PORTSMOUTH – Help is a two-way street during the pandemic. At Great Bay Community College, that means meeting the needs of students who might be at risk of going hungry, falling into isolation, or struggling to maintain safe and healthy personal habits. It also means students from the college are meeting needs in the community through a range of volunteer activities.
“Collaborations with community partners have enabled Great Bay students to engage with each other, and have helped the college to meet students’ basic needs,” said Brittanie Mulkigian, Director of Student Life. “Despite social restrictions due to the pandemic, Great Bay Community College continues to support its students by meeting their needs in innovative ways, and also creating awareness about when and where their help is needed out in the community,” she said.
The reciprocal nature of community engagement – students receiving help and students giving back – is happening regardless of the college’s learning model, whether students are meeting face-to-face or remotely.
“Great Bay’s key message to students as well as to our community is that we’re not only focused on educating, but we’re also focused on making sure that students have the resources they need so they can maximize the education they are receiving, whether it’s online or in-person,” Mulkigian said.
Great Bay is helping students through several initiatives.
It is reducing food insecurity with partnerships with Gather, Hannaford, Take Out Hunger, and through financial support from Great Bay’s Student Government Association and the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges. The college distributed 177 Hannaford gift cards to students in December and January and launched a curbside food pickup program with dry goods, milk, eggs, produce, and products that include hand sanitizer, personal care items, and prepared meals from The Green Bean
Helen Crowe, co-founder of Take Out Hunger, said she was proud of the collaboration between Great Bay Community College’s food pantry and the Green Bean. “Students have access to nutritious prepared meals, and the Green Bean has an additional and reliable source of income. It is a win-win for both organizations as they negotiate the challenges of COVID and food insecurity,” Crowe said.
For many, the help was timely and appreciated.
“Thank you for the Hannaford gift card,” one student wrote, “my daughter and I look forward to purchasing some fresh fruit for our family for the first time in a few months. Canned veggies and fruit are fine for us in the wintertime with our budget, but this will be such a treat.”
Wrote another, “I wanted to send a huge thank you to Great Bay for all their support. Their influence extends beyond their facilities and right into each student’s home. As someone working in the hospitality field during COVID, I have financially struggled. I know I can turn to Great Bay in my times of need.”
Said a third student, “Because of this food, I have significantly less stress and worries. You have all been a big help.”
To help students remain engaged, the college has arranged guest speakers via Zoom, including a chat session with NBA star and New Castle native, Duncan Robinson, virtual escape rooms, and trivia contests, as well as a virtual caricature artist party and a Valentine’s Day event that more than 130 people registered to attend. The college also recently launched a new Esports program as part of its athletic offerings. “Our Esports program has been a great way for students to engage in a competitive activity, especially while we are in a remote learning model,” said Brian Scott, Athletic Director for Great Bay.
Great Bay also has created free access to online therapy for students, and through private donations has made feminine hygiene products available, an effort consistent with the “period poverty” bill passed two years ago by the New Hampshire Legislature.
Great Bay students are looking outward into the community in a variety of ways. Through the Giving Tree, students and staff donated gifts to 32 older residents in the community, a total of almost 100 gift cards worth $1,000. Students distributed more than 1,000 masks to Gather through various clubs and organizations and stepped up in other ways.
Mikayla Kaulback, Great Bay’s Student Government Association’s President volunteered nearly 200 hours to Gather, the food source for the on-campus food pantry and curbside food pickup program. Prior to the pandemic, volunteer hours added up in other ways. The STEM Club donated 275 hours of community service, veterinary technology students logged 270 hours, and Great Bay athletes tallied 240 hours.
And the week before Christmas, Campus Safety Officer Steve Dockery dressed up as Santa and conducted Zoom Santa celebrations with more than 30 families of students, staff, and faculty. One Great Bay Faculty member shared about the event, “What a WONDERFUL event this was! My granddaughter has not stopped talking about this! You truly captured the magic of this holiday season.”
“We encourage students to take responsibility for their learning, and that includes attending class – either online or in-person — and completing assignments, and it also means that students know how and where to ask for help, whether it be academic or emotional,” Mulkigian said. “Reciprocally, taking responsibility for learning also includes that students are aware to recognize when others need help.”