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AHA Health Forum - 6/6/01

Innovative CDC lead "Healthier Communities" Initaitve in Chicago.

Since its founding 18 years ago, Bethel New Life has been at the forefront of efforts to revitalize Chicago's West Side, and in particular, its West Garfield Park home.  Over those years, Bethel has gained a national reputation for cutting edge initiatives and innovative approaches to community economic development within its low-income African American community.  As a community development corporation, Bethel is rooted in and lives out of the belief that community-based initiatives must both lead and provide the foundation for any successful, enduring effort to create a healthier community.

For the past year Bethel has been engaged in a organization-wide effort to begin to identify key indicators of community health and sustainable community development.  The effort includes developing base lines for each indicator (1980 and 1990-to-present data) and tracking progress (annually) as a way of measuring both community health and the impact of Bethels initiatives.  We are developing key indicators within the four components of the definition of a healthier, sustainable community (underlined below).

Bethel's vision for a healthier community includes both process and content:

A health  sustainable community necessarily participatory, collaborative, holistic, and interdependent, with a spiritual base and a clear set of values focused on economic, environmental, education, and cultural well being.  It is a community that recognizes that the process of defining a healthier community and then creating it together is in and of itself critical to building that healthier community.

Healthy, sustainable communities require economic security; ecological integrity and environmental quality and a high quality of life for all, as measure by educational opportunities and attainment, physical health, personal safety and security, and a sense of place, connection and belonging.

Bethel has an extensive history of working collaboratively across public and private sectors to improve the well-being of its community.  Most recently Bethel has been a leader in the West Cluster Collaborative, a coalition formed in response to the opportunity to be part of a Chicago's federally-designated Empowerment Zone.  The Collaborative is, in fact, the coalescing of a number of different partnership and coalitions formed over the past years, with Bethel in a leadership role in many.  What the Collaborative did was to create a wholistic vision of a healthy, sustainable community, bringing together individual and groups plans and visions for transportation-oriented development, industrial and commercial development, housing redevelopment, educational reform, family wellness, neighborhood safety and health care.

The Collaborative has drafted a long-range strategy and action plan for improving the quality of life among West Garfield Park's 24, 095 residents. Virtually all of the ten initiatives build on the work Bethel has already done to shape, and begin to implement a vision of a healthier community.  Each of these initiatives has multiplying affect, and each builds on existing community assets and opportunities.   Additionally, the initiatives include not only the partners in the Collaborative, but also partnership with financial institutions, healthcare institutions, a national laboratory, schools, churches, corporations and local businesses.

Bethel New Life 367 Karlov Chicago, IL  60624 (773) 826-5540 (773) 826-5728