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We Built This City – Digital City Launches

“One thing everyone involved in this project agrees on,” Gary Glassman says, beginning the most recent planning meeting for Digital City, “Is that Rhode Island has the potential to be a national, and even international, powerhouse in the field of digital media by 2020 – maybe sooner.”

There’s no dissent in the room – 40 or 50 digital media artists have gathered at The Design Center in downtown Providence to help make this goal a reality. They range from college students to college deans, from freelancers to ad agency creative directors, from the director of the State’s Film & Television Office, to the City Planner for the City of Providence. But they are united in their belief that Rhode Island can establish a firm, large footprint in digital media in this decade.

Digital media requires mostly brains, creativity, passion, hard work and talent – things we have in RI. What we don’t have is infrastructure – and Digital City is intended as a step in addressing that shortfall.

There have been a number of meetings building toward this one – planning has been going on for over a year. This one’s a little different, because this is the first one since the Rhode Island Foundation announced initial funding support for the project. The driving force behind this endeavor is Glassman, President and founder of Providence Pictures, a local production house that produces documentaries for Nova, Disney, and other prominent media companies.

Glassman has successfully drawn some potent partners to the project as well. Most of the Providence area Universities are collaborating in one way or another, and the Founding Director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at URI, Renee Hobbs, has taken a leadership role, as has the City of Providence’s Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism, Lynne McCormack, and legendary RI actor wrangler Anne Mulhall, Founder of LDI casting. With the help of the RI Foundation, there is also now a dedicated project manager, Taliesin “Tally” Gilkes-Bower, who’s come in from a media career in New York to helm the planning activities.

The vision for Digital City is to create an incubator-like environment where digital artists can share expertise and inspiration, show their work, get help when they’re stuck, and share some of the less commonly used, more expensive components of digital media creation, like green screens, sound studios, carefully calibrated color-correction stations and equipment.

Clearly, it’s an idea a lot of locals can get behind. Rhode Island has a powerful legacy in film and media, even while there seems to be political love-hate ping pong with the idea (such as capping the tax credit for film production, stifling an industry that was bringing a lot of work to the state – or any of a number of controversial decisions around the 38 Studios debacle). No one at this meeting would mention 38 Studios, but for those who felt the investment might have been more productive spread among a number of smaller start ups. Well, there’s no 75 million dollars here – but the start ups are clearly still raring to go!

Digital City developments will continue to be driven by the enthusiastic and collaborative members of this local industry.

Added August, 2014: For more about Digital City, you can now visit them at http://digitalcityri.org/




Opened/Closed

taqueriaOpened

Mexican food might be the trend of 2013 with the arrival of another taco joint, Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila, to Canal Street in Westerly. It delivers what its name promises: tacos and tequila, combining swanky ambiance with authentic recipes like corn on the cob with mayo, lime, queso and chili powder. Like your Mex on wheels? Paco’s Tacos Food Truck is cruising around Southern New England with Southern California-style Mexican. For a Far Eastern flavor, Deep Indian Restaurant is now open on Hartford Ave. in Providence. Though ambiance junkies need not apply, this is a hole-in-the-wall spot that serves up the type of dishes that will make you forget about the Tim Allen sitcoms playing on all of the televisions. O Sushi opened its doors in North Kingstown where The Fish Market used to be. A large central bar, decor with class, fresh fish and hibachi rolled up (insert maki pun here). If you weren’t into The ROI in Providence before, give it another shot. Its reopening brought a new head chef, Travis Lawton, a new menu, new live entertainment, and Drag Queen Brunch (and yeah, a shiny new logo). Eighty Eight Lounge has occupied the space where Sullivan’s Rhode once was, providing a quieter, more intimate experience than Point St’s piano spot.  Public is the new restaurant and bar in the Renaissance hotel. And on that note…

We must bid farewell to

Temple, the Renaissance’s former resident eat and drink spot. Cafe Luna, Garden City’s quaint spot for a casual meal between window shopping has also closed its doors.




A Complaint Results in Personal Exposure

GraczykowskiFor years, Omega Pond was a hidden jewel, an oasis for dozens of homes along the water’s edge in the Rumford section of East Providence.

But that all changed in 2006 when TLA Pond View began an expanded recycling operation that resulted in hundreds of complaints from neighbors just across the pond. Those who live there say the sound and dust carry clear across the water.

“My windows and doors stay closed when they’re fully operating,” said Jo-Ann Durfee, who has led the charge against Pond View – complaining to anybody who will listen, and some who won’t, about noise, dust and the owners operating at all hours of the day.

“There are times, you know, where you could hear (the owner) operating at 4:30 in the morning, sometimes later in the evening. And he has set hours, but he doesn’t abide by that,” she said.

The company, which was mired in controversy from the start, had zoning and court battles before going into receivership a year ago. A fresh controversy erupted when DEM gave the owners a contract to clean up their own site, with strict hours of operation.

Durfee says she heard equipment on a Sunday morning in early July and alerted her councilman, Jim Briden, who called the police. An officer eventually arrived and spoke with Durfee, but didn’t take any official statement.

Durfee went on vacation the following week. When she returned a week later, she couldn’t believe what she saw on the city’s website, which posts the supporting documents for any issues coming before the council at the next meeting. The city had posted a witness report of the incident that day, including her name, address, age and social security number.

Because she was on vacation, Durfee said it had been posted 13 days before she called the city to take it down.

“Who knows who has my information?” she said. “Who knows who could have sat on their home computer and pulled off a copy of my credit report? Who knows if they sell my information? So the rest of my life, I’ve got to look over my shoulder.”

City Manager Peter Graczykowski told Durfee in a July 25 letter that the posting was an inadvertent error and he was launching an investigation into how it happened, but she heard nothing after that.

So we confronted Graczykowski before a city council meeting last month.

He repeatedly deflected our question, referring us to City Solicitor Timothy Chapman, who told The Hummel Report the next day that while he was aware of the incident, Graczykowski did not include him in the review of what happened and had nothing more to offer us. 

Hummel: So has anybody been disciplined, suspended, lost a paycheck? 

Graczykowski: We have revised our procedures and I would refer all the questions to the city solicitor in this matter. 

Hummel: Why can’t you just answer the question? What kind of transparency is this? You’re the city manager. And somebody’s social security number got on a website. 

Graczykowski: Well, that person is represented and so is the city and I would refer those questions, as I stated, to the city solicitor. 

Hummel: So you’re going to lawyer up? 

Graczykowski: Thank you.

We emailed Graczykowski the next day with follow-up questions, wanting to know how this could be prevented in the future. We received an automatic email message that he would be out of the office for the next week. He never contacted us directly, but told Chapman, the solicitor, to answer our questions.

In an email, Chapman told The Hummel Report, “The employees involved were counseled on the importance of protecting Personal Identifying Information” and that a policy is being drafted to reiterate how to handle the information.

Durfee turned down the city’s offer for a year’s worth of identity theft protection because she would have had to sign away her right to take legal action. So she bought the protection on her own – for $250. Durfee says she is consulting with a lawyer and it’s likely she’ll file suit against the city.

“I do not have confidence somebody’s going to be disciplined for this. When you have a city manager who also has a degree in law and he’s reviewing this stuff, he should have picked up on it and not just sent it forward if he did his job. If he didn’t even read it and sent it forward, then he didn’t do his job either.” 

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.org. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.




Bridging the Education Gap with Kids Bridge

GraduationThe official start of kindergarten was still three weeks away, but on a steamy day in early August, the kids inside a Providence elementary school were getting a jump start to the school year.

“Let’s see if he can find the letter `B’ and circle it,” said Pat Conti, a first-grade teacher during the year, who was taking up temporary residence in a kindergarten room on the first floor of the Young/Woods Elementary School in South Providence.

Conti and her class are there for a summer program called Kids Bridge, run by Inspiring Minds, a non-profit education support organization for the Providence School Department. Inspiring Minds trains hundreds of volunteer tutors who help throughout the academic year.

The summer classes – a joint program between Inspiring Minds and the School Department – began five years ago with one school. It now enrolls 180 children spread across five elementary schools in the city. The program runs in the morning for four weeks and focuses on children who have not had the benefit of preschool.

“The purpose of it is to catch them up and get them onto the track of where they’re supposed to be by the time they go to kindergarten,” said Terri Adelman, executive director of Inspiring Minds. “That’s the whole goal.”

Adelman says the program costs $500 per child, with about 80 percent of the funding coming from the School Department, and Inspiring Minds picking up the remainder.

This year, they also began a pilot program in the afternoon at Messer Elementary with four partners: The Providence Children’s Museum, The Boys and Girls Club of Providence, The Providence YMCA and Providence Community Libraries, each of which donated time and resources, either coming to Messer or taking the kids on weekly field trips.

While academics are important, the program provides socialization opportunities that some of these kids have never had, like sitting still, getting along with others and listening to what the teacher says. And there are things we take for granted, like getting used to using scissors.

Regina Richards is in her third year as a kindergarten teacher at Young/Woods Elementary. She says the results of the summer program speak for themselves, as all of the kids are tested before and after the four weeks of Kids Bridge. The stats show a marked improvement across the board. But it’s the intangibles, Richards says, that are equally important.

“Being empathetic to one another, learning to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to one another, being polite to one another, some children don’t know that and we’re teaching that in the program as well,” Richards said.

Another key to the program’s success is the number of volunteers to help corral and focus children who have differing abilities and attention spans.

“We’re very flexible, but something we’re not flexible in is when we bring an adult in, he or she cannot work with more than three or four people; preferably one or two, but not more than three of four, because after that, the impact gets diluted,” Adelman said.

Darnell Tutt said his daughter couldn’t wait to go to school every day, even though it was summertime, and told him all about it every night. “She sings the songs, she’ll do the motions, she’ll tell me what she did, what friends we made, what the friend’s name is. She’s very excited. She loves it.”

At the end of the four weeks, Inspiring Minds held a graduation. For the first time, this summer all five schools came together at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. Hundreds of parents, friends and family members turned out for the ceremony.

“If you’re a 5-year-old and you walk into a room and you see 500 people sitting there and you’re the one who’s being showcased, you have your little hat on, you’ve done something special, that sends a very large message to the little kids. And their parents came,” Adelman said.

And there’s a message, she says, for the parents of this high school class of 2026. “Education is very, very important. You have done a wonderful job in getting your children started with this education and now you need to do 12 more years of this.”

Adelman is trying to get the Providence School Department to fund an expanded program next summer. “And lo and behold, every year the kids walk into school and they have 30 percent more skills than the kids who didn’t have this. This is such an inexpensive and successful way to fill a gap that exists that nobody else is filling.” 

If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to info@hummelspotlight.org

 

 




Motif TV for September 26 +




Are Electric Cars the Future of RI?

Car-chargingFrom a state beach in South County to a restaurant in East Providence to the parking lot of an office building in South Providence to the basement garage in the Department of Administration – they are gradually making a debut across Rhode Island.

Electric vehicle charging stations. A total of 50 will be up and running by the end of September at a cost of three quarters of a million taxpayer dollars. It is one of the remaining pockets of federal stimulus money that Rhode Island received in 2009.

And the deadline to spend it is September 2013.

“We want to use that money in the state to do what it’s supposed to do, which is create jobs, reduce energy, move us toward a sustainable future,” said Marion Gold, commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources.  Gold says the electric vehicle charging stations each cost about $15,000 and have two ports, so a total of 100 vehicles will be able to use them at any one time.

A global company called Charge Point won the $781,000 bid earlier this year and has already installed more than half of the 50. Private business owners are covering electricity costs at the charging stations on their property.

At the places where the stations are located on public property, like Fisherman’s State Park campground in Narragansett or Scarborough State Beach, electricity will be free to the motorist the first year. The stations eventually will be converted to take credit cards for the costs of charging. National Grid has agreed to maintain all of the ports.

The Chafee administration is leading by example. Gold is driving a Chevy Volt and Department of Transportation Director Mike Lewis and Administration Director Richard Licht are right next to her.

“We drive up, we park it, we plug it in; it charges up then we unplug it and we drive to where we’re going. In this case, we have a hybrid electric vehicle so it has a range of about 50 miles,” Gold said. “Once we go beyond 50 miles, then it goes to a backup gas engine.”

Gold’s office will conduct a pilot study over the next year on usage and costs, to develop a fee structure when motorists have to begin paying for the power themselves.

So how much do the vehicles cost? A new Volt runs about $35,000, with a $7,500 rebate from the federal government. A larger, high-powered Tesla with a longer battery life runs nearly $70,000 before rebate.

“And I’m having to convince my husband, who is more bottom-line oriented, because I really want to get an electric vehicle, and he keeps saying, ‘Marion, have you done the economics? Are you sure it’s the right investment?’” Gold said. “And I look at the research studies that say if you buy an electric vehicle versus a gas-powered you might save as much as $13,000 over the life of the vehicle.”

Exactly what period of time constitutes the life of the vehicle is unclear. And Gold acknowledges the savings directly correlate to where gas prices go in the future.

Hummel: Isn’t $5 gas going to work for you and $3 gas going to work against you?

Gold: There is no doubt that when gas prices go up, people start looking for alternatives like starting to take the train, starting to ride their bike and starting to look at electric vehicles.

And there are other variables. Gold said that a national database estimates an electric vehicle translates to about $1.60 a gallon in gas. Or 50 to 90 cents an hour to charge. But those are only estimates. Gold says it takes eight hours to fully charge her Volt.

Hummel: It’s a very complicated formula to tell somebody, “Okay, having this car is really the equivalent of having $1.60 gas or $2 gas.” Are you ever confident you’re going to be able to pinpoint that, or is that too many variables when you’re trying to sell to people?

Gold: I think the simple answer is, “Yeah, this is going to be cheaper for you and we’re going to have a lot of cars on the road to show that.”

Gold said she could not provide figures on how many electric vehicles are registered in Rhode Island because the registry doesn’t keep those stats, but the state is working to change that.

There clearly is going to be an adjustment period for the charging stations. We found no cars charging in eight locations we visited – probably because the stations are so new.

In the lot of one private business, where parking is tight, two non-electric cars were parked because there were no other spaces available. At East Matunuck State Beach, the two charging spots are located in a handicapped area near the pavilion. DEM says that will change when it can find another two handicapped spaces, but for now, those with handicapped tags take priority. It didn’t matter when we were there as both spaces were empty.

We also found two restaurants in East Providence – Cilantro and Chili’s – that have new stations, next to the takeout door at Chili’s and at the back of Cilantro’s parking lot.

“And the businesses are finding that, in fact, it’s a service to their customers so they’re not only willing to site it on their property, but have agreed to pay the electric fees for the first four years,” Gold said.

And she’s hoping the more electric cars people see on the roads and the more charging stations available, the more people will make the switch.

Gold: We’re hoping to work in partnership with the industry; we’re hoping to say that government is going to stand by this commitment to a zero emission vehicle future. We’re going to work in partnership with the American auto industry to make these cars available.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.org. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org

 

 




A Young Farmer Helps His Community

North Kingstown native gives back to Hasbro Hospital
Ethan-setting-up-stand

By 9 a.m. the temperature is already heading north of 90 degrees.

But Ethan Lehnertz is undeterred.

The soon-to-be middle schooler makes his way out to a massive garden next to his family’s house in North Kingstown, ready to pick. On this Saturday morning it’s tomatoes, zucchini, squash, beets, peppers and eggplant.

From there it’s a short walk to the makeshift vegetable stand at the front of his family’s property on Shermantown Road where Ethan will more than likely sell out by the end of the day.

If you look closely at the stand you’ll see a contest going on this summer. Ethan will donate half of everything he makes to either Hasbro Children’s Hospital or the North Kingstown Food Pantry.

What most people who stop by don’t know is that Ethan was mauled by two pit bulls when he was in first grade. He wound up in the pediatric intensive care unit at Hasbro after undergoing eight hours of surgery. The doctors stopped counting at 500 stitches.

And in the uncluttered logic of a 10-year-old: they helped him so he wants to help them. But, it turns out, this philanthropist is also somewhat of a businessman. Ethan’s mom, Terri, says when they began the garden five years ago the family was giving away all of the extra vegetables they couldn’t eat themselves.

“He was saving up for LEGO set. He really wanted this fancy LEGO set and I said there’s no way I want to  pay – whatever – for this huge LEGO set,” Terri Lehnertz said, laughing. “So I said, ‘Save up your money and you can buy it.’”

So Ethan started charging a nominal amount for the vegetables, but from the get-go wanted to give half of the profits away, even if it meant having to save a little longer to get the LEGOs. He learned about hunger at school and how the local food pantry needs help, especially in the summer months. Last year he used the $200 he made to buy meal boxes from Stop & Shop and delivered them to the food pantry.

The garden is a pretty efficient operation. Ethan’s dad, Mike, rototills, mom plants and weeds, and Ethan picks and sells. The family didn’t set out to open up a vegetable stand when they moved here. But Terri grew up in Little Compton and always had a garden, so she started one at the new house.

“You know, you get carried away. You go to Shartner’s, you go to Walmart, to Home Depot, you see all of these plants and you think, ‘I have a big area. I have the room, I’ll just plant that.’ My husband’s not a vegetable person, Ethan is somewhat in between, and I love them. We started picking and we were giving away to everyone – our friends, family, everyone. I’d drop off vegetables at people’s houses randomly.”

Ethan added, “We started to get more stuff than we could eat, so we decided to start selling it.”

“Sometimes they’ll leave notes, sometimes they’ll leave requests, like, “Can you please put something below the table and I’ll come by and pick it up?’.” Terri said.

And what’s most popular?

“It really varies. Every year I try something different, so this year I’m trying beets and Brussels sprouts for the first time. I’ve never done that before,” Terri said. “Last year and the year before, I think I tried different colors of eggplant, pink and white. So it seems like the odd things sometimes get taken right away.”

We asked Ethan if he ate any of the vegetables, or if he had a favorite.

“Peas,” came the simple response.

Ethan makes sure everyone stopping by casts a vote for Hasbro or the food pantry. He tells us Hasbro is winning by a two-thirds margin. Ethan says although the hospital is free to use the money however it sees fit, he’s had a few suggestions in the past.

“I like that they had double popsicles when I went for surgery, so I told them to get double popsicles and games.”

If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to info@hummelspotlight.org




How Many Fire Departments Does One Town Need?

North-Cumberland-station

Change coming to Cumberland Fire Departments

If you need a fire engine in Cumberland, one of four separate fire departments could show up at your house, each responsible for part of the town’s 28 square miles.

Each has its own board of directors, its own chief and its own taxing authority. And right now, they don’t have anything to do with the town of Cumberland itself, which means property owners get two separate tax bills every year.

But that’s about to change.

“We’ve got one town, but we have four fire departments, four chiefs, four tax collectors and four deputies,” said Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee. In 2010, voters overwhelmingly said they wanted to have one merged department, whether it be an independent entity or under the town’s wing.

But there was pushback from some of the departments, chartered out of the General Assembly and used to their independence. This spring, though, the financial troubles of the Central Coventry Fire District, which The Hummel Report 

Cumberland-Hill-station

uncovered more than a year ago, got the General Assembly’s attention. And that helped legislation required for a merger pass late in the session. The bill was introduced and shepherded by Sen. Ryan Pearson.

“(Central Coventry) had a major impact in terms of the way the General Assembly saw the issue,” McKee said. Another deciding factor? Instead of trying to move forward this fall, the merger would begin to take shape in fall 2014 with the election of a seven-member board, decided by all voters in Cumberland. But the department w
McKee estimates the savings will be 10 to 15 percent. While a board will be elected next fall, the actual nuts and bolts of the merger won’t kick in until 2015 when the four districts will have to align contracts and budgets. Another challenge: two of the districts work on a different shift schedule than the other two and they have different tax rates.ill be independent and not come under the town’s control, although McKee envisions one property tax bill coming out of Town Hall.

The other key provision of a merger: the new department will have to live under the state’s budget cap on spending every year, something they don’t have to do now. That was a factor in the near-demise of the Central Coventry Fire District, which we found had a 60 percent budget increase in the first five years after it merged.

“Right now, none of the independent districts in the state of Rhode Island have to abide by the state tax cap,” the mayor said. “Yet when I pass budgets, my public safety, my police is under that tax cap, my rescue, my dispatch, our schools, every municipal department has to abide by the tax cap, yet those four independent districts in town did not have to.”

Brian Jackvony is a Cumberland native who became chief of the Valley Falls department in 2007, after 24 years with the Providence Fire Department. He says there has already been streamlining and savings for the taxpayers.

Jackvony took over chief duties for the North Cumberland department when its chief left in 2011, right after voters said they wanted to see a merger. Jackvony said some administrative and deputy chief positions have already been eliminated, the latter with the cooperation of the union.

“We’ve consolidated on the administrative side, and that is acceptable and it makes sense,” Jackvony said. “Now when you talk about the actual feet on the street, the firefighters who respond to the calls, we want to maintain a certain level of service that the people are already accustomed to. To consolidate and lose a fire truck and not have the fire truck three or four minutes down the road and have to wait eight or nine minutes to get the fire truck is not really a gain in my eyes.”

The combined budget of the four departments is now about $7 million. Rescue service is run by the town and is not part of the fire department’s budgets.

“I don’t want see this become a shell game where we’re going to cut the budgets and we’re going to roll the dice; nothing’s going to happen,” Jackvony said. “Why would someone vote for consolidation when they have a fire truck around the corner from their house, and say ‘We’re going to consolidate and I’m going to wait longer.’?”

And most people agree that what happens in Cumberland could be a template for other cities and towns with multiple fire districts to follow.

“I think the communities have this same sense or the same feeling that our residents did: we’re one town, we should have one chief, one tax rate, one taxing strategy in town,” said McKee.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want to make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.org. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org




Warwick Sewer System Rules Cause Confusion

The 30-year-old raised ranch was a good fit for Greg Chihoski and his wife when they bought it back in 2009. Chihoski had some extra money at the closing, so he paid off a $1,700 assessment for the sewer line that been installed in front of his house just south of Conimicut, even though he wasn’t hooked in. After all, D.E.M. had tested his septic system and said it worked just fine.

Chihoski said he never expected to hear from the Warwick Sewer Authority again once he settled the debt. But a year and a half later he received a letter from the authority saying he had to hook up – and he was facing some serious penalties for not doing so.

“We never had any notice in that year that this was happening,” Chihoski tells The Hummel Report. “When I called about the assessment, no one mentioned that. It was just boom, here’s your violation. You’re in violation of this. Right away it said $1,000 fine and $100 for every 24 hours. So right away it’s like, `Whoa. What happened?’”

Months turned into years and Chihoski said he couldn’t get a straight answer from the WSA or City Hall. Then he heard nothing until a letter arrived June 3 saying his house was moving toward a tax sale in August – just 11 weeks away.

Chihoski panicked and went immediately to the city hall where he said an employee in the tax collector’s office confirmed his house was not on any tax sale list.

“He asked to see the letter. I showed him the letter he told me, ‘Save this for your lawyer.’ He said, ‘This is a threat. They’re trying to threaten you into paying this.’”

Chihoski’s case reflects the confusion we found throughout Warwick about who has to tie into the sewer system, which covers about 70 percent of the city. Many who are hooked into the system want to know why usage rates have increased more than 100 percent in the past six years. Still others want an audit of the sewer authority’s books to see where millions of dollars of bond money have gone over the past two decades. And critics say the sewer authority has been overly aggressive in both hookups and billing.

 

Warwick sewer authority executive director Janine Burke acknowledges usage bills have increased substantially. “There were some major rate increases,” she said. “One of the first jobs I got to do when I got here (five years ago) was increase the sewer usage rate. But it hadn’t been increased in 10 years.”

Burke said she understands why people are upset by the increases, but adds they need to put the rates into perspective. “If you take a look at what a typical resident is paying in comparison to other communities, it’s not that outrageous. It just was extremely low before.”

While most communities in Rhode Island require anyone with a sewer line in front of their house to connect, a special provision in state law exempts Warwick. Residents here don’t have to tie in, unless ownership of the house changes hands. Burke says there are 3,000 households in the city with sewers available that are not hooked in.

So what about Greg Chihoski, who thought his house was going up for tax sale? 

Hummel: I have heard from more than a few people that the WSA has been aggressive, in terms of hookups, fees, all of  that. Is that a fair characterization? 

Burke: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a changed method. 

Hummel: How in the world did that wording ever make it into a letter? 

Burke: This is an unfortunate mistake, you know. I’ll be the first one to tell you. 

Hummel: These are some of the stories that get out in the community of `Boy, you know what? They’re really aggressive there and they want to get as many people hooked up.’ But in my mind, that kind of crosses the line.

Burke did not respond, but nodded in agreement.

“It’s like dealing with the Mafia,” Chihoski said. “It felt like, okay they’ve got some power, they can make the rules. I’m paying my bills, I pay my mortgage, me and my wife work full time; it just feels like you’re almost helpless. Something like this comes along and they threaten to take your house when you’re doing everything else right.”

The day after we interviewed Burke, she sent Chihoski a letter of apology and said he still has to hook into the system, but could apply to have the penalties waived by the board when he does.

Burke told us the authority is trying to do a better job informing people through local realtors about the mandatory hookup after a sale.

And what if Chihoski had know that back in 2009? Would it have been a deal breaker?

“Yeah, it would have been if we were looking at a $3,000 to $4,000 tie-in, we probably would have thought twice.” 

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.org. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.




A Surefire Way to Make Lasting Memories

Summer camp is a great time for kids to get a break from school – and truth be told, from their families. It’s a chance to enjoy swimming, arts and crafts, and nightly campfires.

And while they do all of that and much more at Camp Surefire in West Greenwich, the 80 kids who go there every summer also continually monitor what they eat and test their blood sugar levels throughout the day. That’s because every camper has type 1 diabetes, what used to be called juvenile diabetes. For some of the campers here, it’s all they’ve ever known.

“These kids come in here and they look around and they know that everybody is in the same boat,” said Dr. Gregory Fox, a pediatrician who has been the medical director for 13 of the camp’s 15-year existence. “Nobody is embarrassed about anything. Their meters come out, their insulin shots, they don’t really care. It’s really fantastic.”

They call it Camp Surefire because early on, somebody said the camp was a surefire way to learn about diabetes. The families pay on a sliding scale, with donations and grants helping to subsidize the costs.

It started out as a single weekend with 25 kids at a campsite in Coventry and has since expanded to five days. Three years ago, they moved to URI’s Alton Jones campus in West Greenwich and they now have 80 campers, 25 counselors, a group of URI pharmacy students and a medical team of about a dozen that provides around-the-clock coverage.

“Kids don’t just show up with their backpacks and start for the session,” Dr. Fox said. “They have all the medical supplies. We have medical volunteers to recruit. We have nurses and nutritionists.”

Dr,-Gregory-FoxFor an outsider, it doesn’t take long to see that diabetes is a 24/7 condition that requires a lot of attention.

“Something that you and I take for granted – we eat something, our pancreas does the job, our blood sugar stays in a very, very tight range. If kids with diabetes eat too much, their blood sugar is going to go very, very high and that can make them sick or if they take their insulin and don’t eat enough their blood sugar is going to go very, very low,” Dr. Fox said.

That’s why a good portion of each day revolves around meals. All the carbs are listed, portions carefully measured and everything counted and calculated. Blood glucose testing is built into the schedule four times a day and always available as needed, as it was during a campwide capture-the-flag game on a hot day early in the week.

Many of the campers have been coming here for years, some now moving into leadership positions.

“I love it here because nobody stares at you funny when you’re testing your blood sugar or asking you questions about what’s a pump,” said Isabella Channel, who was a Leader in Training this year. “I feel normal here.”

This year the campers also got a visit from Kris Freeman, an Olympic cross country skier who has diabetes. He talked about not letting it get in the way of anything the kids want to do. The slogan on his shirt said it all: “Diabetes doesn’t go away at camp – it just doesn’t stand in the way.”

Most of the kids here are from Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, but some come from as far away as New York. Dustin Baker grew up in East Greenwich and now lives in Pittsburgh. Baker, the camp’s program director, is one of the few who does not have diabetes.

“And immediately what hit me was the respect I have for them for managing it and doing everything they have to do to keep it under control,” said Baker. “I think a lot of people … don’t think about all the things they have to do at mealtime to keep their blood sugars in check or what they have to do before they go to sleep.”

Dr. Fox says as much as the kids enjoy camp, it is equally important for their parents, many of whom have spent years getting up in the middle of the night to monitor their child’s blood glucose levels. Fox and the medical staff rotate overnight coverage at camp.

Dr. Fox says social media has helped connect the kids after camp ends, providing a support network throughout the school year.

“Part of what we’re looking to do is create relationships, because a lot of times these kids do feel like they’re alone,” Dr. Fox said. “But if they make one friend at camp who they can call when things are not going right or they’ve had a bad day, if they have just that one person who gets it that they can call, then we’ve really done our job.”

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