As a Nutley police officer and juvenile detective, Mike Padilla would often meet with kids and families, especially at-risk youth, who needed access to counseling and various forms of assistance. He knew the best way to help people was right here in the Nutley community.
In 2012, Mike approached Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) to discuss ideas for offering mental health services to local families. His meeting with then-Executive Director Felicia Gardner and current Senior Clinical Supervisor Staela Keegan, MSW, LCSW, LCADC led to the creation of the Nutley Empowering Teens (NET) program.
“Some of these kids needed someone to talk to,” Mike said. “Back then, NFSB didn’t have nearly as many counselors or mental health services as we do now, and there was no case management. We developed what was originally called the House Program and eventually turned into NET. The program basically included eight blocks of instruction that Staela would provide to kids.”
The development of NET, Mike’s first involvement with NFSB, was an early step in the growth and expansion of mental health services that have benefited so many Nutley residents.
NFSB was celebrating its 100-year anniversary at the time and new programs were being developed. Mike met with two members of the NFSB Board of Trustees, Rudy Chen and Adam Jernick. Both encouraged Mike to join the board, which he did in 2015.
“I started out on the development committee,” Mike said. “This was a great first committee because I got to know a lot of different people through planning our big fundraising events. Mary Graves, Vicki Ray, Jim Kuchta, and Emma Cortese were great mentors. Then I joined the governance committee and served as chair until I became president.”
When Mike was elevated to President of the NFSB board in 2021, Covid was still at its peak.
“Those were rough times,” Mike said. “I’m proudest of the fact that we never shut down during the pandemic. We had the telehealth platform up and running before Covid so moving to virtual counseling sessions was a pretty seamless transition. Food distributions were moved outdoors. We even took over the school breakfast and lunch programs to continue feeding kids who had been depending on schools to eat.”
Strong relationships between NFSB, Nutley Public Schools, and various Nutley Township departments, including police, public affairs, and parks and recreation, ensured that the needs of the community were being met. Meanwhile, the tireless efforts of NFSB volunteers continued to make enormous contributions under unprecedented circumstances.
“I can’t stress enough that volunteers have always been the backbone of our organization,” Mike said. “Our services were needed more than ever, and volunteers came out no matter what – processing donations, handing out food, delivering food to seniors, supporting our staff and each other – doing whatever needed to be done for our community.”
Mike also points to Katherine Carmichael’s leadership as Executive Director in navigating Covid and spearheading new initiatives.
“We would not be where we are today without Katherine,” Mike said. “Any organization’s mission and vision statements are just words on paper without the right person to put them in motion. Katherine came to NFSB six months into Covid and was the right person at the right time to keep everything moving and lead us to the next level.”
Once the logistical and safety challenges of the pandemic were addressed, NFSB introduced new services and programs during Mike’s tenure as board president to meet growing demand for support in the community.
These are all important milestones in the very recent history of NFSB that speak to the resilience of the organization and its commitment to understanding and responding to the needs of the Nutley community.
“I’ve seen so much positive change since joining the board eight years ago,” Mike said. “Like other police officers, I carry cards with local services available. We always highlight Nutley Family Service Bureau and tell people, ‘Start here. They can help you or find the help you need.’ When we leave, we want them to be not just good for now, but good for later. I have total confidence that anyone we send to NFSB will get help, and I’m proud to be part of that.”