Participatory Budgeting in Briarwood, Queens

September 27, 2022

This blog post was written by Andrew Williams, who served as an intern with AAFSC in the Summer of 2021. Williams is also a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow, now studying at the Macaulay Honors College of CCNY, Class of 2025.


This summer, the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC), in conjunction with the NYC Taskforce for Racial Inclusion and Equity (TRIE) and various other stakeholders, hosted a community-led event in Briarwood that marked the completion of a year-long project that sought to ameliorate issues in historically underserved communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing an egalitarian participatory budgeting process, Briarwood community members were able to shine a light on, as well as address, the community’s most pressing issues, two of which were food insecurity and mental health awareness. 

Geographical proximity to supermarkets and stores that distribute clean, nutritious foods is essential to ensuring food security. As demonstrated using GIS tracking information, Briarwood is located in what is commonly referred to as a “food swamp,” which are urban areas that boast a myriad of different non-nutritious food options, while having very few supermarkets or stores that provide community members with nutrient-rich alternatives. The COVID-19 pandemic indiscriminately disrupted routines and forced people to isolate from one another, leading to a spike in mental health concerns in vulnerable communities like Briarwood. Though these are not issues that have suddenly materialized themselves within the community, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated them, only making the need for change more glaring to community members and community-led organizations alike. These past few months, AAFSC has worked diligently to address the troubling rise in need in Briarwood, engaging over 20,000 community members in the process.

With the creation and implementation of two gardens, at PS 117 and MS 217, that contain an amalgam of different vegetables, AAFSC, along with community members and volunteers, were able to ignite a spark in a community that has been historically underrepresented and underserved. While these gardens are a small step toward ensuring food security for all of Briarwood, AAFSC’s work catalyzed various sustainable and community-led initiatives that will continue to grow in the years to come. 

AAFSC’s Young Adult & Youth Program, alongside five Briarwood youth leaders, oversaw the development and implementation of a community mental health project. With the support of AAFSC staff, these youth created toolkits that boast seven mindfulness exercises to use in schools to alleviate harmful stress and anxiety.

Overall, through the collective efforts of a wide array of people on multiple fronts, AAFSC was able to inspire change, address permeating issues, and help to loosen the grip of historical inequity on a community severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sign-up to join AAFSC for a gardening session here!