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Tuesday August 22nd 2017

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Update on the Backyard Initiative: BYI Citizen Health Action Teams Update

By Janice Barbee, Cultural Wellness Center

Every month at the Cultural Wellness Center, members from the Backyard Initiative Citizen Health Action Teams, or CHATs, come together to update each other on their activities and talk about common principles and problems in their community building work. Last month, on February 17, CHAT members discussed what it takes to work together and accomplish what they set out to do.

The Backyard Initiative was started two years ago as a community partnership between Allina Hospitals and Clinics and the residents of Phillips, Powderhorn Park, Central, and Corcoran with the goal of improving the health of the community. Most of the work of the Backyard Initiative is carried out within Citizen Health Action Teams, where community members on each team have developed a strategy for improving health and are now in the process of implementing that strategy.

CHAT Leadership in the Community

Elder Atum Azzahir from the Cultural Wellness Center, the facilitator of the meeting, explained to the CHAT members that the Commission on Health, a body of primarily community members from each CHAT, will be looking at the work of each CHAT this year in terms of how the work contributes to the health of the whole community and involves people from the community. She told the members, “The Commission is going to be asking ‘Is the CHAT growing in its connection to other people?’ How are you adding to your list of people in the Backyard? Are they connecting to what you are doing, becoming part of what you’re doing?

She then asked the CHAT members to think about their leadership skills and what skills they need to develop to be effective leaders. The CHAT members identified building relationships, identifying resources, strategic planning, and influencing, directing, and organizing people as the set of skills that are needed to do the work. Elder Atum told the group that last year the CHAT members were more focused on envisioning their projects and planning; now new skills are needed for implementing them. Some CHATs may not be able to last throughout the year if they don’t develop these skills. Elder Atum stated that the Cultural Wellness Center staff will teach some of these skills throughout the year. “One of the most important is the skill of self-study, of reflecting on what you are learning about yourself. If you cannot self-study and correct yourself, you’re not going to be able to get anything done.”

A member of the Dakota Language Revitalization CHAT, which is building a child care center where children can be immersed in the Dakota language, said, “I never wanted to be a leader, I didn’t see myself in this situation. But something I have to do is be a model, not just for the children but for the parents.” She said she is trying to learn the Dakota language as she supports others to learn.

Evaluation of the CHAT Work

The CHATs are all engaged now in developing their evaluation plans. These plans will include collecting information that is relevant to each CHAT as well as information that all the CHATs consider important to the entire Backyard community. The BYI definition of health reveals some core values that community residents said they hold: being actively engaged and being connected. So the BYI evaluation will show whether the CHATs are helping people to be actively engaged and more connected, and whether being actively engaged and more connected (as well as other CHAT strategies) are effective ways to improve health.

In the assessment, the top four personal conditions of ill health in the community were: stress (51%), depression (21%), high blood pressure (21%), and chronic pain (20%). Mental health has been discussed as one possible indicator of health for the CHATs to track because it encompasses the top two conditions.

At the end of the meeting, the CHAT members thanked Paula Fynboh, for all her excellent work as the Director of the Backyard Initiative. She is moving to Bogata, Columbia to join her husband who was offered a position with the United Nations. On behalf of the group, Elder Atum wished Ms. Fynboh well and told her how much everyone appreciated her and that she will be missed.

The Backyard Definition of Health

  • Health is a state of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. Health is not only the absence of infirmity and disease.
  • Health is the state of balance, harmony, and connectedness within and among many systems – the body, the family, the community, the environment, and culture. Health cannot be seen only in an individual context.
  • Health is an active state of being; people must be active participants to be healthy. Health cannot be achieved by being passive.
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