First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! to target childhood obesity. Now the movement is championing health through outdoor family activities and advocating greater involvement in our nation’s parks and other outdoor spaces.
Newark is one of the 50 cities that received funding for an AmeriCorps member who is charged with building partnerships with community organizations and state and federal public lands in the area to get more youth outside.
Kiana Thornton is the AmeriCorps member coordinating the two-year, Let’s Move! Outside initiative awarded to the YMCA of Newark and Vicinity and the City of Newark from the Department of Interior with support from American Express. Thornton is a recent graduate of Jersey City University where she majored in Psychology. She has long had an interest in working with community-based organizations and has jumped into her new role with great enthusiasm and determination.
“Many organizations in Newark are already doing things that fit into the initiative. We want to build connections with these groups so we can plan together, support each other and get the word out about the great outdoor places and activities in the city,” said Thornton.
As an example, this summer, Newark YMCA campers, between the ages of seven and nine, participated in a workshop with Panasonic where they learned how to use professional cameras to take photos of nature. The workshop took place in Military Park, where Panasonic employees offered valuable guidance to the campers giving them the chance to explore their environment and create art.
On September 21, Thornton helped coordinate a Let’s Move! Outside Summit at the Dr. Marion A. Bolden Student Center. The event kicked off with inspiring words from the YMCA’s President and CEO Michael Bright, VP of Youth Development Tammea Tyler and guest speaker, Patrick Council, Director of Neighborhood and Recreation Services for the City of Newark.
After the speakers, participants broke into groups based on the four pillars of the initiative — play, learn, serve and work — to discuss how to create and grow meaningful community engagement and successfully implement the Let’s Move! Outside initiative in 2017. The group also came up with some great event ideas. Organizations in attendance included: Global Advisors on Smoke-Free Policy (GASP), Rutgers NJ SNAP-Ed, Newark Public Schools, Newark Thrives, Habitat for Humanity, Grassroots Community Foundation, Military Park, a representative from the office of Congressman Donald M. Payne Jr., the YMCA of Newark and Vicinity, and Newark Parks & Recreation.
“The next step is to present the ideas to the Steering Committee and start implementing plans for 2017,” stated Thornton.
The plans will enable Let’s Move! Outside to build on its success. “Our goal was to involve 10,000 participants in Newark, and we are very close to achieving that total,” said Thornton. “Our partners have had great success in engaging volunteers and participants in a variety of outdoor events and activities.” Clearly, there is more to come as Newark residents reconnect to nature in their work, play, service, and learning.