Ashley Amundson has worn many different hats at Villa Kali Ma, working her way from her starting position as a Resident Advisor (RA) in 2017 to RA Manager in 2018 and then to Program Manager in 2019. She was promoted again to her current position as Program Director in early 2020. Ashley has grown right alongside the company, having joined Villa Kali Ma’s team shortly after the program grew from a Transitional Living Program to a licensed Residential Treatment Center. Ashley leads with enthusiasm and a fun-loving lightheartedness that keeps the staff smiling even when there are heavy situations to manage.
In addition to running the day-to-day operations and overseeing a team of clinical therapists, holistic practitioners and staff, Ashley is the first point of contact for all new clients considering treatment with Villa Kali Ma. Acting in the additional role of Admissions Director, Ashley is able to empathize with women who are seeking help and offer a truly compassionate ear for those who are about to walk the path that she herself has walked. We are truly blessed to have her as the first person that potential clients interact with when they consider our program for themselves or their loved one.
Keep reading to learn more about Ashley’s story and why we are so happy to have her here at Villa Kali Ma!
Can you tell me about your role at VKM?
Ashley: So my role here at Villa Kali Ma is that I’m the program director.
What that means is that I am in charge of the operations and the day-to-day business, but I’m also the very first person that the clients speak to over the phone. So I set up the intake, and I get the inside scoop of the story of their lives. Establishing that initial connection is so very important because it’s very lonely on that side of the phone—a lot of people who reach out to me are feeling disconnected and isolated.
As their very first initial contact, I get to build that connection and that rapport beforehand and guide them to see if Villa Kali Ma will be a great fit for them. A big part of that role is answering all their questions. Because I have been in their position before, I’m able to do so efficiently, with authenticity and genuineness.
I find that, of all the jobs that I have had here, that one is the most special.
Do you have much interaction with the women once they arrive?
Ashley: I’m on-site more than I’m not. I’m a part of the day-to-day operation and usually the one that clients will go to if they have some concerns or questions. My role is to help ease their anxieties.
Having a dual role—by participating in the healing modalities and the program operation—gives me a lot of insight into their trauma. Because I have that background information, it lets me know where to work and how to feel their energy out a little bit more. So that’s really powerful.
A part of my role is also directing what kind of nature hikes they do or walks and other aspects of treatment. As I do the scheduling, I listen to how they’re feeling and what they’re needing. I ensure that their treatment is very mind, body, spirit and tailored to their needs.
How long have you been in the treatment field? When did you begin at VKM?
Ashley: My background is in customer service, but I’ve always known I wanted to work with women. I went to school and got my undergraduate degree in women’s studies, but I got very stuck. I didn’t know what to do with this degree. It took a lot of my own processing and internal work to get where I am as I navigated and plotted this course that led me to Villa Kali Ma.
My experience in the treatment field dates back to the beginning of 2017, about four years ago. That was when I started here at Villa Kali Ma as a resident advisor. I was one-to-one with clients all day long, 40 hours a week.
I worked my way up through every single role. I became a case manager and then the staff manager, then the program manager. Now my role is as program director. I’ve done every single part of this business, even the marketing and the client care sides.
While working here, I also got my master’s, and I’ll soon graduate from my doctorate program. It’s all flown together, and Villa Kali Ma has made it so that I can do this journey with them, and they have been very supportive of me throughout this journey.
What is it about VKM that you’re proud of? Anything that makes VKM stand out from other treatment centers?
Ashley: There are many things about Villa Kali Ma that stand out. For one, the CEO built this company because she was unable to find a program like this. Here, we work with women only as a gender-specific program. In this environment, with an all-women staff, our clients can feel safe to explore their experience of trauma. It’s so imperative that women have a place to go to feel safe and open up about these issues. So I think that having an intentionally small facility that only takes six women at a time is such a fertile environment to address these issues.
We take it one step further and offer treatment in a genuinely holistic way. We still have the clinical aspects covered—we offer EMDR and psychotherapy and CBT and DBT. On top of that, our program is infused with a unique holistic component, which extends all the way to our plant-based diet.
So our program here is truly encompassing of all elements of holistic change. To have a women-only treatment center focused on just six clients at a time that incorporates a plant-based diet has not been done, especially with an all-women staff. And I think that factor has been incredibly impactful for the women who have received treatment here too.
How have you seen holistic practices complement the healing that takes place at VKM?
Ashley: The mind, body and spirit approach to treatment has been left out of traditional programs throughout the history of addiction treatment. To reintegrate that component and speak to the needs of the whole person is imperative for healing. What we offer here is healing.
I think Villa Kali Ma does such a great job with treating each person as a whole and bringing attention to each of their needs—mind, body, and spirit.
How have you seen VKM change over the years?
Ashley: Yes, it has changed so much. I’m so proud to say how far it has come. Opening a center like this that’s only open to half the demographic with a very niche focus is such a scary venture—those of us who were around at the very beginning held this place up by our bootstraps. We put our hearts and souls and passion into it, and it was like a seedling taking root before our eyes. Like many other things, it is tough to build a business but to see how far and how much healing this place has done is remarkable.
To give you an example, our alumni program didn’t exist at first, because we only work with six women at a time. But over the last four years, we have grown our alumni network with women that have graduated from the program.
Each alumnus has their own experience and stories to share with those currently in the program or others who have graduated. From our main group, they have branched off and created their own subgroups. They have clubs and hiking groups, and they also have a codependency group and many more, just from the alumni of Villa Kali Ma.
Was there a single, defining moment that drew you to the treatment of mental health?
Ashley: I think it was a collection of defining moments. The interesting thing is that I didn’t even get a response from Villa Kali Ma when I first had applied because they were so new that they hadn’t even set up their hiring process yet.
I had to basically bang down the door and get myself that interview because I was so drawn to Kay’s story and what they treat and what their mission statement was. I found it all so unique, and I’d never heard of a place like this that I felt like I had to work there.
Interestingly, many of the staff members who have come here and been a part of the Villa Kali Ma journey have very similar experiences of this sense of being drawn here as if this is part of their path. Each woman on our team is so unique, and we each have all these different gifts that collectively come together and make this program work.
I truly believe that there is a reason that we’re all drawn here. But to work in the treatment center in the field itself, I think that decision was based on my own internal recovery path that allowed me to see that I wanted to work with women, and I wanted to do it in the recovery setting.
Who or what has influenced you the most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Ashley: At first, coming here and working with these very powerful healing women was very intimidating for me, having just started out. The law attraction helped me tap into a new mindset.
Instead of running away, I decided to lean in and tap into my own abilities and my own empowerment. I found power in walking the walk and talking with talk and eventually learning that when you go through the fire and go through the fear, you come out the other side stronger.
It was very intimidating to be around these women who have long, extensive work histories in the field. Some have 20 years of therapy under their belt, some are Reiki practitioners, some are yoga practitioners, and they have this essence about them that takes over a room. To be in that room at first, it’s so scary, but I’m glad that instead of running from it, I was able to embrace it and say, these are the people that I want to surround myself with. These are the women I want to work with.
The string that connects all the women here is that we genuinely love our jobs. We love being here. We love being in this healing process, being a part of our client’s journey and even the connection afterward, seeing them in the alumni groups and seeing how that’s flourished.
All of our staff here at Villa Kali Ma absolutely love what we do—it gives us purpose in life. And we feel that we have helped women find their own purpose and their own empowerment to lead them to whatever makes them excited to get up in the morning.
How have you found this last year to be for your clients?
Ashley: COVID-19 has created this sense of isolation and disconnection for many people. Of course, some people were already suffering silently prior to this, and the pandemic was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Women are feeling further and further disconnected from their families, from their loved ones, and most importantly, from themselves. They can no longer keep up the drinking, the drugging and their souls are hurting.
Rightfully so, there are many procedures and safety precautions that we have to take, but this creates further disconnection and isolation. Our role in combatting this is 1) ensuring that our staff is safe—we’re all vaccinated—and 2) ensuring that community and connection remain a primary goal.
As a society, what we’re seeing is that alcohol sales are up. People are using more drugs. There’s a lot of fear around financial stability and the future and the like. As a program, we make it our mission to tend to all these anxieties and help women find something solid to hold onto when it feels like the world is a scary place.
What part of your career are you especially proud of that brings you the most joy when you look back at it?
Ashley: This whole journey has empowered me so much that looking back on it does bring me joy, just the journey itself. I was so inspired by Kay White’s story and followed in her footsteps for some of the soul-searching adventures. In the beginning, I took a leave of absence, went to Bali, and I did a lot of soul-searching spiritual work while I was there. It was scary to leave a job to take a leap like that, but I felt like the universe had my back in the sense that everything would work out. And I went, and I took a leap, and when I came back, I was welcomed with open arms. I think I was a better person for it and a better employee for it.
Looking back at the leaps I’ve made in my self-development because Villa Kali Ma empowered me to do so gives me a lot of joy. Similarly, seeing the different women who have come in and out of here and hearing their stories has been an enormous encouragement to me. I am blessed to be so involved that I hear all the updates and their leaps and bounds. Hearing from them keeps my joy, little sparks throughout my entire week here.
Here, I have also learned more about the holistic side of life that complemented the clinical training that I went to school for. I’m always learning and moving forward here, and that’s a really special feeling.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
Ashley: If I could speak to a younger version of myself, I would say, “Lean in. Lean all the way in. The universe has your back. You are limitless, you can do whatever it is that your heart brings you to want to do. There are no obstacles, you are your only obstacle.”
I felt like, for a very long time, I was my own obstacle. My self-doubt was always tethering me back, but I knew internally that I had all the gifts, all the things locked up inside of me, but I was just too scared to see my own power. Marianne Williamson talks about “the fear of success.” That there’s not just the fear of failure, it really is a fear of success. Leaning into your own power can be terrifying, but once you can unlock that and embrace it and embrace who you are, then nothing else matters. You’re out of your own way.