On June 10th at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey, all 30 grantees of the ShapingNJ Healthy Community Grant met for an exciting and inspiring mid-year meeting! The day was full of opportunities for the grantees to interact with each other, share their successes, seek advice and build new partnerships. Grantees have been working hard on a variety of different projects including farmers markets, community gardens, wellness policies, healthy corner stores, food environment audits, play streets, paths and trails, bike racks, bike lanes, walking programs, and building playgrounds.
Several communities are already off to a successful start! These early accomplishments include:
- cleaning up a park located near an unsafe housing development,
- gaining the full support of a city councilmember,
- engaging 500 teenagers in weekly Saturday night physical activity programs at the YMCA, and
- increasing the number of partners participating in a walking audit from 4 to 15, including faith based and community groups.
Five breakout sessions gave the grantees an opportunity to go into more detail about what they’re doing as well as solicit/offer advice and encouragement to other grantees.
- Community gardens and farmers markets: Grantees spoke of the importance of volunteers, partnerships, access to a nutritionist, and the right weather for a community garden to have a plentiful harvest.
- Schools: Grantees emphasized the importance of educating both parents and children on new policies (e.g., birthdays and parties), the difficulty of enforcing new policies due to partialities, and the significance of having the Board of Education involved.
- Built environment: Grantees discussed the importance of acknowledging their supporters in various media outlets, perseverance, understanding and navigating the many layers of bureaucracy, consistent communication, champions, networking, and engaging community residents.
- Early care and education: Grantees noted that public involvement is critical to make change happen. Also of importance is the extent in which public education and awareness can work in tandem to create effective policy and environmental changes, reduce barriers through new opportunities, and that environmental changes take time and funding.
- Healthy corner stores: Grantees agreed that this project is an opportunity for their community to make a change for the better and provide healthier options to children. Through observations, grantees expressed that business owners from smaller communities are more likely to buy-in, challenges can be opportunities in disguise, and recruiting volunteers and translators can bolster relationships and benefit diverse communities.
Plans were announced for next year’s grant cycle, which will be two years long and include nearly 50 communities! This will give grantees more time to work on their projects and more communities the chance to make their communities healthier.