Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

RWJUH Earns Community Outreach Award from New Jersey Hospital Association Healthcare Research Education Trust

“Fun in the Park” Earns Top Spot in Preventing Disease and Injury Category

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pictured here are, from left: New Brunswick Police Lt. Michael Bobadilla; Ismael Montañez, Director of the New Brunswick Parks Dept.; Yesenia Hernandez, Community Health Promotions Program Coordinator at RWJUH; Mariam Merced, Director of Community Health Promotions at RWJUH; Volunteer Park Ambassador Steven Lujan; Aracelis Mencias, UMDNJ-School of Public Health student; Dr. Sandra Echeverria, Professor, UMDNJ-School of Public Health.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The New Jersey Hospital Association Healthcare Research Education Trust (HRET) has selected Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Community Health Promotions Program’s “Fun in the Park Program” as one of the winners of its 2012-13 Community Outreach Awards. The program earned the top spot in the “Preventing Disease and Injury” category.
The “Fun in the Park Program” ran from August 2011 to December 2012 with the support of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids New Brunswick, New Brunswick Tomorrow, the New Brunswick Police Department and a grant from the American Heart Association’s Tu Corazón Latino initiative.
“Fun in the Park” was designed to encourage increased physical activity and healthier eating among New Brunswick’s youths.
During the spring, summer and early fall, the program met Monday through Friday afternoons in Baker Park, off Remsen Ave. During the winter, the program was offered in space donated by First Baptist Church of New Brunswick on Hale St.
Each session began with children taking part in several physical activities designed to increase their strength, flexibility and stamina. The day typically ended with a competitive sports activity such as soccer or baseball.
While the main goal of Fun in the Park was to encourage children to be more active and eat healthier, it also promoted a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere in Baker Park.
“When we first started, you could see kids circle their bikes and stop to look and see what was happening,” says Mariam Merced, Director of Community Health Promotions at RWJUH. “Some of those same kids became part of the program and others wanted to join. We also saw a lot of parents bring the brothers and sisters of children in our program to the park when we were there. They are happy that their families can have fun together in a safe place.”
The UMDNJ-School of Public Health helped develop all evaluation tools and identified a graduate student to conduct the evaluation. The student trained program volunteers and staff on the use of the evaluation tool that included an environmental park assessment and coding system. System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) was used to evaluate park usage before and after the start of the project and to evaluate changes in physical activity among program youths. The evaluation revealed the following results:
•          During program days, the amount of children using the park tripled vs. that of non-program days.
•          The majority of park users are Latino.
•          The average amount of park users increases throughout the day and rises significantly from the second to third hours of the program (consistent with the observation that participants are engaged upon arrival and stay until the session ends).
•          On program days, activity levels of male and female teenagers increases. Male activity levels increased by 30 percent on program days vs. non-program days.
The program was led by RWJUH Community Health Promotions Department staff and volunteers like city resident Steven Lujan, who was recruited by New Brunswick Police Lieutenant Michael Bobadilla.
“I knew Officer Mike for almost 12 years, going back to elementary school,” Lujan explains. “I was looking for a chance to volunteer in the community and he recommended this program.”
Lujan, who is currently studying Police Science at Middlesex County College with an eye toward transferring to Rutgers University after earning his Associate’s Degree, enjoys giving back to his community and watching the children learn life lessons that extend beyond diet and exercise.
“The exercises can be hard to do and they still came every day,” Lujan says. “They tried their best and it’s great to see the teamwork that developed. If someone had a difficult time (with an exercise) they tried to help him/her out.”
Heyti Seri was among the children enrolled in the program. After completing the program, Seri lost weight and is eating more fruits and vegetables. The improvement in her soccer game is what excites her most. “I exercise much more than I used to, I don’t eat as much junk food and my soccer game is much better too,” says Seri, who hopes to play soccer on a club or school team and emulate her favorite player, Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer superstar and World Player of the Year. “I definitely want to play on a team someday and I didn’t think it was possible before this.”

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is a 600-bed academic medical center and the principal hospital of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.

RWJUH is an innovative leader in advancing state-of-the-art care. Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care, from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation; cancer care; and women’s and children’s care, including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital (

The hospital is a Level I Trauma Center and serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety. It ranks among “America’s Best Hospitals,” according to U.S.News & World Report’s 2012 survey; it is the sixth consecutive year that RWJUH has achieved this prestigious ranking. Also in 2012, U.S.News & World Report ranked BMSCH among the nation’s “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer has rated RWJUH among the nation's best comprehensive cancer centers. The Leapfrog Group rated RWJUH among the 50 exceptional U.S. hospitals, as published in Consumers Digest, and has given the hospital an “A” grade for safety and quality. Harvard University researchers, in a study commissioned by The Commonwealth Fund, identified RWJUH as one of the top 10 hospitals in the nation for clinical quality. RWJUH is a four-time recipient of the prestigious Magnet Award for Nursing Excellence


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