2017 Unsung Hero Awards

CONCORD – Applause filled the room as Governor Chris Sununu entered the Executive Council Chamber in the State House on Wednesday, February 22.

The Governor and New Hampshire Children’s Trust honored 35 parents at the 10th Annual Unsung Hero Awards in recognition of their strength and resilience. Some honorees have faced and overcome many obstacles and still found the strength to care for others, give back to the community who helped them, and provide safe and stable homes for their children.

“Parents who go above and beyond to provide for their families and communities are our unsung heroes,” Gov. Sununu said. “I was proud to recognize a few tonight.”

Each award recipient and their family proudly stood to be photographed with Gov. Sununu while accepting their award. After the ceremony, families gathered for a reception to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy refreshments.

Below are the honorees:

  • Megan Barker of Winchester was nominated by Rachel Kowalsky. Megan is a single mother of three, the youngest having special needs. Despite being a single mother, working a full-time job, and taking her youngest to all of his doctors’ appointments, Megan still finds time to attend all school events and activities. Megan always puts her children first, making sure that all three of her boys have everything they need. She is one of the strongest advocates for her children. 
  • Jessica and Robert Boutin of Manchester were nominated by Claudia and David Ferber. Jessica and Robert have five children all under the age of 9, two of which they gained legal guardianship of two years ago. Despite the many challenges, they have faced, Jessica and Robert have been an amazing support system for these children and have instilled in them the importance of family. They both work outside the home, yet find time to coach the kids’ sports teams, take the girls to dance lessons, and have family game nights. Jessica and Robert are patient, kind and compassionate people who live for their children.  
  • Erica Brough of Laconia was nominated by Scoop Welch. Erica is a single mother, working two jobs to support her two sons. While expecting her second child, she was informed that she would not be able to access Child Care Scholarship funding. Erica wanted to continue to work, but knew the cost of child care would be prohibitive. Utilizing the NH Child Care Scholarship Wait List, Erica was eventually provided the additional financial support that she needed. After taking additional college courses, Erica is now the Center Director at the Belmont location for Lakes Region Child Care Services. On top of working and taking care of her family, she is an active volunteer at the Family Violence Prevention Council and Granite United Way.   
  • Holly Carignan of Rochester was nominated by Lorie Tweedy. Holly has four children. Her oldest are twins who have Down Syndrome. In 2007, Holly’s husband had a heart attack and sadly passed away. With all these hardships and challenges, she continued to teach, support her family, and maintain their home. Holly kept both boys at home with her, working very hard to get additional services that were needed. To add to life’s challenges, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Holly was by her side at every appointment, and in October, they completed the Breast Cancer Awareness walk in Dover as her daughter celebrated her second year as a cancer survivor.
  • Melanie Child of Bethlehem was nominated by Nicole Fischler. Melanie is a beautiful, vivacious woman, who is organized, optimistic, loving, and compassionate. Melanie is a wife and mother of four children, three of whom have attention deficit disorder. Her second oldest child was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age nine. Melanie plays a very active role in helping him manage his diabetes while still fostering his independence. When her daughter also started presenting symptoms of diabetes, she immediately recognized them and advocated for her daughter’s needs. All the while, Melanie remained composed, empathetic, and loving while she and her husband grew stronger and even more dedicated to their children.
  • Crystal Cutting of Ashland was nominated by Tricia Murphy. Crystal and her daughter, Izabelah, came to the Bridge House Homeless Shelter and the Whole Village Family Resource Center in Plymouth in November 2015. Crystal secured a spot for Izzy in Head Start at Whole Village and began taking advantage of the resources offered. She took classes to secure her diploma, get a job, and began renting an apartment. Crystal has also obtained a vehicle through a program with DHHS and Good News Garage. She has also been able to reestablish a relationship with her two older children. Crystal has undoubtedly put in the hard work necessary to point her life in a positive direction.
  • Annie DiSilva of West Chesterfield was nominated by Traci Fairbanks. Annie is a wife and mother of four who embodies resilience, strength, compassion and empathy in all that she does. Carrying her own diagnosis of epilepsy, she advocates that inclusion can and should be in the public-school system. She champions parent and student support groups and collaborated with local agencies to form REACT, a student organization that pairs members with high school students with mental and physical disabilities. Annie juggles all of her commitments and has the gift of squeezing more than 24 hours into a day, always making time for her family and friends. 
  • Casandra Gardner of Intervale was nominated by Joann Aubuchont. Cassie is a great parent, volunteer and role model for other parents at Conway Head Start. She has a very strong interest in her child’s education, knowing that her daughter needs not only educational, but also emotional support. Cassie volunteers to read stories in her daughter’s classroom and stays most afternoons, helping the teachers clean their classrooms. Cassie is very dependable, especially when the teacher needs a substitute for the day. 
  • April Hanks of Belmont was nominated by Mary Mirkin. April is the single parent of twin boys, Crystian and Brooklyn. Because they were born prematurely, their first years of life were very difficult. April showed great strength and tenacity in reaching out to medical providers and arranging a vast array of early intervention services for her boys. April continues to travel from Belmont to Lebanon for numerous medical appointments at Dartmouth, all while maintaining a full-time job to support her boys. Her sons, now six, are making great progress, thanks to April’s courage and resilience. 
  • Danielle Houle of Manchester was nominated by Shannon Cassidy. Danielle is a mother of two children and is pregnant with her third, due in April. She always advocates for her children, especially when it comes to their education. Danielle shows her resilience, attending weekly meetings for group recovery for substance abuse. Her family spends time together, fishing, scootering, playing video games, and jamming out to music.   
  • Samantha Inkel of Colebrook was nominated by Colebrook Area Head Start. Samantha is a wife and mother to a beautiful daughter and a volunteer at the Head Start program where she provides amazing help and assistance, as well as emotionally supporting the children in the program. She also holds a seat on Head Start’s policy board and on the state Parent Advocacy Council for Head Start. Samantha has overcome many obstacles and is a true inspiration to her daughter and the children she works with at Head Start.
  • Myriah Kenyon of Manchester was nominated by Michelle Bruce. Myriah is the mother of two boys whom she loves and cares for greatly. She has overcome many obstacles in her life, but works hard every day to be a great parent. Myriah attends a weekly Nurturing Families Group and participates in many avenues of her recovery to continue to provide the best life for her and her sons. She is always looking for ways to better herself and to provide the best life possible for her family.   
  • Jason Kingsbury of Northfield was nominated by Christina Beadle. Jason is a doting father to his son, Landen. Landen was born with a dangerous venous lymphatic abnormality in his windpipe, causing the risk of closing his airways. Jason makes the best of every visit to Boston Children’s Hospital, advocating for Landen in any setting. When Landen is healthy, Jason always plans fun learning adventures while incorporating ways to give back to the community. Jason strives to set a good example for his son to follow, all while growing his own small local business. 
  • Denise and Syl Lapierre of Belmont were nominated by Jennifer Doris. Denise is an amazing mother to her children. When Denise received her son’s autism diagnosis, she looked at the many opportunities that ASD would bring to the family. Denise advocated for all the services her son needed in order to excel. Not only is she a strong resource for her son, but also for many people in the community. She found her way through leadership programs and has become an advocate not only at the local level, but also the state level. 
  • Kerry Lavoie of Concord was nominated by Jodi Roos. Kerry is the grandmother of a little girl named Harmony. Kerry received full custody of Harmony when she was 2 years old. Kerry also provides for her 17-year-old daughter and her son. While Kerry, who shuttles her son to various doctors’ appointments, she takes advantage of respite childcare at The Children’s Place. Kerry’s efforts with Harmony have been heroic, and because of her relentless efforts, Harmony is thriving. 
  • Ross Leclair of Belmont was nominated by Amy Leclair. Ross is a single dad to a beautiful baby girl named Olivia. Olivia was born five weeks early, and shortly after she arrived home, Ross and his partner separated. Having a newborn is difficult, but it is particularly difficult when there are two separate parenting styles. Ross had to fight to stay in his daughter’s life, and with perseverance and determination, he now shares custody. He always has his daughter’s best 
  • Rosa Levesque of Nashua was nominated by Evenor Pineda. Rosa is an amazing mother and grandmother. She gained full custody of her grandson and granddaughter after her son’s arrest more than twelve years ago. Rosa has done everything in her power to ensure that her son and his children maintain a close and healthy relationship, regardless of his incarceration. She drives back and forth from Nashua to Concord to ensure frequent visitation. She also plays a major role in helping her daughter raise her son while she fulfills her obligations to the National Guard. Rosa is an incredibly strong woman and caring parent who shows nothing but her unconditional love to her children and grandchildren.
  • Beth and Scott Maltzie of Boscawen were nominated by Barbara Lemieux. Beth and Scott are foster parents and advocates for fostering. The first daughter they cared for as a teenager has now gone on her own as an adult. Their current foster daughter is a high school senior who has been celebrating her college acceptance. Beth and Scott have labored, sacrificed, loved, guided, and directed their daughters as their own. Beth and Scott are parents who have worked through not only the struggles teens typically go through, but helped them overcome the insecurities and challenges that a teenager might have in the foster care system.
  • Jack and Jodie McClay of Claremont were nominated by Melony Williams. Jack and Jodie are foster parents with huge hearts and giving spirits. They have opened their home to many children while their parents attempt to get their lives back on track. Not only are they supportive of the children along the process, but they are supportive of the biological parents. Jack and Jodie have a large family to care for with foster, adoptive and biological children. They have developed a tremendous network of support for their family. Jack and Jodie are an inspiration to all around them.  
  • Cynthia Morales of Manchester was nominated by Kate Levine. Cynthia is the mother of three children, all under the age of four. In the past year and a half, Cynthia has had to deal with many hardships. While dealing with complications during her third pregnancy, Cynthia was grieving over the tragic loss of her brother. Even with the many stressors and health concerns, she showed her resilience. A pastor, she continues to give back to the community and beyond and always greets people with a smile and warmth. She thirsts for knowledge on parenting techniques, and always does what is best for her children. She exudes light and love.
  • Butch and Trish Paris of Salem were nominated by Cindy Jury. Butch and Trish have three great children and are highly active in Salem Family Resources. Butch has a full-time job, while Trish is a fulltime mom and is always on the go. They provide rich learning experiences within a family setting and when building social connections. They certainly demonstrate parental resilience, keeping their own family on track while continually helping others in their large extended family, supporting their children in their various developmental stages, advocating for their children when necessary and managing a family of five.
  • Courteney Robison of Dunbarton was nominated by Barb Drotos. Courteney is a single parent to her 19-year-old autistic son. Three years ago, she and her son moved from Ohio to New Hampshire. Though it was very difficult for her son on a social and emotional level, she knew it was necessary to be closer to family and guided him through every step of the way. In addition, she reaches out to the homeless communities, providing food, clothing, essential items for self-care, and prayer. Courteney is a job coach for individuals with disabilities and runs a program for siblings of children with disabilities. Courteney adores her son and this obvious to everyone around her; she always celebrates his strengths and successes no matter how small or large they are. 
  • Dustin Roche of Concord was nominated by Jodi Roos. Dustin has sole custody of his 5-year-old son, Dillon. Dillon’s first few years of life were rough. Thanks to Dustin’s relentless efforts to gain custody of hisson, Dillon now lives with Dustin, his wife and their infant daughter. Dustin is in long-term recovery and works every day to be the a great father and role model for his children.  
  • Heather Rodger of Lancaster was nominated by Whitefield Head Start. Heather is a dedicated mother of two. She is an advocate for her children and is continually learning new strategies to help them succeed. Not only does she think about her children’s needs, but she also thinks about the needs of others in her community. Heather has demonstrated resilience and perseverance by continuing her supportive parenting and volunteering, all while she has been maintaining her own health during her battle with cancer. 
  • Melinda Sylvester of Derry was nominated by Tara Pitarys. Melinda is a single mom to an autistic teen, Cameron, who has Type I diabetes, and a very strong willed first-grader named Destiny. Melinda is involved in many programs from SPARK to Partners in Health family support council, to Vice Chair of Head Start Policy council. She also supports other families via different social media groups teaching about disabilities and parenting. No matter how busy or stressed she is, you will always find a friendly, welcoming person in Melinda.
  • Judy Tautenhan of Warren was nominated by Sarah Sadowski. Judy is a hardworking single mother who works two jobs to provide for her three children. Judy faces tremendous amounts of stress but uses humor to bounce back and talks about her own struggles to help others. Her empathy towards her children’s feelings is evident when she discusses the impact her decisions make on them. Judy is helping challenge some of the stigma about families who are “working poor” and struggling to overcome generational poverty. 
  • Lesle and Rudy Tibbetts of Meredith were nominated by Kierin Williams. Lesle and Rudy have two children and are foster parents to a 2-year-old boy, Cade. Every day is another adventure – this year was Cade’s first time seeing and playing in snow! Lesle and Rudy are loving and caring to Cade and intend to adopt him. Lesle and Rudy are working hard on building his communication and social skills. The Tibbett family and Cade are a perfect example of understanding a child’s physical, developmental and emotional needs. They work diligently to help Cade grow with competence while promoting his well-being. 
  • Kasilyn Tillotson of Colebrook was nominated by Betty Gilcris. Kasilyn is an amazing mother and community member. She has been actively involved in Head Start: on their Policy Council and on the State Head Start’s Parent Association. In addition, she was elected to represent New Hampshire in the New England Head Start Association. She is a classroom sub and community advocate for early childhood programs. Kasilyn demonstrates an ongoing interest and passion to learn more and be a good parent. She is one of the kindest people you will ever meet and is constantly finding ways to help others around her.  
  • Jamie Tilton of Boscawen were nominated by Joan Valk. Jamie and Nick are parents of three beautiful children, two whom struggle with ADHD. They have both advocated for their children’s needs, as well as regularly met with caseworkers. When Jamie’s foster sister was unable to care for her children, Jamie and Nick stepped up to the plate and became the guardians of these three children. They are working so hard to meet all the children’s needs and do not hesitate to ask for help when they need it. Even though life may not be always be easy for this family of eight, Jamie and Nick have the commitment and the sense of humor to get through it as they strive to meet everyone’s needs.

“This is my favorite event of the year. To see the parents being honored for being strong for their kids is such a joy,” said Julie Day, Strengthening Families Director at NH Children’s Trust.

Coming from all counties of our state, 35 award recipients were nominated by family, friends, co-workers and community members who believe they are doing the very best with what they have. Specifically, each of the honorees have shown effective use of some or all of the 5 Protective Factors:

  • Parental Resilience: Overcoming everyday stress and bouncing back.
  • Social Connections: Having people who know and support them.
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: Where to find out about parenting skills and developmental growth.
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need: Knowing where to turn for help.
  • Social and Emotional Competence: Knowing how to help their children talk about their feelings.

A parent is defined as a dual parent, single parent, grandparents, foster or adoptive parent.

NH Children's Trust, the New Hampshire Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, is committed to eliminating child abuse and neglect by helping families to build Protective Factors that buffer them in times of stress. It is an honor to recognize ordinary parents for being heroes to their children and role models for their community.

“Why do we do this?” Lara Quiroga, Chair of the Board at NH Children’s Trust asked. “Because each one of these people are strong and resilient caregivers that have made a difference in the life of a child.”

Thank you to our generous sponsors: