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Newark officials encouraging residents to experience the outdoors

Originally posted on FIOS1

Kicking off a local version of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Outside” campaign

Mayor Ras Baraka helped kick off Newark’s version of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Outside” campaign, which includes projects and initiatives at parks nationwide.

The goal is to fight childhood obesity and prepare young people to be stewards of the environment.

Newark Launches Let’s Move! Outside Initiative

Originally posted on WBGO News

By Ang Santos, WBGO News
Newark. May 11, 2016

The city of Newark has launched First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Outside Initiative, to promote health through outdoor family activities.

David Jayo, senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior says Newark was one of fifty selected priority cities to represent the Let’s Move! Outside Initiative.

“It really came down to three unique attributes that Newark has.  One…amazing parks, really throughout the entire city, with Military Park right in the middle.  The second is incredible non-profit partners that are dedicated towards conservation, and recreation in youth.  The third is really incredible local leadership with a mayor that really cares deeply about this issue.”

Mayor Ras Baraka says Newarkers can expect a series of park upgrades along with recreational activities to get kids outdoors.

Newark YMCA president Michael Bright says the city can be a model for other’s who may launch Let’s Move! Outside in the future.

“We’re going to go out and work with the other partners and make sure that we get a lot of input from people who are concerned about the parks and want to use them in that manner.”

Vineland Explores Creation of a Healthy Food Network

New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-V) successfully introduced The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative into Vineland. As a result, over 25 corner stores have expanded the sale and marketing of affordable, nutritious food to residents in lower-income communities, which often have limited access to healthy food choices.

Now Live Healthy Vineland is exploring the feasibility of expanding the corner store model to create a Healthy Food Network, consisting of food pantries and restaurants, as well as corner stores.

“The broader network will take into consideration all areas where food is accessible,” said David Calderetti, NJPHK-V Project Manager. Live Healthy Vineland has applied for a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to underwrite the effort. In the meantime, they are surveying Vineland food pantry directors and consulting with restaurant owners to create a strategic plan for expansion that will consider potential obstacles and opportunities to ensure success.

“We are evaluating the findings of the surveys from a dozen Vineland-area food pantries to understand how each site operates,” said Calderetti. “By having a baseline that identifies standards and practices of local pantries, we can assess where gaps exist in what is provided versus what may be needed by clients. For instance, a pantry might not promote the donation of foods that are beneficial to those that are pre-diabetic or have diabetes. We want to ensure that we address gaps for food access that exist throughout Vineland.”

Several restaurant owners are serving on an advisory committee to explore ways in which patrons can be made aware of healthy menu items. Initial suggestions range from menu inserts about healthy menu items to special healthy meals available that day.

Final plans are several months off, but Calderetti said that the drive is to have a pantry and restaurant component by 2017.

Vineland Fourth Fridays Integrate Park Hop Fun

Forth FridaysPark Hop, which offered Vineland residents opportunities to engage in planned physical activity at various Vineland city parks, was a welcome event last summer and this spring. But finding ways to sustain Park Hop activities through community and volunteer efforts has been less successful…until now.

Starting in May, Park Hop-type activities became part of Vineland Fourth Fridays. “Instead of organizing and coordinating separate events, we are combining Park Hop with Fourth Fridays and providing fun physical activities for kids,” said David Calderetti, Project Manager of New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-V).

One activity that helps kids move more is giant Tic-Tac-Toe, where two teams of participants run and drop bean bags on open squares to make the X and win the game. The activity combines both physical activity and mental stimulation.

Calderetti said that Live Healthy Vineland also is looking for more opportunities to piggyback on existing events and engage children and adults in physical fun and challenge. “We want to build on the success of Park Hop, but we have limited staff time and organizing bandwidth, so we are looking at ongoing community events to see where integration is feasible.”

In the meantime, hop over to the Vineland Mini Park every Fourth Friday this summer and fall for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe and other fun activities.

Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market Kicks Off Its Second Season

First Market to Provide Summer Meals for Kids

Greenwood ave1With a successful launch during the summer of 2015 under its belt, the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market is bringing locally grown produce to Trenton residents every Monday, beginning June 13 through October 24 from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm. Local vendors offer visitors access to affordable, fresh, Jersey-grown fruits and vegetables and tropical fruits each week. The market also offers free health screening services for blood pressure, glaucoma, and body mass index (BMI), food demonstrations, exercise and free recipes for patrons to be able to make the healthy dishes at home. Residents using SNAP, WIC and SFMNP vouchers will also benefit from matching dollars for fruit and vegetables.

greenwoodave3This year’s opening day will be a fun community day complete with music, games and giveaways. Also, new this year, the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market will be a USDA Summer Meal site for children ages 3 to 18 beginning Monday, June 27th. A first for a farmers market in New Jersey, the program will provide healthy, balanced dinners to kids during the summer months at no cost.

The farmers market will host special community events at the end of each month.

Community events and dates are:

  • June 27 – Art Fest
  • July 25 – Water Fest
  • August 29 – Fit Fest
  • September 26 – Bike Fest
  • October 24 – Fall Fest

For more information and market update, please visit the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market website.

NJPHK Healthy Family Retreat Inspires Joshua to Compete on Food Network’s Chopped Junior

joshuaphotoTo most people, Joshua Pantoja Jr. appears to be an ordinary kid.  In his spare time, he plays basketball, soccer, baseball and crazy kickball. But that’s where ordinary ends and extraordinary begins.  At 10 years old, this creative, talented and funny fourth grader from Hamilton, NJ, is a gourmet cook and has been honing his culinary craft since about age 8.  As early as age 5, he began spending a lot of time in the kitchen with his grandmother watching and learning how to cook different recipes.  Over the years, she taught him how to measure, as well as combine various Latin seasonings and flavorings. He also found himself consumed with cooking shows but was afraid to touch the stove because of his small stature.

Joshua and his mother Magaly Pantoja were among the first group of families to attend the Frost Valley YMCA Healthy Family Retreat in November 2015. Located on more than 5,500 acres in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, the retreat was co-sponsored by the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids.  During the weekend, Joshua learned how to make healthy apple turnovers and kale chips, which are now one of his favorite “go to” snacks. He also learned about container gardening.

According to his father Joshua Pantoja, Sr., “When he returned home from Frost Valley the first time, he wanted to show me how to prepare all of the recipes he learned, as well as how to eat healthy and grow things in a small space.”

Joshua was so inspired by the Frost Valley weekend, that he insisted his father join him for the second Healthy Family Retreat in April 2016. “It was a treat for me to go with him and observe what they were teaching,” said Joshua Sr.

In addition to a chicken coop in the back of his house, Joshua now has a garden where he has planted watermelon, jalapeño peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes he received from Frost Valley.  Joshua also made a pact with his dad that he would read more books if his dad stopped drinking soda.  Both are fulfilling their end of the bargain.  Since returning from Frost Valley, Joshua has read seven books and his dad is now drinking water instead of soda.

The Frost Valley experience also motivated Joshua in other ways.  One day he was watching the Food Network’s Chopped Junior Show. He was so excited to see other kids cooking that he asked his dad if he thought he was good enough to be on the show.  His dad told him, “You can do anything you want.”

That started the ball rolling and his dad immediately contacted the Food Network about open auditions.  Although they had already interviewed nearly 5,000 kids, they asked him to send an audition videotape with Joshua preparing his favorite dish. Joshua quickly won the producers over when he prepared Piononos, a Puerto Rican lasagna-like tart that includes sweet plantain, layered with cheese, meat and scrambled eggs on top to fuse it together.  Once the producers saw the video, they immediately scheduled an in-person meeting with Joshua, who was ultimately chosen to be on the first Chopped Junior Show of 2016.

With only three weeks to prepare, Joshua’s whole life became kitchen…study…kitchen…study…kitchen…
study! Even though he didn’t win the ultimate prize of $10,000, Joshua made it to the second round before being eliminated.  “After I made the first round, I was okay,” said Joshua. “I just didn’t want to be the first one to be chopped.”  Joshua was more disappointed that he couldn’t take his baby sister, Gabriella to Disney World with the prize money. “My sister loves me so much and she has supported me every day of my life—even though I think she wanted a sister,” said Joshua.

He still chalks up Chopped Junior as one of the most memorable experiences he’s ever had. Within one day, the show received over 950,000 YouTube views—the most it’s ever had.

Since Chopped Junior aired, Joshua is often recognized when he is out and about. His friends and members of his church often ask him to cook meals for them.

When Joshua grows up, he wants to be a “Chemedian” (Chef and Comedian). And, he’s already thinking about his next venture which includes being a YouTuber. He also wants to cook for a U.S. President and/or a national dignitary. His favorite celebrity chefs are Emeril and Bobby Flay.

What advice would he give the average cook? “Keep trying—that’s what I did until I was better than the best!”

7 Steps to Hosting a Successful Ciclovia

ciclovia2A two-mile route beginning at Senior Street and ending at the corner of Joyce Kilmer and Juliet Street in New Brunswick, New Jersey was closed to traffic on Sunday, April 24th from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm to make room for the first New Brunswick Ciclovia of 2016. The free, citywide event opened its streets to New Brunswick residents to promote healthy active living, with numerous activity stations along the route.

As part of the event, residents walked, ran, biked and skateboarded in the streets.  Neighbors also engaged with one another through a variety of activities, including dance, yoga, and Zumba classes. In addition, participants were exposed to many of the city’s attractions, parks, and local businesses.

According to New Brunswick Tomorrow’s Monica Reyes, “This year’s event also included health screenings, obstacle courses, a live band and admission to HereNow, the Zimmerli Art Museum’s digital gallery and exhibition which celebrated Rutgers’ 250th anniversary year by looking at the present and ahead to the future.” Free parking was also available at the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness & Wellness Center garage for those attending from neighboring towns.

Ciclovia is a Spanish word that means “bikeway” and is described as a designated bike route or an event that opens the streets for use by pedestrians and cyclists. Ciclovia began in Bogota, Colombia in 1976, as a way to promote community engagement in public spaces that are free of vehicles.

The New Brunswick event is a community collaboration and partnership of the City of New Brunswick, New Brunswick Tomorrow, Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers University. New Brunswick Tomorrow serves as a co-director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-New Brunswick. Additional 2016 Ciclovia events are scheduled for Saturday, June 25th, Saturday, August 6th and Sunday, October 2nd.

The first New Brunswick Ciclovia was held in October 2013. Last year, more than 10,000 residents and visitors participated in Ciclovia. Here are seven steps to planning a successful Ciclovia in your town:

  1. Identify A Backbone Organization. The first step is to identify a founding partner or partners: Who or what group will take the lead to organize, advocate for and launch the Ciclovia?
  2. Involve Your Local Government. If the local government isn’t already involved, elected leaders and municipal departments need to be educated about what the event is and how it benefits the community, including engaging residents of all ages in physical activity, creating opportunities to offer free health assessments, supporting local businesses and fostering a sense of community.
  3. Create A Planning Committee. Identify and recruit additional community stakeholders and develop a planning committee. This should include a combination of individuals and groups from the public sector (local government), private sector (area businesses and hospitals) and nonprofits (social welfare, health, and other organizations). This committee will become the core group that is vital to making the Ciclovia event possible. The committee should meet monthly and organize the before, during and after logistical aspects of the event.
  4. Identify a Preferred Route. Once a preferred route has been identified (usually a two- to three-mile distance), you’ll need to get your city’s approval for the event (New Brunswick gets a resolution passed for every Ciclovia event). You’ll also need to coordinate with the local police, traffic, and public works departments to assist with road closures, security and waste management.
  5. Identify Activity Stops. You’ll need to line up activity stations, as well as sponsors, such as local businesses or vendors, who will take charge of supplying and staffing their respective stations along the Ciclovia route.
  6. Create a Marketing Strategy. Make sure you use a variety of tools to promote your Ciclovia event. This can include flyers, website postings, door hangers, radio advertisements and social media promotion.  Also, encourage organizations to promote the event through their respective websites and newsletters.  Notify local media before and after the event and encourage them to cover the story.
  7. Recruit Volunteers. Local community groups, college students, and youth groups are ideal volunteers who can serve as great event ambassadors along the route.

For information regarding New Brunswick’s Ciclovia contact Monica Reyes, communications manager, New Brunswick Tomorrow.  You can also visit the Ciclovia website.

Camden Community Aims For Health and Summer Unity with ‘Connect The Lots’

connect the lotsA strong community is a powerful foundation for creating a culture of health. Connect the Lots is Camden’s community-driven initiative aimed at bringing the Camden community closer. With help from the Kresge Foundation, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, the City of Camden, and local residents and stakeholders, this city-wide initiative is utilizing Camden’s under-used open spaces and vacant lots to host games, exercise classes, movie nights, artistic workshops and live music for its residents.

From June to September 2016, many activities and events will be happening weekly in various lots and parks throughout the city including Pyne Poynt Park, Dudley Grange Park, and Roosevelt Plaza Park. Cooper’s Ferry Senior Project Manager Val Galarza hopes that Connect the Lots will get residents outside for the summer. “We want this event to showcase all the great places that Camden has to offer and get people moving and embracing the culture of health we’re building,” Galarza explained. The ongoing summer events are all about connecting physical activity and healthy living with art and culture for the city’s residents.

All events are open to the public and free of charge. For more information about the Connect the Lots initiative and a schedule of events, you can visit the website here.


NJ Communities of Practice Speaker Shares How to Get Your Voice Heard

monifabandeleYour voice can be a powerful tool in pushing for social changes around the world. That’s according to Monifa Bandele, senior campaign director for food justice and children’s nutrition at MomsRising. Bandele gave advice about getting your voice heard above the noise in today’s super-connected world to 40+ local residents, nurses, and child obesity advocates during the “How to Use Your Superpowers and Get Your Voice Heard!” Workshop on June 1st at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ. The event was sponsored by the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network as part of its Communities of Practice series.

During the meeting, Bandele explained how MomsRising takes on the most critical issues facing women, mothers, and families by educating the public and mobilizing massive grassroots actions to:

  • Bring the voices and real world experiences of women and mothers straight to our local, state, and national leaders;
  • Amplify women’s voices and policy issues in the national dialogue and in the media across all platforms (print, radio, blogs, social media, and more);
  • Accelerate grassroots impact on Capitol Hill and at state capitols across the country;
  • Hold corporations accountable for fair treatment of women and mothers and for ensuring the safety of their products.

Bandele also explained that MomsRising brings attention to the most pressing issues across the nation and New Jersey that affect women and their children, like equal pay, clean water in schools, immigration, job security and food access.

“It’s important to know that you have a voice and can be heard,” said Bandele, “We don’t just listen, we act immediately.” The organization is an online force, bringing together women nationwide to advocate for equality by hosting social events, utilizing both social mediums (like Twitter, Facebook and blog posts) and petitions, and gathering at local government buildings and attending meetings to protest for fairer legislation in the workplace. Combining all of these tools is necessary for building an inclusive culture of health, in which every person has the equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can. “We send petitions and go to company shareholder meetings. Shareholders want to know what they can do to help and change unhealthy practices,” Bandele explained.

Recent advocacy campaigns for MomsRising include clean, lead-free drinking water in schools and homes, removing cartoons from junk food packaging and removing characters from soda advertisements. MomsRising is also advocating for paid sick days for working parents.

Bandele stressed that it’s about creating a united front, working together and forming a plan of action. “In order for change to take place, you have to start within the community,” said Bandele “Don’t just parachute in because there’s usually someone in every community that you can partner with that is already advocating for change.”

Learn more about MomsRising.

Two to be honored by YMCA

Originally posted on MyCentralJersey.com

by Cheryl Makin

Bill Lovett and Mickey Gross named winners of prestigious awards

Two community members are set to be honored at the 2016 Annual Dinner Meeting of the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, and Woodbridge and South Amboy in May. William “Bill” Lovett and Michael “Mickey” Gross were named the recipients of two prestigious awards — the Charles S. Edgar Memorial Award and the Peter J. Barnes, Jr. Community Champion Award, respectively.

For his outstanding work with the YMCA and the community, Lovett, currently the Executive Director of the New Jersey Alliance for YMCA’s, will receive the Charles S. Edgar Memorial Award. The Alliance is a not-for-profit association made up of 37 YMCA’s from throughout the state. Prior to this position, Lovett was the CEO of the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy from 1988 until his retirement in 2012.

According to the YMCA, the Charles S. Edgar Award recipient is a person who demonstrates leadership and is of the highest personal integrity, has greatly served the youth of the community, exemplifies community spirit at its best, has contributed to the community through a variety of organizations and in a variety of roles.

This person also is responsive to and interested in the work of the YMCA, has a record of long-term service, is recognized for his or her individual efforts, not on behalf of a group and lastly, whose acceptance will enrich the tradition of the Charles S. Edgar Memorial Award.

By his record, Lovett embodies all of the award’s qualifications.

In addition to many successful projects to expand the reach of the YMCA during his tenure, Lovett played an important and active role in the National YMCA Movement as he served on the YMCA of the USA Board of Directors and  was President of the New Jersey Alliance of YMCA’s. Lovett’s legacy also included positively impacting the community outside his CEO role when he led a number of community initiatives including the establishment of wellness programs outside the walls of the YMCA buildings, such as the Student Fitness Center at Metuchen High School. He also gave leadership to the community when establishing the Metuchen Freedom Plaza, a memorial to state residents who died on 9/11.

Lovett worked with the Metuchen Board of Education to institute programs such as the Metuchen High School STAR Awards and Project Graduation. His collaborations with area churches included the organization of six child care programs and the Martin Luther King Breakfast, which brought people together to celebrate the life of Dr. King and featured an essay contest for students focusing on civic responsibility.

Lovett also was a member of the Livestrong/Lance Armstrong Foundation National Collaborative and Chairman of the Public Policy for the NJ Alliance of YMCA’s and Chairman of the Garden State Executive Network. He is the State Program Director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and leads the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network.

For his outstanding leadership and contribution to the YMCA and the community as a whole, Gross will be presented with the YMCA Peter J. Barnes Jr. Community Champion Award.

The Peter J. Barnes, Jr. Community Champion Award recipient is a person who has a legacy of community service, is responsive to and interested in the work of the YMCA as part of a demonstrated long-term commitment to furthering the greater good of the communities in which we serve. That person also serves as an example for others of leadership, integrity and the core values of the YMCA — caring, honesty, respect, responsibility as well as demonstrates a character that is beyond reproach and who consistently exemplifies the highest standards of community service and whose acceptance will enrich the tradition of the YMCA Community Champion Award.

A resident of South Amboy for over 30 years, Gross is the head of the Environmental Division of the Middlesex County Health Department, which oversees twenty-five municipalities. He serves as Chairman to the New Jersey Public Health Council, appointed by Governor Codey in 2005, and is a member of the New Jersey Hospital Planning Board. During his tenure as a member of the Public Health Council, Gross was the board member who made a motion for stronger immunization reform for all children enrolled in school, which was approved and now is a state law.

Gross has been active in South Amboy since he and his wife Susan moved there in 1985. Some of the highlights of his volunteerism include assisting with South Amboy Little League, Vice President of the St. Mary’s Athletic Association for seven years, and for more than 20 years with his wife, serving as board members of the Mavis Music Association of the Visually Impaired, an organization that provides musical equipment and lessons to the blind who have a desire to learn how to play musical instruments.

He has been a board member of the Frog Hollow Swim Club for more than 15 years and served for one year as President. During his years at Frog Hollow, he chaired 5 Mile and 5K runs to raise funds for the South Amboy First Aid Squad and Fire Department. Gross was a member of the South Amboy Zoning Board for numerous years before being voted “Councilman at Large.” For the last two years, he has held the title as Council President and organized countless fundraisers within South Amboy.

Lovett and Gross will be honored at the 2016 Annual Dinner Meeting of the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge, and South Amboy on at 6 p.m. May 4 at the Pines Manor in Edison. The cost is $65. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Jeanine Costa, Association Advancement Assistant at 732-516-2083 or jeanine.costa@ymcaofmewsa.org.

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