Our Experience at the NYC Creating Wellness Fair
By Jen Cohn, BS, CPRP and Christina Serrano, BS, CPRP, Wellness Trainers, CSPNJ Institute for Wellness and Recovery Initiatives
On Tuesday, June 25, 2013 we attended the first annual Wellness Fair at the Harlem YMCA located at 180 W 135th St. in New York City. The event was coordinated by an energized team through the leadership of Carlton Whitmore, Jody Silver, and Sharon Niederman from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Office of Consumer Affairs, along with a variety of community based organizations, including NYAPRS, Baltic Street AEH, Howie T. Harp, New York City OMH Field Office, in addition to technical assistance by Peggy Swarbrick of Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSPNJ). It was so exciting to be part of this wellness community. Despite the 90+-degree heat, approximately 100 people attended the event, which was scheduled from 10am-3pm. The program included opening remarks by Jody Silver, Director of the DOHMH Office of Consumer Affairs and Colleen Mimnagh, a peer support specialist with NYAPRS. Presentations were made by staff from the DOHMH Take Care NY Campaign, and the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control. Presentations included an overview of wellness in the 8 dimensions by Dr. Peggy Swarbrick, and presentations by Rebecca Lee, a physical activity coordinator, on sugary drinks and nutrition, and by Jenna Ritter, who talked about yoga for healing. There were several other stimulating workshops, including drumming and healthy eating. The gym floor was filled with vendors sharing information on diabetes, smoking cessation, controlling blood sugar, etc.
How refreshing to attend a health event and view wellness through different lenses. Christina discovered Mike Veny, an “outside the box” presenter using drumming as a tool to engage recovering individuals.
Christina on Drumming at the Fair
Drumming peaked my interest, being of Puerto Rican heritage with a family of percussion players. After talking with Mike, I decided to attend his workshop. Overall, I was intrigued and energized by this great workshop in a comfortable room where a circle of people played various percussion instruments, rain sticks, djembé drums, and others I couldn’t readily identify, but sounded amazing. I chose a big beautiful djembé drum.
Mike spoke of his mental health journey and inspiration to share his talent, easily connecting with the 20+ participants who acknowledged his challenge facilitating a workshop while working through severe anxiety. Mike got us out of our seats for a “rhythm test” icebreaker. He played cowbell as we walked to the beat, found a partner, struck funny poses, and screamed out loud when the music stopped.
Then we sat down to make our magic. Mike conducted with hand gestures to stop, or “bring it down” to a quieter sound, encouraging us to create our own music and connect with one another.
Shy curious participants, myself included, were confident drummers by workshop’s end. Everyone had a solo and we drummed our appreciation. We each shared what we learned and felt. Everyone smiled, having shed our daily stress.
Mike conducts drumming events across the country, such as employee team building workshops and large conferences of several hundred people. His website testimonials speak for themselves (www.transformingstigma.com). I am now among those who love to drum their feelings.
Jen on Nutrition at the Fair
I attended an eye-opening nutrition workshop run by Ruth Chiles R.D., CDN. Ruth opened by handing us paper plates and asking, “What did you have for dinner last night?” instructing us to draw last night’s dinner. It seems the old food pyramid has been replaced with a 9-inch plate, ¼ portion for protein, another ¼ for carbohydrates, and ½ for vegetables, or a combination of fruits and vegetables. We should be eating a rainbow—a variety of non-processed foods, especially fruits and vegetables—meaning you’re getting a greater variety of vitamins. (See Choose My Plate, http://www.choosemyplate.org)
We discussed what we should eat and how we should eat it. Surprisingly, eating Chinese food straight from the container is a bad idea. Question: How many servings of food would be in Ruth’s pint of vegetable fried rice (carbohydrates)? The audience screamed 5! No, 10! Answer: A pint of Chinese vegetable fried rice holds about 5 servings of rice. That’s enough to fill up 5 meals worth of carbohydrates on your plate. Ruth emphasized most people eat half a pint (out of the container!) or may eat it all as one meal. By eating from your plate, you’ll eat less than the whole container.
Finally, we checked our plates to see if they matched the serving recommendations. Good news! Most folks ate the recommended portions. I left the workshop with newfound knowledge.
The overall take-home message of the fair was this: Do what makes you healthy, happy and well. Eating healthy, exercising and using constructive outlets for emotional balance are good for everyone, though the path of overall wellness varies per individual. Whether yoga, drumming, quitting smoking, or eating more nutritiously, the path to wellness is an inspiring journey.
Note: You can contact NYC DOHMH Office Of Consumer Affairs, (347) 396-7194 or Bfoster@health.nyc.gov. They also have a wellness list serve that promotes wellness information and resources: email@example.com