Healthy Homes

Learning from Focus Groups on Healthy Homes


Peter Chen

Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ)


Often, public health initiatives face a data gap – the connection between the numbers and the people representing those numbers. For example, broad health data like the rates of lead poisoning, asthma and obesity give a snapshot, but may not provide meaningful insight on how those families and children are impacted. As a result, service providers, government leaders and policy makers may be implementing an intervention without a complete picture.

To help address this gap, the Healthy Homes Subcommittee of the Believe in a Healthy Newark initiative asked Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) to conduct focus groups with parents of young children on their knowledge of lead and asthma interventions and pre-existing knowledge about healthy homes.

The first focus group yielded some surprising and humbling responses. The participants, all parents of preschoolers ages 3-5, provided insight into what obstacles exist to implementation of lead and asthma interventions:

  1. Participants possessed a strong knowledge of the effects and causes of lead exposure and asthma – many had a family member personally impacted by these health issues. In this group, lead and asthma education efforts seem to have worked.
  2. Participants did not demonstrate a strong knowledge of resources available for: lead testing, lead remediation, free blood lead testing for children, or school-based asthma resources. Although multiple parents indicated that they had peeling paint in their home or that they had a child with asthma, none mentioned prevention programs.
  3. Participants were largely renters, which meant that housing conditions often depended on the landlord. Landlord control over general maintenance, pest control, heating and cooling, and security deposits put tenants in a difficult position when it came to requesting repairs or inspections.
  4. Participants suggested more community-focused and person-to-person approaches to getting information out about lead and asthma interventions. They suggested meeting families where they are – in churches, barbershops, parks and neighborhood events – rather than hope that passive information finds them.

Focus groups are non-scientific and sample sizes may not always be representative. But listening directly to parents and families in the community we serve is invaluable in implementing effective solutions.


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Building a Culture of Health Conference


Beth J. Milton
Believe in a Healthy Newark Initiative



On September 28, 2017 the “Believe in a Healthy Newark Initiative” hosted its first annual “Building a Culture of Health in Newark” conference at NJIT in Newark, NJ. Over 375 people attended the conference. Research increasingly shows that social determinants—e.g., where you live, how much education you have, what kind of job you have, and the safety of the community in which you live—all play important roles in your health. As such, the conference highlighted work being done by community-based partnerships to address a select group of social determinants of health–healthy homes, food & fitness, and adverse childhood experiences. The conference featured local initiatives, discussed best practices, and encouraged partnerships to advance a culture of health. Community forums in the South and West wards are being planned for the first quarter of 2018, to continue and advance the discussions.

“Believe in a Healthy Newark” is a non-profit initiative funded, in part, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives program. This program aims to utilize a collective impact approach to identify common measures, develop common interventions, and use assessments of their success, to modify and strengthen their initiatives as they seek to improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities.

The conference plenary speaker was Bob Atkins, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the New Jersey Health Initiatives and an Associate Professor at Rutgers University with a joint appointment in Nursing and Childhood Studies. Dr. Atkins talked about moving from a Culture of Healthcare to a Culture of Health by investing more health resources in where we work, play, live, learn and pray. We must get all stakeholders in the community at the table. The focus is on population health and increasing opportunities for healthier living.

Dr. Denise Rodgers, Vice Chancellor, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences set the tone of the conference, welcoming the enthusiastic attendees and giving an overview of the “Believe in a Healthy Newark Initiative,” and introducing a panel of Impact Team leaders, moderated by Jennifer Velez, Senior Vice President for Community and Behavioral Health at RWJBarnabas Health.

After a networking lunch, the crowd participated in an afternoon pick-me-up by Sharon Antoine-Dixon, a Certified Zumba Instructor. This set the tone for a call-to-action for the nine breakout sessions that followed.

The group was treated to a networking reception following the conference, and it was great to see the enthusiastic attendees stay after a full day of collaborative learning and sharing.

Some of the many volunteers, at the beginning:

Some of the steering committee, at the closing/reception:


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Healthy Homes

Healthy Homes Neighborhood Pilot

Rhonda Lewis

Greater Newark LISC

The Believe in a Healthy Newark coalition’s Healthy Homes Impact Team seeks to increase the number of “Healthy Homes” in our community, meaning homes that support the well-being of families and that are free of health hazards, specifically asthma triggers and lead. In the short term, our goals include increasing the number of homes and children screened for lead and asthma in the Fairmount and Upper Clinton Hill neighborhoods, and increase the number of families who are educated about these issues and referred to local remediation or abatement services. We also plan to strengthen coordination and communication among relevant stakeholders and service providers. In the longer term, the committee hopes that improving the health profile of homes, in coordination with other strategies to support families economically and socially, will result in improved youth health, reduced student mobility, reduced chronic absenteeism, and better developmental outcomes for children in these neighborhoods.

“In the short term, our goals include increasing the number
of homes and children screened for lead and asthma
in the Fairmount and Upper Clinton Hill neighborhoods,
and increase the number of families who are referred to
local remediation or abatement services.”

Members of the Healthy Homes Impact Team will work with early childcare facilities, schools, healthcare providers, and neighborhood associations to reach families with infants and very young children with the goal of testing the homes of all participating families for lead contamination, providing education to families about reducing lead and asthma hazards in their homes, and connecting families with remediation and abatement services that make homes safer and healthier for children. We will also conduct focus groups with participating families to learn more about the barriers they face to improving the health and safety of their homes. These focus groups, as well as best practices from other communities, will inform our policy recommendations to City of Newark officials and to New Jersey state agencies on how to improve home health in all Newark neighborhoods.

The Believe in a Healthy Newark coalition’s Healthy Homes Impact Team is delighted to share that the City of Newark has been selected as one of eight national winners of the 2017 Partners for Places grant award. The Newark award includes a total of $120,000 in national and local funds to support Healthy Homes work in the Fairmount and Upper Clinton Hill neighborhoods. Track our progress on Twitter: @Healthy_Newark, and learn more about our coalition’s work here.

Food and Fitness

Why Food and Fitness Matter

Catherine Wilson

Eugene, one of my employees, stopped by my office to chat about his mother’s recent health scare. She had a stroke during the winter and was previously in a diabetic coma. Yesterday, a nutritionist visited Eugene and his mother at home to discuss options for healthier eating. The nutritionist explained to Eugene’s mom that her health-related issues were due to high blood pressure and diabetes­–both of which could be controlled through a healthy diet and exercise.

Eugene’s mom had been educated about healthy eating and exercise before and had received warnings about the consequences of a poor diet and lack of physical movement. Eugene told me that his mother had ignored those earlier warnings and subsequently suffered from diabetes-related complications and high blood pressure, the latter of which prompted the stroke.

Unfortunately, this story is not unusual in Newark, nor in many urban communities across the country. Newark’s physical, emotional and financial health is staggering from high rates of diabetes and heart disease in both children and adults. According to a 2010 Rutgers University study, 27% of children in Newark, ages 3-5, were obese. In addition, 27 % of children ages 6-11 years old were obese and 24% of youth ages 12-18 were obese. In 2017, those rates are most likely unchanged. According to the 2016 County Health Rankings, the rate of childhood obesity in Newark continues into adulthood. Newark is the largest city in Essex County, and at the county level, 27% of adults are obese. Additionally, 27% of Essex County adults report no physical activity.

The Food and Fitness Committee of the Believe in Healthy Newark Initiative seeks to develop local interventions and policy to change these dismal statistics. Focusing on our community’s young children and their parents, the committee hopes to provide pre-K programs and elementary schools with broader access to healthy foods and nutritional education. We can also begin to teach healthy eating patterns at an earlier age, during the stages when proper nutrition is crucial for brain development. We are working to impact families’ lifestyles through parental engagement by introducing options for healthy eating and physical activity. Certainly, there are challenges ahead, such as addressing the community’s need for additional safe streets and playgrounds.

While fairly new, the Food and Fitness Committee has engaged a broad spectrum of thought leaders and community members who are historically tied to creating policy and interventions around healthy food choices and access to physical activity. It will take community collaboration at all levels to see healthier outcomes for our children and families. Outcomes, we hope, that will differ from Eugene’s 67-year-old mother who faces a lifelong struggle with weight, heart disease, diabetes and potentially other life-threatening ailments.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

A Journey of Hope, Healing and Justice


Keri Logosso-Misurell

As Executive Director of Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center, I saw firsthand the prevalence and pain of bad things happening to our most vulnerable children.  Each year, hundreds of children would come to us because they suffered sexual or physical abuse or were exposed to horrific acts of domestic violence.

Children like Maria, who witnessed her mother dying in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor. Her boyfriend stabbed her as she brushed her teeth before walking Maria to kindergarten.

Yet through all this hardship, I also saw firsthand the capacity of children to heal when equipped with the right tools to cope with and transcend their pain. It is with hope in this capacity that Newark leaders are taking important steps to help these children.

Research over the last two decades confirms that children carry the effects of childhood hardship and violence well into adulthood. The challenges they face in school, life and ultimately, the state of their health, are often the symptoms of toxic stress that leads to long-term changes in the brain and body. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) puts children at higher risk for learning difficulties, emotional problems, developmental issues and long-term health problems.

Here in Newark, a diverse body of stakeholders is coalescing to create a trauma-informed vision and implementation plan for the City.

Part of the “Believe in a Healthy Newark” initiative, university faculty, researchers and clinicians, as well as advocates and other organizations are uniting to identify best practices related to preventing and treating ACEs and trauma and to implement and share these practices. The work is part of the social network “ACEs Connection” where members share information, explore resources and access tools.

In the end, we seek to develop interventions that can help children like Maria and to provide emotional and behavioral interventions for adults who experienced ACEs.

A global movement is afoot toward recognizing the impact of adverse childhood experiences in shaping adult behavior and health, and reforming all communities and institutions — from schools to prisons to hospitals and churches — to help heal and develop resilience. The alternative is to continue to traumatize already traumatized people.