A Day In The Life: Nilda Natal, Director of Substance Abuse Counseling
You’ve met Latasha Kendrick, a former Moving Forward client who overcame homelessness and domestic violence. We recently introduced you to Jared Bared, an Air Force veteran who turned his life around in Home For The Brave and is working towards independence. Clearly, there is no shortage of inspiring clients in all of our programs. But what about the people working hard to help our clients make those changes while also on their own journey?
A perfect example of this work ethic and dedication is Nilda Natal – a valued member of the VOADV team since 2018. Ms. Natal started at our outpatient Addiction Treatment Program (ATP) as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Intern and has since worked her way up to become the Director of Substance Abuse Counseling. ATP is an ambulatory care facility that provides assessment and case management services to adults on parole supervision, and Ms. Natal’s current responsibilities include doing intakes and assessments for new clients, running substance abuse groups, supervising counselor interns and providing support for other staff members.
While a wealth of knowledge and a strong leader for her team, Ms. Natal brings more to ATP than the multiple degrees and certifications she has earned since starting out as an intern – she relates to her clients in a way not many others can.
“I myself am recovering – it is coming up on 10 years that I have been clean and sober. I was in a residential program 9 and a half years ago and was treated very compassionately and non-judgmentally and I remember thinking ‘I want to do this,’” says Ms. Natal. “As soon as I got out, I went to school to get my associates degree and since then I have been working in recovery because it is my passion. I know where I’ve come from, I’ve been incarcerated, experienced trauma and was a full-blown alcoholic and drug addict. If I can survive that and turn around and help somebody else, then who better?”
The answer to her question: not many people. Ms. Natal is bilingual and assists clients with a language barrier, is working towards being able to provide mental health services, and runs a voluntary AA/NA program for the clients on the residential side of ATP. She is doing everything she can not only to provide addiction treatment services, but also to assist her clients with the root causes of their struggles.
“Mental health and homelessness are clearly serious issues. When someone isn’t receiving the services that they need, drugs and alcohol seem like a good way to numb all the pain,” she says. “If we can show them that there is a different way to solve problems and compound that with helping them find housing, employment, deal with legal issues, etc. – than those are one less problem that they have to worry about. But they can’t do any of those things if they are hiding their pain with drugs and alcohol.”
It is clear that Ms. Natal’s passion is taking her own experiences and using them to help the clients she works with on a daily basis. Her willingness to share her own story, but also to simply listen, is an invaluable part of the client’s journey to an independent life.
“My favorite part of my job is seeing how unique each client that I meet is. It never gets old – I love my job and the interaction with my clients,” Ms. Natal says. “When I am sitting with a client and I can see that they are in a lot of pain and I can recognize it for what it is and be a support for them – it is priceless. A paycheck couldn’t give me what I feel when I’m able to be that person for them to talk to. I always tell my staff ‘Don’t underestimate the power of planting the seed. You’ll never fully know the impact you’ve had on someone.’”
We know that the impact that Ms. Natal has had on VOADV through her work at the Addiction Treatment Program will be felt by clients, staff, and the community for years.