Student Spotlight: Daniel Tillias

Daniel Tillias is earning a Human Services degree not just for himself, but also — and most importantly — for the children of his homeland of Haiti.

Haitian children, he says, need help with more than things like food, clothing and other basic essentials. Growing up in an impoverished nation, young Haitians also need support to cope with the trauma and behavioral health problems that can arise from living in a country beset by economic, social and political despair.

Drawn by SMCC’s diversity, welcoming community and affordability, Tillias enrolled in the Human Services program for the 2021 Spring Semester. He took online classes in the spring and again in the summer while living in Haiti, but he moved to Maine and into an on-campus residence hall this semester so he can get the most out of his studies.

After he earns a degree at SMCC, he plans to continue his education and eventually become a psychologist. In that role, he hopes to help Haitian children overcome any behavioral issues they may have so they can go on to lead productive and successful lives — while helping Haiti become a more prosperous nation.

When he was younger, the 44-year-old Tillias aspired to become a lawyer. But he changed course and dedicated himself to helping children through a community center he co-founded in 2006. The center, called SAKALA, is located in Cite Soleil and serves 300 children a year with educational support, a sports program, food and youth development training.

The community center has drawn widespread praise for its work. In 2019, CNN produced a story on Tillias and named him a “CNN Hero.”

Now, SMCC is providing the educational pathway so he can go one step further to help Haiti’s youth.

“SMCC has opened my mind so much as to what is needed in Haiti in terms of behavioral health needs. This is the foundation, the starting point, for what I want to do.”