From the first day, I fell in love.” Fourteen years ago, Natalya Kravtsova knew she had found a professional home when she walked into AHRC NYC’s Betty Pendler Day Services’s Program B. “In my home country, Kyrgyzstan, I was a teacher,” Natalya said. “When I came to America I started out as a home attendant and then I decided to come here instead.” She hasn’t looked back since.

Increasing Health and Wellness

Natalya and Noemi Andeliz water the plants

Natalya and Noemi Andeliz water the plants

There are dozens of plants in the hallways and rooms at 200 Varick Street, the building where the two programs are based. Natalya and her green-thumb group are responsible for all of them. “The plants beautify this space and make everyone proud of their work,” she explained. Gardening is an integral part of Natalya’s goal to increase the health and wellness of the people she supports.

Ten years ago, there was no health club,” Natalya said. “A lot of people had problems with their health and diets. Every meal would have soda and doughnuts. It broke my heart.” Natalya began the process of instituting a healthier lifestyle by strongly encouraging everyone to focus on the liquid that supports all life as we know it—water.

Step-by-step, I tried to replace soda with juice and then juice with water. It’s all gradual,” she explained. In the following years, Natalya’s Water Club has given presentations at other day programs to explain the benefits of cutting out sugary drinks, partnered with New York City’s Million Trees Project, donated plants to local senior centers, and given life to a small plot of farmland in Battery Park.

A Personal Touch

Natalya said she tries to tailor her health initiatives with a person-centered mindset. “I’m big on making it personal for them,” she explained. “We were excited to have our place at the urban farm [in Battery Park], so one way I made it personal is for them to pick their favorite plant or vegetable to grow.”

Jasmin Walker and Andres Martinex are a part of Betty Pendler Day Services' gardening group

Jasmin Walker and Andres Martinex are a part of Betty Pendler Day Services’ gardening group

This method of individual attention has increased the wellness and happiness of a number of people. “I liked to plant carrots at the farm,” Andres Martinez said. “I love watering the tree, too. I feel responsible.”

Natalya helped me eat smaller portions,” said Jasmine Walker. “She’s showed me how to do the planting and helps me to exercise. If I get upset, she has taught me to look out the window to calm down. I don’t know what we would do without her.”

For her part, Natalya gets joy out of the changes she has seen over time. “I’m so proud of them and I’m proud that I could make a difference in their lives,” she said.