Awesome project: A safe haven for aged-out foster kids in Cleveland

By the time Kevinee Gilmore was in college, it seemed like she really was beating all the odds. In the foster care system since she was 13, the oldest of five, she’d never expected to succeed in school, not to mention graduate from Cleveland State with a Bachelors degree in social work.

What people didn’t see, though, was how hard she had to fight during those college years to find a safe place to sleep on vacations and school breaks, and how often there was simply no place to go. She crashed on friends’ couches, snuck into her brother’s independent living placement, went to shelters, slept in her car, did whatever it took. To this day, like many former foster kids, she still hates holidays. “When I aged out of foster care in 2002,” says Gilmore, “I immediately saw that this was wrong. How does it happen? I went to college for housing. And it was just a lonely place. I was still homeless on my holiday breaks. I was homeless for Thanksgiving. I was homeless for Christmas. Housing is the most critical thing on the hierarchy of needs.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 3.32.44 PM

[photo via @hashtagfostercare on Instagram]

Gilmore went on to graduate school, and worked for both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, even publicly introducing Clinton herself to a crowd at one Cleveland event. She became a mother. She bought her first house, worked as a consultant/advocate for foster youth. She started a social media campaign called (@hashtagfostercare on Instagram), enlisting the help of celebrities to bring awareness to the needs of foster kids. And she never stopped dreaming that she would one day create a safe haven space – or a network of them – for foster kids in crisis who had aged out of the system but still needed support. Today, she’s making that dream a reality – she’s just exceeded her ioby fundraising goal for renovations to the house, which is already open to kids in crisis.

a safe haven with someone who’s been there

It’s what Gilmore wishes had been available to her, during college. “It would have been like, ’Oh, cool, a girl who actually graduated from college? You’ve really got your degree? Wait, you were really in foster care? Oh my god, I can do it, because you did it,’” explains Gilmore. “‘And then I come over to your house, you empower me, you expose me to some opportunities. You’re not just trying to house me, you’re not asking me for money. And I’m staying with you for a week and then I have this ongoing relationship with you and with this team of people and this cool network on social media that makes me feel like being a foster kid is the shit?’ That’s what’s needed. I needed a me, back then, to get me over the hump.”

Her drive to get it done comes partly from a desire to see foster care organizations being operated not as business ventures, but as missions. “My work really manifested out of rejection and learning what this system is – it’s a business,” she explains. “Foster care is a twenty-six billion dollar industry. Seven people get paid off one foster kid: the social worker, the therapist, the drug administration because they’re giving them all these meds, the magistrates, all these people get paid because this one kid came into care, right?”

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 3.37.22 PM

The foster care system can be especially cold, as Gilmore knows, for older kids. “Foster care is like Hollywood, man,” she says. “You’ve got a short amount of time to get the spotlight, and once you hit a certain age, it’s like ‘you’re not going to look good anymore in front of a crowd of funders, go ahead, you should get over your foster care experience. You should be financially secure, you should be emotionally stable, and all that stuff that happened to you? Get over it!’”

Gilmore envisions her safe house being a place of connection, community, and positive foster culture. “Come to my place,” she says. “I’m a single mom, I kinda did it wrong, I can show you how to do it better. If you need a place to stay, call me. If you’re aged out and you’re in college and you need a place to crash for a week, call me. The goal is to have 13 of these safe haven houses in areas where I was in foster placements.”

Gilmore’s work is healing for her, too. “You know, I’m still healing,” she says. “I’m just not over what happened to my family. So every time I help, there’s a little piece that heals. I have the potential to shed light on some of the darkest places. Some of the nastiest things that have happened to people in care, and I can have them come out and beat their chest, like ‘I was a foster kid!’, and not this shame.”

If you call Kevinee and get her voicemail, you’ll hear her ebullient voice signing off with “I’ll see YOU at the top.” You can tell she means it – and that she wants us all to be there, together.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

What I learned when the tables were turned: ioby’s Rhiannon Chester tries crowdfunding

Ever since she was a teenager, ioby Action Strategist Rhiannon Chester has dedicated much of her energy to working for better public education, immigrant rights, affirmative action, economic justice, and LGBT youth in her native Detroit. After years of supporting others’ projects, Rhiannon led her first ioby campaign this past spring. Read about what she did, how it went, and the things she learned when the tables were turned!

Rhiannon_large

 

The Allied Media Conference (AMC) has been held every summer since 1999; it’s been based in Detroit since 2007. AMC brings together thousands of diverse media-makers from all over the world (filmmakers, radio producers, writers, dancers, etc.) who want to help make the world a more just, creative, and collaborative place. The multi-day event offers activities including plenaries, workshops, practice spaces for hands-on learning, and “tracks”—series of sessions devoted to a certain topic. This year’s tracks included “Art as Resistance,” “Kids and Caregivers Transform the World!,” and “Food Matters.”

When the organizers of the 2017 conference put out a call for volunteers to expand the previous year’s “Healing Justice” practice space into a track, Rhiannon and two of her friends, who had all been involved with AMC before, stepped up. “Sarah Sidelko, Violeta Donawa, and myself—we’re all part of the healing justice community in Detroit, and a lot of our networks overlap,” Rhiannon says. “We know the conference can be an intense experience, and social justice people always carry a lot, so it’s important to offer healing options.”

Rhiannon, Sarah, and Violeta set out to plan a series of eight-ish workshops over three days that would allow participants to learn about and experience healing modalities like Reiki and ear acupuncture, as well as healing skills like how to care for people with disabilities of various types. They reached out to healing practitioners and facilitators in both their networks and on an AMC healing justice listserv. They crowdsourced ideas for self-care reminder signs to hang around the conference: “Fill up your water bottle the way you charge your phone,” “Have you taken a deep breath today?” And they started a fundraising campaign on ioby to pay for all the necessary supplies, like markers and sticky notes, as well as stipends and healthy snacks for the practitioners and facilitators.

“We really tried to take care of our presenters,” Rhiannon says. “We wanted to make it as comfortable and accessible as possible for them. So that’s how we framed our fundraising message: the idea that these people perform a service that would normally cost something, but here, participants could get it without barriers. We centered it on supporting the practitioners so everyone could have a good experience.”

When it came to organizing their outreach, Rhiannon says her team was systematic. “Our strategy was to write down the names of everyone in our various communities who we thought might be interested: the spiritual community, social justice community, and art community in Detroit all intersect a lot. Then we assigned one of us to contact each person, and a different one to do a second touch. The second person would reach out again, if necessary, and say, ‘I know Rhiannon sent you a message; I wanted to follow up and ask what you thought about our campaign.’” The team mainly used Facebook and Instagram to reach their contacts, as well as the AMC listserv. They also made sure to tap into their personal networks. “I asked my mom,” Rhiannon says. “She’s never been to an AMC event or sought healing services, but she supports me, so she supported my project.”

Rhiannon says her partner also supported her from a personal angle—but didn’t make it easy. “At the beginning, I was pretty nervous and hesitant to ask for money,” Rhiannon says. “My first experiences with fundraising were door-to-door canvassing—that can be a real task! It kind of put a bad taste in my mouth. One night, I was talking to my partner about it and she said, ‘Well, you haven’t asked me!’ She was right—and this is the person I’m closest to! It reminded me of what we say to ioby Leaders every day: Just start asking. In my case, my partner made me pitch my campaign to her first—she wouldn’t just make the donation—but that was great practice. The next day, I went to work and just started asking people.”

The healing justice track team found what many ioby Leaders find: that posting on social media is a great way to announce, celebrate, and spell out the details of a project, but posting alone is not very effective for raising money. “Responses to our social media posts were slow at first,” Rhiannon says. “But because I work for ioby and I know what we teach people, I reminded my team: ‘Don’t just put it on Facebook expecting that will do something!’ We knew we’d have to start engaging with people one-on-one. Our strategy was that anyone who liked, shared, or commented on our post, we’d reach out to them personally: ‘Hey Tom, thanks for your interest! Would you support us with a $25 donation?’ We’d tag them in a comment or send them a direct message to ask for their support. Once we started being more direct, it only took three or four weeks to meet our goal [out of a six week total campaign timeline]. Even people I hadn’t known since high school donated! The number one reason people give is that they’re asked directly and personally, whatever the format.”

Rhiannon’s team brought a mix of fundraising experiences to the table: some of it similar to this campaign, and some different. For example, “Sarah worked with Fender Bender, a queer people of color bike collective, on a fundraiser at AMC where you pedaled a blender bike to make your own smoothie,” Rhiannon says. “That’s a great fundraiser, but different from an ioby campaign. We help the community see the impact of where their dollars are going, rather than giving them a product or service in exchange for their donation.”

Rhiannon herself has done a lot of advocacy work and petitioning. “This was interestingly close to getting signatures for a petition,” she says. “In both cases, you’re asking someone to sign on to something they’re not necessarily too familiar with, and you have to give a synopsis of a complex idea in a couple of sentences. You have to tell the story.”

The other key takeaways Rhiannon got from her first ioby fundraising experience?

  • “When we reached out to people and they said they’d love to help but wouldn’t have the money until X date—we made a note and called them back on that date! That kind of follow-up was really important. To be able to do it, make sure you always write things down! People’s contact info, their pledges of time or money… Stay organized.”
  • “At first, I was afraid of people responding with a ‘no,’ but I realized the ‘no’s aren’t that bad! Money is just one type of energy among many others. Some people told us they couldn’t contribute but would share our campaign on their Facebook page, or would ask their friends to give; that was great, too. ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘I don’t care.’ It’s not necessarily rejection. It can just mean ‘I can’t support you in the way you’re asking.’ When that’s the case, you can reframe it and re-ask around what they can do.”
  • “I tell my ioby Leaders this, and it helped me, too: Try to lead from a place of passion. Fear is not what’s motivating us to create change in our neighborhoods—it’s the love and hope and possibility we feel. When you’re asking for money, it can be easy to go to fear! But we should lead from the place of why we’re doing the work to begin with.”
  • “Practice makes everything less daunting. Practice talking about your project and asking for support; it gets easier. I say: Have the nerve, feel the fear, then jump into it!”

When AMC 2017 was over, the Healing Justice track had brought hundreds of conference participants into contact with healing modalities that could help them care for themselves and deal with stress and fatigue. “We had to turn people away!” Rhiannon says. She’s not sure she’ll organize the same track at next year’s AMC, but she’ll be involved somehow, perhaps running her own session. “Fundraising gets really exciting when people start supporting you,” she says. “It starts to become fun! I found myself up at 3:00 am some nights writing down the names of more people to call. It’s addicting and powerful—like Popeye’s magical spinach.”

 

AWESOME PROJECT: The incredible multicolored pigeons of Pittsburgh

Linda Wallen has always been an artist. A longtime Pittsburgh resident, she spent her early career painting portraits of “the rich and famous,” and then “retired into” teaching French and Spanish (through art) to elementary school students. But it was in the 1990s that her interest in public art really took off, after a trip to Barcelona.

“There’s so much mosaic in Barcelona,” Wallen says,  “It’s extraordinary. So I came home and started breaking up dishes and china and tiles and whatever I could find, and gluing it on the front of my house. Pretty soon people started asking me to do murals for the community, and that’s how I got started in public art.” Creating mosaic on the front of her house reinforced for Wallen some Big Truths. First: if you stand outside doing something that looks like fun, people will stop to say hello, and they’ll want to get involved and help out. Second: it’s vital, energizing, and community-building to seek beauty for beauty’s sake.

 

New Bird

Pigeon positivity

For the past eight years, Wallen’s teaching contract has stated that she has one day off per week to devote solely to public art in the community. That’s a lot of public art projects she’s left in her wake, from welcome signs to murals. But no public art project she’s ever started has garnered as much interest as the one she’s got in process right now. It’s big. It’s capturing the imaginations of her neighbors. People are coming out of the woodwork, wanting to get in on the action. What is it?

Pigeons! Big ceramic pigeons with enormous eyes, painted in all kinds of whimsical colors, and installed on streetside rock surfaces all over her Spring Hill neighborhood, so that they look as if they’re swooping right up Spring Hill. Wallen’s recent ioby campaign, started to raise money for a new batch of pigeons, as well as a pigeon-oriented scavenger hunt for kids and seniors, was such a hit that it raised over $1,000 above   its target.

NewBird3

It all started when Wallen and her students began to research the history of their community, to get ideas for a ceramic mural they wanted to make at the top of the hill. “We discovered that the German settlers brought their own pigeons here with them on the boats from Germany,” explains Wallen. “They were racing pigeons, and on the weekends, they would drive them up to Erie Pennsylvania, and race them back to Pittsburgh. And the kids became obsessed with this idea of pigeon racing! So there were a lot of pigeons flying through that mural.” When kids are taken over with that kind of fascination, it’s usually a good sign that you’re onto something.

NewBird2

Well, one thing led to another, and soon enough, Wallen was asked to do a similar mural at the bottom of the hill, too. She couldn’t resist sticking a few more brightly colored birds on the new mural.

“Then,” she says, “I had a couple extra pigeons leftover from that project, and I said to myself, why can’t I just stick these up on the cement block next to the bus station, which is kind of ugly? So I put three pigeons on the bus stop, graffiti-style, when no one was looking. And nobody arrested me, so I started doing more!”

Pigeons Itin

Pretty soon, friends and neighbors started asking Wallen if they could help out, and before they knew it, they had over 180 pigeons flying up the hill on three different streets. People smile when they walk by, honk when they drive past. They’ve been asking Wallen if they can have pigeons to put on their homes. People from other neighborhoods are saying they want to do something similar on their streets. Recently, a neighbor came out of his house when Wallen was doing an install. “Are those pigeons gonna last a long time?” he asked her. She said she thought they sure would. “Well,” he said, “I might just cut down some of the weeds.”

“There’s some people responding in ways that tell me that suddenly they’re taking notice that maybe they can do something to make their environment better. Anytime you get people smiling and laughing and doing stuff,” says Wallen, “it does create a kind of magnetic positivity that people are attracted to. If you’re having fun, and doing something meaningful, people want to do it with you.”

Pigeons Itin 2

Why whimsy?

If Wallen had sat down to ask herself or her class to really analyze their mural plans in a very rational way, and to ask themselves what would be the most historically important or socially impactful image   to portray, they might not have landed on the pigeon. Instead, they all followed their curiosity, and just dove in. Maybe we could all use a little more of that, today.

“I figured out early on in my life that I needed to look at things that would make me feel good,” says Wallen. “Working with children has really reinforced the fact that it doesn’t take much. And I think that’s what’s been so successful about the pigeons. It’s that whimsy. They’re sort of fanciful – they’re not normal pigeons. They’re all different colors. They might be red with yellow spots, giant eyes. There’s one mime pigeon that has a black and white striped shirt, and that’s for my husband who did pantomime in Paris. People love the whimsy of the birds, and the fact that there’s so many of them, and that they’re so unexpected. This is a working class neighborhood – it’s nothing fancy. It’s not been taken care of in some respects. And so this adds some color, and something beautiful. It’s not about paying your bills and how you’re going to get your car started. Does it distract us from our troubles? Does it just add a moment of something… nicer?”

Pigeons Itin 4

Tempted to create some art in your neighborhood?

Wallen is a seasoned ioby campaign leader – this campaign was her third with us, and it was hugely successful. Here’s her advice for first-time ioby leaders:

  1. Know that you’ve already got the most important ingredient for success. “If you’re thinking about getting a project going,” says Wallen, “you probably already have some enthusiasm, and that’s what it’s gonna take.”
  2. Get by with a little help from your friends. “Get one or two people on your team,” advises Walden, “so that you have people to bounce ideas off of, and to help lift that bale and tote that water.”
  3. Show people how their money and/or effort will pay off. “It’s not hard to get community members involved once they see how positive it is,” Wallen says. “I’d walk around with pieces of the ceramic pigeons in my pocket, and say to people ‘look at this bird, isn’t he silly?’” By the time she started crowdfunding this project, she’d already put in a ton of her own time and energy, and had dozens of flying pigeons to show for it. Friends and neighbors were already in love with the concept.
  4. Establish personal connections before soliciting online. Wallen often left handwritten notes at people’s homes, or chatted with them on the sidewalk, to say hi and let them know that a more formal request for donations would be coming in their email box. After a round of emails had gone out, she’d then follow up again in person. Go slow to go fast, as they say!

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here

Meet our new Memphis Action Strategist, Chris Jones!

Right after Labor Day, ioby welcomed aboard the newest member of our staff: Chris Jones, Memphis Action Strategist! Chris will be working with Ellen Roberds to help residents of Memphis make the changes they want to see in their city, block by block.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 1.01.17 PM

“In my heart, I’m kind of a small town, community guy,” Chris says. While he’s called Memphis home since he moved there in 1994, Chris grew up in Starkville, Mississippi, which he calls a very close-knit community.

“If you live in a big city, you can be snarky or cutting or dismissive to someone and you may well never see them again,” he says. “But it doesn’t work that way in a small town; you can’t just isolate yourself in your little clique. You’re going to run into everyone and their family members at the grocery store, in a parking lot, and at church—and people remember things for decades!”  Chris says this frame of mind also influences how neighbors in close proximity are apt to take care of each other. When you are familiar with everyone in your community, he says, you know when one of them is hurting. “And then you know that you and your neighbors should help that person—not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because you understand that your time of need will come.”

When Chris left Starkville to attend Talladega College—Alabama’s oldest private historically black college, founded in 1865—he saw concern for community expressed in a different way: by administrators and other academic professionals who weren’t just concerned with doing well in their careers, but who also wanted their work to have a positive impact on the people and places around them. “That really stuck with me,” he says. Then, as a law student and then as an attorney in Memphis, he saw how lawyers were using their skills to further social justice causes, like stopping unwarranted police searches, representing indigent individuals, and voiding oppressive contracts. “Those experiences left the impression on me that it’s not enough just to do well in life,” Chris says. “One must also try to do good.”

While forging a career as an employment lawyer with a Fortune 500 company, Chris cast a wide net of community involvements, including board service with local organizations like The UrbanArt Commission and managing a grassroots congressional campaign. Then he got to a point in his legal career where he wanted to expand his perspective and skill set—particularly his leadership and leadership development skills. “I wanted to become a more well-rounded professional,” he says. “ioby gave me the chance to do just that while improving Memphis’s neighborhoods, and remaining involved in the same ways I was before. It was a natural fit.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 1.14.23 PM

In all of his pursuits, Chris says he loves to see individuals, organizations, and communities reach their full potential. “Often, all three of those are living and performing below what they could be doing,” he says. “And often, they just need someone with a new set of eyes to see some different angles and possibilities, and to help them develop skills where they’re needed. Seeing people and groups achieve things they didn’t think they could achieve—that’s what drives me. I lead by developing other leaders. ioby gives me that opportunity.”

Of all the things Chris loves about Memphis—the music scene, the food, and the Memphis Grizzlies are all on the top tier—the biggest ones for him are the city’s many possibilities for growth, and the Memphis attitude that he knows can help realize them. “We have a dogged pride that motivates us to do things our own way. If you’ve seen the Memphis ‘Grit & Grind’ t-shirts—and some other slogans I can’t mention right now!—that’s the attitude I’m talking about. It may not always be perfect or pretty, but we get there.”

For Chris, Memphis’s path forward is clear: to improve the city’s education system, small business opportunities, and nonprofit networks, a bottom-up strategy is key. “Really, we need an insurgency!” he says. “A block-by-block set of community leaders with the right tools in their tool belts. I think that’s what Memphis needs right now, more than a new set of politicians or high-level businesses. I don’t want to make things more complicated than they have to be; I’m pragmatic. I want to help our residents grow individually, and then see a well-equipped collectivism grow in our neighborhoods.”

Read more about how we choose cities to work in.

Erin Barnes: What Charlottesville means to me

In my position at ioby, I’m fortunate to see firsthand some of the work being done around the country to make our neighborhoods stronger, more equitable, and more kind. Seeing it often makes me feel optimistic about Americans’  ability to lead our own communities in the change we want to see. But sometimes we’re served a jarring reminder of just how deeply rooted the problems are that we face as Americans. And sometimes the ugliness can seem too much to bear.

I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, and attended UVA for college. I spent some of the best years of my life there. Those of you who know me know that I’m fascinated with Thomas Jefferson, the man who, despite his own failings, taught us how to define the United States with the words of democracy, liberty and equality. Unfortunately, saying the words “all men are created equal” is not the same as creating an equal society. Worse, repeating these words blinded us to the racist laws and culture that our country was built on, and which made it impossible for real equality to exist.  

Last month’s violence in Charlottesville was hard to witness: bodies flying in the air, armed militia in the streets carrying Nazi flags, unhooded Klansmen surrounding peaceful Black Lives Matter counter-protestors, all roiling around the statue of Jefferson. The visual struck me: the static, pedestaled symbol of American democratic ideals, surrounded by the shocking symbols of American reality.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 1.55.40 PM

[via CNN]

 

But why should I be shocked? This is a country, after all, with deeply white supremacist roots. Throughout our history, our high-minded ideals have meant nothing to those whose land, liberty, and lives have been violently taken from them. For those of us who felt shock, it was our privilege talking: the privilege to be able to tune in and out of the struggles of people of color whose systematic oppression make violence and injustice the norm of life in America.

I hoped that Charlottesville could be a wake-up call to many Americans. But without much time to recover, we were pounded with Harvey, DACA, and Irma. Similar to deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, the news cycles of violence often pummel us like huge crashing waves of unthinkable tragedy.

cvillePQ2

I have a lot of work to do to remember that these extreme events are just moments. In between these crises which get the attention of the privileged like me, there is a steady undercurrent of oppression that is more powerful and more deadly. As Americans, it’s the water we swim in: it floods our personal relationships, our policies, our institutions, our grand juries, our politics, our built environment. White supremacy is menacing because it’s not always easy to see, especially when you are white. Charlottesville made it plain for a moment, but to see the corrosive undercurrent flowing throughout our history and present requires serious attention. To reverse it will take a sustained effort from all of us, especially the privileged.

I’m proud that ioby is a platform for leaders of all kinds to take clear, tangible steps in their own communities. We have work to do. Those of us who have been historically oppressed have had the clearest view of the dark forces in our country for a long time. That’s why this work needs to start with listening to their experiences, and following their lead.

 

Erin Barnes is  Co-Founder and Executive Director of ioby.

Erin_600w

 

 

AWESOME PROJECT: Let the light shine in — to Parker Village, Detroit

What do you do when your city repossess over 1,000 streetlights in your underserved neighborhood, literally putting the lights out on you? Build your own. Only better, and greener. Bring in, that is, community-owned solar power.

That’s what Jackson Koeppel, co-founder and Executive Director of the membership-based solar power nonprofit Soulardarity, thinks is the answer for his adopted hometown of Highland Park, MI, just outside Detroit. Soulardarity has already installed six solar street lamps up in the community, and has just finished fundraising for the next project on the docket: a “smart” solar street light, with wifi, LED signage, and a built-in security system. It’s slated to go up right outside Parker Village, which is a super cool new tech hub/community space/urban farm space being developed in an abandoned school in Highland Park. There’s even going to be an aquaponics center, for raising fish, as well as education and work opportunities for those who want to learn trades within the urban farming field. Oh, and a sweet farmers’ market.

“The solar street lights we work with are off-grid,” explains Koeppel. “So they have solar panels and a battery, and a light. They get power during the day and store it in the batteries, which run the light at night. This one at Parker Village is going to have an LED street sign, that’s going to say ‘Welcome to Parker Village.’”

The Parker Village smart light’s wifi signal, Koeppel says, will be a huge boon for the neighborhood, which experiences what’s sometimes called a “digital divide.” “In Highland Park we have a lot of elder folks who are less in the know with internet,” Koeppel explains, “and a lot of economic inequality. Access to the internet will be transformative on a lot of levels.”

As a symbol, what will this smart street light mean, for the neighborhood and for Parker Village? “I think this light we’re doing with Parker Village is a symbol of the deeper potential of sustainable energy and sustainable community-led development,” says Koeppel. “It’s a small version of what we want to see happen with the whole city. It’s one small piece of energy and information democracy actually being made real and concrete, and it could really light the way for that becoming the norm for Highland Park and for Detroit and for all cities that have been left in the dark, or left behind.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 4.48.29 PM

[Juan Shannon standing at the entry to Parker Village, where the smart light will be installed.]

This smart street light comes at the perfect time for both Soulardarity and for Parker Village, whose founder, Juan Shannon, is bringing the project into phase one of development. “Juan was one of the people who volunteered to serve on Soulardarity’s founding board,” says Koeppel. “For a long time, he and I have just been in dialogue about our shared  goals of building a sustainable community really developed by the people living there. We’d been talking about a collaboration, and it just became the right time.”

If the idea of community-owned and developed solar power street lighting is one that makes your ears perk up, then Koeppel and his team want to hear from you. They’re eager to share anything and everything they’ve learned, and to hear from other communities around the country. “There’s probably pieces of what we’re doing that can be taken and replicated and improved upon in other communities,” says Koeppel. “We’re really excited to build with and support other communities, and to learn about the work that they’re doing. So please reach out to us!”

So there you have it. Don’t be a stranger! You can reach out to Koeppel at director@soulardarity.com.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

When getting that 501(c)3 status is not the right move

ioby works every day with all types of community groups and leaders. These range from loosely-affiliated groups of neighbors working together for the first time on a specific and discrete project, to established 501c3 nonprofit organizations with paid program staff and multiple sources of operating revenue.  (Here’s how crowdfunding can help established nonprofits.)

 

Who We SErve

Oftentimes, we’ll hear from smaller or unincorporated groups (the “deep roots”) that they are  dipping their feet into fundraising as a step to help them grow, and eventually  seek nonprofit status. And while  a crowdfunding campaign can be a great way to raise initial “seed” funding before going on to incorporate , many others rely on crowdfunding in order to stay lean and focus on one project — and this is also great!

Incorporation as a nonprofit  is a heavy lift, and for grassroots groups with limited resources, it can take time and effort away from what you’re really trying to accomplish.  We hear a lot about the pros and cons of incorporation from the people we serve, and we know this step is not necessarily right for all groups at all times.

That’s why we’ve  shaped our service to work well for  unincorporated groups as well.  Here’s how:

  • ioby provides fiscal sponsorship in order to allow community leaders from unincorporated groups to collect tax-deductible donations. This helps ease the pressure to incorporate.
  • Our crowdfunding platform provides an alternative to grant funding. The prospect of being eligible for grant funding can often sway small unincorporated groups toward a path of incorporation and growth, which is not always the best choice.
  • We encourage and train leaders in fundraising from within their own community. The independence of being community-supported can allow leaders to experiment and determine the best long term course: to stay small, disband after accomplishing a single project, or incorporate and grow. All are viable next steps in certain instances.

Rather than serving as a launchpad toward nonprofit incorporation, ioby focuses on building capacity of community leaders to determine the best tactics and strategy to accomplish the positive change they want to see in their neighborhoods.

There is no single correct path, but by working to fundraise, network, and build local movements, leaders emerge with a better sense of what they are good at and what their communities most need.

AWESOME PROJECT: Help fund the trailer for a forthcoming docu-series addressing racism in America

Reverend Leah Lewis, J.D., grew up in one of the first African American families on her block in pre-white-flight Cleveland Heights, Ohio — but lived her first decade blissfully unaware of the racism that had shaped and was shaping her country. Her family welcomed in friends from all over the world, and her neighbors, a lovely elderly couple of European decent, adored her.

“The Figgs just loved me,” she says, her voice full of fondness. “They doted on me. I blame them for my sugar addiction, because they gave me chocolate bunnies and chocolate Christmas trees. And my mother was a nurse who had friends from literally all over the world. So it was nothing for me to encounter a variety of people in my childhood. I just thought: this is the world. This is how the world is. I just thought: people are people.” Lewis loved to look through a coffee table book her mother kept filled with pictures of couples and families from all over the globe. It captivated her.

But when she turned twelve, a different reality set in. Lewis remembers seeing Alex Haley’s mini-series Roots on TV. “It was the first time I understood,” she says, “that there was a particular segment of humanity that despised my people because of color of our skin.” Lewis also started attending a posh girls’ school in Cleveland, and encountered racism for the first time in her life. Her basketball coach, along with two teammates, began to terrorize her.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.27.40 AM

this needs to be documented

Fast-forward to today: Lewis has degrees from the Howard University School of Law, Yale Divinity School, and Ashland Theological Seminary. She’s the founder, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer of Three Butterflies LLC, a producer of original multimedia content. And she’s gearing up to bring all her varied experience together to create a docu-series on racism in America today: The Xs & Os of Race/ism. Right now, she and her team are raising money with ioby to fund the series trailer.

“Racism is debilitating for a lot of people on a personal level,” Lewis says. “And systemic oppression debilitates the progress and the greatness of our society. Because of my firsthand experiences with racism, because of my theoretical study of the subject, I just feel very comfortable doing this work, and I know it is a part of my destiny and contribution to the human race.”

The idea came to her when a colleague, Linda Spurlock, approached Lewis to ask for help finding a research body for Crystal Reedy, one of her masters students. Reddy wanted to look at children’s experience of racism and race in this country. “As we’re talking about the project,” remembers Lewis, “I’m thinking ‘this needs to be documented.’” Reddy has already begun interacting with the kids she’ll study for her thesis, and so the docu-series that will follow her is off and running, too.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.21.33 AM

“We intend to address the misconception about race,” explains Lewis, “in order to issue a course correction, for those who care to hear the truth, and who care to act upon these truths. There is so much rhetoric around the subject of “race,” and I’m using air quotes, that is fallacious. Science has well established – whether biology or anthropology – that there is but one race, and it is the human race. Further, it has established that humanity began in Africa, and that every other ethnicity comes out of that African origin, but results from migration into other parts of the world. Yet African peoples – Continental and Diasporan, including African Americans – have been scapegoated and demonized for the last 500 years, and viewed as subhuman and as a pox on society. This is simply not true.”

What will a course correction look like? Conversation, to start. Coming to terms with the ugly parts of our shared history. Getting to a place where we can all be productive, humane, and loving members of society. “Until we do that,” says Lewis, “we will not know our greatness. It will continue to elude us.”

The documentary will likely be a tapestry of sorts. “We want to weave interviews, anecdotes, history, images and fine art and graphic art and geographical art,” says Lewis. “We want to weave all these elements into a story that is really reflective of each of the cultures that is highlighted, and of the American experience. We want it to touch people’s hearts and minds, and ultimately prompt people to live and behave differently. On a daily basis, millions upon millions upon millions of people from diverse backgrounds socialize respectfully and successfully. That is a starting point for change.”

what you can do

  1. Donate to help get this trailer made and out into the world!
  2. Have an idea or resource to share with Lewis and the team? They’re eager to hear from you. Feel free to get in touch at info@threebutterfliesllc.com, and share possible channels for distribution, names of potential funders, stories you find inspiring, names of experts who may be in a position to comment, or anything else you think might be of help.
  3. Share the link to the campaign with any friends, schools, churches or religious institutions, or community groups you think might want to contribute to the campaign!

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

VIDEO: The Pico Aliso Neighborhood Project

Pedestrian safety and walkability are pressing issues in Boyle Heights, which is surrounded by six freeways and serves as a gateway into downtown Los Angeles. In the Boyle Heights’ Pico Aliso Neighborhood, the community group Proyecto Pastoral’s Comunidad en Movimiento (CEM) aims to improve walkability and street safety, especially for children, youth, seniors, and those who rely on public transit.

Acting on years of data gathering, interviews, and community-led planning, Proyecto Pastoral is now focused on developing, testing, and implementing appropriate safety improvements where they’re most needed. CEM funded their street safety outreach and community planning work partially through a crowdfunding campaign on ioby, part of the Trick Out My Trip matching funds initiative in partnership with Transit Center.

AWESOME PROJECT: Come in for the coffee, cheap printing, and creative services… stay for the gaming and community

Lots of people have pretty fixed ideas about the video gaming world. Violent games, sexist games. Isolated young men who aren’t engaged with real life. You know the story.

Well, there’s another story, too, and it doesn’t get told often enough. That’s why business owner (Master Collective is his graphic design and creative services company) and passionate lifelong gamer Robert Gatewood is setting out to bring the businesspeople,  activists, and educators he works with in his own Cleveland neighborhood of Collinwood into direct contact with  gaming community. He’s creating a new creative space called Full Spectrum: GamerHaven, because he thinks the gaming community and the non-gaming community – who may have preconceived ideas about one another – actually have much more in common than they realize. And a whole lot to learn from one another.

Right now, he’s hard at work sharing his vision with funders and shaping the space. You can get involved by contributing to his ioby campaign here.

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 4.07.39 PM

what is GamerHaven?

Imagine a downtown storefront space where you can pop in on your way to work to get a decent cup of coffee, swing by after lunch to print out Tuesday’s board meeting reports, meet with potential collaborators, get creative services for your organization from Gatewood himself, join in with some folks on a group basketball video game taking place on the big screen, or even use the tech station to create your own video game. Or… all of the above. Gatewood, who can jumpstart a fascinating conversation with just about anyone, and who’s always been most at home in spaces of social overlap, wants to see gamers and non-gamers reaching across the aisle, so to speak. He wants to see a forty-something woman come in and print out signs for an upcoming social justice rally, and get talking with an 18 year old gamer who’s never been to a rally before.

“I find, people get brought together and it just works,” says Gatewood, who’s always naturally found himself serving his community as a sort of cross-pollinator of ideas between social groups. “And five years later, everyone’s wondering why we never tried it before. Exposure changes things.”

So what do gamers have to learn from that board member printing out a report or rally sign? “I think if I had to look at us as a whole,” explains Gatewood, “the thing that we might have to learn from non-gamers is that we don’t have to defend the stuff that we care about in an offensive way. We very much are soldiers for the stuff that we care about, because we’re so used to being marginalized in that way. I think a person that cares about reading, doesn’t really feel like they have to fight for the idea of reading. But we very much hold the flag for gaming, and I think that’s important, but I don’t think we need to be so offensive about it. And they’ll see that, when they see how non-gamers acknowledge and respect what they do, on some level. Just by being in the space with them.”

And the flip side of that coin – what do non-gamers have to learn from gamers? It all comes down to a certain kind of creativity that’s very active.“Gamers want to have their hands in their entertainment,” says Gatewood, who even as a kid never liked sitting and watching TV or movies, but always wanted to play a role in shaping the story. “We very much are hands-on, interested in changing things, and that thinking is necessary everywhere. It’s the doing part. The interactive part of entertainment. That’s where technology is leading. Gamers are already there, and they’ve been there. And you’ll see the value of it, by being around these people.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 4.07.47 PM

a good moment in history to practice being active

Gatewood says this might be a moment in history when that tendency to be more active rather than passive could be really helpful, emotionally and also in terms of social justice work. “It seems like the kinds of processing of what’s happening in the world around us is different in people who game, or do, and people who watch,” says Gatewood. “I think it probably is a critical point where we understand how much control we do have – at least in our neighborhood, on our block, in our house. I want to lift up the thinking about games – we have that kind of thinking with every other form of art.”

And what about those violent games, which do exist? They’ll be allowed at GamerHaven, for now, but not during times of day when children and teens are working and playing at the incubator space. And Gatewood is very interested in following research where gaming and psychology meet. “I want to know for sure,” he says. “If it turns out that most violent media doesn’t make people more violent, but this particular kind does, because you’re ‘doing’ it and it wires your brain differently, then I want to make sure that we’re being responsible.” He imagines that someday, if he can build up a large enough gaming community, nearby universities might even be interested in tapping into the network as they conduct studies on the effects of gaming on the brain.

Even better, Gatewood is excited to use the new space to champion the many incredibly high-quality, non-violent, narrative games that are being produced today. “I want to promote the value of games that aren’t just slaughterfests or puzzle games like Candy Crush,” he says, his passion for the art form coming through in his voice. “Let’s push up these narrative games — there’s a guy who wrote a game about his experience as he lost his daughter to cancer. And you don’t know that that’s what’s happening until about a third of the way in, and then you are now a part of this experience. It was mind-blowing. There’s dozens and dozens of games like that, but people don’t know about them. And that’s where I can have a screen up and say ‘this exists, this is why, this is who made it. Oh, you have a story you want to tell like that? Well we have a game development workshop that starts next week.’” 

By the way, want to know what Gatewood’s favorite game is, right now? No big deal – it’s a progressive homesteading/farming game called Stardew Valley, in which you raise your livestock, tend your crops, interact with neighbors, and marry the person of your choice, whatever gender they may be. He says it’s supremely relaxing.

Sign us up.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.