City Surfers: Building a Healthier Community for Youth in East Harlem
Building Healthy Communities
March 20, 2019
Consistent access to safe outdoor activities that engage children and their families has been shown to positively influence behavior and lead to healthier outcomes for children.
In East Harlem, however, there is a lack of healthy after-school and summer programming for children. Concrete Safaris delivers high-quality, safe, positive programs that allow young people and their neighbors to garden, bicycle, promote health, hike, and pursue other outdoor activities five days a week, year-round. Its flagship program, City Surfers, prepares youth in East Harlem to lead healthy lives by teaching them how to grow food, exercise, and be active in their neighborhood, as well as educating others in the community to do the same. City Surfers is also the only organization located within New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments that brings these types of activities to residents. In 2019, NYHealth awarded Concrete Safaris a grant to expand its City Surfers programing for children living in and around public housing in East Harlem.
Under this grant, City Surfers expanded its healthy eating and physical activity programs to students attending P.S. 57 in East Harlem, the majority of whom live in NYCHA housing. City Surfers also created a parent committee and organized the school to advocate for investments in after-school programming. The core activities of City Surfers programming included gardening, bicycling, a photography program, camping trips, and advocacy training. Children learned to design, plant, and maintain gardens—bringing home produce and hosting garden parties and cultural activities for their families and the broader East Harlem community. Children also learned how to bike or, for those who already knew how to ride, improved their technique and increased the distance of their rides. Through a PhotoVoice program, children learned to take photos of health-related topics of their choice and write about what they saw, culminating in a photo exhibition for the community. Children also were taught advocacy skills by learning how to write and deliver speeches in front of their Community Board and other City agencies to seek support for healthy programming in the community. Finally, children participated in a spring camping trip where they learned to build their independence by cooking, setting up camp, managing their personal hygiene and supplies, and becoming more comfortable in nature.