When the City of Garfield discovered that the number of obese or overweight children in town exceeded the national average by 5 percent, leaders knew something had to be done to help families become more active. Here children enjoy the Garfield Pool
Garfield is known as a “City of Champions.” Therefore it’s only natural that we are committed to being a model community, building on our accomplishments and making future plans to create a healthier community.
We joined the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign in May 2005 because we saw childhood obesity with our own eyes. Statistically, we learned that 25 percent of children in the City of Garfield are either obese or overweight, exceeding the national average by 5 percent. We knew something had to be done to help families become more active.
Within a month, Darleen Reveille, Garfield’s Public Health Nurse established a multi-sector Childhood Obesity Intervention Taskforce, a wide alliance of public and private partners which included the public schools, The Garfield YMCA, AMERIGROUP Community Care, Hackensack University Medical Center, William Paterson University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Bergen County Community Action Partnership, Inc. and The Partnership for Community Health, Inc.
Thomas Duch, the City Manager, described the Mayors Wellness Campaign as “a unifying force” for the city that has generated an enthusiastic response and a major boost for the role of the Health Department. Together, the taskforce created the F.U.N. (Fitness, Unity and Nutrition) Program to serve as the theme to build programs to improve community health. Our City Council recognized the need for great outdoor facilities as well. Our first project was the 2005 Walk at Work event that earned us an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Bergen County Department of Health and the Partnership for Community Health, Inc. Garfield increased participation each year by providing incentives, such as water bottles, visors and T-shirts.
When you take into consideration that Garfield is less than 2.2 square miles with a population of nearly 30,000, we have an unusually large number of recreational spaces for a city our size. These include walking paths, nine parks, a YMCA, a Recreation Center and a Boys and Girls Club. The existing infrastructure provides an excellent foundation for the F.U.N. program and offers access to all our residents, many of whom cannot afford to join gyms or purchase exercise equipment.
Children enjoy the Jewell Street Playground in Garfield
The Taskforce felt it was critical to communicate to all families about the available health and wellness resources in Garfield. Through a grant from the Leader’s Academy (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services), we were able to design the F.U.N. logo and the F.U.N.: Community Health Resource, a tool to connect the community to resources for information on counseling, healthy living and teaching tools. These resources will be mailed to all students’ families at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, and annually, if possible. We will also distribute the F.U.N. brochure through agencies that promote nutrition and physical fitness. The Department of Health will send out the brochures to all resident new moms with information on the well-baby clinic and other services. We’ve also replicated the brochure in a poster that can be made available to schools, libraries, YMCA, social service agencies and The Garfield Housing Authority.
Rehabilitating Dundee Dam
We are improving the walkability of our community in four ways. City Engineer Kevin Boswell is completing construction drawings for our historic Dundee Dam area that will include new lighting, a City Clock, memorialized historic features, a walkway along River Drive, a walkway at the top of the riverbank, an observation deck reaching out on to the river itself and three parking areas for easy access. This project required rehabilitating the dam to be sure that any possible failure can be detected early. The New Jersey State Green Acres Program was a major funder for this project.
We also are opening a new multi-sport astroturf field for Belmont Oval Park. The new park will include the field, bleachers and pedestrian walkways along the entire park, a new parking lot and storage and restroom facilities. Anthony Furfaro, Director of Parks and Recreation assures me that this park will decrease maintenance costs, increase access for the disabled and reduce injuries due to the softer cushion, flat surface and vertical drainage. The city is also reviewing proposals for some very innovative exercise equipment to place along the walking paths.
With the support of Bergen County Open Space Land Trust and the Green Acres Program, we are improving Dahnert’s Lake to allow residents to play, ice skate and enjoy the view of the water. A gazebo, benches, new lighting and a pathway along the lake are being constructed with many landscaping improvements. We are pleased to be able to add a multi-purpose sports rink with bleachers replacing some bocce courts.
Walk and Bike to School
Most importantly, for our kids, we are strongly committed to improving ways for them to walk and bike to school. We have applied for funding to improve a dangerous area that now forces our kids to walk along a busy street that is made more dangerous by the presence of a train crossing on the way to our new middle school. We are also building a public education program in partnership with the North Jersey Media Group Foundation to create, publish and distribute a special newspaper insert on safe walking and bicycling strategies that align with New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Standards.
Our schools are more active than ever. We are an Abbott and an Urban Aid School District with 66 different languages spoken by the students. Our school district is evaluating an innovative new health and wellness curriculum for pre-school through sixth grade. In addition, the successful girls program from Trenton High School called “Teen Esteem” may be adapted for our new middle school. We are considering computerizing the students’ height and weight data in our database so that we can see if the programs we are implementing reduce obesity rates over time.
RAMS Teachers train to prepare to lead Garfield's Summer Camp program
Through our collaboration with The Ramapo College of New Jersey, the unique RAMS Camp, the Ramapo and Meadowlands Survival Camp, was piloted this past summer using Garfield educators and students. The goal of that program is to prepare students to survive in any environment by eating nutritious food and conditioning the body and mind for any challenges. A total of 45 students, teachers and school nurses, from Garfield’s School District participated in the pilot project, which was modeled after a team survival camp. The teachers experienced the entire program as a train-the-trainer the first week. During the second week, the students were divided into teams that competed in challenges for survival points. Challenges included “Where is the Fat?” “Rate Your Plate” and “RAMS Survival March,” a three-mile scavenger hunt, where along the way they answered questions related to a healthy lifestyle. At the end of the camp, the teams with the highest survival points received prizes.
The participants evaluated each component through a positive or negative grade. Teachers modeled activities that they can do in their classrooms and were provided a RAMS Camp survival journal for use during the school year. It is anticipated that the RAMS curriculum and augmenting activities will be integrated into the math and science curricula and expanded to the after care and summer programs.
Currently, we are evaluating a customizable on-line program to encourage teams of residents and employees to exercise and track their progress. Created with our partner Patient People Inc., it will be known as the F.U.N. Walk and it promotes health and wellness by providing coaching, health education, social support and incentive-based activities on-line. One of our program goals is to provide on-going evaluation of the impact of our F.U.N. program. This program will provide reports summarizing participant activities.
Although this program will be marketed to all residents, we are going to focus the pilot on populations at high risk for obesity. With AMERIGROUP Community Care, we plan to replicate best practice programs for students who are identified as being at high risk for obesity and the emotional and healthcare consequences.
Garfield will have more parks, tools, programs and events such as “Relay for Life” to reduce obesity and improve the health of all our residents.
Like so many communities, Garfield is doing what it can to combat childhood obesity. Our programs and improvements will need to be innovative and supported with proper resources. With the support of our community partners such as the Mayors Wellness Campaign, we know we will be successful.
Article published in New Jersey Municipalities Magazine, April 2007