Healthy U Celebrates 10 Years of Impact on the Health of NJ Kids and Families

September 26, 2018

About 11 years ago, Rick Gorab, president and CEO at Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, met with Bill Marino, who at the time was the president & CEO of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J., to solicit Horizon’s sponsorship of a golf outing.

Marino believed the two organizations had common goals and envisioned a future that went way beyond a day of golf. He put Gorab in touch with Jonathan Pearson, director of corporate social responsibility for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J. and Executive Director of The Horizon Foundation. Together with Bill Lovett, the CEO of the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy, they explored what a relationship might look like and how the two organizations could have the greatest impact on reducing obesity among N.J. kids.

The upshot of that meeting—and the many that followed—was Healthy U. It started as a way to promote healthy behavior and prevent childhood obesity through more physical activity, family involvement and nutrition education using CATCH, a nationally-recognized curriculum for a Coordinated Approach to Child Health, within N.J. YMCA child care settings.

Ten years later, Healthy U’s approach to health is being championed at 480 YMCAs and 90 schools across the state. Over 90,000 children and their families have experienced the benefits that better nutrition and more physical activity can bring to their lives, including a readiness for children to learn.

This year, Healthy U received the YUSA award in recognition of its efforts to promote and support health and wellness. This was just the latest accolade and evidence of the program’s success. In 2017, Healthy U also received the “2017 CATCH Award for Excellence in State Health,” a national distinction from Catch Global Foundation. In 2014 the program was recognized by the NJAHPERD and awarded their Physical Activity Champion award

Sue Cornell, Healthy U Director for the NJ YMCA State Alliance, sees the impact of Healthy U in families. “Children and their siblings learn about and adopt Healthy U messages in pre-school. Those messages are reinforced as they grow into other YMCA programs and also go to schools that emphasize the Healthy U principles.” Soon the whole family is eating more fruits and vegetables, and consuming fewer processed and sugary foods. They spend more time being physically active and less time in front of screens.

Throughout the 10 years, the Horizon Foundation/YMCA Alliance partnership has continued and strengthened. “Collaboration is now part of our organizations’ DNA,” said Pearson. The Horizon Foundation has invested more than $4.7 million to sustain Healthy U through 2019, and the organizations work together on strategies to advance Healthy U’s reach and collective impact.

Pearson and Lovett believe that the recent legislation making recess mandatory in N.J. elementary schools is evidence of the influence of Healthy U on raising consciousness about what contributes to children and family health.

In May of this year, over 100 Healthy U champions and partners from YMCAs and schools from all over the state gathered at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford to celebrate 10 years of community impact. Cornell noted that, “Healthy U’s collective impact could fill the stands of the stadium.”

Pearson said, “Childhood obesity can and must be overcome and with the support of more than 100 leaders coming together, it is our collective commitment and vast network of health advocates that will help us reach this attainable goal.”

That and the shared vision and seamless teamwork of The Horizon Foundation and N.J. YMCA Alliance—two organizations that are more than funder and fundee; rather they are two partners on a mission to transform the health of New Jersey families.