Camden Celebrates Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday

Poet Walt Whitman called Camden his home from 1873 until his death in 1892. His roamings around New Jersey included a day trip to Atlantic City, which inspired him with its “uninterrupted space.” Bettman/Getty Images

“I celebrate myself, and I sing myself,” Walt Whitman declared in Song of Myself, one of his earliest poems. Camden is taking that sentiment to heart with a celebration of the legendary poet’s 200th birthday on May 31.

“Camden gave Whitman an environment where he could reflect on the world,” says Leo Blake, curator of the Walt Whitman House, a National Historic Landmark. Born on Long Island, Whitman moved to Camden in 1873 at the age of 53, staying with his brother, George. He purchased his house at 328 Mickle Boulevard (now 328 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in 1884 for $1,750. During his Camden years, Whitman published Specimen Days, a collection of essays that includes his observations about the Civil War, and updated his most famous collection, Leaves of Grass, three times.

Whitman also found time to explore South Jersey. Two of his poems—Patrolling Barnegat and With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea!—were inspired by visits to the Jersey Shore. He made a day trip to Atlantic City by train in January 1879. A horse-and-carriage ride on the beach left him marveling at “the uninterrupted space, shore, salt atmosphere [and] sky.”

The poet’s impact was international. Irish authors Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker visited him in Camden. Wilde, then 27, met with Whitman in January 1882, and the two discussed their craft over homemade elderberry wine. Wilde was unrestrained in his praise of Whitman. “Of all your authors, I consider Walt Whitman the grandest and noblest,” he told the Boston Herald.

The Camden celebration includes legacy tours of the Whitman house from May 22–June 8, and “Democratic Vistas: Whitman, Body and Soul,” an exhibit of photos, paintings, glassworks and sculptures that runs May 30–December 7 in the Stedman Gallery on the Rutgers-Camden campus. For a complete list of events, visit

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In Ocean Grove, a Comforting Respite for Women Battling Cancer

Guests, staff and volunteers share stories over a meal at Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove. Photo by Bugsmom Photography

Tracey Kurtz was on a mission. The day in 2017 when she first walked through the doors of Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, Kurtz had just been diagnosed with cancer. At Mary’s Place, a respite home for women being treated for cancer, the West Belmar resident found a support group to help her through her ordeal. “I had never known anyone with cancer, and I was desperate to talk to someone like me,” she recalls. Kurtz, now in remission, still goes back to visit, more than one year after completing her treatments.

June 19 will mark the 10th anniversary of Mary’s Place. Cofounders Michele Gannon and Maria McKeon, who now serve as the paid president and vice president, respectively, opened Mary’s Place with two rented bedrooms in an Ocean Grove B&B. Two years later, they moved to a house in town with four beds; three years ago, they relocated to a 10-bedroom house built for the organization on Main Avenue.

To date, Mary’s Place has served close to 10,000 women from all over the country. “We have a paid staff of seven, over 120 volunteers, and a nine-member board,” Gannon says.

Guests can come for the day (Tuesday-Saturday) or settle in for a one- or two-night stay. Reservations are required for all visits (go to Activities include Reiki, yoga, oncology massages, individual and group counseling with trained therapists, guided meditation, nutrition education, expressive writing and jewelry making.

All Mary’s Place services, including meals, are complimentary. “Our budget is $600,000 a year. We raise about $200,000 with our walk-a-thon,” says Gannon. “We also apply for grants, but we couldn’t do this without the extra money we get from the people who throw fundraisers for us,” Gannon says, noting that their combined fundraising efforts generate $1.2 million. Funding beyond the annual budget is reserved for future expansion.

Marilee Celestino, 61, a former cancer patient, volunteers at least two Saturdays a month. She’s also there to support guests who need to talk to someone who has shared their journey. “I spend a lot of time talking to the guests, but more importantly, listening,” she says.

Kurtz, now 53, says that her cancer journey and Mary’s Place gave her a new perspective on cancer and on life. “I see what I’m made of now and how strong I am,” she says. “I know things I didn’t know before. I can ask for what I need, and I love myself.”

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Addiction-Recovery App Provides Access to Treatment

Brian Mcalister has witnessed substance abuse from both sides: as an addict for 20 years, and now, 28 years sober, as a recovery expert and author of the book Full Recovery, the Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power (MacSimum, 2015). He’s also the creator of an app, Freedom 365, that offers addiction-recovery tools on smart phones, tablets and desktop computers. 

“It’s 24-hour-a-day, 365-day support,” says McAlister of the app. “Everything is designed to interrupt negative thinking that can lead to a relapse.”

McAlister started drinking at 12, was addicted by high school, and at 33 had destroyed his marriage and career. After rehab, he rebuilt his life. In 2005, his sister’s death from a heroin overdose inspired a career in recovery. These days, the Stillwater resident is president and CEO of Full Recovery Wellness Center, a state-licensed facility in Fairfield. He created Freedom 365 to tackle addiction’s biggest obstacles: access to treatment and relapse rates.

“People don’t get treatment for a lot of reasons: the cost, no health insurance, and it’s difficult to leave work or family for 28 days,” says McAlister. And for those who get treatment, relapse rates are as high as 60 percent, according to the National Institute of Drug Addiction. 

The app, available at for $295 per year, starts with 28 days of videos and activities designed to uncover the addiction cause and build a recovery plan. When tempted to relapse, subscribers can click the “empowerment” button, and up pops a list of suggestions like, “attend AA meeting.”

“It’s like having a recovery coach with you all the time,” says Mike Walsh, a recovering addict from Hackensack. “It’s given me a roadmap to recovery.” 

McAlister acknowledges the app is not the same as licensed treatment, but is an option for those who can’t afford rehab. Eugene Stefanelli, a psychologist in Verona, says Freedom 365 can serve as a safety net for addicts, especially for the younger generation. “Their phones are their lives,” he says. “It’s convenient; you can use it on your own time.” 

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Not Your Average Germ: New Jersey Designates a State Microbe

Even the most fervent Jersey boosters have to admit that the Garden State lacks some crucial elements. A new tunnel under the Hudson River for commuters to New York would be nice. Shorter lines at the DMV. More NJ Transit trains. And, of course, a state microbe.

You’re thinking, New Jersey has no state microbe?  How is it possible that a state with so many microbes hasn’t added one of them to its roster of official symbols? After all, we have a state dinosaur, and it’s been extinct for 65 million years.  But before you voice that displeasure to your state representative, take heart: By the time this article sees print, the Legislature may well have voted to add a deserving microbe to a list of state flora and fauna that includes the beloved state animal (horse), bird (eastern goldfinch), bug (honeybee), fish (brook trout), flower (violet), tree (northern red oak), reptile (bog turtle), and yes, dinosaur (Hadrosaurus foulkii). 

When I first learned that our representatives in Trenton were entertaining—and likely to pass—a bill to establish a state microbe, I was dubious.  Our infrastructure is crumbling, state pensions are underfunded, and our economy still hasn’t fully bounced back from the Great Recession of 2008.  Shouldn’t we be attacking these more pressing problems before elevating the status of a germ?

But then I spoke with Jeffrey Boyd, who is part of a team of Rutgers microbiologists doggedly pressing for the state’s official adoption of the microbe known as Streptomyces griseus. Their campaign began a decade ago when Douglas Eveleigh, an éminence grise on the Rutgers faculty, co-authored an opinion piece in a scholarly journal promoting the idea that every state should have its own symbolic microbe.  It was Eveleigh’s feeling that the lay public didn’t appreciate the importance of microbes. “The problem,” Boyd says, “is that everyone thinks of them as something negative like, ‘They’re germs!  They’re bad!  I need to wash my hands all the time because there are microbes all over them!

In fact, he explains, the overwhelming majority of microbes have a positive effect on our lives, from the billions of good bugs that inhabit the human gut to those, like S. griseus itself, that form the basis for many of the antibiotics that protect us from, well, bacteria.

Microbiologist John Warhol, a member of the Rutgers team, made a similar argument in an elevator pitch—literally on an elevator—to state Senator Samuel D. Thompson (R-Old Bridge). Thompson signed on, and the bill was born—and not a day too soon.  We’ve already been beaten to the punch by Oregon, the first state to declare an official microbe (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, aka brewer’s yeast, the bug that launched 10 million Oregonian craft beers).

Not to dis Oregon, but our microbe has done a lot more than fuel hipster hangovers. In 1943, a team led by Rutgers microbiologist Selman Waksman announced that it had dug up some S. griseus from the Jersey soil and synthesized it into the world’s second antibiotic (the first was penicillin). Streptomycin was the first drug to effectively treat tuberculosis and has subsequently been wielded in the treatment of endocarditis, rat bite fever, plague and other highly unpleasant afflictions.  In 1952, it won Waksman, who coined the term antibiotic, a Nobel Prize.  

Riding what appears to be a microbial wave, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Kingston), a physicist and supporter of the bill, attended the December opening of a permanent exhibit at the Liberty Science Center titled “Microbes Rule!” Zwicker hopes that enshrining S. griseus as the state microbe—which, he notes, has saved hundreds of millions of lives—“will inspire the next great boy or girl scientist from New Jersey who is going to discover something that is as critically important as Streptomyces has been.”

Take that, brewer’s yeast!

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Where Women’s Health Gets Top Priority

In addition to encouraging women to have conversations with their health care providers, HealthyWomen brings women up to speed on health-care policy.

HealthyWomen logo.Photo courtesy of Art Petrosemolo.

Women tend to be the chief caregivers in most families, but who takes care of Mom?

A recent survey done by HealthyWomen in partnership with Redbook magazine and GCI Health found that 45 percent of women ages 30-60 “do not make time to focus on their own health.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow for HealthyWomen, a leading information source on women’s health since 1988. The Red Bank-based organization’s goal is to help women make informed decisions about their health and the health of their families. HealthyWomen is, in essence, giving women “permission to take care of ourselves,” says Beth Battaglino, CEO of the nonprofit and a registered nurse at Riverview Medical Center-Hackensack Meridian Health.

In addition to encouraging women to have conversations with their health care providers, HealthyWomen brings women up to speed on health-care policy. The group also advocates for research specific to women’s health. The goal is to move past the days when women were excluded from clinical trials and when a mastectomy was the only treatment for breast cancer. 

Thankfully, progress has been made. “We look at the glass as half full,” says Battaglino. 

The HealthyWomen website ( covers such topics as pregnancy and parenting; sex and relationships; and healthy aging.

 “We understand our audience and what she needs,” says Battaglino.

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Sing for Your Health! Helps Parkinson’s Patients Through Melodic Music

Dana Caltiri leads a group of Parkinson’s disease patients in therapeutic song.
Courtesy of Julia Peterson

The connection between singing and healing has long been a passion for singer/songwriter Dana Calitri. In addition to her successful career as a backup singer for artists like Celine Dion and Elton John and writing hit songs for the likes of Daughtry (“Crashed”) and Halestorm (“I Get Off”), the Bloomfield resident helped develop Sing for Your Health!, a therapeutic program for Parkinson’s disease patients that’s offered monthly in West Orange, Ridgewood and New York City. 

Studies have shown that singing can help Parkinson’s patients speak, move and feel better, as well as help alleviate anxiety and stress. With those results in mind, Calitri helped create the program in 2015 with Audrey Berger Welz, a music-business colleague who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago, and for whom singing has proven extremely beneficial. 

“It’s a two-hour group workshop focusing on the healing power of sound and singing,” Calitri says. “We talk about the science, give the attendees vocal exercises to address their symptoms, and then we lead them in singing.” The accompanying musicians are all industry professionals; the songs range from Broadway to the Beatles.

“You don’t have to be able to sing to be in the workshop,” Calitri stresses. “And it’s not only for people with Parkinson’s, but for their caregivers and friends, too.”

The West Orange program, held at the JCC Metrowest, is free. The Ridgewood group meets at the local YMCA for a minimal charge. The programs are sponsored in part by US WorldMeds, a specialty pharmaceutical company. For more information, visit

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Wellness Centers: Diverse Paths to Health

Wellness centers incorporate traditional and nontraditional medical approaches to offer patients individualized paths to well-being.

Courtesy of Pixabay/ nnoeki

Integrative, health-forward wellness centers incorporate traditional and nontraditional medical approaches to offer patients individualized paths to well-being—from consultations with medical doctors to acupuncture, meditation and a host of complementary treatments.

Chambers Center for Well Being

An affiliate of Atlantic Health System, this 20,000-square-foot facility with 15 treatment rooms has an extensive roster of holistic services, including healing touch, nutritional counseling, hypnosis, massage (from aromatherapy to prenatal), skin care and more. Classes include Ayurveda self care, healthy cooking, meditation, tai chi and stress reduction.
• 435 South Street, Morristown

Mecca Integrated Medical

The providers on this team include chiropractors, physical therapists, an osteopath, an M.D., an acupuncturist and a massage therapist. The center offers acupuncture, physical therapy and nutrition counseling. Patients can also receive pain-management treatments, including minimally invasive procedures such as epidurals, along with laser therapy and spinal decompression therapy.
• 333 Route 46 West
Building A, Suite 135, Fairfield

Princeton Integrative Health

The team at this practice includes nutrition specialists, a medical doctor, a cannabis educator and a naturopath. The services are offered in preset packages focused on improving nutrition and addressing chronic conditions, as well as a transition plan to help maintain progress. Programs include varying levels of support such as individualized meal planning, one-on-one consultations, lab-work analysis and customized supplement protocols.
• 134 Franklin Corner Road, Suite 101B, Lawrenceville

Sanare Center for Integrative Medicine

Services include medical consultations, pain management, nutrition counseling, non-surgical orthopedics and coaching on mindfulness.
• 35 Olcott Square, Bernardsville

Soul Focus

A major goal of this wellness center is to help patients avoid unnecessary surgeries and medication. Programs include medical weight loss, spinal decompression, joint therapy and chiropractic, plus gym and spa facilities.
• 7 Meridian Road, Eatontown

Tao Integrative Medicine

Mind, body and spirit are at the forefront at this diverse practice of psychologists, acupuncturists, physicians, meditation and nutrition counselors. Among treatment options are Chinese herbs, psychotherapy, infrared sauna therapy and nutrition therapy.
• 999 Route 73 North, Suite 200, Marlton

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5 Essential Foods to Add to Your Diet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Diet is ground zero when it comes to improving and maintaining health. So-called superfoods are building blocks to address or prevent chronic diseases and even slow aging. “Nutrients are most powerful when they come in the form of food rather than a pill,” says Amy Rind, a holistic nutritionist in Maplewood.

What are the primo foods to integrate into your diet for optimal health? We asked Rind and Jersey-based health coach Beth Nydick for their top food picks.

Fermented Foods

Foods such as kombucha, yogurt, kimchi and krauts reintroduce good bacteria—often in short supply due to stress, alcohol, illness and medication—back into the gut.

Benefits: Improves microbiota to help relieve anxiety and depression; boosts heart health; may improve autoimmune conditions; helps manage weight; and curbs sugar cravings.

Chia Seeds

Tiny but mighty, add these mild-tasting, nutty-flavored seeds to smoothies, salads or even a meatloaf.

Benefits: High fiber; high in calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc; loaded with antioxidants; and high protein.

Bone Broth

Changing culinary tastes eliminated snout-to-tail consumption of animals, removing essential nutrients from many diets. Bone broth reintroduces important aminos like glycine, proline, collagen and glutamine.

Benefits: Boosts immunity; lowers inflammation; improves sleep; elevates mood; good for the gut; and improves hydration.


The personal trainers of our immune system, mushrooms strengthen it over time.

Benefits: Fights cancer (maitake); B vitamins (shitake); blood-pressure-lowering compounds (shitake); adaptogens (reishi); improves energy; elevates mood and fights depression.

Green Vegetables

‘‘What is the healthiest green veggie? The one you eat!,” says certified holistic health coach Beth Nydick.” You have to eat them to get the best nutrients. My favorite is spinach—good, old spinach. It has high carotenoids and plenty of antioxidants to eradicate potentially hazardous free radicals. To eat more, add greens to smoothies (include a banana and you will not even taste the spinach). Add greens to soups or throw some in when you are roasting proteins in the oven.”

“My motto is: Kale, yeah!” says holistic nutritionist Amy Rind. “I love kale because it’s high in vitamins C and K, plus fiber. It’s also a good plant-based source of calcium and iron. Pair kale with a healthy fat like sunflower seeds or avocado to absorb the most nutrients from this green powerhouse.”

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