OUCP New Health Partnership
Building Strong Healthy Communities
OUCP Launches Advocates for Healthy Living Initiative (AHLI) for SeniorsNearly 300 senior citizens gathered in the Paul Robeson Campus Center Friday morning for Living Your Best Life: Exercise, Nutrition, Lifestyle and Healthy Aging. Hosted by the Advocates for Healthy Living Initiative (AHLI), the event consisted of engaging fitness activities, raffles, awards, meal demonstrations, and informative presentations on mental and physical health conducted by local medical professionals. In addition to the info-sessions, participants received a complimentary heart-healthy breakfast and lunch along with an exclusive dance performance from the East Orange Silver Steppers. The function began with welcome and opening remarks from Dr. Diane Hill, assistant chancellor for university-community partnerships at Rutgers University-Newark and ex-officio member advocate for AHLI. Hill expressed the importance of the event and its purpose for the senior community.
“Today is about you and your journey,” Hill stated to the crowd. “Today is to help motivate you about your journey, and to show you the many resources you may not know about.”
During the event, participants had the opportunity to learn more about health and wellness by visiting information tables from local organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, University Hospital, the American Heart Association (AHA), and Screen NJ, who showcased a colorectal cancer education screening. The Mental Health Association in NJ (MHANJ) also presented information from their “PEWS” program (Promoting Emotional Wellness and Spirituality).
Margaret Cammarieri, director of community impact at the American Heart Association (AHA), provided information to seniors at the AHA resource table. Camarieri believes health is a lifelong journey and making a commitment to change can be beneficial at any age.
“Taking care of your heart is taking care of your brain,” says Cammarieri. “Dementia and stroke, these things are not inevitable. So we can start doing something even at ages above 50, which can make a difference.”
Rutgers University-Newark’s AHLI is a program from the Office of University-Community Partnerships that provides elders with tools and information to live healthier and better lives. The program’s mission is to reduce health disparities, promote health equity, and improve the quality of life among urban seniors through transdisciplinary education, targeted intervention, base building, and collaboration, and community-based partnerships.
AHLI collaborates with many community organizations, such as churches and senior centers. Social Services Director of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, Deacon Francis Dixon, is also one of the community advisory board members of AHLI. Dixon says that many of the initiatives for AHLI and his church are parallel.
“The partnership with Rutgers is a pretty good fit because we are both on the same mission, and that is to serve the community,” says Dixon. “The resources that have been made available through the Office of Community-University Partnerships has been tremendous—anywhere from brain health, to nutrition, to diabetes. It is important to maintain the relationship because my ultimate goal is to get help for the community.”
AHLI has a number of community wellness initiatives, which include lunch-n-learns, community education programs, intergenerational engagement, and fitness and dance classes. The program increases participation from underserved communities through scholarly research, clinical trials, and community-based participatory research. Hill believes it is important for the senior citizen community to get involved.
“This event is targeted for our members of the senior population, who are living long and are valuable assets to our community,” says Hill. “In addition to showing them how to live a better and healthier life, we want them to understand what tools and resources are already available in their own backyard. Showing them how to connect with universities and hospitals is important because it encourages them to be an active participant and have a better understanding of not just research, but seeing how research helps them to improve their lives.”Among the many senior guests in the room to benefit from learning about health and wellness was 67-year-old Tamara Robertson from East Orange. Robertson was informed about the event from one of the members at Messiah Baptist Church, her local place of worship in East Orange.
“I am excited about healthy living,” says Robertson. “Even though I have been here for 67 years I can always learn more. I can do better. I don’t want to be impeded from doing things because of my health.”
After the healthy holiday lunch, there was a community award ceremony to commemorate Deborah Flamengo for her work as a project coordinator at the Office of University-Community Partnerships, along with other awards given to the City of Newark Division of Senior Services and the East Orange Silver Steppers. After the awards presentation, the event concluded with a raffle of blenders and other healthy-living tools the senior citizens could incorporate in their everyday lives.