Those of you who read the spotlight in this issue on Isles know that the organization has long recognized that the environmental hazards that are most threatening for children are typically found right in their own home. Lead, asthma triggers and other poisons affect children’s health on a daily basis.

Why does childhood lead poisoning draw such attention?

Why do we pay so much attention to child lead poisoning? For starters, thousands (up to half) the youth in Trenton and older suburbs can be affected by it. Research is increasingly clear - even at low levels, lead impacts IQ, behavior, and other health factors. With all the talk of, and investment in, education reform, nothing would be more cost effective way to increase a child’s IQ in a region than removing lead from the environment, especially from homes, where children spend 70% of their time.

As importantly, despite a lot of complex research and policy position papers, and even financial investment, a basic problem prevails. Before Isles' efforts, no one had characterized the source of the lead in Trenton. Isles tested thousands of homes, learned that 80% of the lead comes from their dust. But they didn't stop there. They developed low cost ways to make homes both energy efficient and healthy. They also trained local contractors to do the same, while working to gain the trust of residents and property owners.

To a large extent, because of Isles' experience, New Jersey's Lead Pilot Funding Program was re-structured and re-funded at $10M annually. They are now successfully raising other funds to conduct targeted renovation of homes, making them safe, efficient, and comfortable, while creating quality jobs in the process. The long-term savings to families and taxpayers are immense.  It is estimated that $17 - $54 is saved for every $1 invested in preventing lead poisoning. With this experience and the policy changes that are being pursued, Isles can set their sights on making Trenton homes lead safe by 2027.

The power of Isles

Like other research that they have developed at Isles, the organization is teaching community groups and policymakers their own lessons. Pointing to their success in bringing these topics to everyone’s attention, they are very pleased that the Federal Reserve of San Francisco recently published their paper, “When Homes Are the Most Dangerous Place: How a Community Development Organization Learned to Get the Lead Out.” It offers a story of perseverance, success and educational failures over 15 years. You might ask why does the Federal Reserve care about this situation? It is obvious: they are concerned because their member banks hold over a trillion dollars in assets that are potentially poisoning children.

All of this occurred because social entrepreneurs decided to keep identifying better ways to foster self-reliance and prioritize community health. For more information about Isles, the community redevelopment initiatives and the facts about lead poisoning, visit the website at www.isles.org.