Working as a critical-care nurse in hospitals, Darleen Reveille daily witnessed the devastation caused by chronic disease in both emergency and operating rooms. She also knew that these problems were preventable. So she decided to work as a public health nurse to help families build healthier lifestyles, and thereby reduce obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and asthma.
“We all know about the problem of childhood obesity. What we needed were creative interventions and activities to encourage young people and their families to adopt healthy habits,” said Reveille, a public health nurse in the ethnically diverse, financially distressed city of Garfield, N.J.
Working with the mayor and the city council, Reveille spearheaded the F.U.N. (Fitness, Unity & Nutrition) Partnership along with professionals from Ramapo College of New Jersey, Rutgers University, the Garfield Parks and Recreation Department, public schools, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and several health insurance companies. The team developed some innovative approaches to reducing obesity, such as using geographic information system (GIS) technology, and designing summer camps to promote physical activity and make learning about nutrition fun.
For bringing her community together to develop creative approaches to improving health and preventing obesity, Reveille has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for 2012. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Reveille will receive the award during a ceremony in San Antonio on October 17.
“Not all kids are involved in organized sports or are athletically inclined,” said Reveille. “We started to think about every aspect of a child’s life and how we could increase physical activity or change what they were eating in our community.” For example, F.U.N. launched the Garfield Green Team for students to use interactive community mapping to create an inventory of parks, crosswalks, and food establishments in the area. When the team discovered there was no sidewalk connecting the middle school to the train station, public officials were alerted and a new sidewalk was installed.
She also increased the number of students who were walking to school by encouraging participation in the National Safe Routes to School Program and establishing “walking school buses,” groups of kids who all met and walked together. “When we increase walking, we improve physical fitness, but we also reduce the use of buses and cars, improving air quality—which can also reduce problems like asthma,” Reveille said. “The way we organize our communities can make a big difference in either promoting a sedentary lifestyle or promoting health. We want to promote good health.”
F.U.N. also worked with Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension to establish community and school gardens. This initiative promotes environmental and nutritional awareness by teaching potential career skills and an appreciation of food and vegetables.
“Obesity affects our health, but it can also be terrible for self-esteem,” Reveille said. “I hope I can help parents and children to avoid suffering those negative feelings. As nurses, we know that we can empower people to make positive changes in their lives and in their communities. I want people to know that someone cares about their health. That’s what I try to do.”
Janice Ford Griffin, national program director of Community Health Leaders, said the selection committee honored Reveille for her creativity and commitment to improving the health of her community. “Darleen has been the key unifying element in a comprehensive, community-wide, strategic approach in which various stakeholders actively engage and draw upon their own expertise for the common goal of reducing obesity among the children in Garfield,” she said.
Reveille was nominated for the award by Marisa Barcia, Garfield YMCA marketing director. “Darleen Reveille is passionate about the health of her community. She is a force of nature, and her enthusiasm is contagious,” Barcia said. “In this era of declining funding and declining public support for public health, she has been able to create partnerships that support the F.U.N. philosophy. Any individual who works with her will credit her with many of the initiatives and collaborations that have resulted in better health knowledge among the citizens of Garfield.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has honored more than 200 Community Health Leaders since 1993. The work of the nine other 2012 recipients includes culturally appropriate care for Native Alaskan elders; a community initiative to reduce opioid abuse and drug overdoses in Wilkes County, N.C.; a program to prevent and treat cancer among medically underserved populations in South Carolina’s Low Country region; an outreach program to assist older adults living at home in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains; an initiative to connect refugees to mental health services in Seattle; a free health care clinic for the working poor in Little Rock, Ark.; a breast cancer awareness and treatment program for African immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area; support services for Latino survivors of sexual violence in Philadelphia, and a project to promote healthy lifestyles and working conditions for immigrant workers in Los Angeles.
For details on how to submit a nomination, including eligibility requirements and selection criteria, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.