When Kelly Pilotte was nominated to apply for a position on the Community College System of New Hampshire board of trustees as a student trustee, she saw it as an opportunity to deepen her impact as she pursued a goal with profoundly personal roots. As a trustee, she championed the student perspective while focusing on the needs of those battling trauma and substance misuse. As a student, she continues to build toward the dream of helping others in honor of the memory of her cherished son Michael who lost his battle in 2018.
Kelly’s life experience had its own challenges and decision points. Growing up, Kelly was taught that her future could follow one of two possible paths: obtain scholarships to make college affordable or join the military. While she initially considered enrolling at an in-state four-year university, Kelly soon realized that without a clear career plan she would be spending time and scarce money on courses she might never use.
“I was excited to enroll in Chinese language courses, but then thought, ‘What am I doing?’ when I recalled my high school years struggling with Spanish. I didn’t want to waste my money taking classes just for the sake of taking classes, so I chose to enlist in the Marines.”
It was during this period of her life that Kelly’s son, Michael, was born. Faced with a choice of furthering her military career or pursuing an occupation that would enable her to stay closer to home, she opted for the latter and joined the United States Postal Service (USPS). For the next several decades, Kelly enjoyed her tenure with the USPS, occasionally wondering what might come next in her career while she proudly watched her son grow up to become a Marine himself, ultimately rising to the rank of Sergeant.
In 2018, however, Kelly’s life took a tragic turn. After years of struggling with PTSD and related substance misuse, Michael succumbed to his illness and passed away from a fatal overdose. In the latter years of his life, while in and out of treatment, Michael would express frustration with what he saw as an ineffective treatment approach that only resulted in a cyclical pattern of sobriety and relapse. After Michael’s death, Kelly’s purpose in life completely shifted to a desire to provide direct support and advocacy for those suffering as her son had. Even more, as a testament of love to Michael, Kelly aspired to form a foundation in his name that would realize his vision for an effective approach to treatment that addresses the root causes of substance misuse.
Although empowered by her strong conviction, Kelly realized she lacked the knowledge and expertise she would need to create and operate a foundation of her own. This served as the catalyst for pursuing licensure as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) along with courses that would give her the skills to form and run a non-profit organization. When researching available programs in New Hampshire, Kelly learned that NHTI-Concord’s Community College offered an Addiction Counseling associate degree.
“I wanted a program that I could complete in two or three years instead of four – I’m 55, and at this point in my life, I don’t feel that I have the luxury of time when it comes to shifting to an entirely new direction in my career. NHTI had the program I needed in a setting where I could feel comfortable participating.”
Kelly was initially apprehensive about returning to school after so many years. She soon found that NHTI’s small classes and ease of access to instructors made for an ideal and empowering learning environment. The intimacy of NHTI enabled Kelly to not only succeed but excel in her coursework and earn admission to the international honors society Phi Theta Kappa, of which she is also the NHTI chapter president and vice president of leadership for the New England region. This drive also resulted in Kelly competing to serve as a student trustee on the Community College System of New Hampshire’s governing board, where she was able to use the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing stewardship of the college system and to the discourse of how to further improve the community college experience for students of all ages and backgrounds.
In reflecting on her time at NHTI, the transformative experience is apparent:
“At first, I could barely turn on a computer, but by the end, I was taking classes entirely online. I couldn’t do public speaking; now, I do it all the time. Professor Michael O’Bryant, department chair for addiction counseling and human services, and Trisha Dionne, the director of online learning and Phi Theta Kappa advisor, are two of the reasons why I am continuing at NHTI – I would not be the person I am today without their help. I feel that I could not make the same kind of connection in a larger school. The smaller community college helps to make things more personal, and I feel that this is a big reason why I have been able to become the leader I am today.”
Today, the knowledge and skills Kelly has acquired as a student at NHTI have prepared her to launch a new career. Two important personal steps for her are establishing The Michael Stephen Boyd Memorial Foundation and the Sgt. Michael Stephen Boyd Scholarship Fund in her son’s memory. The latter fund, held at the Foundation for NH Community Colleges, will provide financial support to NHTI students enrolled in the Addiction Counseling program. Kelly is motivated by keeping her son’s memory and legacy alive and empowering people to help others suffering from addiction.
New Hampshire and its residents will surely benefit from Kelly’s passion and dedication to helping those in need and her desire to make a lasting difference.
Community members who are interested in supporting the Sgt. Michael Stephen Boyd Scholarship Fund at NHTI can donate on-line at https://givenhcc.org/where-to-give/nhti/ or contact Kelly directly with any questions at KPilotte441@students.ccsnh.edu.