NEWARK, NJ - An upcoming conference to be held in Newark will highlight a campaign that seeks to help the community get healthier. 

The second annual Believe in a Healthy Newark campaign conference, set to take place on Thursday, Sept. 27 at NJIT, will bring together several important community stakeholders united by an initiative to promote better health in some of Newark's poorest neighborhoods. The campaign, led by leaders of Rutgers Newark, RWJ Barnabas, the United Way, and others, is focused on neighborhoods where health needs are often under-served and forgotten, particularly in the South and West wards. 

The conference will feature this coalition of organizations working together to address three primary concerns. 

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The goal of having healthy homes is often impeded by a disproportionate amount of negative environmental impacts. The Believe in a Healthy Newark campaign wants to promote environmental initiatives designed to benefit environmental justice communities, which are often specifically minority and low-income communities. 

Dr. Denise Rodgers, vice chancellor for interprofessional programs at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS), noted that a hands-on approach is the most helpful way to dealing with local health issues. 

"We're interested in what's happening on the ground in Newark. For example, we want families to understand things that can be done within homes to reduce exposure to lead, and the importance of having very young children tested for lead," said Rodgers, who is also the director of the Rutgers Urban Health and Wellness Institute. "While there are larger policy issues involved, we believe that we can be much more effective in Newark by providing increased education about what families can do to help themselves." 

The poverty often found in communities such as the South and West wards can create conditions for adverse childhood experiences. The exposure to constant trauma and endemic poverty can leave scars on one's physical and mental health for life. 

Rodgers noted that these adverse effects have been studied and empirically documented by medical professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

"Growing up in poverty, in and of itself, is an adverse childhood experience. But being raised in a home where there is physical or emotional abuse, or where parents have been incarcerated and have substance abuse issues, is not solely a phenomenon of the poor," Rodgers said. "We want to educate health care professionals, such as pediatric residents at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, about ways to screen families for these adverse conditions. We also want to help community members, including teachers, identify and address these issues." 

The drive for better food and fitness opportunities point to the acute demand for fresh produce and working playgrounds in parks. 

"We worked with a group of high school students this summer to map local parks in the South and West wards to see what's available and get a sense of what's going on in these parks. We want parents to feel comfortable sending their kids to the parks," Rodgers said. "We want to get neighborhood groups to engage in activities such as park clean-ups to help create safer and cleaner environments for children."

"We also want to implement initiatives used in other cities to find ways to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables," Rodgers added. "We're bringing in people to the conference so we can learn from people who have already done it."

Rodgers hopes that the upcoming conference, which will provide a platform for these initiatives, can show the way to achieve better health for all Newarkers. 

"In a perfect world, we would end poverty. But what a coalition like ours can do is talk about the contributions that poverty has to most of the problems that we are working on," Rodgers said. "Working together, we can figure out how to do it better in the South and West wards, then do it in all of Newark."