HKHC: Rochester, New York


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

Collaborative strategic planning helped shape Rochester’s Healthi Kids initiative and proactive, sustained communication advanced its policy campaigns. The partnership intentionally created multiple avenues for honest and constructive exchange with residents and partners, used a student-made video and an equity frame to motivate parents and policy makers to improve school food across the city, and used an online software platform to produce advocacy alerts. These approaches helped propel successful policy campaigns for zoning changes, a school recess policy, long-range transportation planning, a Complete Streets policy and other healthy community priorities.

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July 2014

Like other Great Lakes cities, Rochester has spent the past several decades confronting a shrinking manufacturing base, job losses and deepening poverty. The health of many residents has suffered as a consequence. Not surprisingly, access to safe places to play and affordable, nutritious foods remains an everyday challenge for this predominantly African-American and Latino community.

Yet here on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York, Rochester is somewhat unique as it works to change residents’ health outcomes. Rochester identifies itself as the City of Play, and even boasts being home to the National Museum of Play. The city maintains 10 full-time and 10 part-time recreation centers. Yet for many children living in the city, there are still significant barriers to play.

In an effort to address childhood obesity, Rochester formed Healthi Kids, a broad-based coalition of professionals, advocates and citizens who are unified around specific policy and environmental goals. Soon after its formation, the group succeeded at gaining more public funding for school meals and bringing in a school food-service contractor committed to healthier, more appealing food for students.

The coalition, led by the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, used Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) funding to expand and deepen its earlier work. Key Healthi Kids collaborators include Greater Rochester Health Foundation, University of Rochester Medical Center, The Children’s Agenda, Rochester City School District, Foodlink, Rochester Community Foundation, Wegmans grocery chain and several city agencies such as Recreation and Youth Services and the Mayor’s Office.

Addressing one of Healthi Kids’ key goals – safe places to play – the coalition focused intensively in five high need neighborhoods by developing a unique product of community organizing called a Playability Plan. In each neighborhood, HKHC staff and partners worked alongside residents to prioritize and act on areas of highest need. Each group assessed the extent and quality of nearby play spaces, including school yards, playgrounds and parks. They also assessed non-traditional places such as empty lots and streets where children are known to play. Each Playability Plan serves as a “blueprint” guiding residents and advocates to take action, with specific short- and long-term solutions to make each neighborhood more activity-friendly.

“Rochester has a history of activism that dates back to the days of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, both of whom were important civic figures here,” Community Engagement Director Wade Norwood said. “We’re not afraid of tackling big issues as a community.” Many recommendations from the Playability Plan process were implemented, resulting in safer places to play in five neighborhoods. Just as importantly, the process helped build trust and leadership skills among the residents who participated.

Key accomplishments:

Significant grant awards from Creating Healthy Places (New York State), Community Transformation Grant (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Roadmaps to Health (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) helped expand and deepen Healthi Kids policy and environmental initiatives for healthy eating, active living and safer neighborhoods.