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:


fb button


Congratulations to the NJHI… Grantees

Congratulations to the NJHI Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey – Communities Moving to Action Grantees

Orange, NJ
 (July 14, 2015) – New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), a statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), today announced ten recipients of four-year grants to fund multi-sector, community-focused coalitions during an event in Orange, New Jersey. The aim of NJHI: Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey – Communities Moving to Action is to support communities across New Jersey to make sustainable system changes and policy-oriented, long-term solutions for healthier living.

Spanning the full geography of the Garden State – from Morristown and Orange in the north to Salem and Atlantic City in the south – the ten recipients will serve as laboratories for innovative approaches to sustaining healthy communities.

“Building a culture of health at the community level requires collaboration – individual groups can’t solve health challenges working in isolation,” said NJHI Director Bob Atkins, PhD, RN, FAAN. “We’ve found that communities across New Jersey are already forming coalitions of diverse organizations, including hospital systems, local health and human service agencies, schools, businesses, elected officials, public health officers, and engaged citizens. We’re hoping to add to the long-term strength of those community coalitions through not just funding, but also training and coaching.”

Grant funded communities have received $50,000 for their first year, with an additional $150,000 granted in total over the final three grant years (provided the coalition members raise at least $35,000 in matching funding during the final two years of the initiative). During the first year, teams from each coalition will participate in a Boundary Spanning Leadership Institute, to develop tools and build skills to work on multi-faceted community issues, culminating in the development of an action plan to collectively address the most pressing needs of their community.

The ten coalitions NJHI selected for this initiative are led by the following organizations:

  • AtlantiCare Foundation Atlantic City
  • City of Jersey City Jersey City
  • North Jersey Health Collaborative Morristown
  • Orange Public Schools Orange
  • Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey Newark
         [The Believe in a Healthy Newark Initiative”]
  • Township of Irvington Irvington
  • United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern NJ Camden
  • United Way of Salem County Salem
  • YMCA of Eastern Union County Elizabeth
  • YMCA of Trenton Trenton

These ten projects were selected to encompass a diverse group based on their location in the state, whether urban or rural, and which populations they serve.

“The Orange School District is honored to be included among these grant recipients,” said Ronald C. Lee, superintendent of Orange Public Schools. “We appreciate being recognized by NJHI for the work we are already doing through our public schools, including a recently-opened pediatric treatment clinic, and a community greenhouse that is tended by area families when school is not in session. We’re excited to design and implement a Blueprint for Action that will continue us on a path to better health for all residents of Orange.”

The NJHI: Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey – Communities Moving to Actionproject is aligned with the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps model. That program – a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute – ranks health based on four factor areas: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.

“This program aligns perfectly with the Foundation’s vision of working with others to build a Culture of Health and is a great way to get communities right here in our home state of New Jersey already focusing on health working together,” explained Marco Navarro, senior program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We believe in the power of collaboration to create true systemic change and make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. We hope this program, along with others like our annual Culture of Health prize and Roadmaps to Health, will help to highlight communities that can serve as best practices for others across the country.”

For a better idea of how various sectors can work together to build a Culture of Health in their community, see the Take Action Cycle, from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program at

Visit for much more information on which specific factors help to make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play, and how other communities can request Roadmaps to Health coaching.

Participate in the online conversation with the hashtag #CultureofHealth.

About New Jersey Health Initiatives

New Jersey Health Initiatives is a statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Established in 1987 in honor of the New Jersey philanthropic legacy of RWJF’s founder, Robert Wood Johnson, NJHI supports innovations and drives conversations to build healthier communities through grantmaking across the State of New Jersey. To meet the many health needs of our state’s diverse populations, regions and communities, the NJHI program encourages collaboration across sectors to foster deep relationships committed to long-term change affording all New Jerseyans the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. Learn more about NJHI at, and follow us on Twitter at

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest private foundation in New Jersey and the nation’s largest philanthropy working to improve the health and health care of all. The Foundation is striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. RWJF has invested more than $1.2 billion in New Jersey since 1972. For more information:


Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at