Recently, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA had the opportunity to sit down with Atlantic City School District’s Healthy U champion, Julie Land, to discuss her efforts in expanding Healthy U to other schools. Over her 30 year tenure as a Physical Education Teacher, Ms. Land has consistently tried to incorporate new methods and modules into her lesson plans that educate and encourage healthy and active living.
CCAYMCA: Has Healthy U made a difference?
Julie Land: “Absolutely; in physical education and in health, the program has made a difference in the way students approach decision making. Students tend to think twice about food choices and tend to be more active when given the opportunity to do so.”
CCAYMCA: Has the program been easy to integrate?
Julie Land: “It was fairly easy to integrate the program due to being a part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. A wellness team was in place and amazingly supportive. Naysayers even started to gravitate toward wanting to know more over time. It was important to keep those that share similar interests involved and their morale high—pictures are posted all over the halls with students participating in activities.”
CCAYMCA: Has it been easy to get new schools involved?
Julie Land: “Other PE Teachers are interested, however 5 physical education teachers were let go this year. The turnover has caused tremendous difficulty in soliciting new partnerships with other schools. New York Avenue Health and PE Teachers were not reinstated. Uptown Complex has shown interest.”
CCAYMCA: How has your perspective changed through participating?
Julie Land: “Communication with parents is the most difficult. Because of this, students are not active at home. However, next year I plan on integrating parents into the wellness committee. Also, Chefs with a Mission, will be incorporated into the plan to engage parents to cook healthier meals at home.”
To ensure the success of work being conducted in Atlantic City to expand the YMCA’s Healthy U Program and the Healthy Corner Store Program, relationships have been cultivated within the community. As an expansion of work that was conducted last year, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA has been able to leverage existing relationships to build new ones. Last year, the Healthy U Program was administered in both Texas Avenue and Richmond Avenue schools. PE Teacher Julie Land has championed the expansion of the program to another school.
Due to the statewide success of the New Jersey Healthy Corner Store Initiative, recruiting new stores in Atlantic City to participate in the Healthy Corner Store Program has been made easier. Once again, leveraging past success and prior relationships is key. Once the summer hits, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA will be sending out more representatives to the area to expand its work.
Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity—what do these two topics have in common with Atlantic City? They are the primary focus of community and school based initiatives being executed by the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA (CCA YMCA) to advance the health and wellbeing of children in Atlantic City through funding from ShapingNJ. The CCA YMCA has begun expanding the YMCA’s Healthy Schools Program to two more schools, as well as laid the groundwork to expand the Healthy Corner Store Program.
The reasoning for this effort is simple. Atlantic County is 19th in overall ranking amongst all 21 counties in New Jersey for health. Nearly 35% of the residents in Atlantic City live below the poverty line. Americans living in poverty are more likely to develop a chronic disease, such as obesity. Atlantic City is also considered a food desert. A food desert is an area vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. Unfortunately, many people who live in an area identified as a food desert will obtain their food through local corner stores or bodegas. Food options are usually limited in these stores and available products are normally dense in sugar and fats, while lacking nutritional value. For these reasons, CCCA YMCA and its partners are excited for this opportunity to continue work that was started last year in Atlantic City.
Currently, almost 1,000 students in total from the Atlantic City School District participate in the YMCA’s Healthy U program. CCA YMCA is planning to expand the Healthy U Program to two more Atlantic City schools, doubling the number children that receive education pertaining to being active , health and wellness. As warm weather approaches, Healthy Corner Store ambassadors from the CCA YMCA, with the guidance of the Food Trust, will be taking to the streets of Atlantic City to engage and encourage corner store owners to offer healthier food options in areas where student foot traffic is high.CCA YMCA will also engage corner stores that are identified as WIC participants to ensure that healthful products are available.
On Wednesday August 27th nearly 200 people were on hand for the dedication ceremony for the newest urban community garden and recreation area in Atlantic City. The Hamilton Memorial Community Garden welcomed the residents of Atlantic City and those that had put their time and energy into the project. With a ribbon cutting by local children and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, the garden was celebrated along with the teamwork that brought its creation to be.
Talking with community members, all look forward to gardening at the new and improved site. Winter crops have already been started by seed and with the help of the Community Gardeners, on hand from the Richard Stockton College, they will be transplanted following the harvest of tomatoes and eggplants that are currently thriving. What is not far from everyone’s mind, despite the festivities of a dedication, is how will the garden be sustained in the future? Programming meetings are to be scheduled to discuss what strengths partners can now bring to the project to seek out new gardeners, teach gardening skills, what health messaging can be brought by the way of healthy eating demonstrations, etc. There is more to a garden than wood boxes, dirt and seeds. Partners do not forget that there is a lot of work yet to do!
With that on their minds, the community members and partners celebrated! When asked about what she thought about the project, Ms. Jefferson, an Atlantic City resident stated, “I’m just speechless when I saw this, this afternoon. Kind of brought tears to my eyes because it was a work of heart and work of dedication.”
With 32 community partners sponsoring their time and money to the project, the group was able to construct a playground, garden, gazebo, mural and an outdoor entertainment area.
At the Hamilton Community Garden construction is almost coming to an end. The garden beds have been built, the mulch has been laid. The physical activity and exercise equipment has been installed and awaits final touches. Masonry work continues on the amphitheater and the last brush strokes are being made to the beautiful hand painted garden mural.
As community partners sat together last evening at the weekly garden meeting, the topic of community involvement was discussed. The garden and recreational area has been constructed and now the question is how to have the local residents “buy in” so to speak and use the garden and equipment for what it offers. Who will maintain maintenance of the garden following the last steps of construction? What is the right way to entice their participation? Community partners brainstormed and several ideas were thrown around. The Hamilton United Methodist Church, who hosts the garden’s construction invited partners to their monthly fellowship meeting and weekly bible group to reach out to church members. Garden stewards, on loan from the Richard Stockton College of NJ, will be assisting in reaching out to local groups such as PAL, the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Princesses, an Atlantic City based young women’s group.
Again, partners will come together with those that have responded to these efforts and more program planning will occur. This brainstorming activity has paved the way to seeking out new gardeners and those that will benefit from the Hamilton Community Garden.
Also that evening agreement was met that a dedication ceremony will be held on site at the Hamilton Community Garden on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 from 5-7pm. Atlantic City Mayor
What is the saying? “If you build it, they will come?” Working on a community project, such as a community garden, has proven that it takes a lot more than muscle and labor to create a successful program. Partners meet on a weekly basis to continue discussion around programming and needed maintenance of the garden.