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

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!

Launching Healthier Somerset’s Nutrition Seminars!

Summer is here, and the Healthier Somerset ShapingNJ team is harvesting the fruit that’s grown from the seeds sown during the months of planning!  We have presented three nutrition seminars, and the remaining two are scheduled for July 16 and July 20.

EmPoWER Somerset and Zufall Health Centers partnered with NJ SNAP to plan and implement the seminars, which focused on summer salad and smoothie recipes.






These photos are from our second nutrition seminar, held June 25 at the Ben Maggio Center in Bound Brook. Nineteen adults and six children attended. We distributed 16 farmer’s market vouchers, one for each of the family units present. The seminar was so well received that the Center invited us to come back and do an additional presentation there.

Along the way, we’ve become more efficient at preparing for and presenting the programs. Since all of the food used is fresh, shopping and food prep must be done only hours before the program is presented. Since the food is perishable, it must be consumed or distributed, rather than kept for the next program.

We’ve also been able to tie the nutrition and transportation components together nicely.  At the end of the nutrition component of the seminar, our partner from RideWise gave a short presentation about the county buses and transportation in the area. RideWise distributed a bus ticket to each family unit, and we hope to purchase more tickets with remaining ShapingNJ grant funds to distribute at the remaining seminars.

More good news is that the borough of Bound Brook has adopted a “Complete Streets” policy!  This makes them the sixth Somerset County municipality to pass a resolution of support for the program, and the 119th municipality/county to pass a resolution in New Jersey. They will now receive bike racks, which we hope to have installed by the end of August. Hopefully this will encourage our two remaining municipalities to take similar action!

Launching Healthier Somerset’s Nutrition Seminars!

After months of planning, Healthier Somerset is just a few weeks away from launching the nutrition seminars that are a key focus of our ShapingNJ grant activities.

EmPoWER Somerset and Zufall Health Centers have partnered with NJ SNAP to plan and implement the seminars, which will focus on summer salad and smoothie recipes. Our seminars begin in Somerville on June 23.

Here is a complete schedule and listing of locations:

  • June 23 Emmanuel Church, Somerville 12:00 – 1:00 pm
    (Spanish translator present)
  • June 25 Ben Maggio Center, Bound Brook 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
    (Spanish translator present)
    Click here for more information:   Nutrition Workshop Flyer
  • June 30 Emmanuel Church, Somerville 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
  • July 16 Manville Library, Manville 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
  • July 20 Manville Library, Manville 11:00 am – 12:00 noon

EmPoWER Somerset has designed vouchers for distribution to attendees at the seminars.  The vouchers are good for $15 toward the purchase of fruits, vegetables, and eggs at four vendors in farmers markets in our three target communities of Bound Brook, Manville, and Somerville.  The vouchers are printed in a bilingual version (English and Spanish, and a total of 400 will be distributed.  We are grateful to our participating farmers: Country Stand Farm, Norz Hill Farm, Malanga Farms, and Whistling Wolf Farm.

  farmers market organic signfarmers market stand1

Conducting the seminars and distributing the vouchers fulfills a major piece of our proposal.  We’ve learned along the way that communication and cooperation have been essential to achieving our goals, as well as flexibility and ingenuity when the original plans sometimes have to be adapted.

The second part of our project – adoption of the “Complete Streets” policy in our three target communities – is proving to be more challenging.  “Complete Streets” has been a primary policy objective of Healthier Somerset since 2010.  In all, five Somerset County municipalities have adopted “Complete Streets,” with the most recent municipality (Far Hills Borough) signing on after attending a Healthier Somerset policy seminar.

One of our three communities is preparing to vote on a resolution of support, and another has formed an advisory committee to study the issue.  We are still conducting outreach and information activities in the remaining town, and hopefully we will see progress there soon.

Creating Partnerships to Build Success

The power of partnership is proving to be a key factor in building success for Healthier Somerset’s ShapingNJ projects to combat obesity and associated diseases and promote healthier lifestyles.

We chose farmers’ markets in our three target communities of Bound Brook, Manville, and Somerville as vehicles to promote affordable, healthy choices for local produce.  We are coordinating with downtown management associations, vendors, and municipal departments that coordinate the markets to accept vouchers to purchase healthy items at the markets, and we are looking into avenues of distribution for the vouchers.

We’ve made great progress in scheduling our nutrition seminars.  In Bound Brook, we’re collaborating with the borough’s Recreation Department to host one seminar and a local school may host an additional workshop.  In Manville we’ll hold the seminar at the public library, and in Somerville at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

The seminars will demonstrate how easy and inexpensive it can be to make smoothies and salads.  Zufall Health Centers and EmPoWER identified a nutritionist from NJ SNAP who will present the seminars at no charge.

We’ve had opportunities to create new partnerships throughout this process.  The Somerset County Food Bank Network donated 150 thermal lunch bags that we will give to our seminar attendees.  The bags were donated to the Food Bank Network by Sanofi, the global pharmaceutical company that is headquartered in Somerset County.

The second part of our project focuses on adoption of the “Complete Streets” policy in the three towns to encourage safe and accessible accommodations for all users of existing and future pedestrian, bicycle, and transit facilities.  Creating sound public policy is never easy, and municipal departments and elected bodies don’t always make decisions with the speed or predictability that we would like to see.  Our previous policy outreach through Healthier Somerset and RideWiseTMA has established relationships with local governing officials and staff who have brought in additional municipal departments and entities involved in the decision to adopt a “Complete Streets” resolution.  We’re glad that we can be part of the education process on the benefits of “Complete Streets”, and we’re optimistic about moving the policy forward in our three towns.