codes — including East Harlem and the Lower East Side in Manhattan; Hunts Point, Claremont, and Mott Haven in the Bronx; Brownsville in Brooklyn, and Clinton County.
This time around, residents raised a total of $113,273 for projects that make their neighborhoods healthier, more active, and more full of opportunity. This total includes the matching funds that NYS Health Foundation provided to each project, based on its individual fundraising goal. The total of match funds distributed was $49,396 and the total in citizen philanthropy that ioby leaders raised from their neighbors was $63,877. In other words, for every dollar received from match funds, ioby leaders raised $1.30 from within their communities!
21 ioby projects participated in this round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge — these projects all have the goal of creating a culture of health by making their neighborhoods greener or safer; improving local access to affordable healthy food; promoting walking, biking, or other exercise; educating neighbors about lifestyle changes, and more.
Here’s what some of our favorite participating leaders had to say about their work:
“Community gardens are known for engaging all different types of people: youth, teachers, new Americans… People just walking by, or coming from work, will stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’ Then they pick up a shovel! Everyone gets to mingle and trade ideas.”
– Alicia Williamson, Lydia’s Magic Garden
East Harlem residents led by Alicia raised more than $2,500 to restore this beloved 20-year-old community space, which had lost most of its plantings and amenities after serving as a staging ground for the redevelopment of an adjacent building.
“How can we set up a community-led resource that helps bring fresh and local food directly to the tables of our residents? How can we bring in more sustainably farmed and raised food and also keep it affordable? How can residents who rely on food subsidies eat better without going to another community for food? Our market helps solve many of these problems.”
– Lily Kesselman, the South Bronx Farmers’ Market
The mostly-volunteer team at the South Bronx Farmers’ Market raised more than $10,000 to extend their hours of operation to include a weekly Wednesday market in addition to the Saturday hours they’re already open.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, but I rarely get to see or talk to a lot of the other people who live here. I want to give us a space where we can work together. There’s something so special about taking part in the growth of something, and all watching it grow together.”
– Veronica Vasquez, NYCHA Community Garden
17-year-old Veronica and her mom Liz live on the Lower East Side. They exceeded their fundraising goal of $1,300 to build a new community garden at the NYCHA complex where they live.
You can see all 21 Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge projects at ioby.org/healthy.
With the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to present the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York state who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.
Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including the one we’re profiling below) will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHealth through May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health outcomes across New York!
“There’s kind of a stigma around living or being near NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] buildings,” says Veronica Vasquez, a NYCHA resident and leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign Blooming Streets – NYCHA Community Garden. “When you look at them, they’re just brick and bars. I want to give us something to be proud of as we look in our back yard. Some beauty and some colors!”
[Veronica with her mom, Liz]
Veronica is a junior at East Side Community School in Manhattan’s East Village. Together with her mom Liz, she’s leading her first ioby project this year. Their plan is to work with their neighbors to build a community garden on the grounds of their apartment building that will, in Veronica’s words, “embrace and pull together this community. Make it a real neighborhood.” The 17-year-old pictures lots of flowers in the garden’s beds—”probably some of my mom’s favorites, tulips”—as well as fragrant and relaxing herbs like chamomile and lavender.
Several motivations have led Veronica to step up and lead this initiative for her community. For one, she’d like to feel closer to her neighbors. “I’ve lived here my whole life, but I rarely get to see or talk to a lot of the other people who live here,” she says. “I want to give us a space where we can work together. There’s something so special about taking part in the growth of something, and all watching it grow together.”
Veronica and Liz have spoken to many of their neighbors about the garden, as well a local church group and people at Veronica’s school, and have gotten overwhelmingly positive responses. “I especially wanted to know how people my age would feel about it,” Veronica says. “They either donated, or said, ‘I want to put my hands in this dirt with you.’ It was amazing, that kind of support.”
[The NYCHA housing where Veronica and Liz live]
Another motivator was the mother-daughter team’s abiding love of the natural world, and frustration with their limited options for living a greener life. “We love the environment and try to save it any way we can,” Veronica explains, “but at NYCHA we don’t have recycling pickup, or any green space. The city doesn’t provide composting bins or energy-efficient light bulbs. It’s sad because I learn all about sustainable living in school and come home with all these amazing ideas, but then I have no outlet for them.”
Lastly, when planning this project, Veronica had health on her mind (pun intended). “I think everyone needs green space to be healthy—mentally and physically,” she says. “In NYC, we live at such a fast pace that it’s really easy to forget to sit down and enjoy, or just take a stroll for the sake of it. If I can bring those abilities to my neighbors, bring them the peace of mind they offer, it would be amazing.”
Veronica recently interned at the Lowline Lab, a prototype for a future green space in a former trolley terminal beneath the city’s streets. She loved working with the plants in the underground park and learning how to care for them. She also found out about the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge there (through her supervisor), and about NYCHA’s Resident Green Committee Program (through one of its coordinators, an invited speaker). Now, with their support, Veronica and her mom are working on selecting a plot of land to propose for the garden; then they’ll apply to NYCHA for a permit to start building it up.
[The Lowline Lab, where Veronica recently interned. Via the Lowline]
While they’re taking the lead on getting the garden started, Veronica and Liz want their neighbors to bring any and all ideas—and skills, and materials—to the table. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” she says, “so if people have things like seeds, gloves, or building materials they can donate, or if they can lend a hand with expertise or want to volunteer, we want them! If not, they can just spread the word and tell others about it. Whatever people can do to let us all live a little healthier.”
In the future, Veronica would love to see the garden grow into a full-on community farm that produces food for NYC homeless shelters. In the shorter term, she’s just excited to get started.
“I think about this all the time!” she says. “I think I’ll know I did really great, I’ll know I’ve achieved my dream, if someone comes up to me and says, ‘This is the place I go when I’m stressed out, and I just need a little bit of earth.’ I would say that’s it; job well done.”
With the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to present the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York State who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.
Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including this one!) will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHealth through May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health outcomes across New York!
“Those of us who participate in community gardens, we tend to connect with great people whom we ordinarily would not meet in an urban environment,” says Alicia Williamson, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign Lydia’s Magic Garden (LMG). “And we do it in a nicer way—not by bumping into them on the subway! It’s a nicer, kinder, more peaceful way to connect.”
Alicia, an East Harlem resident, is a first-time ioby leader, but a seasoned community greener: LMG will be her third garden renovation in the neighborhood since 2007. The space was initially reclaimed from its previous identity as a vacant lot about 25 years ago by Lydia Roman, another neighbor who was tired of seeing trash fill up what could be a place for community recreation and enjoyment.
[Lydia Roman in the garden; undated photo via the garden’s Facebook page.]
“She cleaned it up, as many people in different neighborhoods do where there’s a history of disinvestment and disadvantage,” Alicia says. “Now that there’s a lot more interest in these neighborhoods, we’re losing a lot of our green and open space. It’s important that we develop and integrate neighborhoods, but it’s also important to maintain these community spaces.”
In 2012, a building was built next door to LMG. Alicia says the developers took half the garden’s space, and used the rest as a staging site for their construction materials. It was never returned to a garden, and Lydia herself became too elderly to work on rebuilding it. In the past few years, Alicia and other neighbors have gotten together to bring it back to life, and are now ready to rebuild its grow beds; install a shed; plant vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers; and host community events there once again.
[The garden in the 1990s]
“Gardening and growing—whether it be ornamentals, herbals, medicinals, food, insect hives—is something that many people in NYC have no experience with,” Alicia says, “so it’s exciting and interesting.” After managing gardens for a nonprofit organization and a homeless shelter, as well as helping to preserve and promote community gardens in East New York, she knows firsthand the unique way these green spaces have of drawing people together. “Community gardens are known for engaging all different types of people: youth, teachers, new Americans… People just walking by, or coming from work, will stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’ Then they pick up a shovel! Everyone gets to mingle and trade ideas.”
In addition to the social benefits, Alicia sees a strong, inherent connection between community gardening and wellness—in terms of nutrition, physical activity, and emotional wellbeing. “Health and horticulture, they go hand in hand,” she says. “For one thing, I get more exercise gardening than I would going to the gym three times a week!”
[Volunteers prepare the garden’s raised beds]
Alicia has volunteered with the Edible Schoolyard program at P.S. 7 and says that if kids see and understand where new foods come from, they’re more likely to try them and enjoy them. “This is a childhood asthma zone,” she explains. “Obesity and diabetes rates are high. I’ve worked with children in my neighborhood who live on a diet of pizza and fried chicken. They don’t have a broad experience with food, so this expands their food vocabulary. When I’ve done workshops with kids age five to twelve where they plant, grow, and eat the food, they will enjoy salad! It’s amazing! They also learn that it’s okay to leave your computer in the house, to get outdoors, to move. I think these are changes they’ll carry on for the rest of their lives.”
She also cites the benefits of being outdoors and getting physical for mental health. “I’ve worked with mentally ill people gardening, too, and you can see how wonderful it is to give them that outlet,” she says. “Improved health all around is natural byproduct of gardening.”
Alicia and her neighbors are working on partnering with P.S. 7, the veterans’ housing complex that borders the garden, and the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation to make LMG the best it can be. “We want to reinvigorate Lydia’s Magic Garden and have it be a vital part of the community again,” she says. “We want a green space—a bright space right next to the Metro-North [commuter railroad], where there’s not much else to see—but also a space for programming and recreation. This is an opportunity to make something really nice, and in two or three years, we’ll be able to just sit back and watch the plants grow. There will be a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.”
While Alicia says she’s been pleasantly surprised by the steady stream of contributions to the ioby campaign—some of which have come from former NYC community gardeners who’ve since relocated but still appreciate the effort—she explains that the site’s success doesn’t depend only on money. “It’s also about participation,” she says. “At some point, after you get it set up, the need for funding drops off, but people contribute in different ways: often by just using it! Or by setting up cultural events and holding celebrations. You can be involved steadily, or just once, but people coming together is a big part of sustaining a place like this.”
Ultimately, Alicia sees Lydia’s Magic Garden as a conduit for gathering and exchanging ideas. “Many community gardens in NYC serve that function of sustaining long-term connections in the community,” she says. “That’s unlike Central Park—which is beautiful—but people don’t go there to connect. You’re more isolated. This will be more of a coming together.”
Kelly Street Garden has been a hub of healthy food and growing community in the South Bronx for more than 4 years. Despite being in the poorest national congressional district and lowest-ranked county by health in New York State, the garden, mostly run by volunteers, has grown and distributed hundreds of pounds of produce to neighbors—for free—through weekly summer Farm Stands, cooking workshops, and other events.
Recently, Kelly Street Garden raised nearly $5,000 on ioby as part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, to launch a “Garden Ambassador Program.” This summer program will provide opportunities for three youth garden ambassadors to build critical urban gardening skills, deepen knowledge of urban agriculture careers, and receive $1,000 to help maintain the 2,500-square-foot growing space over 16 weeks.
Earlier this month, ioby presented our second session in our new series of “Lunch and Learn” webinars. This conversation was all about how to bring healthy living to your block. We heard stories from successful ioby projects that focused on community health, and got to see models and approaches for making our neighborhood healthier. We discussed everything from the health benefits of yoga, to how to grow a local project to do the most good for the long term, to how to talk about this work in the most engaging way.
We are grateful to have presenters with amazing experiences and knowledge to share:
- Michael Marino, ioby project leader of Let’s Get Moving! Bringing Free Yoga to the Park in New York’s Lower East Side
- Donovan Finn, ioby project leader of Jackson Heights’ 78th Street Play Street
- Joanne Lee, Collaborative Learning Director at Active Living By Design
- Raquel Bournhonesque, Community Coach at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute).
If you weren’t able to join us in real time, we are sharing the recording here so you can watch and listen to the whole thing when you are able – and share it with friends and neighbors!
Stay tuned for details about our next learning webinar about play, taking place on Monday, April 24th.
This summer we partnered with the New York State Health Foundation to create the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, which promotes community health and wellness in nine neighborhoods and cities in New York — spanning 16 zip codes — including East Harlem, Hunts Point, Brownsville, Lower East Side, Mott Haven, Claremont and Clinton County.
Through this first round of match funds, residents raised a total of $115,073 to launch initiatives to make their neighborhoods healthier. Each project received a dedicated amount of match funds based on their original fundraising goals — ultimately, over $50,609 of match funds from NYS Health Foundation supported these leaders in their work. This means that ioby Leaders and their neighbors raised a total of $64,464 of citizen philanthropy to support their projects. Otherwise said, for every dollar received from match funds, ioby leaders raised $1.27 from their neighbors. BOOM.
Twenty-three ioby projects participated in the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge — these projects all have the goal of creating a culture of health by making their neighborhoods greener or safer; improving local access to affordable healthy food; promoting walking, biking, or other exercise; educating neighbors about lifestyle changes, and more.
“I do expect it to go further….My project begins with exercise; it doesn’t stop there.”
– Renee Matthews, Turn it Up Tuesdays
Here are some of these awesome projects:
- A group of parents are banding together to build a kitchen classroom to prepare the food from their school garden.
- Staff at an addiction center have discovered the mental health benefits of yoga, and are eager to share the practice with those who suffer from addiction.