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Wharton Walks to School

 
By William J. Chegwidden
Mayor, Wharton Borough


Sadly, it often takes some kind of trauma or personal tragedy to rally the community around a cause. That is not the case in the Borough of Wharton. This little town is snuggled in the middle of Morris County, a predominantly blue collar community that knows the values of hard work. We have rallied around a great cause—the health and well-being of our community.

The relationship between our Municipal Council and our local School Board is an example for all organizations to follow. Our town is only two square miles and thus we are a walking district. Many of our roads are narrow and were once old iron mine paths.

A couple of years ago, the school board asked for a meeting to see if the town would be on board with the idea of promoting that our students make walking and biking to school part of their routine rather than a once-in-a-while activity. By working together, it was easy to implement a “Safe Routes to School” program.

Developing Safe Routes
In the fall of 2005, Wharton Borough was selected by the Morris County Division of Transportation to develop a pilot Safe Routes to School program with federal funding through the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA).

See caption below
Wharton Mayor William J, Chegwidden (right) joins children on a walk to school made possible through Safe Routes to School. The walk to school campaign won recognition for Wharton from the
Mayors Wellness Campaign.

In August 2006, the Wharton Borough Council and Public School Board designated the 2006-2007 school year as “Safe Routes to School Year” by joint resolution. Students themselves actively participated in developing a “School Travel Plan” by participating in walkability audits; creating a walking-time radius map; creating art work depicting walking and biking to school; and, participating in a bicycle safety rodeo.

Through the team efforts of the local School Board, the Council, the Police Chief and the County of Morris, we successfully created a policy in the borough to upgrade or add new sidewalks when replacing or resurfacing any roadway.

What we have found is nothing short of amazing! The improvements to the sidewalks in town have not only made it safer for our children to walk to school, people are out of their homes and walking throughout the day. It does not matter what time of day it is, people are out walking. I walk every morning at 4:45 and there are a half dozen people also out for their morning walk.

The Safe Routes to School program has had a compounding effect—not only has it increased the value of our community, it has increased the health of our citizens, particularly our youth and seniors. As a community we have found a common goal that young and old can share. Neighbors are being introduced to other neighbors they might not have met before. People are out walking and we’re a healthier and happier community!

We can not stop there. We need to spread the word.

Healthy Mayors Cook-Off
As Mayors, we need to take a leadership role in helping our citizens improve their health and quality of life and at the same time, reducing the skyrocketing health care costs that are associated with obesity.

Physical activity is only part of the puzzle of good health—healthy eating habits is another. That is why I am helping spearhead an event to bring the word to all the communities in Morris County.

On June 6th, several Morris County Mayors will be meeting at the Police Athletic League (PAL) Building at 33 Baldwin Road in Parsippany, for a friendly competition to see which Mayor can create the most healthy and tasty meal or snack. Judged by an impartial panel, one Mayor will be named the winner of the first ever Healthy Mayors Cook-Off.

I challenge all the Mayors in Morris County to rally our communities around this worthwhile cause and to join me and my colleagues in the Healthy Mayors Cook-Off on June 6th. It will be a great day of good old-fashioned fun and competition as well as a time to share some camaraderie with other Mayors throughout the county.

The Mayors Wellness Campaign
The event is the creation of the Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC), a program of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, and is made possible by a grant from Aetna. The MWC is the only statewide initiative in New Jersey with the goal of reducing obesity by increasing activity for all citizens.

The MWC supports mayors as champions of community health with the goal to increase opportunities for New Jersey residents to participate in daily physical activity reduce health care costs secondary to obesity in the long-term. Through public-private partnerships, the MWC provides structure and resources for healthy community initiatives. By encouraging mayors to play a leadership role in supporting local opportunities for active, healthy lifestyles, the intent of the MWC is to improve health and make New Jersey a national leader in community-based health interventions.

Last spring, each of the 566 mayors in New Jersey’s municipalities were mailed the MWC “Toolbox,” a manual designed to guide them through the implementation of wellness programs in their communities. Broken down into four major sections—Youth in Motion; Employees in Motion; Seniors in Motion; and Communities in Motion—the Toolbox outlines programs that can be directly used in every community in New Jersey. The Toolbox can also be found on the MWC website.

More than 173 New Jersey mayors have pledged their support to the Mayors Wellness Campaign, extending the active living and health lifestyle effort to nearly one-third of the entire state.

As Mayor of Wharton, I was one of the early supporters of the MWC program and was selected for recognition and a mini-grant presented by Aetna and MWC at the League of Municipalities annual Conference in Atlantic City last November.

Wharton was selected for recognition because of our emphasis on putting “Youth in Motion;” for our program to improve the physical environment of the town and encourage a social climate to support the ability of its children to walk and bicycle safely to school; and for our enthusiastic community participation in International Walk to School Day (the first Wednesday in October).

If you haven’t already joined the MWC, I strongly encourage you to go to their website at www.mayorswellnesscampaign.org and sign up today!

For more information and to participate in the Healthy Mayors Cook-Off, contact MWC Program Director, Judy Doyle, at 1-800-414-4931 or jdoyle@njhcqi.org.

 

 

This article appeared in the June 2007 issue of New Jersey Municipalities magazine.

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