People who spend their lives taking care of others – like AHRC New York City staff – need to take time to take care of themselves. Now on select weeknights, many employees are joining together and enriching themselves with self-care thanks to the efforts of professional community partners contributing their expertise via Zoom classes. Wendy Hagen is sharing nearly three decades of experience teaching yoga with a group session on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m., while Maximillian “Max” Humpert shares his culinary prowess on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. with a cooking class. They got involved with AHRC NYC through their connection with Karen Zuckerman, Director of Community Partner Engagement.

Bringing Their Expertise to AHRC NYC

The dinner table has historically been used to unite people,” Max said. “I’ve been using food and dinner as a way to connect with my friends and family, especially now, and I want the people who watch my class to be able to do that too.” Max, born to a German father and Italian-American mother and raised in Rome, grew up in an environment where home-cooked meals were sacred. For his first cooking class on July 15th, Max drew from his heritage to teach staff members to create a simple spaghetti aglio e olio—pasta with sautéed garlic and olive oil with an arugula pear salad.

My grandfather bakes his own bread, cures his own salmon, very in-depth levels of cooking,” Max explained. “We went out of our way to make the best food possible and I was always there for that. I have a distinct memory of when I was 6 or 8 years old, my grandmother was teaching me how to chop onions properly, even though I could barely see over the counter.

Similarly, Wendy has seen the connective power of yoga in action for nearly 30 years. “My purpose is to bring yoga to people who may not have ever experienced it before, who may not have the financial means to take classes, or who may just not have time in their schedule to get to a class,” Wendy said. Last year, she created adaptive yoga sessions for people with I/DD supported by The Arc of Westchester.

It was my favorite class to teach. I’ve taught seniors, celebrities, teachers, men, women, and children, and [teaching people with I/DD] was such a beautiful experience. Some practiced in their wheelchairs or on the floor. It was very much about adapting the poses for the person. It’s the way I believe yoga should be taught, as opposed to adapting ourselves to the pose.

Creating New Connections

Wendy and Max both used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to support AHRC NYC staff members. (Wendy additionally offers several virtual yoga classes per week to people supported by AHRC NYC programs.) “Staff members need to find ways to step away from the stress,” Wendy said. “Many of them will get on earlier before the class starts and say that they’ve had difficult days, especially people who are in residential programs where they have lost people. I can see a lot of connections that staff members have with each other that they may not have otherwise.

Max, who works in the music industry, wants AHRC NYC staff members to use cooking as he does—a passion project that contributes greatly to his mental and physical health. “In a time where we don’t know what to do with ourselves, cooking is something where you’re working towards something; it’s a reminder why we put the effort into things and why we go forward. It’s an activity anyone can do and anyone can find pleasure from on a daily basis.

None of this would be possible without a passionate person behind these great teachers. “Karen has been so wonderful, encouraging us to be creative,” Wendy said. “She’s been supportive about trying to find projects that are workable not only for the people we support but also to suit the volunteers’ strengths.