At an early age, Nicole Brown found herself seeking out opportunities to challenge herself. Although she didn’t have much guidance for college or post-graduate life, she was constantly searching for new ways to push herself in order to reach and redefine her true potential, both physically and mentally.
When a recruiter for the U.S. Marines spoke at Nicole’s high school, their message of doing more for yourself and for others resonated with Nicole. She knew that the service would give her the opportunity to grow as a person, to serve others, and to travel the world – something she still enjoys doing today. The service would also allow Nicole to pursue her education later on. All she had left to do was to talk to her dad.
Although Nicole’s parents were hesitant about her enlisting at first, they supported her decision. Nicole’s family has a history of military service, as her grandfather served in the Army Air Corps. Ultimately, Nicole ended up enlisting in the United States Air Force right after high school graduation.
As a natural athlete, Nicole excelled in basic training. She understood early on that the purpose of basic training was to build you up both physically and mentally. The military’s breakdown/buildup process for new recruits aims to help them strengthen their minds and bodies while allowing them to gain confidence and hone their self-disciplinary skills.
Nicole became an Element Leader very quickly. In this leadership position, she was responsible for the success and wellbeing of the other men and women in her squad. As she worked to bond with her squad members, Nicole also built strong relationships with her mentors and superior officers.
“You have to create a system where you truly depend on and support one another,” says Nicole. “Knowing how to bond and work together as a team is one of the most valuable lessons you learn in the service.”
After her basic training was finished, Nicole completed an additional ten weeks of AIT (Air Force Information Technology) training on base. When she graduated as a 3PO31 Security Officer, Nicole continued to work very closely with the other soldiers who worked in this specific niche. Her first set of official orders led her to Nebraska, where she continued to hone her skills while simultaneously striving to stay connected to her family back home.
Nicole’s experiences in her first stations strengthened her passion and natural ability for mentoring others. She transferred to a VA office in New Mexico, and found a position with Goodwill where she was able to work closely with veterans who were experiencing homelessness. She worked to identify and secure practical avenues for support with housing and food security while working with individuals to offer personal support for their mental and physical wellness.
“Working with Goodwill in New Mexico really set the precedent for me,” Nicole says. “It was empowering to work within an organization that truly cared about me, and allowed me to truly care for other service men and women as well.”
Nicole felt that her training and experiences with cognitive behavioral therapy and mental health services in New Mexico highlighted the genuine need for these services in all facets of the military. She knew that wherever she went next, she wanted to continue working with fellow service members, and she believed that Goodwill would allow her to do so. She watched Goodwill’s site very closely for similar job openings – and it worked. Her next move was to the Naval Station Great Lakes, where she currently serves as a Case Manager for Ability 1 individuals.
Nicole’s time at Goodwill Great Lakes has been incredibly rewarding. In addition to providing personal support services, Nicole has also built strong mentorship bonds with those she works with. She says the most rewarding aspect of her job is seeing personal growth in others, and witnessing the way these relationships have positively impacted the unique culture on base.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about who you are for others, knowing how you can show up for them, and making sure you do.”
Goodwill has worked with inspiring leaders like Nicole to supply laundry, administrative assistance, and food services in addition to the personal health and wellness services at the Great Lakes Naval Station for over 20 years. Goodwill continues offer those services, and is committed to finding new ways to honor and serve our nation’s veterans, reserve members, and active-duty soldiers.