JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI) operates the New York State Obesity Prevention Center for Excellence (OPCE). For over 40 years, JSI staff have embraced the mission to improve the health of underserved people and communities by providing high-quality technical and managerial assistance to public health programs across the nation. JSI is deeply committed to building healthy communities, having managed over 50 projects with this mission. In partnership with government agencies, the private sector, and local nonprofit and civil society organizations, JSI works to improve quality and achieve sustainable change in communities and health systems. Learn more about the services OPCE provides to the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities (CHSC) grantees.
Tamara Vehige Calise
Senior Director, Healthy Communities
Tamara Vehige Calise, DrPH, is the Co-Director of OPCE. She has nearly 20 years of public health experience at the local, state, and federal government levels, as well as in academia. Dr. Calise’s interests are in creating healthy communities specifically related to obesity and chronic disease prevention, as well as eliminating health disparities across these outcomes. Her experience includes conducting research and evaluations to better understand how policies, environments, and systems influence behaviors like physical activity and eating. She has experience in conducting mixed methods evaluations that include quantitative and qualitative data and track the reach, adoption, implementation, and effectiveness of complex interventions. Dr. Calise has also successfully worked with state and local agencies to incorporate evidence-based strategies, ensuring that physical and social systems continue to support healthy behaviors.
Dr. Calise served as the Project Director/Lead Evaluator on a number of initiatives, including the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance’s Healthy Incentives Program, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Healthy Eating Active Living and Building Communities for Better Health initiatives, a Community Transformation Grant/Mass In Motion Initiative MetroWest Moves in Hudson MA, the Ozarks Regional Food Policy Council in Missouri, and the Health Trust Food Access Needs Assessment for Vulnerable Populations in San Jose, CA, among many others.
As a way to enhance both evaluation and implementation of healthy communities strategies, Dr. Calise has become increasingly involved in developing information exchange and systems integration. Through web-based platforms, she helps to ensure partners from across geographic areas and organizations have opportunities to collect and compile data, share information, leverage resources, and document and enhance their collective impact. Dr. Calise received her DrPH in social and behavioral sciences from Boston University, and her MEd in health education and BS in human nutrition and physical fitness from the University of Missouri.
Consultant, Healthy Communities
Amanda Ryder, MS, is the Co-Director of OPCE and Technical Assistance lead for half of the Capital, Central, and Western CHSC grantees. Ms. Ryder has over ten years of experience providing training and technical assistance to support implementation and evaluation of public health initiatives. Her interests and expertise are in chronic disease prevention and health promotion, particularly initiatives targeting policy, systems, and environmental change to increase access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Ms. Ryder has worked with a variety of organizations and is skilled at facilitating multi-sector collaborative efforts and engaging non-traditional partners to support healthy communities. She served as a Coordinator for the Community Transformation Grant/Mass In Motion Initiative MetroWest Moves. She also served as evaluator for a number of initiatives, including the Missouri Foundation for Health’s Healthy Schools Healthy Communities Project, the Greater Rochester Health Foundation Childhood Healthy Weight Initiative, the Ozarks Regional Food Policy Council in Missouri, and the Rhode Island Department of Health Initiative for a Healthy Weight. Ms. Ryder holds her MS in public health from Harvard University and her BA in psychology from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Laura A. Rios Ruggiero
Consultant, Healthy Communities
Laura Rios Ruggiero, MPH, is the Technical Assistance Lead for half of the Capital, Central, and Western grantees. Ms. Rios Ruggiero’s interests and expertise are in healthy communities including social determinants and policy, system, and environmental changes for improving healthy eating and physical activity. Ms. Rios Ruggiero’s experience includes program monitoring and evaluation, project management, technical assistance, qualitative and quantitative data collection, data management, and reporting. Since joining JSI in 2016, Ms. Rios Ruggiero has served as project manager for the evaluations of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Healthy Eating Active Living and Building Communities for Better Health initiatives, the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance’s Healthy Incentives Program and SNAP-Ed, among others. She has also provided training and technical assistance on policy, system, and environmental change efforts to New York State’s SNAP-Ed local implementing agencies. Ms. Rios Ruggiero holds an MPH in social and behavioral sciences and a BA in sociology from Boston University.
Project Associate, Healthy Communities
Amelia Fox provides support to OPCE. In this role, she has coordinated virtual and in-person trainings; conducted research; edited and designed products and material; oriented grantees to OPCE services; and provided budget and fiscal support. Ms. Fox joined JSI in 2019. She holds her BA in International Development and Global Health from the University of Denver.
OPCE Partner Organizations
A variety of organizations collaborate with OPCE and bring significant experience in policy and environmental changes that support physical activity and healthy eating:
America Walks is dedicated to expanding safe, walkable communities throughout the U.S. by training community-based stakeholders and facilitating collaborative planning processes. America Walks provides strategy support, training and technical assistance to regional, state and local organizations and people. Since 2015, more than 100 advocates have completed six-month Walking College Fellowships, leading to new coalitions community campaigns, and policies. America Walks hosts National Walking Summits, bringing together advocates to advance best practices in creating safe, walkable, equitable communities. In 2019, America Walks collaborated with OPCE to develop the New York State Walking College: Creating Complete Streets for Everyone, a new interactive, online training program for CHSC grantees and their community partners (see testimonials part 1 and part 2).
Alliance for a Healthier Generation (Healthier Generation), founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, aims to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and empower children to develop lifelong, healthy habits. Healthier Generation guides schools, companies, community organizations, health care professionals, and families to build healthier environments for more than 20 million children, with a focus on low-income and minority populations. Healthier Generation’s team of national school health experts provide high-quality technical assistance, professional development, tools, and resources, both in-person (onsite) and online, to schools throughout the U.S. Healthier Generation has offered high quality in-person and virtual training and professional development and partnered with OPCE and grantees to have advance the mission of CHSC.
Cairn Guidance is a consulting firm with experience in school health at the local, state, and national levels. Cairn Guidance connects and helps position schools, government entities, non-profits, health systems, and community organizations to enact systems change and evidence-based strategies to advance the dual goals of health and learning. Cairn Guidance serves as a content expert; facilitates engaging, professional develop opportunities for educators and partners in education; develops curricula and resources for schools, districts and State Departments; and offers keynote presentation for professional conference events and workshops. In 2019, CHSC grantees participated in the Systems Thinking; Systems Changing simulation to support implementation and sustainability of programs, practices, and policies in school settings.
PedNet, a nonprofit organization, promotes healthy living through healthy eating and active transportation initiatives that engage and connect diverse community stakeholders to foster a collaborative effort. PedNet has experience in coaching communities to increase their capacity for implementing healthy eating and active living strategies; it routinely delivers technical assistance in collaboration building and action plan development in many communities across the country. Since the establishment of its consulting arm in 2010, PedNet has worked in 29 states in both rural and urban communities.
Innovative Leadership Strategies, LLC, a leadership and strategy development firm, supports individuals, organizations, and communities with navigating systems-level change to address problems before they become persistent and integrated.The firm has nearly 10 years of experience in identifying and assisting the implementation of adaptive solutions, building capacity and facilitating difficult conversations, and offering consulting and training services for team members and organizations invested in health and the healthcare industry. In 2020, Innovative Leadership Strategies collaborated with OPCE and Arnavon Strategies to establish the New York State Leadership Academy for Healthy Schools. This six-month learning experience builds school champions’ skills to navigate, advance, and sustain systems change for health and wellness in schools throughout New York State.
Arnavon Strategies provides highly customized and experiential leadership training, coaching, and capacity building to individuals and organizations. Arnavon Strategies is a certified TotalSDI (Strengths Deployment Inventory) facilitator, and as such can work with organizations to diagnose systems and identify how individual- and organization-level motivations inform what might be contributing to progress or conflict. In 2020, Arnavon Strategies collaborated with OPCE and Innovative Leadership Strategies, LLC to establish the New York State Leadership Academy for Healthy Schools, a six-month learning experience aimed at building school champions’ skills to navigate, advance, and sustain systems change for health and wellness in schools throughout New York State.