by KIMBERLEY HAAS
NEW CASTLE — The executive director of Portsmouth Housing Authority says Great Bay Community College has been a partner in improving the lives of the people they serve.
Craig Welch received the Distinguished Citizen Award at the college’s sixth annual reception at Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle on Thursday evening.
Welch oversees 11 properties and 600 affordable housing units in Portsmouth, as well as a resident services coordination program and a housing choice voucher program that helps more than 750 seniors and families in the region. Student Andrea Pickett introduced him to the 200-plus people in attendance of the event.
“As the director of the housing authority, he is creating a culture of people who see people,” Pickett said.
Welch said he was honored to receive the award on behalf of the people who call Portsmouth Housing Authority their home.
Welch talked about the importance of education, saying if we are not a culture that can empathize with the suffering of others, we can become a society that condones violence and demeans people who are different than ourselves.
Welch ended by saying he would only accept the award if the students in the room would play an offensive role in standing up and making their mark on the world.
“We’re desperate for good leaders right now,” Welch said.
Brianna Browning, 17, of North Hampton, is set to earn her associate degree in business administration this spring. She started a business called Wave Buddies to help disabled children learn how to surf and swim this summer.
“I’ve always been into community service and helping others,” Browning said. “I really want to help people, especially those who are less fortunate or disabled.”
Browning will graduate at the same time as her peers graduate from high school through a specialized early start program Great Bay offers students.
Browning plans to become an entrepreneur and hopes to attend Cornell University or Babson College next year.
Athena Wetzel, who is in the hospitality management program, lost her mother at the age of 16. Her little sister was just an infant.
By 24, Wetzel had her own child and adopted her sister. The Dover woman said the instructors at Great Bay set her up to succeed in a world where she might otherwise have failed.
“Great Bay has given me that second, even third chance, other universities may not have,” Wetzel said.
Chris Delisle, of Portsmouth, was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award. He is the manager of business process reengineering at LTC Partners, a large-scale insurance and benefits administrator. He graduated a decade ago with an associate degree in marketing and volunteers at the school today.
GBCC President Pelema Morrice said community colleges value collaboration from students of all backgrounds and life experiences.
“Community colleges are, in my opinion, the true champion of our higher education system,” Morrice told the crowd.
Through corporate and individual generosity, the Distinguished Leaders Award event has raised over $1.8 million in scholarship money for Great Bay students over the years.