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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

 

 




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.”

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

 




The Hummel Report Mid-Year Update

The Hummel ReportAs we reach the mid-point of 2013, The Hummel Report has significant developments on investigations since the beginning of the year.

The Tax Man Calleth – Under the category of “Be careful what you ask for,” now-former Somerset Selectman Arastou Mahjoory challenged the town to speed up a revaluation that has been taking place the past year.

“The Board of Assessors needs to get their valuation people out there quicker. If they increase the assessment, no problem,” he said in a May interview with The Hummel Report.

We raised questions about the legality of a 1,500-square-foot in-law apartment on his property assessed at only $17,000.

Mahjoory said the former garage had electricity and water when he moved in at 497 Chace Street, even though relatives of the previous owner contradicted his story. We found no permits at town hall to convert the space into living quarters.

In repeated interviews with us over several weeks, Mahjoory challenged the town to come look at the property, but the town’s assessor tells The Hummel Report that when she arrived he refused to let her inside, saying his mother-in-law had a heart attack. The town increased the assessment anyway and last week sent him a supplemental tax bill for $1,000 that is due later this month. That’s in addition to the $4,200 he pays now for a total bill of $5,200 going forward.

Mahjoory, who was up for re-election to the Board of Selectman, lost his seat four days after our story ran. The margin was just 83 votes.

Wrong Way – In February we reported on a blocked right-of-way to the water in East Providence. The homeowner insisted she had an agreement with the city to put a fence in front of the path and threatened to sue us over our story. Last month the city told her to take it down.

Retired Providence police officer Tabitha Glavin put a fence across the city right-of-way shortly after moving to 61 White Avenue in Riverside in 2009. We interviewed two neighbors who wanted to know why years had gone by and the city had not forced Glavin to remove the fence.

The day after our story ran, Glavin’s attorney threatened to sue us – and the neighbors we interviewed – saying we had “false and misleading information” in our report, adding, “The matter that you reported has been resolved with the City of East Providence.” But she never provided us any documentation about an agreement or that the city council had approved it. The attorney maintains the city has not produced any evidence that East Providence owns the land.

The Hummel Report has obtained documents issued earlier this month by the city’s director of public works and harbormaster, who ordered Glavin to take down the fence by July 8. But her attorney went to court to block the city and a judge will hear the case later this month.

An Eye on the Water – The Bristol Town Council last month chose a new harbormaster, surprising many in town when it bypassed the in-house candidate for the job.

We reported that the former harbormaster, Joe Cabral, retired last fall under pressure after town officials discovered hundreds of calls had gone unanswered at his office last summer. Cabral’s son-in-law, Matt Calouro, who served as the assistant harbormaster, applied to replace Cabral, but lost out to Greg Marsili, head of the Coast Guard station in Bristol. Marsili officially took over in late June.

Calouro initially agreed to stay on until Marsili arrived, but then told Town Administrator Antonio Teixeira he was going out for medical reasons.

Meanwhile, Mike Marshall, a resident who has been pushing for answers about the harbormaster’s office, has asked for a forensic audit of the department. Teixeira told The Hummel Report this week he decided to do a full forensic audit on a department that handles hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

All Fired Up – Hundreds of people turned out to a meeting in Exeter in March, upset by the council’s decision to try to get the process for obtaining a gun permit shifted from local control to the state. Council members who supported the proposal are now facing a recall effort.

Exeter is the only community in Rhode Island without a police department, which means the issuance of gun permits falls to the town clerk and town sergeant. Four members of the council voted to ask the local legislative delegation to put in a bill to have that responsibility shifted to the attorney general.

Gun rights activists packed a school cafeteria to voice their displeasure before and after the vote.

Exeter resident Lance Edwards said that night he would work to recall the four council members, and last month was true to his word by filing a petition for a recall at Town Hall. The town clerk tells The Hummel Report the group has 120 days to get 496 signatures. If they are successful, the recall election would be held within 60 days.

hummelPot for Pain – And finally, the state’s second marijuana distribution center opened in Portsmouth at the beginning of June. And so far, the owners report doing a robust business.

We got a tour of the Greenleaf Compassion Center a month before it opened, when the building on West Main Road was still undergoing renovations. It officially opened at the beginning of June. Its co-owner, Dr. Seth Bock, tells us that 125 cardholders have already come in to purchase marijuana. He projects 300 by the end of the year.

 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.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




The Power of a Handshake

The first thing you notice on a visit to the San Miguel School is the handshake. The firm, look-you-in-the-eye-welcome-to-our-house handshake. Everybody gets in on the action: the kids, the teachers and the administrators.

San Miguel, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, was founded in 1993 by Brother Lawrence Goyette – a Lasallian Christian Brother who began with a vision, $50,000 in the bank and a lot of prayer.

Goyette, who still serves as executive director, opened in donated space at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in South Providence with two volunteer teachers and 15 boys. A career educator in Providence and New York, he originally planned for the school to be co-ed.

“As I met with educators and church people and community leaders and politicians, the common denominator was so many people said, ‘You really might want to consider starting this school and just working with boys, because there are some really serious issues in Providence right now with boys joining gangs and we’re losing a lot of kids,'” he said.grad

So began San Miguel, a private, independent faith-based (but non-sectarian) school for five dozen boys from low-income families. It has grown to an annual budget now of $1.2 million and three years ago moved to the former St. Ann’s school on Branch Avenue. The boys – 16 in each class, grades 5 through 8 – pay tuition on a sliding scale. But tuition only accounts for about 5 percent of the budget. The rest comes from donations and grants.

By design, the kids are a mix of good and struggling students – boys who are model kids and others who have behavioral problems.

Karen Clements became a teacher at San Miguel six years ago. A graduate of LaSalle Academy, she had planned to stay in Philadelphia after graduating from Temple University. But that all changed when a spot opened up for a 5th-grade teacher and she came for a visit. Why?

“It was the fact that when you walk in the door, every single student comes up, looks you in the eye and shakes your hand,” Clements said. “And you join together as a whole school every morning of every day. And the community feeling of it – the fact that we’re like family here.”

The morning meeting is an integral part of the school day and because of the school’s size, it is an intimate gathering. Every day at 8:20 am, the student body and faculty gather in the school’s cafeteria to talk about things like the word of the week, to share announcements or to reflect on what’s going on in their lives.

“And you’ll end up sometimes with a 12-year-old who gets up and bares his soul,” said Goyette. “He talks about his experience at San Miguel right at that moment, warts and all, and all the kids sit there and listen, and then some of them will even have words of advice at the end. What 12-year old kids will do that?”

And what about that handshake? It has, in many ways, become San Miguel’s signature.

Goyette: One of the things that I’ve noticed over two or three years is  when kids come in in the morning, I’ll shake each kid’s hand, every teacher in the lobby will extend a hand and say something that’s simple like, “How are you today?” The boys will shake your hand, look you in the eye and say, “I’m doing well. How are you?” That’s a huge thing with a 12-year-old boy.

Hummel: And can I tell you I’m impressed that it’s not the wet noodle handshake. You’ve got to have a nice firm one and look the other person right in the eye.

Goyette: And the eye contact is important.

For the first time, the 8th-grade graduation was held last month in the school’s gymnasium. It is the last class that went to the old school in South Providence as 5th-graders, ending one chapter of the school’s two-decade history. Most will go to private high schools like LaSalle and St. Ray’s next year, sad to leave the nurturing environment they’ve enjoyed, but excited about new opportunities. During the ceremony, Goyette spoke personally, and at length, about each of the 16 new graduates.

Mike Garcia, one of the graduates, reflected on changes he sees in himself that took place over the past four years. “Being a lot more respectful, being a lot more helpful, being a well-rounded person. That’s mostly what they teach us here – to be respectful, to be responsible and to do the right thing when adults aren’t looking and when they are.”

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

Editor’s note: The Hummel Report now has a monthly feature called The Hummel Spotlight, focusing on people and organizations making a difference in the community.




The Next Stop Remains to Be Seen

Right on schedule, the 7:45 am MBTA commuter train arrives at Wickford Junction, where more than two dozen passengers hop on for the ride north. Some are heading to Warwick or Providence, others all the way up to Boston.

mbtaThe rail service began with great fanfare a year ago, the culmination of more than a decade of planning and a $44 million investment by taxpayers to build the station and an adjacent four-story 1,100 car parking garage. The garage itself accounted for $25 million of the total cost.

A year later, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority-run service is attracting about 200 daily riders, most going to Boston. But just 80 people a day are paying the $4 parking rate needed to help offset a half a million dollar annual bill to maintain the mammoth garage. The state needs 500 vehicles parking and paying daily to break even.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) Director Michael Lewis says the commuter rail service is very much a work-in-progress, but he is satisfied so far with the numbers the trains are drawing most weekdays. There is no weekend service.

“The total numbers using it are less than we had hoped in the early years. We always knew this was going to take time and I’m not talking months,” Lewis told The Hummel Report. “This is years to have the ridership grow to what predications were when the project was planned.”

Those predictions are that 1,500 passengers will ride daily out of Wickford Junction within seven years, and three-quarters of them will pay to park.

“With the employment growth expected in the Providence area and in the state over time, the 2020 projections are that the parking garage will be virtually full,” he said.

It is a long way off from what we saw at the garage last month. One day there was a total of 71 cars on the first and second levels. The third level and the fourth, which is an outside deck, were totally empty.

Lewis says Wickford Junction is where the Providence train station was with the MBTA commuter rail to Boston when it first started in the late ’80s, and he’s confident one day it will be where the Providence service is now – one of the most popular services on the line.

It is the taxpayers, though, who will have to pick up the tab until then.

That’s because the state has a contract with a private company to maintain the garage. Lewis says the price is about $45,000 a month, more than half a million dollars per year. It is a beautifully landscaped facility, with extensive shrubbery, lush grass, and flowers planted around the garage. The interior of the garage is immaculate and looks much the way it did a year ago when it first opened. Add to that the cost of electricity and snow plowing and the maintenance costs exceed $650,000 a year.

But DOT figures show revenues generated by parking and concessions brought in just under $58,000 over the first 12 months, which means a federal grant the state secured had to pick up the difference.

The revenue figures were lower than expected because the DOT offered free parking and rides on Wednesdays during February and March – one of the promotions Lewis hopes will help bring in more passengers.

Lewis says there are also many passengers who are dropped off and don’t pay for parking – something we saw frequently on our visits to the station last month. One day, dozens of kids from a local elementary school in North Kingstown arrived for a field trip to Boston – an ideal use for the train service – but most of those who came did not use the parking garage. 

Hummel: You seem like the manager who’s looking at 9-inning game and isn’t worried about his pitcher getting rocked in the first couple innings. 

Lewis:  I think that’s a pretty good analogy. It doesn’t mean when somebody hits a triple off your starter, you’re not wondering, ‘Hmmm … was this a good call?’”

But it’s likely to be years down the line before we know for sure. 

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.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.