I am writing this blog on such a high!  Just back from our Shaping Elizabeth Work Group Meeting.

I wish I could pass the good vibes that I am feeling through the blog.  The conversations, honesty, successes and commitment that were shared were both rewarding and exhilarating.

At the meeting the Playstreets Team and Corner Store Team shared their success, challenges, plans for the future and a call for action with the group through pictures, anecdotes, data and stories.  Below is a link to lessons learned and future planning for our playstreets initiative.  Next year bigger and better is already in planning stages.  Healthy Stores is plugging along and 2 organizations signed on to support the project with stores in their area that they have relationships with.  Dates were set to make those connections.

We also shared our nutrition education program “Eat Healthy, Be Active Community Workshops” coming this fall.  A nutritionist will be hired next week and organization has already signed up to provide space and most importantly people to attend.  This program is funded through The Elizabethtown Healthcare Grant.

In 9 months we have formed “working collaborations” not just paper collaborations that benefited the community.  Playstreets brought together City of Elizabeth, The Gateway Family YMCA, 3 council people, 1 Freeholder, WellCare Inc., Union County Community Food Bank, City of Elizabeth Health Department and several organizations in participation, in-kind support and donations Sept WG DAC 2 Sept WG DAC 4

Shaping Elizabeth Partners understanding how to work better together.

Shaping Elizabeth Partners understanding how to work better together.

Impacting over 350 children and adults with 3 play streets.  In addition we feel we can use the Playstreets events as a model of engagement and a change agent for the community.

Currently we have 1 Corner Store Signed up and 2 more in the works.  We also received a grant from the Food Trust to be able to supply nutrition education, taste testings and equipment to committed owners.

We shared an exercise from our Robert Wood Johnson Center for Creative Leadership Training on Direction, Commitment and Alignment.  The discussion that followed and the information from the team was inspiring and will help set future direction.

My final thought comes from one of our participants, I am paraphrasing: She stated that Shaping Elizabeth was her community team of choice to attend – she went on to say – the spirit of collaboration, the support for each other and the meeting organization was valued by her and her organization.

What could be better than that! Can You Feel it!

Shaping Elizabeth Celebrating Playstreets Lesson Learned




Residents of Elizabeth enjoyed our second play street July 20th in Midtown Elizabeth.

The pictures and videos tell the story:

Stan Neuron, City of Elizabeth along with Council Members William Gallman, Jr 5th Ward and Carlos Torres, 1st Ward and Donald Johnson welcome everyone to Shaping Elizabeth Play Street.

Stan Neuron, City of Elizabeth along with Council Members William Gallman, Jr 5th Ward and Carlos Torres, 1st Ward and Donald Johnson welcome everyone to Shaping Elizabeth Play Street.

Safety first.  Over 50 kids received helmets from

Safety first. Over 50 kids received helmets from “Safe Kids Program” Children’s Specialized Hospital.IMG_1342

YMCA Staff Leo and Rafael help the kids

YMCA Staff Leo and Rafael help the kids “Get Physical”.

You Go Girl!

Lets Get Loose!

The Day Begins!

Congratulations to Emily’s Supermarket in Elizabeth 


Our First Healthy Corner Store Enrollment!

Our First Healthy Corner Store Enrollment!

Emilys Corner Store

A team from Shaping Elizabeth including: Priscilla Machado, Bayway Family Success Center, Jonathan Phillips and Rocio Morales, Groundwork Elizabeth, Karen Ensle, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Alane McCahey, The Gateway Family YMCA accompanied by Anna Ramos, NJ Corner Store Initiative set out into Elizabeth to visit 3 stores.

Anna was a great teacher and helped us get started.  Priscilla had scouted a couple of stores in Bayway. Emily’s Supermarket in the Bayway area next to Mrvalag Housing and School #5 was excited to sign up.  Storeowner Daniel Bernal has been involved with healthy corner stores in Newark and was ready to sign on immediately.  With intake form complete Priscilla and Alane will be visiting the store in 2 weeks to supply healthy signage and learn what 4 healthy changes the store has made.  We are hoping they may choose a healthy snack option and maybe some whole wheat bread.


Shaping Elizabeth’s organizational strategy supports the way we work together to complete the goals of our projects.  The Active Living Work Group is leading our Play Streets project and Access to Healthy Foods is leading the Corner Store Initiative. Due to this structure we have had the ability to engage many partners in order to achieve success.

Krishna Garlic, Director of Health & Human Services, City of Elizabeth is the leader of the Active Living Work Group and along with Michael Johnson, Director of Association Initiatives, The Gateway Family YMCA have been working together with several organization to plan and implement 3 Play Streets in Elizabeth.  Krishna’s leadership has led to connections with all 3 council people in each Ward who not only support the events with their time and presence, all have also agreed to match a bicycle donation for a raffle.  WellCare Health Plans would donate 3 bikes if we could find a match.  The council people also were instrumental in finding locations in each of their Ward areas.

The Community Food Bank of New Jersey will donate water and fresh fruit for each event and each partner is donating water as well. The City of Elizabeth has agreed to support the event through staffing, police and emergency personal as well as shirts for the event.  It is our hope that Mayor Bollwage will attend.

The goal of the Play Streets is to engage both adults and children to get active.  In that spirit we will use a “bingo card” for event participation that can be submitted for raffle prizes for both adults and children.  We want to see everyone participate.

Attached is our Play Streets flyer. Shaping Elizabeth Playstreets

Jonathan Phillips, Executive Director, Groundwork Elizabeth and Karen Ensle, Family & Community Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension are Leaders of our Healthy Foods Work Group.  At the first organizational meeting the team reviewed the list of stores provided by the City of Elizabeth Health Officer Mark Colicchio and decided on parameters for engagement: size of store (smaller square footage locations), willingness of owners to change, location of store (near a school or housing authority) and current inventory.  Each participant agreed to visit stores, take a picture and asses current offerings. The next planning meeting is scheduled for May 27th, 7-8 stores will be selected for further engagement.

Both projects are progressing.  The Play Streets Program has moved at a quick pace due to the leadership and support of the City of Elizabeth. The biggest challenge is deciding on the need for people to sign a waiver or release to attend the event which may limit children participating alone.  The Corner Store Initiative is progressing and now that the Healthy Food Work Group has assumed leadership implementation of initiative is off and running. Time is always our biggest challenge.

Shaping Elizabeth is very fortunate to have the City of Elizabeth’s support for both of these projects.  The resources and connections that have been facilitated have lead to increased support from City of Elizabeth Council People as well as city services.  The Mayor of Elizabeth supports both of these projects in a large part due to the advocacy for our work by Ms. Garlic.  In the future, this should prove invaluable when moving to sustainable policy and environmental changes.

Excitement in Elizabeth: Partners in Action!

 A World Wind of Activity for Shaping Elizabeth Team

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation came for our site visit for the Healthy Communities grant on April 15, 2015 at The Gateway Family YMCA.  Seven members of the RWJ NJHI Team were welcomed by twelve members of our Executive Leadership Team and YMCA CEo, Krystal R. Canady.  The animated discussion was exciting and allowed us to reflect on the past two year’s accomplishments, most importantly we were able to envision our future.

Freeholder Granados SE 4-16-15 3

Freeholder Sergio Granados addresses Shaping Elizabeth about concerns in Neighborhood Parks.

At the Shaping Elizabeth April Work Group Meeting Krishna Garlic, City of Elizabeth brought a “Surprise” Guest.  Freeholder Sergio Granados arrived to discuss needed changes and renovations to Mattano Park.  The importance of this environmental change is twofold: 1) the families in the BaywayCommunity (Mrvalag Housing) will have a safe, working park for physical activity 2) Shaping Elizabeth influenced this change – working together with  Joe McTernan, Trinitas Regional Medical Center to support the residents of Mrvalag for healthy living.  In 2013 in partnership with Bayway Family Success Center families were interviewed to discuss barriers for health eating and physical activity.  Mattano Park adjacent to the housing complex was perceived as unsafe for their kids to play.  The park is not a city park so it was difficult to affect change from that vantage point.  Krishna spoke with Freeholder Granados.  He came to our meeting to let us know changes would be made in the next year and half. Feedback from our team indicated the need for immediate changes.It was agreed in July we would schedule a “playstreet” in the park. The Freeholder and his staff would support and attend.  The park would receive some immediate clean up and security.The long term project would be outlined at the event.  A great win for the community.

Anna Ramos NJ Food Trust  Speaks to Shaping Elizabeth about Corner Store Initiative.

Anna Ramos NJ Food Trust Speaks to Shaping Elizabeth about Corner Store Initiative.

In March, Anna Ramos from NJ Food Trust shared information about the Corner Store Initiative.  At our April meeting our Healthy Nutrition Work Group led by Jonathan Philips Groundwork Elizabeth and Karen Ensle, Rutgers Cooperative Extension planned phase 1 action steps including: indentifying team members to take pictures of corner stores and bodegas in 3 target areas: Bayway, Elizabethport and Midtown Elizabeth and use the assessment guide to identify stores ready to make some changes to be healthier.  We will meet on May to review locations and select stores for engagement.

In addition the following occurred:

Planning for play streets enticed Well Care Health Care, to provide bikes for a raffle and the City health department will supply 75 bike helmets.

Our School Wellness Work Group will partner with Healthy U schools and the Elizabeth Public Schools to provide an end of year Health Fair with activities and information.

Our Community Wellness Team now combined with the Trinitas Community Advisory team is planning for moving people from Emergency Room visits for primary care to primary care physicians.

Partners:  Prevention Links and Well Care Health Plans are working together to plan activities and programs to support change through the Bayway Family Success Center.

Partners are highlighted above in addition: Proceed, Inc. Community Food Bank of NJ, Elizabeth Neighborhood Health Center, United Way of Greater Union County, Elizabeth Housing Authority, Elizabethport Presbyterian Center, EatWell, Jefferson Park Pre School, YWCA Union County and community members.

Key Decision makers are engaged in various ways: Invited to attend a community forum, SE meetings, email, letters but the most impactful method is face to face conversations with passionate team members.

Shaping Elizabeth Members Get Active Walking with Leslie Sanson in March.

Shaping Elizabeth Members Get Active Walking with Leslie Sanson in March.

Partner websites:

www.tgfymca.org   www.hacenj.com   www.groundworkelizabeth.com   www.proceedinc.com   www.getmovinggetheatlhynj.rutgersedu            www.uwguc.org       www.elizabethnj.org      www.cfbnj.org  www.trinitashospital.org  www.ywcaunioncounty.org  www.preventionlinks.org  www.eportcenter.org  www.jeffersonparkpreschool.org      www.ywcaunioncounty.org  www.wellcare.com


Taking Steps for Healthy Elizabeth

In 2015 Shaping Elizabeth realized it was important to “spread our wings” a little and move out into the broader community.  Over the last 2 years we learned that health eating was affected by several variables one of which was access to stores with healthy options at affordable prices.  Although the City of Elizabeth has not been designated a “Food Dessert” Community Commons mapping (See Food environment Map) indicates most of Elizabeth residents have limited access to healthy food and the Elizabethport area has no healthy retail options.  These communities are served by corner stores and Bodegas. Our Corner Store Initiative will identify stores in 3 designated areas of Elizabeth “Midtown”, Elizabethport and Bayway.  All have low economic environments with limited access to healthy retail options. We will map: all stores, WIC stores, schools and low-income housing projects and choose stores close to schools or housing authorities with a focus on WIC stores.  Our goal is to choose 3 stores in 2015 to partner with.  The stores will sign a Memorandum of Understanding and chose to add 4 healthy choices along with marketing materials and education on healthy eating for the community. Lack of physical activity is another concern for Elizabeth Residents.  Through discussions with community members and leaders along with data there are several factors we will try to impact with our Play Streets project. People are unaware of the resources in Elizabeth including recreation centers, parks and special activities.  Adults have very little leisure time.  Community Commons mapping (No Leisure Time Ma) shows over 31% of the community indicate they have no leisure time.  In order to increase activity and engage people in the conversation 4 play streets are planned for June-September.  We will target one play street in each of our target areas and schedule 1 activity at a recreation center or park.  At each event we will engage with a minimum of 75 families.  Through fun, education and social media we hope to impact physical activity by increased usage of Elizabeth parks and recreation centers. Elizabeth Food EnviornmentNo Leisure Time

Alane McCahey, Michael Johnson, Mark Colicchio and Corey Wu-Jung had a great learning experience at the NJ Corner Store Training.

Alane McCahey, Michael Johnson, Mark Colicchio and Corey Wu-Jung had a great learning experience at the NJ Corner Store Training.