We all have stories at Village Northwest Unlimited (VNU), both the people who receive services and
those that provide those services. Somehow your story has led to you reading this blog post. I
would like to share a small segment of my life story that led to me working at Village Northwest.
Additionally, I hope the extent of impact on my life VNU provides for me is evident through this

My name is Nate Huyser and I have worked at VNU for a little over two and a half years. I worked on
VNU’s main “campus,” in ICF-ID House 366 as a direct support professional for much of this time. I
provided services to our residents in their home. Among the tasks I helped with were cooking and
feeding, using the restroom, bathing/showering, and simply spending time with them. In September of
2023 I made the transition to becoming a member of the Wansink Center Staff where I work in the
therapeutic services team as a physical therapy instructor. In this role I primarily carry out the
exercise and movement orders that our Physical Therapist Assistant and Doctor of Physical Therapy

Going further back in my life story, during elementary school (age 5) through graduation from
Northwestern College in Orange City (age 22), sports were the highlight of my life. As many young
people do, I dreamt of becoming a professional athlete. I had a strong work ethic and much of my
free time was devoted to practicing basketball and soccer. Even towards the end of my soccer career
at Northwestern College in Orange City, I held onto the dream of playing in some level of
professional soccer.

While sports were what excited me most, I worked hard and excelled in academics also. If
professional sports didn’t work out, I wanted to be in a position to obtain an interesting,
meaningful, and well-paying career. During my senior year of high school, I started thinking that
my greatest interests lay in the science of health and the human body. I always loved hearing
stories of how my physician maternal grandfather impacted the lives of those in his community.
Therefore, I decided to major in Biology-Health Professions in my studies at Northwestern College
to prepare for medical school. As my college years progressed, I felt as though a Doctorate in
Physical Therapy would coincide better with my interests in science, sports, and a more stable
work/life balance. While I have received no physical therapy degree, it is quite fitting that I now
work as a physical therapy instructor at VNU.

Aspirations of becoming a professional athlete, medical doctor, doctor of physical therapy… These
fields all felt like professions of respect, prestige, success, and prosperity. I worked extremely
hard in the hopes of making these dreams a reality.

Concurrently with working towards these professional goals, from age 12 onwards, I slowly felt
myself falling into the grips of Serious Mental Illness in the forms of Major Depressive Disorder
and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I remember always having high anxiety and constant worry
from a young age. When I entered my freshman year of high school, I slowly felt the despair,
darkness, and isolation of depression starting to work its way into my mental life. However, it
wasn’t until beginning college that these illnesses peaked and became life-threatening. During
my sophomore year at Northwestern, instead of feeling like I was advancing in my goals of
becoming a professional athlete or a medical doctor, I found myself in hell-like levels of
depression and anxiety. In the second semester I had to drop many of my classes, move out of
the dorms, and cease participation in soccer activities. I was suffering and it felt like I could not
go forward with life. I was admitted into psychiatric hospitals twice during this time.

Eventually, powerful effects from psychiatric medications allowed me to regain better mental health
and finish my degree in Biology-Health Professions from Northwestern in 2016. I finished with a
high GPA and was selected by the University of Iowa to continue my education in the Doctor of
Physical Therapy program. I moved to Iowa City and started this path strong and with excitement.
Unfortunately, my mental health did not persist and I descended back into the depth of severe
depression and anxiety. I had to leave the University of Iowa and return to Orange City to be close
to my protective and loving family. Since that time, I have continued to battle my mental illness
and have never truly regained the level of functioning I once had. In the eight years since leaving
physical therapy school there has been much suffering, frustration, and even disability.

I FELL into the despair of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I FELL on the social ladder. From excelling in sports and school to being a patient in psychiatric

I FELL from the heights of ambition to the suffering of feeling that I could no longer live another

It initially felt like I FELL into the field of disability services also. Entering this field
started with working as a direct support professional in a waiver home for Hope Haven, another
Northwest Iowa organization serving those with intellectual disabilities. Rather than a conscious
desire to work as a direct support professional in the field of disability services, it felt like I
FELL into this job. My sister, who is now a psychiatric physician assistant, worked a college
summer in Chicago in a home with four physically and intellectually disabled individuals. Her
positive experience gave me the idea of this field as a potential job for myself for the time
being. It felt like something I may be able to handle despite my mental illness and was in the
health services field. During this time, while continuing to battle my mental illnesses, it felt
like my life had fallen a long way. From all my ambitious plans to a job that didn’t require any
higher education and solely on-the-job training.

Amidst feeling like I have fallen, fallen, fallen in the eight years since I graduated college, I
have found my fall softened by a wonderful landing.

I have landed at VNU. Everyday I get to work with those who are intellectually and physically
disabled. Disabilities of individuals vary from being bound to wheelchairs, non-verbal, blindness,
and limitations in cognitive abilities. While our goal as an organization is to help our residents
reach their potential in life, and some do have employment in the community, many of the
individuals we serve will never work again or have never worked a day in their lives. Thus, some in
our society may not consider our residents “non-productive” citizens.

For much of my life, my value came from my hard work and success in school and sports. The
continuation and fruition of those labors would have been my choice. I did not choose to suffer
from Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I did not choose my four
hospitalizations over the past ten years or the periods of months at a time that I was unemployed,
too sick to work.

However, I am daily reminded that the individuals we serve at VNU also did not choose their

So while it has felt like a never-ending free-fall for the past eight years of my life, I have
found that I have LANDED in my job at VNU. I am proud of being able to work full-time in a job that
makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

Amidst their varied disabilities, I see such life in each and every one of these people. I see it
in their smiles, their singing, their hugs, their joyful greetings. They have such immense value on

I see our residents in their moments of difficulty also. This reminds me of the disability I too
have experienced. When I work at VNU, I am reminded of the love that God has for those we serve.
This is so natural and easy for me to recognize. In contrast, it has been a lot harder for me to
see my own value in light of my disabilities and despair these past twelve years. I have struggled
to feel loved by God due to the nature of my mental illnesses.

However, my job at VNU is a reminder that I am also loved by God. Even though the work can be
challenging for me at times, I am proud of using the abilities I do have in service to those with
intellectual and physical disabilities. While my job is to help them, I know they help me also.
They are reminders of the value of each person and the love that God has for us, despite any
limitations we may have.

If you or a loved one are considering receiving services from VNU, I highly recommend our
organization. Our staff truly works to fulfill our mission of providing “purpose, privacy, and
dignity” to all those we serve. If you are considering employment at VNU, we would love to have you
as part of our team. The work we do is immensely important to the people we work with and their
families. I am truly grateful for VNU being a part of my life story and hope that the
organization can be a part of yours also.