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What is the Backyard Initiative?

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By Susan Gust, Communications CHAT

Editorial Note by BYI Communications CHAT Leader, Susan Gust: I recently had a conversation with some community workers who work in the Phillips Community who said: “I have heard about the “Backyard Initiative” and I know it is covered on the back page of The Alley Newspaper but I don’t know what the Backyard Initiative is or why it exists.” The following was my answer…

The History of the Backyard Initiative:

This initiative began in 2008. There is long and rich context to this story that can’t be conveyed in a few, brief paragraphs.  The short version-Allina Health wanted to launch an initiative to improve the health of residents “in their backyard”.  Allina Health was willing to put some dollars behind this initiative.  Long-term residents and nonprofit organizations responded in various ways: A few organizations began lobbying, even competing to be contracted to “represent and serve the needs of the community”.  Other resident activists were suspect of Allina’s motives for “improving the community and in whose vision?” Still others were insulted to have Allina consider this as “their backyard”.  Instead, we considered Allina to be in our backyard!

It became apparent to some community leaders that we needed to try to come together in a conversation about this initiative or it would just become another time that we would get stuck in the mode of “fussing with each other” while those with more perceived or real power made decisions on our behalf.  Some of us wished this conversation to be carefully convened.  With some hesitation in the beginning, the Cultural Wellness Center stepped in to help us hold and document this important conversation.

The Cultural Wellness Center  (CWC) has a long history of engaging community residents to improve health through self-study, surfacing and producing knowledge, cross-cultural knowledge exchange, and relationship building. Early in the process, the CWC developed an Assessment Team to conduct an “assessment process” to create a picture of the current state of health and well-being of the residents in the Backyard, engage a broad network of residents in the process, and inform and plan the next steps for The Backyard Initiative. The Assessment Team included community residents, staff from Allina, the CWC, and Wilder Research. Through 21 Listening Circles and 677 face-to-face, walk-around interviews, three themes began to emerge:

The Power of Interconnectedness 

The Power of Relationships 

The Power of Knowledge and Creativity 

Who is part of the Backyard Initiative and where is it?

The Backyard Initiative (BYI) is a dynamic partnership between the residents of seven geographic neighborhoods, Allina Health and the Cultural Wellness Center.  East Phillips, Midtown Phillips, West Phillips, Ventura Village, Central, Powderhorn Park and Corcoran are the seven geographic neighborhoods involved in this initiative.

What does the Backyard Initiative “DO”?:

The Backyard Initiative lifts up efforts to strengthen community health by supporting residents to draw upon their own knowledge, skills, and cultural values to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors.

Research shows that social conditions– including isolation and a lack of social support – have a profound impact on our health. By coalescing the wisdom and experience of residents with the expertise and resources of health care institutions, The Backyard Initiative is exploring a new dimension to a health care system that will focus on promoting health as defined by the community.  Thus, the first important step was to create a Definition of Health. (see above). This powerful definition provides the frame around the vision for the BYI work.

The 3 original themes from 2009 evolved into four (4) objectives (see below) which guide the implementation of the vision. Designing and performing activities that align with these objectives is the work of Community Health Action Teams or CHATS, BYI Commission on Health and the Backyard Initiative as a whole.  Strengthening this alignment will be the essential work of the BYI in 2016. 

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The 2009 BYI Themes from the Assessment Process evolved into these objectives:

SOCIAL COHESION: The sense of community and belonging that people have.  People feel they live in a place where people trust and respect each other and have a sense of responsibility to take care of each other.

SOCIAL SUPPORT: The support that a person receives from and gives to the people around them, including emotional and spiritual support, help with daily needs and crises, and the sharing of advice, information, and feedback.

HEALTH EDUCATION: The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health.  This includes information about what is essential to health (the importance of the family, community, spirituality, the environment, culture, food, sleep, and movement) as well as the medical information needed to address a specific health condition. 

HEALTH EMPOWERMENT: People take responsibility for their health; they are active participants in their self-care, and have the knowledge, skill and confidence to manage their health and health care and collaborate with health practitioners. 

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