The Backyard Initiative model


How did the Backyard Initiative work?

In 2009, the Backyard Initiative (BYI) completed a Community Assessment. The Assessment was comprised of 21 Listening Circles and 677 face-to-face, walk-around interviews. This work led to the development of the BYI Definition of Health, from which all of the Backyard's work grew.

The Definition of Health

  • Health is a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. It is not only the absence of infirmity and disease.
  • Health is the state of balance, harmony and connectedness within and amongst 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.

Three themes emerged from the community assessment that helped guide the Backyard Initiative activities through 2018:

  • The Power of Interconnectedness: Each aspect of health named in the Backyard Initiative's Definition of Health is dependent on the other aspects; one aspect of health cannot be understood or addressed in isolation.
  • The Power of Relationships: Relationships impact residents' health. People need personal connection in all things related to health. Exercise is best done with others, as a social activity; healthy eating requires the whole family to support each other; talking with family and friends about your problems keeps you mentally healthy; accountability between people, and between people and institutions, keeps the community healthy.
  • The Power of Knowledge and Creativity: Cultural knowledge, information exchange between patients and health practitioners and community dialogue are resources for health.

The Backyard Initiative focused on activities designed to improve four indicators important for health:

  • social support
  • social cohesion
  • health education
  • health empowerment 

These indicators were chosen as priorities because they relate closely to the BYI Definition of Health and the findings of the initiative's initial 2009 community assessment report. 

Community Health Actions Teams

The work of the BYI was led by Community Health Action Teams (CHATs). Community residents formed and operated 12 different CHATs over the 10 years of the Backyard Initiative. CHATs provided up to 35 unique activities per month, including free exercise classes, gardening, farmers markets, cultural arts activities and peer support for people with diabetes and for immigrant communities.

CHATs were supported by the Backyard Initiative Community Commission on Health, a community leadership team that authorized funding and provided oversight for the CHATs, and the Community Resource Body, a connecting entity that leveraged social, cultural and financial capital to strengthen the Backyard Initiative. Both groups were convened by the Cultural Wellness Center.

  • Community residents formed and operated 12 different Community Health Action Teams (CHATs) over the 10 years of the Backyard Initiative.
  • CHATs provided up to 35 unique activities per month including free exercise classes, gardening, farmers markets, cultural arts activities and peer support for people with diabetes and for immigrant communities.
  • Up to 6,000 people participated and 25,000 connections were made each year by the CHATs through activities designed to make new connections among the 42,000 residents within the Backyard.
  • An annual average of 42,000 volunteer hours were donated by community members—the equivalent of more than $10 million in donated time over 10 years. 

The CHAT teams include:

Anchor Families CHAT: This team sought to establish "anchor families" on each block who taught life skills and guiding values to youth and connected youth and their families to resources for wellness.

Circle of Healing CHAT: Members of this CHAT came together as practitioners interested in creating a more formalized network of people around Backyard residents to provide better information and support for healing and reflection about the message of disease. This network served both the Backyard community receiving care and the healing practitioner community in the Backyard.

Communications CHAT: This group worked to lessen or eliminate the divide between people who have information and those who don’t so that everyone had the opportunity to be engaged in a healthy community.

Growing the Backyard CHAT: This group focused on finding ways to support healthy eating though accessibility to healthy foods and educating about healthy practices across cultures.

Latino/a Environmental Health Begins at Home CHAT: This group looked at the impact of environment on the health of residents in the Backyard.

Out in the Backyard CHAT: This team connected individuals from all cultures who are LGBTQIA with the resources they needed to be healthy and safe

Project S.E.L.F. (Save Educate Liberate Free) CHAT: Project S.E.L.F. aimed to assist youth, elders, and families in healthy living and artistic expressions through poetry, open microphone performances, information workshops, and community dialogue.

Rebirthing Community CHAT: This team focused on bringing elders and youth together through mentoring and visual arts for a "rebirthing" of community.

Somali Women’s Health CHAT: Worked to promote communication, understanding, and support among women of the Somali community who had children in the judicial system by creating spaces and systems for them to talk to each other, connect to each other, and assist each other.

TEENS Project: Was a peer to peer youth leadership and entrepreneurial skills development organization. Members of the TEENS Project organized and staffed the BYI Resource Center in the Midtown Global Market.
byi social cohesionchats2