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10 N.J. coalitions awarded $200K, 4-year grants to build ‘culture of health’

September 5, 2015 | Community News and Media, Media Coverage

Originally post on

by Cristina Rojas | For The Times, Trenton

In an effort to fight obesity and promote healthy living, dozens of Trenton community groups have found strength in numbers by forming alliances and pooling resources.

But now, the 40-plus groups will put their heads together to come up with long-term, sustainable solutions, thanks to a four-year, $200,000 grant from New Jersey Health Initiatives.

The YMCA of Trenton, the lead partner in the larger Trenton Healthy Food Network, was one of 10 recipients chosen statewide to be a part of this new initiative. NJHI, a grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced the grants Tuesday.

“We put together the health dream team,” said Samuel Frisby, the CEO of the YMCA of Trenton and a Mercer County freeholder.

He said he hopes the groups can continue the work they’ve begun but in a more collaborative way.

“What I’ve found especially in areas of high need is there’s never really a shortage of money to throw at the problems, but it’s spread among so many different organizations that you can never get the greatest impact,” he said. “If you can leverage what each organization is doing and the money they’re bringing to the table, you’re able to have a great impact.”

NJHI director Bob Atkins said the grant is aimed at building a “culture of health” from the ground up.

“What we’re really trying to do is bring different sectors together … around the same table and ask them to identify what are the most pressing problems in their community and give them the tools to work better together,” he said.

The nine other recipients are: AtlantiCare Foundation, Jersey City, North Jersey Health Collaborative, Orange Public Schools, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Irvington, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern NJ, United Way of Salem County and YMCA of Eastern Union County.

While NJHI’s other grants have tackled specific issues such as diabetes or teen pregnancy, this program is designed to allow the coalitions to spend the money how they see fit, Atkins said.

“It’s fundamentally different,” he said. “It’s exciting for us to embark on this ambitious plan for addressing how we improve health in communities.”

As different as the 10 recipients are, what they share in common is vulnerability, Atkins said.

“We are going to leave it up to them to decide what their vulnerability is and how they’re going to proceed,” he said. “All will proceed in different ways, we imagine, depending on what they identify as a need in their community.”

Each coalition will receive $50,000 in each of the four years, provided they raise at least $35,000 in matching funding during the final two years.

“As they improve their capacity, they will be better able to serve their community,” Atkins said.

The grants also provide for training and coaching. In the first few months, teams from each coalition will participate in the Boundary Spanning Leadership Institute, where they will develop the tools and skills necessary to work more efficiently and effectively.

“We tend to work in silos and what we really want to do is break down the silos,” Atkins said. “Solutions depend on working across different kinds of sectors.”

The groups will identify their priorities and come up with a plan to build a healthier community over the next three years.

In mid-August, the YMCA of Trenton will be joined by five other coalition members for its two-day training: the city’s Green Team, Trenton Health Team, Living Hope Empowerment Center and Shiloh Community Development Corporation.

Frisby said that for the different groups, some areas of focus have included improving access to healthy food, encouraging the development of safe play spaces and improving access to doctors or other health care providers, among other things.

“All the organizations have some specialities,” he said. “It’s really about bringing all those specialities to the table and saying, ‘How do we impact the health of our community overall?'”

Marissa Davis, project manager for the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton, said the Trenton Healthy Food Network follows a “collective impact” model that helps them to be more strategic in creating a healthier Trenton to live, work, eat and play.

“You park your ego at the table, come in and rally around specific goals, priorities and strategies,” she said.

Davis said the NJHI grant will help them to better coordinate their efforts among the 40-plus partners.

“The City of Trenton is making great strides toward creating a culture of health and coordinating those efforts are going to be really important as we continue to create a sustainability plan,” she said. “We’re excited. Our work is cut out for us.”

Atkins said he hopes that whatever comes out of the 10 coalitions will be a model of best practices for the rest of the country.

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