A Minneapolis neighborhood improves health from grassroots up

Bernice Arias led her Zumba class in the gym at the Powderhorn Recreation Center on Wednesday, Nov. 9. (Star Tribune photo)

Bernice Arias led her Zumba class in the gym at the Powderhorn Recreation Center on Wednesday, Nov. 9. (Star Tribune photo)

[Star Tribune, November 13, 2016] Lee Younger isn’t a doctor, but he makes daily rounds through the halls of his Phillips neighborhood apartment building, checking on the health of neighbors and offering help and support. Younger has been making his rounds for more than six years as a volunteer with the Backyard Initiative, a health improvement experiment in south central Minneapolis. Driven by volunteers and encompassing a wide range of activities — from exercise classes to youth mentoring — the project represents a novel strategy that redefines health and health care.

It started in 2008 as an effort by Allina Health to improve the health of residents in its “backyard’’ — the neighborhoods that surround the nonprofit’s corporate offices near Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. Armed with data showing high rates of chronic disease, Allina planned a series of surveys to measure resident health over time as the initiative progressed.

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