HeartCorps member working with Y to improve health in Hudson Valley

Natasha Fowler-Varon

Wappingers Falls native Natasha Fowler-Varon is the Hudson Valley’s first HeartCorps member, working to improve health in the Kingston area in affiliation with the YMCA of Kingston & Ulster County.

HeartCorps is the American Heart Association’s  new Public Health AmeriCorps service opportunity. Most of the programs operate in rural areas, or smaller population areas like Kingston. Public Health AmeriCorps is a program of AmeriCorps and the CDC, and will provide a pathway to public health-related careers while helping to meet the public health needs of local communities.

Fowler-Varon is a 2023 graduate of the University of Albany.

“This  job is a match for what I had to offer, and will let me gain firsthand experience engaging with the community,” Fowler-Varon said. “I became interested in public health when I took an introductory course as a first-year student. I was struck by the different between equity and equality, and was fascinated by the field.”

Fowler-Varon began the position in October, and it runs until August.

HeartCorps is designed to reduce the risk of heart disease, especially by reducing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure, and, true to its moniker of “the silent killer,” many don’t know they have it. It’s a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

While the Kingston Y prepares to launch a self-monitoring blood pressure program, Fowler-Varon is building community relationships and helping with other programs that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“We’ll do the Check It! Challenge, the online self-monitoring blood pressure program that runs from February to May, and I’m working with health clinics and doctors’ offices  to get referrals to the diabetes prevention program that the Y runs,” Fowler-Varon said. “We’re also working on tobacco cessation programs, and I’ve learned a lot about nutrition security from the Eat Well Kingston meetings I’ve attended.”

In her work, Fowler-Varon also attends community events to provide health information to the community.

Fowler-Varon is also a soccer player who played on the Puerto Rican national soccer team.

“Natasha’s work is helping us reduce high blood pressure in the Hudson Valley,” said Alex DiCicco of Johnson & Wales University and chair of the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association in the Hudson Valley. “Too many people live with high blood pressure and don’t know it, which is why it’s called the silent killer. We also know that Black people are more likely to have high blood pressure than white people. Diagnosis is an important step to fighting this risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The Kingston Y and Natasha are providing a way to improve high blood pressure in Kingston, where, in some parts of the city, 34.3 % of people live with it.”

“Natasha has been an integral part of our YMCAs launch of Diabetes Prevention Program and Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program,” said Judy Burns, YMCA Wellness Director. “She has established collaborations with Community organizations and health care providers.  Her motivation and efforts have helped our YMCA get to the forefront of offering evidence-based programs.”

Fowler-Varon has also attended the Heart Association’s Advocacy Day at the New York State Capitol, and will be at the Hudson Valley Heart Walk on Saturday, April 27.

For information about HeartCorps, visit https://www.heart.org/en/volunteer/opportunities/heartcorps.

To learn more about the CheckIt! Challenge, visit heart.or/checkitny.

To be part of the Hudson Valley Heart Walk, visit heart.org/hudsonvalleyheartwalk.