Katie O’Leary was in the midst of an eight-day cruise in the Bahamas earlier this month when someone texted O’Leary to let her know that she had been named one of 150 Most Influential Bostonians by Boston Magazine as in its May issue.
“I’m really humbled,” said O’Leary, the director of recovery for North Suffolk Community Services and a Charlestown native. “It’s super cool, I can say that.”
Coming in at #137 on the list, Boston Magazine describes O’Leary, who now lives in Braintree, as someone who “has quietly become a catalyst for change in a region that continues to struggle with addiction-related issues.”
But before O’Leary came to work in recovery services, she was in recovery herself.
After graduating from Matignon High School in 1998. O’Leary went off to attend college at UMass Amherst. Her drinking in college eventually escalated into a problem, and she would later struggle with addiction to alcohol, as well as to opioids.
O’Leary made various attempts at sobriety before January of 2011 when she entered treatment for the last time and became truly sober.
In October of 2013 – two years into her sobriety – O’Leary was receiving recovery services from North Suffolk Mental Health Association (NSMHA) now North Suffolk Community Services (NSCS) when she went to work as a Recovery Coach for the organization. Her work mentor there was Kim Hanton, NSMHA’s former Director of Addiction Services.
O’Leary was already well acquainted with Hanton, who was helping to start the Recovery Court at Chelsea District Court, when Katie’s father, Bob O’Leary, was working at the court.
Hanton had also helped both Katie and her sister, Bonnie O’Leary, “get into recovery during different points of our active addictions,” said Katie.
Meanwhile, O’Leary excelled in her position with NSMHA, being named the organization’s Director of Recovery Support Services in 2017. She was promoted again to her current role in senior management last November.
O’Leary has helped open two new recovery facilities – Recovery on the Harbor in East Boston, and Hanton House in Chelsea. She was also instrumental in helping another established recovery service, StepRox in Roxbury, move and get their building permitted before reopening.
In March of 2022, O’Leary was one of 10 women recognized as part of Chelsea District Court’s Women’s History Month Celebration in an event that acknowledged women who are “providing healing and promoting hope.”
Regarding O’Leary’s work, First Justice Matthew Machera said at this time that “keeping people in recovery through these unprecedented times has been beyond remarkable.”
In light of receiving this recognition, O’Leary humbly said, “It’s not me. I’m getting recognized for all work my team does.”
And as much of a surprise as the latest recognition for O’Leary from Boston Magazine has been, she admits she had an inkling something was afoot when Sen. Lydia Edwards reached out about six weeks ago to ask O’Leary for her bio, as well as to let O’Leary know that the senator would be nominating her as an Influential Bostonian.
“Never in a million years did I think anything would come of it,” said O’Leary.
As for O’Leary ultimately receiving this recognition from Boston Magazine, Sen. Edwards said: “Katie is a true life saver and first responder. She is a straight shooter, humble, kind and leads with her heart. Her journey and growth reflect the struggles of a lot of good people. She has been a guiding light for so many including myself. She serves as a bridge for so many on the long road to recovery. She demands a seat at the table for so many silenced by stigma and shame. Katie represents so many people that are everyday heroes.”
Meanwhile, O’Leary knows above all else, that recovery doesn’t come easily and requires hard work.
“The biggest misconception is someone once told me that ‘when the pain gets great enough, we change,’ and now we live in a world where there’s a pill that fixes everything,” she said. “But that’s not factual – people have to put in the work.”