Playing on the theme of the renown book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” of growth and tenacity, Mildred Helms Park is a jewel in the city. Mildred Helms Park, in Newark’s predominantly African-American and Latino South Ward, lacked playground equipment and suffered from the common urban blight of discarded needles, addicts and street crime. Still, for some 2,400 neighborhood children, including 300 kids from the adjacent elementary school, there was nowhere else to play. In response to the dire need for safe, healthy places for kids to be active, the Trust for Public Land spearheaded an effort to revitalize the 3.3-acre park.
After an extensive design process and fundraising effort, the new Mildred Helms Park broke ground in 2005. Before the revitalization effort, all that remained of the original park was an old shuffleboard court and some concrete tables. New landscaping was installed and additional lighting was placed to address safety concerns. TPL cultivated a sense of community ownership by bringing local parents, pastors, teachers and school children into the design process from the start. Partnerships were also forged with several city agencies, including the police and parks and recreation departments. The Mildred Helms Resurrection Committee, composed of local activists and volunteers, is helping to steer the effort.
The Mildred Helms Park project is a unique example of successful private and public funding. TPL worked with the city to win part of a $1 million National Park Service grant from the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program, along with a $175,000 grant from New Jersey’s Green Acres program. Several private organizations provided funding, including the Prudential and Victoria Foundations, For All Kids and the Health Care Foundation of New Jersey.
It is because of the park committee’s plan to turn what was blight into a beautiful space the reason Mildred Helms Park was chosen to house a family friendly “Fitness Zone”. The fitness zone will include at least 5 areas of fitness equipment for all ages to use. Our hope is to get more residents more physically active in local parks.
The term “Food Desert” is often used to describe the food environment in Newark. It paints a grim picture of the scarcity and inaccessibility of food, most often healthy food in the city. Over the years supermarkets have come and gone, leaving residents with limited places to shop for food. However, despite this fact, there are some food stores in Newark that offer a great deal of healthier food options.
One Newark corner store that offers a variety of fresh produce is Nativo Deli & Grocery. One shopper mentioned that they “come to this store at least twice a week…it is walking distance from my place and they offer produce. Most of the stores around here do not, not as much as they do”. We’re happy to showcase one of the stores that is a part of the Healthy Corner Store movement in Newark.
Prodigal Sons and Daughters Redirection Services, Inc. can finally see the light at the end of the long tunnel that was winter! While we can’t throw our coats into storage just yet, it seems as though Mother Nature has heard our pleas. There’s an old axiom that goes, “March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb” that kept our frosty New Jersey hearts going. But unfortunately for us, March definitely did not go out like a lamb.
Though our calendars announced the arrival of spring, the weather refused to calm down. In that regard, we’ve been waiting for the weather to warm up before we start any gardening related activities.
So we’ve been focusing on taking care of the behind-the-scenes details of scheduling events with our various community partners and their respective organizations. There can never be too many hands involved when cultivating a community garden and so we are happy that we’re strengthening our community bonds with volunteers from International Youth Organization, Newark Community Solutions, our neighborhood Home Depot, and the Public Relations Department of the Newark Fire Department as well. We’re happy to count these various organizations as part of our allies, and will continue to develop relationships with other like-minded groups to help us increase awareness for this important cause.
Slowly but surely the weather seems to be warming up and with that, we’ll be able to get into the nitty gritty of getting seeds into the Earth. But for now, we’re content to enjoy the sunshine as it comes, and even the rain showers that have arrived with April’s arrival.
Look at how happy this Prodigal Kid was after transplanting her sprout from its starter container to our garden.
Last year, Prodigal Sons & Daughters Redirection Services Inc. was selected as one of 18 Community Pilots tasked with advocating healthy lifestyle choices throughout a variety of locations in New Jersey. Taking into consideration that our two Adopt-a-Lots turned community gardens are located in the Central Ward of Newark, we pride ourselves on the selection of our organization for such an honor.
Prodigal Sons & Daughters is proud to announce the addition of a 3rd site to be transformed into a community garden. With the help of our Garden Coordinator (and Development Director) Wanda Upshaw, and the tender love and care of our Master Gardener, Walter Barry, we look forward to providing our neighbors with their choice of fresh produce at no charge.
When we started our mission last year, we had no way of knowing what the end result would be, but we knew the only thing we could do was work with the tools that we were given. Mobilizing the strength of our relationships, Prodigal Sons & Daughters was lucky to have partnered with many organizations, including our community partners and friends from International Youth Organization (Newark chapter), Newark Community Solutions, and even members of the Newark Fire Department. We are all too familiar with the saying that “It takes a village” and we anticipate all the wonderful work we’ll accomplish with the help of the hands that have come together to support us in this important endeavor the second time around!
We will do our best to serve as responsible role models and look forward to sharing our joys, successes and shortcomings with you in the months to come. Feel free to share with us any tips or tricks you use to keep yourself at optimal health! And as always, we welcome your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Places of worship play prominent, influential roles in the City of Newark. Creating a culture of wellness in houses of worship and beyond, increasing opportunities for healthy eating and active living will require the pivotal leadership of Newark’s faith communities. The Newark YMCA along with The New Jersey Partnership with Healthy Kids-Newark are happy to collaborate with Gethsemane Baptist Church, Welcome Baptist, and First Tabernacle to support health and wellness activities within their churches.
To assist these churches, the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark is working to reduce health disparities in our communities, increasing physical activity programs and promoting healthier eating habits. Some of the projects we’re seeking to highlight include a Senior Walking Club, The SWAG Project: A Community Garden and creating a Health and Wellness Policy that will require training and health education of food staff. Forging a strong relationship with our houses of worship is essential to creating healthier environments for people to live and thrive in Newark.