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Pitts, Gallo, Honored by CCRI as "Champions" for Changing Lives

Two local residents with ties to government, business and education were recently honored by the CCRI Foundation at its seventh annual "Changing Lives Celebration."

The ceremony was held at Rhode at the Pawtuxet.

The honorees are:

Sen. Hanna M. Gallo ’76, ’81

Education Champion

Sen. Hanna M. Gallo ’76, ’81 (D) represents District 27, which includes portions of Cranston and West Warwick. First elected in 1998, she serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education and is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce. She formerly served on the Board of Regents and the Commission on Civic Education.

Gallo, a graduate of the Community College of Rhode Island, was the first member of her family to attend college. She fully explored her interests at CCRI, majoring in the liberal arts. She said her professors encouraged her to try new things and that she first became interested in politics at this time and wanted to be involved in the community to make a difference.

Sen. Gallo first started doing this not as a legislator, but as a parent. She returned to CCRI to earn a business degree for a career change, graduating in 1981. Later, her daughter developed a hearing deficit that inspired Gallo to research speech pathology and consider it as a career.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders from the University of Rhode Island in 1995 and a master’s in speech-language pathology in 1997. She now works as a speech language pathologist for the Cranston School Department, helping children to overcome speech impediments and improve their oral communication skills.

 In 1998, Gallo saw another opportunity to serve her community when a Senate seat opened up in her district. As a senator, she said she always works to help Rhode Island students.

 “No matter what college you go to, it’s important to further your education so you can open the door to opportunity,” she said. “CCRI is one of the best places to start.”

Sondra V. Ahlijian Pitts ’66
Thomas E. Pitts Jr., Honorary Alumnus ’07
Community Champions

High school sweethearts Tom and Sondra Pitts ’66 met at Cranston East High School. During her senior year, Sondra’s classmates voted her “Ideal Cranstonite.” During Tom’s senior year a year later, Tom’s classmates voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.”

She went on to CCRI and became a member of the first graduating class, thereafter earning her bachelor’s degree in education. He went on to Yale University, graduating magna cum laude with a major in political science and economics in 1969. They married in June of that year.

More than 40 years later, Sondra and Tom are still fulfilling their high school superlatives. Sondra is a member and past president of the CCRI Alumni Association, and the two made the gift enabling creation of the Alumni Association Student Development Center at the Knight Campus. Tom, a retired attorney, assists CCRI as an adviser to the president and as a staunch supporter of his wife’s volunteerism. He also serves on the board of trustees of the Community Preparatory School in Providence, which educates third- through eighth-graders of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We value education,” said Sondra. “The more educated a person is, the more productive a person will be and the more they can contribute to society.”

Through her role in the Alumni Association and as a CCRI Foundation trustee, she has seen the challenges of students trying to make ends meet and the difference a scholarship can make to a student who is forced to choose between paying bills and putting gas in the car.

“CCRI is unlike a lot of places. It’s all about opportunity,” Tom said. “But that opportunity is only as good as a student’s ability to come here. It’s tragic to see an opportunity lost due to an inability to pay.”

During the college’s Imagine Campaign to support academic excellence, they made a $100,000 gift toward a scholarship in their name to continue to make education accessible. Now Sondra, who served on the campaign steering committee, is co-chairwoman of the committee charged with planning CCRI’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2014-15.

Their loyalty is not just to serving the college, but also the community in which they live.

Sondra taught Armenian language, culture and history for Providence’s Sts. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church for 22 years and serves on the committee organizing the church’s 100th anniversary in 2014. She also was principal of the Armenian school from 1999 to 2004. Sondra volunteers her time for the Armenian Historical Association, Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Skills USA.

During his career, Tom has been a member of various bar associations, a board member of the Lawyers Alliance for New York and a member of the board of the Armenian Students Association. He also served on the board of trustees of Sts. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church. In 1998, he was inducted into the Cranston Hall of Fame.

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