Within the last eight years, Gardner helped over 300 clients and supervised over 50 social workers and professional counselors. In 2016, the Nutley Department of Public Affairs named her Women’s Advocate of the Year.
Gardner came to NFSB in 2011 as its executive director, when the bureau was at the bare bones. “Changes had to be made. […] There were no clients left and two staff people when I came in 2011,” she said.
Some of the changes that were made under Gardner’s direction were adding night and weekend hours. NFSB is open until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 6 p.m. on Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month. However, her biggest accomplishment was in 2015, when the non-profit organization finally obtained its credentials, the health requirements needed to include Medicaid as an insurance plan. “That was my finest moment,” she said.
From no clients to almost 400 cases, from the four years Gardner was executive director. Under Gardner’s leadership NFSB was able to purchase the Red Cross Food Pantry at 169 Chestnut St., conveniently next store to NFSB in 2016. With the food pantry, NFSB has been able to help over 300 families in need with bi-weekly supplemental nutrition distribution..
In June of 2016, she became the director of Clinical Services and Programming and Eileen Painter, assumed the role of executive director. Gardner brought to NFSB the ability to engage clients. Different groups started at NFSB such as Women helping Women. She taught and guided interns to become therapists. NFSB has an intern program with local colleges such as Caldwell University and Rutgers University.
Gardner reflected on her time at NFSB. While she was thrilled to get Medicaid on board, and important effort for the organization, her fondest memory was helping a 15 year old client who attempted suicide. After her hospital stay, Gardner became her therapist. When her birthday came around the year later, Gardner said the teen told her, “Thank you for letting me reach this birthday.”
Although Gardner’s last day was Jan. 17, she said she will remain nearby as a consultant. Gardner will also continue to train Jessica Hauck, a licensed associate counselor and provisional registered art therapist, who is a licensed professional counselor candidate. “I will stay close as long as they [NFSB] wants me,” she said.
Gardner, who specializes in family counseling, started a new chapter in her life and opened her own private practice in Cedar Grove. To make time for the transition she stepped down from her position as director of Clinical Services and Programming last May and Joe Armentano, an intern of Gardner’s in 2011, took over as director. Gardner said she loved working with the staff and the accomplishments they created together for NFSB, but she is a therapist by heart. She needed to step away from the administrative duties which included budgets and staffing needs.
NFSB Board of Trustees President Vicki Ray said, “[…] Now, as she goes on to new endeavors in clinical service, we know that she will always be a part of our NFSB family. We are so grateful for her guidance, and her commitment to NFSB and to the Nutley community.”
Mary Graves, past president of the NFSB Board of Trustees said, “It’s impossible to understate Felicia’s importance during her tenure as NFSB executive director. Starting in 2011, Felicia rebuilt the clinical psychotherapy service by fostering the family therapy model, hiring professional clinical staff and training masters-level interns. […] She was critical in the decision to expand community services and to assume stewardship of the former Red Cross Food Pantry. We are proud of all Felicia achieved for our community and her staff, and she has earned NFSB’s heartfelt appreciation as she starts her next chapter.”
Painter said, “Felicia Gardner leaves behind a legacy at Nutley Family Service Bureau. Her dedication to the delivery of quality mental health services, development of future clinicians and emphasis on family-centered psychotherapy has touched many lives and impacted countless futures. […] She has left an indelible mark on the staff, clients and volunteers at Nutley Family Service Bureau.”
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