PORT JERVIS - Arriving in a lemon-scented breeze, Arina Soler, of Otisville, visited Empowering Port Jervis recently to discuss the soaps and salves she makes and sells, as she prepares to teach a series of classes on her methods.
She began making her own skin products in 2010, when her 6-month-old daughter had a rash she could not relieve. A doctor suggested using Irish Spring anti-bacterial soap and antibiotics, to no avail, and good products were expensive.
“We’re told we can choose what we use, but we can’t because of lack of resources,” said Soler.
She and her mother also had skin sensitivities. Her mother was prone to hives, and Soler to eczema.
“I didn’t want to be in the same predicament as my mother with my daughter,” said Soler, who now has three daughters.
But she was already quite knowledgeable about health, as a New York City paramedic. She noticed that baby products contained the same ingredients as adult ones, so she went back to basics with soap flakes and then bought a book and learned how to make her own skin products. For her daughter, she blended soap flakes with shea butter and lavender oil because of its calming properties, recently documented in studies.
Some ingredients she could buy in the East Harlem neighborhood where she grew up. When she was 12, she mixed lotion and essential oils she bought from the row of vendors that extended from one end of 125th St. to another, providing her also with lively examples of entrepreneurship. In those days, she pretended to sell her concoction to women in her family, which was all women, consisting of her mother and three sisters.
Appreciative of the health care and wisdom imparted to her and other women by the East Harlem Clinic midwife, she planned to become one herself. But that training was expensive, and the Bronx Opportunity Center provided free EMT training. She loved ambulance work and went on to do the New York Fire Department’s free paramedic training.
“The appeal of that work had a lot to do with not feeling hopeless and helpless. If something happened, I could help,” said Soler. “I could express empathy and comfort.”
She recalled comforting the mother of a baby who had fallen from a window. “I remember hugging the woman at the hospital. I could see eye to eye with her as a woman and mother.”
Now Soler is studying for a degree in social work with a concentration in human services at SUNY New Paltz.
“I struggled as a paramedic, bound by helping medically. I couldn’t offer to help outside that work,” she said. But she had a close-up view of community needs. “There’s a cascade effect, so much going on. I wanted to be able to offer something, especially to youth and women. I wanted to provide tools, not say what they should do.”
With her soaps and salves, she demonstrates the resourcefulness she advocates, having turned care for her daughter into a company, Bella Crème, offering nontoxic skin care products infused with essential oils and fragrances, at affordable prices. Soler hopes to offer that opportunity to others with her classes, she says.
On Nov. 11, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., she will teach the first two of a series of five classes at Empowering Port Jervis, 11 Fowler St. In this pair of classes, participants will make herbal infusions ($20 for the class) and cold process soaps ($15). The infusions may include rose hips, rose petals, calendula, chamomile, and lavender, and will need four to six weeks to “cure,” Soler said, while the soap will reach the right consistency that day. On Nov. 18, Soler will teach hot process soap-making ($15); Dec. 2, glycerine soap-making ($25); and Dec. 9, salve-making.
For more information and registration, call 476-3353 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.