Nilsa Fernandez, who has been with CHD’s Adult Mental Health (AMH) team in Springfield for eight years, was recently recognized by the Springfield Police Department for her steadfast support of a traumatized crime victim/witness.
A program supervisor and outreach worker, Nilsa and her team serve adults with mental illness and/or substance use disorder who live independently in the community with outreach supports. A few months ago, an individual that Nilsa has worked with for three years was called as a key witness in one of the most high-profile criminal cases in recent Springfield history. To protect her privacy, we will refer to her as Jane. As the only strong, trustworthy relationship in Jane’s life, Nilsa found herself as the main support throughout this traumatic ordeal. She accompanied Jane to every court visit, she helped her write a victim impact statement, and stood by her side while it was read in the courtroom. She was there every step of the way.
The letter sent to Nilsa on behalf of the Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood read in part, “I am quite aware that your client had a true champion with her during a very difficult time and I want to thank you for being that champion.” Nilsa credits the Hampden County DA’s office, as well as the Springfield Police Department, with easing the burden by being very nurturing and caring with her and with Jane during the process.
Due to the nature of the case this was not only a very traumatic time for Jane, but for Nilsa as well. When asked how she stayed strong for her client, Nilsa explains, “I put myself in her shoes. I knew I was her only support. I have my family as my motivation, they keep me going—and the relationship I built with Jane kept me going.” Nilsa also shares that taking time for herself when possible to reset and recharge her batteries was very important in order to best be there to support Jane.
Today, Jane is still recovering from this difficult time but has made a lot of progress. She is still with CHD’s AMH program and plans to continue. Nilsa is enjoying time with her 12-month-old granddaughter, Salem, who she says allows her to wake up every day full of joy.