When he was working as a substance abuse counselor for a public school system in Westchester, N.Y., Thomas Miller became known as "the drug guy."

Later, when he ran a support group for gay, lesbian and transgender youths who were questioning their sexuality, kids who ran into him started calling him "the gay guy."

For many people, such name-calling would be insulting. For Miller, however, it was a compliment. It meant he was doing his job right.

If all goes the way he's hoping, kids in Darien will soon start calling him names. In December, Miller started his new job as Director of Professional Services at The Center for HOPE, a division of Stamford-based Family Centers that has served Darien residents at its Post Road home since 1982. In his new appointment, the 31-year-old Miller takes charge of the 15-20 professional counselors who help grieving adults and children dealing with death, illness or trauma in their lives in Darien and New Canaan.

"I love the opportunity to work with kids and their families and to walk alongside, rather than pushing or pulling," he said. "I have a passion for working with people in need."

Miller also takes over as director of The Den for Grieving Kids, a sort of hangout/support group run by Family Centers for teenagers dealing with grief.

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Teenagers are a group that Miller holds dear to his heart, as much of his professional experience over the last 10 year as a substance abuse counselor has been spent working with kids in either public school settings or in outdoor therapy sessions.

"I hope to bring a lot more youth-oriented services to the area," he said. "I think there's a need for kids to have a healthy outlet, and we have to integrate the challenges they have."

Miller, a Centereach, Long Island native, graduated from New York University in 2002 with a master's degree in social work. He had a private counseling practice in Pleasantville, N.Y. before deciding to become a substance abuse counselor in the Westchester schools.

He also worked with teens at the Westchester Jewish Community Services, and worked with kids from ages 13 to 21 who were dealing with sexuality issues.

He ran a wilderness therapy program in the Adirondacks for teens aged 13 to 17, who he said needed to experience success in their lives, while getting away from their home life.

He said he hopes to be able to bring some of his experience with teenagers to Darien, and expand the Center for HOPE to include more community events, including parenting seminars, and community education.

"There's a need for the kids to go somewhere and be able to talk about these issues," he said, adding that the Den in Greenwich is a place he would like to see modeled in other towns such as Darien and New Canaan. "You can come to a place like that and not be judged."

Miller lives in Fairfield with his wife, Nicole, and their 9-month-old son Quentin.