Rhode Island Spotlight: The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South County

GFWC horsesFrom a horse rescue operation in Saunderstown to the restoration of an historic grist mill in South Kingstown to a rolling library run by volunteers and a home repair program that helps elderly residents stay in their homes — the impact has been deep and wide across the southern part of Rhode Island the past five decades.

These programs and many more are all supported by The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South County, part of a worldwide federation founded in 1890 with a focused mission of improving local communities and the lives of women through volunteer service. Their motto: Live The Volunteer Spirit.

Last year, the South County chapter, which was founded more than 50 years ago, quietly distributed $18,000 in grants to nearly two dozen non-profit organizations, supplemented by hundreds of hours of volunteer work from close to 90 club members.

GFWC Crane“All of our members are required to, and do, give of themselves. So to be a member you have to be willing to roll up the sleeves and help,” said Diana Crane, who joined the club more than 15 years ago and is the chairman of the GROW Hope committee, which decides annually which grants to award.

“The last couple of years we’ve had people applying for triple the amount of money we have,” Crane said. “I have a spreadsheet, and I put on it a brief description of each of the organizations and what they’re asking for. Then we sit down and discuss and barter a bit until we get it down to the number we have to have.”

Locally the club has supported Horseplay, a rescue organization that has taken in dozens of abused, neglected and unwanted horses, letting them live out their lives in Saunderstown. Also receiving support is Neighbors Helping Neighbors, based in Charlestown, which makes repairs for low-income and elderly residents of South County who might not otherwise be able to stay in their homes. Neighbors covers everything, including materials and labor.

GFWC PenoSheryl Peno found the club gives out more than just the organizational grants. Peno, a single mom of three, was working at Brightview Senior Living in Wakefield and trying to earn her bachelor’s degree from URI. She had everything covered except for one crucial item.

“I just wanted a computer and help paying for books,” she said. “And that was huge to me, because I had spent so much time out of the house. My kids were young and trying to help me with laundry and cooking. It was hard for me to help them with their homework while I was trying to get my homework done; if I didn’t have a computer I had to go to the library.”

With help from the club’s scholarship, Peno went on to earn her degree and has worked her way up to being the community sales director at Brightview.

GFWC BabcockOnce a month, two club members meet at the South Kingstown Public Library to volunteer for the Rolling Library program. By the end of the day they will have distributed a month’s worth of reading material to eight largely homebound people. Judy Babcock is one of seven volunteers and has been with the program since it began 15 years ago. “It was a project that the women’s club took on because they were realizing in the communities of Narragansett and South Kingstown that homebound seniors didn’t have access to library services. They came up with the idea of a mobile library,’’ she said.

Librarian Jessica Wilson picks out the books, based on a questionnaire each recipient fills out about reading preferences. Wilson has jumped in on occasion to help with the deliveries. “It’s wonderful to go and visit people with something to talk about that doesn’t have to do with, ‘How are you feeling?’ and, ‘What is your care?’ You just talk with them like a regular person,” she said.

Crane says the feedback she and other club members get is incredible. “When somebody comes up with a smile and says thank you, we never would have been able to fund this program without the women’s club’s help.”

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to Jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org

The Hummel Report: Tax Train

Wickford Junction stationIt may have been the largest number of people ever to visit the Wickford Junction Train Station: That opening day back in 2012 when the US Secretary of Transportation proclaimed the $44 million project a success, even before the first train had officially taken off. Instead it has been an albatross for the state of Rhode Island, a four-story white elephant that never lived up to expectations and was costing taxpayers $800,000 a year just to maintain.

Peter Alviti said when he became Department of Transportation Director two years ago that Wickford Junction was simply costing too much — with the state locked into a nearly half-million-dollar yearly maintenance contract with the man who developed the $25-million garage, Robert Cioe. It might have made sense if more people were using, and paying to park at, the 1,110-car garage.

But they weren’t then and aren’t now.

Wickford Junction AlvitiSo Alviti moved to get out of the contract and have the DOT take over operations at the facility. That decision has come with mixed success and some recent problems at the station. They include the breakdown of all three elevators — two in the lobby and one on the back side of the station. In December all of the elevators were out for a day and in January a day and a half because the state had failed to execute a maintenance contract. And we found the elevators hadn’t been inspected since 2014.

That left handicapped visitors with the option of negotiating a ramp from the parking lot up to the end of the platform or driving up to the second level to come in on the second floor, but not really knowing that if they were unfamiliar with the layout of the station. After a snowstorm last month, the main stairs leading up to the platform were covered in snow when Alviti said a company it contracts with was supposed to have them shoveled.

Wickford Junction stairs“We’ve had some bumps along the way; when we take over a large facility like this there are bound to be those bumps,’’ Alviti said, but claims the state will save $5 million over the next decade, even after paying Cioe $750,000 to get out of the maintenance contract. Part of the savings resulted from a decision to eliminate a nearby park and ride and have RIPTA buses stop at the station, allowing the state to sell the land for $2 million and for riders to park in the garage for free.

Then there are the elevators. “Why are we maintaining and operating three elevators in a building that 200 people a day use?” Alviti asked. “The facility itself was certainly built to accommodate a much larger use than it is currently getting.”

The department decided not to repair a non-functioning elevator in the back of the garage and is considering maintaining just one elevator in the lobby and pointing handicapped people to park on the second level or use the ramp leading to the end of the platform as it did during the recent breakdown. We asked Alviti if the state has given up on ever charging to park in the station’s garage.

Peter Alviti: I don’t see a need, there’s no great amount of revenue we’re going to make from those people.

Jim Hummel: You may not see it, but the original planners’ whole cost structure was based on the assumption that by 2020, 1,100 people a day (will be parking there) and it’s going to offset all of that. That metric seems to have dissolved.

Alviti: How did that plan work out? Not so good.

Alviti says taking over the maintenance is part of a multi-phase process aimed at boosting overall ridership of the MBTA commuter trains that service the station. And he still has confidence the state can make the Wickford train service work.

“The next phase is finding the sweet spot and determining whether the cost of that ride from Wickford into Providence, let’s say, is the prohibitive aspect of it and we’ll be doing things during the next six months that will pressure test the cost sensitivity on a ticket price to determine whether we want to charge zero for it, the $4 we’re charging now or somewhere in between.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.HummelReport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.





The Hummel Report: New Assembly Members

new-asswembly-sworn-inThe first day of a General Assembly session is much like the start of baseball’s spring training. The veterans catch up with each other about how their off-season went and welcome new players who are still getting the lay of the land.

On January 3, 16 new lawmakers were sworn into The Rhode Island General Assembly — four in the Senate and 12 in the House. They come from all walks of life and various political philosophies.

The Hummel Report sat down recently with four of the freshmen to get a sense of why they ran and the issues that are important to them. They include Representatives Julie Casimiro of North Kingstown, Jason Knight of Barrington and Robert Quattrochi of Scituate, and Senator Jeanine Calkin of Warwick.

The new legislators arrive after a bumpy political year in 2016 that saw House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison resign under the cloud of a federal investigation and another top member of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s leadership team embroiled in a residency scandal.

Julie Casimiro: I think now that there’s been a few bumps in the road, everybody knows the public is watching so I think it’s going to be different.

Representative Casimiro, a Democrat, lost a close race two years ago to Republican Doreen Costa. Costa decided in June not to run for a fourth term and Casimiro, who worked in the corporate world for 35 years before taking several jobs in the social services sector, won easily in November against a Republican opponent from Exeter.

Jim Hummel (Motif): What did you hear when you were out on the campaign trail?

Casimiro: Believe it or not, I did not hear anything about truck tolls. That came up maybe twice.

Hummel: Did that surprise you?

Casimiro: Yes. I heard a lot about the legislative grants and the issues around that. People just wanted to know where I stood on things.

new-assembly-knightJason Knight: I think there’s huge potential in Rhode Island because it’s small, it can be nimble, it can be quick and I think a lot of that potential has been wasted over the years. It burns me up. I know that we can do better.

Representative Knight is an attorney from Barrington who defeated 10term incumbent and fellow Democrat Jan Malik in a primary, then cruised to victory in the general election. Knight said gun-control motivated him to run — and Malik had taken contributions from the NRA — but it goes far beyond that one issue.

Knight: I want to see Rhode Island thrive and succeed and I think that requires effort on a number of fronts. I think building a successful state is like tending to a garden; it’s not just air and it’s not sunlight or water or soil, it’s all of them put together. It’s good economic policy, it’s good criminal justice policy, it’s policies that support the middle class and try to expand the middle class. It’s education, for sure, and it’s competing with the other New England states to get our share of the economic pie that’s available.

new-assembly-quattrocchiRobert Quattrocchi: Basically I got fed up to a point where I wanted to become involved.

Representative Quattrocchi, a small business owner from Scituate, ran an unsuccessful race in 2014 against Democrat Representative Michael Marcello, who had served three terms. Quattrocchi, who ran two years ago as an independent, became a Republican this year and edged out Marcello in November.

He says he first started coming to the State House, upset by the failed 38 Studios deal, and more recently has been disturbed by the Raimondo administration’s  handling of the botched UHIP social services computer rollout.

Quattrocchi: You see, I come from a faraway land and it’s called the real world. You know, I’ve been self-employed most of my life, I’ve always had to work hard to get ahead. It’s a faraway place from the glass walls and bubble of government and politics. Where I come from, people get fired for incompetence or certainly wasting money. These are the things that need to happen. There needs to be accountability for this.

new-assembly-calkinJeanine Calkin: Some people asked me to run and I took it really seriously and considered it. I only did it because I thought I could make a difference.

Jeanine Calkin, who has an IT background, was an organizer for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Rhode Island. What she heard walking door-to-door in her Warwick District prompted her to challenge Democrat William Walaska, who had been in the state Senate since 1994. Calkin won a tight race.

Calkin: We didn’t necessarily know what we were up against. We just said we’re going to work as hard as we possibly can and get our message out there. And meet as many people as we could. And that’s where we went. We focused on the issues.

Casimiro: I think legislative grants need to be vetted properly. Because there are some great organizations out there doing great work who really need the money. I think they should be vetted better.

Hummel: Put them in the budget process?

Casimiro: That could do it.

Knight: People were frustrated with this building and they had the sense that this building was disconnected from the real problems that Rhode Island faces in some respect, that there were certainly some people who thought everyone who comes up here is coming up to play the game, to try and rub a few shoulders, rub a few elbows and get something out of it for them. People found out I was a lawyer and lawyers have a bad reputation up here and they said, “Are you going up there to do the right thing or get a job after you’re done?”

Hummel: Or enhance your practice.

Knight: Or enhance my practice. And I spent a lot of time saying, “This is my community service project. I’m going up because I love Rhode Island and I love what we have here and I want to try and make it better and that’s it.”

Quattrocchi: A lot of people are talking about split families, sending kids off to other states for jobs and such. I have a 23-year-old and I deal with the same thing.

Hummel: Trying to get a job here.

Quattrocchi: She’s in school now, but I advise her that maybe she may have to go elsewhere to find a job.

Calkin is committed to working toward a significantly higher minimum wage for Rhode Islanders, something that may be a tough sell with the leadership.

Calkin: I’d love to see a living wage. Right now we have $9.60 minimum wage, but that’s very difficult. One of the things that really struck a lot of people I talked to was how they’re struggling every day trying to make a life for themselves, or they have kids that out of college that have a huge amount of debt but they can only get lower-paying jobs, so I’d love to see a $15 minimum wage.

Hummel: You’ve heard the alternate argument that that could potentially hurt small business. What do you say to that?

Calkin: I disagree. I think if you give people at the lowest incomes more money to spend, they put it right back  into local business.

Hummel: Did anything surprise you at orientation?

Casimiro: Yes. When we were walked through the legislative process in a perfect world, and we all know the perfect world doesn’t exist, so when we walked through the legislative process I was like, “Wow, it’s a big process.” It’s cumbersome even in a perfect world. So I’m hoping I can get my arms around that rather quickly, so I can be effective up here.

Several talked about walking into their respective chambers for the first time after the election.

Quattrocchi: I was in awe. A few times I looked around just to take it in so that moment didn’t pass me by. It’s a beautiful place — look at this — it’s historic and I’m part of it now.

Hummel: When you walked in for that first time, what did you think?

Calkin: It’s a little overwhelming in that I have this humongous opportunity and this chance to make a difference, which is amazing, and I’m very honored and very lucky to be able to do that.

And they are all committed to making a difference in whatever way they can — even as freshmen lawmakers.

Knight: I got a lot of, “Why in the God’s name would go up there and want to do this job?” And my answer always was, “Are we just going to give up, throw up our hands and say it doesn’t work?” It’s too easier to just say, “Uh, it doesn’t work, it’ll never change.” I told my kids, “I can’t complain about it if I’m not going to do something about it.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.HummelReport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.

The Hummel Report: A Metal Muddle

providence-waterfront-buildingThe four-story brick building has been a fixture between Allens Avenue and the Providence waterfront since 1899. Patrick Conley bought the turn-of-the-century building more than a decade ago, and later envisioned Conley’s Wharf as part of a plan to transform the north end of the waterfront into a mixed use area with restaurants, hotels and residences.

Conley’s company, Providence Piers, invested $7 million to transform the building, including a spacious fourth-floor meeting room overlooking the Providence River.

providence-waterfront-plaqueWhen it was finished, the building, which received state and federal tax credits, went on the National Register of Historic Places and began to attract tenants. But in late 2011, Sims Metal Management bought land adjacent to Conley’s property and began stockpiling scrap metal.

It’s a familiar sight to anyone travelling on Route 95 north the past five years: a scrap heap that sometimes rises as high as the four-story building next to it.

“They actually closed (on the sale) and dumped their scrap right on the land itself, without even putting down a concrete pad, which they’ve done since,” Conley said.”They just dumped the scrap in October, November of 2011 and they built the scrap pile initially up to a height of almost 80 feet. Millions of tons of scrap.”

providence-waterfront-crackAnd that, Conley said, had an immediate effect on his building. “All of the sudden cracks started to appear throughout those additions, totaling 8,000 or 9,000 square feet, to the point where they had to be vacated because they were unsafe. Because that area could collapse at any minute because the cracks are an inch or two wide and getting wider all of the time.”

Providence Piers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Providence, seeking injunctions to stop Sims, all of which were denied. Sims maintains that it is not responsible for any of the damage and that Conley’s building was settling anyway. And the company’s attorney refused to speak with us about the case.

providence-waterfront-conleyThe situation has also caused an exodus at 200 Allens Avenue. “And because of the arrival of Sims, the damages that were caused, particularly the lower level of the building where many of the artists’ studios were located, toxic emissions, particulate matter from the scrap pile, they decided not to renew their lease,” Conley said. “So we lost our main tenant. And then some of the other tenants moved out as well.”

Conley says Rhode Island’s Departments of Transportation and Environmental Management have both dropped the ball. DOT, he says, is ignoring a law that regulates junkyards within 1,000 feet of a federal highway, such as Route 95.

“We were able to preserve it, make it economically viable and place it on the National Register,” Conley said. “So it’s an historic site. And yet, the state has shown no interest whatsoever in protecting[it]. If you went up to Benefit Street or somewhere else and started trashing an historic property, there’d be an outrage. This is an historic property, no one cares.’’

providence-waterfront-4th-floorConley says he’s simply asking for his day in court, but understands why the defendants don’t want to see the case go to a jury. “There will be a verdict in our favor for damages. They’ve caused damages — it’s incontrovertible that the building has been damaged in some way and to some amount by the activities of Sims. It will be up to a jury, guided by the judge, of course, to make a determination of the extent of the damages. We certainly would want to bring the jury over for a view, for a visit, and walk them through that building to make their own decision as to whether these millions of tons of steel within 100 feet of this building could have caused the damages that they will witness.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to HummelReport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.

The Hummel Report: An Investment Is in the Sewer

nk-sewers-businessesThe proposal was aimed at helping businesses in North Kingstown. And in 2009, voters there approved it, giving the green light to a $10 million bond issue for sewer installation along Post Road — part of a larger project that will eventually include another section of Post Road to the north and The Wickford Business District farther south.

“I thought it would be a good thing for Post Road. Post Road’s been dying, for years and years and years,’’ said Gordon Kilday Jr., whose family has owned Quonset Auto Body for decades. His father moved to their current location in 2001 when the state took their property by eminent domain in the late 1990s to expand Route 403 into Quonset.

nk-sewers-kildayThe Kildays had to scramble to find land and wound up on a lot that is only a couple of hundred feet wide, but 2000 feet in from Post Road. The property in the back, which we couldn’t even get to, and drops off 30-40 feet into a swamp, making it virtually unusable.

“They call them pencil lots,” he said. “My lot is a half mile long. We didn’t want all the property, but it was owned by the farmer who owned this land, so we had to buy the whole piece of property, then have it rezoned.’’

And that would come back to haunt Kilday when the town assessed his lot for sewers. In 2014 he received a bill for more than half a million dollars — before even hooking up to the system. That’s  because North Kingstown — unlike any of the surrounding communities in Rhode Island — calculated the assessment of commercial property based on total square footage, instead of frontage along Post Road.

Kilday is not alone.

John Becker moved to North Kingstown three years ago and was looking for property that would generate some income. So he bought two multi-family units just north of Quonset Auto Body. Same kind of lot: 200 feet wide and half a mile deep, for a total of nearly 11 mostly wooded acres of land. Becker’s sewer assessment came in at $321,000. His land for tax purposes is valued at $286,000.

nk-sewers-woods“It’s just a shocking amount of money,’’ Becker said. “It’s insane. You’re never going to get that from the land. The trees don’t pay any income. Squirrels don’t pay me any rents.  And the odds of making money on this parcel are really slim.’’

Becker, Kilday and the owner of the Pagoda Inn, between them, have hired an attorney to appeal. But this is new territory for the town: The vast majority of North Kingstown has no sewers, so the town council is going to act as the appeals board, the first time it has had to do so.

The town so far has billed Kilday $60,000, but pushed off the payment date until next year.

Council President Kerry McKay tells The Hummel Report he is hesitant to speak in detail publicly about the situation because he and his fellow council members will ultimately decide the appeal sometime this fall.

The state legislation authorizing the bond contained wording that says, in part: “Such assessments shall be just and equitable and shall be based upon frontage or area within a specified reasonable distance from the street … or other equitable method … as may be determined by the town council.’’

nk-sewers-ledgeIt also says the council can make adjustments. Becker said just he’s looking for a reasonable assessment. “I mean I understand it costs money to build sewers and I understand it’s not cheap, but the way things are working right now they’re really unfairly penalizing these massive lots that are not that useful.’’

Kilday told us the last thing he wanted to do was have to go public with his situation. “I fly under the radar. I don’t like to make waves. I don’t like to fight with people. I like to come to work and do my job and I like to go home and enjoy my family. So I didn’t want to go in front of a camera. I didn’t want to write a letter to the editor. But I’ve been backed into a corner — I don’t have any choice. Because I don’t know what else to do.’’

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.HummelReport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.

The Hummel Report: Wind in West Warwick

wind-nacelle-closeupIt was not a job for anybody with a fear of heights. More than 400 feet up, workers headed into the homestretch assembling a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine in western Coventry. A crane operator on the ground and a supervisor at the top worked together to maneuver the blades into place. Each blade weighs nine tons and measures 134 feet. The fit has to be exact.

Last month, three turbines began providing all of the electricity the town of West Warwick will need to power its municipal buildings. The town’s taxpayers last year authorized borrowing $18 million to buy the three turbines.

Wind Energy Development and its owner Mark DePasquale is building a 10-turbine wind farm in Coventry. DePasquale also put up a replacement turbine at the site in Portsmouth where failed equipment sat idle for years. He’ll soon begin selling electricity to the town.

wind-nacelleThe Narragansett Bay Commission, which in 2012 put up three of its own turbines on the Providence waterfront, purchased another three in Coventry from Wind Energy Development, putting the Bay Commission well toward its goal of using entirely renewable energy for the agency’s power needs.

We first reported on the Coventry project earlier this year, when the company was laying the foundations for what would eventually be last month’s finished product.

It  hasn’t been the smoothest road for DePasquale — he faced resistance from National Grid and rode out numerous delays to get to where he is today. Critics doubted whether DePasquale could succeed at a land-based project this size, the first of its kind and scope in Rhode Island.

wind-national-grid“We needed to prove to National Grid that we can work with them and create a system,” DePasquale said. “We sited the turbines responsibly and we had to show people that the economics do work and it’s a safe way to manufacture electric. We’re harvesting wind and making electric.”

DePasquale has been a quick study on wind energy. He put up his first turbine  next to his own house in North Kingstown in 2010. He has since visited other wind farms and traveled to Germany where the manufacturer, Vensys, is based.

Germany is where a shipment came from when it arrived in June at Quonset Point. The major components of 11 turbines came by ship. Each piece was unloaded and later staged in another part of the park, then moved, in the middle of the night, out to Coventry. We watched throughout the summer the delicate process of attaching blades to the nacelle that houses them. The first turbine took nearly two days to assemble. After that the construction moved more quickly.

wind-quonset“Once you get a real vision of where to put the components, where to set, what’s the next move, it’s complicated, it’s technical, but it’s fairly routine,” DePasquale said. “After you get the first one, everything follows the same.”

The final stage of construction began with the crews fastening straps on the blades that allowed the crane to hoist the assembly to its final position.

“Probably the hardest part of the project is getting the blades parallel with the tower,” DePasquale said. “The team’s very skilled, the team in the air is skilled, the crane operator has to be very precise because you have men inside. What’s difficult is you have over 150 studs, which are screws — let’s call them — that have to line up with the holes exactly. So when you lift it off the ground, you have to pitch the turbines a little bit to line it all up.”

After the turbines went up there were six weeks of fine tuning. Ironically, before the turbines can generate power that will go back into the system, National Grid has to energize the equipment to turn it on initially. That fires up the computers and allows the blades to be tested.

After 500 hours, crews will shut the turbines down temporarily and go in to check the components — literally the nuts and bolts.

DePasquale says he would like to see standard guidelines for wind projects. The head of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources tells The Hummel Report her office hopes to have those guidelines out by the end of the year.

“Do we want a farm with 100 acres of solar panels on it when I can produce the same energy with three turbines? You know those are the things they need to decide. It’s uncharted waters (for the state). I think they’re following and watching and I think everybody wanted to see what happened. And I think the jury’s out right now and we’ve got to see what happens.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to HummelReport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.

Rhode Island Spotlight: Bristol Art Museum on Main

BAM signDowntown Bristol is about as close to Main Street USA as you’ll ever get. And for two centuries Linden Place has been the centerpiece of grandeur and history in the heart of Hope Street.

But it is the building on a side street adjacent to Linden Place that is beginning to draw Bristolians and out-of-town visitors alike: Three years ago the Bristol Art Museum got its own permanent space from Linden Place and is gradually growing into more than a museum.

“I think our interest now is not so much exhibits, but reaching out to the community,” said Janice Antinucci, who grew up in Bristol. She returns here every summer and is an artist herself. And she sits on the museum’s board of directors. “This is called the Bristol Art Museum. I wanted to see it become something larger than that. We’re becoming more of a cultural arts center.”

For 50 years the museum borrowed the ballroom next door to the main Linden Place building to host art exhibits.

Patricia Woods, whose father helped found the museum in 1963, is also on the board. She and her husband came back to Bristol full-time in 2007 after years of living in New York. In 2008, the museum got an opportunity to take over the old barn behind Linden Place that had largely been used for storage and housed the Linden Place staff back in the day. The first phase of renovations began in 2011 and the gallery opened in late 2013.

BAM beforeThose who saw the before have an appreciation for what the museum has evolved into — a main gallery where rotating exhibits are on display. A key to the building’s renovation was getting permission to break through the wall on Wardwell Street and create a main entrance that now has a mahogany door leading right into the first-floor gallery.

BAM watercolorUpstairs we found a watercolor class being taught one day, and group reading passages from Shakespeare another day. Across the hall, artist Joanne Murrman rents her own studio to paint and teach art lessons. “I saw the barn when it was just raw space, thought it was a very difficult job to do in 2008 and they did it,” Murrman said. “And so I was first on the list to get space.”

BAM artMurrman moved to Bristol eight years ago — in part because she’s a sailor — but also for the arts community, not only in Bristol but in Rhode Island as a whole. “It’s a wonderful state that is supportive of the arts and I think embraces the arts — more so than where I lived in Massachusetts. And I was in the Boston area.”

She notes that Rhode Island does not tax the sale of artwork and she can get studio space for a reasonable price.

The museum holds a periodic Art Al Fresco on the fence outside, giving greater public visibility to various artists’ works. And the museum has rotating exhibits at the public library across the street, another way to increase visibility in the community. “Moving it into this building, changing this facility and updating it, and creating its own authenticity really made it its own place,” Murrman said.

The museum recently got a grant to bring veterans in for a photo shoot. Photographer Arthur Rainville did seven separate shoots, asking each of the participants to recall his or her best day and worst day in the military and to salute at the end. The finished montage of each is a powerful collection of history, past and present.

“The way I think of this museum is it’s small — 4,000 -square-feet — but it has large ambitions,” Patricia Woods said. “My vision for the next few years is that finally we’re in a position where we can offer art classes and programs. I’m not an artist, I’m more interested in having quality programs that are art-related and touch more in the humanities. Linden Place is the crown jewel, so to speak, of the town of Bristol. It’s right on the main street, it’s beautiful, you see it at night and it’s great. But we like to think that we’re the invisible gem.”

A gem that’s gaining visibility with a place to now call its own.

If you want to see the video version of this story go to RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org

Rhode Island Spotlight: Keeping People WARM

WARM signIt is the food, of course, that has drawn in tens of thousands of people over the past three decades. That and a bed, for those who had nowhere else to go. In 1987 Westerly Area Rest Meals — or WARM — began as a volunteer effort by a coalition of area churches. It has evolved into so much more, and this year will serve 2,300 people — primarily in Westerly, but also in surrounding communities in Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut.

WARM RussWARM’s executive director Russ Partridge has overseen a dramatic transformation of the organization since he arrived in 2008, including the construction of a brand new building three years ago, as well as some expansion and revitalization of existing programs. The new building includes a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, with storage areas adjacent to it.

“We had a vision of a facility where people could come and be treated with our values of compassion, hope and dignity, and with accountability in the time that they’re here,’’ Partridge said. It looked a lot different even a decade ago. The administrative offices were housed in a bakery building and the shelter in what used to be a bar back in the day. WARM started out as a soup kitchen and an emergency shelter.

WARM mealThis year the center will serve 35,000 meals — lunch and dinner seven days a week — and on any given night will house 80 people across the area in emergency, transitional and permanent housing. Like many social service agencies WARM is catering as much to the working poor as it is to the homeless.

“And that’s one of the reasons we run the types of programs that we do,” Partridge said. “It’s really meant to help people to meet or supplement their budget. If I can come to the WARM Center with my partner or with my children and be able to get a meal, I can use my financial resources to pay my utilities or pay my rent.’’

Partridge spent 10 years moving up the ladder at Crossroads in Providence, but eight years ago was ready for a change. He was willing to take on a case manager’s position at WARM that would mean a huge pay cut, but the board saw the possibility early on for a transition of leadership.

WARM centerRev. Jean Barry, who in 1990 became WARM’s first executive director, worked with, then handed over the reins to Russ in 2012, just as construction on the building that ultimately would bear her name was getting underway. Neighbors who once objected to having a shelter in their midst now look favorably at a state-of-the-art facility that stands out on Spruce Street.

Tarni Maggs grew up in the Ashaway section of neighboring Hopkinton, then later Westerly. When her children were grown she returned to an alcohol and drug habit she’d had before she became a mom. “I lost my apartment just up the road and I made a call and they said, We can come get you right now.’ And I was like: Oh my God.”

She doesn’t mince words: the WARM Center saved her life — literally. She now works as a treatment assistant at AdCare in North Kingstown and is constantly talking up the WARM Center. “Some people have nowhere to go, especially women; it’s really, really hard for a woman to get sober. And I’ll talk to these people sometimes and I’ll say ‘You need to call WARM. And you can tell them Tarni said to call.'”

WARM bag lunchPartridge says the community has been tremendously supportive — volunteers will make more than 4,000 bag lunches for kids in area summer camps over the course of the season. “In coming here I was — and continue to be — blown away by the generosity that exists in the community, not only financially but also in the volunteers and the support that the organization gets,” he said. “We see a lot of sadness. We see people who have experienced a lot of trauma. But on the other side we get to see some of our successes — the fact we came to this beautiful property and built a facility that really represents our feeling toward our clientele.’’

Partridge adds that it’s been a great partnership with the community and public officials in Westerly and the surrounding towns.

WARM attire“The nice thing we’ve been able to do is educate folks about poverty and about homelessness and I think they recognize that if WARM and other social service agencies in this area were not here they would have a serious problem with poverty.”

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.

The Hummel Report: Bullying in Warwick’s Norwood Elementary

For half a century Norwood Elementary has been a fixture for families in the northern end of Warwick. And it’s where Jessica Moone has spent countless hours over the past eight years volunteering while her two daughters went through the school: vice president of the PTA, room parent — you name it, she did it.

All of that changed for Guy and Jessica Moone at the end of March when their younger daughter came home from her 4th-grade class with something to tell her parents.

The Moones say a boy with special needs grabbed their daughter’s buttocks and also made sexually explicit comments to her. And it wasn’t the first time. Jessica recalled a conversation she had two years ago. “In second grade, the teacher asked me if she could speak to me, because the lunch aid heard that particular student saying to my daughter: ‘Do you know what a penis is? Would you like to see my penis?'”

Warwick school JessicaJessica Moone says the boy and her daughter were in different classes last year without incident,  but problems began again this past academic year. She says she heard about the latest incident from their daughter, and immediately contacted the principal, John Gannon.

“The only information he would be able to give me over the phone was that she was touched,” she said. “He wouldn’t be able to say where, he wouldn’t be able to say by who. He wouldn’t be able to say anything except she was touched at recess and I have a report of it.”

State law protects the confidentiality of students and requires the public school system to educate all students regardless of their special needs. And that means there were many answers we could not get from the School Department about the Moones’ situation.

Warwick school safety planWe do know that after the March 31 incident, Principal Gannon drafted a detailed safety plan to keep the two students apart after a meeting at the school the next day that included Lynn Dambruch, the director of elementary education for the department.

Guy Moone: Miss Dambruch assured us there’ll be severe consequences; she went on about punishments and we talked about the other children who were involved, who had been involved months prior.

The Moones say even with the safety plan there was another incident at a school assembly.

That’s when Guy Moone went into action by going to Kent County Family Court to take out a temporary restraining order against the boy and calling Principal Gannon, Superintendent Philip Thornton and Lynn Dambruch, head of elementary education for the district.

Guy Moone: They apologized. They tell me they have daughters. It’s pretty much all I got.

Warwick school signJessica Moone: They’ll speak to the teachers to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But at that point it was too late, she didn’t want to go back to school anymore. She was scared to death to go back to school.

So the Moones, after eight years invested in Norwood, asked for a transfer to Holliman Elementary, a mile away on the other side of Post Road. The department immediately granted the request. Superintendent Thornton tells The Hummel Report that while he personally did not conduct the investigation, which includes a statement from the Moones’ daughter and others at Norwood Elementary, he agrees with and supports Dambruch’s findings. And that he couldn’t give us any more details.

The Moones say even if you take the special needs and sexual aspect of the incidents out of consideration, the behavior is clearly bullying.

“My daughter is afraid to go to school. How much more bullying can it get?” Jessica Moone said. “Intimidation is part of bullying and she was absolutely intimidated. She was afraid of what else may happened to her.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

Rhode Island Spotlight: Keeping Kids Tobacco-Free

Tobacco WaltersIf you think you’ve heard everything about the dangers of smoking, just sit in on Jessica Walters’ class for half an hour and you might be surprised.

Walters, who teachers 6th grade at the Woodlawn Regional Catholic School in Pawtucket, is using a new nationwide program called “Get Smart About Tobacco,” developed by Scholastic, the global publishing company, in partnership with the CVS Health Foundation right here in Rhode Island.

“I’ll take anything that gets kids to stay away from cigarettes,” Walters said in an interview last month. She has taught at Woodlawn the past seven years and said the curriculum, which included an art project, taught her some things she didn’t know before about smoking.

“They really latched into the other science behind it — the second-hand and third-hand smoking — which was new information for me,” she said. “I had never heard about third-hand smoking. And at first I didn’t quite believe it, but then I did my own research and it’s a problem. It’s that lingering cigarette smoke, the lingering chemicals in the air or in fibers. It can cause major problems.”

Veronica Procopio, the principal at Woodlawn, heard about the program in an email from Scholastic, and was intrigued that the CVS Foundation was helping support it, especially since the company made national news two years ago for pulling all tobacco products from its stores.

Tobacco classroom“(Woodlawn is) an inner-city school. I knew what the non-smoking policy was at CVS and how staunchly they backed the no smoking policy and it seemed to speak to me,” she said. “And so that’s why I passed it along to the teachers to get involved with the students.”

This past spring the students learned about everything from the science of smoking to slick advertising campaigns by tobacco companies and Walters told them about the physical effects of being a smoker.

“The majority of them are totally anti-smoking,’’ Walters said. “Many of them know people who smoke and they don’t like it, especially the kids who are very concerned about their appearance and their image. They really hooked into the parts of the program that explained how it could affect your skin, it could affect your hair and it could affect the way that you smell.’’

And that’s what stood out to Victoria Adegboyeda. “(Miss Walters) talked about how it affects every single body part. It could make the tongue swollen, make your lungs black, it makes your teeth turn yellow, it makes your hair get thinner. You don’t want that.”

Procopio added: “In speaking with the children I was surprised at how many knew 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds who are currently smoking. So it’s important for us to speak to them, people they trust, people they spend their days with — not their parents necessarily — to tell them that this isn’t a good healthy thing. And these kids are not to be admired for doing something that you would think maybe is cool.’’

Tobacco poster addThe students also created individual posters as part of a national contest. Scholastic notified the school last month that one of Miss Walters’ students was a national runner-up for this poster. The award carries a $200 VISA card for the student and $50 for his teacher.

Walters said, “He was a little shell-shocked at first, then he was really, really excited that he won. He really enjoys art so it was a nice validation for him.”

Walters says electronic cigarettes — or e-cigarettes — are the latest trend and catching on quickly with youngsters. The Scholastic curriculum hit it head on. “E-cigarettes were a major component. There was a reading selection that went with it and e-cigarettes figured very heavily in that, which was great because it really demystified and deglamorized the electronic cigarettes.’’

Teachers and students also learned that with all of the challenges facing Rhode Island, the state is actually leading the country when it comes to the anti-smoking message to its youth.

“We have an 8% percent youth smoking rate, significantly better than the national percentage, which is great to see,” Walters said. “Again, it validates that what we’re doing in Rhode Island is working, to keep kids away from tobacco.”

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org