October 27, 2020
Meet Our Executive Director: Nick Slovak
Could we get some brief biographical info from you? Hometown, previous experience, education, etc.?
I grew up in Long Island, New York. My parents divorced when I was young, and even though I grew up in the city, I always gravitated towards the outdoors. When I was 15, my family endured some significant struggles and my drug use really escalated as a result. I was in a pretty severe downward spiral, got kicked out of school and ended up at Summit Achievement, a wilderness program in Maine. This was a transformational experience for me; the Summit program was truly phenomenal.
Things really turned around for me when I moved from the wilderness program into the Deck House School, a small boarding school located in Edgecomb, Maine. The structure provided really gave me some much-needed guidance, and their focus on experiential education engaged me in a way that I’d found difficult beforehand. At Deck House, they provided an individualized program that met me where I was at, and I appreciated that.
Although my experience in wilderness and boarding school provided me a platform to begin addressing my trauma and anxiety, I found myself once more falling into the spiral of substance use. I returned to a residential treatment program and began a life abstinent of drugs and alcohol. After leaving treatment, both my family and I knew that I was going to need additional structure and support, and so I attended an extended-care sober living program. I really grew up in that program, and later went on to work at that same program for six years.
After finishing my degree, I began working at the Council of International Educational Exchange as a Support Coordinator, where I was involved in program development and the safety and security for over 30,000 students from all over the globe. It was during my time working for the Council that Green Hill CEO Tripp Johnson approached me about joining his team.
What made you want to join the Green Hill team?
I found myself aligned with Tripp’s vision for Green Hill, specifically the academically-oriented way the program was designed. I can easily identify with our client population, as I personally struggled to get back on my feet scholastically after my time in treatment. Green Hill provides tools like academic consultancy and dedicated Intensive Outpatient time to academic goals as part its model. I firmly believe I would have benefitted from the Green Hill Model of treatment had it been available to me at that crucial point in my recovery journey.
This is just one of the many things that attracted me to join Green Hill, but it really stands out in my memory.
How did your own experiences in Transitional Living guide you to work in substance abuse?
I’ll be the first to admit that when I arrived in treatment, I wasn’t totally sold on the idea of lifelong recovery through participation in outside groups. What did eventually click for me was the strong community I developed at my extended-care sober living program.
A life of abstinence from drugs and alcohol seemed remote and abstract, but the bond that I built with those guys in that house is still a big part of my life today. I still find myself encouraging and being encouraged by the men I lived with, and that’s an experience I want available to all of our residents here.
What do you believe makes Green Hill stand out in its field, and why?
I think our curriculum is what makes Green Hill so unique. We’re constantly reaching out to experts to enhance our program offerings, and staff members like Academic and Career Counselor Hayat Shawwa help ground us with reasonable and experience-based input.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Hanging up on the wall in my wilderness therapist’s office was the phrase “Be here now.” At the time, I really couldn’t wrap my head around it, but within the last few years it’s been crucial to my personal development. There will always be worries and pitfalls, and they do need to be mitigated, but it’s essential to put things in perspective in order to remain effective.
What’s one memory you’ll always take with you from your time here in Green Hill?
Without a doubt our Joint Commission Accreditation. I just loved how our team came together to focus on compliance and to ensure sure we provided the safest program available. It was a similar spirit to when the pandemic began; instead of focusing on the factors against us, we all jumped into together to make Green Hill happy and healthy.
What does your ideal day look like?
My ideal day would be waking up abroad, preferably a country in Asia, and to be living on the water. I’d drink some coffee and read in bed and then get up and explore. I love to travel – there’s something deeply thrilling about wandering in a strange land with no itinerary or set schedule. I’d spend all my time getting lost, finding the best food, seeing what exciting adventures I stumble upon and of course, taking lots of pictures.
What’s one message you wish our residents at Green Hill would always take with them?
Success is not always linear. I didn’t necessarily get this whole thing on the first try, but even my failures were rich experiences I could learn from and walk away from wiser.
Quick facts about Nick
Undergraduate school: University of Southern Maine
Favorite movie: Apocalypse Now
Favorite book: The Mayflower by Nathan Philbrick or A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Favorite album: Stadium Arcadium by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Favorite Podcast: The New Yorker Radio Hour
Dream vacation spot: Sri Lanka
Favorite spot to visit in Raleigh: The Green Way
Favorite meal: Chicken Parmesan
Dream job as a child: President of the United States