Growing Wellness In The Time Of COVID

Zachary Couzens’ parents were among the first COVID-19 cases in Putnam County in the harrowing weeks of March 2020. Zachary was only 16, and his brother 15, when his parents were admitted to Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH) with COVID-19 complications. After a frightening week, his mother returned home, but his father was put on a ventilator. It would be three more weeks of recovery before his father came home to continue his healing. The experience left Zack grateful…and wanting to give back.

Zachary Couzens, a 17-year-old from Mahopac, NY, built a COVID-19 Memorial Garden for Northern Westchester Hospital healthcare workers for his Eagle Scout Project.
Zachary Couzens, a 17-year-old from Mahopac, NY, built a COVID-19 Memorial Garden for Northern Westchester Hospital healthcare workers for his Eagle Scout Project. Photo Credit: Alex Couzens

Read more about how Northern Westchester Hospital helped Zack’s family through COVID-19.

“Fortunately, everyone recovered, in large part due to the extraordinary care my family received,” Zack said. “I wanted to dedicate my Eagle Scout project to the heroes at Northern Westchester Hospital.”

This wasn’t Zack’s first life-changing experience at NWH. Born ten weeks early at the hospital and weighing only 2 pounds, 8 ounces, Zack spent weeks in the NICU. “The hospital has given so much to my family. They saved both my parents’ lives, and my own.”

Meanwhile, Northern Westchester Hospital leaders recognized that many staff were themselves recovering. A Wellness, Recognition and Resilience Committee was formed to further support NWH providers during this unprecedented time. Out of this group the idea was born: a Wellness Garden.

Rebecca Martin, committee member and the Senior Director of Food and Dining Services at Northern Westchester Hospital and Phelps Hospital, said the idea quickly grew beyond helping staff. “If we build a garden of raised beds, we can grow vegetables, all organic, and give them to the community.”

Martin added, “It will be a great mental health break for our staff as the garden will be planted, weeded and harvested on a volunteer basis by staff looking to unwind in the fresh air.”

The garden’s tasty harvest will be “prescribed” to patients who face food insecurity. These patients will leave the hospital with fresh, organic, ready-to-eat fruits and veggies selected for them by staff dietitians to meet their dietary needs.

As an added benefit for patients, Michelin-starred Executive Chef Andrew Cain, who is responsible for the healthy and delicious menus at NWH and Phelps Hospital, staked out a bed for an herb garden. Its aromatic, tasty plants will season his creations.

Now Zack had the perfect project! He called in his fellow Scouts, classmates and family, and over two days more than 30 volunteers built 27 raised beds. And Zack didn’t stop there. He started a GoFundMe page to help pay for plants and seeds, and quickly surpassed his original goal of $1,770. As of February 16, Zack has raised more than $3,500 for the project.

Zack’s wishes: “When people look back at the COVID-19 pandemic, my hope is that this garden will show how Northern Westchester Hospital worked tirelessly to keep its community members well.”

Though the garden will be planted this month, it has already borne fruit in revitalizing the human spirit. The community has come together to support those in need, to heal the healers, and to nourish those in our community when they need it most.

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