Having grown up, attended school, and lived in Toms River for over 30 years, you could say there is a special place in my heart for this community. When I was asked to represent Hackensack Meridian Health’s Integrative Health and Medicine program on the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition, naturally, I was honored and up for the challenge.
While this coalition has identified quite a few issues that Toms River faces, as well as potential solutions, in our upcoming blueprint for action, I believe that an upstream approach to wellness is as important as individual mental health challenges and substance abuse needs in the community. While our subgroups address these needs, an overarching theme of wellness fits across all of these focus areas.
Many call themselves “healthy,” making statements such as “I got my flu shot – I’m healthy,” “I don’t have a cold – I’m healthy,” and “I eat my veggies – I’m healthy.” This is what I grew up knowing as the definition of health: “I’m not sick. Therefore, I’m healthy.”
Not so. The World Health Organization defined health in 1948 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
While we need to address the critical issues and treat those affected, we also need to teach the current and next generation how to swing the pendulum in the other direction and move toward awareness, education and growth to achieve ultimate wellness as a community. This will ensure that there will be less chronic illness, food insecurity, senior isolation and substance abuse – because it’s all connected. An overall wellness initiative works across a continuum to impact all of the challenges that Toms River faces and ensures a lasting healthy future.
It all begins with making the healthy choice the easy choice. The people of Toms River want to be happy and healthy. We can start with promoting the definition of health, then offer education, meet people where they are by refreshing our parks and making them more accessible to encourage community members to participate in physical activities. We can appeal to businesses to provide healthier choices, offer programs, collaborate and partner with our coalition. The possibilities are endless. We need to consider sustainability in our work – that what we are doing will last. We need to address the underlying challenges that prevent our community members from the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. We need to rally together to be the healthiest community in NJ. And we will.
Partner with us to build a healthier Toms River by connecting with our project director, Peter Rosario, here.