Impact stories from

River Valley Community College

River Valley Community College
A smiling Loretta Blackwell posing in scrubs

A Passion for Helping Others

Loretta Blackwell’s journey to becoming a Registered Nurse in Manchester, New Hampshire took several turns along the way, each serving as a building block for a career as a caregiver who makes a difference in the lives of others.

As an equestrian who grew up riding in rural Bradford, New Hampshire, Loretta was no stranger to hard work and the positive experiences they can yield.

“I had my own horse” explained Loretta. “I was pretty lucky. My parents made me work really hard for that, so I always had a sense of accountability and responsibility. I had to balance school life and farm life responsibilities. That really shaped who I was back then and who I am now.”

It was during this period that Loretta began to explore career options after high school, deciding in her senior year to pursue teaching or art therapy. The decision was partially rooted in her high school experience when she struggled to feel confident about her abilities in science and math. She continued to gravitate towards art, and ultimately completed a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 2012.

After graduating with her BFA in 2012, Loretta moved from Boston to Worcester, MA and spent the next five years working as a therapeutic arts educator at a non-profit organization. It was in 2017 that Loretta and her now-husband returned to New Hampshire to assist her mother on the family homestead. The pair moved in with Loretta’s mother while continuing to work in their respective fields, but soon found that their education and previous work experience left them with minimal career options locally. At that same time, Loretta’s experience supporting her mother made her realize she had a passion and a talent for caregiving.  Having spent several years teaching and working with adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, she found that her true calling was taking care of people and helping them transition from hardship in various forms.

“It was really hard for us to get competitive jobs in our respective fields, and I planned to go back to school at some point. The other component was my mom – she’s disabled, and her care provider situation was not working out, so my husband and I helped out and learned a lot by living with her. I learned that if I could help my mom in that capacity, I could probably help other people too. My husband also changed careers at that point, which served as a catalyzing force and inspiration for me beginning such a transformative change in my professional life.”

Loretta spoke with a friend in the field and was encouraged to consider a future in nursing. With both of her parents and an uncle having attended River Valley Community College (RVCC) for healthcare-related professions, she knew that she wanted to attend one of New Hampshire’s community colleges. It was a personal acceptance letter from the chair of the nursing program at RVCC that made an impact on Loretta and led to her decision to attend RVCC.

The personal approach that drew Loretta to the college did not end with the offer of admission.  Instructors in the nursing program mentored students like Loretta, helping her break down complex concepts in a way and at a pace that worked for her.  Loretta’s instructors saw more in her, including an ability to contribute well beyond her academic pursuits.  Mid-way through the program, Loretta’s mentor at RVCC nominated her to the Community College System of New Hampshire board of trustees as a student trustee.

As a board member who also sat on the Student Success Committee, Loretta was able share her perspective as a student and bring forth the concerns of fellow learners before voting on decisions that would affect the system’s policies and strategic direction. The experience helped Loretta understand what it meant to be a leader not just in the classroom, but in the broader world around her. One way Loretta exercised her budding confidence in leadership was by soliciting the input of fellow students in the nursing program, and meeting with their clinical instructor to advocate for changes in the delivery of instruction to better suit students’ varying learning styles. The resulting changes yielded a positive experience for her classmates that was backed up by a notable improvement in the students’ learning outcomes.

Having graduated from the nursing program in 2022, Loretta is taking her newfound confidence and skills out into the world as a Registered Nurse at Catholic Medical Center (CMC), working on a cardiovascular medical surgical telemetry floor and caring for patients who require continuous monitoring due to chronic heart conditions.  Loretta is looking forward to the challenge of caring for more individuals in her role at CMC and a greater opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“I chose this because CMC serves as the New England Heart & Vascular Institute, so it will really firm up my skills caring for people with chronic heart conditions. If I want to go into cardiology, it’s a great place to learn what that really means. Looking back on my experience up until now, my advice for those behind me is that we all need to be confident and not give up on the long path required to get here. Nursing school can leave you feeling overwhelmed, but it is crucial to remind yourself that you’ve been accepted into a very difficult program. It’s important to have mentors and it’s really important, even if it is just one person in your life, to have a support system to help you long the way.”

To learn more about River Valley Community College, visit the college’s website: