New Jersey Health Initiatives - A Better State of Health
A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
NJHI Presents “The Balancing Act of Planning, Partners, Programs and Policy” at the Building a Culture of Health in NJ: Thriving Communities Transform Lives Conference
November 19, 2018


As the November 28, 2018 Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey: Thriving Communities Transform Lives conference approaches, New Jersey Health Initiatives is looking forward to a great morning panel conversation on the Balancing Act of Planning, Partners, Programs and Policy.

To give registrants a preview, NJHI Deputy Director of Programs Diane Hagerman sat down with Raritan Bay YMCA President/CEO and Healthier Perth Amboy Project Director Steve Jobin, the Gateway Family YMCA Senior Director of Community Initiatives and Shaping Elizabeth Community Health Initiative Director Alane McCahey and Healthy Places by Design Collaborative Learning Director Joanne Lee to discuss the inspiration behind the topic.

Diane: In our work today, where health is all-encompassing, social determinants have as much affect as clinical aspects and chronic conditions, and it seems everyone is focused on policy, systems and environmental changes, it is still vitally important to provide programs and services throughout our communities to ensure everyone is able to live the healthiest life possible. What has been a key lesson for your community coalition partners in balancing the long-term focus on policy change without sacrificing the day-to-day planning and program delivery?

Alane: The Shaping Elizabeth team has worked diligently to provide sustainable changes. We have found we need to continuously redirect how we work. Our focus has always been support for healthy eating, physical activity and clinical care in order to reduce obesity and chronic disease. That hasn’t changed, and we know we can reach the community through programs, education, workshops and information via social media. As an example, we have had to redirect our work in regard to food insecurity. This has led to a greater focus on policy, including changes to community food bank choices and vendor expansion, training for food pantry providers in order to offer healthier options, expanding our Mobile Market, and focusing on partnerships with owners of large stores to share in the work of making healthy foods more affordable, available and accessible.

Steve: About halfway through our work under the NJHI: Communities Moving to Action initiative, Healthier Perth Amboy leadership realized that although most of our goals were measurable, they were not sustainable because they did not provide upstream solutions to health problems in Perth Amboy. That is why last spring we completely remodeled our Blueprint to promote sustainable, upstream solutions. We took a deep look into what we were already doing day-to-day and thought of ways to make this work sustainable, with an overarching goal in mind for each initiative.

Diane: How does your coalition maintain momentum in both aspects of this work to advance health and equity?

AM: Our coalition meetings provide opportunities for sharing and discussion among the partners. These opportunities are intentional and transparent about direction, and at the end of each meeting, we ask questions about what is and isn’t working as a means of evaluation. The Executive Committee sets and monitors our strategic direction, and networking and partnership to meet our goals are our priority. Our Partnership Agreement provides clarity on how we are to work together emphasizing shared leadership, data and resources.

SJ: Equity is laced into all of Healthier Perth Amboy’s work. Our leadership team understands that some residents find it more difficult to reach their desired level of health than others. This can be due to several different dimensions of diversity: age, race and economic status, to name a few. Healthier Perth Amboy works hard to really target these community members who feel forgotten. For example, we set up an entrepreneurial high school project to combat food deserts. High school students sold healthy smoothies in a nearby food desert. In addition, since most residents are forced to do their food shopping in corner stores or bodegas due to lack of transportation, we partnered with corner stores and bodegas to bring healthy food to residents. That work included installing refrigerators and shelves so the store owners can sell healthier options. Currently we are in the works of teaming up with a representative from Goya Foods to bring additional healthy options to the bodegas. We are also working on connecting the local community gardens to the bodegas, so that once a week, customers can have the option of buying locally grown produce.

Diane: Healthy Places By Design, a strategic partner for communities and those who invest in them, is helping turn visions of health into equitable and lasting impact. Joanne, from a national perspective, what practices have you identified among cross-sector community coalitions that are incorporating policy-, systems-, and environmental change goals in their work?

 JL: Healthy Places by Design has had the privilege of working with successful community coalitions and initiatives for more than a dozen years. Our experiences over this time deepened our organization’s understanding of the community change process and what it takes for coalitions to create meaningful change in their communities. These Essential Practices include:

  • An intentional focus on health equity with policies and practices providing a foundation for moving closer to the goal of allowing community members to achieve their full health potential,
  • Authentic community engagement which values the lived experiences of community members and enables them to lead change processes, and
  • Sustainable thinking as an ongoing process and with a broad view of social, environmental, and economic assets within a community.

These Essential Practices can be interwoven by coalitions as they implement programmatic strategies that produce quick wins and mid-term milestones, as well as longer-term and sustainable policy, systems, and environmental strategies.

Diane: The work in Elizabeth and Perth Amboy certainly reflects these Essential Practices.

AM: Recently, the City of Elizabeth asked Shaping Elizabeth to participate in the redevelopment of the Master Plan. Our team had to be ready to provide information, data and expertise that would focus on the community’s health through healthy eating, physical activity and clinical care. We learned that when a change becomes available, we need to be ready. Having the ability to provide data to support direction and recommended policy changes is also important.

In addition, we are working to provide opportunities for Elizabeth’s community members to have a say in the changes they want to see, and we offer tools and support to the community to engage government and institutions.

SJ: Unsafe and substandard housing is a huge problem in Perth Amboy. Originally in our Blueprint we were going to conduct lead assessments and hold workshops, but we realized that would just be putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. In order to really fix the problem, we need to have the whole city rallying around the idea of policy change – the ultimate “Upstream Solution.” Now, along with the workshops and assessments we will hold, we plan to research substandard housing in Perth Amboy and create and implement a new housing element within the city’s master plan. 

Hear more and participate in the conversation at Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey: Thriving Communities Transform Lives on Wednesday, November 28, 2018 during the 10:35 a.m. morning workshop session. Register for the conference by clicking here

New Jersey Health Initiatives is a sponsor of Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey: Thriving Communities Transform Lives.
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