Jesse Allen Park in Newark was uplifted Tuesday afternoon as the New York Jets' 2012 rookie class and 10 members of the New Jersey National Guard installed the finishing touches on a new outdoor Trust for Public Land Fitness Zone featuring 11 workout stations.
Forty children from the Boys and Girls Club of Newark attended the event, which celebrated the 14th annual Hometown Huddle, an NFL-wide day of service with United Ways across the nation.
"Over 40 percent of adults in this country are clinically obese," said Chris Kay, Trust for Public Land senior vice president and chief operating officer. "Thirty percent of kids are being diagnosed as overweight or obese. This is a critical problem, which needs a critical solution. Fitness Zones provide the solution."
Tuesday's program began with Anthony Cucchi, Trust for Public Land New Jersey state director, addressing the crowd. Newark Deputy Mayor Margarita Muñiz and Keith Green, president of United Way of Essex and West Hudson, also spoke.
"The Jets year after year come out and put their hands and feet together to make sure that our community is healthy," Green said. "I want you to thank them, and when I say thank them, I mean THANK THEM."
Lisa Block, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey's senior program officer, emphasized to the Boys and Girls Club members: "Think of this place as a prescription to go out and be active in your life. Be physically healthy and have a sense of well-being, to let out your stress. Be calm and have a good time with your family and your friends. Play and have fun. That's my prescription to you."
The Trust for Public Land has built over 80 different fitness zones across the country. Yet before the Jesse Allen Park establishment, none had been formed in the Northeast and none had been built by an NFL team.
"We've been in this community for 17 years, and with the renovation of this park it will mark $40 million of value in improved parks to the folks here in Newark," Kay said. "We're very proud of our relationship. We're very proud of what the city of Newark has been able to accomplish."
Born and raised in Newark, Dennis White, MetLife Foundation president and CEO, was pleased to return to his hometown and witness the Hometown Huddle event.
"This is a great day," White said. "MetLife Foundation has been a partner with the Trust for Public Land for 15 or 20 years. We've done parks and playgrounds across the country in different cities. I don't even know the count, but it's been a lot. Each one is special. This one has the Fitness Zone, which is great."
The Jets rookies along with National Guard representatives divided into groups with kids from the Boys and Girls Club to help finish activities, which included securing logo signs on the equipment, raking mulch and planting flowers at the main FZ (Fitness Zone) sign.
"It means a lot to get out here and see the kids enjoy this great workout equipment that's just been put into the ground," first-round draft pick Quinton Coples said. "It's always a good time to see kids enjoy themselves and also be active at the same time."
Coples has always believed in giving back to the community. His fondness toward the concept was especially evident prior to training camp when he hosted a barbeque in his hometown of Kinston, N.C.
"It's a great feeling for me to see the impact that I can have on their lives and the impact that this equipment can have as well," he said.
Fellow rookies Josh Bush and Demario Davis also walked away from the program with plenty of positives.
"A lot of guys, we come from backgrounds like this and have been through areas like this," Bush said. "Just to come back and give a little bit of hope to kids and the community, it's always a good thing.
"Growing up, I never had anything like this, a professional athlete or anything come in and talk to me. Just to even think of me, talking to a kid right now, with my stature or whatever, it's kind of amazing to me, because I never had it growing up."
"The most important thing is that these guys get to come by and exercise every day," Davis said. "With technology the way it is today, all these kids have more and more reasons just to sit at home and be on the computer playing video games. Encouraging them to come outside and exercise and at least try to get that 60 minutes of work in a day, it's just good to be able to give back and see how you can brighten someone else's life."
The NFL and the Jets are focused on promoting youth health and fitness through the league's PLAY 60 program. Throughout the year, Jets players and representatives make appearances at schools and community events to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day to help reverse the trend of childhood obesity.
"At the end of the day, everybody is not going to be an athlete," Coples said. "But you can always be active and always go to the gym, workout, keep your body in good shape and a good fit. The message that I stress is continue to work, continue to workout and strive for all your goals."