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Woman goes from drug addict to drug counselor

By Sunshine Kuhia Smith

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    KAHULUI, Maui (KITV) — A college classroom is a far cry from where Kimberly Villegas used to be.

“I come from a lineage of alcoholics and addicts. I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn the basics of life,” says Villegas. “I started drinking and using drugs at a young age–I had my first baby at 14.”

That was the beginning of a difficult road for the 52-year-old grandmother. There were decades of drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, and crimes that led her to prison time. But then, a turning point–after meeting her grandson for the first time–she went to the Aloha House, a substance abuse treatment center on Maui.

There, Villegas started classes at the University of Hawaii’s Maui College and was accepted into the first cohort of the Kealaho’imai Substance Abuse Counseling program two years ago, earning her certificate to become a counselor.

“From a substance abuse user to a substance abuse counselor is so rewarding today,” she says

Now, seven years clean, Villegas works at the very place that helped her on her new journey, helping others on a positive path of their own.

“I can make a difference. I can show people that it is possible to make a difference and not continue the vicious cycle of substance abuse.”

Aloha House CEO Nicole Hokoana says Villegas is passionate about her work. “She has so much energy and aloha to give to the world, but lucky for us, she’s here and gives it to our participants.”

Villegas brings her experience and life lessons to the classroom as well.

“A helping professional oftentimes comes from a place of disadvantage where they had their own unique struggles personally in this world. And she’s been able to rise above it and contribute to our community in ways that are really beneficial., says Timothy “Charlie” Schlather, UH Maui College associate professor.

Villegas will be the first in her family to graduate from college when she earns her degree in human services in May. Her long-term goal is to work with inmates in the prison system.

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