ioby was founded in 2008 in order to make it easier for local leaders to gain the funding, knowledge, and resources needed to make positive change on a local level. For the past ten years we've worked alongside more than 1,600 passionate, committed community leaders and have watched as small projects have turned into larger initiatives and collaborations have become movements.

We want to take a look back at the past ten years, and tell some of our favorite stories of positive neighborhood change. We want to know: what kind of things can start with a conversation, a neighborhood meeting, a few dollars raised?

For the next ten months, we'll be checking in with leaders nationwide, past and present, and rolling these stories out. Thanks for reading!

Mindy Fullilove ioby

1. New York, NY, 2011 - Present

Dr. Fullilove is a celebrated social psychiatrist, professor, and author who for over three decades has researched, written, and spoken about the health problems caused by inequality. The six books she’s published include the highly influential Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, now its second edition.

In addition to all these (and many other) feathers in her cap, Dr. Fullilove is a longtime ioby project leader and participant.

This past June 2 marked the 14th annual Hike the Heights, a community hike and celebration in Northern Manhattan parks that she helped to found back in 2005. The family-friendly event invites New Yorkers to explore and celebrate their city’s natural treasures by combining physical activity, art, fun, and civic participation, and helps ensure that NYC parks are safe and accessible to all. Since 2011, the Hike the Heights team has enlisted ioby to help them fundraise and receive grants.

We spoke with Dr. Fullilove about the purpose and power of Hike the Heights, the value ioby and crowdfunding have brought to the project over the years, and why she continues to stay the course with her life’s work.


Mindy Fullilove ioby

Think globally, act locally—to effect change increasingly

Hike the Heights is organized by the community-based initiative City Life Is Moving Bodies (CLIMB). The CLIMB Chronicles, published in 2017, tells the story of the group’s history and the development of Hike the Heights to date.

In the Chronicles, Dr. Fullilove writes that she’s seen many public health programs fail to address the root causes of ill health. “It was common for leaders of programs to say, ‘We can’t do anything about [name a structural factor] so therefore we’ll focus on specific, actionable items.’ … Indeed, these structural processes were often, literally, ruled ‘out-of-bounds’ for public health conversations.”

Did Hike the Heights break the mold and solve the widespread problems of poverty, systemic racism, or gentrification? No—but it didn’t set out to, either. At least, not all by itself.

“We were standouts in public health because many people were doing much more siloed work,” she says. “We made the much simpler claim that we needed to get people politically, socially, and physically active so that they could solve these problems,” Dr. Fullilove says.

At ioby, we believe—and we have seen—that local leadership can set off a chain reaction of larger and larger impacts that can ultimately affect the way decisions are made on the highest levels. In this case, CLIMB’s long commitment to improving the area helped spur $30 million in city funding to revitalize northern Manhattan’s Highbridge Park, whose visitors had long suffered its disrepair.


Mindy Fullilove ioby

Grow in the ways that make sense for you

Dr. Fullilove says one of the main ways ioby has helped CLIMB produce Hike the Heights is by acting as a fiscal sponsor. “We were trying not to become an organization, a 501(c)(3), but to remain a coalition of organizations,” she says. “But we still wanted to get grants. So ioby’s fiscal sponsorship was very helpful.”

Incorporating is not the right choice for every community initiative; offering fiscal sponsorship to groups who don’t want to seek nonprofit status is one of the major ways ioby supports local projects. The other big way, of course, is by providing a crowdfunding platform and free training in grassroots fundraisingcrowd-resourcing, and gaining community buy-in.

These things are all closely related: when local leaders reach out to their neighbors for support, they raise more than just money. They bolster leadership, strengthen relationships, and demonstrate the power of doing something positive together. They build power.

Dr. Fullilove says CLIMB raised a lot more money during their first year with ioby than they had previously—though it was a still-modest amount. “We weren’t very successful after many years of fundraising on our own,” she says. “Crowdfunding takes learning, and growing our base has been slow. The thing we tried to do was organize a fabulous event on a small budget, and to get every organization that’s a partner to kick in something. … Crowdfunding depends on the scene you’re in, and what you think you can do. In that way, it’s great because it can fit different projects. [For CLIMB] it’s been a gift, especially because we didn’t want to be a 501(c)(3).”


Mindy Fullilove ioby

Ripple effects

Any project that sticks around as long as Hike the Heights, and that stays committed to addressing its community’s needs from within, is bound to produce some long-term positive change. The Chronicles devotes a whole 20-page section to “how CLIMB has used Hike the Heights to make connections, build partnerships, and strengthen community.” The chapter brims with firsthand accounts of how the event “has become a convenient way to bring people together and show them how their commitment to something as simple as a park will ultimately help the neighborhood,” and the fact that “we are all interconnected and in the process of becoming, [and that] is celebrated by being together this one day.”

According to one participant, “Once a person or group come together to change a situation for the positive, it vibes out to others, it gives energy to others to try new things, help each other out.”

As Dr. Fullilove told a fellow organizer, “It isn’t just about the party, it is the process, the preparation, the pre-meetings, the conference calls, emails, but most importantly the face-to-face interactions between groups and individuals who may have never connected before.”

In one essay, CLIMB members report, “During the thirteen years of CLIMB we have been building the strength of a collective muscle and we have built collective muscle memory for carrying out necessary tasks. The nerves that trigger the collective muscle are the relationships we have built over the years. This is, in part, how communities accrue social capital.”

CLIMB reported that, together with their neighbors, partners, and affiliated projects, they have (among other achievements):

• Advocated for and celebrated the reopening of the High Bridge;

• Participated in the Steering Committee that informed a master plan for the Northern Manhattan Parks;

• Witnessed and celebrated capital improvements like the reconstruction of the John T. Brush Stairs, the Water Tower Terrace stairs, the Highbridge Recreation Center, and the Skate Park under the 181st Street Bridge

Not bad for a walk in the park.


Mindy Fullilove ioby

Maintaining a vision

While Dr. Fullilove no longer helps to organize Hike the Heights, she still enjoys attending the event—and she certainly isn’t retiring from activism. Earlier this month, she helped the ioby campaign Building Solidarity: Everyone Needs a HUUB to surpass its $25,000 fundraising goal. HUUB is a new outreach, community service, and advocacy organization and space at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County, in Orange, New Jersey.

She calls $25K “a whole different ballpark” from the Hike the Heights campaigns, which were mostly in the $4,000 range and topped out at about $10K. While the HUUB is also a different-looking project (a mostly indoor space, versus a mostly outdoor activity), the two do have much in common: both seek to help communities lift themselves up from decades of disinvestment using the individual and collective power they already possess. And, of course, both are big.

“You keep something going because there’s so much to do,” Dr. Fullilove explains. “Myles Horton, founder of Highlander Folk School, said that you have to have a vision of something you can’t do in your lifetime. If it’s achievable, you’ll just achieve it and move on.”

“There are always a lot of grandmothers who come to Hike the Heights,” she continues. “They don’t have a lot of money, but they live in the neighborhood and want to make it better for their kids. Seeing them, for me, is always the moment of recommitment.”



Mindy Fullilove ioby

Additional reading

While Dr. Fullilove says the problems of violence and disinvestment that plagued northern Manhattan when CLIMB was first forming have since been eased, the problems of gentrification there are growing more acute. As the area has become safer and greener, it has also become more expensive. Watching that happen “placed big questions on my research agenda,” she says. She’s exploring some of those questions now through a project called Making the Just City, which is investigating different local-level methods of reducing health disparities in gentrifying communities.

Ernest Thompson, Dr. Fullilove’s father, was also a powerful community organizer. She says CLIMB co-founder Lourdes J. Rodriguez was a student of his book Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power, now in its third edition. Dr. Fullilove says CLIMB took the same “decades-old influence of progressive organizing in the U.S. into our work” as Mr. Thompson did into his.

On Dr. Fullilove’s Countdown to Main Street blog, she’s documenting her visits to 100 “flourishing” Main Streets in New Jersey, New York, and beyond.


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