One of the things I love about Rhode Island is our diversity, and our commitment to recognizing and celebrating it. We have a rich history of cultural acceptance, and it remains strong today. We have feasts and festivals to celebrate cultures from Dominican to Irish, and I relish the opportunity to experience the food, music and pride of my neighbors from every background.
On India Day, I was definitely not alone in wanting to celebrate, especially in honor of India’s anniversary of independence. Indian music echoed down the State House steps and across the lawn, where women in saris and men in Dastars danced. The smell of traditional culinary favorites wafted past booths set up for various cultural organizations, including the India Association of Rhode Island, which coordinated the India Day event. They did an exceptional job, and it was great to see people stopping to check things out, captivated by the smells and sounds of a culture that has grown in Rhode Island.
High Marks for T.F. Green
As part of my job, I fly regularly. I fly back and forth to Washington, returning to Rhode Island every week so I can meet with constituents and better understand their needs.
That means I spend a lot of time at T.F. Green, but never in the control tower. So I was grateful for the chance to tour behind the scenes at the airport, thanks to Tower Manager Barry Morgan and Nick Cassano of the FAA. I got to hear communications between pilots and the tower, and got a glimpse of what it’s like to oversee operations from the group. It is a tremendous responsibility these aviation professionals have, but I feel secure knowing that the team at T.F. Green is highly skilled.
T. F. Green is the cornerstone of our state’s tourism industry, and Rhode Island is fortunate to have such a well-run airport at the center of our transportation hub. Many business travelers find T.F. Green to be a fast, economical travel choice when visiting New England, and locals rave about the speed of security when jetting off on their summer vacation. That’s not just lip-service, either. The success of T.F. Green is more than anecdotal. The InterLink transportation hub that connects T.F. Green to rail and public transportation has been the recipient of the America’s Transportation Award in the innovative management category, and Barry said that a recent evaluation indicated high marks across the board for the airport. As a frequent flyer, I don’t doubt it one bit.
Having a BLAST
In collaboration with the United Way and Hasbro, the Kent County YMCA has found a recipe for summer learning success that engages students, energizes teachers and, incidentally, improves school spirit all year long.
The BLAST program at Deering Middle School in West Warwick targets students who are at-risk of falling through the cracks. They could lose ground in academic achievement made during the school year, or perhaps have had trouble feeling engaged in their school environments in the past. For some, they are home alone during the summer. Regardless of why they were signed up for the program, the goal is to make summer learning fun for all students and to make them feel invested in their school community. This summer, that included a beautification project with students painting a mural, building picnic tables and laying a new brick walkway. Instructors believe that engaging students this way increases pride in their school, especially for those involved, but also for the students returning in September, who can better enjoy the school grounds. To complete the project, students ran a car wash to raise funds, and supplemented that by calling area businesses for in-kind donations. Now that the schoolyard is nearly finished, these students can see the tangible difference they made on their own environment. They are proud of their handiwork and look forward to sharing it with their classmates when school resumes.
Indoors, programs touch upon literacy, science, technology and more. The lessons are hands on, but the results are right there on paper. Test scores are markedly improved after completing the BLAST summer program, and instructors say the demand from students continues to increase. There is a waiting list year after year, and program coordinators hope that funding can increase next summer so more students can be served. It is certainly a worthwhile program, and I am so grateful to the United Way, Hasbro, West Warwick Public Schools and the YMCA for their hard work to support student achievement.
Working on Walking
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a terrible disease without a cure, and for those diagnosed as infants, life expectancy does not generally exceed two years. Later onset improves prognosis, but SMA remains a mystery in many ways.
Here in Rhode Island, we are fortunate to have incredible champions and advocates for those who struggle with this condition. One of those champions is Alyssa Silva, a brave young woman who has beat the odds. Diagnosed as a baby, doctors said it would be unlikely that she would even live to see pre-school. Miraculously, Alyssa is now 23 years old, with a college degree and an unwavering sense of determination. She is a hero to so many others who fight against SMA, and I was proud to be with her for the fifth annual Working on Walking fundraiser to benefit Spinal Muscular Atrophy research.
Alyssa, you are an inspiration to me and to so many in our state and beyond. Thank you for inviting me to your event, and I hope to work with you again soon!
This year’s annual meeting of the American Bar Association featured a panel discussion with the topic, “The evolution of cybersecurity and planning for a response.” It might seem like a pretty specific topic to some, but for me, I could honestly talk about this all day. I have been discussing the need for improved cyber protections for years – long before “cybersecurity” became a policy buzz word.
It’s no secret to ABA members that the challenges the United States faces in the cyber realm are immense. Certainly the news is rife with attacks and breaches – be it the massive Target breach of personal information by cybercriminals, Iran’s reported denial-of-service attacks on US banks, the Russian crime operation that the New York Times reported has amassed over 1.2 billion login credentials, or any number of attacks by states and non-state actors alike. Western countries face threats not only from nations bent on destruction or on economic advantage, but also from criminal groups that possess state-level capabilities and have immense skills, great financial incentive, and in many cases legal havens that afford them almost complete sanctuary. McAfee and CSIS recently estimated that almost one percent of global income, or $445 billion, is lost each year to cybercrime and economic espionage. That’s a stunning tally. And given that a sizeable proportion of that is in the United States, we have a national imperative to act.
I have been a strong proponent of aggressive action on cybersecurity ever since I chaired the Homeland Security subcommittee that investigated the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to cyberattack in 2007. I was privileged to co-chair the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency with my friend and fellow Congressman Mike McCaul from Texas in 2009. In my current positions on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, I devote a significant amount of time to tackling this continuing problem. I am grateful that the ABA recognizes the severity of this issue, and that they invited me to speak with their members about how our country can move forward.
The unfortunate reality is that cybersecurity is not a problem to be solved – it’s a problem to be managed. We have to do the best we can to ensure that in 10, 15, or 20 years we aren’t still dealing with today’s challenges. The future will bring more than enough of its own, I’m sure.
The Ultimate Nexperience
As co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I have a bit of a reputation as a technology geek. So when new technology is being developed right here in Rhode Island, I always want to know more. When it comes attached to a start-up company creating new jobs and internship opportunities, I have to check it out.
That’s exactly what Nexperience is doing.
Created by Kevin Murphy, Aaron James and Eric Hall, Nexperience has workspace at the Hatch Entrepreneurial Center in Providence and currently has five employees. On top of the full-time staff, Nexperience has brought on more than 10 interns from New England Institute of Technology and other area institutions, giving young people a chance to help develop new technology and see firsthand how a business is created and grown. That’s a win-win. Nexperience benefits from the talent and fresh perspective of college students, while the interns get a once in a lifetime experience.
To help showcase what Nexperience has developed, the team started a “tech pod,” or an experiential kiosk in the Warwick Mall where passersby can stop and try out the virtual reality software. All it takes is a chair, a virtual reality mask and a set of headphones, and they can be transported to an alternate reality. The software is so realistic; it really impressed me. Nexperience isn’t ready to sell their virtual reality products just yet, but that is a goal of the not-so-distant future, and if people just stop by the kiosk, I am confident that the products will take off. I wish the company luck as they grow and move into the retail realm, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Picking a Winner
Schnitzer is a well-respected name in American business, with Schnitzer Steel Industries bringing in $2.6 billion in revenues last year alone. It is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of recycled metals in the United States.
That kind of reputation bodes well for Johnston’s newest business.
Pick-n-Pull, which is part of the Schnitzer brand, is an auto recycling and auto parts store that takes end-of-life vehicles, removes the hazardous waste, and then gives customers the chance to purchase discounted parts before the cars are crushed and recycled. At a time when many families are trying to save money, it’s a business model that makes sense. Not only does Pick-n-Pull take unsafe vehicles off the road and ensure safe recycling, but they also give customers the chance to save money on repairs. Pick-n-Pull already has a location in Cumberland, and the success there prompted Schnitzer to open up a new store in Johnston – their second Rhode Island location. The Johnston store is expected to serve 100,000 retail customers annually.
Schnitzer has a long history of doing business in Rhode Island, and I am so glad to see that partnership expanding with this new Pick-n-Pull. It reinforces what we, who grew up here, and those who do business here, already know -- Rhode Islanders are hard-working, reliable, thoughtful employees, dedicated to the companies they work for, and the consumers they serve.
Science in Summer
Crossroads Rhode Island is best known for their housing assistance in Providence, but their reach extends beyond the capital city, with programs affecting Rhode Islanders in every corner of the state, including at their Kingstown Crossings facility in North Kingstown. Kingstown Crossings includes 104 units with 335 residents, 70% of whom are children. Seventy percent. That’s a lot of kids, many of whom have limited access to books and other learning materials outside of the classroom. In fact, of the families living at Kingstown Crossings, only 22 began the summer with library cards, despite the fact that the Davisville Free Library is just one mile away.
Through a partnership with Davisville Library and the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services, Crossroads has set out to change that.
Davisville Library employees provide outreach services to the housing facility every week, including an on-site story hour for infants and children up to 5-years-old, and a separate summer reading program for children age 5 and older. All parents and children living at Crossroads are welcome to participate in the program, and if my recent visit is any indication, many do. There were a dozen children for the “Candy and Chemistry” lesson about how different chemicals react with one another, and they were all so enthusiastic about the material. They couldn’t wait to see what would happen when Librarian Sarah Ornstein dropped Mentos candies into a bottle of Diet Coke. I have to admit, I was pretty blown away too when I saw the soda come spewing out of the bottle. It was a fun way to present a science lesson, and it certainly left an impression. Now, more children are excited about learning and many more families have begun signing up for library cards at Davisville.
Engaging young people in education is so important, but it can be especially difficult to do in the summer months. Clearly, Davisville and Crossroads have found the right combination to ignite interest among the Kingstown Crossings residents, and I can’t wait to visit again to see the progress of the program.
City by the Sea
Newport isn’t in my district, but I don’t think there’s a single Rhode Islander who doesn’t recognize the important role that the city plays in our state’s identity and its vitally important tourism industry. Newport attracts visitors from far and wide, and the city does an exceptional job at offering the sights, sounds and tastes that keep tourists coming back for more.
Perfect examples of that come every summer with the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. The festivals are more than tourist attractions; they’re historic events where some of our nation’s legendary musicians performed. Programs past and present are a venerable who’s who of great performers. I was only too happy, then, to lend my support at the Newport Festivals Foundation Gala. It was a great opportunity to celebrate both the arts and the role they play in the Rhode Island economy. As an added bonus, I had the honor of meeting actor and comedian Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby was so gracious and kind, and I was lucky enough to chat with him for quite a while, despite the usual crowd that had formed around him. It was a wonderful event for a wonderful cause, and I can’t say thank you enough to the Festivals Foundation and all of the men and women who help put Newport on the map!