Originally posted on America’s Health Rankings
Some 63% of New Jersey’s mayors—358 of 565—are doing heavy lifting to make The Garden State a healthier place to live. They’re part of the Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC) that provides a constantly-refreshed “tool kit” (including the popular Walk With the Mayor program), strategies, and ongoing support to mayors wanting to champion nutritious eating and active living as well as improve overall health of their communities. Check out this interview with an energetic Janan Dave, MWC’s new Wellness Coordinator, and see how New Jersey has become a leader in taking public health to the streets.
AHR: The MWC is non-profit and free. Communities receive tools and resources, and you connect them to possible grant opportunities. So why haven’t all the mayors enrolled?
Dave: A lot don’t know what we are or understand the need. Or they already have a health-and-wellness program in place, or a strong department of recreation or department of health. They’re doing their own things and don’t need another person at the table—which is OK because they’re doing good programming.
AHR: You’ve enjoyed “copycat” success in northern New Jersey, correct?
Dave: We’ve had more early success in the north because towns are close together, and there’s a spirit of competition among mayors—like, one after another, they all signed up. I started in July, and my focus has been southern Jersey and a lot of shore towns. Many towns there are small and may not have a grocery store or park. So they feel like: “How can we do some of the programs you’re talking about?” We communicate with them that this is about using a template; we give guidance, tools, and activities that they can customize at no cost, usually. We definitely started to make a dent down there. Stone Harbor has an awesome 10-week health-and-wellness program. The mayor has been leading walks every week, and local physicians have been giving Wellness Wednesday lectures. We’re hoping some of the surrounding mayors will get onboard.
AHR: In the MWC, small-town mayors especially are unsung heroes.
Dave: Mayors are often overlooked, and, honestly, I think mayors are often doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, especially in small towns. A lot of them are part-time; they have full-time jobs—lawyers, teachers, etc.—but they want to improve their community. So they run for mayor. In many of those towns, you don’t always know the mayor—or you do only because you complain about potholes. For mayors, then, this is awesome. It’s mutually beneficial for them and the community, allowing mayors to become the public face for health and wellness in their community. They lead walking programs and go to cooking classes and do bike rides with kids to school.
See the full interview and pictures from Mayors Wellness Campaign events here.