How do you instill values and support a community to move towards healthier living that promotes a more sustainable environment? That is the challenge faced by the Yesler Terrace community and Seattle Housing Authority managers as the worn out housing at Yesler Terrace is replaced by new, more environmentally-friendly housing.

Yesler residents learn about recycling options at a community event.

Yesler residents learn about recycling options at a community event.

The answer to that challenge is the Green Healthy Living Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to help current and future residents of Yesler Terrace to build a community around the goals of environmental stewardship and health promotion. Organizers hope that residents will take advantage of the new parks, bike lanes, exercise stations, and walkable streets planned for the community. At the same time, the goal of the initiative is to empower local residents to take more proactive action towards creating a livable neighborhood by contributing to a green healthy community.

Seattle Housing Authority contributed $35,000 to the initiative. With the additional assistance of a $25,000 grant from the Yesler Community Collaborative through The Boeing Company, Seattle Housing developed a two-year outreach plan for this initiative in 2015 and is now implementing it. The GHLI aims to support a culture of healthy living and strong community in Yesler Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods.

Community members are receiving education, resources, and training to make healthy sustainable choices, along with the knowledge and capacity to address at least one shared community concern. During the first phase of the initiative which involved outreach, the Green Healthy Living team reached approximately 200 people through existing events such as neighborhood block parties and monthly meetings, as well as online surveys. Community members of different generations, language groups, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds were included in the initial outreach.

This fall, the Green Healthy Living team is collaborating with the City of Seattle and Seattle Housing Authority’s Housing Operations department to deliver an Environmental Leaders Program at Yesler Terrace. Eight Yesler Terrace school-aged youth are learning about the importance of composting and spreading this information through door-to-door outreach to every Yesler Terrace household. In addition to waste management, youth will choose a neighborhood-wide event related to green healthy living, then take responsibility for planning, leading, and implementing it. They will be empowered to spread their creativity and education about being good stewards of the environment and living a healthy lifestyle to the broader community.

A focus on education and action

Seattle Housing Authority’s approach to this initiative couples best practices of engagement and education with a thorough understanding of existing community conditions. This has the potential to get residents excited about leading and participating in wellness projects. The core design focuses on putting the power in the residents’ hands by equipping them with the information, tools, and support they need to take action. The Green Healthy Living team is encouraging residents to dream big and implement their activities in the future, even after the formal initiative ends.

Input from community members and partners’ has revealed the community’s existing priorities around green healthy living topics, namely gardening, outdoor sports and fitness, biking, healthy eating and local, healthy food choices, public art activities and clean-up activities.

The next phases of the initiative include community education and community action, with the aim to inspire resident leaders to come up with green healthy living projects that can be funded through a mini-grant and maintain those projects in the long term.

The Green Healthy Living team will connect resident leaders that share similar action ideas to plan them together, then work with resident leaders to organize a test run of up to three action items. Three high-priority actions were chosen based on residents’ strong interest, a high potential for collaboration with community partners, and suitable timing:

  • Biking workshop/Ride a bike together
  • Fitness activities during Winter
  • ”upcycling” or turning used and unwanted materials into something else

Best practices identified

The Green Healthy Living team has identified best practices regarding environmental and health outreach and education in the community. These best practices include:

  • Listen to and learn first from the community. Ask about their needs, values, challenges, and struggles. Connect initiative goals to community needs.
  • Meet communities of color where they are and speak to their environmental values.
  • Invest time in relationships. Establishing a solid relationship will make it easier to ask for or accept a favor down the road, especially if you have a short timeline.
  • Develop partnerships. Work with groups that already work effectively with communities of color, including organizations of color. Work with organizations that have a proven track record and have earned the trust of the community.
  • Choose messengers wisely because the messenger may actually be more important than the message.
  • Train staff members and use residents from the neighborhood if possible
  • Wherever possible, use visuals. Use photographs, 3-D animations, and videos.
  • Support multiple languages in outreach materials and staff.
  • Provide culturally appropriate food at meetings if possible.
  • Ask the question: How will you ensure under-represented stakeholders have more equitable participation and influence in your outreach and engagement efforts?
  • Think long-term.

For more information about the Green Healthy Living Initiative, contact Kathlyn Paananen by email, or call her at 206-615-3548.