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January 19, 2021
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News + Views

IOBY: Site Raises Money for Community Green Projects

By Lisa M. Collins
ioby founders Cassie Flynn, Brandon Whitney and Erin Barnes in Thomas Greene Park. In October, ioby raised $550 for a skateboard workshop in the park, bordered by Nevins, Douglass and Degraw streets, next to Double D Pool. An effort is underway to renovate the underused space and build a skatepark there.
Photo by Joshua Kristal

New environmental fundraising group allows regular Brooklynites to become environmental philanthropists.

Tami Johnson lives next to a trash-strewn, rat-infested lot at 2nd Avenue and 9th Street. It’s a dump, one of several, and Tami’s really not pleased about it. The drummer and environmental activist intends to turn the Gowanus lot into a lovely green garden, filled with plants and trees, with benches and a performance space, maybe even a mural. But, she needs money.

Enter ioby, an innovative, web-based fundraising organization that’s new to New York City, but already making a big impact. ioby, whose name stands for “In Our Back Yards,” is a website that links donors to community environmental projects. The site publicizes and raises money for green projects throughout NYC, and allows people who can only give small amounts to make a difference.

“It doesn’t have to be a lot. A $2 donation or a $10 donation, pooled with neighbors who care about the same issues, it makes a huge difference. It can be the same amount you are willing to pay for eco shampoo. The difference in price between regular shampoo and eco shampoo can be a great donation to a group,” says founder Erin Barnes.

The organization launched in May 2009. In 2010, ioby raised $48,000 for 36 community environmental projects. The average donation was $37. Donors can give to specific projects, or donate in general to ioby. Credit card donations can be deducted on a monthly basis, and used toward a wide variety of environmental projects, which are publicized on the site.



Tami Johnson wants to turn this Gowanus lot into a green park.



Tami needs $3,780 to make her garden a reality–in order to get the proper permits and buy insurance, plants and benches. You can donate to her project at ioby.

Volunteers like Tami manage half of the projects funded by ioby, and half are not non-profits, Erin says. Projects on the non-profit’s fundraising radar currently include a proposal to purchase cooking supplies for an East Flatbush high school group that runs a farm with BK Farmyards in a low-income area. The kids need cooking supplies for healthy cooking demonstrations. Another is a neighborhood-composting project in Flatbush. You can give to BK Farmyards Cooking Demos and the Flatbush Church Compost at ioby.

ioby is all about bringing environmental issues to the local level, Erin says.

“This is about, ‘Yes, in my backyard,’” she says.

ioby selects a variety of projects to fund, but emphasizes composting efforts, and healthy-local-food projects.

“Twenty-nine percent of New York City trash is compostable,” Erin says. “If we could make a good soil amendment and not truck and barge it away…”

When biodegradable food and yard trash is placed in landfills, it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is, for the most part, avoidable through composting.

ioby has done so well in its first year and a half that its founders, who live in Brooklyn, quit their day jobs this year. The founders went to Yale’s graduate School of Forestry, and moved to NYC in 2007. Erin says that when they got here, the green movement was just starting to take over in popular culture. But Erin and her co-founders felt like people were throwing money in the wrong direction: At products that claimed to be green but were just expensive.

Most green claims are false, Barnes says. “People buy them because they don’t know,” Erin says. “People generally want to do good.”

The U.S. Forest Service around that time surveyed “green stewards” in New York City, and found that one in three operate on budgets of less than $1,000 a year, Erin says. These are the people on the “front lines,” taking care of “green infrastructure” in the city, Erin says, planting trees, cleaning up streets, planting in road medians and in back of schools.

Micro-philanthropy is the most recent trend in charity, and refers to the practice of adding together many small donations. A little can go a long way.

In October, ioby raised $550 for an event in Thomas Greene Park, bordered by Third and Nevins, Douglass and Degraw, next to the Double D pool. The event featured music and a skateboard workshop in order to publicize the needs of the park.

Having the support of a group like ioby makes all the difference for small efforts like Tami’s. Tami says she’s working with Community Board 6 and the N.Y.C. Economic Development Corporation to launch the garden, and wants the government agencies to know she is serious.

Previously, she worked with the group on the successful volunteer cleanup of the Prospect Park Lake.

Tami says if she can’t get the necessary approvals to build a green oasis at 2nd Ave. and 9th St., she’ll create one at any one of the abandoned dump lots in the area.

“I’m going to keep pushing until they tell me I can’t,” Tami says. By they, she means the property owner, the city and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which has many plans for the Gowanus area.

“I want to talk to them about a moveable garden. It’s nothing but a big trash pile and has been for a long time. Nobody cares about this area. They should let me do something nice with it.”

To get more involved in the effort to renovate Thomas Greene Park, visit Friends of Douglass Greene Park.

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