Newark gets and gives ‘best practice’ models to improve city’s health

It looks like a home improvement show. Dilapidated, abandoned houses made habitable again and sold at attractive prices in Columbus, Ohio. It’s Healthy Homes of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s answer to neighborhood blight.

“We’re hoping that reducing vacancies, reducing blight, also has a positive impact on children’s health,” said Gretchen West, executive director or Healthy Homes.

Healthy Homes was hailed as a “best practices” example at the second annual Building a Culture of Health in Newark conference. The campaign, Believe in a Healthy Newark, organizes it. New Jersey Spotlight’s CEO John Mooney is on its steering committee.

“We all think we’re reinventing the wheel each time, and a lot of these things are happening elsewhere. And a lot things that are happening in Newark can be replicated elsewhere, too,” Mooney said.

The conference-goers also heard about a Washington D.C. nonprofit that offers food and then uses that as an avenue to learn and offer a whole lot more.

DC Central Kitchen turns a ton of surplus food every day into 4,500 meals. The access to clients opens the door to turn those lives around through several programs, including job training.

“In the years prior to enrolling into our program, people are earning on average $3,400 a year, and then after about $16,000. But, while that’s really wonderful, I think it does show there’s a ton more work to be done,” said Kimberly Brown, DC Central Kitchen chief program officer.

David Asiamah says CUMAC in Paterson is among the agencies making a difference. He says tracking shows residents come by foot and by bus from more than two miles away because they trust the high-quality donated food and more. That opens the door to job training.

“And sometimes they even feel a sense of ownership to the organization. And using that trust, not squandering that trust, not exploiting that trust, but using that trust to facilitate better outcomes for people and understanding what their needs are,” said Asiamah, director of clinical and community engagement for the Health Coalition of Passaic County.

The conference offered ways for organizations to measure their progress, develop leadership, get community members to act, and address the social factors that determine health outcomes. Dr. Denise Rodgers of the Rutgers Urban Health and Wellness Institute, says it’s time to do more than just put a bull’s-eye on poverty.

“The Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, said, ‘Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horror to future generations. They’ll wonder why poverty continued so long in human society. How a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery, deprivation and despair,’” Rodgers said.