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Article Published July 15, 2020

Imperato Adds Hands-on Help to Further Assist Non-Profit Orchard House

By Pam Johnson/

If you’re looking for Natalia Imperato, you’ll probably find her doing everything she can to help Orchard House Adult Medical Day Care in Branford.

Natalia, who joined the Orchard House staff a little more than three years ago, is a much-loved certified nursing assistant (CNA) who provides plenty of one-on-one service as a care partner with many clients. But she is also quite irreplaceable for the many other ways she has found to contribute to this non-profit organization that serves residents across the shoreline.

As Orchard House Executive Director Mary-Margaret Mandel notes, Natalia’s become a well-loved family liaison for many clients who rely on her for the care she provides to their family member, but she’s also known around the facility as “Ms. Fix It” for her ability to tackle projects ranging from IT to social media to on-the-spot small repairs.

Natalia’s a can-do organizer of supply drives and also puts her service aid qualifications to work to pinch hit as a relief cook in the Orchard House kitchen, which provides a daily nutritional meal and healthy snack to clients. When needed, Natalia also assists the Orchard House transportation department by filling in to create daily bus routes for drivers and clients. Beyond that, Natalia shares her ability and willingness to spruce up the facility with everything from painting to pond nets (more about that later).

Helping Out Here

Like many people who may pass the former school building that’s home to Orchard House at 421 Shore Drive, Natalia, an East Haven native, says she didn’t actually know what she was driving past before she came to work at the organization.

“Believe it or not, I had always driven by and I thought the building was part of the dog park next door,” says Natalia.

Branford’s fenced-in, off-leash outdoor dog park is also housed on the site in Short Beach. Orchard House, established in 1981, moved to the site in 1985. According to its mission statement, the private, non-profit’s mission is to “provide the highest quality of community- based, person-centered care, social programs, and family support to those in need.”

By keeping shoreline area seniors living in the community as independently as possible, for as long as possible, the organization supports its vision statement of “a non-profit motivated to maintain the highest quality of care and to improve the quality of life of aging adults and caregivers in a supportive and person-centered way.” Orchard House offers adult day health care and supports clients with programs ranging from health monitoring to structured activities.

A recruiting firm connected Natalia with the opportunity to interview to work at Orchard House.

Working as a CNA for a non-profit adult medical day care may not be as lucrative as some other job offers she’s received (she’s also a certified phlebotomist), but the work here pays dividends by allowing Natalia to give back.

“I’ve been turning down jobs for the past several years that offer more pay, because it has a much more satisfying feeling working for a non-profit,” says Natalia. “I work harder and try to do what I can physically because I want to help [Orchard House] spend the least money possible but get the same outcome.”

Her hands-on extra help started off with simple fixes, like swapping out screws from an unused wheelchair to fix up an arm rest on a client’s chair.

“And then, I took my tools and I went around to all the tables, and if the tops were a little wiggly, I’d fix them. And it’s pretty much gone on ever since,” says Natalia.

She’s done everything from purchasing/replacing toilet seats to painting walls to doing yard work, including digging in to bring a koi pond back to life and stocking it with fish she donated.

“I fixed the koi pond from the ground up, pretty much,” says Natalia, who now regularly keeps its weeds and nearby bushes under control.

“I got it running and I got fish in it, and I got nets in it that now protect the koi fish.”

Being a hands-on problem solver (and even dealing with fish) is actually second nature to Natalia, who grew up with her dad’s former business he started in retirement, Master Bait and Tackle (formerly of Short Beach, now in East Haven). Natalia’s dad was the late Frank Imperato of East Haven.

“Before he retired, my dad actually built a lot of the houses that are in East Haven. He was one of the people that everyone in the East Haven community knew and went to,” says Natalia.

She says her dad, born in the 1930s, developed his work ethic as a youth and went on to become very successful.

“That’s where I learned it all. He always taught me to never ask someone to do something for me that I could do myself,” said Natalia.

Thanks to her dad, she developed her computer skills from a young age, too.

“I actually started working with computers at my father’s shop—I was helping with the taxes by the time I was 9 or 10 years old—and he made it a point to make me go to computer classes and develop my skills,” says Natalia, who is now in nursing school.

Natalia recently re-created and launched a new version of the Orchard House Facebook page (@TheOrchardHouseBranford). She also helped Orchard House out by volunteering as the non-profit’s digital consultant, interfacing with the company that developed Orchard House’s newly updated website

During the facility’s pandemic closure, Natalia has been coming into the kitchen daily to cook meals to be delivered to clients who need them. On a day when the clients were receiving the recreation supervisor’s at-home activity bags with their meals, Natalia brought in poster-making materials and asked the staff to help brighten up the day a bit further, by making signs of support they could wave in front of clients’ homes at delivery time.

“It was just something to let them know we’re still here and we’re still thinking about them, and we’ll be back together soon,” says Natalia, adding calls from the staff to check in daily with client families are helping everyone stay in touch during the pandemic.

“All of the staff misses being around them, and the families call us all the time, because they miss us, too,” she says.