Can I help?: Nina Allen, executive director at Thrive, talks with client Michael Shipp. After several years living in Alaska, Allen has returned to her hometown to take charge at Thrive.

Nina Allen says she was looking for a challenge when she decided to leave her job in Alaska to become CEO of Thrive Counseling Center in Oak Park.

Allen is still getting acclimated to her new job since officially coming on board in September. An Oak Park native, she was in Alaska working for a social service nonprofit for six years. She was hired last July to replace Dan Kill, who had been with Thrive for more than 30 years, before retiring as CEO last summer.

“The clinical staff that we have here is top notch and our board of directors is committed and dedicated; they’ve really been helpful. Everyone has been helpful,” said Allen in a recent interview with Wednesday Journal.

She also makes sure people know the correct pronunciation of her first name — it’s pronounced with a long “i” (N-eye-nuh).

Allen, a married mother of four adult children, attended District 97 and is an Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate. As CEO of Thrive, 120 S. Marion, she’s looking forward to working collaboratively with community stakeholders and has met with many so far, including the Oak Park Education Foundation and administrators at OPRF.

Allen said she’s also getting acclimated to Illinois’ political and financial climate, which is markedly different from Alaska, whose finances are in far better shape. Still, Allen said substance abuse treatment has, historically, been underfunded in many places. That’s also the case in Illinois, she said. That’s one of the reasons why she wants to partner with local groups in Oak Park. She recalled working with an organization in Alaska on a federal grant for drug prevention.

“You really have to think outside the box,” said Allen, who is impressed with the work OPRF parents have done to address student alcohol and drug abuse.

“I think the program we have in place at the high school is wonderful. There’s so much more support for kids now than there was before. But it’s a very difficult topic to address because there are very, very limited resources,” Allen said. “I think the parent group is such a wonderful advocacy group. The parents came together and said, ‘We’re going to do something about this.’ That’s huge. That should be happening everywhere but it’s not.

“There are so many different levels of substance abuse issues,” she added. “I mean you have someone who is experimenting all the way to someone who has a problem. So how do your figure out a system of care that’s going to treat the entire spectrum?”

Before entering social work, Allen worked in the for-profit sector for over a decade. But she always wanted to be a social worker. While working for a textbook publishing company as its art director, Allen was known as someone co-workers could come with their problems.

“I remember my boss putting a sign on my door saying the counselor is not in because I couldn’t get my work done. I was always solving everybody’s problems at work … this was something that I always wanted to do.”

Join the discussion on social media!