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Mobilize the Community
Through the Mayor's
Wellness Campaign

   Mayor Joanne Cocchiola 
By Joanne Cocchiola, Esq.
Mayor, Township of Nutley  
Nutley's Mayor's Weight Loss challenge is motivational, cost neutral and brings the community together in a fun way to promote fitness

The statistics have become alarming. Approximately 64 percent of Americans are overweight, and, sadly, childhood obesity is growing at an unprecedented rate. Health and fitness have always been a personal priority for me and, through my interactions with residents of my community, I  realized it was a priority for them as well. My staff and I put together an aggressive agenda for programs designed to motivate the community toward a healthy lifestyle. As a result, I am proud to report that this year the Township of Nutley has received the designation of “New Jersey Healthy Town,” one of only eight New Jersey communities to be so named.

Some of the highlights of our efforts include our much publicized Mayor’s Weight Loss Challenge, promotion of youth fitness programs and our community’s support of a fitness and fundraising initiative of two twenty-two year old residents, Rob Bonora and Anthony Greco. They are, at the time of this writing, walking across North America to promote fitness and raise funds for St. Judes Children’s Hospital, Derek’s Dreams and the Gail’s Angels Foundation.

Mayor’s Weight Loss Challenge The Mayor's Weight Loss Challenge, one of the most successful programs of the Wellness Campaign, began in 2009 as a 16-week challenge for residents to get into shape and be role models of health for the youth of Nutley. Participants, who could compete as a team or an individual, and were given numerous resources to help them in their weight loss journey. The program was run through the Office of the Mayor, in partnership with Mountainside Hospital. The success of the most recent Challenge was what led Nutley to be designated as a "Healthy Town."

Weight Loss Challenge participants
The 2010 Mayor’s Weight Loss Challenge participants pose for a picture at the finale on May 3, 2010.

This year participants lost a total of 2,326 pounds. The winner, Suzanne Scarpelli, lost 24.76 percent of her body weight. Local businesses came out in force to support Nutley residents with weight loss goals. Sponsor, Signature Fitness, offered discounted memberships and free classes and sponsor, Starlight Fit and Dance Studio, offered free as well as discounted classes. Motivational support groups were offered to participants through Focus Physical Therapy of Montclair. Nutley High School opened up its weight room for participants. Sports University offered two Boot Camp classes. Fleet Feet of Montclair sponsored 5K race training for the challengers. Challengers who had never run before or had limited experience joined me in competing in a 5K race sponsored by our local Chamber of Commerce. This was a truly moving experience for all of us who trained and met our goal with pride. The Challenge also offered discounts on healthy meals at local restaurants such as Farm 2 Bistro, free hair treatments at Salon Si, and educational lectures provided by Montclair State University on living a healthy lifestyle. Roche provided grant funding, which enabled the township to fund supermarket guided tours through Shop Rite guided by a registered dietitian, as well as additional enhancements to the program such as free exercise classes.

Challengers received weekly motivational emails from the Mayor’s Office encouraging them to keep up the great work and offering tips and advice to help them on their quest for a better life. The program offered bi-monthly weigh-ins monitored by public health nurses and school nurses.

Mayor with winner Suzanne Scarpelli and her husband

Mayor Joanne Cocchiola poses with winner Suzanne Scarpelli and her husband Nutley Commissioner Joe Scarpelli. With help from Nutley’s Mayor’s Weight Loss Challenge, Suzanne lost 24.8 percent of her body weight.

Challengers overcame many obstacles by losing their excess weight and committing to a healthy lifestyle, from reducing blood pressure and thyroid medications to overcoming sleep apnea. As a community leader, and a “loser” of 22 pounds myself, I am so proud of this program. It is motivational, cost neutral and brings the community together in a fun way to promote fitness and challenges the youth of the community, as well.

Youth in Motion With the support of the Nutley Board of Education, we have implemented a number of Wellness programs in the schools that have also contributed to our recent designation. Walk to School Wednesdays, beginning on National Walk to School Day, encourages school-aged children to walk with me to and from school the first Wednesday of every month from October to June. The Mayor's Fitness Challenge has students log the number of miles they walk from January through June. Students are provided with exercise logs and tools to help them calculate the miles they have walked. Every student who logs a total of 26.2 miles (distance of a marathon) receives a commendation.

In 2008, a grant from Mountainside Hospital allowed Nutley to purchase Sony Playstation and Dance Dance Revolution games for each school in the system. With the assistance of this physically challenging game, physical education teachers have incorporated the Dance for Health program into their physical education curriculums.

Furthermore, we are currently in the process of developing Footsteps for Fitness, a challenge to students of each elementary school to compete against one another in a race to a specific destination across the United States. Gym teachers will log the number of miles walked during the school year and these miles will be converted into footsteps across the United States. The school that reaches the furthest destination will win a school-wide party.

While our students track their miles across the United States, they will be encouraged through Skype video by two of Nutley’s finest role models for fitness, Rob Bonora and Anthony Greco. Their journey, cataloged at, has been exciting and eventful.

Their commitment to fitness will be revered and admired throughout the community, and it is my hope that they will join me in promoting the message of wellness for a long time to come.


Article published in New Jersey Municipalities, November 2010

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