Ready, Set, Go – Beating Obesity in Somerset County!

As we neared the end of our ShapingNJ grant period, just one item remained unchecked on our project list. Two of our three target communities – Bound Brook and Manville – had adopted Complete Streets, and we were pleased to learn that Somerville, the last of our target communities, had placed it on the agenda for their September 8 council meeting. With Healthier Somerset representatives in the audience, the resolution passed and Somerville became the eighth municipality in Somerset County to adopt a Complete Streets resolution. Over one third of Somerset County municipalities are now on board with a commitment to make our roads safer for all those who use them.

When we started our project, we knew that we needed policy change to create an environment that would support healthier lifestyles.  We learned that implementing change takes time, patience, perseverance, and collaboration.

Our Results

We also learned that partnerships not only make the workload easier, they also improve the final product. All of the partners who participated contributed ideas and energy that changed our perspective and helped us meet our objectives in ways that we had not imagined almost a year ago, when we prepared our grant application.

Here’s what we all achieved by working together:

  • “Complete Streets” policies passed in 3 targeted municipalities
  • 16 bicycle racks purchased and distributed in targeted municipalities
  • 300 vouchers distributed for purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables in local farmers  markets
  • 6 nutrition seminars presented; attended by 125 children and adults
  • 140 bus tickets given out for free rides on Somerset County public buses
  • Increased partnerships among county agencies

As we close the chapter on this grant, we would like to recognize all our partners and thank them for their support and contributions:

  • EmPoWER Somerset
  • Morris-Somerset Regional Chronic Disease Coalition
  • NJ SNAP-Ed
  • RideWise TMA
  • RWJUH Somerset
  • Sanofi US
  • Somerset County Food Bank Network
  • Somerset County Health Officers Association
  • Zufall Health Center

Summit Trails Better Than Ever–Take A Hike!

View of the Passaic River from the Summit trail, September 2015

View of the Passaic River from the Summit trail, September 2015

Twelve months after we began, the Summit Passaic River  Park Trail Project is nearing completion. The trail has been mapped by City Engineer Rick Matias and the user-friendly product  placed in a wonderful new kiosk at the trailhead and on the City website under the Environment tab.   Volunteers have installed a sturdy bench at the trailhead, marked the trail with blazes and positioned stepping stones for surer footing where a brook interrupts the trail.

Later this fall, we will begin to plant the native trees and shrubs selected
by B.W. Bosenberg & Co., Landscape Architects, with input from Betty Ann Kelly, the Union County Environmental Specialist.  A rain barrel will be set up  which the City will fill, enabling volunteers to water the plantings.  Finally, the City will furnish and install a bike rack near the gravel parking area on New Providence Avenue.

Blazes mark the
Blazes mark the “Yellow Trail” in Summit

Incredibly, fifty-five individuals donated hundreds of hours to this project, including thirty first-time trail volunteers. Volunteer trail workers have become trail enthusiasts, spreading word about our lovely trails.   In fact, the improved  and more prominent trails are  increasingly popular with Summit residents.

One of our most exciting accomplishments was attracting seventy new hikers to guided trail walks led by Jackie Kondel of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum. We are working with other community groups to implement guided hikes on the trails to replicate this success.

Jewelweed on the trail, September 2015
Jewelweed on the trail, September 2015

In addition to valuable volunteer labor, the original $10,000 grant from the Overlook Medical Center Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative generated over $4,000 of in-kind donations to our project from the City of Summit, B.W. Bosenberg & Co., Union County, Cording Landscape Design, and the Reeves-Reed Arboretum. The project also renewed  interest in the trails among local Boy Scouts. Two Summit Scouts are currently at work on more  improvements to earn their Eagle Scout awards.   These Scouts  will be adding another kiosk, stepping stones and more blazes.

The Passaic River trail in Summit is better than ever. Go take a hike!

Bike Racks and Healthy Food Will Improve Community Health in Somerset County

Healthier Somerset presented the last of its nutrition seminars last week. Children and adults of all ages attended the Bound Brook session, which featured fun and informative games about nutritious foods, smoothie and salad demonstrations and sampling, and information about public transportation options.

EmPoWER Somerset and Zufall Health Centers partnered with NJ SNAP-Ed to plan and implement the seminars.  RideWise TMA presented the transportation information and provided bus tickets purchased with ShapingNJ grant funds.

Our Complete Streets component is moving along nicely. Bound Brook, the most recent of the three boroughs to adopt the program, will install its just-delivered bike racks shortly.

We think the bike racks look like little robots!

More good news — Manville has adopted a “Complete Streets” policy! They will receive their bike racks soon.

We’re now at 7 municipalities (one-third of Somerset County) that have passed a resolution of support for the program.  Our final ShapingNJ grant partner, Somerville, will vote on a Complete Streets resolution at its meeting on Tuesday, September 8.  We’ll be there to support passage of the resolution!

A Successful Mid-Year Meeting for ShapingNJ Healthy Communities!

Event photo

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.