Watch: Action Corps experts on getting to “yes” with City agencies

Our newly-launched webinar series, Ask Action Corps, brings real-life challenges from resident leaders trying to implement a project to a panel of Action Corps experts. In these conversations, Action Corps members offer strategies, tools, and resources both local and national, to help leaders overcome common hurdles to getting good done.

Our first Ask Action Corps featured Cathy Marcinko, Justin Garrett Moore, Tommy Pacello, and Janet Boscarino  talking about how to navigate regulatory challenges when planning an open space improvement project on city-owned land.

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Watch the recording here, or email us for updates on upcoming webinars.


What’s Action Corps?

ioby Action Corps (beta) is our awesome network of experts who want to help resident leaders  be successful in making positive change in our neighborhoods. They’re here to offer advice, support, and resources to help you implement your project. They’re ready for action and they want to help! Visit for more info.



Learn from a Leader: Talk and draw with your neighbors about race, racism, and living together

Want to start your own project but need some inspiration? Our new “Learn from a Leader” page profiles past ioby Leaders who succeeded in bringing more fresh food, active transport, green spaces, and other improvements to their neighborhoods. Read on, and imagine what you could do on your block!


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About the project

“Downtown Cleveland and Cleveland State University are thriving. South of them is Cedar-Central: a predominantly black neighborhood with concentrated public housing. There’s no doubt in my mind that the highway that divides them [I-90] was intentionally put there to separate the two.”

This is how Kaela Geschke, a community organizer with economic development organization Campus District, and one of the organizers of A Bridge that Bridges, describes the context and impetus for her project.

“We brought people together to help unite these two neighborhoods,” she says. The group convened a diverse cohort of about 15 neighbors from both sides of I-90 to meet and talk openly about race and racism in their communities, every two weeks for six months. Their discussions culminated in their co-designing and painting a mural on a bridge that spans the highway. The now-colorful wall illustrates these Clevelanders’ intention for a more equal and integrated future.


The steps

  1. Reach out and recruit. Intentionally invite diverse individuals to form your discussion group. Aim for people you think might be interested in having frank conversations about race (extra points if they’re also into public art). We reached out to community leaders, university professors, hospital staff, the public housing advisory council, nonprofits, churches, neighborhood associations—even the police force. The personal touch is always best: contact people directly (we also flyered, but I don’t think that generated too much interest). We wound up with about 15 participants, plus a lead mural artist (who we paid to bring all the design elements together), and a couple of facilitators. Having the same people commit to being present every two weeks allowed for great openness and connection.
  2. Prep your meetings for safety and success. Some difficult conversations are going to take place in your meetings, so do your best to prepare an environment where people can feel comfortable and productive speaking openly about sensitive issues. We did things like offer food and play music every time we met; sit in a circle; have facilitators run the show; and lay out some ground rules on the first day. Those were things like speaking from our own experience (not things we had only heard), acknowledging that there are multiple realities (ie: mine can be different from yours), being present (no phones!), listening to each other, disagreeing respectfully, and asking questions instead of assuming when you don’t know something. “No cross-talking” was probably our biggest rule, along with “share the air”—make sure you’re aware of how much you’re speaking versus others. We also just said, “Take care of each other.” As for discussion content, we really tried to delve into multiple layers and angles of racism: the racialized history of these neighborhoods; structural and societal racism; and people’s intra- and inter-personal experiences involving race. Sharing stories in all these areas really brought our group together.
  3. The nuts and bolts: planning, funding, and permissions. This phase could start earlier or later depending on factors like how long you want to host your discussions, where you want to paint your mural (public or private property), if you’ll want to close any streets for painting and/or celebrating, etc. If you’re seeking permission from the property owner or need any permits, start those balls rolling as far in advance as you can—but be able to demonstrate a draft design and backing from the community to bolster your case. And get going on your fundraising tasks early, too: especially securing in-kind donations and discounts on paint and other art supplies. Also plot out your painting setup and ascertain the amenities you’ll need: bottled water for volunteers, drop cloths to catch runny paint, and running water so you can wash your brushes, for example.
  4. Design together. We designed our mural partially by talking and partially by drawing. During some of our discussions, we broke out into small groups so people could contribute based on their abilities and interests: some sketched their vision of the whole thing, some drew individual portraits, some picked out the color palette, some chose words to paint… Some people who didn’t feel as artsy helped us plan our opening party. We just wanted everyone to play some kind of part so they could feel responsible for the finished product. Splitting people up was also a handy division of labor! If you want to express a real message with your mural, as we did, it’s good to let a trained artist take the lead on making the actual outlines on the wall: this will keep the visual messaging clear, and give everyone else a guideline to follow.
  5. Co-create and celebrate! Invite your community to participate in your painting days and attend your opening celebration with enough advance warning that they can plan to come. Invite the media to come out, too, to help you spread the word. Invite your funders, of course! Provide music and food to all. A few hundred people attended our events—including a councilwoman who thought she would just be observing, but who we successfully cajoled into painting with us!



– We conducted our outreach in January and February, and started taking applications for group participants in March. We held our twice-weekly sessions through the spring and summer, and did the painting in July and August.

– Seasonality matters when you’re painting, at least in Ohio! If it’s too cold, the paint won’t dry properly, so you need to plan to wrap up by fall.



– Our budget was around $10K altogether.

– We got a $5K grant from a local public art funder and raised the rest through our ioby campaign and a fundraiser through a local foundation.

– Our main costs were:

  • Paying our lead artist
  • Hiring facilitators
  • Art supplies—paint being the most expensive single item (again: look for discounts, giveaways, and in-kind donations wherever you can!)
  • Providing food at every meeting. You could save money by doing potluck style instead, but when you’re asking people for a lot of their time, it’s nice to give them something to make their lives easier.
  • Our opening party cost about $2K. You could do it cheaper, but we had a stage, a choir, food vendor vouchers for people coming from public housing… We did it up!


Additional resources

Kaela headshot

About the author

Kaela Geschke is a community connector and program developer. Her passion for community development has driven her world travels and allowed her to work alongside diverse groups of people—ranging from advocacy with Native women in Alaska to program development in Northern Uganda and civic engagement with adolescents in Chicago—before returning to her hometown of Cleveland to engage in neighborhood-based community organizing.

Inspired? Start your own project!


Ask Action Corps, a new lunchtime webinar, starts December 20th!

Our new lunchtime webinar series, Ask Action Corps, is focused on addressing the challenges leaders sometimes encounter on their way to making positive change. The series is a conversation with ioby Action Corps (beta), our recently-launched initiative to connect project leaders with a network of experts for advice, support, and resources to help implement projects.


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Cathy is the leader of several ioby projects around open space in Memphis and will bring questions about navigating regulatory hurdles when working with City government. In addition to talking about Cathy’s case study, Ask Action Corps will be an opportunity for you to talk with an expert in real time. So bring your questions about how to effectively make change in your community!

Ask Action Corps
Tuesday, December 20th
1:00 – 2:00 EST.
Admission is Free but RSVP is required

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge 2016 Update!

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.


turn it up tuesday niagra

“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:

Bring a kitchen to CPE II ioby

Harlem, NY:

  • A group of parents are banding together to build a kitchen classroom to prepare the food from their school garden.

Champlain, NY:

South Bronx, NY:

Learn from a Leader: Pilot a car-free weekend street closure in your neighborhood

Want to start your own project but need some inspiration? Our new “Learn from a Leader” page profiles past ioby Leaders who succeeded in bringing more fresh food, active transport, green spaces, and other improvements to their neighborhoods. Read on, and imagine what you could do on your block!


about the project

“This is the story of a park and its river, and the people who share that space,” says Martha Lopez-Gilpin, one of the leaders of a years-long initiative to make Queens’ Astoria Park the best resource it can be for nearby residents.

“It’s one of the greatest natural features of NYC that Astoria Park sits on a waterfront and is available to the public,” she says. Founded in the early 1900s in what was then a largely industrial area, the park gave people vital access to the water—even, in those days, for bathing! As time went on, the area underwent many changes, both physical and cultural: a seawall was built; Shore Boulevard went from being a dirt road that connected farms to a major two-way street that divided the park from the river. Park users’ relationship to the area evolved by turns.

When Martha and other ioby volunteers started advocating for car-free programming at the park’s annual Shore Fest, they saw themselves as links in the long chain of the park’s storied history.

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The steps:

  1. Watch & listen. We always watched how people used the park, and we listened to what they said about how they used it. The Department of Transportation [DOT] started a Weekend Walks program around 2008. At that time, Shore Boulevard was nicknamed “The Strip”—it was a two-way street with a big car presence: exhaust, difficult pedestrian crossings, a lot of cruising… With Weekend Walks, we knew the ability existed to close the street to traffic and reenvision how it could be used. So we advocated for a car-free stretch of several days to see how people would use it without cars. We watched closely to see how it went and what folks said and did in response.
  2. Forge partnerships. To help us realize the best car-free programming we could, we partnered with existing organizations who had established relationships with the park and its users: Astoria Park Alliance, Green Shores NYC, Big Reuse (which was then called Build it Green), our local community development corporation… We said to them: “We’re all interested in an environmental situation here that’s friendlier toward park users and human beings at large.” They understood, empathized, and really helped us realize our vision.
  3. Stay connected & reach out. We also got help planning our programming from park neighbors. People came to us with ideas and fully-fledged plans, which was wonderful not only because we wanted this to stay a community-centered project, but also because we didn’t have the money to hire big names! We started from the premise that there should be no vendors at Shore Fest—just educational activities, live music, fitness programs, fireworks, and the like—and that’s served us well. We asked our volunteers what events they liked and wanted to see, and we always fed them (though we couldn’t pay them!). We reached out to our elected and appointed officials and our community board, and they started coming to Shore Fest as citizens and saw what we were doing. All of this helped us turn the event from something people were skeptical about into something they were excited about. It turned into a very loving situation.
  4. Love & grit. In advocacy, you have to have both. Not everybody is going to love your idea. We got plenty of criticism! But we welcomed dissent because you have to include people whose views are not your own: that’s democracy. We let the discussion evolve and people eventually concluded—after seeing what was possible at Shore Fest—that Shore Boulevard being a two-way street was unsafe, and that the bike path there was unsatisfactory. So together we advocated for making the street one-way and putting a new bike path right on it. We used that grit for years with DOT, and in 2015 they finally made Shore Boulevard one-way, with a two-way bike lane on it, and also improved many of the pedestrian crossings. We had to make some compromises when it came to parking spaces, but from working with the city, I know that every parking spot here is a point of negotiation! That was the reality we had to face, and that was okay.
  5. Look ahead & honor the legacy. Astoria Park was designated an Anchor Park in 2016, which earned it $30 million in funding. Now, we’re continuing to discuss what people would like to see and do here in light of his new money: for example, we’ve heard repeatedly that people want easier access to the water. Well, what would that look like? How could we do it safely? And as population density in Astoria grows, the city is looking into expanding its ferry system and instituting a trolley. As we look ahead, we don’t know how these things will manifest, how they’ll affect the next 50 years of park usage. It’s all an evolving process that we’re honored to be a part of.



Time of year: Shore Fest originally took place in August, but a couple of years ago we migrated into September because it was getting too hot. Don’t be afraid to modify your seasonal timing if you notice people are too hot, too cold, etc. Don’t just soldier on; there’s no need!

Amount of time: When working with city agencies, you really have to be a happy warrior. For us to see a two-way street made into a one-way with a protected bike lane, it took seven years. And that’s okay! Just know that going in. A lot of people give up, but watching and listening, and seeing how things evolve, and reminding yourself that compromise is possible and necessary will make it easier to be patient. If you’re trying for a one-time weekend street closure, start a year out. Then you can see what develops and take it from there.

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– Our budget has fluctuated from $2,500 – $10,000 per event.

– Crucial to getting things done is securing lots of in-kind donations: volunteer hours, material and food donations… We get $2,000 – $4,000 in in-kind donations for every event, and they make a huge difference. Do not take them for granted!

– The main costs for us have been things like stage rental, porta potties, tents, tables, generators, and amplification systems. Reach out to local people and organizations to see if you can borrow any of these items, and be sure to ask about a nonprofit/community event discount when you go shopping!


Additional resources:

– The NYC DOT has done a fantastic job of promoting all their resources on their website. (I have to give a shoutout here to Andrew Ronan, who’s really running it as a one-man operation!)

– In addition to Weekend Walks-type events, you can get inspiration from checking out related initiatives like pedestrian plazas and Vision Zero (NYC’s action plan for ending traffic deaths and injuries on city streets).

– People are always reinventing the “car free” idea. Search around for groups in your area that have done a project like this and ask them to share their advice.


About the author:

Martha Lopez-Gilpin was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. She received a BFA from the University of New Mexico and an MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She and her husband Michael are professional actors. Martha is a founding member of Astoria Park Alliance with Jules Corkery, Kim Waber, and Claire Doyle.


Inspired? Start your own project!

Ideas in action: Reasons to start with what you already know and love

In the last week, ioby has received a massive influx of ideas for neighborhood change from across the country. We are seeing firsthand, right now, that Americans are hungry to be a part of something positive.

Are you feeling called to start an ioby project in your neighborhood? What if you’re feel energized, but at a loss as to where to start? In conceiving of their own awesome projects, many of the highly successful ioby leaders we see in action tend to hew to this old advice from civic rights leader Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it,

because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”



Do it because you love butterflies and gardens

Say WHAT? Don’t ask what the world needs? How selfish is that? But look at Naomi Montalvo, for example. She teaches pre-K at Juan Pablo Duarte school #28, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she’s recently started the most popular pre-K gardening club we’ve ever heard of. When she opened the doors, over 100 kids showed up to join; that’s over an eighth of the entire school population! The kids are learning how to create pollinator gardens that nourish the bees, butterflies, and other critters we need to keep our ecosystems running. They’re getting connected to green spaces in ways they haven’t before.

“Our kids live in an urban environment,” says Montalvo of the school’s population, “and that’s the kind of environment I grew up in. And there was no one really teaching us about nature; we didn’t have those opportunities. So now that I enjoy gardening, and I see what a pleasure it is and how much of a difference we can make in our environment, I want to share that with our students. They’re really excited. Even the faculty are excited.”

What makes the club so popular with the kids? We’re willing to bet that it’s Montalvo’s own passion for her hobby. She loves this stuff with all her heart, and it shows. Was the school’s lack of a pollinator garden club the absolute most dire, pressing need at Juan Pablo Duarte? Did it come up at every faculty meeting last year? Probably not. Has it enriched the school community and opened kids’ eyes in ways that amazed everyone? You bet. Was it exactly the right project for Montalvo to bring to life? YES YES YES.


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Do it because you love soccer

Or look at Jamie Naylor, co-owner with her husband of Celtic Crossing Irish Pub and Bar, in Memphis. Her passion for soccer runs so deep that it led her to her husband, her job, her loyal soccer community, and now her ioby project – through which she’s helping to spearhead a local school’s first ever girls’ soccer team. In choosing to focus on what she already knows best and loves most, Naylor has scored a major goal. She racked up allies and funding in no time, and was off and running.

“We being husband and wife owning the bar,” says Naylor, “when you come to Celtic, it’s a very kind of neighborhood family environment. My husband and I have two children – a nine month old and an almost four year old. All of our regular customers are seeing them grow up. So they know that we’re passionate about soccer, we’re passionate about Memphis, about our neighborhood, and that we do a lot for the community, and so we wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important to us.”


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Do it because you love street art

Or how about Karen Golightly, a photographer who is so passionate about street art and graffiti that she was able to lure 70 of the world’s best street artists (sweet sweet video clip of it here) to come to Memphis and create a massive mural covering a third of a mile!

“They really are the most uncensored voices of a city,” says Golightly of the graffiti writers she so deeply reveres. Clearly, her collaborating artists and donors alike felt and responded to that reverence: they SHOWED UP and they joined the conversation, in a big way. The mural couldn’t have been a bigger success.


How about you?

So. Now the really fun part. What makes YOU come alive? When your friends think of what they appreciate so much about you, what hobby or talent or quirky passion of yours comes to their minds? What’s the thing that – when you talk about it with neighbors – makes their eyes light up? Makes them ask questions?

You know what it is. Will you share it with us? We’d love nothing more than to help you share that passion with your community.

The radical act of knowing our neighbors, and what you can do right now

To our ioby community:

With so much pain, fear, anger, and divisiveness in our country right now, we want to restate and affirm what our work together is all about, and why it matters more than ever.

ioby was founded because Americans don’t have nearly enough opportunities or common spaces for neighbors to come together to know each other as we should. We believe that getting to know our neighbors, and working together to solve problems, is a transformative act of healing. Our work is, and always has been, rooted in an inclusive, participatory, positive, shared vision for the future.

In the last week, we have received a massive influx of new ideas for neighborhood change from across the country. We know that Americans are hungry to be a part of something positive. If you, like so many others, feel that this is the time to take steps toward positive change in your community, we’d love to hear about it! Tell us your idea and we’ll be in touch right away to help put your dream into action.

ioby is a community with endless good ideas. Here are a just a few of our favorite ioby projects happening right now, specifically focused on bridging communities and supporting neighbors across difference. Please consider supporting these amazing leaders with a donation, or by signing up to volunteer:

Project Extra Hands, Cleveland, OH: This nonprofit organization helps senior citizens living on their own to care for and maintain their homes and properties. This fall and winter they are connecting local high school students with senior citizens to build relationships and recognize that the stereotypes they may hold of each other are inaccurate and they have a lot to gain from each other. The $3,500 they are raising will help bridge the gap between two generations and provide seniors extra hands to do projects such as landscaping, raking leaves, clearing debris, and power washing.

Dinner, peer support and conversation with Haven, Jersey City, NJ: A team of parents, social workers, public safety professionals, educators, and public defenders are creating the first adolescent respite center in Jersey City.  The center will provide teens and families experiencing intra-family conflict with community-based services and short term voluntary residential as an alternative to homelessness and criminal justice involvement.  This group is raising $6,000 to provide youth support groups which build community, support and skills by cooking and eating together.

Urban Orchard, Memphis, TN: This is a community collaboration led by the Midtown Mosque, AMIN Center and other groups interested in improving city neighborhoods. The Urban Orchard will be a place of beauty and peace that includes fruit-bearing trees to offer fresh organic produce to a low-income blighted neighborhood in the Klondike area of Memphis. The orchard will be planted on a purchased vacant lot that was once filled with trash and weeds. The $1,210 raised on ioby will go toward topsoil, fifteen fruit trees, and Tree Gators.

Christmas Tree Lighting at Springfield Park, Queens, NY: Volunteers in the neighborhood around Springfield Park will be celebrating the holiday season with hot chocolate, cookies, and gifts for neighborhood kids in need. The $2,000 raised in this campaign will purchase warm coats and other winter clothing, which will be given away at this festival, while also celebrating and bringing attention to an underused community open space.

You can check out all of the awesome projects currently funding on ioby here.

ioby Leaders, donors and volunteers are critical agents of change in our country. We’re honored to be a part of the visions you have for your block, your town, your city. We know how hard it can be to do the patient work of bringing neighbors together to create an inclusive space for change and participation; we thank you for your dedication and doggedness.

As we work, we continue to return to our values for guidance. You can read our principles here.  

One last note: With low voter turnout, language that polarizes and blames, and many people feeling their voices haven’t been heard, there are real and legitimate questions about the strength of our democracy. This is why we need to remind ourselves:  Democracy is not just about voting and protesting; democracy is also giving, leading, doing, and inviting others to participate in building the social and physical fabric of our society. The neighbor-led change we support every day is civic engagement. If we work together, we can — and will — heal and shape the future of our communities.

We’re so grateful to have you in our community.


The ioby team


ioby staff 2016


Meet our new Pittsburgh Action Strategist, Miriam Parson!

As we wrote to y’all last year, ioby began as a hyperlocal organization with a mission to support neighborhood leaders and residents making positive change happen where they live. Since our founding in 2009, we’ve become a national organization (meaning that anyone in the U.S. can use our platform and services), but we’ve also been expanding our network of local offices around the country. We’ve always done this intentionally, by going to cities we’ve determined are especially likely to use and benefit from ioby’s platform and services for citizen-led change.

In 2013, we began working in Memphis, and earlier this year we opened our doors in Cleveland and Detroit. Now, we couldn’t be happier to introduce our newest office and newest team member: Action Strategist Miriam Parson of Pittsburgh!

Miriam Parson

“My family were farmers in central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh is my home,” Miriam says. “I’ll never leave.”

Since 2009, Miriam has collaborated across Pittsburgh’s sustainability and revitalization communities to support many of the city’s environmental and community development solutions.

“Pittsburgh is a very open, collaborative city where people are committed to their neighborhoods’ wellbeing and pool their resources,” she says. “There’s a deep-rooted and collective sense here of our place in history, and we have a diverse, neighborhood-led investment in our home and its future.”

A first-generation college graduate who grew up in systemically under-resourced communities, Miriam is personally dedicated to building equitable collaborations that support neighbors determining the future of their own communities. For the last nine years she has served community initiatives in central PA and Pittsburgh.

Mariam Parson ioby

“My thinking about problems has grown to be very action-oriented,” she says, “and I’ve learned that, as activist Lilla Watson said, ‘your liberation is bound up with mine,’ so we have to work together.”

Miriam says there are lots of organizations out there doing good work, but she’s especially excited by ioby’s “democracy on the ground” approach. “It’s civic engagement, it’s citizen philanthropy, it’s active self-determination,” she says. “It’s, ‘How do we pitch in some money, some time, and make this happen?’ That’s what we should all be doing as citizens anyway. ioby  listens and provides support for Pittsburghers to build the future they want to see in their neighborhood.”

Read more about how we choose cities to work in.

Awesome project: Safe crossings with Miss Lucille, grandmother and Cleveland crossing guard

Right now, more than ever, we are in awe of the strength, compassion, and  openheartedness of our ioby community. Our ioby Leaders reach out to neighbors to dream, collaborate, and do the hard work of making   positive change where we live. We know that by working together, even on something small, we can  transform our love for our communities into  action – and that’s a powerful thing.

Lucille White –Miss Lucille, to the school kids she serves – is a great example of this kind of drive rooted in compassion. She’s a longtime crossing guard at 113th and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, in Cleveland, serving both Harvey Rice and the Intergenerational School. A grandmother of 19 grandkids, three of whom are in college,  Lucille never planned to be a crossing guard.  But one day she saw a guard struggling to slow  the traffic, and stopped to ask if she could help. That guard told Lucille that she’d get in trouble if she accepted help on the job, but that what Lucille could do was apply for the job herself.  So she did.

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All these years later, there is still something special for Lucille about the simple act of protecting her neighbors as they cross a dangerous street. She herself has lost two nieces to hit-and-runs. “It’s not about the money,” she says, “because what we make every two weeks is $166 after taxes.  It’s a dedication to life, for me.” It’s about helping those who are vulnerable – especially the young, the elderly, the disabled – cross  safely, asking them about their days as they go. “I talk to them about positive things, and how good they’re doing,” Lucille says. “They want to make it to school okay. You have kids that come to school at 7:15 in the morning, and they’re walking in the dark. Who’s watching out for them? Nobody. I’m their eyes.”


The cost of road rage

Not everyone appreciates Lucille’s efforts. Impatient drivers often flip her off, curse her out, scream  slurs, and refuse to stop, or even slow down. She carries on, holding up her phone on the flashlight setting, for light, begging drivers to slow down, thanking those who do. “Last week on Monday,” says Lucille, “I was there at 7:15, and Cleveland Municipal School District Police was supposed to be there with me but they didn’t show up, and I was crossing a kid, a teenager, and it was kind of dark. We’re in the middle of the street, and I see this car coming flying towards us, and I’m waving my arms, blowing my whistle, the whole nine yards. This driver intentionally tried to run us over. It set me in a mindset where I was gonna quit.”

“I may start crying,” Lucille continues. “I’m trying not to. I was crossing a woman who had just dropped her kids at the school, and a lady pulls up, I guess she was in a hurry, I don’t know what, but that lady cussed me out. ‘That ain’t no f-ing kid, get the f out the street, you stupid Black b, and on and on. I looked at her and smiled and said, ‘you have a blessed day.’ Why do we have so much anger and hatred? One lady came back and apologized.”


How care spreads

On the other hand, when Lucille asks the older, bigger kids to protect younger or disabled kids as they cross the street, they listen. They do as she says. Sometimes, if one of the students has made good grades, Lucille will give him or her five dollars, just to show that good work always eventually gets noticed and rewarded. Lucille’s a natural-born guardian, even when she’s off-duty. Despite a bad back and chronic arthritis in her neck, she makes sure to drop into her local libraries to read to kids, talks to the young people she meets in the Dollar Store. If she catches a young person about to steal, she makes them empty their pockets in front of her, and then she buys them what they need to eat.

Right now, Lucille is raising money to help make her crosswalk safer for the kids she shepherds back and forth each day. This is her last day  to raise the remaining $425 that’s needed to buy supplies for the traffic calming interventions that are needed. “We need lights,” says Lucille. “I really wish they could put a camera up there for the school zones, for the speeders.” A young boy and an elderly man were killed at the intersection by speeding drivers this summer.

Visit Lucille’s campaign page to give.

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.


AWESOME PROJECT: Professional musicians helping Rikers Prison inmates sing out

Folks, think fast, yes or no – do you:

A)   Love music and believe it can be healing?

B)   Believe our criminal justice system is due for reform?

If yes to both, then you’ll want to keep an eye on Music on the Inside, an exciting young nonprofit organization co-founded by Alina Bloomgarden and legendary jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The two are old pals from back in the 80s, when Bloomgarden was the originating producer of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which Marsalis still directs. Today, they’re teaming up again, along with other professional musicians, to foster harmony and hope in the criminal justice system.

“I was at a retirement party for a jazz musician,” says Bloomgarden, “and Wynton said Alina, ‘Give us an idea, we need you!’ I said ‘I have an idea right now. I want to bring music into incarceration facilities for youth in the name of Louis Armstrong.’ Wynton said, “That’s what I want to do! Call me Monday!’”  

Not even a year into the endeavor, Music on the Inside, or MOTI, is already working in one of Rikers Island facilities for youth, and is raising money via ioby to expand into a second facility to bring its music program to young men who are serving up to a year. They’re also working with the New Jersey Training School for Boys, and The Fortune Society’s “Alternatives to Incarceration” is awaiting MOTI programming for the young people they serve.

“There’s a lot of potential, is all I can tell you,” says Bloomgarden, who still participates in every Rikers session, “and all the musicians I talk to really want to help, and care about these kids. Famed Jazz songstress and MOTI mentor Dee Dee Bridgewater said, “How we treat our kids says a lot about us! We’ve got to help our young people.“ MOTI’s Artistic Advisors include Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Randy Weston, Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Owens, David Murray, Lewis Nash, Michael Zsoldos, members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and many other jazz greats share this sentiment and want to help this forgotten population. Many speak about how music and the mentorship they received when they were young helped turn their lives around.  

Most importantly, the kids in the early pilot programs are responding, warming up to it, taking creative risks, telling their truths. “One of the things that was noticeable to me,” says Bloomgarden, “is how encouraging they were to each other. For example, last week when we were there, one kid stood up and he had so many songs, and the other guys in the group were just egging him on and so proud of him. And then because he had the courage to do it, another young man got up and sang his own original song. Our musicians added beats and melody and you could feel that a bond was forming.”


[Co-founder Alina Bloomgarden with MOTI mentor and great sax player David Murray]


Let the rhythm set us free

“We didn’t know what to expect,” she explains. Bloomgarden and the mentor-musicians she enlisted early on – guitarist Ron Jackson and singer Scott Albertson (one S in Scot) weren’t sure how open the kids would be to making music with them. “Everyone’s been very excited to see how the kids really want to express themselves through music. The young men started out really quiet and we didn’t know whether we’d be able to crack the ice, but then they all got involved with creating rhythms, and suddenly the whole thing shifted and those who had seemed resistant or shy suddenly had a lot to share and were full of their own creativity. By the end they were singing their own lyrics and their own songs and then we put music to their writing.”

What do they write about? Anything, everything. Narrative medicine and expressive therapies are powerful tools. “They write about their own experience,” says Bloomgarden. “We don’t edit them out of their own experience. So some of it’s tough. We don’t take out any of what they have to express.” What a relief that must be, for kids who’ve been told by society that their voices are dangerous, aren’t wanted, aren’t good.

Music on the Inside NYC

An unconventional journey to jazz

It’s a kind of healing Bloomgarden knows firsthand. She remembers the early years of her enduring relationship with the great American art form. “I used to meet an old boyfriend at Barry Harris’ Jazz Cultural Theater,” she recounts. “There were black people, white people together, no alcohol and soul food in the back. I would feel my energy completely shift from that music, and I said, ‘there’s something very healing in this jazz music.’ Barry would go on and on about ‘if someone doesn’t do something, the youth aren’t going to know this music. It’s just gonna die out.’ I never anticipated then that I would have a role to play.”

It deeply impressed her and when in 1983 as Director of Visitor Services for Lincoln Center, she  got wind of the fact that the cultural mecca was looking for some new programming ideas, she stepped up loud and clear and said: JAZZ! “’It’s a great American art form,” she told her colleagues. “Lincoln Center can present jazz with the kind of dignity that we show other art forms, and really show respect for it in its own country of origin.”

Decades later, she’s never stopped fighting to put jazz on the national stage, and to bring it to young people. “There’s a certain way in which jazz speaks to me about what it is to be a human being, beyond what words could ever say, and that’s what moved me in the beginning,” she says. “I was not an expert but because I could feel it and I knew that I needed it. I figured that if I needed it, then everyone else did, too.”

“Initiating jazz at Lincoln Center and being connected to all these wonderful jazz musicians has been a great blessing in my life. I’m truly grateful that so many great musicians want to play it forward and bring the music they love to give new hope and support to incarcerated youth.”

To learn more, or to donate, visit Music on the Inside’s ioby campaign page.


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Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Never heard of the Mississippi River Basin Model? Neither have most people, which is CRAZY, because it’s one of the most impressive engineering feats tackled in American history! Click here to learn about this massive replica of a swath of land that represents a full 40% of our country’s territory, built in the 60s, and to find out how a group of engineers is working with local volunteers to give it a new lease on life.