Category Archives: Healthy Neighborhoods

Here’s to $113K raised for Healthy Neighborhoods in New York!

The second round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge  is complete!

Building on the success of last year’s program, we teamed up once again with the New York State Health Foundation to  help   support resident-led health and wellness projects   in seven neighborhoods   in New York — across   12 zip codes — including East Harlem and the Lower East Side in Manhattan;  Hunts Point, Claremont,  and Mott Haven in the Bronx; Brownsville in Brooklyn,  and Clinton County.

This time around, residents raised a total of $113,273   for projects that make their neighborhoods healthier, more active, and more full of opportunity. This total includes the matching funds that NYS Health Foundation provided to each project, based on its individual fundraising goal. The total of  match funds distributed was $49,396 and the total in citizen philanthropy that ioby leaders raised from their neighbors was $63,877. In other words, for every dollar received from match funds, ioby leaders raised $1.30 from within their communities!

21   ioby projects participated in this round of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge — these projects all have the goal of creating a culture of health by making their neighborhoods greener or safer; improving local access to affordable healthy food; promoting walking, biking, or other exercise; educating neighbors about lifestyle changes, and more.

Here’s what some of our favorite participating leaders had to say about their work:

 

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“Community gardens are known for engaging all different types of people: youth, teachers, new Americans… People just walking by, or coming from work, will stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’ Then they pick up a shovel! Everyone gets to mingle and trade ideas.”  

– Alicia Williamson, Lydia’s Magic Garden

East Harlem residents led by Alicia  raised more than $2,500 to restore  this beloved 20-year-old community space,  which had lost most of its plantings and amenities after serving as a staging ground for the redevelopment of an adjacent building.

Read their story

 

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“How can we set up a community-led resource that helps bring fresh and local food directly to the tables of our residents? How can we bring in more sustainably farmed and raised food  and also keep it affordable? How can residents who rely on food subsidies eat better without going to another community for food? Our market helps solve many of these problems.”  

– Lily Kesselman,  the South Bronx Farmers’ Market

The mostly-volunteer team at the South Bronx Farmers’ Market raised more than $10,000 to  extend their hours of operation to include a weekly Wednesday market in addition to the Saturday hours they’re already open.

Read their story

 

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“I’ve lived here my whole life, but I rarely get to see or talk to a lot of the other people who live here. I want to give us a space where we can work together. There’s something so special about taking part in the growth of something, and all watching it grow together.”

– Veronica  Vasquez, NYCHA Community Garden

17-year-old Veronica and her mom Liz live  on the Lower East Side. They exceeded their fundraising goal of $1,300 to build a new  community garden at the NYCHA complex where they live.

Read their story

You can see all 21   Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge projects at ioby.org/healthy.

NYC high schooler’s community garden will give her neighbors a breath of fresh air

With the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to present  the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York state who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.

Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including the one we’re profiling below) will be matched dollar-for-dollar  by NYSHealth through  May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health outcomes across New York!

“There’s kind of a stigma around living or being near NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] buildings,” says Veronica Vasquez, a NYCHA resident and leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign Blooming Streets – NYCHA Community Garden. “When you look at them, they’re just brick and bars. I want to give us something to be proud of as we look in our back yard. Some beauty and some colors!”

Veronica and Liz

[Veronica with her mom, Liz]

Veronica is a junior at East Side Community School in Manhattan’s East Village. Together with her mom Liz, she’s leading her first ioby project this year. Their plan is to work with their neighbors to build a community garden on the grounds of their apartment building that will, in Veronica’s words, “embrace and pull together this community. Make it a real neighborhood.” The 17-year-old pictures lots of flowers in the garden’s beds—”probably some of my mom’s favorites, tulips”—as well as fragrant and relaxing herbs like chamomile and lavender.

Several motivations have led Veronica to step up and lead this initiative for her community. For one, she’d like to feel closer to her neighbors. “I’ve lived here my whole life, but I rarely get to see or talk to a lot of the other people who live here,” she says. “I want to give us a space where we can work together. There’s something so special about taking part in the growth of something, and all watching it grow together.”

Veronica and Liz have spoken to many of their neighbors about the garden, as well a local church group and people at Veronica’s school, and have gotten overwhelmingly positive responses. “I especially wanted to know how people my age would feel about it,” Veronica says. “They either donated, or said, ‘I want to put my hands in this dirt with you.’ It was amazing, that kind of support.”

 

[The NYCHA housing where Veronica and Liz live]

Another motivator was the mother-daughter team’s abiding love of the natural world, and frustration with their limited options for living a greener life. “We love the environment and try to save it any way we can,” Veronica explains, “but at NYCHA we don’t have recycling pickup, or any green space. The city doesn’t provide composting bins or energy-efficient light bulbs. It’s sad because I learn all about sustainable living in school and come home with all these amazing ideas, but then I have no outlet for them.”

Lastly, when planning this project, Veronica had health on her mind (pun intended). “I think everyone needs green space to be healthy—mentally and physically,” she says. “In NYC, we live at such a fast pace that it’s really easy to forget to sit down and enjoy, or just take a stroll for the sake of it. If I can bring those abilities to my neighbors, bring them the peace of mind they offer, it would be amazing.”

Veronica recently interned at the Lowline Lab, a prototype for a future green space in a former trolley terminal beneath the city’s streets. She loved working with the plants in the underground park and learning how to care for them. She also found out about the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge there (through her supervisor), and about NYCHA’s Resident Green Committee Program (through one of its coordinators, an invited speaker). Now, with their support, Veronica and her mom are working on selecting a plot of land to propose for the garden; then they’ll apply to NYCHA for a permit to start building it up.

 

Lowline Lab

[The Lowline Lab, where  Veronica recently interned. Via the Lowline]

While they’re taking the lead on getting the garden started, Veronica and Liz want their neighbors to bring any and all ideas—and skills, and materials—to the table. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” she says, “so if people have things like seeds, gloves, or building materials they can donate, or if they can lend a hand with expertise or want to volunteer, we want them! If not, they can just spread the word and tell others about it. Whatever people can do to let us all live a little healthier.”

In the future, Veronica would love to see the garden grow into a full-on community farm that produces food for NYC homeless shelters. In the shorter term, she’s just excited to get started.

“I think about this all the time!” she says. “I think I’ll know I did really great, I’ll know I’ve achieved my dream, if someone comes up to me and says, ‘This is the place I go when I’m stressed out, and I just need a little bit of earth.’ I would say that’s it; job well done.”

Neighbors cultivate good health at Lydia’s Magic Garden in East Harlem

With the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth), ioby is excited to present the second year of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Just like last year, the 2017 Challenge is supporting residents across New York State who are taking an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. To read more about how the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge came to be, check out this blog post from last summer.

Donations to the all of this year’s participating campaigns (including this one!) will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHealth through May 25. That means your gift will go twice as far to improve public health outcomes across New York!

“Those of us who participate in community gardens, we tend to connect with great people whom we ordinarily would not meet in an urban environment,” says Alicia Williamson, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaign Lydia’s Magic Garden (LMG). “And we do it in a nicer way—not by bumping into them on the subway! It’s a nicer, kinder, more peaceful way to connect.”

Alicia, an East Harlem resident, is a first-time ioby leader, but a seasoned community greener: LMG will be her third garden renovation in the neighborhood since 2007. The space was initially reclaimed from its previous identity as a vacant lot about 25 years ago by Lydia Roman, another neighbor who was tired of seeing trash fill up what could be a place for community recreation and enjoyment.

 

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[Lydia Roman in the garden; undated photo via  the garden’s Facebook page.]

 

“She cleaned it up, as many people in different neighborhoods do where there’s a history of disinvestment and disadvantage,” Alicia says. “Now that there’s a lot more interest in these neighborhoods, we’re losing a lot of our green and open space. It’s important that we develop and integrate neighborhoods, but it’s also important to maintain these community spaces.”

In 2012, a building was built next door to LMG. Alicia says the developers took half the garden’s space, and used the rest as a staging site for their construction materials. It was never returned to a garden, and Lydia herself became too elderly to work on rebuilding it. In the past few years, Alicia and other neighbors have gotten together to bring it back to life, and are now ready to rebuild its grow beds; install a shed; plant vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers; and host community events there once again.

 

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[The garden in the 1990s]

“Gardening and growing—whether it be ornamentals, herbals, medicinals, food, insect hives—is something that many people in NYC have no experience with,” Alicia says, “so it’s exciting and interesting.” After managing gardens for a nonprofit organization and a homeless shelter, as well as helping to preserve and promote community gardens in East New York, she knows firsthand the unique way these green spaces have of drawing people together. “Community gardens are known for engaging all different types of people: youth, teachers, new Americans… People just walking by, or coming from work, will stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’ Then they pick up a shovel! Everyone gets to mingle and trade ideas.”

In addition to the social benefits, Alicia sees a strong, inherent connection between community gardening and wellness—in terms of nutrition, physical activity, and emotional wellbeing. “Health and horticulture, they go hand in hand,” she says. “For one thing, I get more exercise gardening than I would going to the gym three times a week!”

 

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[Volunteers prepare the garden’s raised beds]

 

Alicia has volunteered with the Edible Schoolyard program at P.S. 7 and says that if kids see and understand where new foods come from, they’re more likely to try them and enjoy them. “This is a childhood asthma zone,” she explains. “Obesity and diabetes rates are high. I’ve worked with children in my neighborhood who live on a diet of pizza and fried chicken. They don’t have a broad experience with food, so this expands their food vocabulary. When I’ve done workshops with kids age five to twelve where they plant, grow, and eat the food, they will enjoy salad! It’s amazing! They also learn that it’s okay to leave your computer in the house, to get outdoors, to move. I think these are changes they’ll carry on for the rest of their lives.”

 

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She also cites the benefits of being outdoors and getting physical for mental health. “I’ve worked with mentally ill people gardening, too, and you can see how wonderful it is to give them that outlet,” she says. “Improved health all around is natural byproduct of gardening.”

Alicia and her neighbors are working on partnering with P.S. 7, the veterans’ housing complex that borders the garden, and the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation to make LMG the best it can be. “We want to reinvigorate Lydia’s Magic Garden and have it be a vital part of the community again,” she says. “We want a green space—a bright space right next to the Metro-North [commuter railroad], where there’s not much else to see—but also a space for programming and recreation. This is an opportunity to make something really nice, and in two or three years, we’ll be able to just sit back and watch the plants grow. There will be a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.”

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While Alicia says she’s been pleasantly surprised by the steady stream of contributions to the ioby campaign—some of which have come from former NYC community gardeners who’ve since relocated but still appreciate the effort—she explains that the site’s success doesn’t depend only on money. “It’s also about participation,” she says. “At some point, after you get it set up, the need for funding drops off, but people contribute in different ways: often by just using it! Or by setting up cultural events and holding celebrations. You can be involved steadily, or just once, but people coming together is a big part of sustaining a place like this.”

Ultimately, Alicia sees Lydia’s Magic Garden as a conduit for gathering and exchanging ideas. “Many community gardens in NYC serve that function of sustaining long-term connections in the community,” she says. “That’s unlike Central Park—which is beautiful—but people don’t go there to connect. You’re more isolated. This will be more of a coming together.”

VIDEO: Kelly Street Garden, South Bronx

Kelly Street Garden has been a hub of healthy food and growing community in the South Bronx for more than 4 years. Despite being in the poorest national congressional district and lowest-ranked county by health in New York State, the garden, mostly run by volunteers, has grown and distributed hundreds of pounds of produce to neighbors—for free—through weekly summer Farm Stands, cooking workshops, and other events.

 

 

Recently, Kelly Street Garden raised nearly $5,000 on ioby as part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, to launch a “Garden Ambassador Program.” This summer program will provide opportunities for three youth garden ambassadors to build critical urban gardening skills, deepen knowledge of urban agriculture careers, and receive $1,000 to help maintain the 2,500-square-foot growing space over 16 weeks.

 

Building healthier communities webinar now available!


Earlier this month, ioby presented our second session in our new series of “Lunch and Learn” webinars. This conversation was all about how to bring  healthy living to your block. We heard stories from successful ioby projects that focused on community health, and got to see models and approaches for making our neighborhood healthier. We discussed everything from the health benefits of yoga, to how to grow a local project to do the most good for the long term, to how to talk about this work in the most engaging way.  

 

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We are grateful to have presenters with amazing experiences and knowledge to share:

  • Michael Marino, ioby project leader of Let’s Get Moving! Bringing Free Yoga to the Park in New York’s Lower East Side
  • Donovan Finn, ioby project leader of Jackson Heights’ 78th Street Play Street
  • Joanne Lee, Collaborative Learning Director at Active Living By Design
  • Raquel Bournhonesque, Community Coach at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute).

If you weren’t able to join us in real time, we are sharing the recording here so you can watch and listen to the whole thing when you are able – and share it with friends and neighbors!

Stay tuned for details about our next learning webinar about play, taking place on Monday, April 24th.

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge 2016 Update!

This summer we partnered with the New York State Health Foundation to create the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, which promotes community health and wellness in nine neighborhoods and cities in New York — spanning 16 zip codes — including East Harlem, Hunts Point, Brownsville, Lower East Side, Mott Haven, Claremont and Clinton County.

Through this first round of match funds, residents raised a total of $115,073 to launch initiatives to make their neighborhoods healthier. Each project received a dedicated amount of match funds based on their original fundraising goals — ultimately, over $50,609 of match funds from NYS Health Foundation supported these leaders in their work. This means that ioby Leaders and their neighbors raised a total of $64,464 of citizen philanthropy to support their projects. Otherwise said, for every dollar received from match funds, ioby leaders raised $1.27 from their neighbors. BOOM.

Twenty-three ioby projects participated in the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge — these projects all have the goal of creating a culture of health by making their neighborhoods greener or safer; improving local access to affordable healthy food; promoting walking, biking, or other exercise; educating neighbors about lifestyle changes, and more.

 

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“I do expect it to go further….My project begins with exercise; it doesn’t stop there.”

– Renee Matthews, Turn it Up Tuesdays

Here are some of these awesome projects:

Bring a kitchen to CPE II ioby

Harlem, NY:

  • A group of parents are banding together to build a kitchen classroom to prepare the food from their school garden.

Champlain, NY:

South Bronx, NY:

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Why Exercise When You Can Just Dance? Turn It Up Tuesdays Makes Fitness Fun

ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!

Learn more and browse all the awesome Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaigns, like Krishna who is creating a haven for moms in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

 

Turn It Up Tuesdays

“We’re asking people if they want to come dance in the park—not exercise,” says Renee Matthews, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project Turn It Up Tuesdays. “If you say, ‘exercise,’ people will say, ‘Oh, that’s too hard.’ But if you say, ‘dancing,’ that just means ‘fun.’ ”

Renee is a Niagara Falls native who worked in Buffalo for 17 years and is now back in her hometown, serving as Executive Director of the Highland Community Revitalization Committee. She says she first got into dance workouts with her sisters, in their living rooms. “We always marveled at how much fun dancing is as a way to burn calories and lose weight without even trying,” she says. “We had so much fun that I wanted to take it to the community.” Turn It Up Tuesdays will invite families and friends to join a high-energy line dancing party in a local park once a month this fall, and twice a month in spring and summer 2017. “It’s like going to the club, but outside!” she says. “My goal is for people to just think it’s a party, it’s a laugh. But they’re actually getting fit.”

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One of nine children—who now has 19 nieces and nephews and 26 great-nieces and nephews—Renee is well aware of how family habits can play a role in wellness, and of the uphill battle the young people around her are facing to get and stay healthy. “My mom had cancer and heart disease; my dad was diabetic,” she says. “Here, those are typical issues. Every other person you know has one of them. And now they’re starting to affect younger and younger people—children and young adults. Our whole community is experiencing major health problems, but we especially don’t want to see our kids with the same health issues our parents faced.”

Renee says her neighborhood isn’t “exercise-friendly”—it lacks bike paths and lanes, fitness equipment in parks, and healthy food options. “Our pocket park just has two benches in it,” she says. “Nothing to help you exercise, no signs that say, ‘Let’s get fit! This is how to do a push-up, a pull-up, a sit-up.’ We also have junk food on every corner; it’s only, ‘Get a soda, get something to microwave.’ I want people on the street to sell salad and fruit and water instead of a hot dog. Something that’s pretty on a plate, not a hot dog with sugary condiments on it.” Niagara Falls is also not very walkable, Renee says, and her neighborhood is bookended by two major hospitals. “That sends the message that we’re sick people, and we stay sick,” she says.

While Renee can’t cure all these ailments overnight, she says that “people can change their lifestyles on a minute-by-minute basis, day by day.” To help them, she’s aiming to illustrate that getting exercise can be a fun challenge, not a dreaded, difficult one. “I hope people see that it’s very easy to do this,” she says. “Dancing is an easy challenge—people don’t even realize they’re burning calories! You can also take 10 or 15 minutes on your lunch break and walk around the block. It really isn’t that hard!”

Renee says she wants Turn It Up Tuesdays to be a springboard for more wellness initiatives in Niagara Falls. “I do expect it to go further,” she says. “I want us all to talk about what we eat, about how we want to see ourselves in the future… I want more people to get involved and create their own healthy challenges: a bike rally, a family-style healthy picnic. My project begins with exercise; it doesn’t stop there.”

turn it up tuesday niagra
Beside the health benefits, Renee says she sees an opportunity for new social interactions through her project, too. “We’re advertising this far and wide, and I’m excited to see how the community will come together,” she says. “We want to bring people here who wouldn’t normally come to our neighborhood. We want them to see that they can have fun in a place that they usually wouldn’t even drive through.”

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Champlain Valley Family Yoga: Ancient Practice, New Hope for Addiction Recovery

ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!

Learn more and browse all the awesome Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaigns, like Krishna who is creating a haven for moms in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

 

Champlain Valley Family Center

“Everyone knows someone who’s affected by substance use addiction, no matter who or where you are,” says Ginny Brady, Board President of the Champlain Valley Family Center (CVFC) in Plattsburgh, New York. “It’s everyone’s problem; everyone’s issue.”

For almost 35 years, CVFC has provided treatment and prevention programs for people struggling with substance use addiction, and their families. They offer both education- and community-based programming, and are now adding a third dimension through their Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project: Champlain Valley Family Yoga.

Champlain Valley Family Center ioby

“We’d like to add more of a ‘spiritual’ program that can address the many things people benefit from focusing on when they have addiction problems,” Ginny says. “Things like getting exercise and gaining strength, feeling good about their bodies, relaxing, deep breathing, mindfulness, building a new skill and a new community, and on and on. These are all qualities inherent in yoga that can help people feel good about their progress when they’re struggling.”

Adding yoga classes to CVFC’s roster of services is a multi-phase plan that began with staff member Emily Cole’s desire to earn a yoga training certificate. Conversations with her colleagues generated the idea that she could eventually lead yoga classes for their community, in their space—if only they had the right space… Perhaps providentially, CVFC recently purchased the second half of the building they occupy, and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services will be working with them to renovate it this fall. The overhaul includes plans for a yoga studio and library of yoga-related books and videos.

champlain valley yoga ioby

Ginny hopes they’ll be able to open the space in May 2017, and eventually hold yoga sessions and even retreats there for both the people who use CVFC facilities and their loved ones. The organization will make sure classes are covered by clients’ health insurance or operate by donation. And Ginny hopes to get other area yoga studios involved: “If they know of people who might benefit from yoga in our setting, they can advertise it and refer people to us. And we can use some of our funding to offer gift certificates to people who want to expand their practice outside our hours or location.”

Having served on the CVFC board for 15 years, Ginny has seen lots of changes take place in Clinton County, a place she loves living, a place with a great small-town feel. “But our community is like many New York state communities,” Ginny says. “We have a real concern about the addiction crisis we’re facing. It used to be that addiction was viewed as a moral weakness; a character flaw. But we know now that it’s much more: it’s a health crisis like any other, and that means it has to be viewed and dealt with in many different ways: medically, with support systems, with behavioral changes. We’re looking for new ways to have an impact on this health crisis that’s becoming overwhelming. We have to try new things to find solutions that will help more people.”

Ginny says she realizes yoga might not be the answer for everyone struggling with addiction, but it is a way to address aspects of their experience that more traditional methods like going to a lecture or attending group therapy aren’t reaching. “We want to get the word out that yoga isn’t just for vegans!” she jokes. “It’s not just for circus performers, or supermodels. It is growing in popularity, and people are learning that they can just take the bits and pieces of it that suit them. It’s not all or nothing. It’s a practice that can be tailored to where a person is at any given time, that can help them at any stage in their recovery.”

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Bringing The Peace and Building Community: Kids, Police, and Plants in Harmony

ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!

Learn more and browse all the awesome Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaigns, like Krishna who is creating a haven for moms in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

 

Bringing the Peace and Building Community

“The way we perceive people is part of our mental health,” says Linda Kemp, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project Bringing The Peace and Building Community. “In our community, we need to get to know each other, to build bonds, so that misconceptions are dispelled.”

Bringing the Peace continues the beautification and community-building work Linda started in Drew Park, a playground near her home in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, a few years ago. This past July, she organized a Bring the Peace basketball game, where neighborhood youth and officers from the 42nd Precinct faced off on the court. The youngsters won 54-50 and were naturally elated, but Linda says for the rematch she planned for August, she decided to mix the teams up. “The coach was mad at first, but I had to tell him gently, ‘No. We’re bonding here. We’re breaking barriers so we can have a healthier community. We’re not against each other; we have to learn to work together.’ And you know what? The kids and the police played so well together.” Linda says the officers brought the young players a new basketball, some “old timers” from the neighborhood joined in the game, and she got some new recruits for her park beautification efforts in the process.

bringing the peace and building the community ioby

“So now we need to sustain this success,” she says. “If you’re not persistent, it goes away.” Linda’s planning another community game for September or October, and will continue her park improvement efforts through the fall and winter with some bright-colored painting, new plantings, and a lot of mulch. “By the time we’re done, this place will look like Central Park!” she says.

Despite these great efforts, Linda sees many difficult issues in her community. “When my family moved here, the IRT Third Avenue Line was still up [this line ceased operation in 1973]. I still live here, but the psychology has changed. There’s a lot of mental illness now; people think there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. I want to create ownership and bring community back; help us take some responsibility for our conditions, and make our neighborhood sustainable and enjoyable. This is our park! This is our community! These are our police! We can’t police our community without policing it together. We have to take care of each other first.”

There was a four-year period in Linda’s life in which she lost her husband, her grandfather, and a nephew, and her sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had been part of a gardening program in her building, and seriously stepped up her involvement during this trying time. “I had to keep going,” she says. She and a few fellow tenants sought support from the New York Restoration Project, confronted the building’s management about its lack of investment, and “started turning the dirt.” “I put my hands in the earth like never before,” she says. “We turned a bunch of junk into a beautiful landscape. You wouldn’t even know you were in the Bronx! I never knew how therapeutic it was: pulling weeds and planting.”

bringing the peace and building a community ioby

Now Linda’s park volunteers come from all walks of life: young and old, police and residents, sometimes even people staying in transitional housing nearby. “They just start helping,” she says. “And then they start looking at things differently and realize that this is how it should be.”

Linda recently brought two classes from a local charter school to visit Drew Park. She talked with them about how being around nature can help them feel and act better. “I told them that all the emotions they have are normal,” she said. “But when you’re frustrated, you need to get that out in a healthy way. And we can do that with plants, by touching the soil, by watching seeds grow. I gave them all seedlings and a box of dirt and showed them what to do. They were ecstatic! They instantly recognized the stress relief. Kids today are subjected to so much stress. We don’t talk about that enough.”
“It warms my heart when I see people coming together and feeling part of the whole,” Linda says. “Officers, seniors, little kids… I like that feeling when we’re all together, when we remember what it’s like to be a whole community, to make that collective impact. That’s the best: when we can look around and see what we’ve done together.”

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge! Bring a Kitchen Classroom to CPE II

ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!

Learn more and browse all the awesome Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge campaigns, like Krishna who is creating a haven for moms in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

 

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“Our school, CPE II, is located in a diverse and vibrant neighborhood. There has been enthusiasm around our schoolyard garden, and this project will create a resource that will build even more community around good food,” said Anat Grosfeld, a parent, resident of Harlem, and one of the leaders of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project Bring a Kitchen Classroom to CPE II.

Anat and fellow leaders Miyonna Milton and Liz Simmons have all been active participants in the schoolyard garden at Central Park East II School in East Harlem, a co-located elementary and middle school. Anat says that parents and teachers successfully got the garden up and running, but then ran into a dilemma: there was no dedicated place to store or prepare the fruits and vegetables it produced. “We organized several events where parents came in to prep and pass food to the kids, but it was not the ‘360 experience’ we wanted them to have, where they were planting, harvesting, preparing, and then eating the food.” Despite space constraints, the group was eventually able to secure a room in the school for produce storage, kitchen equipment, and food classes (it also doubles as an art room, but it’s space nonetheless). The funds they raise through the Challenge will go toward purchasing appliances and utensils, and possibly to enriching the school’s “kitchen education” offerings.

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Miyonna helped maintain the school’s garden over the summer, and says that activity alone opened a lot of conversations with their neighbors. “There’s lots of low-income housing around the school on one side,” she says. “On the other side, there are the biggest museums in NYC. That disparity leads to quite a bit of discussion already. But we noticed our older neighbors in particular liked to stop by and ask questions: ‘Who’s growing this stuff?’ ‘What are you planting?’ Most people are very supportive and want to get involved; they want to know how they can do the same thing where they live, in their own backyard.”

Anat agrees: “It’s been a powerful experience, seeing how a little bit of green cultivation of an area can pique so many people’s interest.”

But although many East Harlem residents might be keen on greens, the food they have ready access to can be anything but. “I’m not originally from New York, so this whole bodega thing kind of caught me off guard,” Miyonna says. “Kids always want to go to the bodega to get an after-school snack. But the bodegas in our community only serve to help addict our kids to these sugary, fatty tastes, and it’s leading to the destruction of our health. It may not be politically correct to say, but communities of color have been targeted. We suffer the most from diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure… I’m over it.”

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CPE II has a healthy eating policy inside its walls, Anat says. “But once you step outside, you’re besieged: it’s just bodegas with junk food or ice cream trucks.” She says the garden creates a focal point and “beautiful alternative” to everything else surrounding the schoolyard. “It’s an important thing to be doing in a school,” she says. “We need to teach life skills as well as academics. The kids who go to this school will have a different perspective: they’ll know about the many things they can grow, what vegetables look like, how they taste, and how they feel when they eat healthfully. And they’ll carry that knowledge into their future.”

One of the project’s aims is to integrate learning with eating. “Lunchtime here is typically a get-in, get-out affair,” Anat says. Her goal is to get students—and teachers—cooking and eating mindfully so that mealtime can still be learning time, not just a rushed break between classes.

Another goal is to eventually use the kitchen classroom for afterschool and evening food classes for families and friends. “As the project gets off the ground and we find ways to bring our neighbors in more—with events like parent cooking workshops and expert talks—community participation will be key to strengthening and sustaining the whole thing,” says Anat.

“I will think our project is successful if I walk into the building and smell food—real food that offers nutrition,” Miyonna says. “Food really is love. It’s about community, health, wellness, and sharing.”

“And it’s so important for people to feel the power and intentions in those things when they’re making food choices,” Anat adds. “We don’t have to order pizza for every event.”

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