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2018 Unsung Hero Awards

2018 Unsung Hero Awards

CONCORD – Applause filled the room as Governor Chris Sununu entered the Executive Council Chamber in the State House on Wednesday, February 21.

The Governor and New Hampshire Children’s Trust honored 37 extraordinary parents and caregivers at the 11th Annual Unsung Hero Awards. Many honorees have overcome difficult obstacles and still find the strength to care for others, give back to the community, and provide safe and stable homes for their children. They truly do everything in their power to ensure their children can thrive.

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

“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.

Thirty-seven award recipients from every corner of our state 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.”

This year’s honorees are:

  • John and Milvia Anastasiou, of New Boston, were nominated by Gigi Brienza, Amelia Hogan and Peter King. They are foster parents who have adopted three children from the NH child welfare system over the last two years. The two have great social connections and aren’t afraid to ask for help from friends in the Manchester fostering and adoptive community and their family to ensure their home remains a stable, loving environment. The Anastasious have demonstrated an unparalleled amount of empathy and unique understanding for the children in their care.
  • Philip Atwood, of Claremont, was nominated by Dawn Monty. Philip recently lost his wife, Brittni, to esophageal cancer. Over the last few months, Philip has learned how to care for his three children on his own, balance work and home, and find healthy ways for himself and his children to grieve.
  • Carrie Baron, of Tilton, was nominated by Lauren Baron and Debbie Judd. Carrie’s daughter, Baylee, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and multiple heart defects shortly after birth. At 6 months old, Baylee was hospitalized with serious medical issues. Three months later, she was sent home with a tracheotomy to help her breathe and a G-tube to feed her. Carrie was forced to quickly learn the ins and outs of caring for a child who needs around-the-clock care. She is adept at juggling medical and Early Supports and Services appointments. Carrie seeks professional recommendations to help Baylee continue to grow and develop.
  • JD Bartkovich, of Exeter, was nominated by Richie McFarland Children’s Center. While many would find their hands full with four children, JD opened her home and heart to three children with special needs whom she has adopted through foster care. She has exhibited incredible patience and comprehensive support for each of her children’s needs. Although she serves as an educational surrogate, supporting and educating other foster parents needing guidance, she is not afraid to ask for help. Through everything, JD has shown an incredible ability to respect the ideas and interests of each child and works tirelessly to provide all she can to help her children enjoy productive and joy-filled lives.
  • Mary Ellen Biser, of Bedford, was nominated by Brian J. Harlow. Despite undergoing cancer treatment in January 2015, foster care veteran Mary Ellen found the courage and strength to take legal guardianship of five young children after her daughter’s substance use disorder left the children neglected. Having experienced the trauma of neglect and the death of their father, the five children present a tough set of challenges. Because of this, Mary Ellen started a support group for grandparents tasked with raising children during the opioid crisis in NH.
  • Samantha Champagne, of Northfield, was nominated by Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center. Samantha is fondly known as “Aunty” to Michael, who has been in her care since he was a baby. Before coming into Samantha’s care, Michael was diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome and suffered a brain injury after falling from a third-floor window. Because of Samantha’s advocacy, Michael became the youngest student ever accepted into the Spaulding School. She began as a client of her local family resource center and now serves as an invaluable part of their volunteer staff.
  • Bill Doherty, of Merrimack, was nominated by Mindy Pond. Bill is the father of three children with autism spectrum disorder. Bill has been a long-standing member of parent to parent match to be a veteran to parents with newly diagnosed children. He is a regular in the Special Olympics crowd in Merrimack and coordinates the annual Statewide Family Support Conference for more than 500 families. Bill has navigated many systems and knows who to call when his children have a need. As an advocate for children with autism, Bill has been known to educate legislators and speak to students interested in the field. He knows what drives each of his children and gives them opportunities and skills that bring them joy.
  • Ashley and John Green, of Freedom, were nominated by Cathy Livingston. Ashley and John are the proud parents two young children. After their daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 17 months old, the Greens became strong advocates, ensuring her educational needs were met. While navigating the confusing systems of supports, the couple was not afraid to reach out for assistance. The two have worked hard to overcome financial insecurity and substance use issues in order to provide a safe, loving home for their daughter and son.
  • Delsuita Giraldo, of Manchester, was nominated by Mishelle Bortnick. After moving to the United States from Colombia, Delsuita faced the challenges of language barriers, professional setbacks, and divorce. Today, Delsuita is a single mother of three girls, one of whom has spina bifida. She has worked hard to become a LNA and buy a home that supports the physical needs of her daughter who uses a wheelchair and crutches. Delsuita uses her faith and loving nature to care for her daughters despite her challenges.
  • Meghan Humphries, of Berlin, was nominated by Briana Shannon. As a victim of domestic violence, Meghan struggled briefly with substance abuse as a coping mechanism for her PTSD. When she discovered she was pregnant with her fourth child, she decided it was time for change. As the single mother of four very active boys, Meghan has made the best out of what could have been a difficult situation. She has come far in the past few years, finding financial stability and providing a life filled with love for her sons.
  • Lawrence and Renee LeGrand, of Effingham, were nominated by Dianna L. Saranno. Lawrence and Renee are the grandparents and guardians of Serenity. The two have worked hard to provide a stable, loving home and strong family unit. Despite the hardship of raising their granddaughter, they demonstrate love and support for her by being attentive to Serenity’s needs and interests. They attend all preschool related field trips and special activities, enroll her in dance classes and work with her daily on the pre-academic skills that challenge her.
  • Bethany Leoutsakos, of Charlestown, was nominated by Erin Kelly. Bethany is the mother of twins born premature at only 34 weeks. Due to their prematurity, Bethany has been a great advocate, speaking up for her babies at the doctor’s. She has a great ability to appreciate her twins as individuals and cares greatly about their social and emotional development. Before giving birth, Bethany attended weekly parent education meetings despite being months pregnant and juggling three jobs. While she is self-reliant and resilient, Bethany knows she can reach out to her work family and biological family in times of need.
  • Ben and Keriann Leonard, of Pembroke, were nominated by Mary Stuart Gile. Struggling with the challenges of raising a blended family of four children, the Leonard’s are active members and volunteers at the Children’s Place and Parent Education Center where their two youngest sons attend. Keriann is an active member of the board of directors and Ben spends countless hours as a volunteer at the center. Their dedication, commitment and enthusiasm toward raising their four children and volunteering at their family resource center is extraordinary.
  • Heather Madore, of Newmarket, was nominated by Paula Boivin. Heather faces the struggles of many working mothers who are juggling the challenges of managing home, a full-time job, and motherhood. She and her husband are raising two girls, one of whom has special needs. She works hard to support her younger daughter as she develops at her own pace and is guiding her older daughter as she moves into adolescence. Heather works to maintain a positive, productive relationship with her daughter’s school and outside providers to ensure that she gets the support she needs.
  • Shawna Murphy, of Dover, was nominated by Dennis DiMaria. When Shawna met her partner, Dennis, 9 years ago, he was sharing custody of his son, Donovan. One year into their relationship, Shawna and Dennis found out that Donovan was not being properly cared for in his mother’s home. While becoming a mother was never her dream, Shawna immediately took control of the situation. After a yearlong custody battle, Shawna and Dennis were granted full custody of Donovan. Throughout the last 8 years, Shawna has loved Donovan as her own, working hard to attend all of his functions while completing her MBA.
  • Rachael and Jay Pelletier, of Berwick, were nominated by Jonna Stroh and Kelley Corson. Rachael and Jay have stepped up and provided a predictable and nurturing home for their two young nephews while their mother addresses her mental health and addiction issues. For their nephews, they became certified as foster parents. Rachael changed jobs to be more available to the boys for appointments and should they need additional support. The boys have thrived in the home environment that Rachael and Jay have provided them. In addition, Rachael and Jay have consistently provided the ongoing support to the boy’s mother in hopes that she can one day reunite with her children.
  • Brayerlis Perez, of Nashua, was nominated by Nashua Child Development Center. Brae is determined to enhance the lives of her three children. Working and raising three children is demanding, and Brae recently added to the challenge by enrolling in a rigorous course load to become a physician assistant. Regardless of her busy schedule, Brae makes time to bring her children to their appointments, including weekly speech therapy sessions.
  • Connie Santaw, of Claremont, was nominated by Dawn Monty. Connie has experienced the adversity and trauma of many close loved ones grappling with substance use disorder. In the last 2 years, she has seen the father of her child released from prison, only to go back. During this time, Connie faced her own mental health crisis, which became the motivator to turn her own life around, getting a new job, moving into a new apartment, and working on her parenting skills. After seeing her brother’s substance abuse, she petitioned for guardianship of her two nephews. At the age of 26, Connie is now raising three children and working hard to make sure they get the services they need to thrive.
  • Jessica Savage, of Gorham, was nominated by Kerin Fiore. Jessica is the loving mother of an infant with significant medical and developmental disabilities. This journey has meant taking on the daunting task of learning to navigate the medical, insurance, adaptive equipment, and endless other needs associated with meeting the needs of her son. Jessica quickly became an active member of the Joubert Foundation Support Group and attended the Annual NH Family Support Conference and Bi-Annual Joubert Conference to better understand her son’s needs. She has been a great advocate, not only for her son, but for families who are also faced with the challenges of Joubert syndrome.
  • Ralph Schofield, of Claremont, was nominated by Liza Draper. Ralph is known for his dedication to supporting his transgender son and his activities at TLC Family Resource Center’s Rural Outright program. He understands that being transgender intensifies the usual developmental challenges and risks associated with adolescence, and is open to receiving information on gender identity and expression that can help him respond to his son’s needs. Ralph can be seen wearing his “I love my transgender son” pin on the job at Market Basket. This affirmation has fostered his son’s self-acceptance and resilience, strengthening his entire family.
  • John and Marie Sias, of Hollis, were nominated by Andrew Shea. Andrew, age 38, nominated John and Marie, his foster parents, who continue to provide unconditional love and support for him. They realize that without a strong family support system people are less likely to succeed. They support him mentally and emotionally and offer him, at times, not easy to hear, advice. In addition, John and Marie are active members of their community, volunteering for the Soup Kitchen and have been foster parents for others.
  • Joe and Brittany Simard, of Claremont, were nominated by Samantha O’Day. Joe and Brittany found themselves in a financial crisis after Joe’s medical issues forced him to leave his full-time job. Brittany began working 40+ hours per week in addition to driving their three children to and from school most days. Joe’s chronic migraines often make getting out of bed a struggle, but he always tries his hardest to help around the house and help the children with homework. Although they have faced hardship, the two continue to remain positive, loving, and supportive. They rarely get a break from life’s stresses, but they consider themselves lucky because of their family and friends.
  • Jessica Tufts, of Rochester, was nominated by Deborah Bostrom. Jessica is the mother of Teagan, a high school senior with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The everyday stress of caring for a teenager confined to a wheelchair is monumental, however, Jessica goes about these duties with a smile on her face. She is very knowledgeable about Teagan’s diagnosis and attends his many appointments. Teagan is a member of the high school football team and ROTC program, meaning Jessica is often taking time off of work to bring him to games and events in her wheelchair accessible van. During IEP meetings, Jessica is not afraid to ask for support and works hard to make connections that will strengthen her family.
  • Elsa Vasquez, of Manchester, was nominated by Kristen Courtemanche. When Elsa gave birth 2 months premature, she was told her daughter had a hole in her heart and was diagnosed with a condition in which the body is unable to regulate sodium levels. Two years later, Elsa has provided all the stepping stones needed for her daughter to thrive. Because of Elsa, her daughter was able to graduate from Early Supports and Services. She is tasked with managing a rigorous medication and appointment schedule, and still makes time to go above and beyond in supporting her daughter’s development with strength and unconditional love.
  • Safiya Wazir, of Concord, was nominated by Susan D. Sylva. Safiya moved to the United States when she was 16 and began attending high school while working two jobs and studying the English language. The mother of two young children has been involved with Head Start for more than a year and has been a member of the policy council, parent committee, and State Parent Advisory Committee. While supporting her children, Safiya has also been a great support for her parents by acting as their interpreter and transporting them to shopping and medical appointments.
  • Vicki White, of Keene, was nominated by Ronald Donahue. Vicki has been a single mother for much of her autistic daughter’s life after the father of her child was incarcerated. She has provided a warm, safe, and healthy home while ensuring that her daughter was given a comfortable and supportive setting at school that accommodates her complex and sometimes confusing special needs. Vicki has worked with the Family Connections Center at the NH State Prison to ensure her daughter continues to have a healthy, growing relationship with her father.
  • Rebecca and BJ Winter, of Newfields, were nominated by Great Bay Kids Company. In February of 2017, Rebecca and BJ’s 1 ½-year-old son, Jack was diagnosed with leukemia while Rebecca was pregnant with their second child. Throughout the entire process of chemotherapy, intensive treatments, late nights and long days, Rebecca and BJ have stayed positive. The couple’s persistence and ability to overcome the major daily obstacles is obvious to those who know them. They have created a blog to document the medical journey Jack is taking and have used this as a vehicle for coping and support from their community.
  • Danyell and Rick Wright, of Tamworth, were nominated by Helen Rautenberg. Five years ago, Danyell and Rick began their journey of becoming better parents with the help of home visiting. They are parents who utilize positive discipline skills, understand the importance of personal health and safety, and show great resilience. Danyell now works closely with school personnel to make sure her son’s learning issues are properly supported. Rick and Danyell have overcome stress with health and employment, taking charge of their situations to better their lives and those of their children.