News, Success Stories

Peer Navigator Zachary helps Mainers affected by addiction connect to jobs, recovery resources

A young man stands in a Portland, Maine park which has snow on the ground. He's wearing a yellow sweatshirt

At 29 years old, Zachary Walker knows his life’s purpose: Help people who struggle(d) with addiction, like he did. In his job as a Peer Navigator at Goodwill, he stands beside people who want to get back to work and achieve personal stability – people who have been affected by Maine’s opioid epidemic in one way or another.

“This is my calling,” Zachary said. “I need to be doing something meaningful to me. I want to benefit others. Not out of ego or desire, I just want to make the world a better place.”

He grew up in Portland, Maine, the same community he now serves. He sees people in his city dying from drug use, and their family members struggling.

“These people are desperate and I know that. I know that desperation,” he said.

Zachary has been sober for several years. His life experience uniquely qualified him to help others find work, stability and meaning.

“It felt like this position fell into my lap because it’s part of recovery, they just go together. I’m in the trenches. I’m in the midst of this whole thing. These people we serve are affected by substance abuse and are affected by loss of employment and I went through both of those,” he said. “A lot of providers haven’t gone through what a lot of us have gone through in recovery and I think that’s what’s crucial. That experience.”

Goodwill hires Peer Navigators for several parts of its Workforce Services. In some cases the Peer Navigators are youth helping other young people, in others their skills are specific to an industry. Most workforce participants are paired with a Career Adviser who helps with job skills and a Life Navigator who helps with social work and counseling needs. Some programs also offer the Peer Navigator who can be a friendly face during stressful times. A Peer Navigator might go to a doctor’s appointment with the participant if they wanted support, for example.

Because a Peer Navigator shares similar life experiences, there’s often less explaining. It’s having a support who “just gets it.”

“We’re the sidekick – they’re the hero,” Zachary said. “We’re the sidekick just letting them know they have someone in their corner. I like being the little guy in their scenario. I love making people feel accompanied.”

Zachary also receives services from Goodwill.

“I received the best social services of my life, specifically from Liz and Mike from Goodwill. I can’t thank them enough I’m so glad I got into this program to receive services,” he said. “I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without their support.”

His Career Advisor, Mike, connected him with a budgeting tool and educated him on managing money – something he’d never talked with anyone about before. His Life Navigator, Liz, checks in with him every few days to make sure he stays focused and “reels me in.”

“I’m taking all of my life experiences and I want to use it and do something with it. I feel like I went through all that I went through for a reason,” he said. “So many other people who grew up with me went through similar situations, so I feel this is my calling, to try to transmute that experience into a beneficial path for others. That’s why I’m here.”

If you or anyone you know would like help finding work, please contact our staff by filling this form:

Goodwill NNE is able to provide the opioid-specific workforce services thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the United States Department of Labor. Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. is the workforce board that is overseeing and managing the grant for the coastal counties region of Maine. 

A goodwill workforce peer navigator walks through a park full of snow
Zachary Walker, a Goodwill Workforce Peer Navigator, walks through a park full of snow
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