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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.

Army veteran gets fresh start at TCC

Arlethia White-Farris does not like to talk about her military service. She will tell you that she’s a proud Army veteran who saw combat in Afghanistan and Kuwait. She was given an honorable discharge after two years of service and returned to her home in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Back in the states, she dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as the negative influences of her surroundings. The family struggled and was often without power and used the gas oven to heat their home. 

“There was a lot of gang activity, and I was getting drawn back in. I was also selling drugs to help pay mom’s medical bills and keep the lights on,” she said. 

Seeking a fresh start, Arlethia, 28, moved to Hampton Roads to live with her aunt near Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus. She got a job, but realized she wasn’t getting ahead. Then the bottom fell out. 

“I hit rock bottom when I lost my job, and my car broke down. That’s when I decided to try college. TCC was within walking distance of where I was staying and it was time,” she said.

That was the start of an academic journey that has had many challenges. But through it all, Arlethia has persevered. She will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design this month.

“I started at TCC to better myself and I’m an entirely different person now. The student center staff allowed me to open up, explore my poetry and just grow,” she said.

Arlethia was also supported by the staff of the Open Door Project, a program designed to help first-time college students succeed in school.

“I definitely gained a community at TCC. I belonged and the people make sure everyone who walks through the doors feels welcome, seen and heard,” she said.

While at TCC, Arlethia was president of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter on the Portsmouth Campus. She says that her mental health has steadily improved thanks to the work of the group.

She hopes to use the experience and her degree to open Art Release 360, an organization for people who need support with their mental health. “It will be a place where people can use art to heal their traumas,” Arlethia said. “I want to help people express their thoughts without judgment and provide therapy to those in need.”

A year after starting at TCC, Arlethia became financially stable when she landed a job as a recreation aide with Norfolk Naval Station. She learned about the job through an on-campus job fair in the student center. She now works doing security for a state agency, and also does freelance graphic design work to build her portfolio. 

Arlethia sends a shout-out to TCC staffers Alicia Peoples, Charlene Taylor, Jeanine Anderson and Zebeth Newton for looking out for her and going the extra mile.

“This degree has taken blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also given me my purpose,” she added. 

She hopes to one day work in film, telling Black stories that can be overlooked or untold. She has even written a play that she is reworking into a movie script.

 She is planning to attend film school next year to hone her craft. “I want to tell authentic stories as raw and real as I can,” she added.

“Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that being an artist and telling stories is not a real job,” Arlethia said. “But I found a new path that will allow me to do what I love. What could be better than that?”

TCC grad overcomes great obstacles to earn degree

Sylvester Wilkins says his son Zione provided the inspiration for his return to school.

“He told me to just do it,” Sylvester said. “It was the little nudge I needed, and every success was because I didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Wilkins, 39, will walk across the stage during Tidewater Community College’s 75th Commencement Exercises earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

For Sylvester, it’s been a long road to his associate degree.

He’s overcome alcoholism, homelessness and an epilepsy diagnosis that resulted in the loss of his driver’s license for 14 years.

“I ended up living with family and depending on them to get around,” Sylvester said. “From there, I lived place to place until I was homeless. I then lived in bus and train stations and washed up there so no one would know I was homeless.”

In 2018, Sylvester had corrective brain surgery to help alleviate his frequent epileptic seizures. The surgery was a success although the recovery was difficult, and Sylvester spent three months learning to walk again.

Soon after, Sylvester enrolled at Tidewater Community College with encouragement from his family.

“I noticed right away that I was not the same cognitively. It was sometimes hard to find words and I struggled to stay focused and seated in class,” he said. “And using technology for virtual learning added an additional strain.”

Sylvester persevered with the help of Gabrielle Pennington, an educational accessibility counselor with the college. “I can’t say enough about Ms. Pennington. She really cared about my success and is one of the reasons I kept pushing.”

He also found a family at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus. Sylvester sends a special shout out to the Open Door program staff who taught him how to balance life, work and school. Open Door offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

He also recognizes the impact of Dean Dana Hathorn and Lynette Hauser, a favorite professor. “Both of them were caring and helpful. I never had an email or phone call go unnoticed. They were always very responsive,” he said.

Growing up in the projects in Atlantic City, Sylvester says he never thought a college degree was in his future. Now he sees things differently and hopes to make a difference for young men ages 13-45.

“My sister Syliesha Scott was my biggest supporter and she believed in me,” Sylvester said. “You have to have that one person in your corner to help through the rough times. I want to be that person for someone else now.”

Sylvester’s career goal is to work in a service organization that focuses on mental health and to launch his own non-profit one day. To get started, he plans to join Peace of Mind Therapy as a life coach after graduation.

“Some in my situation just didn’t know a better way,” he said. “My motto now is ‘when you know better, you do better.’ A lot of the decisions you think you need to make are not the only option.”

He adds, “You are never too old to get a degree and start a new life. If I can do it, so can the next person. Surround yourself with the right people and make it happen.”

TCC helps student build a new life

Brian Marshall is one of those people who make you smile when you meet him. He’s affable, relatable and full of joy.

And that was on the worst days of his life.

Brian came to Tidewater Community College after losing his business and his home. He was living in his car, hoping to build a new life.

He came across an online ad for TCC while looking for a job.

Brian Marshall received help on TCC’s Norfolk Campus.

“That was the day I stumbled upon the biggest blessing of my life,” he said. “God placed me with the right people at the right time.”

A trained chef with 16 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Brian selected TCC’s Hospitality Management program. He completed his first semester with a 3.8 GPA while homeless and working overnight shifts at 7-Eleven.

“Those were challenging times with very little sleep,” he said. “But the support network I had at TCC made it possible to keep going.”

Early on at TCC, Brian connected with Kyndra Brown with the Open Door Project and Mel Scott with the Student Resource and Empowerment Center (SREC). He calls the pair his dream team.

“Helping students overcome barriers is what makes the job worthwhile,” Brown said. “Brian is a smart, determined student who now has the opportunity to succeed.”

The Open Door Project provides Brian with specialized support services, tutoring and keeps him accountable for his studies.

In addition, Mel at the SREC connected Brian with needed resources and even got him into transitional housing. “Ms. Mel made miracles happen. She opened so many doors and the results have been astonishing,” Brian said.

Even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, Brian remained positive and upbeat.

Brian has a lot to smile about! He now has a new apartment and is excelling in school.

“If you have a focused mind, you can accomplish anything,” Brian said. “And you have to encourage yourself with positivity every morning whether that’s with uplifting music or listening to your favorite pastor or podcast. You have to keep your mind on higher things.”

During his TCC journey, Brian also received support and mentoring from Thomas Chatman, dean of student support services and Norfolk Campus dean.

He made connections with faculty members, including Peter Kane, the program head for Hospitality Management and Marlo Calloway, who taught his Student Development class. “I did a presentation in her class about where I want to go and what I want to be after TCC. It was very encouraging to take time to look ahead,” Brian said.

Brian is about to start classes for Fall Semester and things are looking up. He has his own apartment and a reliable job cooking in a well-established restaurant.

He hopes one day to open a restaurant venue where he can host events. He also plans to restart his catering business, Stormy Flavorz, and provide in-home chef services, as well as catering for universities and other venues. Right now, however, he is focused on school and earning his degree.

When he walks across the stage to celebrate graduation and receive his degree in 2024, Brian’s mom, Sharon Thompson, will be there to cheer him on. The duo has plans to take a cruise once that milestone is reached.

“I still have my moments when the tears come and I question everything,” he said. “But when I see the progress I’m making and doors opening, I know I’m on the right track. I do my best to learn from my past but look forward to each new day knowing that my faith in God will carry me.”

If you are a current or prospective TCC student and need support, visit the Student Resource and Empowerment Center and the Open Door Project on the TCC website for more information. For additional student support services, contact the Virtual Student Support Team at or call 757-822-1111.

TCC has resources that actually help students thrive

Fall Semester is almost here, with classes starting on August 22. Now is the time to get ready for your next steps in school. The college offers free computers, emergency financial help, food and more. Here’s what you need to know.

Travis Johnson at Portsmouth Campus.
Travis Johnson earned two associate degrees from TCC. An Army veteran, Travis said, “TCC helped me financially and provided meals for my family. The people at the SREC kept me on track and supported my journey every step of the way.”

TCC’s Student Resource and Empowerment Center (SREC), is a Single Stop site that connects students with a variety of free and comprehensive social services and financial resources to help students stay in school. The SREC also has a Career Collection on every campus, where students can pick out a free, professional outfit for that important interview, internship or leadership opportunity. Reach out to the SREC online for assistance.

TCC staffers are ready to help you! Shown here: Mel Scott (SREC), Talesha Smith (The Community Feed), Charles Thompson (Student Center) and Crystal Kirby (Open Door Project).
TCC staffers are ready to help! Shown here: Melvilyn Scott (SREC), Talesha Smith (The Community Feed), Charles Thompson (Student Center) and Crystal Kirby (Open Door Project).

Computers for school
TCC’s Computer Club makes personal computers and laptops available through its Computers for Student Success program. Visit here for more information and details on how to apply.

Emergency Assistance
Student Emergency Assistance is available to help students with temporary, short-term financial needs that may hinder their education. Consideration is given to students that have experienced financial hardship due to an unforeseen emergency. Funds can be used to bridge the gap when students receive less financial aid than needed for school costs and emergency living expenses.

TCC has computers for students and even shows new users the basics.
TCC has computers for students and volunteers show new users the basics.

Meals, fresh foods and pantry staples
Tidewater Community College and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore have partnered to offer The Community Feed at TCC. Through the program, students can receive meals and fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as pantry items for their families. Students can utilize the online scheduling tool to select a time to pick up pre-packaged meal kits to prepare nutritious meals at home.

Mental health services available for students
TimelyCare is a new telehealth program for students. The service provides access to 24/7 virtual mental health care from anywhere in Virginia, with no cost to visit! TimelyCare’s TalkNow is on-demand access to a mental health professional to talk about anything at any time. You can also schedule counseling sessions and receive health coaching. To learn more, visit here.

Open Door Project
Open Door Project students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are often first-generation college students. Offered on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses, this federally-funded program helps students with academic performance while providing support services to keep them in school. Eligible students receive academic advising, assistance with FAFSA completion, success skills workshops, career and transfer counseling, and one on one tutoring. To find out more, fill out this form.

Wi-Fi available on campus
If you are equipped with a Wi-Fi-enabled portable device, you may access TCC’s network in the following campus locations. Spaces are marked “TCC Student Wi-Fi Parking.” Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • Chesapeake Campus: Parking lot next to the Pass Building. You may park in handicapped spaces. Of the four campuses, this area has the strongest external Wi-Fi signal.
  • Norfolk Campus: On Granby Street in front of the Walker Building and on College Place across from the Green District Administration Building. Note that these are metered spaces with the first hour free.
  • Portsmouth Campus: On Freedom Avenue alongside the B Building
  • Virginia Beach Campus: Driveway in front of the Regional Health Professions Center. You may park in the handicapped spaces.

For additional assistance with enrollment, advising or any other need, contact the Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111 or email

“I was a student in the worst of circumstances. But I had people who believed in me.” — Jamie Farris, TCC alum

TCC is proud of all of its alumni. But for Norfolk Campus staff alum Jamie Farris holds a special place in their hearts. 

Jamie had a challenging childhood. He was bounced from school to school throughout his elementary and high school years due to mental health and emotional issues. 

“Growing up, no one thought I could do well in an academic setting. It was something I needed to overcome to get on with my life,” Jamie said. 

As an adult learner, Jamie came to TCC to confront his past and set a new course for his future.  Staffer Mark Flanders saw Jamie’s desire for an education and his potential as a student. Flanders and the campus community rallied around Jamie and helped with his transition to college.

Jamie Farris with his degree and certificate from the City of Virginia Beach.
Jamie Farris is proud of his TCC degree and his certificate for financial literacy from the City of Virginia Beach.

“We worked with Jamie on career readiness skills, time management and encouraged him on the journey,” Flanders says. “Watching him overcome some pretty difficult circumstances was an inspiration to all of us.”

Despite the support while at TCC, the road was still difficult. Jamie experienced homelessness and lived at the Union Mission and later in transitional housing.

“I was a full-time student in the worst of circumstances. I had no car, no money, no home. But I did have a bus pass from TCC and people who believed in me,” Jamie said.

Jamie received support through the college’s Open Door Project (ODP), a Department of Education federal TRIO program. ODP offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

“Once I opened up about my past, my struggles, I was able to overcome those obstacles with help from Open Door,” Jamie added. “The staff made me feel like I wasn’t alone.” 

Jamie also made friends through ODP, an unexpected benefit. “We took so many educational field trips and really had fun,” he added. 

A turning point for Jamie was during a meeting with Thomas Chatman, currently the Dean of Norfolk Campus. Jamie recalls that he painted a vivid picture of someone graduating in a cap and gown. “He told me that even with my difficulties, I could do it and I finally believed it,” he said. 

Jamie earned an Associate of Science in General Studies in 2019 and his degree was one of the first things he proudly hung on the wall. 

He now enjoys a stable life with his own apartment and a steady job with UPS.

“I tell everyone to not be afraid to open up about your mental health struggles,” Jamie said. “The people at TCC are there to help. This was where I built a new life.”

TCC student named to the All-USA Academic Team and is a New Century Pathway Scholar

Scholarship winner Olivia Brichter has a message for Professor Manisha Trivedi.

“I’m sending you a big fat thank you for taking the time, for believing in me, for all of it,” said Brichter, who will graduate from Tidewater Community College in May with an Associate of Science in General Studies.

Brichter was named to the 2020 All-USA Academic Team, a competition sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa. Based on the score she earned, she was named a New Century Pathway Scholar in Virginia.

She will receive a total of $7,250 in scholarship funds to pursue her bachelor’s in neuroscience at Roanoke College.

Seizures and attention deficit hyperactive disorder made learning nearly impossible until Brichter met Trivedi, TCC’s 2018 Professor of the Year. The pair connected weekday mornings to review materials for Brichter’s biology and anatomy and physiology classes. Trivedi helped with strategies for learning like reading the material aloud and writing difficult concepts on a whiteboard.

“Ms. T showed me that I could learn and built my confidence. I give her a lot of credit for my success,” Brichter said.

Brichter also received support through the Open Door Project, a program that offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

Brichter helped launch the Norfolk Campus Dream (Disabilities, Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring) Club, a local chapter of the national group. Working with campus leaders, she started Dream to bring students with disabilities and mental health needs together to support each other.

She also worked as a work-study student in the Norfolk Campus advising office, helping other students write their own success stories.

“It’s been a highlight helping students also struggling to find their way,”  Brichter said. “I’ve been able to share my story with so many people coming through our doors. My message is simple: get involved and take every opportunity to help yourself and others.”

Brichter’s journey at the college started a decade ago, so moving on is bittersweet.

“We’re a family on Norfolk Campus,” she said. “The people here helped me come out of my shell, built my confidence and gave me a new direction.”

Brichter hopes to pay it forward by working with children with special needs and doing research in neuroscience.

Financial aid and scholarships help Brichter pay for college. She also received two TCC scholarships: the Tryntje and Norman Willcox Endowed Memorial Scholarship and the Norfolk Campus General Scholarship.

Scholarship applications are open now for TCC students. To learn about scholarships that can help you reach your academic goals, visit

TCC celebrates first-generation college students & graduates

First-generation college students often have no one in their household to help them overcome the educational challenges they face.

“I almost quit,” said Shannon O’Conner, a first-generation success story who started by earning her associate at Tidewater Community college before moving to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s and Norfolk State University for a master’s in criminal justice. “We’ve all gone through the same story. Hard times. Not sure what we’re going to do.”

TCC makes sure first-generation college students – or those whose parents or legal guardians did not complete a bachelor’s degree – don’t travel the road alone. The college’s Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses celebrated their first-generation students, faculty and administrators in events held in early November. The days were selected to coincide with the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Dymend Woodley, De’Jonae Hayes and Courtney Brown are first-generation students at the Portsmouth Campus.

The cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth each issued special proclamations recognizing first-generation college students. Along with popcorn, cotton candy and hot dogs, each event included inspiring speeches, banners for students to sign and “first gen” buttons. Students received free books titled “Every Student Has a Story.”

TCC’s Open Door Project received grant money earlier this year toward helping raise awareness of the accomplishments of first-generation students and staff. The federally funded program helps low income, first-generation students by providing free academic, career and cultural counseling.

“If you don’t have the support at home, remember you have it here,” said Dana Hathorn, dean of student services at the Portsmouth Campus and a first-generation college graduate.

On the Portsmouth Campus, 53 percent of graduates are first-generation; Jeanine Anderson was one of them when she graduated last year.

“It’s never too late to start,” said Anderson, 45, who earned two associate degrees from TCC and works part time at the Open Door Project office in Portsmouth. “It’s never too dark. You can always come here and find the light and be the light.”

Like Anderson, alumna Cynthia Felton had to overcome homelessness to start college at the Norfolk Campus.  “Thanks to Open Door, I’m a success,” she said. “There’s no words when you actually succeed.”

At TCC Norfolk, 51 percent of graduates are first-generation.

Willette Hackney-Davis walked in the doors at TCC, working three jobs and relying on food stamps. The tools she learned through Open Door, where she now works as an academic advisor, helped her graduate from TCC and complete an advanced degree. “You have to find your open doors and then walk through them.”

Eligible students for Open Door receive free tutoring, study skill workshops and specialized financial aid advising. They can qualify for a laptop loan program. The students also can participate in cultural trips; this weekend the group is traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

WTKR reporter Margaret Kavanagh talks with Norfolk students Nathan Quarles and Cynthia Felton.

Portsmouth student Shanice Mills is among those planning to go. “It’s hard being a first-generation student; you don’t have the support system at home,” she said. “Being part of the Open Door Project, everybody’s helped me find support no matter what I do.”

For more information about the Open Door Project, contacts its director, Kay Williams, at

From here, student speaker planning to aim high for next stop, Virginia Wesleyan

Charleston Yancey fell in love with Virginia Wesleyan University the first time he toured the campus. After graduating from Tidewater Community College on May 13, he will transfer there with junior class standing thanks to a new agreement.

Yancey, student speaker for TCC’s 68th Commencement at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, leaves with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Norfolk native will be able to concentrate on coursework for his major, as all his general education requirements from TCC transfer due to the Fair Transfer Guarantee Agreement, signed in February.

Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan
Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“TCC is a transformative school,” he said. “I met so many people who come here and don’t know where to go. They leave here and become driving forces in the community.”

Yancey, who holds a 3.9 GPA and served in multiple leadership positions for the Norfolk Student Government Association, said he feels well prepared for what’s ahead. The 20-year-old benefitted from the Open Door Project, which provides support services for first generation college students.

“The staff there kept me motivated,” said Yancey, admittedly passionate about all things TCC. “From the teachers who work in the building to everyone at Open Door to the people involved in student life, it’s a beautiful thing.”

The skills he learned in his student development class, which focuses on creating good study habits, laid the foundation for an accolade-filled academic year.

Nominated to the 2019 Phi Theta Kappa All-Virginia Academic Team, Yancey finished in the top 10 for the state, earning him a $500 scholarship. He was also awarded the Barnes and Noble Textbook Scholarship for Norfolk Campus.

Yancey has never been shy talking in front of others. His father, Charles, is pastor at Love of Life Assembly Yahawah’s Temple of Praise, and Charleston has spoken from the pulpet since he was 10. He developed an even deeper love of public speaking at TCC under Professor Jaclyn Randle.

“She’s the greatest teacher I ever had,” he said.

Yancey also credits communications professor Mark Frederick with helping him develop different techniques to engage an audience.

From here, he plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology and work as a counselor and motivational speaker while remaining active in ministry.

“I have dedicated my life to being one who uplifts and inspires others,” he said.  “I have vowed to use my mouth as a tool that will speak life into all those that feel lifeless. My message has been and will always be that you are worth the success that you are fighting for. I may not know each graduate personally, but I do know that everyone has a story. I want to remind them that no matter how their story began, it is the conclusion of their story that matters the most.”

She didn’t have a bed, enough food or even a car. At TCC she found a home and a future

Jeanine Anderson isn’t going to walk at Tidewater Community College’s graduation.

“I’m going to dance,” she says jubilantly.

On Dec. 17, she will accept her Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. She’s tacking on an additional semester of classes to complete her Associate of Science in Science, which will allow her to transfer to Old Dominion University next fall.

Anderson, 45, triumphed over living out of a car only to have it towed away with most of her belongings inside. She’s been hungry enough to rationalize pouring a pint-sized can of sausages into her purse while inside a discount store.

She’s found creative ways to get to class minus reliable transportation. She regularly made her way to the Portsmouth Campus hours before her 8 a.m. class so she could catch a ride with a friend en route to his shipyard job.

When the New Jersey native didn’t have money to join Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), she mopped floors until she saved up the $85.

Anderson arrived at TCC broken and leaves it whole thanks to a village of mentors and resources that contributed to her journey. She rattles off the names of women who are mentors – administrators Karen Moore and Okema Branch, deans Dana Singleton and Jenefer Snyder and Provost Michelle Woodhouse.

Jeanine Anderson with mentor Dana Singleton.
Jeanine Anderson with mentor Dana Singleton.

“I finally feel like I am in a place where nobody wants to hurt me,” Anderson says. “Nobody laughs at me for feeling or doing or saying anything. This is a very safe space for me. TCC is home.”

It took three tries before Anderson actually walked through the doors at TCC. Her life had turned into a rollercoaster after a messy divorce forced her to leave New Jersey when she lost her home to foreclosure.

Her mother lived in a low-income one-bedroom apartment in Suffolk. The two weren’t close, but it was a place where Anderson could shower and sleep on the floor on particularly cold nights.

A 2006 blue Chrysler Sebring convertible became her bed and closet. “I couldn’t use it as a convertible,” she says. “All my stuff was in it.”

Anderson searched for jobs but found none. She had worked before – in fast food, at a call center and teaching preschool in an underprivileged area. But nobody was biting this time around.

“No one would even hire me to scrub toilets at 4 in the morning,” she says.

Anderson knew a degree would be the game changer for her future. When she worked up the courage to go inside Building A in Portsmouth, she met Moore.

“My fairy godmother, my Glinda from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” she says.

Moore walked her through the admissions process and helped her navigate domicile issues for financial aid as Anderson had no recent income tax records. She also directed Anderson to Open Door Project, a federally funded support program for first-generation college students.

“I realized there were others like me who needed help,” she says.

Anderson was a sponge from her first semester at TCC in August 2016. She met Eric Styles, a financial aid coordinator, who chose her to be the emcee of an Open Door leadership conference. She promised herself never to turn down an opportunity to grow.

“I was terrified; they were impressed,” Anderson says.

Styles introduced Anderson to Woodhouse and Branch. Anderson connected with Singleton, too, all women who exemplified the type of person she wanted to be.

“I gleaned whatever I could from them – how to talk, how to dress,” Anderson says. “I grew up in a family full of women, but nobody taught me anything. I came here looking for advice and guidance and took everything they had to give.”

During her third semester at TCC, Anderson became president of Portsmouth’s Student Government Association behind a platform that encouraged inclusivity. She got an invite for PTK, the honor society for two-year college students.

“The application fee was $85 and I didn’t have it,” she says. After a few months of odd jobs, she collected enough and is now an active member who helps out with marketing.

Anderson has been a Work-Study student for TCC Professor Rick James and a student teacher for criminal justice, a field she plans to continue in by studying for her bachelor’s with a minor in criminal psychology.

“I want to counsel,” she says. “I want to be an advocate for young people who go through the adjudication process. Even though we’re a society of convicts, we’re not a society of people who understand the Constitution.”

From here, all that will be possible. She’s now the example for daughter Kennedy and granddaughter, Sa’rai, 2.

“I feel loved and accepted here,” Anderson says. “At TCC, you’re pushed and stretched and disciplined and rewarded. You’re inspired and empowered. Here you find the courage to attain your goals.”