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The Backyard Commission on Health: Commissioner”'s Report on Accomplishments

By Janice Barbee, Cultural Wellness Center

Three years ago, Allina began the Backyard Initiative as an investment in the community”'s power to improve its own health in partnership with the resources of the health care system. Allina has shown its commitment to the community engagement process as a strategy for strengthening the capacity for residents to care for themselves and each other. Over 300 people have become active owners of the Initiative.

The Backyard Initiative is a partnership between Allina Health Systems and the residents of the area around Allina Headquarters ”“ included the neighborhoods of Phillips Community, Corcoran, Central, and Powderhorn Park. Also included in the partnership are the Cultural Wellness Center, which facilitates, organizes, and supports community residents to work together on health improvement; Hope Community, which is hosting dialogue among organizations in the community and exploring ways for organizations to support and complement community engagement; and Portico, Inc., which is providing health care insurance to residents in the Backyard who qualify.

The Backyard Initiative now has an infrastructure that includes 15 Citizen Health Action Teams, a one of its kind 35-member Community Commission on Health and a Community Resource Body comprised of influential leaders in community development, health care, and business. The community engagement process was designed and is facilitated by the CWC using a process that is able to both hold the communities”' attention and to inspire self-development. As the following demonstrates, the monthly community dinner dialogues and CHAT meetings with members of the community and members of the Allina system have become powerful learning labs for all involved.

As the Backyard Community Commission on Health”'s first year of operation ends, at a recent meeting Commissioners described the accomplishments that have come out of work of the Initiative. The Commissioners, most of whom are community residents, highlighted the infrastructure and process for working together that residents built over the year, learning that occurred over the year, and indicators of a stronger community as well as a new kind of partnership with Allina.

Infrastructure and Process:

Commissioners expressed pride in having:

  • Developed a definition of health that continually informs the work
  • Created an assessment process owned by the community that is a model for future research
  • Developed a Commission on Health that meets monthly and uses consensus decision-making to approve and fund community projects
  • Supported and approved 14 Citizen Health Action Teams for funding in 2010 to work on projects to improve the community”'s health
  • Created an evaluation process owned by the community, that “helps health systems understand the power of community care giving” and helps “CHATs learn from what they have done and make change when necessary.” “It”'s not about perfection, it”'s about learning.”
  • Chose mental health as a focus issue for all the CHATs
  • Approved further analysis of the assessment data from 2009
  • Created “an infrastructure for accountability to each other first, then to the funder.”

Commissioners also commented on how developing the process for working together is an accomplishment in itself. People talked about learning “to stop and think through the possibilities,” “to organize and prioritize,” “to identify areas for change,” “to teach each other,” “to engage diverse groups”' participation and ownership, “to use collaborative decision-making,” and “to support concept development, skills, and knowledge of CHAT members.”

Indicators of a Strong Community

Residents said they have learned about health issues, particularly diabetes and asthma.  They have also learned “the value of really listening,” “to think differently,” and that “we have power ”“ we can make an impact on the health of our community.”

Most often, Commissioners named achievements that were indicators that their community was getting stronger.  People talked about stronger relationships, where knowledge is exchanged, people”'s voices are heard, and people support each other.

  • “We created a place for people”'s stories to be told and listened to.”
  • “The community has a voice.”
  • “We made friendships, connections.”
  • “We have a network of informed people.”
  • “People are opening up and talking about personal concerns.”
  • “There is a sense of unity and trust.”Â People appreciated the increase in resources as a result of relationships across culture:
  • “We have a network of people/resources/knowledge from different cultures for having health in many forms.”
  • “There has been an exchange of information and assistance between people who would not have had a conversation together.”Â Commissioners also highlighted how people are working together:
  • “Community members are helping themselves, feeling empowered, solving problems together.”
  • “We have collected information on community needs and foreseeing needs.”
  • “Now we have ambassadors to the community.”
  • “This gave me a way to help other people.”

Commissioners also pointed to a changing relationship between Allina and the community around Allina”'s headquarters. One Commissioner stated that we have “built a stronger relationship with Allina that respect and works to change the power dynamics.” Another Commissioner said, “Thank you Allina for taking a risk on us, on the community.”

The Backyard Initiative”'s evaluation process will continue into next year with reports on each of the CHAT”'s learning and accomplishments, as well as interviews of participants and partners in the BYI to lift up the ways that community residents are supporting each other to be healthy.

All Backyard residents are welcome to come to the Backyard Initiative community meetings on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 5 PM. Call the Cultural Wellness Center for details: 612-721-5745.

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