Asbury Park sets out on ambitious program to improve health

Source: Asbury Park Press
The Asbury Park Boys and Girls Club is part of The Alliance for a Healthier Asbury Park, a coalition of more than 80 community groups — the Asbury Park School District, the Chamber of Commerce, Second Baptist Church and Sheffield’s Market to name a few.
Teens meet each Tuesday night to create a program and develop a social media plan that they can present to the organization. Kathlanda Nelson, 18, a senior at Asbury Park High School and a participant in the program, said she senses a pessimism among her peers that she wished she could change.
But she isn’t sure how to break through the social media loop that flashes incessant reminders that their life should be better than it is.
She’d learned from project leader Rodney Salomon about the importance of stress relief and had already put it to work; yoga poses and breathing helped relieve a headache she’d had that day. “I’m really hoping to get out there and start educating people,” Nelson said.
Plainsboro-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is trying to convince communities that health care isn’t solely the province of the health care industry. It produces, for example, a study that ranks counties nationwide on 30 indicators that it says are key to a healthy community. They include the factors your doctor asks you about — tobacco use, diet and exercise. But they also give equal weight to education, income, and support networks, a sign that even the world’s most talented doctors can only do so much.
To bridge the gap, the foundation created New Jersey Health Initiatives, which has provided $12 million in grants to 49 programs since 2015. It is unfolding in Asbury Park, a city that has been the center of attention recently for an economic revival. But its median household income in 2016 was estimated at $36,512, compared with New Jersey’s median household income of $73,702, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Krishna Murthy, executive director of EZ Ride, a Wood-Ridge-based transportation agency, has taken a leading role with The Alliance for a Healthier Asbury Park. He said the group has begun to search for ways to make the city more walkable, bring healthy food to the corner stores, and build trust between police and teens. “If you’re talking about building a culture of health, we are looking at every option,” Murthy said.
The Boys and Girls Club received a one-year grant for $50,000 from the foundation. And the teens that are participating have begun to learn how everything is connected, Doug Eagles, executive director, said.
The teens were asked to dream big, and they wondered whether Asbury Park has greenhouses or parks that stay open late. Their lists got long. No drugs, green grass, cloudless skies, friendly neighbors and happy kids.

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