Healthier Communities Initiatives

Our Healthier Communities Initiatives (HCI) are built on the concept that local communities can work together to provide healthy choices and support the pursuit of healthy lifestyles. Ys across the country work in collaboration with community leaders to change policies and physical surroundings to bring healthy living within reach of all people.

Since this work began in 2004, local leaders reported having influenced more than 39,000 changes which have impacted up to 73 million lives. This infographic shows the impact that Healthier Communities Initiatives work has had on communities nationwide (see the impact of Y projects funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in this infographic).


Read our digital storybook about how Ys are supporting Step it Up! The Surgeon General's Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities. Read our digital magazine series, Inspiring Change in Communities and States.


01 Transformations

02 Out of School and Afterschool Programs

03 Access to Healthier Foods

04 Access to Physical Activity

05 Improving School Food

06 Increasing Physical Activity in Schools

07 Community Impact

Transformational moments happen every day in the Y. See how Steve Tarver, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Louisville, has been "personally transformed."

Creating a Healthier Environment

Ys engaged in our Healthier Communities Initiatives (Pioneering Healthier Communities, Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities and ACHIEVE) are helping families put nutritious food on the table by bringing farmers markets with fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods where healthy food options are scarce, giving parents peace of mind when they let their kids walk to school by creating safer routes and keeping a generation of kids healthier by working with schools to increase physical education and physical activity during the school day. These examples are just the beginning.

The Y's Healthier Communities Initiatives

  • Community Transformation Grants
  • Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC)
  • Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities (Statewide PHC) 
  • Action Communities for Health, Innovation and EnVironmental changE (ACHIEVE)
  • Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH)

Community Transformation Grants

Y-USA received funds from Community Transformation Grants (CTG), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative developed to support public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and lower health care costs. Y-USA selected 17 Ys to receive assistance to implement programs and strategies that promote the health and well-being of individuals in their communities, with a specific focus on African-American and Hispanic individuals.



Pioneering Healthier Communities

PHC focused on collaborative engagement with community leaders, the ways health and well-being are influenced by environments and the impact of policy in sustaining change. With support from the CDC along with corporate and foundation donors, 129 communities participated in PHC, including 17 healthy equity-focused communities focused intentionally on addressing the needs of communities of color and low-income populations.

Success Stories, Lessons and Leading Practices

Learn more about how our approach has helped communities succeed in making healthy change.

Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities

Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities was built on Y-USA’s PHC model to spread its learning and experience in community-level efforts, and develop these activities into statewide models for communities with some of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the aim of this initiative was to address the childhood obesity epidemic through policy, systems and environmental changes that will have implications for communities, states and the nation. Communities in the following states have participated in Statewide PHC:  Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee,  Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Action Communities for Health, Innovation, and EnVironmental changE (ACHIEVE)

ACHIEVE was built on HCI’s success and formalizes relationships between Ys, local and state health departments, parks and recreation departments and other community-based organizations. ACHIEVE was a partnership between local communities and national organizations joined to create healthier places to live, work, learn and play. This partnership—which included the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, the National Recreation and Park Association, YMCA of the USA and the Society for Public Health Education—worked with 149 communities over five years (including 43 supported by Y-USA) to help communities address physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, tobacco use, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In 2012, a mentoring component was added to the model, which increased the sustainability of these local efforts. ACHIEVE was funded and supported by the CDC.



Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH)

Y-USA was awarded the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) cooperative agreement by the CDC to improve health and eliminate disparities related to chronic disease in racial and ethnic groups across the country. The communities worked in areas of the country with the highest burden of disease with a particular emphasis on Black/African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities. In order to achieve the REACH goals, communities implemented community-wide interventions as well as targeted interventions with strategies selected by the community teams. These interventions addressed critical issues such as ensuring all community members achieved a healthy weight, had access to nutritious foods, were able to be physically active, were not exposed to smoke and other tobacco products and lived in places that encourage emotional well-being.

Several other national organizations worked with Y-USA to achieve the goals of the cooperative agreement, including the American Psychological Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and National Council of La Raza/California State University at Long Beach Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training.


Community Healthy Living Index

Creating opportunities for healthy living makes a community stronger. The Community Healthy Living Index (CHLI) helps a community assess its support for healthy living in the places where people live, work, learn and play, allowing their community members to lead fuller, healthier, lives. Healthy lifestyles are difficult to maintain without supportive environments. Many schools have reduced the number of hours for physical education, fast food restaurants often outnumber produce stands and road construction hasn't taken the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into consideration. The results are visible: more Americans are obese and at risk for chronic disease than ever before. CHLI equips communities with the needed tools to start working to reverse this trend, while building strong partnerships to strengthen the community fabric in the process.

Linking Policy and Environmental Strategies to Health Outcomes

Over the years, YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) has been asked by numerous communities for help in making the case for pursuing strategies to improve healthy eating and active living. Pursuing these strategies can be a challenging task because their results are often not immediate. If desired health outcomes are not immediately seen by decision makers, how do communities convey the potentially significant impact these strategies can have on the long-term health and well-being of the community? What evidence can communities provide their decision makers to help demonstrate the positive health effects that can result from pursuing these strategies in their community? This resource provides the scientific evidence that can help collaborations or coalitions make the case about the need for and efficacy of strategies to reduce the prevalence of chronic disease in their communities.

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The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.