NJHI’s Next Generation Community Leaders Unveil Their Summer 2018 Projects

“Chronic absenteeism is a community health issue. Why are youth absent from school? And from the conversation?”

You could hear a pin drop as one member of the Newark youth team confidently asked this question of everyone in the room. He and his Next Generation Community Leaders (NGCL) teammates then presented the project they will launch next month: a youth-led study to better understand chronic absenteeism in the Newark city schools.

As the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI) launched the NGCL initiative last year, supporting the premise that all youth should have the tools and opportunity to be active partners in building healthier communities for their families, friends and neighbors. Over the past 10 months, more than 150 youth from 11 New Jersey communities have been learning about their communities’ health needs while developing their leadership skills and designing summer projects intended to improve health and well-being. Numerous community conversations and several iterations of logic models culminated in a two-day convening at Rutgers University–Camden. In addition to engaging in fun activities that strengthened this statewide network of young leaders, the youth attended workshops where they honed their communications skills, shared their July projects and learned the importance of casting ballots in local, state, and national elections.

From Atlantic City to Secaucus to Trenton, these Next Generation Community Leaders have partnered with mayors, cross-sector coalitions and other adult stakeholders to design projects that will help build healthier communities and catalyze policy, systems and environmental change. As an example, the Newark youth intend to share their findings and recommendations about chronic absenteeism to improve existing programs in their community.

Below is an overview of the Next Generation Community Leaders teams’ summer projects. Get a statewide view of their progress, and connect with the nearest team at #NJLeaders2030.

    • Atlantic City’s team will partner with local food banks and the Care AC coalition to create a better system for allocating food and promoting food distribution locations.
    • Asbury Park’s team will address summer hunger by opening at least one new feeding site within the community.
    • The Bound Brook team will address traffic safety and enhance their walkable community by installing parklets and murals along Hamilton Street.
    • Bridgeton’s team will address summer hunger by operating a mobile feeding site. View their first post in the NJHI Grantee Blog
    • The team from Camden and Pennsauken will light up their Delaware Gardens neighborhood by working with PSEG, their mayors and local police to replace broken streetlights and beautify public spaces.
    • Elizabeth’s team will conduct home audits for seniors, making sure their homes are physically safe and stocked with food. They will also work with residents to develop an oral history of the city.
    • Newark’s team will research and evaluate chronic absenteeism from a youth perspective, working with youth to learn why they miss school, and develop ideas to improve existing programs intended to address the issue. View their presentation
    • The Paterson team will work to revitalize Costello Park and surrounding areas.

  • Perth Amboy’s team will partner with Rutgers University to complete traffic safety audits, addressing walkability to local parks and to determine the best routes and locations for the Raritan Bay Area YMCA mobile farmers’ market, also known as the “Veggie Van.” View their post in the NJHI Grantee Blog
  • Secaucus’ youth team is partnering with the school district and local businesses to create a composting center and a community awareness campaign to ensure the composting system is sustainable beyond the summer.
  • The Trenton team will focus on mental health, particularly among teens. They will host a mental health awareness event, distribute resources throughout their community and begin the process to formalize a youth advisory council that advocates for better mental health awareness within Trenton schools.

Learn more about the NJHI: Next Generation Community Leaders initiative here.

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