Al Nace a man of wide interests, from boxing to art to helping

Al Nace. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Al Nace. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Allen Nace is a punner and proud of it. When not indulging in what many view as “the lowest form of wit,” Nace is partaking in the highest form of work: he’s HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s administrative director of community rehabilitation service, which covers addiction treatment services and education locally. He’d also volunteered at the Kingston Police Athletic League (PAL) boxing program in different capacities over the years. Though he claims to remain “a big fan of the PAL program,” he said he works more in the professional judging arena now. Nace also serves on the board of Ulster County Community Action and the Ulster County Youth Board. Nace is an accomplished skier, boxer, professional artist and bicyclist — he organizes the annual Tour de Kingston fundraising ride.

Carrie Jones Ross: Where did you grow up?

Allen Nace: Mostly throughout the Ulster and Dutchess County area in Clintondale, Milton, Highland and Poughkeepsie.

CJR: School? Higher education?

AN: I started college at Ulster County Community College on the GI Bill in the mid-1970s. While working I went back to school for a BS in counseling and addictions and then a master’s in social policy from Empire Graduate School in Saratoga. I have a New York State License as a mental health counselor (LMHC) and a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor (CASAC).

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CJR: Married? Kids?

AN: I’m presently in a long-term domestic relationship. I was married for 20 years and have three kids along with five wonderful grandkids and two great-grandchildren.

CJR: How did you get into counseling?

AN: I started counseling a long time ago at the Kingston Children’s Home, then Division for Youth and then as the homeless director for Ulster County Community Action. I was able to see a connection between alcohol and drug use and a correlation with those service needs. I got into addictions counseling at Kingston Hospital in the early 1990s at their detoxification unit. We built that into a licensed detox and rehab, then the hospital obtained an outpatient counseling program at The Bridge Back and in 2006 the Methadone Treatment Program.

CJR: What was that path to director like?

AN: Long. I spent 10-12 years in the inpatient setting in various roles as a counselor, discharge planner, marketing rep and program troubleshooter. I was then assigned to work at Ulster County Mental Health to serve as director of its methadone program and then a few years later worked to transfer the program to the hospital; it was a natural progression to then oversee the Bridge Back programs and eventually the inpatient programs also.

CJR: What did you do with all the pain and suffering and frustration people would unload on you? How did you cope?

AN: In a counseling field it is important to really get to know yourself. We have to know what our own issues are and our reactions to them. It’s important so that our issues do not have a negative impact on those we serve. It’s also important to not take on the problems of others as though they are your own. Professionals need to be able to be objective and focus on helping their clients. So, it’s not a case of not caring but of caring and trying to help them help themselves. Individuals who provide counseling services need to be able to empathize with their clients and help them, but not assume the feelings or the problem.  Development of professional skills and offering them to each client is what you can do.  Each person then decides what, when or if they are willing to make changes.

CJR: What are some of the issues with addiction that no one is willing to examine?

AN: I don’t know any that no one is willing to examine. Right now there is a big focus on integrating treatment for co-occurring disorders. These are primarily mental health and addictions areas. If we can more effectively address those issues we may be able to reduce the incarceration rate among that population. There also needs to be work done to engage aspects of our population that are impacted by addiction but only seek treatment in small numbers and end in many being incarcerated.

CJR: Do you believe in the harm reduction model?

AN: I do. Harm reduction is about meeting the patient where they are as is client-centered and then trying to improve their life so that there is less harm to them and the community. It can be an incremental approach toward abstinence or at least a life that the client can maintain.

CJR: Do you believe that methadone is effective and worthwhile?

AN: I do. Methadone is the most researched drug in the world. I have seen an amazing number of people improve their life and the lives of those around them once they were admitted into a methadone program. It’s like an iceberg. In a program of 200 people there are groups of people that are doing really well, usually about 120. The other 20 to 30 may be comprised of those who are making changes and their lives are now starting to improve. They may be working, attending school, enjoying family life and not be involved in crime or drug use. An additional 20 to 30 may be working towards recovery and struggling with addiction and other issues. They may get clean and stay clean for a while and some have some relapses but are working toward improvement. There may be another 20 or 30 that are less interested in recovery. The first two groups of 140, 150 I refer to as the “invisible clients” — they would be the iceberg below the water line and no one knows they are a methadone client. The next 20 to 30 are known only to those directly in their lives. The last 20 to 30 are the visible methadone clients that many identify as “a methadone client.”

CJR: Which of your areas of passion brings you the most satisfaction?

AN: I have lots of interests — cycling, painting, boxing, my dogs, socializing. I enjoy each of them. I also enjoy a good debate and have friends that can and will debate many aspects of life. It’s a good way to learn and sometimes see the wisdom that leads to a perception other than my own. I have a great family and enjoy their success and travels in life.

CJR: Why boxing?

AN: I have always been a fan of boxing and tried it as a kid.  In later years I took it up as an exercise and then for competition. In teaching boxing people can use it as an exercise program or for gym sparring or for competition. I was fortunate to have a world champion and friend Bill Costello as a trainer as well as Paul Telesca at the Kingston PAL. I enjoyed it and encourage others to learn. I also worked as a judge and referee for USA Amateur boxing and now as a judge for professional boxing. It’s like any of the other things in life. It is pretty easy to learn any aspect of it, however to be good you have to put a lot of work in. I’m a better judge and teacher than I was a boxer.

CJR: You have so many varied, seemingly contradictory, facets to your life: boxer, counselor and artist. How do you explain these to others, or perhaps the better question is, how do you reconcile them in yourself?

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