Michelle Pepin and Hal Porter are about as different as you can imagine. She’s a 24-year-old, bright-eyed and jubilant small town girl. He’s a 49-year-old, heavily tattooed, recovered alcoholic and opiate addict. Despite these differences, there are similarities between the two: they both thrive on helping others, and they’re both CCV Leadership Scholars for 2016.
“I am a pathway guide here at Turning Point,” Porter said,explaining how he specifically works with medically assisted treatment (MAT) patients, or patients using prescription medications to assist with opiate addiction. “Basically I help those patients understand and navigate recovery.”
On a sunny but cold March afternoon, Porter stands outside the Turning Point Center in St. Albans smoking a cigarette, his one final vice. With full-sleeve tattoos and an ice-cold stare, Porter is a tough-looking character with whom you might avoid eye contact on the street. Then he introduces himself, and the laid-back voice, deep smile, and extended hand betray a friendly and humble nature.
CCV’s Student Leadership Scholarship
Each year CCV awards the Student Leadership Scholarship to 13 students who represent each of the College’s academic centers and its Center for Online Learning. During their time at CCV these students have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities by balancing commitments both to their studies and to extra-curricular initiatives such as staffing CCV’s Learning Centers and peer tutoring or mentoring; volunteering at their local schools, libraries, and hospitals; and as active members in the College’s Community of Student Representatives. In recognition, each student receives a $1,000 award, a certificate of achievement, and an invitation to a private luncheon with the College’s president held in their honor.
The 2016 scholars are:
- Tristen Thayer, Bennington
- Cheryl-Ann Caldwell-Lahue, Brattleboro
- Joshua Wilkinson, Center for Online Learning
- Christina Frost, Middlebury
- Cynthia Davis, Montpelier
- Brandin Bourdeau, Morrisville
- Michelle Pepin, Newport
- Jerrica Magill, Rutland
- Harold Porter, St. Albans
- Stephanie Trail,, St. Johnsbury
- Patricia McCormack, Springfield
- Hunter Knox, Upper Valley
- Jelena Basrak, Winooski
Porter’s work at Turning Point-Franklin County is only the tip of the iceberg for why he’s been chosen as a Leadership Scholar this year. Porter sits on a Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) group with Restorative Justice, he volunteers with the Vermont Foundation of Recovery as a mentor for the Men’s Sober House in St. Albans, he does outreach with Northwest Medical Center’s Chronic Pain Clinic, and he also works closely with the Howard Center and other organizations in the area. Given this, it’s no surprise he’s been chosen for this year’s award from CCV-St. Albans. Well, at least not to anybody else.
“I was floored, I really was,” Porter said. “My next thought was about something my sponsor told me when I first got sober, and that was, ‘be the example, whether it’s in a meeting or in your life, just be the example.’ And that’s what I try to do when I’m at CCV or anywhere, I try to be that positive person that walks in and says good morning to everybody. So to be honest I didn’t feel worthy, because to me a leader is someone who goes above and beyond and these are just things that I incorporate into my everyday life. I was definitely shocked. I didn’t get it, or see it.”
CCV awards 13 leadership scholarships (one for each academic center and the Center for Online Learning) annually to students who exemplify what it means to lead. Faculty, staff, and students nominate candidates and a committee comprised of members of the aforementioned groups make the final decision on who the scholars will be. Winners receive a $1,000 scholarship and are invited to a lunch with President Joyce Judy, to be held this year on March 25.
“It’s a real pleasure to meet these students each year and learn about their accomplishments and their future goals,” Judy said. “This lunch has become one of my favorite annual events because these students are doing amazing work in their communities and at CCV, and to hear those stories first-hand, it’s very powerful.”
Across the state Pepin sits at the front desk of CCV-Newport with a big smile on her face greeting students and visitors as they come through the doors. Pepin is a work-study at the center, doing everything from cleaning up and organizing classrooms to answering phones. While that may have contributed to her nomination, she said she thought there was one thing in particular that landed her the scholarship.
“I think it’s mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time working with a student who was maybe in her…60s” Pepin said with a quizzical look, pausing to rack her brain for an age estimate. “She had no idea how to copy and paste or how to print and I helped her the entire way through her nutrition class. I was her go-to girl.”
That story sparked other reasons for the award, though. Pepin went on to say that as a work-study she meets and gets to know lots of students at the center, and as a result, when they need help, she’s often the first person they go to.
“I think some students rely on me because they know that I’m a student too,” she said, noting that any boundaries that might exist between students and staff or faculty don’t come into play when her peers come to her.
That willingness to help transcends CCV. Pepin works down the hall from the academic center in the State of Vermont’s Vocational Rehabilitation Newport office. There she helps disabled people find work, and in some cases, get connected back down the hall at CCV.
That tendency to help has been part of her personality as long as she can remember. But she knows where she got it from: her parents and grandmother, all of whom are committed to the ideal of strengthening community by giving back.
“My grandmother, oh my gosh, she just volunteers for absolutely everything. She created her own senior center just because she loves helping out the community,” Pepin said with a slight look of amazement in her eyes. “They’ve just been great role models for me my entire life.”
And she’s got the awards for leadership from a young age to prove it. In the eighth grade, Pepin was given a scholar leader award from the state. She met then Governor Douglas, and she said that inspired her to stick with the leadership thing.
“I think that set me on the leadership track,” Pepin said. “All throughout high school I was the person who wanted to organize things for people to do. Like on Senior Service Day, we went to my home town, to Brownington’s Old Stone House Museum and washed windows and stuff like that.”
That enthusiasm for organizing volunteer efforts has now brought Pepin to a spot serving on CCV’s Community of Student Representatives. With a sly smile she says she’s going to rally CCV-Newport to participate heavily in Green Up Day and she’ll follow that up with a get out the vote initiative later this year.
As for the future, the business major says after a four-year degree she’s going to take her leadership skills into a CEO position.
“I tell people, ‘if it’s not for my own business, it’ll be for a Fortune 500 company,’” she said. “I get a lot of laughs.”
As for Porter, he said he’s got no complaints about his life and he’s planning on carrying on in health and human services. After a career in the auto industry, a battle with addiction, and now a successful stint at CCV that will net him a degree in human services with a certificate in substance abuse, Porter says he has two messages he’ll convey to anyone who wants to listen.
“As long as you’re open-minded and willing, you’re never too old to learn,” Porter said. “And always be the example.”