'Goodies for Goodness Sake:' Potter's Bakery recognized as Business of the Year

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From left, Sue Willson, Matt Gestewitz, Tim Willson, Carol Willson, Charles Willson and Kay Hooper. (Rochester Voice file photo)

The Business of the Year award is one of the Chamber's most prestigious awards celebrating excellence in a business' industry and in their community. This award, sponsored by Index Packaging, recognizes a Chamber member who has demonstrated leadership and involvement for the betterment of the business community and the greater Rochester area. At the Chamber's Annual Awards Celebration held on Wednesday evening, June 1, 2022 at The Oaks, the Chamber was pleased to present the 2022 Business of the Year award to Potter's House Bakery & Cafe.
Potter's House Bakery & Café, located at 10 Chestnut Hill Road in Rochester, opened its doors on the morning of May 2, 2018, taking only 10 months from idea to fruition. In July 2017, Tim and Sue Willson came home to Rochester after more than 20 years of being away, living in various parts of the country. Once here, they almost immediately became involved with Cindy Ziobrowski of Camp CARD. Together, and with support from family and friends, they set out to establish a training site for young adults on the autism spectrum. Years earlier, Cindy had developed Camp CARD for just that purpose, but had never had a physical site at which to conduct the training. The partnership was sealed after Tim baked scones for the staff at Camp CARD -- and Potter's House was on its way to becoming a reality.
The primary reason this bakery came to be was because of the need to provide for young adults who fell through the cracks after high school and needed job training support. Many of the students from the first few classes went on to work in other establishments in our community, especially after area business owning customers found out what Potter's was up to and became involved in job placement. Some students have become part of the team at the bakery.
Tim is a self-taught, lifelong baker, who is a perfectionist to the core. Everything he and his staff produce is made on-site and from scratch. There are no shortcuts, and as a result Tim works at least 15-hour days, six days a week, sometimes seven. And it is not unusual for him to work up to 36 hours straight during the holidays. The result for Rochester has been a much needed, high-quality bakery, producing the most enjoyable calories you will ever eat, and a sunny cafe where friends meet for coffee or lunch on a regular basis. Family traditions are already forming, at a place where Thanksgiving pies are purchased, birthday cakes are chosen, and Saturday morning breakfasts are enjoyed. The people of this city have welcomed The Potter's House warmly, causing the business to expand and flourish in the four short years since it began with Tim and Sue, and just one employee.
Strong community relationships have been formed with Spaulding High School, many of the elementary schools in town, as well as The Rochester Rec Department. Potter's has made donations to these and other non-profit organizations on countless occasions. With the help of their generous customers, they have established a "Pay if Forward" program which provides free beverages, pastries, soups, and sandwiches to those who experience food insecurity in our community. In 2021, Potter's House Bakery and Cafe was certified by Governor Sununu as a Recovery Friendly Workplace Designation, meaning they have met the requirements to support employees as well as all community members who may be impacted by addiction.
In addition, Potter's House Bakery & Café contributes to several other community organizations and causes; you will always find a collection box at the bakery collecting for youth and sporting activities and more.
Over the years, Potter's House has been acknowledged for their unique mission by The Rochester Voice, Foster's Daily Democrat, WCSH News, Portland Maine, and most recently, NH Chronicle filmed a piece at the bakery.
According to Darlene Towle of MLC Catering, "I have witnessed the behind-the-scenes tireless dedication that these two owners have invested in their business, their employees, their students, and their community. It is wonderful to see this little gem of a bakery cafe, whose motto is Goodies for Goodness Sake, is being recognized for its contributions.
For these reasons, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce was proud to name Potter's House Bakery & Café as its 2022 Business of the Year.
The previous year's recipients, Harrison Thorp and Martha Soto Galicia of The Rochester Voice, presented the award to Tim and Sue Willson, owners of the Potter's House Bakery & Cafe.
Citizen of the Year
The Citizen of the Year award, presented by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, is one of the Chamber's most prestigious awards. This award, sponsored by Eastern Propane & Oil, is bestowed upon
an individual who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the community and has made significant contributions to the vibrancy and strength of the Greater Rochester area. At the Chamber's Annual Awards Celebration held on Wednesday evening, June 1, 2022 at The Oaks, the Chamber announced the 2022 Citizen of the Year is Kathleen Sessler.
Kathy Sessler, LPN, is a resident of Strafford. She is employed at Cornerstone VNA in Rochester as a Provider Liaison.
Kathy has volunteered her time to many worthy causes and organizations for nearly 20 years. She is very active in Rochester and the surrounding communities, giving her time and talents to organizations including the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Rochester Rotary Club, Monarch School of New England, End 68 Hours of Hunger, Cornerstone VNA, Hope on Haven Hill, as well as community events.
Kathy has served on Golf Committees to help plan and provide those participating with an enjoyable day of golf, assisting with fund-raising efforts and obtaining raffle prizes for the event. She was involved with the Community Expo and assisted the Chamber with the planning and promotion of this event that showcased businesses in a trade show format. She regularly attends Chamber activities and is always willing to help.
Kathy is a very involved member of the Rochester Rotary Club, providing assistance with several of the organization's events including charitable gaming, Howie's Field of Dreams, Wings and Wheels, and Lottery Nights. She also served on the club's board of directors for several years. Through the Rotary Club, Kathy volunteers at the Homeless Center for Strafford County, she has organized Feast Boxes for the elderly and rings the bell for the Salvation Army on rotary designated days.
According to Jackie Fitzpatrick, current president of the Rochester Rotary Club, "Kathy exudes the motto of Rotary which is 'Service Above Self.' She has been a member of Rochester Rotary for 12 years and has made exemplary contributions to the success of so many activities."
According to Kerry Norton, RN from Hope on Haven Hill, "Kathy inspired me to become a nurse and then to become a Rochester Rotarian. Kathy's love for her community is contagious and she inspires many to do good for the City."
Kathy volunteers for the Monarch School of New England by assisting with their fund-raisers, including their golf tournament where she serves hot dogs, secures raffle prizes, and sells tickets.
According to Diane Bessey at the Monarch School of New England, "Kathy has an affinity for volunteering and is not afraid to ask others to commit their time and resources. She is an excellent example of citizenship and philanthropy."
Kathy's involvement and leadership is known throughout Strafford County.
She has also served on the board of directors for The Falls Chamber of Commerce in Somersworth, providing leadership to the organization and assisting with their activities.
According to Ann Vennard at Cornerstone VNA where Kathy is employed, "Kathy Sessler is the epitome of an engaged and supportive citizen. She volunteers for so many organizations and events. She is extremely supportive of fundraisers in the community that she hears about and rallies a group to participate."
Kathy resides in Strafford with her husband, Rick. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, many of which were on hand to celebrate with her as she received the award.
The Chamber is proud to name Kathy Sessler as the 2022 Citizen of the Year and thank her for her time and devotion she provides to the many organizations, activities, and causes that take place in and around Rochester.
Last year's Citizen of the Year recipient, Jeanne Grover, was on hand to present the award to Kathy Sessler.
Non-Profit of the Year
The Non-Profit of the Year award presented by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is one of the Chamber's most prestigious awards. This award, sponsored by First Seacoast Bank, is bestowed upon a nonprofit that demonstrates excellence in their organization and in their community. It also recognizes a Chamber member that has provided a significant impact to the betterment of the greater Rochester area. At the Chamber's Annual Awards Celebration held on Wednesday evening, June 1, 2022, the Chamber presented the 2022 Nonprofit of the Year to the Homeless Center for Strafford County.
The Homeless Center for Strafford County, now located at 202 Washington Street in Rochester, has a mission to provide community members and families with shelter, case management, and educational programs that lead to self-sufficiency and permanent housing. Their vision is to provide the best evidence-based, two-generational approach to eliminating community homelessness in a dignified and respectful manner. Their values are built on compassion and inclusivity; this enables them to provide a safe environment that is home-like, secure, clean, and communal, a community connection, and a goal-oriented and family-focused educational programming.
The Homeless Center for Strafford County, under the leadership of Tracy Hardekopf, has a retention rate of better than 94 percent at the one-, two-, and three-year mark of housing placement.
Every year the demographic of the clients they serve changes. The season they are just coming out of saw a preponderance of elderly people needing sheltering. The two years prior they were full of families with very young and school-aged children. The organization's ability to pivot, and to develop their staff so they can pivot has contributed to more than a few changed lives, and a number of clients leave the shelter with genuine friendships formed with fellow clients.
"To see people come to us with virtually nothing, and by partnering with us, leave with a new home, new skills, often a new job, and the potential to never again be part of the homeless population is something that never gets old. Delivering Christmastime gifts and seeing former clients thriving in their new apartments is also personally rewarding", according to Executive Director Tracy Hardekopf.
In her time with the organization, Tracy has become a respected voice in her field; she is always willing to offer solutions and material help. As an organization, HCSC supports other area homeless outreaches such as Manna Ministries with food, clothing, blankets, solar batteries for cell phones, etc.
According to board member Troy Dillow of Bernier Insurance, Tracy, with the active support of her Board of Directors, has developed a solid program designed to equip people experiencing homelessness with the critical life skills they'll need to succeed in permanent housing. With its innovative approach, the "Home for Now" Shelter provides the kind of after-care and community support that has placed 43 families, into permanent housing in as many months.
The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is proud to recognize the efforts, programs and selfless service that is consistently provided to individuals and families and was delighted to present its 2022 Non-Profit of the Year award to the Homeless Center for Strafford County.
Diane Bessey of the Monarch Schoof of New England, last year's recipient of this award, presented this year's award to Homeless Center for Strafford County's Executive Director, Tracy Hardekopf.

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