Tiempo: Woman cultivates planting community; Non-profit helps youth through college

In this episode of Tiempo, you'll learn about a Latina plant lover who goes by the name Tia Planta and a nonprofit that guides Latino youth to enroll and complete college.

Video Transcript

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TIA PLANTA: Buenos dias y bienvenidos. Good morning, and welcome once again to "Tiempo." I'm Joe Torres. On the show this morning, a Latina plant lover who goes by the name Tia Planta. Sounds like a superhero.

At the start of the quarantine last year, she opened several pop up shops in Jersey City, all to help first-time plant owners develop a green thumb. Well, Tia Planta now has a permanent home in Jersey City. More on this creative small business owner in just a few minutes.

But right now, a nonprofit that guides Latino youth to enroll and complete college. How important is that? And how do they do that? Through educational programs that build those all important leadership skills. The non-profit is called Nino de la Caridad Foundation. It's based out of the Bronx. And it's founded by a Latina doctor. The foundation has a unique program, also called "Leaders of the Future," and it has students produce a TV show that airs on a local cable station in the Bronx.

The kids literally run the show. The program and nonprofit founder is Dr. Denise Nunez. We spoke to her a short time ago, along with Zahory Gonzalez, one of the students involved in the program.

Ladies, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Denise, un placer, good to see you again. Let me ask you, Denise, since this is your, this is your baby, if you will. Nino de la Caridad is your foundation. Tell me, you know, what was the inspiration for this, what, five years ago? Six years ago? When you decided to jump off and to begin this.

DENISE NUNEZ: It was exactly a summer, actually. It was trying to help my daughter getting into college. And I'm Dominican. I did medicine in DR and came here and did specialties here. And so I never went through the whole process of trying to get into college. So I helped her out with the entire application, and it was a nightmare. And I just was so upset about the whole system. And I kind of went through that and went to my pediatric practice, and started figuring out what the kids were doing.

You know, like, I'm some sort of educator, right? And most of my parents are not. Or they don't know English. And I spoke to my daughter. I said we need to find out what's going on in the Bronx. So we did kind of a little survey in my little population. And we found out that 25% of our kids were graduating from high school, and only 8% going to college.

So that, for me, was like, I mean, I couldn't believe it.

JOE TORRES: Yeah, we got to change that for sure.

DENISE NUNEZ: Oh yes, we had to do something about that. And especially serving more than 10,000 families where I'm at right now in my practices. So we decided to open Nina de la Cardad. And the name is in Spanish, because most of my families, they're all Latinos. So they all know Spanish.

JOE TORRES: But the mission statement of the organization is que?

DENISE NUNEZ: It's to make sure we create leaders in our communities, the Latino leaders in our community.

JOE TORRES: And one of the things that has grown out of the foundation is this talk show or variety show called "Leaders of the Future" TV show. So Zahory, I know that you're a part of it. You've been involved in some of the episodes. Tell me what is "Leaders of the Future," the TV show?

ZAHORY GONZALES: OK, so "Leaders of the Future" is a great program where we talk about current news and give people health tips. We have a health corner, which include Dr. Denise and other guests. And we literally talk about everything that we want. We talk about celebrities, something that's going on in the world. We talk about COVID. And we just take trips and tell them about our lives and how we treat other people.

JOE TORRES: But Denise, this is something that the kids top to bottom do. They write, they shoot, they edit, they produce. Correct?

DENISE NUNEZ: Yes, so it was-- so this is-- this comes out of our program. It's called "Bronx Leaders of the Future," where we help and guide our kids-- from Latino kids from the Bronx, try to get them into college. So Zahory is one of these, these students.

And inside that program, I was having a lot of issues trying to keep these kids into the program. And thankfully, we were able to create this TV show. And this now helps our kids write, produce. They're shooting or they're the back, you know, trying to help the photographers and the producers. So they're involved 100% from the beginning to the end on the show.

JOE TORRES: And so Zahory, how do you brainstorm the topic that you're going to tackle for any particular episode?

ZAHORY GONZALES: For me, since I'm the one that starts it, so I introduce everything. I just go by what's most current in the news. Like, let's say the Yankees are playing. And since we're a Bronxnet, we talked about how the Yankees are doing, who's coming in and out the teams, and also, like, COVID. We just talked about that. We go to the Yankee Stadium to shoot in front of it.

JOE TORRES: And where do you get the equipment and the time and, and the guidance to do something like that, Zahory?

ZAHORY GONZALES: Bronxnet provides all the equipment. And we have great people who help up. So people like Artuito, who teach us how to have better posture and all of that stuff. He tries to manage us. So let's say a episode is going out on Thursday. We have to film it two weeks before, so it can air on time. And if we have to make little changes, we do that.

JOE TORRES: Denise, what is your hope that this sort of production teaches and passes on to the kids?

DENISE NUNEZ: I think one of the things I am teaching our youth is that to get where you want to get, it's not an easy thing. So you have to work. You have to create different skills, and skills of writing, skills of being in front of TV, like, interview. Even stage fright, right? It's terrible. Like, I don't like talking in front of TV, right? So it helps them get more confidence and, and knowing that if they have the tools, they can do whatever they want to do.

And most of the people that-- and [INAUDIBLE] that we bring in are role models. Like, you are actually one of our role models. Like, you on TV. You're Latino. You're successful. You know? And we try to figure out your story. We try to figure out how you got there, and not only that you're there, but what were the steps that you needed to take to get there? You will fall. You need to stand up again.

JOE TORRES: The journey along the way--

DENISE NUNEZ: So those are the things they realize.

JOE TORRES: Yeah, the journey along the way, I think, is part of the story.

DENISE NUNEZ: Absolutely.

JOE TORRES: Yes.

DENISE NUNEZ: So, so that's how we teach them that, you know, that it's not easy to get where they need to get to. But if they want to do it, they will get there.

JOE TORRES: When we come back, Dr., I want to ask you a little bit how, how does a full-time intensive care pediatrician find time to run a foundation? So stick with us. We're coming right back on "Tiempo."

Denise and Zahory, thank you so much for staying with us. Zahory, I should have said this at the very top. You are high school senior in the Bronx. What's, what's next for you? Are the college applications out?

ZAHORY GONZALES: Yes they are. We are waiting to make a final decision on a certain college that I'm trying to really, really, really trying to get into. I'll be a med student, be in the pediatric field, actually. Like Dr. Denise.

JOE TORRES: Yes, I guess you've got some good inspiration there right in front of you. OK, very nice.

ZAHORY GONZALES: And just [INAUDIBLE] the program, the program has helped me a lot with it, because I'm reaching out to more schools with it. And schools are actually reaching out to me because they watch the program.

JOE TORRES: They watched you perform on the program, OK. Do you-- Are you on front-- in front of the camera? Or were you sort of directing and producing behind the scenes?

ZAHORY GONZALES: I am all over the place. I do everything--

JOE TORRES: [SPANISH].

ZAHORY GONZALES: --that they tell me. Yes.

JOE TORRES: That's, that's fantastic.

DENISE NUNEZ: We make sure that they take time on each segment, you know, writing or in front or behind the camera. And they also do a weekly-- they write in the newspaper, too. weekly in [SPANISH].

JOE TORRES: That's fantastic. Yes.

DENISE NUNEZ: We make sure they do that.

JOE TORRES: Denise, do you look at Zahory and see her success and what she is becoming and say, you know, that's the reason why I'm doing what we're doing? You know, she's an example of the potential that lies ahead for so many Latino students.

DENISE NUNEZ: I am so proud of her. She's done amazing. She has gotten into great colleges, UCLA. And, and when she came to me, she said, Dr. Nunez, you know, I need some advice. Otherwise-- I got into UCLA but I don't want to leave my mom. And that was just so beautiful of her saying that was the reason-- right, Zahory? That you didn't want to go, especially because you want to stay with her mom. Single parent, mom. You know? My-- you know, she's, she's from Dominican Republic. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, right? And going to UCLA for med-- I mean, premed, that's, like, amazing.

JOE TORRES: Wow, that's cool.

DENISE NUNEZ: So, yeah. I just-- I'm so proud of her.

JOE TORRES: Denise, how does a full-time intensive care pediatrician find the time to commit yourself as fully as you want to, to an organization and a foundation which you created and you founded? There's only 24 hours in a day.

DENISE NUNEZ: I, I, I think when you, when you have something in your heart that you want to do, you just find time. And, and same as you, and especially now with this COVID. It's taught us so much, so, you know, it's just-- make sure that whatever time you put into something is quality time.

JOE TORRES: Are you constantly looking out for, for help, for volunteers, for people to get involved? I mean, I have seen so often with these foundations that the key to their success is the involvement of the community in terms of lending a helping hand, giving some time and pushing it forward.

DENISE NUNEZ: That's what we did. We, we actually went to all the colleges around here, and we spoke-- We keep on talking to all the students, the college students, to come in and help us out their time. And now via Zoom and presence last year and now again the presence-- because we do need help. We have a lot of students. We have a lot of families that we serve from the morning, afternoon, at night. So definitely, if anybody wants to volunteer, please urge you to, to help us. You would love it. These teenagers are adorable.

JOE TORRES: What's the name of your website for more information? Where can they find it?

DENISE NUNEZ: It's in Spanish. It's ninodelacaridad.com. And there's also leadersofthefuture. Just like that, leadersofthefuture.

JOE TORRES: Zahory, what's the next episode? Are you guys working on it? Or have you wrapped for, for the season?

ZAHORY GONZALES: Oh no, we're working on it. We have a fitness one coming really soon, which teach us how to have a healthier lifestyle. And we also have a trainer coming up.

JOE TORRES: [SPANISH]. And that's hugely important. Do you get into diet? I know Latinos, you know, we like our rice and beans, and sometimes-- Yes, you know? And the doctor will tell you, you know diabetes, hypertension are often big health concerns within the Latino community. Do you guys address that a little bit, if you can?

ZAHORY GONZALES: We do go into it a lot-- [INAUDIBLE]

DENISE NUNEZ: Yes. Yeah, not a little bit. A lot.

JOE TORRES: Zahory, what have you learned through this experience, particularly the TV show? Does it give you a new appreciation when you watch this TV show, knowing what went into it, the production value to make it look and sound as good as it does?

ZAHORY GONZALES: Yes, it does. I have found out a lot, and just how to step out of my comfort zone, and get into so many things, and appreciate the people who are behind the scene doing a lot of the work.

JOE TORRES: Yeah. There's tons of effort that goes into putting together a TV show. the magic of editing goes a long way towards correcting mistakes. So Denise, what do you see for the future of the organization? I mean, obviously, you want bigger, better, more kids involved. But as you go forward in these final 30 seconds that we have, where do you see this five years from now?

DENISE NUNEZ: Oh, I see making sure that most of my children from the Bronx-- and not only the Bronx, any Latino kid from any area-- reach out to us, and we'll help them get into college or any other secondary [INAUDIBLE]. It does have to be only college, just a reminder. I just to make sure they get an education. So I see us helping not only the Bronx, but more kids from other-- other Latinos from other places.

JOE TORRES: Well, what, what you're doing is making a huge difference in the lives of many, many-- not just students, but I would argue families as well. So congratulations on, on, on Nino and the foundation and the Leaders of the Future. Zahory, keep us posted, and good luck at UCLA or NYU or wherever you end up. But I can already tell, your future is very, very bright. So congratulations.

Coming up next on "Tiempo," did you pick up a plant to bring some life to your apartment during the pandemic? Is that plant still alive? Well, when we come back some tips, some advice, some guidance from the Tia Planta, when we come back.

So you want to bring a little life into your apartment by adding some plants, but you don't know the first thing about plant care? Well, if you only knew someone with a green thumb, someone que habla Espanol. Well, today's your day. This morning, we introduce you to Shayla Cabrera. She is a beloved Afro-Latina business owner in Jersey City affectionately known as Tia Planta.

Shayla Cabrera, un placer. Thank you for being with us this morning and taking some time away from your plants. They'll survive, right?

TIA PLANTA: Hola, [INAUDIBLE]. How are you?

JOE TORRES: We are so well, and we're so overjoyed to have you on the show, because I just think this is fabulous. Fabulous. I'm not one of those people that has a green thumb, but I'm guessing you're here to tell me that I can develop that green thumb at some point?

TIA PLANTA: Of course, that's what Tia Planta is all about, right?

JOE TORRES: Yes. How did Tia Planta come about? My research told me that in a previous life, you were a nanny.

TIA PLANTA: Yes.

JOE TORRES: And doing well as a nanny? So what-- at what point did you have some sort of, I guess, epiphany that said it's time for me to transition from being a nanny to being an entrepreneur?

TIA PLANTA: Right. I was a career nanny for 15 years. I did very hig-profile jobs. I traveled. I lived with my clients. And then once that career ended, I decided to take a step back. That is when I decided to collect plants. My collection grew to over 200 plants. And then quarantine hits. And I decided to just have fun and create an educational TikTok and Instagram. It was purely made out of fun.

I had two prior businesses. They were nanny agencies, while I was in nanny--

JOE TORRES: OK.

TIA PLANTA: --so I'm an entrepreneur at heart. And I decided, you know what? Let me teach people how to take care of plants. Let me sell plants. And therefore, Tia Planta was born.

JOE TORRES: Who came up with Tia Planta?

TIA PLANTA: Me.

JOE TORRES: OK. Yep.

TIA PLANTA: I had a lot, a lot of thoughts about how I wanted the business to reflect me as an Afro-Latina. And I thought Titi Planta, Tia Planti, all different kinds of ways. I wrote it down on paper. And I think Tia Planta just rolled. Everyone that I told about it, they loved it. And here we are today. Full-blown business.

JOE TORRES: What was the most nerve-wracking part about jumping into a new endeavor like this?

TIA PLANTA: Every day is nerve-wracking.

JOE TORRES: Sure.

TIA PLANTA: I learn every day. This is an industry that I've not been in, so I am a sponge. And every day it's a new problem to solve, and it's something new to learn. And so I think it came naturally to me as entrepreneur and working very high-pressure jobs in the past. But every day, it's a problem to solve.

JOE TORRES: Walk me a little bit through the evolution. You had some pop-up shops, and now you have a full-time brick-and-mortar location, do you not?

TIA PLANTA: Yes, I do. I do. So I've been in Jersey City resident for 12 years. So I have a lot of connections here in the city. I like to speak and talk and make friends with everybody. So when I started this concept for my business, I reached out to all the other small businesses that I know. And they were all so happy to support. Everybody just saw the joy that plants were bringing during quarantine.

And they invited me to pop up in front of their businesses. I did countless pop-ups all summer, all spring. And we worked up gradually. And now I have a space. A store. Actually, I have two spaces. A studio where I keep my overflow, and a storefront.

JOE TORRES: And you help people through what ways? Consulting, if I saw correctly on your website? But you also do sales and shopping?

TIA PLANTA: Yes. Yes, so we are a full-service and sale business, which was kind of a big idea to launch. But it's been working very well.

JOE TORRES: OK.

TIA PLANTA: So I do educated sales. So when somebody comes into my store, I want to make sure that they have the best chances of bringing that plant home and the plant thriving and surviving with them. A lot of times, I have first-time buyers, and they're very nervous. So I help them to ease that anxiety, and I give them the tools that they need to grow their green thumb. And they come back next week.

JOE TORRES: Yeah, and they bring a friend?

TIA PLANTA: Yeah, and they bring a friend. Also I do plant consultations via Zoom. I do in-home styling. I do business styling. All different kinds of services. Basically, anything plant related, if you need it, I got it.

JOE TORRES: Wow, Shayla, that's fantastic. All right, we're going to take a break. When we come back, I'm going to have you walk me through and the viewers some plant do's and don'ts, so that people watching at home can learn something from you today by watching "Tiempo," about how to make their plants thrive, if you will? OK, when we come back.

Shayla, again, thanks for staying with us here on "Tiempo." Shayla Cabrera, but to many she is known as Tia Planta. And it's so, so good what you're doing. I love this, this, this entrepreneurial spirit that you have, but also the fact that people can take what you offer, bring it to their apartment, and it brings life. It brings companionship, if you will.

So I want to ask you about the pandemic, because we've seen and heard so much about how the pandemic has adversely affected businesses and people. And it almost seems that the pandemic has worked for you in the sense that, OK, well, people are home. People want life in their apartment. People want companionship. And suddenly you become a resource. Am I stretching it?

TIA PLANTA: No, you're right. You're right on. It's been amazing, the outreach from the community about just, basically overall, the market, the plant market.

JOE TORRES: Yeah.

TIA PLANTA: Which is wonderful. People are stuck at home, you know? Or have been. Feeling really lonely and disconnected. And you see in the markets the booms in houseplant sales, home goods, pet adoptions--

JOE TORRES: Yeah.

TIA PLANTA: --because people really want to nurture. They want connection. It's human nature. So luckily, this business I started at the right time. And along with that, were socially conscious. And this has been a big movement this year. Black Lives Matter, and that is a pillar of my business. Diversity, inclusion. And I'm just so happy to be able to bring that and be supported by my community. Love you, Jersey City.

JOE TORRES: The timing has really worked out well for you. I mean, it's just fantastic. All right, some do's and don'ts regarding plant care? What's the biggest mistake that most people make when it comes to caring for their indoor plants?

TIA PLANTA: Over watering.

JOE TORRES: Too much water? Really?

TIA PLANTA: When I say-- Yes. Number one, I do plant consultations often also, and I can tell you that 75% of my consultations over watering is the issue. Plants' roots need air. Aeration. They need air, so when I say over watering, I mean watering once a week, maybe too much? Every day, definitely too much. What you want to ideally do is let your plants' soil dry and then water very heavily, rather than water minimally every day.

JOE TORRES: OK.

TIA PLANTA: It's-- it just-- it is the root health, and it is a great tip for new plant parents. Hold off. Water isn't love. Light is.

JOE TORRES: Oh, there we go. Words, words to live by. So when you do a plant consultation or somebody walks in, what are some of the questions that you ask of them to make sure that the match works?

TIA PLANTA: Right. So what I will do is ask what type of light first and foremost. The amount of light that you're getting in your apartment indicates the type of plant and where your plant placement should be. You want to make sure that you're getting a decent amount of light always for your plants. Even the low-light tolerant plants need some natural sun. So I always ask what your lighting is like.

And then generally, I'll match people with the correct plants for their light-- their environment. Their home environment.

JOE TORRES: OK, I would guess some plants are easier to care for than others.

TIA PLANTA: Some plants are more resilient--

JOE TORRES: OK.

TIA PLANTA: --than others, I would say. Some people come to me, and they say I even kill cactus, right? And I say, well, we don't live in Arizona.

JOE TORRES: So, we all kill it here. Yes, for sure. I love this Zoom-- What's a Zoom Plant Parenthood Workshop? Oh, that sounds fabulous. You can't go to them, so you meet them on Zoom?

TIA PLANTA: Yes, yes. I do tons of Zoom consultations. I do them for companies. I do them as parties. I basically-- since also quarantine, a lot of companies have been looking for an activity to do teamwork building. I do Plant Parenthood, and I teach how to repot, how to spot pests. When it's time to repot your plans. The type of light requirements. All those kinds of things.

JOE TORRES: Congratulations, first and foremost. I think what you're doing is fantastic. And you know what they say, when you do what you love it's not really a job. So this has become your livelihood, you love it. You've loved it all your life, and now you developed it into something that, that hopefully is profitable and will carry you for years and years and years. Un placer. Thank you for being with us, Tia Planta.

If you want further insight into Tia Planta and her business in Jersey City, be sure to check out community journalist Miguel Amaya's feature story. You can find it on our website, abc7ny.

That'll do it for this week. Thanks for spending part of your Sunday with us. I'm Joe Torres. We'll see you next time on "Tiempo."

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