October: October 31 | October 28 | October 25 | October 24 | October 21 | October 19
October 18 | October 17 | October 16 | October 15 | October 14 | October 10
October 6 | October 5 | October 4 | October 1
I have long believed that the path to better health care involves a system that rewards quality, strengthens care coordination, improves health outcomes, responds to patient needs, invests in a well-trained workforce, and focuses on healthier living. In Rhode Island, under the direction of Governor Gina Raimondo, the Health System Transformation Project aims to achieve so many of these important goals, and if properly implemented, will lead to a health care system that truly addresses the needs of our most vulnerable citizens and the communities in which they live.
Of course, transforming any health care system is no easy task. However, it can be done if all stakeholders – from policymakers to health care providers – work together toward this common objective. By bringing together community stakeholders, care providers and our institutions of higher learning, we can take a collaborative approach that will allow us to build a health care workforce and create a delivery system for the 21st Century. This collaborative approach is already underway with the Reinventing Medicaid movement, and I will continue to be a strong partner at the federal level, fighting for the policies and resources that will allow us to build on our successes and create a stronger, more accessible health care system for all Rhode Islanders.
I always love doing events with the Boy Scouts, because it’s great to see young men dedicating their time to worthy causes and giving back to their communities. They learn so much through the program, including how to be responsible, self-sufficient, and respectful, as well as how to be a leader.
Nowhere is that more evident than in an Eagle Court of Honor ceremony to officially welcome new Eagle Scouts. So much time and work goes into attaining the rank of Eagle, and I have found that those who stick with Scouting and make it through to Eagle are often exceptional young men. That was certainly the case with Nicholas Berg, Jeffrey Dowling, Jacob Cotter and Christopher Santos of Troop 147 North Kingstown. The four of them celebrated their Eagle Court of Honor together, and I couldn’t be more proud! Congratulations!
There are more than 2 million farms in the United States and an impressive 1,200 in Rhode Island alone. But locally and nationally, the people working the land are increasingly older. In fact, the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old. That means that the average American farmer is less than a decade away from retirement age, and that’s a frightening prospect for our agriculture industry.
To support growth and sustainability in agriculture, we must support young farmers. We need them to ensure we can continue to increase the amount of locally-produced food Rhode Islanders are consuming, and that’s something on which Alby Brandon is focused. The product of a phenomenal program at the University of Rhode Island, Alby is in his early 20s and founded Brandon Family Farm in 2015. Set on three acres of land in West Kingston, Brandon Family Farm produces organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and salad greens.
Not only is Alby doing great work getting his farm off the ground, he’s also active in the agriculture community in our state. Representatives from the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and me as we toured Brandon Family Farm, as Alby has already established himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur in the organic farming industry. Increasing access to organic, locally-grown foods is a priority for NOFA, and so is protecting our environment. Our discussions touched upon environmental regulations, support for the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets, and the effects of climate change. It was a wonderful discussion, and a reminder of why business visits like this are an important part of my job. It’s the people in the trenches – or, in this case, the fields – doing the hard work, who know best what can be done at the policy level to ease burdens on small businesses and promote growth across industries.
Thanks to funding I was proud to support from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has partnered with federal, state, and local partners to restore approximately 30 acres of degraded salt marsh in Charlestown. By laying dredged material on the marsh and replanting vegetation, this restoration project will improve resiliency of the area and combat the impacts of climate change, and I was thrilled to be on hand for a ceremonial “groundbreaking,” before dredging began.
This is an example of what good can come from federal, state, and local governments working together to preserve our natural resources. The salt marsh restoration in South County will help marshes better withstand future storms and rising waters caused by climate change. Our coast has been pummeled in recent years by major storms, pushing us to be more prepared than ever to protect our marine environment – an environment that, in Rhode Island, is a critical piece of our economy and our quality of life. Our estuaries are often overlooked, but they are vital to the ecosystems of our state. They provide nesting grounds for wildlife, and a home for the grasses that strengthen our coastline and protect our towns.
For these reasons and more, I am proud to champion efforts to protect our estuaries in Congress. And as I continue that fight, I take comfort in knowing that I have willing partners at home in Rhode Island who share in my commitment to protecting our environment.
Fun at the Festival
Novelist and playwright William Saroyan, a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Academy Award, had this to say about the homeland of his parents: “It is simply in the nature of Armenian to study, to learn, to question, to speculate, to discover, to invent, to revise, to restore, to preserve, to make, and to give.” His culture, the Armenian culture, is a vibrant one, and one that we are proud of in Rhode Island. We have a large Armenian community in our state, and they come together each year for the annual Armenian Festival. Held this year at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, it was a fantastic event, filled with delicious food, beautiful handcrafted goods, and wonderful entertainment. I’ve said many times that our state’s diversity is an incredible asset, and I am grateful to have so many constituents who are willing to put in the time and effort to ensure our many difficult cultures are rightfully celebrated. Thank you to Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church and all of your volunteers for putting together a great event. I was so glad I could be there, and I hope you will continue to highlight the tremendous contributions of Armenian people and culture to our state and beyond.
Thank a Veteran
Warwick by way of Bristol, from North Kingstown, after two trips to Providence. It seemed as though every city and town had a celebration planned in honor of our veterans, and that’s exactly how it should be.
I was so pleased to be able to participate in the WaterFire Salute to Veterans, the Providence VA’s Veterans Day celebration, the North Kingstown Veterans Day Parade, the Rhode Island Veterans Home ceremony, and the Operation Stand Down Veteran Resource Fair. At each of these events, and I’m sure at the countless other events happening simultaneously, we reflected on the bravery of the men and women who have served our country, and to whom we owe our nation’s position in the world today.
Members of today’s armed forces – who freely take on the burdens of service to the nation – have built on the immeasurable sacrifices made by generations of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen that came before them. They have ensured that America’s beacon of freedom continues to shine for the whole world to see. For this and so many other reasons, we owe our veterans a debt, and one of my highest responsibilities as a Member of Congress is making sure that we uphold that commitment. And although we honor them on Veterans Day, paying tribute to our veterans should not be confined to one day a year. Let us take it upon ourselves to be more grateful for their dedication to these United States each and every day.
For the men and women who continue to defend our freedoms, thank you for your vigilance and patriotism. For those who have served in uniform, for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and for the families who have supported them, thank you.
'Tis the Season
The Comprehensive Community Action Program does such important work in our community, providing heating assistance, education, job training, and so many other resources. I was happy to stop by to kick off the holiday season and show my support, thanking them for their commitment to helping Rhode Island families and dropping off a donation for their annual Thanksgiving food drive. Let the holiday season begin!
Helping the Homeless
Although Rhode Island has made significant progress in addressing homelessness, approximately 4,000 people in the state will be homeless in any given year. Clearly, this is still a problem, and clearly, there is more we can do to make sure that everyone has a place to call home.
The Mae Organization for the Homeless is one of the organizations working toward this important goal. The Mae Organization provides a helping hand to so many in need, and I’m touched to see the good work they do for our community. Their focus on the “whole person,” is a model for others to follow, and provides the basis for long-lasting support. With access to healing programs, Mae is able to serve the people who need it most in a way that makes a huge difference.
For those of us who have benefited from a helping hand, we have an obligation to pay it forward to others. Far too many Rhode Islanders are a single missed paycheck or medical emergency away from living on the streets. Mae seeks to be that resource for people who may not have anyone else to turn to. They are the stability that is so vital to escaping the grip of persistent homelessness. Without a safe living situation, it can be nearly impossible to address the underlying issues that contribute to persistent homelessness, and the Mae Organization is taking up that fight every day. I’m so grateful to Martinha David for her leadership, and I’m proud to continue to support the Mae Organization in their quest to end homelessness in Rhode Island.
Lighting a Fire
WaterFire Providence is a cultural gem in Rhode Island. It is a huge draw not only for tourists, but also for locals, who flock to the capital city to enjoy what has become a centerpiece for the arts scene in our state. WaterFire continues to grow as an event, and now, it is growing as an organization.
In 2012, WaterFire Providence purchased an old industrial building in the Valley neighborhood, and that space is nearing its completion as it is transformed into the WaterFire Arts Center. The center will serve not only as a headquarters for WaterFire, but also as a community resource and cultural center to further support the work of Rhode Island artists. It will host exhibits on the history of WaterFire, a recording studio for local artists, an arts gallery, and performance space. This growth has been made possible, in part, through New Market Tax Credits and Historic Preservation Tax Credits, federal funding sources that I’m proud to support so that new life can be infused into underserved communities. These credits, along with EPA grant awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a successful capital campaign, are bringing WaterFire’s vision to reality.
WaterFire remains one of the things that immediately jumps to the minds of my colleagues in Washington, DC, when they think of Providence, and the cultural ecosystem that has grown up around it has put the city at the forefront of the creative placemaking movement. The ceremonial groundbreaking was just the beginning for the WaterFire Arts Center, and I can’t wait to see the infusion of energy, creativity, and economic development the finished product promises to bring to the area.
Shipping Out to Toll Gate
Warwick Public Schools have long showed a commitment to providing hands-on education for their students, and as our economy continues to change and evolve, Warwick is doubling down on this approach. The Warwick Area Career and Technical Center offers programming in everything from automotive and construction to fashion merchandising and graphic design, and has now added a Marine Trades coursework that covers boat building, marina operations, and a range of other skills for those interested in working on the water. At the official opening of the Marine Trades program, students shared why they chose to get involved, and how they hope the program will set them on a path to success.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I too am committed to helping every student develop the skills he or she needs for a successful career. One of the best ways to do this is by expanding opportunities for career exploration and on-the-job training. Every student, no matter their path, will benefit from the learning that occurs not only in a classroom but also at a job site.
The Real Jobs Rhode Island initiative is a wonderful example of building and strengthening these partnerships between employers and educators, and the Marine Trades program is just the latest success story to come out of the program. Now, by working with Electric Boat, students in the WACTC Marine Trades program will be able to experience firsthand the opportunities that await them right here in Rhode Island. They will also be able to learn which jobs are the best fits for their skills, interests, and abilities. Graduates of this program will be able to identify the right pathway not just for a job, but for a career.
Founded in 2003, NetCenergy provides information technology consulting and management services, with a focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises that lack in-house IT resources. Given our increasing reliance on technology and the growing threats we face in cyberspace, it’s no surprise that NetCenergy’s services have been critical to the protection and growth of its clients. Having outgrown their space in Warwick, NetCenergy expanded into a larger office in Cranston, and I was glad to be with them for the official ribbon cutting of their new space.
It is always exciting to see a Rhode Island company growing, and that growth is particularly important for companies like NetCenergy that provide the infrastructure that allows the rest of our economy to flourish. We are used to thinking of infrastructure in terms of the physical world of bridges, roads, and water pipes, but in today’s economy, people are more likely to interact with a doctor or an accountant via the Internet. Businesses need new infrastructure for this new economy, and it’s great to see NetCenergy provide these services to support companies in Rhode Island and across southern New England.
Showing We Care
When I think about my legacy in Congress, one of the accomplishments of which proud is my work on behalf of unpaid family caregivers. In 2006, the Lifespan Respite Care Act that I authored was signed into law, creating a national respite care program to help empower more Americans to age in place.
I continue to fight for additional federal funding to support family caregivers, and I was thrilled to join my state-based colleagues in the fight for the National Family Caregiver Awareness Month kickoff at the State House. Awareness is an incredibly important aspect of caregiving, and one that deserves attention not just during the month of November, but all year long.
Family caregivers devote a substantial amount of time and effort caring for their loved ones, as mine did for me after my accident. They are our nation’s silent heroes, ensuring family stability and helping those with chronic and disabling conditions avoid more costly out-of-home placements. In Rhode Island alone, it is estimated that there are over 114,000 individuals and families that provide totally uncompensated care valued at $1.4 billion a year. Nationally, family caregivers provide approximately 80 percent of long-term care to the chronically ill and disabled, and reports estimate the annual economic value of uncompensated family caregiving to be about $470 billion, more than total federal and state Medicaid spending in 2013.
While we all know that caring for a loved one can be personally rewarding, it can also result in emotional, physical, and financial strain on families. That’s why access to respite care is so important, and when it comes to respite care in Rhode Island, Reverend Marie Carpenter is one of our strongest champions. As the retiring chair of the Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island and one of its founding members, Rev. Carpenter’s passion, commitment, and tenacity are an inspiration, and I wish her my sincere congratulations as this year’s recipient of the Langevin Award. When I originally authored the Lifespan Respite Care Act, it was with firsthand knowledge of the tremendous difference a dedicated caregiver can make in the life of a person with a disability or chronic condition. And with the help of community leaders like Rev. Carpenter, this program has been a tremendous success – not just in Rhode Island – but in many states across the country.
Two if by Sea
With 400 miles of coastline and booming ports in Providence and North Kingstown, Rhode Island is home to many businesses in the marine trades industries and is a shipping destination for many more. It makes sense, then, that the United States Maritime Resource Center would want to locate in Rhode Island. A non-profit, independent organization, the USMRC specializes in navigation safety, maritime risk mitigation, and the challenges that come along with international shipping and trade.
President Brian Holden, Program Manager Terence Nicholas, and Captain Alexander Soukhanov, vice president of international shipping and maritime operations, showed me around the USMRC facility and brought me up to speed on their work. Their team works on a variety of projects, including new port and channel design testing, navigation training, and maritime consulting. During my visit, I had the opportunity to experience the maritime simulator. The simulator brought us through a hypothetical scenario on the bridge of a ship coming into Narragansett Bay under the Newport Bridge. It was incredible to visualize these navigational challenges, and I could see why USMRC research would be invaluable for seafaring companies.
I was particularly interested to learn more about their cybersecurity research. So many marine systems are reliant on technology, and USMRC is developing solutions that help users understand and reduce vulnerabilities – a challenge that is still new for many businesses. It’s critical that private industry and public entities understand the risks they face in cyberspace, and it has become increasingly clear that no industry is immune from cyber risk. To see a Rhode Island organization tackle that issue head on – to the benefit of other businesses, I might add – is very exciting. I’m grateful to the USMRC team for taking the time to meet with me, and I look forward to working with them on cyber issues in the future!
On the Road Again
There have been so many exciting things happening at the University of Rhode Island lately, from the open house of the research vessel Endeavor to the ribbon cutting for the new Harrington Hub, and the university capped off the month of October with the 29th annual Rhode Island Transportation Forum. The URI Transportation Center, which is supported by the Federal Highway Administration and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, hosts this forum for transportation advocates and agencies, as well as construction industry leaders and other key players in our transportation infrastructure in Rhode Island and beyond.
In a densely populated state like Rhode Island, the efficiency and reliability of our roads, bridges, and transit networks is vital to our way of life. We have seen some innovative engineering practices developed at research centers such as URI’s, but we must provide the funding to implement them. With the passage of the FAST Act in 2015, we have a more certain funding mechanism for highway and other surface transportation projects.
Of course, that’s just the beginning. The absence of predictable federal funds in 2015 led to additional delays and costs, as project plans could not be properly executed. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again. While I was proud to vote for the FAST Act, I was distressed that it took several months of patchwork authorizations before we reached a compromise. Moreover, there are additional needs that our states are facing, including the dire situation of our highway bridges here in Rhode Island.
Because of these needs, infrastructure continues to be a hot topic this year in Washington, and with good reason. We can work together with the next administration to target the areas that need most relief, and get our crews on the job as soon as possible. The players from the Rhode Island Transportation Forum are going to be critical to these efforts. Through their projects and their engagement between the public and private sectors, they are helping to make these projects more effective and easier to implement. With URI’s research and relationships, they are practicing a culture of excellence in the service of our public highways and transportation networks. I applaud the university for that, and for their ongoing commitment to establishing a more sustainable system of transportation and infrastructure.
Lifted to New Heights
I’ve always loved the hashtag that Deepwater Wind coined to describe the Block Island Wind Farm: #JourneyToFirst. Rhode Island is leading the nation as home to the first offshore wind farm, and it has been a journey that I’ve been proud and excited to be a part of. It’s no surprise, given our state’s leadership in renewable wind energy, that the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) decided to host their national Offshore Wind conference in October at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. Wind developers, upstream suppliers, utilities, and other environmental advocates came together to discuss the future of offshore wind energy in America.
The Block Island Wind Farm will provide great relief to ratepayers who currently rely on diesel generation, and represents our ongoing commitment towards green energy. It is the result of the hard work of so many people and partners, including Deepwater Wind, the supply chain providers like General Electric, the partnership of National Grid, and the foresight of state officials and local advocates who worked together to make the Block Island Wind Farm possible. It was also thanks, in part, to the Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan, or “SAMP.” This ocean planning process, the first of its kind in the country, was essential to addressing siting concerns years before we put steel in the water. The SAMP is truly an example for the rest of the nation, and I hope to see it replicated as we move forward in the larger draft Northeast Ocean Plan.
We’re seeing the potential for offshore wind across the country, with siting plans underway for Long Island, New Jersey, South Carolina, and more. There is the potential for floating wind power in Maine and on the West Coast, and even the possibility of wind power in the Great Lakes. I’m proud that Rhode Island is the first success story, but we don’t want it to be the last. We need a sustained public commitment to help get these projects going, and with the collaboration of leaders like those at AWEA, I know that we can create a robust offshore wind presence in our country. We can make this an important piece of the American solution.
The legal voting age is 18, but in my experience, the earlier we get young people excited about and engaged in politics, the better. They bring new ideas and fresh perspective and, if they are civically involved in their youth, they’re more likely to stay involved and active as they grow up.
At Rocky Hill School, Tim Greenwood is planting the seeds for a lifetime of civic involvement. His government class learns about politics and the electoral process, as well as how public policy works. During my visit to his class, his students were a pleasure to speak with, and they asked great questions not just about my public service and the current election cycle, but also about important issues like cybersecurity and immigration. I had a wonderful time, and I hope Mr. Greenwood will invite me back to speak to future classes!
Pull Up a Chair
As someone who lives with a disability, I understand how important technology can be when it comes to increasing accessibility and independence. The iBot wheelchair has completely changed my life, allowing me to get around with much greater ease and better connect with people. Having the ability to bring my chair up on two wheels puts me at eye-level with others, something that might seem small but makes a big difference to me.
At Power Chair Recyclers of New England, they too understand the difference that assistive technology and mobility equipment can make in the lives of seniors and people with disabilities, and they’ve made it their mission to make that equipment available.
Located on Post Road in North Kingstown, Power Chair Recyclers was founded in 2013. Founder and CEO John Perrotti, Jr., and his Operations Manager, Andrew Celani, set out to divert used medical equipment from the landfill, instead refurbishing the equipment and selling it at affordable prices. The damaged equipment often comes through donations, as well, further supporting the “sustainability mission” that has become a point of pride for John and Andrew.
The 7,000 square foot facility includes a showroom and a full workshop where repairs take place. The business sells refurbished equipment, makes repairs, and also offers short- and long-term rentals for everything from canes and scooters to wheelchairs, lifts, and hospital beds. These are items that can make the difference between living independently and requiring full-time care; between staying as active as possible and being stuck at home. Mobility equipment changed my life, and I’m so glad to see a small business in my district committed to helping change the lives of others in need.
A Hub of Activity
“I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place.” I have to agree with this quote from Christiane Amanpour, the world-renowned international correspondent who is known for her war reporting for ABC News and CNN. Journalism can make our world a better place – and has, in many instances – and it is imperative that we not only preserve the rights to free speech and a free press, but also support the next generation of journalists, writers, producers and filmmakers who will tell the stories that need to be told.
Amanpour is an example for these future communicators, and her alma-mater, the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, is increasingly a popular destination for them. The Harrington School is a huge source of pride for the university and for the state, especially as we celebrate the opening of the Harrington Hub for Global Leadership in Communication and Media, a state-of-the-art facility with the latest editing and audio suites, a theater for film screenings, and other technology that will serve Harrington School students and URI students across disciplines. The opening was a who’s-who of government and community leaders, as well as national leaders like Rhode Island’s own Meredith Vieira and John Kirby, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and State Department Spokesperson. Also present were many of the supporters whose financial contributions helped make the Hub possible, including Richard Harrington, the URI graduate, venture capitalist and generous donor behind the Harrington School.
As more and more of our communication takes place online, the value of digital literacy skills will only increase. We live in a more interconnected, global society than ever, with colleagues in other countries and even different continents. And the Harrington School’s graduates are Rhode Island’s future leaders, who will help attract and grow businesses that will power our state’s economy.
Perhaps the best part of the Harrington Hub is that it will help students to develop a global worldview. These connections are the basis of international cooperation and diplomacy, building networks that foster cultural, intellectual, and economic exchange. This new Hub is an investment in the future of our workforce, our state, and our nation. It will allow URI students to connect with their peers across the globe, helping to further the Harrington School – and our state – as a focal point for global communications studies.
When I was a teenager, my mother would drag me to political events. She strongly encouraged (read: forced) my brothers and me to help out on the campaigns she worked on, participating in lit drops and phone banks. I didn’t mind the work, so much, but it was so far removed from what I imagined myself doing when I got older. It wasn’t until college that I started to seriously look at public service. I began to take classes in political science and foreign policy, and soon, I was hooked. My passion for policy flourished in the classroom and out of it, as I ran for student government and eventually ran for office before I had even graduated.
When I think of the path I followed, and how much Rhode Island College shaped my desire to serve, it makes me all the more grateful for educators who spark the same passion in young people today. Jim Buxton is doing that important work at the University of Rhode Island, and after speaking with his American Foreign Policy students, I imagine some of them may find themselves on a similar journey to either elected office, or another career in public policy. The students peppered me with questions about immigration, the Middle East, and cybersecurity. Their questions were thoughtful and well-informed, and my visit was a testament to both Professor Buxton’s skills in the classroom, and also to the incredible promise of these students, who I hope will consider a career in public service. If my time with them was any indication, our state would be well-served if they do.
When Roger Williams left Salem, he was heading to an uncertain fate in an unknown land. Nearly 400 years later, the State of Rhode Island stands as a testament to his beliefs and vision, and the values of tolerance and religious freedom that he championed are enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.
Now, thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation, and to the incredible generosity of John and Letitia Carter, the legacy of Roger Williams is further preserved and celebrated.
The Roger Williams Initiative is an educational resource about the life and times of Roger Williams. An interactive website, FindingRogerWilliams.com, includes essays, video interviews, photo galleries, lesson plans and even discussion starters for educators and for all Rhode Islanders. In addition to the website, the Roger Williams Initiative includes a scholarship program for Rhode Island high school seniors who demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of Roger Williams’s principles. Up to three students will be honored each year, with the potential to receive up to $20,000 per year per student, and recipients can apply for a renewal for the entire four years of their undergraduate education.
These scholarships are a wonderful way to honor the legacy of Roger Williams. They will inspire Rhode Islanders to think beyond what is, and to dream about what might be. To conquer the challenges the future brings, we will need creative, compassionate, and fearless people. The educational initiative will also help to instill the lessons of Roger Williams in the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and educators.
Even in the 21st century – perhaps especially in the 21st century – we can learn lessons from this 17th century minister: how to take risks, how to lead others, and how to practice tolerance in both our public and private lives. Congratulations to the Rhode Island Foundation and thank you, again, to the Carter family. Your efforts will help our next generation of leaders for years to come.
Knock on Wood
Since 1969, Coventry Lumber has been a name that Rhode Islanders recognize. As a full-service lumberyard and showroom, the company specializes in construction and renovation materials, with a range of products for roofing, siding, windows, fencing – the whole gamut of building projects.
What impressed me the most about my visit to Coventry Lumber, however, is that their main principle is to treat every customer the same, whether it’s a six-figure project or a small order for a do-it-yourselfer. That kind of customer service is what has helped the business to be successful, and has made it a point of pride for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association, of which Coventry Lumber is a member. The NRLA also joined us for the tour, as Sean Finnegan – a recent graduate of the University of Rhode Island College of Business – gave a company overview and introduced us to some of the 60 workers they employ in Rhode Island. At a second location in West Haven, Connecticut, Coventry Lumber has an additional 30 employees.
Sean’s father, Bill, purchased Coventry Lumber in 2012. And four years later, it’s great to see him not only continuing Coventry Lumber’s reputation as an outstanding business, but also forging a new tradition as a family-owned operation.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and I’ve enjoyed meeting with a range of constituents, businesses, and community groups to discuss how cybersecurity affects them. As we become increasingly reliant on technology, cyber is a challenge we must all be prepared to meet in our personal and professional lives.
More and more companies are experiencing this firsthand, which is why I joined with the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce for a Cybersecurity Awareness outreach event for Rhode Island businesses, moderated by Linn Freedman, an attorney for Robinson & Cole who focuses on cybersecurity cases. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse were also in attendance, so that we could provide an update on cybersecurity policy in Congress. Captain John Alfred of the Rhode Island Joint Cyber Task Force and representatives from the Secret Service provided the law enforcement perspective for the panel discussion, and Rick Lacafta of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) talked about the economic implications of potential cyber-attacks. Laurie White, president of the Chamber, brought together a great group of member businesses, making for an interesting discussion on how small businesses in our state can strengthen their cyber defenses and protect their customers.
The following day, I further explored the law enforcement perspective as I reunited with Captain Alfred and the entire Rhode Island Joint Cyber Task Force for a Cyber Disruption Preparedness and Response Planning Workshop. While strengthening cyber defenses and preventing hacks is priority number one in cyberspace, I recognize that cybersecurity is not a problem that we can ever solve, but rather a problem to be managed. Technology is constantly changing, and with it, the sophistication of cyber criminals or other malicious actors. We can reduce the number of breaches, but making cyber networks impenetrable is unlikely, so having a strong response is essential. Preparing for response and recovery can seem like a thankless task, as it is the failures that make headlines. But rapid response is incredibly important, and not just because of the billions of dollars that can be saved by limiting the damage caused by cyber-attacks. Having effective response mechanisms to deal with the aftermath of a cyber disruption can also deter our adversaries from attacking in the first place, and that’s why the Task Force is so critical.
From businesses to our law enforcement and emergency management personnel, Rhode Islanders are paying attention to cybersecurity, and I look forward to continuing this work with all partners to put our state at the forefront of cyber defense and preparedness.
Salute to Police
As someone who hoped to pursue a career in law enforcement, I have a deep, lifelong appreciation and admiration for the men and women who serve. It requires immense dedication and sacrifice to put on the uniform each day, and I am eternally grateful for the public safety officials who are committed to keeping Rhode Islanders safe. That’s why I was so pleased to participate in the unveiling of the West Warwick Police Memorial on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning.
At a time when tensions are high, we need now, more than ever, to strengthen trust and build relationships between police and the community at large. The memorial is a reminder of how important that connection is, and I was honored to be a part of the dedication ceremony for a project that is the result of the tireless work of West Warwick Police officers, past and present, their families, the community, and a group of generous business owners who donated time and materials to see this idea come to fruition.
Onward and Upward
I love visiting my alma mater. I had a wonderful experience at Rhode Island College, and I’m blessed that I so often have reason to return to celebrate the excellent work being done by the students and faculty. And perhaps nowhere is that work more evident than in the Upward Bound program, which this year celebrates 50 years of progress at RIC.
For half a century, Upward Bound at RIC has helped low-income high school students to overcome barriers to college entry and completion. The simple idea behind this monumental program is that, in the United States of America, the circumstances of your birth should not determine your ability to succeed. Each graduate of the program is living proof, and hundreds of these graduates were in attendance at the anniversary celebration.
Upward Bound is not solely an academic program. They focus on social and emotional learning, as well, giving students the tools to create their own success and helping them achieve their goals both in and out of the classroom. The biggest challenge in the program is how many more young people could benefit from Upward Bound, which is why I joined more than 100 of my colleagues in Congress in requesting strong funding for this program. Upward Bound is an investment in the future of our communities, and I cannot wait to see what they will accomplish at RIC in the next 50 years.
Dorian Murray was, and continues to be, an inspiration. Faced with terminal cancer at only 8 years old, he had one simple wish: he wanted to be famous in China. The #DStrong movement was born, and people across the globe shared their well wishes for Dorian and his family. Celebrities and supporters from China and beyond joined the chorus of tweets, cards, and videos to assure that Dorian’s wish came true.
His story resonated with all of us, as did the iconic image we came to associate with it: Dorian, looking strong and tough, holding up his boxing gloves.
Robyn Ivy took that photograph in 2013, and when she saw the incredible response to it, Project 3.8 was born. Project 3.8 is a collection of Robyn’s photographs depicting children fighting pediatric cancers, and she unveiled these powerful images at an exhibition I was pleased to attend at the Blazing Editions gallery in East Greenwich. Robyn hopes to not only pay tribute to children and families fighting cancer, but also to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancers. Only 3.8 percent of national cancer funding is designated specifically for pediatric research, and Robyn hopes to change that. All proceeds from her shows in Rhode Island, for example, will be donated to the Dorian J. Murray Foundation. I’m grateful to Robyn for using her talent to highlight such an important issue and for reminding us of why Dorian was such a special young man.
It doesn’t matter the size of the company or what industry it operates in, businesses today most likely face challenges in cyberspace. Any company that has an online presence, operates an online store, or uses technology to manage their business, is opening itself up not only to new opportunities, but also new vulnerabilities. CVS Health is known for its brick and mortar retail pharmacies, but that doesn’t mean they are able to overlook cybersecurity.
As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I meet with businesses often to talk about ways they can strengthen their cyber defenses. I encourage all businesses to take cybersecurity seriously, and thankfully, CVS Health is on the ball. In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I was pleased to join CVS for their Information Security Conference. I talked about the rapidly changing cyber landscape, what businesses can do to protect themselves, and how the federal government is acting to better defend public and private networks from cyber attack. In particular, I underscored the role that each employee – each individual – must play. Cyber defenses are only as strong as their weakest link, and even just one employee can wreak havoc. By ignoring good cybersecurity practices, a single employee could click on a malicious link and provide a beachhead for further attacks.
The theme of this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month is “Our Shared Responsibility.” To phrase it differently, “cybersecurity: not just an IT problem.” Too often, companies treat cybersecurity as an issue for IT professionals only. By emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity for all their employees, CVS is working to avoid that problem and create a culture that prioritizes cyber defense.
Works of Art
For 50 years, the Scituate Art Festival has attracted huge crowds to northwest Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders and tourists alike are drawn to the picturesque village of Scituate, and to the spectacular talent of New England artists, in particular. What started as a small community event with just 12 local exhibitors now brings in hundreds of gifted artists in a celebration of creativity and a weekend to enjoy and treasure the beauty of Rhode Island in the autumn season. Kudos to all of the participants who displayed their artwork at the Festival, and thanks to all of the constituents who came by to say hello!
For the Good of Humanities
One of the things that I’m most proud of about being a Rhode Islander – and that I’m most prone to bragging about while I’m in Washington – is our culture. It’s such a privilege for me to get to explore the cultural treasures of our state, and at the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’ 2016 Celebration of the Humanities, many of those treasures were on display for all to enjoy, including the Tomaquag Museum, Providence Children’s Film Festival and Rhode Island Latino Arts.
I got to attend my first Providence Children’s Film Festival last year, and what a treat it was to see how this innovative non-profit has not only made a national name for itself, but has so thoroughly integrated itself with the community. Just a few months ago, I was with Lorén Spears to celebrate the Tomaquag Museum winning a National Medal for Museum and Library Sciences. Lorén, the executive director of the museum, is a member of my Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, as is Marta Martinez, a volunteer adviser whose work with Rhode Island Latino Arts has helped voices from the Latino community be heard all across the state.
Tom Roberts, a lecturer at the Rhode Island School of Design and founding executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, was recognized at the celebration, as well, and I couldn’t imagine such an event without him. I’ve known Tom from my time as a state legislator, when he was establishing the Council, and his hard work since then has touched the lives of hundreds of grant recipients, artists, and Rhode Islanders overall.
Congratulations to all of the honorees and thank you for the incredible work you do to support the humanities.
On the Block
As Energy Task Force Chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), I am always looking for new ways to advance green policies on Capitol Hill. But reducing emissions, preserving natural resources, and encouraging sustainable practices is a group effort. It starts with each individual having the power and the will to change habits and institute environmentally-friendly practices.
On Block Island, Mary Jane Balser is one of these individuals.
Mary Jane is the owner of Block Island Grocery, and she and her team are committed to helping the environment in any way they can. It’s no surprise, then, that the business was honored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a Rural Energy Pioneer. The grocery store utilized two USDA grant programs to install high-efficiency LED lighting and doors, and to upgrade their refrigeration system. The changes yield substantial energy savings, saving the business money in the long run.
I’m so proud that Block Island Grocery has been a leader in energy efficiency. They are a real example of thinking globally and acting locally and, while these may be small changes, they have the potential to be a part of something much bigger – something that benefits all of us, on Block Island and beyond. Mary Jane reminds us that we all have the power to invest in the future of our planet.
Made in Rhode Island
It’s impossible to talk about Rhode Island history without recognizing the tremendous importance of manufacturing. From machinists to jewelry makers, manufacturing dominated the state’s economic landscape for many years. But when inexpensive labor and raw materials could be found overseas, jobs followed, and manufacturing was on the decline. It was a difficult time of transition for our state.
Now, we find ourselves in a new time of transition. Manufacturing is back, but looks quite different from the factory work of our parents and grandparents. Advanced manufacturing has replaced manual labor, and skilled workers are needed in specialties like robotics and information technology. Job opportunities continue to grow in these advanced manufacturing industries, and the challenge becomes finding the right skilled workers for the jobs.
This skills gap was one of the main topics of discussion during Manufacturing Day, which I spent meeting with and touring some of Rhode Island’s exceptional manufacturers. October is Manufacturing Month, and I wanted to do a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities facing this important economic sector.
I started the day in Cranston at Trans-Tex, LLC, which produces narrow webbing – products like lanyards, key fobs, wristbands and shoelaces. Founded in 1985, Trans-Tex has approximately 70 employees and is staffed 24 hours a day. From there, I joined Polaris MEP Director Christian Cowan in leading a roundtable discussion with more than a dozen manufacturing companies, as well as training programs and educational institutions like New England Institute of Technology.
Similar concerns were shared at this working lunch, as we discussed the lingering stigma surrounding manufacturing. Students today believe that a traditional four-year college is the only path to success, and while that is a great option for many students, it isn’t the only option, and it certainly isn’t the only option that can lead to a good-paying job. I successfully included an amendment in the Every Student Succeeds Act that encourages states to provide apprenticeship opportunities and comprehensive career counseling so young people are more informed about workforce demands. It is steps like this that will start to break the stigma surrounding career and technical education, as will letting more Rhode Islanders know about some of the incredible, innovative companies that are growing in our state’s manufacturing industry.
After a lively and productive discussion, I closed out the day at AstroNova in West Warwick. A data visualization technology company, AstroNova has a range of clients but is known for its work in aerospace. They manufacture flight deck printers used in demanding military and commercial environments, including the printers for Boeing. AstroNova was recently recognized by Providence Business News as one of the fastest growing technology companies in the state, an exciting designation for a company at the nexus of manufacturing and technology.
As we toured the manufacturing floor, I asked workers where they were trained. Many said either New England Tech or CCRI, and another young man said he attended the Regional Career and Technical Center at Coventry High School. I hear those answers a lot when visiting manufacturers, and I find it encouraging that the stigma is starting to wear off. These young people pursued a path that they knew would lead to a successful career, and it’s paying off for them. It’s important that we celebrate these stories, these students, and these companies, as we support a further resurgence of manufacturing in Rhode Island.
Word on the Street
John Maeda made a big difference in Rhode Island as President of the Rhode Island School of Design. Now that he’s the Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic, the company behind WordPress and other web platforms, he’s still making a difference.
John’s innovative way of thinking and his leadership in incorporating art and design into the STEM disciplines have made him an influential figure in education and in business, so I was excited to see him back in Rhode Island for WordCamp, a two-day summit for bloggers, designers, and businesspeople to help them use and develop for WordPress.
As a novice tech junkie myself, I’m fascinated by the process that designers and technologists go through to create engaging content and platforms. That’s what WordCamp is all about. It’s a forum to educate users and empower them to not only use technology in new ways, but also to use technology in ways that support their mission or business. Best of all, WordCamp provides a forum where users can learn from both experts like John and their peers. Because when it comes to innovation, communication and collaboration can make the biggest difference of all.
Rocky Point Memories
I’m a lifelong Warwick resident and, like most of my neighbors of a certain age, I have fond memories of Rocky Point. So many Rhode Islanders recall what this park looked like back in the day -- which was their favorite ride, or the best time to pick up clamcakes so you could avoid lines at the Shore Dinner Hall. To us, Rocky Point is an institution.
For kids in Warwick today, they are getting to know a different Rocky Point. They visit the park with their families to go for walks, to fish, or simply to enjoy a stunning view of the Bay. To them, Rocky Point as we knew it is a piece of folklore.
And now, thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation, the Rocky Point Foundation, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, together with support from Mayor Scott Avedisian and the City of Warwick, we are on our way to bridging the gap between past and present.
I was proud to join these groups – groups that have been committed to preserving Rocky Point as open space – to unveil a refurbished Rocky Point arch. The arch is a symbol of Rocky Point as it was and as it will be, because even though this beautiful spot has changed so much from when I was a kid, its importance to our community has never diminished. Rocky Point has found new life and new purpose, and the newly painted arch is another milestone in the ongoing transformation of a place that has and will continue to bring so much joy to Rhode Island.
I look forward to many more enhancements to Rocky Point in the years to come, and I can’t thank the city and its partners enough for believing that some memories are too precious to forget.
The Quonset Effect
According to a Bryant University study, Quonset supports more than 21,000 full-time equivalent jobs, or one out of every 23 jobs in Rhode Island. One out of 23. Think about how substantial that is. In a state the size of Rhode Island, that means that practically every Rhode Islander knows someone who works at Quonset. And that workforce translates into $2.85 billion in economic output, $1.26 billion in labor income, and $113.1 million in state tax revenues.
In other words, the economic impact of Quonset on Rhode Island is tremendous. More than 200 companies call Quonset home, and since 2005, more than $500 million in private investment has been made in the park. Significant state and federal investments have been made as well, and this study shows us how heartily that investment pays off. Investments in Quonset Business Park have paid dividends for our state and for the resident businesses. Thanks to support at the federal, state, and local levels, and the incredible leadership of the Quonset Development Corporation, the park continues to thrive and grow, helping Rhode Island’s overall economy to do the same.
I’m at Quonset often, sometimes to celebrate news like this, but often to visit businesses that are doing exciting, innovative work right there in North Kingstown. I hear from these businesses time and again that they benefit immeasurably from the infrastructure, support, and streamlined approval processes that are part of the Quonset experience.
I know the QDC has every intention of keeping that up, and I certainly have every intention of maintaining my support.
Melvoid J. (Estes) Benson was an incredible woman. As a teacher, as a State Representative, and as a member of the North Kingstown School Committee, she made a difference in the lives of everyone she met. She was one of the first African Americans to be elected to the Rhode Island State House, but she didn’t think twice about it. Mel loved her town and her constituents. When someone had a problem, it didn’t matter who they were, Mel was there to listen and offer her help. That’s what public service was about for her.
Mel and I became close during our service together in the state legislature, and I wanted to find a way to celebrate her service. Since Mel had dedicated so much of her life to the North Kingstown community, I introduced legislation to name the North Kingstown Post Office in her honor. She was touched by the gesture, and we spoke regularly while the bill moved forward. Always, once I gave her my update, she got back to what she considered the more important business: constituents she knew needed help, or ideas on how to register new voters. Mel never lost her love of politics.
When I introduced the bill, I imagined the dedication ceremony with Mel by my side. But on a Sunday morning, less than 48 hours before President Obama’s signature would make it official, Mel passed away. In the months that followed, a team of people got to work to make sure that the dedication was worthy of a trailblazer like Mel Benson. And worthy it was. There are so many people to thank, starting with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who introduced a companion bill in the Senate to see this across the finish line. I’m grateful to the Rhode Island Blood Center, Girl Scout Troop 1280, Taylor Rental of North Kingstown, Flowers by Bert and Peg, Wickford Marine Consignment, and the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce. These companies and organizations offered their support in different ways, but each was instrumental in making the event a success. I also have to thank the North Kingstown United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown for their beautiful performances, and the Reverend Lori Eldredge for delivering a heartfelt invocation and benediction. I’m grateful to Aiden and Kyleigh Felice for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, to Richard Johnson for singing the National Anthem, and to the Rhode Island State Police and the North Kingstown Police for providing an Honor Guard. Town Manager Tom Mulligan, Governor Gina Raimondo, Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline all gave wonderful remarks. I want to give a special thanks to my staff for their hard work, and also to the United States Postal Service, and to Valley District Manager David Mastroianni, Jr. and Christine Dugas, in particular. They made the day go off without a hitch. The only thing left to worry about was the weather, and Mel took care of that.
Last, but certainly not least, I must thank Mel’s family and friends for being with us at the event, and for being supportive throughout the process. Many Rhode Islanders knew and loved Mel, and her loss was felt so acutely in our community. But no one felt the loss more than the people closest to her, and to have them be a part of the dedication was so meaningful. I was so impressed by Mac Cullen, a family friend and a student at my alma mater, Bishop Hendricken. Though he is just a teenager, Mac did an extraordinary job honoring Mel, and I know she would have been so proud. Elizabeth Estes, Mel’s niece, represented the entire Estes and Benson families, and she did so beautifully. Her passion and her sincerity in remembering her aunt was reflective of the incredible difference that Mel made, not just in her community, but in the lives of her loved ones.
I miss Mel very much. I wish she could have been there to hear all the wonderful stories and to tell some of her own. But her presence was felt by all of us, and while we had only memories to share, what great memories they were.
Three towns, three organizations, and three constituencies I’m happy to support make for a busy, but rewarding Saturday afternoon.
Operation Stand Down Rhode Island does exceptional work all year round supporting our veterans and helping them access safe and affordable housing, health care, employment, and a range of other services. But their work is perhaps no more visible or powerful than during Stand Down Weekend. For one weekend, at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, Operation Stand Down assembles a huge collection of agencies and service providers in one place so veterans, and homeless veterans, in particular, can connect with the people and resources that will help them get back on their feet. It’s one-stop shopping for veterans, and it never ceases to amaze me how many resources OSD is able to bring together. Even more impressive is that the people manning the booths and providing services, like dental care and health care screenings, are all volunteers. Volunteers come back, year after year, and spend their entire weekend giving back. Our veterans make incredible sacrifices to keep us safe, and Stand Down Weekend is an opportunity for the rest of us to show our gratitude for their service. The turnout was phenomenal, as it always is, and I can’t thank Executive Director Erik Wallin, President and Board Chairman Tony DeQuattro and their entire team enough for the hard work that goes into making the weekend a success.
Moving south to Johnston, I then stopped in to the 29th annual Apple Festival at Johnston Memorial Park. The weather felt more like summer than fall, but it was still a great event. Local farms had apples for sale, not to mention every type of baked good you could dream of. The Apple Festival, I think, is really illustrative of the type of town that Johnston is. Community events like the Apple Festival consistently get great attendance because Johnstonians seem to feel so connected to their community. It’s really refreshing to see, and I take every chance I can to visit Johnston.
To wrap up the afternoon, I headed to Roger Williams Park in Providence. At a time when opioid addiction is on the rise and the fight against addiction has been increasingly in the news, the Rally4Recovery was especially important this year. According to the hardworking coordinators who make this event possible, Rally4Recovery attracted more than 6,500 people. Set in September’s National Recovery Month, the rally brings together people who have battled and are battling addiction, families who have lost loved ones to the disease, and care providers who are on the front lines of the addiction crisis. One of the challenges surrounding mental health is the lingering stigma that keeps too many people from getting the help they need. At the Rally4Recovery, there is no judgement, and it brings critical exposure to an issue that cannot be swept under the rug. It’s a safe space where people can share their stories, celebrate recovery, and work toward a future where no more Rhode Islanders are fighting the disease alone.
Narragansett on Track
After the Narragansett High School boys’ soccer team tested out their new field, and just before the football team had their turn, the high school and the community at large came together to celebrate the opening of the Narragansett Community Athletic Complex. This long-awaited project is the result of the hard work of so many stakeholders, including outgoing Superintendent Katherine Sipala, Principal Dan Warner and his team, Chairwoman Tammy McNeiece and the Narragansett School Committee, donors like Terry and Sue Murray, and the entire Town of Narragansett. The athletic complex is a community space, and it’s only fitting that it is the result of such a concerted community effort.
For years to come, Narragansett student athletes will be able to hone their skills, make healthy choices, and compete at high levels in a complex that has all the bells and whistles they could ask for. But the Narragansett Community Athletic Complex isn’t just for student athletes. It’s for Narragansett High School students, faculty, and for all members of the community. Because the complex is more than a competitive arena – it’s a meeting place and a clean, safe space where all Rhode Islanders can go to exercise and be connected to the town.
I look forward to many events there in the future. Go Mariners!
A New Endeavor
For 40 years, the research vessel Endeavor has been providing hands-on learning experiences for scientists and would-be scientists. The National Science Foundation owns the ship, but it’s the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island that operates it at sea – embarking on nearly 600 expeditions over the past four decades. For more than half the year, Endeavor is on the water with a crew of scientists and students. And just before it set sail again for a 30-day autumn expedition, the Endeavor opened up its doors for free tours from its home dock in Narragansett.
Endeavor’s open house was very well attended, and I was one of many Rhode Islanders who wanted an up-close look at the scientific vessel. It was incredible to see the capabilities on board, and the extensive recording equipment used to test the water and study marine life. It was exciting given the Endeavor’s long history of training the next generation of oceanographers – feeding an industry that is critical to protecting the Ocean State’s vast coastal resources. The Endeavor is a home away from home for the students and educators who study aboard her, and it was so interesting to share the experience for a day.
I was especially pleased to see the number of people stopping at the port for a tour. URI is an economic driver in our state and it trains many talented young people from Rhode Island and beyond. It’s important that Rhode Islanders, then, feel connected to URI and the work that they’re doing. URI supports our state in so many ways, and it was nice to see so many Rhode Islanders out to support URI.