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Watertown leaders learn about Syracuse program to develop underserved neighborhoods

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WATERTOWN — As the city looks to improve its struggling neighborhoods, local leaders learned about collaborative work underway to improve the health of underserved residents of one Syracuse neighborhood.

The key to that effort has been the Near West Side Initiative, which since 2007 has brought together multiple government, educational, medical and business resources and generated tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure investment for the neighborhood.

One recently developed program in that initiative has sought to improve the health of Near West Side residents and encourage healthier eating choices.

The initiative and healthy eating program was explained Tuesday by Paul C. Nojaim, owner of Nojaim Brothers Supermarkets, and Rebecca A. Bostwick, program director of Syracuse University’s Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, during a meeting at Watertown’s Trinity Episcopal Church, 227 Sherman St.

As part of the health initiative, shoppers at the supermarket can have their food data transferred to medical providers to improve their care, and help public health and Syracuse University student researchers in their work, including nutrition education at the store.

In one hypothetical scenario, Mr. Nojaim said a diabetic patient who buys a sugary syrup may be encouraged to switch to a healthier sugar-free syrup. Food choices by participating customers receive a score based on their healthiness, which they can later redeem for reward items.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

After the meeting, the pair addressed the challenges that Watertown could face in implementing a similar program, which has been two years in the making.

Ms. Bostwick said it is important to secure community partnerships before seeking funding.

“People come with good intentions, but it takes good partnerships to make it work,” she said.

After the meeting, city Councilman Stephen A. Jennings said the city should look for opportunities to collaborate with other entities to improve health in struggling communities, such as those around Factory, Huntington, Franklin and Hamilton Streets.

“That’s the key to improving neighborhoods: every sector at the table with residents trying to address issues,” Mr. Jennings said.

Anita K. Seefried-Brown, program director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council, said plans to implement some of the Syracuse group’s ideas will be taken up at future meetings of its community work group.

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