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In 2011, Ariana was a medical student at The Perelman School of Medicine, The University of Pennsylvania, facing a problem all-too common in healthcare: burnout. Smart and motivated, Ariana was also stressed and struggling to pay her bills.

Ariana’s family in Brooklyn, NY, helped out when they were able, but they could only do so much from such a distance. Isolated and without income, Ariana realized she needed help.

“I wasn’t able to study. I wasn’t able to work,” says Ariana. “I was running out of student loan money and I had no food in the apartment. Things just got really bad and I had to take a leave of absence to focus on health issues. At some point, my hunger finally outweighed my pride.”

I wasn’t able to study. I wasn’t able to work,” says Ariana. “I was running out of student loan money and I had no food in the apartment. Things just got really bad and I had to take a leave of absence to focus on health issues. At some point, my hunger finally outweighed my pride.

Leaning on a few close friends and some other mentors in her community, she began to find the care she needed. She also discovered Fresh for All, Philabundance and partner free produce distributions at various locations in Pennsylvnia and South Jersey.

“Fresh For All was a life saver for me during a time period when everything seemed like it was falling apart,” reflects Ariana. “For several weeks as I looked for a job, I was able to get quality donated produce and meats. This literally saved me from having nothing to eat.”

Ariana returned to school and completed her medical degree while simultaneously earning an ACE certification in personal training. As she continued to use resources around her to better care for herself – eating well, exercising and finding healthy ways to deal with stress – she realized she wanted to help others in the same way. Deciding not to pursue a medical residency, Ariana set her sights on starting her own business.

“So many people suffer from complications of chronic illnesses,” says Ariana. “If we just ate a little healthier, if we just moved our bodies a little more, we wouldn’t have a lot of these problems. It can be affordable to eat well if we just know how to shop. All of this made me want to approach my health career from a preventative side.”

In 2015, Ariana started FCA Fit to offer health and wellness coaching services “FCA” stands for “Fuerza de Cuerpo y Alma” in Spanish (or “Strength of Body and Soul” in English), emphasizing her focus on holistic care. She’s also a licensed Zumba instructor and Team Beachbody Coach.

“I am so grateful that today I only get really hungry because I exercise a lot and I know exactly where my next meal is coming from, and I know it’s healthy,” Ariana shared on her Facebook page after volunteering with Philabundance. “I never forgot who helped me in my time of need, and it’s very rewarding to be in a place today where I can give back.”