A Mission of Mercy
Each year, nearly 1,000 Rhode Islanders who lack dental insurance coverage and who cannot otherwise afford to pay for care, line up and even camp out overnight to access free care. For many, it is the only treatment they will receive in the course of a year, despite the fact that proper dental care is vital to overall health.
It is such a disheartening sight, but I am so encouraged by the kindness and generosity of those waiting at the head of the line. The Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation’s Mission of Mercy, along with literally hundreds of volunteers from Delta Dental, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, CCRI and dentists and hygienists across the state, provide this crucial dental care at no cost, along with educational support to Rhode Islanders who need it most. It has been said that the measure of a country’s greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations, and I agree. Thanks to the efforts of the Oral Health Foundation and the countless volunteers it enlists, we are helping to narrow the gaps in dental care. With help from these partners, we can provide better care for our most vulnerable.
Protecting Our Kids
When I read the Reuters investigative series, “The Child Exchange,” I almost couldn’t believe it. The series detailed the online underworld of private re-homing, a practice where adopted children are passed off into new homes without regulation or oversight, and sometimes into the care of unfit guardians who have even lost custody of their own children due to negligence or abuse.
How could anyone do that to a child?
Having grown up in a home with many foster siblings over the years, the idea of re-homing hit me hard. I have long worked on issues surrounding foster care and ensuring that foster youth are well protected and cared for. Re-homing brings up an entirely different set of challenges, and challenges that seriously threaten the well-being of children.
Not to mention, it doesn’t help our relationships with other countries when the children of international adoptions are being re-homed like household pets.
I couldn’t sit idly by. And thankfully, there are many others who are eager to address this problem and find a solution. In Washington, I commissioned a GAO study to investigate re-homing and recommend actions to Congress. I am co-leading a bill to expand the training of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to include efforts to re-home children, and I am an original cosponsor of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, which would help prevent youth in foster care from becoming victims of re-homing. In October, I also introduced the Protecting Children Act to provide for pre- and post-adoptive counseling assistance to ease the transition for children and families.
And In Rhode Island, I convened a roundtable discussion that I believe will yield even more positive results. It is going to take cooperation from law enforcement, legislators and child welfare advocates to end the practice of re-homing, and that is exactly who I brought together for this discussion. I was joined by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Colonel Steven O’Donnell, Dr. Janice DeFrances of the Rhode Island DCYF, Darlene Allen of Adoption Rhode Island and nationaladoption reform expert Maureen Flatley.
I was especially honored to welcome to Rhode Island Tarikuwa Lemma and Liya Foust, two brave young women who experienced re-homing firsthand and are now embarking on a campaign to stop this from happening to other people. These women have inspired me to keep this fight at the forefront, and I look forward to continued discussions with them and with all of our partners to ensure no other children go through this terrible experience.
Rocky Hill on the Hill
I just wanted to share this photo from my visit to Rocky Hill School. Tim Greenwood’s eighth grade American Government class had some great questions for me, and it was clear that they had done their homework. Earlier in the year, the students completed a research assignment on Congress, studying legislative and policy issues and learning what a typical day looks like in Congress, as well as in our home districts. They also completed a section on me as their representative, and their knowledge of my committee work – especially on cybersecurity – was quite impressive. Thank you so much to Tim for the invitation, and to all of the students for grilling me with some fantastic questions. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a future legislator, or two, in the class!
Happy Memorial Day!
Like Armed Forces Day, I thoroughly enjoy Memorial Day as another chance to thank our veterans and the men and women who continue to serve in our military. I am so grateful for their service and sacrifice, and that is a debt that can never truly be repaid.
I appreciated the opportunity to participate in several Memorial Day celebrations, including the 16th annual Charlestown Memorial Day Parade, the North Kingstown Memorial Day Parade and the 40th annual Memorial Day Observance Ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. They were all fitting tributes to our armed forces, and it was great to be surrounded by so many patriotic, appreciative Americans.
I also had the opportunity to share some information with many of my constituents. I received letters from two women recently who said that people often make note of their Gold Star pins and ask where they can get one. These people mean well, but they are completely unaware of what the Gold Star means. This pin is a symbol of honor given only to surviving families of the brave men and women in uniform who die while serving our country. Thank you to both of these constituents for reminding me of this sacrifice, and for allowing me to share their stories with others.
When you see someone wearing a Gold Star pin, you know that he or she has lost a loved one in the brave service of our nation. Please, if you see a Gold Star pin, take that opportunity to thank the spouse, parent, child or sibling for their tremendous sacrifice. And to all the Gold Star Families out there, thank you so much; our words and praise can never truly tell you how grateful our nation is.
Sound of Service
I celebrated Armed Forces Day in style this year, between Echo Taps and the Air Show. A great day was capped off with the Proud to be an American fundraiser, an event coordinated by Starzz Entertainment. The Kelley Gazzero Post was decked out in red, white and blue from wall to wall, and the room was jam packed with supporters who have come to expect great things from Starzz and its leadership, namely Lisa D’Ambra and Steven Quirini.
This was the second annual event, both of which benefited patients of the VA Medical Center. Several VA officials were on hand, including Dr. Susan MacKenzie, director of the Providence VA Medical Center. Dr. MacKenzie explained that events like this are so important to local veterans because the need is so great. Additional funds from the community help fill the physical and emotional needs of veterans, from clothing and food to recreation and even holiday gifts for the children of veterans.
Today’s men and women in uniform, who freely take on the burdens of service to the nation, build on the sacrifices made by generations of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen that came before them. We truly owe our veterans a debt of honor, and one of my highest responsibilities as a Member of Congress is making sure that we uphold that commitment. The Department of Veterans Affairs is at the forefront of that repayment, by serving the men and women who are America’s veterans, and their families. But even as we in DC work to hone the policies we need to support those efforts, it has been inspiring to see the incredible support from the community and wonderful individuals like Lisa, Steven and Vin Palumbo, whose tireless commitment to Rhode Island veterans was recognized at the event.
I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend Armed Forces Day, and I look forward to the third annual event – another chance for all of us to thank a veteran and do something good in our community.
Back in Action
I heard from so many constituents, friends and neighbors who were disappointed last year when the Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show was cancelled. It is a rite of spring for so many Rhode Islanders, and a great event to enjoy with the whole family.
They weren’t alone; I was disappointed, too.
But its triumphant return this year made the Air Show that much better.
The forecast called for rain, but the clouds were long gone by the time I got to Quonset, and the weather could not have been more perfect for a Rhode Island tradition like the Air Show. Thank you so much to the Rhode Island National Guard for all of the hard work that goes into organizing such a huge event, and you should be so proud of your pilots, whose talents were on full display. I already can’t wait for next year!
Sound of Service
It’s incredible how a smell or a sound can trigger a memory. For me, and I think for so many Americans, the sounds of Echo Taps stir a distinct feeling of patriotism and gratitude. As soon as the first bugle sounds, I am reminded of the incredible sacrifice made by our brave men and women in uniform, and also of the sacrifice made by those left behind.
That is what Echo Taps is all about. It is a recognition of service and sacrifice, a reflection on freedom and the acknowledgement that freedom is not free.
I was grateful for the opportunity to attend this year’s 10th annual Echo Taps performance at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Echo Taps Worldwide was organized in 2005 by the VA National Cemetery Administration as a way to commemorate Armed Forces Day. Michael Jackson, the Rhode Island state director of Buglers Across America, does a beautiful job coordinating the ceremony locally, and all of the volunteer brass players deliver exceptional performances. The music was phenomenal and I was glad to see so many veterans and military families gathered at the World War II memorial for the occasion.
The strains of Taps are a somber reminder of fallen heroes, but they also bring comfort. The comfort in knowing that the sacrifice of so many has not been in vain. The comfort in knowing that each day we strive to live up to the ideals they fought for. The comfort in knowing that, while their watch may be ended, liberty does not stand undefended.
Rite of Spring
I had the honor and privilege of participating in commencement ceremonies for my alma mater, Rhode Island College, the Exeter Job Corps program and the University of Rhode Island. CCRI, Bryant, Providence College, Salve Regina and Roger Williams also celebrated with the graduating Class of 2014 that same weekend, with additional services planned for RISD, Brown, Johnson and Wales, and New England Tech.
Graduation season in Rhode Island.
As a RIC alumnus, I thoroughly enjoy returning to my alma mater, and I continue to be so impressed by the caliber of students and faculty there. I owe so much to the college, and I will never forget the experiences I had while a student. I’m sure the same would be said by graduates from all of our colleges and universities. They are preparing Rhode Island’s next generation of community leaders, and from what I saw at this year’s commencement celebrations, this crop of graduates is going to do great things. They are well-prepared for their next steps into the world, and that is exactly what we need to promote economic development. Businesses cannot open or grow here unless they have a pool of talented candidates to choose from, so I will continue to fight for smart investments in both higher education and job training programs in order to create the kind of skilled workforce that will contribute to making Rhode Island a better place to do business.
On May 12, my friend, Stephanie Mandeville, read a story in the Providence Journal about the desperate need for diapers in low-income families. Diapers are not a luxury, but they are not covered by the WIC program, leaving some families struggling to afford this most basic baby necessity. A mother herself, Stephanie was disturbed by the story. But rather than turn the page and keep scanning the headlines, she decided to do something about it.
In the course of a week, through email blasts to family, friends and colleagues, and through a vigorous social media campaign, Stephanie collected more than 16,700 diapers to donate to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. No one asked her to do it, but Stephanie didn’t need to be asked. She saw it as her responsibility to the community. She thought she could make a difference, and that’s exactly what she did. I was happy to contribute to the efforts and am proud that several of my District Office employees followed suit. On Twitter, elected officials and community leaders joined the movement, tweeting to Stephanie that they had diapers to donate, too. It is a wonderful example of a grassroots campaign, and it would not have been possible if not for Stephanie’s determination.
Thank you, Stephanie, for refusing to stay on the sidelines. Rhode Island families are better off for it.
Good to the Corps
I was honored to be invited to speak at the Exeter Job Corps graduation ceremony. If we want our young people to be successful, we need to invest in job and skills training programs that prepare them for careers in industries with high growth potential. The Exeter Job Corps program is truly one of the best of its kind, leading to the recent announcement that they can open up an additional 24 spots for future classes!
Exeter was selected for this increase by the Employment and Training Administration Office of Job Corps because it was ranked in the top half of performance based on a three-year average of Program Years 2010, 2011 and 2012. The addition will bring capacity to 174 students in the coming months
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I have been so impressed by the Exeter Job Corps’ ability to identify in-demand jobs and empower young members to learn those job skills that will make them competitive candidates in the workforce. From health IT to manufacturing, construction to culinary arts, Exeter Job Corps programs produce highly-capable, hardworking young people who go on to become leaders in their chosen fields.
Congratulations to all of the students, past and present, who have made the Exeter Job Corps one of the best of its kind in the country. Combined with the exceptional leadership of Director Jason Menard, Executive Director Linda Soderbergh, Raymond Ankrom and Guy Natelli, it is the dedication of Job Corps students that has made this program what it is.
In Rhode Island, small businesses make up 96 percent of the state’s employers. Ninety-six percent. To say that small business is the lifeblood of our economy would be an understatement. Supporting these small businesses, then, is of crucial importance, both to help new entrepreneurs open up shop and to aid existing companies in their efforts to thrive and grow.
For many would-be business owners, and even current owners, education and training is key to achieving that goal. The Small Business Administration and the Center for Women and Enterprise both provide those services, and at a roundtable discussion with the SBA, CWE and my colleague David Cicilline, training opportunities were touted as one of the most important benefits offered through these agencies.
That is especially true for women- and minority-owned businesses. Women-owned small businesses account for only a quarter of all small businesses, and many of the women present at the roundtable said the business, finance and marketing courses available to them were a major part in getting their idea off the ground. CWE offers courses in how to write a business plan, how to access capital – a major challenge for all small businesses – and how to attract and retain customers. Women-owned businesses are an important driver for economic and social mobility, and if we want to empower more women to join the business community, we must support the SBA, CWE and similar programs.
From 1997 to 2006, women-owned businesses experienced a growth rate nearly twice the national average. However, the more than 10 million women-owned firms are still at a distinct disadvantage. To cite just one eye-opening statistic, these firms make up more than 40 percent of all private businesses in this country but have consistently received only three percent of federal contracts. That must change, and I will continue to do all that I can in Congress and in Rhode Island to create an environment where women-owned, and all, small businesses can flourish.
Slice of Heaven
If we truly want to promote a message of conservation and environmental protection, education and awareness must begin with our young people, and what better classrooms are there than the many parks and urban greenspaces that make our cities more beautiful? Thanks to the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Providence Parks are now considered urban wildlife refuges, ensuring that these outdoor classrooms will receive the attention they deserve. Rhode Island has so many natural assets, and the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership will serve to further enhance our state’s beautiful landscape.
A critical part of any community is its parks and open spaces. We are privileged in Rhode Island to have so many backyard wildernesses within walking distance of our schools, homes and workplaces. There were several people at the designation ceremony that work to make these special places possible. I would like to thank Jim Kurth, Marcia Pradines, Wendi Weber, Dan Ashe, Janet Coit, Robert McMahon and their teams for making this designation possible.
I want to especially thank the Providence Parks and Recreation Department for their hard work. They have made preservation and conservation a priority, and it is reflected in the open spaces that they maintain. Riverside Park looked beautiful at the designation ceremony, and I am confident that Providence left a wonderful impression on the dignitaries visiting from across the region and nation, including Dan Ashe, the National Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This initiative will build off of Rhode Island’s longstanding tradition of environmental stewardship to connect our community parks with state agencies, businesses, universities and conservation organizations. Forming education and restoration partnerships will build everyone’s appreciation for the complex and delicate ecosystem in which we live.
So when you visit your neighborhood park, take your dog for a walk or plan a family picnic, I hope we can all take pride in a community that creates space for everyone to appreciate the environment we share.
After the Wickford Art Association graciously offered to serve as judges for the Congressional Art Competition, stopping by the fourth annual North Kingstown K-12 Art Show Reception and donating a flag for their raffle was the least I could do. Once again, I was blown away by the quality of artwork on display. My art competition involves only high school students, but if the North Kingstown art show is any indication, the talent in Rhode Island starts at a very young age. I always love visiting the Art Association headquarters, which is down on Beach Street in Wickford. It is a beautiful spot right on the beach and with the senior center next door and the outdoor stage nearby, it is a wonderful community gathering spot for a number of different occasions. If you’ve never been down there, grab a coffee in the village and then check out the headquarters, which is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and on Sundays from 12 to 3 p.m. In addition to the annual Art Festival, which is their biggest event of the year, the Art Association offers exhibits throughout the year, teaches classes and hosts public events that attract art enthusiasts from North Kingstown and beyond.
Thank you again to the Wickford Art Association for including me in the art show, and congratulations to all of the young artists who had their work on display.
More for Less
Ocean State Job Lot’s motto is “a lot more for a lot less,” and they are well known as a retailer that sells everything from kayaks to clothes at discount prices. Seeing their expansive inventory at the Quonset warehouse was a shopper’s paradise – rows upon rows and shelves to the ceiling filled with enough product to stock a dozen stores.
But what impresses me the most about Job Lot is that they do “a lot more” work in the community than many of their customers would guess.
Brothers Alan and Marc Perlman, who own the company, have dedicated much of their careers to giving back, supporting a myriad of causes. They provide socks and underwear to children living in poverty through Project Undercover. They donate to charitable organizations with little overhead, ensuring that their money is spent on the people that need it most. They support efforts to increase access to education worldwide. And right here in the United States, their Three Square Meals program delivers close to 100 truckloads of food to more than a dozen food banks in New England and New York. This year alone, Three Square Meals raised a record $1.4 million, thanks in part to the company’s dedication to philanthropy and in part to Job Lot customers who have come to know and appreciate the retailer’s generosity.
Job Lot owners and employees show a lot of heart, but they have also shown business savvy that has increased visibility and name recognition well outside their namesake. Ocean State Job Lot is no longer just a Rhode Island brand, and they hope to grow from serving 20 million to 30 million customers by 2015. They have more than 100 stores in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York. And in the near future, their first New Jersey store will open up. These locations are quite often energy efficient, as the Perlmans are always looking for ways to increase efficiency. Increased efficiency means lower costs, which in this case, translates into more money available to support community programs. For a company with an economic footprint the size of Job Lot’s, that’s a refreshing approach to doing business.
As far as federal contracts go, $17.6 billion isn’t anything to sneeze at.
As far as any contracts go, for that matter, $17.6 billion is an impressive figure.
But that’s exactly how much General Dynamics and Electric Boat were awarded in order to build 10 Virginia-class submarines for the United States Navy.
This contract award reaffirms Electric Boat’s position as a leading defense contractor nationally, and will translate directly into more jobs locally. Electric Boat’s Quonset facility currently employs approximately 2,800 people, with another 450 jobs on the way. This award is the largest naval shipbuilding contract in U.S. history, which demonstrates the trust that the Navy and the nation have in the submarine industrial base and all of the dedicated employees who work there.
I believe in the fundamental worth of the security provided by Virginia-class submarines – the finest submarines in the world. I believe in the quality of work done by Electric Boat, in cooperation and coordination with the Navy. And I believe that as the world becomes a more complex place, the United States’ need for these boats will only increase.
Thankfully, we will have Electric Boat to turn to.