Beloved Newport News high school counselor surprised with People Taking Action award

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With the help of the principal from Heritage High School in Newport News, students, friends, family and colleagues of Rick Watson all gathered in a conference room waiting  to surprise the school's head guidance counselor.

When he was finally brought into the packed room, Watson didn't know what to think. News 3's Kurt Williams let him think it was a former student, Aundrea Williamson-Gary, who sent us this email. In the email, Williamson-Gary says, "Mr. Watson is a friend, a mentor, a father figure and even a provider to his students. If you are hungry, cold or in need of anything, Mr. Watson will see to it that you are fed, clothed and comforted at the end of the day."

Williamson-Gary, now a Christopher Newport University graduate, remembers years ago the impact he had on her at Heritage High.

"I know it wasn't just me.  I know he helped so many other students and I was like, I have to do something to honor him," she said.

Her brother Aundre, also a former student, feels the same way.

"He just inspires kids. I've seen him leave after school and take kids off the streets and bring them to practice. I've seen him do things father would do," he said.

Mr. Watson's male mentoring program at the school really helped Aundre in that area.

"I remember the first time I talked with Mr. Watson. I was going through a couple of things. He took me out of class--my father had passed away and I was going through a couple of things. I believe a man needs a man to show him how to be a good man and Mr. Watson is that," Aundre said.

For those reasons, we presented him with a People Taking Action award, along with a $300 Visa gift card from our community partner Southern Bank.

Watson was stunned, "Right now I'm still trying to process it. Totally caught me off guard. I mean you see this stuff on television, but when it really happens...well I'm speechless. I'm humbled. I'm appreciative of it."

The school principal, Shameka Gerald, says there's no way to properly assess his impact, "I couldn't ask for a better mentoring friend in this building to help with the work that  we're doing here."