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How one community trust and eight local leaders are creating a healthier, more livable South Bronx

By Phil Bors on November 6th, 2019

In 2014, the New York Community Trust (NYCT) invested in three South Bronx neighborhoods to help them become healthier places to live. The Healthy and Livable South Bronx initiative was a departure from past grant efforts, which focused more on individual agencies that provided direct services. In partnership with New York State Health Foundation, NYCT engaged Healthy Places by Design to coach the funded communities and convene a Healthy Neighborhoods peer learning collaborative.

Last month, NYCT’s formal initiative ended. But, for everyone involved, the work hasn’t—it’s simply transitioned to a new phase in an ongoing journey toward healthier neighborhoods. At the final learning collaborative meeting, organizers from Urban Health Plan, BronxWorks, and Claremont Neighborhood Centers shared reflections and insights that will resonate with anyone who’s devoted to healthy communities.

Hunts Point / Urban Health Plan

Jamine Williams, Ruth Santana, and Rosa Agosto (Urban Health Plan) described the community change initiative they led in Hunts Point, which evolved from an early focus on a free-standing open-air mercado to a broader approach that included a food box program, pop-up markets, wayfinding, play-street events, healthy food marketing in bodegas, fitness classes, and other activation events. Ultimately, the Urban Health Plan team’s advocacy lead to the inclusion of a mercado food-retail space within a planned mixed-use redevelopment project—The Peninsula—on the site of the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. In addition to these concrete successes, the organizers helped residents form a unique institution in Hunts Point: the Community Action Group. This team of dedicated Hunts Point change makers will address priorities like neighborhood safety, street lighting, sanitation, and healthy food access. Not only have the group’s members assessed their community and held countless conversations with neighbors, they have also successfully navigated the city’s participatory budgeting process for District 17, which resulted in the commitment of critical resources toward some of Hunts Point residents’ key priorities.

Mott Haven / BronxWorks

Kim Wong and Carolina Espinosa (BronxWorks) looked back on their roles leading the Healthy and Livable Mott Haven initiative, which expanded healthy food access in bodegas, grocery stores, and a farm stand; built advocacy and cooking skills among youth; and helped reactivate and reinvest in St. Mary’s Park. The experience and momentum that BronxWorks and its partners gained in the process led to long-term funding from USDA (SNAP-Ed) to continue and expand healthy food access strategies throughout the South Bronx. Kim and Carolina’s involvement also left an imprint on BronxWorks itself by improving its role as a convener and recognized leader in addressing health disparities. Reflecting on the peer learning collaborative, the BronxWorks team shared that meeting regularly with organizers from other neighborhoods gave them a helpful glimpse into the future—a perspective from projects (and outcomes) at different phases in their development.

Morrisania / Claremont Neighborhood Centers

Patrick Masseo, Roberto Claudio, and Abraham Jones led the Claremont Healthy Village Initiative in Bronx’s Morrisania neighborhood. They reflected on the powerful impact of their capacity building and placemaking actions with young people. They attribute their success to the support and involvement of the New York Housing Authority resident leadership and other community leaders and partner organizations. The Urban Ambassadors program engaged young people in creating new murals, beautifying streets and parks, collaborating on photo installations, and educating their community about healthy foods. Claremont Community Centers and Directions for Our Youth, led by Clyde Thompson, train dozens of teens each year to find their voices and power as emerging community leaders. Teens went on to organize a winning $500,000 proposal for playground improvements at the Butler Community Center as part of the city’s participatory budgeting process for District 16. Youth Ambassadors will continue to apply their newly-developed civic outreach skills for voter education and Census data collection in 2020. These young leaders will energize and lead the future work of Claremont Healthy Village Initiative, a partnership that now spans generations of Morrisania residents and South Bronx organizations.

To the South Bronx organizers and New York Community Trust: Kudos for the impressive work, commitment, and reflections you shared with us—and for your faith in and willingness to shift power to South Bronx residents, young and old. You embodied what it means to be facilitative leaders, prioritize authentic community engagement, and contribute to a strong culture of learning with your peers.

Phil Bors

Senior Project Director

Community collaborator, enthusiastic brainstormer, and devotee of down time