Nearly 300 seniors gathered at the Paul Robeson Campus Center on Friday morning to live their best life: exercise, diet, lifestyle, and healthy aging. The event, hosted by the Advocates for Healthy Living Initiative (AHLI), consisted of engaging fitness activities, raffles, awards, food demonstrations, and informative presentations on mental and physical health conducted by local health professionals. In addition to the information sessions, participants received a free heart-healthy breakfast and lunch as well as an exclusive dance performance by the East Orange Silver Steppers.

Photo credit: Rutgers-Newark Office of University Community Partnerships

The function began with welcome and opening words from Dr. Diane Hill, Assistant Chancellor for University and Community Partnerships at Rutgers University-Newark and ex officio for AHLI members. Hill expressed the importance of the event and its purpose for the senior community.

“Today is about you and your journey,” Hill told the crowd. “Today should motivate you for your trip and show you the many resources that you may not yet know.”

During the event, attendees had the opportunity to learn more about health and wellness by visiting bulletin boards from local organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, University Hospital, American Heart Association (AHA), and Screen NJ, which have colorectal cancer awareness programs presented sieving. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ) also presented information from its “PEWS” program (Promoting Emotional Wellness and Spirituality).

Margaret Cammariani, Director of Community Impact at the American Heart Association (AHA), briefed seniors at the AHA resource table. Camariani believes that health is a life-long journey and that being committed to change can be beneficial at any age.

“Taking care of your heart means taking care of your brain,” says Cammariani. “Dementia and stroke, these things are not inevitable. So even when we are over 50 we can start doing something that can make a difference. “

Rutgers University-Newark’s AHLI is an Office of University-Community Partnerships program that provides elders with tools and information for healthier and better lives. The programme’s mission is to reduce health inequalities, promote health equity, and improve the quality of life of urban seniors through transdisciplinary education, targeted intervention, grassroots and collaboration, and community-based partnerships.

AHLI works with many community organizations such as churches and senior centers. The New Hope Baptist Church, Newark Social Services director, Deacon Francis Dixon, is also a member of the AHLI ward council. Dixon says many of the initiatives for AHLI and its church are running in parallel.

“The partnership with Rutgers works pretty well because we both have the same mission of serving the community,” says Dixon. “The resources made available by the Office of Community-University Partnerships have been enormous – from brain health to nutrition to diabetes. It is important to maintain the relationship because my ultimate goal is to help the community. “

AHLI has a number of community wellness initiatives including Lunch-n-Learns, community education programs, intergenerational engagement, and fitness and dance classes. The program increases the participation of underserved communities through scientific research, clinical trials, and community-based participatory research. Hill believes it is important that the senior community get involved.

“This event is for our senior members of the population who live long and are of great value to our community,” said Hill. “We not only want to show them how to lead a better and healthier life, but also understand what tools and resources are already available in their own garden. Showing them how to get in touch with universities and hospitals is important because it encourages them to actively participate and not only better understand the research, but also see how research helps them manage their lives improve.”

SellerPhoto credit: Rutgers-Newark Office of University Community Partnerships

Among the many older guests in the room who benefited from learning about health and wellness was East Orange, 67-year-old Tamara Robertson. Robertson was briefed on the event by one of the members of the Messiah Baptist Church, their local place of worship in East Orange.

“I enjoy a healthy life,” says Robertson. “Even though I’ve been here for 67 years, I can still learn more. I can do better. I don’t want to be prevented from doing things because of my health. “

After the healthy holiday meal, there was a community awards ceremony to commemorate Deborah Flamengo for her work as a project coordinator in the Office of University-Community Partnerships, along with other awards bestowed by the City of Newark Division of Senior Services and the East Orange Silver Stepper. After the award ceremony, the event ended with a raffle for mixers and other healthy aids that the seniors could integrate into their everyday lives.

To learn more about the Office of University-Community Partnerships at Rutgers University-Newark, click here.