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Internship leads to full-time work for TCC student

Ben White began losing his sight when he was 27. He is now totally blind and pursuing an associate degree in Human Services at Tidewater Community College.

He found a passion to serve others with disabilities when he was struggling to find work during the pandemic. “Once I realized that many jobs were not accessible and doors were not opening for me, I took a leap of faith and went back to school,” he said.

Ben began attending workshops through the state and local Offices of Visual Impairment. That’s when he saw others in need and wanted to help. “There were so many people like me, who wanted to be productive, but were unsure about how to make their way in life,” he said.

Ben chose Human Services because it prepares him for a career serving those in need. He is learning basic counseling skills, various functions of crisis intervention, the management principles of human and social service, and developing the skills needed to address the needs of clients.

“I never thought I’d go to college as I was a high school dropout and got my GED,” Ben said. “Training to help the underserved, abused, those dealing with childhood trauma, the visually impaired and so many others, makes me excited to get up and start each day.”

Ben is now in his third semester at TCC and has a 3.5 GPA. He is on the Dean’s List and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

While at TCC, Ben received support from the college’s Open Door Project which provides support for first-generation college students. “The faculty and staff of Open Door have been so much a part of my success,” he said. “They became my village and made me feel comfortable where I was, motivated me to move forward and picked me up when I’m down.”

Ben also received support from the college’s Office of Educational Accessibility. Because of his visual impairment, he was given extra time on exams and a screen reader for use in class and for assignments.

Part of Ben’s program at TCC included an internship in a local nonprofit. That experience turned into full-time work and now Ben is an independent living coordinator at the Independence Center. “My work helps me bridge the gap and teach people the skills they need to live independently. It is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” he said.

Ben remembers growing up in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in New York City. “I was always told that I wasn’t going to make it past age 18. For me to reinvent myself at 49, well that’s a success story and TCC has a lot to do with it.”

The father of two children, Ben, says he is proud to set an example for them. “TCC gave me the foundation and the tools to be where I am today. At first, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Thankfully, my Open Door advisors taught me how to balance everything and kept me going.”

In his free time, Ben likes to cook up a storm. His favorite food is spicy with a Caribbean flair.

Learn about everything TCC offers at two open houses, May 21 and June 25

Find your future at Tidewater Community College.

Learn about the gamut of TCC’s programs, including cybersecurity, culinary arts, health sciences, maritime technologies and the many other potential career paths and transfer opportunities the college offers.

Take the next step by visiting one of TCC’s open houses on May 21 and June 25 between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

On May 21, visit TCC’s Virginia Beach or Portsmouth Campuses.

On June 25, visit the Norfolk Campus, Chesapeake Campus and the Regional Automotive Center.

To learn about the academic programs to be represented at each campus visit here. Visit our website for a complete listing of programs.

There is plenty of time to enroll for fall classes, which begin on Aug. 22.

All are invited, especially:

  • 2022 high school graduates and their families;
  • adults who want to start or finish a degree, learn a new field, or advance in their careers;
  • active-duty military and veterans, their spouses and dependents.

You will be able to apply to TCC; learn about financial aid, grants and scholarships; explore academic options; tour campuses; and learn about campus life at all locations.

If you have an eye on a four-year college, TCC can help get you there, too. Transfer agreements allow a student to complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree at TCC and gain guaranteed admission to most Virginia colleges and universities.

Locations for TCC’s open houses are:

  • Chesapeake Campus: Student Center
  • Norfolk Campus: Student Center
  • Portsmouth Campus: Building A
  • Virginia Beach Campus: Bayside Building
  • Regional Automotive Center

Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made by May 19 and June 23, to the Office of Educational Accessibility by emailing or calling 757-822-7751.

For more information, call 757-822-1111 or email or visit this site.

Parents establish $10,000 endowed scholarship in memory of their son

Christopher Garrett’s parents established a scholarship to help a Tidewater Community College student like him fulfill his dreams.

Chris was just 22 when he died in a single car accident on the way home from a friend’s house.

Chris was the Garretts’ first child – and second loss.

Stephen, their second son, died at the age of 3 from leukemia. Chris was his little brother’s match and bone marrow donor, a role he took to naturally. “Chris was a giving and selfless young man,” said his dad, Larry Garrett. “He made friends with everyone he met and never resented helping Stephen.”

Active in track and football in high school, Chris was also artistic. He dabbled in modeling and enjoyed acting in a local murder mystery group.

But Chris struggled academically. Diagnosed with a mental health condition, Chris saw his grades skip by senior year and, like most new graduates, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study.

At TCC, he got back on track.

Enrolled full time in the general studies program, Chris was benefitting from the personal, caring attention he received from his professors. Small class sizes and dedicated instruction helped. His grades improved.

The Garretts, touched by all the counselors and professors who reached out after Chris’ death, established the Christopher M. Garrett Memorial Scholarship in his memory.

“My wife and I think TCC offers something larger schools don’t – individual attention. Community colleges are willing to give adult students opportunities. We wanted to help,” Larry Garrett said. “That’s what we had in mind, helping another student and keeping Chris’ memory alive.”

This year’s recipient, Kayla Alesna, is an ideal selection for Chris’ scholarship.

Alesna, who struggles with a seizure condition, never thought college was in her future, much less a degree in information systems technology with a focus on databases.

“School was so hard for me growing up,” she said. “In high school, I would try and try and try and only make D’s and E’s. I gave up and just got my GED. I never thought I’d be able to go any further than that in my education.”

Things changed when she married and her son, Onyx, was born with disabilities.

Watching his persistence was a wake-up call for her. “My son never lets anything get in his way,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t just say all this stuff to him about working hard and going to school. I needed to show him how to do it.”

Alesna describes herself as “petrified” her first day of school. But, like Chris, she found support from her professors and staffer Elisabeth Jakubowski in the Educational Accessibility Office.

Information technology was, to her delight, a natural fit – and she discovered a passion for coding and problem solving in the lab. “It was totally different from high school; I was never scared to ask for help – and my professors were always there to offer it,” she said.

She finished her first semester with straight A’s.

“I thought ‘How did this happen?’ ” she said. “I realized I wasn’t just going to scrape through college; I was going to be successful.”

Jakubowski encouraged Alesna to compete for scholarships to help cover the cost of her computer and printed study materials.

But it was some scary medical news that spurred her to complete the applications.

“This was all happening right when I went through a scare with my son possibly having leukemia,” Alesna said. “I figured ‘Now’s the time we need it most. I’m going to go for it.’ Not long after that my computer died and I thought, you know, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

She won the scholarship – and it felt like kismet.

When Alesna learned the Garretts had a son who had died of leukemia she was shocked: “I had chills.” She sees a lot of similarities between Chris and her – both adult learners who found a second chance at education at TCC.

Even though she won’t graduate until December, Alesna is already getting calls for job interviews. “People want me to work for them in government positions – really good jobs,” she said. “TCC has made all of that possible for me.”

“It’s amazing for my son to see me succeed; to hear him say ‘Mommy, I’m so proud of you’; to win a scholarship . . . I’m just so proud of myself.”

For more information about available scholarships at TCC, visit To learn more about establishing a scholarship at TCC, contact the TCC Educational Foundation at or 757-822-1080.