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TCC donor’s scholarship plants seeds for student success

Sarah “Tata” White Kellam was 33 when she started selling plants from her greenhouse in a vacant lot on Virginia Beach’s Shore Drive. Her company, Mr. Greenjeans, blossomed into an interior plantscaping business company, selling, servicing and renting plants throughout Hampton Roads.

As her business evolved, Kellam also tended to the growth of her employees. She provided financial support for night school tuition “to help more women move forward in their college educations.”

It was the first of many contributions she would make to give back and help support women in business.

“There’s a saying I love: ‘You don’t know ’til you know,’” Kellam said, “I want to help people who want to know. You need education to get anywhere; that’s what I know!”

In 2017, she established the Sarah “Tata” White Kellam Scholarship at Tidewater Community College to support business and entrepreneurship students with a financial need who have demonstrated academic excellence and a commitment to education.

“I chose TCC because of the older demographic it served,” she said. “I wanted to support an older student, someone who was serious in their studies – who had some direction and interest in business. I was a little older when I started my business, and I wanted to help another woman with dreams.”

This year’s recipient, Dawn Johns, is just that.

A Navy veteran with 10 years of service, Johns was eligible for GI Bill benefits she was hoping to save for her more expensive Old Dominion University coursework.

“I learned about scholarships from Professor Angela Slaughter in my Business 100 class,” said the mother of two. “We were finishing early, so Professor Slaughter started walking us through the scholarship options. I went ahead and applied for 10 scholarships just sitting there in class.”

Johns searched for all the awards she was eligible to receive. “Some of them don’t even require an essay – you’re just completing the form,” she said.

To her surprise, she won several, including the scholarship established by Kellam.

“I take so much pride in being the recipient of a scholarship,” Johns said. “I know the process is competitive. Being selected made me feel honored, and I’ve pushed that much harder to make sure I keep my grades up. Every semester since I received this award, I have been a 4.0 student.”

Johns also credits the award for relieving a lot of financial stress and freeing up more time for her family and academics.

While at the college, her daughter attends TCC’s Child Development Center on the Portsmouth Campus, operated by YWCA South Hampton Roads, tuition her award helps to subsidize. She also applies her scholarship toward textbooks and a meal plan.

Graduating with her Associate of Science in Business Administration in May, Johns has already been accepted to Old Dominion and plans to complete a bachelor’s degree program in accounting. She will secure a second TCC degree, an Associate of Science in General Studies with a Specialization in Professional Communication, this summer.

She aims to open her own non-profit financial planning service to promote financial literacy and give back to neighborhoods like the one she grew up in.

Johns already offers this financial advice for others at TCC: “I’ve been showing all my friends TCC’s scholarship website and teaching them how to apply. These awards have been an important lesson learned. I want to share these opportunities with as many people as possible.”

As Kellam would say – “You don’t know ‘til you know!”

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.

On first visit to TCC as governor, Northam meets with women veterans

In February, Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly declared the third full week in March as Women Veterans Week in Virginia. On Friday, the inaugural observance concluded with a roundtable at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach Campus to give female veterans a chance to bend the governor’s ear on issues important to them.

The event was organized by the Office of the Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs and TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Education.

Northam said his administration will continue efforts from the previous administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe to improve veterans’ experiences in Virginia.

“We have effectively ended veteran homelessness,” he told the 13 members of the roundtable. “Through our Virginia Values Veterans – V3 – program more than 31,000 vets have been hired.” The goal, he said, is to keep valuable, well-trained former military personnel in Virginia.

He noted that Virginia has the largest percentage of female veterans in the country, and he wanted to hear from the panelists about their challenges.

Oluyinka Adelegan, who served in the U.S. Army as a Medical Service Corps officer, said her transition into civilian life was positive. Given her medical training, she had job offers from several health systems but added, “It’s a tough decision whether to stay in Virginia.”

Gov. Ralph Northam listens to panelist at Women Veterans Roundtable

“No it’s not,” the governor responded with a laugh, adding that he wants to keep medically trained veterans in Virginia by further streamlining the process of getting corpsmen and medics into civilian jobs through Virginia’s Military Medics and Corpsmen (MMAC) Program.

The women made a point that, after 20 years or more of service, veterans are eligible for benefits including health care and mental health counseling. “But if you don’t have 20 years or you don’t have a job, you’re on your own,” said one panelist. Northam said that situation would improve if a state budget is approved with an expansion of Medicaid.

Child care is another hurdle for not only veterans, but also active-duty service members – especially single parents. “If you don’t have income, you can’t find child care and you can’t go to school,” said Cassandra Harris, an on-base TCC representative at Naval Station Norfolk.

Child care providers need to be trained in how to deal with children whose parents are in the military, especially when they are deployed. “They need extra care,” said Dawn Johns, a TCC student. “They need someone to watch and understand their actions and behavior.” She said her daughter attends TCC’s Child Development Center, operated by the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, on the Portsmouth Campus.

Kathy Owens, a retired Navy pilot, said some reciprocity or coordination among states with school calendars, GPA calculations and advanced placement credits would also be ideal.

However, the biggest complaints were reserved for something the governor does not control: VA medical centers, especially the one in Hampton. “They’re swamped,” said Juanita Williams, a Navy vet. “The VA is the primary health care provider for so many.”

Asked what she would do if she were governor for the day, one panelist said, “I would have an easy button.’ I want someone I can call, and if they don’t know the answer they’ll find out, not transfer me 15 times.”

Another said, “We shouldn’t have to call our senators and representatives to get help.”

“Our veterans should be at the top of the queue, not the bottom,” Northam said. “I hear you.  I don’t have the answers, but my administration and I are committed to working with the VA and finding solutions.”

Two new members of the House of Delegates from Virginia Beach, Del. Cheryl Turpin and Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, were on hand. Also among those in attendance were representatives for Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Donald McEachin and Rep. Bobby Scott.

Veronica Cianetti, director of military student support at the CMVE and an Army veteran, said TCC is unique in its wraparound services for veterans, noting, “It was great to have Governor Northam here today so he could get a little taste of what we do at TCC.”