Kurt Harrington was in high school when he started cleaning his dentist’s fish tank. Just like that, an entrepreneur was born. He continued to pick up clients and by the time he was in college, Kurt’s business was helping to pay for tuition.
Nowadays, his client list is significant and includes partners like the Mystic and New England Aquariums. The business that started with a single $12 per month client has grown into Something Fishy, an aquarium designer, retailer and service provider. Something Fishy recently broke into new territory, partnering with Jordan’s Furniture on aquarium installations that will soon be available in all Jordan’s locations.
Kurt is an incredible Rhode Island success story. He worked hard, got an education and created a brand that is poised for further growth. He is good to his employees, and it was nice to hear about the ways in which Kurt supports the men and women who work for him. He makes health care affordable, tries to offer attractive benefits and incentivizes employees to take advantage of professional development opportunities. Kurt is always working to improve himself and his business, and that is reflected in his team. The business has a great energy because of it, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there.
One of the other things that really impressed me about Kurt is that, despite how young he is, he really believes in Rhode Island and is eager to help the state as a whole to succeed. He is active in the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, and jumps at the chance to network with and support other entrepreneurs. He is so active, in fact, that I was pleased to see Janet Raymond, senior vice president of economic development and operations of the Providence Chamber, in attendance during my visit. Janet speaks very highly of Kurt, and I can see why. In Kurt’s estimation – and I agree – when one business succeeds, everyone has a better chance of succeeding. That’s the kind of attitude we need in our business community, and I fully expect to hear more from Something Fishy as they continue to make a splash (forgive the pun) in Rhode Island. They don’t wait for opportunity to come – they grab it – and it shows.
Salute to Our Firefighters
My job puts me in the spotlight. As a public official, I am subject to public scrutiny. It isn’t always fair or enjoyable, but it’s a reality of the job. I signed up for it, and I welcome the feedback from constituents. I cannot imagine, however, that same level of scrutiny when tasked with a physically and emotionally demanding job that puts my life at risk day in and day out. And yet, that’s exactly the expectation of Rhode Island firefighters.
To put it simply – oversimplified, really – firefighters have a very difficult job. It is physically challenging, it can be incredibly emotional, and it requires unfailing courage.
To shed light on exactly what the job demands, the Providence Fire Department hosted a mock training and simulation for the public officials who are so often tasked with funding and evaluating fire departments. The experience is meant to inform our public policy discussion surrounding the fire service, and I know it was most enlightening for me. While I could not climb a roof or rush into a building filled with the smoke from a controlled fire, I had the opportunity to watch several colleagues go through the training, including my District Director, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. I think it gave all of us a newfound appreciation for the work done by our firefighters, and I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the Providence Fire Department and to all the men and women who put their lives on the line for our public safety.
Courage to Overcome
When Marie Perna was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she absolutely refused to let it slow her down. Instead, it propelled her forward. She created the MS Dream Center with her husband, Don, and together they have provided support, resources and a greater quality of life to people with MS and their families. They also started Accessible Rhode Island, a resource for people with disabilities that has highlighted accessible opportunities in dining, the arts, recreation and more.
When a tragic accident left former boxer Gary Balletto in a wheelchair, he began the long road to recovery. He has fought every step of the way and believes firmly that he will walk again. In the meantime, he is inspiring other people and supporting independence and inclusion for people with disabilities.
When Paul DePace was paralyzed in a car accident, he never missed a beat. He was competing as a wheelchair athlete in just a year’s time, and has been a champion for the Paralympic Games and athletes with disabilities in Rhode Island and beyond. Professionally, his career continued on an upward trajectory, and as the director of capital projects at the University of Rhode Island, he has overseen some of the largest building projects in the University’s history.
And when Michael Matracia was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, instead of throwing in the hat and retiring from his job as a Providence Police officer, he forged ahead. He kept serving the city from his wheelchair and now serves on multiple boards for disability rights organizations – including Accessible RI.
These are incredible, heroic, inspiring stories, and I felt so honored and privileged to share the stage with these individuals and more for the Accessible Rhode Island 25th Anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before passage of the ADA, it was commonplace for a person to be denied employment because she was blind, or unable to attend a university because he was in a wheelchair. It wasn’t too long ago when the societal norm was to treat individuals with disabilities as second-class citizens. As a member of Congress, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, and someone who has lived with the challenges of a disability both before and after the ADA’s enactment in 1990, I have experienced, first hand, the profound changes that this law has effected within our society. For all of us, the ADA has been a life-altering law that has provided new opportunities and fundamentally changed the way society views and treats people with disabilities.
The ADA has broken down barriers to education, employment and technology. It has made public transportation more accommodating, improved voting accessibility, and expanded inclusion and justice for millions. At its core, this groundbreaking legislation codified the collective ideal that no one should suffer discrimination because of a disability.
We have come far since the passage of the ADA, but we have much more work ahead. Disabilities don’t discriminate on the basis of party affiliation, income level or gender; instead, they have the unique ability to unite us in common purpose. That is evident when I look at Marie, Gary, Paul, Michael, and so many other heroes in our communities. I am proud to work with them and call them friends, and I am committed to continuing to fight for equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities everywhere.
Double Up on Cyber
Just one day after giving the closing remarks at the CyberPatriot Award ceremony, I was proud to join Governor Gina Raimondo in announcing her executive order to create a Cybersecurity Commission. At all ages, at every turn, in public service and the private sector, cybersecurity is clearly a challenge that demands our attention.
The Governor’s Commission includes members from government, academia and the public sector, and is chaired by Scott DePasquale, chairman and CEO of Utilidata. I have so much respect for Scott, and I am thrilled that the Governor tapped him as chairman of the Commission. I know he will bring so much insight to the Commission’s work, which will result in two action plans. The first plan, due in the fall, will assess cybersecurity infrastructure and activities within the executive branch, and then make recommendations on how to strengthen cybersecurity for state government. The second plan, due in the winter, will focus on growing cybersecurity jobs and economic development in the cyber sector.
Rhode Island has pockets of excellence in cybersecurity. We have the Cyber Disruption Team, poised to respond to a cyber attack, and the Rhode Island State Police does great work with their Computer Crimes Unit. We also have growing cybersecurity programs at colleges and universities across the state, and several very impressive businesses in the field – Utilidata included. Still, we can do more, and I believe that the Governor’s attention to this issue is the first major step forward in making Rhode Island a true leader in cybersecurity.
Early Cyber Education
Cybersecurity is a key issue for me, and one that I have been studying for nearly 10 years. It’s a topic I am fascinated by and dedicated to, and it is a challenge that we must address for our economic and national security.
There are many things that go into strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity, but a critical component must be a robust cyber workforce. Twenty years from now, the policy debate may fade or change, but the need for well-trained people will continue to be a necessity that determines how we fare as a country. Too often, the IT skills necessary for a cybersecurity career come late in life. We need to do a better job tying education to the job market, and as cyber jobs promise to be here for the foreseeable future, that must include improved training and education in this industry with enormous growth potential. It is going to take a concerted effort to change how we educate and prepare students for the future, but thankfully, there are growing programs dedicated to preparing the next generation of cyber warriors, like CyberPatriot. I love seeing programs like CyberPatriot that reach out meaningfully about the Internet and cyberspace. For young people in school today, no matter what field they are in, cybersecurity is something they will need to know about, and having that fluency and that understanding is going to be a massive career boost down the line.
Companies are constantly on the lookout not just for people who can operate networks or build tools, but people with other specialties that also understand cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a team sport, and it’s going to take huge numbers of cyber-saavy individuals across the entire economy in order to manage this problem out into the future.
That’s where today’s CyberPatriots will come in.
I’m grateful to the Air Force Association and the partners, sponsors, and coaches for everything they do to make this competition possible. It takes a tremendous investment of time, energy and resources, but it is an incredibly worthy cause. Congratulations to all those involved in this year’s competition, and congratulations especially to all of the students who are already ahead of the cybersecurity curve.
Very Best Buddies
As an honorary chair of the Best Buddies Friendship Walk, co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, and a proud uncle of a boy with Autism, I understand many of the unique challenges that individuals with disabilities and their families face on a daily basis. I’m also acutely aware of the opportunities we can create with a strong commitment to programs like Best Buddies.
Best Buddies creates life-long bonds of friendship between people with and without disabilities. All too often, children with disabilities can end up feeling stigmatized and isolated from their friends and loved ones. This program breaks down those barriers and empowers students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to become more actively engaged in their schools and communities, taking on leadership roles and participating in programs that promote diversity and inclusion. It gets them involved in sports, which builds self-esteem and improves overall quality of life.
Best Buddies also supports integrated employment so people with disabilities can participate as full and productive members of society. I believe passionately that people with disabilities are our greatest untapped resource. We must ensure that they can take advantage of opportunities to empower themselves and enrich their communities.
This means supporting programs like Best Buddies that create opportunities for everyone to give back in his or her own way. Thank you to the Best Buddies participants who strengthen school communities, to John Moretta and the advisory board for their commitment to the program and to Matthew Netto, Rhode Island’s state director, who continues to lead Best Buddies in the right direction.
Graduation Season Begins
Graduation season is finally upon us, and it started strong with the Exeter Job Corps.
As co-chair of the Career and Technical Education Caucus and a fierce advocate for workforce development, I fully support the Exeter Job Corps program and all it does to prepare young people for the future. Job Corps programs nationwide empower students to understand their strengths and pursue their passions, armed with the necessary skills for a successful career. Exeter Job Corps fulfills that mission and goes the extra mile, making it the top performing Job Corps center in the country, thanks in part to Center Director, Jason Menard, and his excellent team. That team, in turn, works hand in hand with industry leaders to understand workforce demands and trends. Greater coordination between employers and educators helps to ensure that workers learn in-demand skills and qualifications essential for future success.
This year’s graduates took full advantage of that opportunity and now enter the workforce feeling confident and well prepared. I am so proud of all the graduates and I congratulate them on not only their achievement, but also on their commitment to self-improvement. For many students, Job Corps can be the difference between finding a career and ending up on the street. Over the years I have heard so many students tell me “I was the lucky one in my neighborhood,” because Job Corps was their ticket to a better life. For this year’s graduates, their hard work, patience and determination have all paid off.
The promise of the Job Corps program, one that has been reaffirmed for half a century, is that in the United States of America, the circumstances of your birth should not determine your ability to succeed. Each and every Job Corps graduate is fulfilling that promise, and if they continue to apply the very skills that got them to graduation, I am confident that they will achieve goals and realize dreams they never thought possible.
Team Langevin Leader
I have worked with some extraordinary people over the years, and I am particularly proud of the men and women who have been a part of my team in Congress. One of the best legislative assistants I have ever had is Kirtley Fisher, a brilliant young woman who handled education policy for me in my Washington, D.C. office. It’s always so sad to see someone move on, but when Kirtley told me she wanted to pursue her Master’s degree in education policy from Harvard, I couldn’t be more excited for her.
After seeing Kirtley in action at Providence College, I know she made the right decision.
Kirtley is teaching a course on Leadership and Diversity at PC, and invited me to come speak about my leadership style and my experiences as a legislator with a disability. The class made for an attentive audience and I so appreciated their thoughtful questions. We discussed different styles of leadership and their effectiveness, and I shared my perspective on diversity. While I recognize that much work remains to be done to promote inclusion for people with disabilities and equality for all people, the class definitely reminded me of how much progress has been made. Back when I was looking at colleges, the lack of accessibility was a rude awakening for me and my family. Now, 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I very rarely encounter physical obstacles that cannot be overcome. Restaurants, colleges, office buildings – and even the U.S. Capitol – are, by and large, accessible. These changes continue to take place before my eyes, opening doors for a larger, more diverse population to consider running for office or pursuing various leadership positions in our communities.
I have often said that I may be the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, but I will definitely not be the last. I hope the students remember that when facing their own obstacles and adversity in the future. We all face some challenge, and that challenge can often seem insurmountable. But with hard work, a strong support system and the courage to challenge the status quo, anything is possible.
Wind at Our Backs
Rhode Island has long been at the forefront of innovation, particularly when it comes to what we’re known best for – our oceans and coastal resources. It’s fitting, then, that we have started construction on the first offshore wind farm in the United Sates.
We are fortunate to have such a depth of environmental leaders in the state, whose vision and planning helped bring this project to fruition. It seems that everywhere I look, our mayors, schools, non-profit managers, small business owners and corporate CEOs are devoting time and energy to making our state and its businesses better stewards of our resources and environment. Deepwater Wind is certainly among that list, and I am grateful for the team they have assembled to construct the wind farm, including Specialty Diving Services in Quonset.
As we await the sight of turbines on the horizon, I am excited about what the Block Island wind farm represents — our country’s clean energy future. This marks an important step towards enhancing our nation’s energy security. Rhode Island’s leaders are rising to the challenge of climate change with the type of response you would expect given the threat it presents. We have all seen its damaging and wide-ranging effects first-hand, and I hope that this wind farm is the first of many more advancements that will move our state toward clean energy independence.
The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is an incredible resource and advocate for its member businesses, fighting for policies that support economic growth and streamlined regulations that increase efficiencies for business owners. Once a year, the Chamber provides an additional service: connecting hundreds of business leaders to the public officials that represent them at the national level. The Chamber’s Congressional Breakfast is really a wonderful tradition because it gives my colleagues and me the opportunity to hear directly from the business community about what is working, what isn’t, and where their priorities lie. It’s likewise beneficial for participants, who can pose questions directly to the Congressional delegation to learn where we stand on important issues affecting business, like trade, health care and tax reform.
Questions came from leaders in banking, health care, policy and the broader business community, with the discussion facilitated by Chamber President Laurie White. Laurie does such an exceptional job for businesses in Rhode Island, and I so appreciate her hard work on the breakfast and on many other issues. Thanks to Laurie and to everyone who attended the breakfast to learn more about my work in Washington. I hope you will feel comfortable reaching out year-round whenever you have a question or concern! Email me through the website, call my office at 401-732-9400 and connect with me on Twitter (@JimLangevin) and Facebook (Facebook.com/CongressmanJimLangevin).
Lead on Leave
Paid family and medical leave is something I ardently support. This investment in the workforce supports working families and pays dividends for employers. It’s also the right thing to do. I know my colleagues in the delegation feel the same way, as does U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who came to Rhode Island to discuss how paid leave improves workplaces and the overall economic climate. It’s an issue I feel strongly about and could speak on at length, but as I learned at a “Lead on Leave” roundtable that Congressman Cicilline coordinated, no one makes a better advocate for this program than someone who has needed to use it.
Megan Lomba’s mother had a nasty fall and was told by doctors that it would require a lengthy stay in a rehabilitation facility. Even then, they questioned her ability to live independently again – or even to walk without assistance. Megan is a CNA, though, and knew she could care for her mother at home in the best possible way. Thanks to paid leave, she was able to do that and her mother has not only recovered, she’s already back at work. Megan’s family avoided the emotional distress of her mother losing her job, independence and home, and the potential price tag on decades of long-term care would have been significant.
David Deary’s son was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, putting him in and out of hospitals. David and his wife were in a constant state of rearranging schedules, trying to decide who would call out of work to be with their son when he needed them most. I was so sad to hear that David’s son passed away, but thanks to paid leave, he was able to spend his final months surrounded by the love and devotion of his parents.
Anne Quirk went into labor early and delivered a premature baby facing an uphill battle. Anne and her husband – like the Deary family – were in and out of hospitals and doctors’ visits. What would have been a six-week maternity leave turned into five months out of work for Anne. Without paid leave to help make ends meet, she would have been out of a job and in a dire financial situation.
These are incredible success stories, but our work is cut out for us. The United States is one of only three industrialized nations today that do not offer paid maternity leave. Rhode Island is a leader in this area, but the rest of the country needs to catch up. I’m grateful to state leaders like Senator Gayle Goldin who made passage of paid leave possible, and especially to the businesses who champion it, like Gold International Machinery and LNA Laser Technology, which hosted the roundtable. Run by the Gold family, these adjacent businesses enthusiastically support paid leave and have encouraged their counterparts across Providence and statewide to do the same. They believe that providing family and medical leave increases employee satisfaction, improves company morale and, in the long run, saves money on training costs because it reduces turnover.
To build momentum in this fight for family support, we need to highlight the Gold family experience and share stories like Megan’s, David’s, and Anne’s. Theirs are the stories that matter. Theirs are the experiences that make paid leave a no-brainer, because nobody should be forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for a family member in need.
It doesn’t seem like more than two years have passed since we cut the ribbon on the Air Traffic Control Tower, or more than three years since we opened the current home of the 102nd Network Warfare Squadron. But it has been, making it all the more impressive that the Rhode Island National Guard has embarked on yet another exciting project – the groundbreaking of the first Air National Guard C-130J Flight Simulator building in the nation.
This development, another important cornerstone of the future of the Quonset Point Air National Guard Base, shows the commitment by the state and our Congressional delegation to our Guardsmen, to Quonset Point and to the future of the Guard presence in Rhode Island.
With as many firsts as the 143rd is responsible for – first C-130J cargo mission to Europe, first to Alaska, first to Hawaii, first combat mission, first combat airdrop, and so many more - it’s only fitting that this C-130J Flight Simulator Building will be the first of its kind in the nation. When populated with the trainer itself, this facility will allow the men and women of the 143rd to do their important work better and with less expense, and it will allow for a slower usage of the precious service life on the C-130Js based here in Rhode Island. It will also be a valuable tool for units that will undoubtedly flow in to take advantage of the facility, as well as the international trainees that will continue to take advantage of the 143rd’s expertise, experience, and capabilities. In my time on the House Armed Services Committee, as I know my friend and colleague Senator Reed can also attest, I’ve seen the incredible value of these training capabilities and the partnership opportunities that they present, and I’ve seen the results of the hard work that the 143rd does every day. I could not be prouder.
Groundbreakings are always an occasion to celebrate, but this particular building is a real symbol of the future of the 143rd and of the base. In an era of ever-tighter budgets and shrinking force numbers, it is a symbol of an enduring presence and capability here in the state that we should be proud of – and that we will need to continue to nurture.
Call It What It Is
Rhode Island has a wonderfully diverse population that includes a significant Armenian American community. For that community, the events of April 24, 1915 are still fresh in their minds, the wounds still raw. That day started a mass killing of Armenians that, once over, would result in the loss of more than one million lives.
Regardless of political pressure to gloss over this historic tragedy, the Armenian Genocide was just that – genocide.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and Armenians worldwide continue to fight for the recognition they deserve. Nothing can bring back those who died, but true healing cannot happen until the legitimacy of the event is universally recognized.
I have long recognized and mourned the Armenian Genocide, and I was proud to be with my friends in the Armenian community as we remembered the lives lost and rallied support for recognition. There have been dozens of anniversary events this month, culminating with a Divine Liturgy ceremony at the North Burial Ground in Providence, followed by a memorial dinner sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Association of Rhode Island. It was an opportunity to reflect and remember the genocide, but also to celebrate the culture and contributions of Armenians in America, in Rhode Island and worldwide.
I want to thank the Association for all they do to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide and to celebrate our state’s rich Armenian heritage. It is my hope that when we come together again to remember the horrible events of April 24th, it is with the support and recognition of the global community.
In the real version of Congress, the climate can be challenging and downright partisan. But in the miniature version of Congress, debate tends to go pretty smoothly.
I’m referring to one of my favorite children’s books – “House Mouse, Senate Mouse,” by Peter Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes. The book depicts a simplified version of Congress in which elected mice debate what variety should be considered the “national cheese.” I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will admit that I love sharing this story with a new generation of kids each year. It gives them an idea of who I am and what I do, though I invariably get a question about what type of cheese I would vote for if given the opportunity.
Throughout Reading Week, at schools across Rhode Island, you can find elected officials and community leaders sharing their favorite books with students of all ages. It’s a reminder for the students – and for the readers – of how important early education is, and how literacy impacts all facets of a child’s education. We need to encourage kids to read and to love reading, because that love of learning will stick with them for years to come. Reading Week is a wonderful celebration of literature, but more than that, it’s a celebration of literacy. It’s a celebration of education. And what better reason is there to celebrate?
Stand Up for Stand Down
More than 80 employers and hundreds of veterans turned out for the Operation Stand Down Job Fair at the Community College of Rhode Island. The cafeteria was wall to wall with booths, and employers could only participate if they had jobs currently available. They were all looking to hire, and lucky for them, there was no shortage of qualified, hardworking men and women with distinguished records of serving our country.
Our veterans deserve all the support we can give them, and that includes employment, training and transition services as they reassimilate to life in Rhode Island. These services are provided by a mix of public and private partners, and Operation Stand Down is, without question, one of the strongest such support networks available to local veterans. The Stand Down organization is committed to ensuring that no veteran goes homeless or hungry, and the intervention and support they provide put our service men and women on the path to living fulfilling, independent lives in our communities. This is the least we can do for them, and I am so grateful to have Operation Stand Down leading the charge.
Making It Count
The number of children identified as homeless by Rhode Island public school personnel: 1,023.
The percentage of Rhode Island children living in poverty: 21.5.
The number of investigations of child abuse and neglect in our state in 2014: 2,413.
These are alarming but very important numbers – numbers that help to shape public policy and identify the challenges we must tackle to better serve Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations, including our children. The RI Kids Count Factbook identifies those key issues and provides us with a roadmap to improving life for kids and families in our state. The Factbook also identifies our strengths and all of the great things happening in Rhode Island, and for that, I am very thankful.
Whether it’s a strength or an area that needs work, the issues outlined by Kids Count are all about supporting access to quality education, health care, housing and food stability. Early childhood is arguably the most impressionable and important time for social development, and early education plays a key role in achieving a higher level of socialization, problem solving and academic readiness later in life. Our state has also shown tremendous leadership in providing positive health outcomes for our youth, and it has been at the forefront of programs that benefit children into young adulthood.
With the help of Rhode Island Kids Count and the collaboration of those in public office and private industry, I know we will continue building on these valuable successes.
When I started hosting my Congressional Art Competition 15 years ago, I was blown away by the talent in the Second District. A lot has changed in Congress during that time, but this much remains true: we have incredibly creative students in Rhode Island. This year’s batch of participants really raised the bar, though, and I am so proud of all of them for pursuing their passion and for putting themselves out there.
We received 58 pieces of artwork – more than ever before – and at our Awards Ceremony, we had more than 100 people join me for an up-close look at the student exhibit. That’s incredible. I’m so grateful to all of the art teachers who supported their students and encouraged them to participate. We couldn’t do this competition without them. I’m also thankful for our ceremony host, the Warwick Mall, and to all of the prize donors. I want to give a special thank you to the Wickford Art Association. For the second consecutive year, the WAA has donated their time and talent to judge the competition. As much as I love art, I know better than to think I’m a qualified judge, so we are very lucky to have these talented artists support the cause.
This competition continues to grow, and I think so much of that has to do with the quality of arts education in Rhode Island schools. The STEM to STEAM movement to incorporate arts into core subjects is growing, and that emphasis on design and creativity will benefit our students in all areas of study. All of the submissions were phenomenal, but ultimately the judges selected three top finishers and five honorable mentions. Congratulations to the honorable mentions: Phoebe Wong of East Greenwich High School, Nicole Morales and Jessica Torres of West Warwick High School, Julia Fagundes of Cranston High School East and Melanie Brunelle of Pilgrim High School. Coming in second and third place, respectively, were Alexandra Bridges of West Warwick High School and Christina Abramson of Toll Gate High School. Alexandra and Christina, in addition to winning several prizes, will have their artwork on display in my Rhode Island Office for one year. This year’s top finisher was Erin Turnbull, a freshman from Scituate High School whose piece, “The Darkness Within,” will be on display for one year in the Cannon Tunnel leading to the U.S. Capitol.
Rhode Island is blessed with a vibrant arts scene that not only enhances the quality of life for those who live here, but is also the centerpiece for tourism. It is not just a component of culture; it’s a matter of economics. And the reason our state continues to impress in the arts is because we have a constant flow of talent, starting in our schools and starting with talented students like Erin and all of this year’s winners.
EDA for a Day
When the head of the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA), U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams, accepted an invitation to visit Rhode Island, my friend and colleague Senator Sheldon Whitehouse set out to make the most of the Secretary’s visit.
From Warwick, to Newport, to Narragansett to North Kingstown – the Senator definitely accomplished that goal.
Secretary Williams was given a statewide picture of Rhode Island’s economy and the areas in which our state both struggles and succeeds. It’s an important perspective for the EDA to have, as they are the only federal agency that focuses exclusively on economic development. They provide a range of tools to help communities rebuild and grow, including funding for public works projects, a Revolving Loan Fund for small businesses and technical assistance programs. All of these tools support economic growth, and in particular, provide employers with the resources they need to create more jobs. In a state like Rhode Island, where our recovery has been slow, those resources are invaluable.
During his visit, Secretary Williams had the opportunity to see exactly how some federal funding has been used in Rhode Island and in the commercial fishing industry, in particular – a field that is central to the economy in the Ocean State. Commercial fishing continues to be a worthy investment for such federal funds, and our site visits to the ports at Galilee and Quonset offered an opportunity to discuss funding requests for FY2016. I appreciated the chance to discuss my priorities, as well, including funding for fisheries disaster declarations and the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act, legislation I plan to reintroduce in the near future that would create two seats on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for Rhode Island.
Secretary Williams was treated to some of the most beautiful seaside vistas that Rhode Island has to offer. More importantly, he was treated to an up-close look at some of the industries and projects that will help Rhode Island grow.
Less than a week after a financial literacy event at East Greenwich High School, I was busy covering the bases at a financial empowerment forum at the Johnston Senior Center. Understanding finance, managing your money and protecting against scams are tools we need at every age, and I appreciated the invitation to participate in the event alongside General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and representatives from AARP.
From retirement and estate planning to awareness of financial scams, financial empowerment is critical for all of us, but particularly our senior citizens. When it comes to scams and identity theft, everyone is vulnerable, but seniors can be especially attractive targets to criminals, in part, because they have been responsibly saving for their whole life. Financial scams have many faces, including the increasingly common tax scams and tax fraud.
This type of crime has grown more pervasive over the years, and there are important tips that seniors need to consider if they want to avoid these scams. If someone calls unexpectedly, claims to be from the IRS and uses threatening language, you can be pretty sure it’s a scammer and not the IRS calling. The IRS will never ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS will never ask for a credit card number over the phone, or solicit other personal information like a Social Security number over e-mail, text, or any social media. Potential victims should immediately hang up and report the incident to my office, the Attorney General, the IRS or the Federal Trade Commission.
Practicing financial self-defense is important, but financial empowerment is not just about recognizing scams. It is about being prepared for the expected and the unexpected. That means having an updated will, defining who will have power of attorney, and learning and talking with peers about planning for life events. It can seem overwhelming at times, but the more you plan, the more empowered you will feel. Take control of your finances now. Don’t wait until you’re facing a crisis to decide what you want your retirement, and your future, to look like.
For more than 50 years, RIBI Security has provided risk evaluations, a range of investigations, private security work, workforce training on violence and so much more. Under the leadership of President Ben Lupovitz, they cover the gamut of safety challenges faced by businesses, schools, hospitals and others, and their reputation makes customers feel as safe as their custom security services.
With that reputation and decades of experience, RIBI is time-tested and continues to grow. I was proud to be with them at the official grand opening of their new Warwick offices. Their success is a cause for celebration, especially as the services they provide support security, efficiency and sustainability for other businesses. RIBI continues to evolve with the threat environment, and that includes the growing challenges faced in cyberspace. As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I look forward to seeing RIBI tackle this new frontier. They recognize the importance of strong cyber defenses as part of a comprehensive security plan, and their presence in Rhode Island helps to emphasize the need for vigilance against all types of threats.
Congratulations to the Lupovitz family and to the entire RIBI team on this exciting move, and best wishes for continued success.
An Investment in Our Future
A well-rounded education is one of the most important services provided for the public good, and that education should include a full range of topics.
One area of study that has for too long been overlooked is financial literacy. As important as education is, providing the tools to apply that education to real life is just as important. Financial literacy is essential if we are to prepare our young people for the challenges they will face after graduating. Balancing a checkbook, saving for retirement, managing credit and making smart investments are challenges we all face, regardless of what field we pursue professionally. When I was in high school, it was a topic that was largely ignored. Personal finance was just that – a matter to be dealt with personally. I learned over time and by trial and error, but I would certainly have benefited from a formal course in financial literacy.
Thankfully, students today are ahead of the game.
Especially at East Greenwich High School.
Former Teacher of the Year Pat Page has done an exceptional job building a strong curriculum around financial literacy and business. Students are engaged and excited about what they are learning, and are taking those lessons out of the classroom. In fact, a group of Avengers founded the Real Education Rhode Island group to promote fiscal responsibility and financial literacy. This student movement ushered in the statewide adoption of voluntary personal finance standards last November – a change that started in the classroom and will now benefit Rhode Island students for years to come.
One of the “@RealEdRI” student founders is Jackson Cronin. He was present for the financial literacy event, but little did he know, the event was all about him. The guest list included General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, representatives of SIFMA, East Greenwich elected officials and Superintendent Victor Mercurio – all there to congratulate Jackson. It was a surprise celebration to honor him for winning first place for the state in the SIFMA Foundation’s InvestWrite essay competition. Jackson also placed fourth nationally – a testament to his intelligence and commitment, and also to the hard work of Pat and the rest of the faculty. SIFMA programming, much like @RealEdRI and Pat’s course on finance, gets students excited about what they’re learning, and makes educational experiences relevant and engaging.
When learning is enjoyable, practical and relevant, it resonates; the lessons stay with the students. Considering the challenges that lie ahead, that’s a very good thing. Jackson is a perfect example of a student who has been empowered by financial literacy, and I am confident that his classmates will likewise profit from an early understanding of finance. They will be better off personally and professionally because of the financial foundation laid at East Greenwich High School, and our communities will be better off thanks to a generation of financially responsible young adults.
On my Facebook page, I posed an important question: “When is the last time you visited your local library?” While you may fail to see the immediate importance of the question, I would argue that libraries are essential centers of our communities. Improving literacy and increasing access to books, newspapers and other resources are admirable goals. But libraries do so much more, and are increasingly charged with doing more with less.
The Cranston Public Library is one of the most active and vibrant library branches in the state, and during a visit there, I was blown away by the work they are doing. I was especially impressed by their C Lab, a learning center that is focused on accessibility, ensuring all patrons have equal access. They have technology for people with a range of disabilities, including scanning and auto reading for patrons with visual impairments.
That’s just the start of the state-of-the-art technology at your fingertips in the library. The C Lab gives users the chance to learn how to use 3D printers – technology that is important in advanced manufacturing and other high-growth industries. Like their partners across the state, Cranston Library offers educational programming, resume help, online job searches and one-on-one support for the unemployed or people looking to improve their lives in one way or the other. Librarians double as headhunters, job coaches, college advisors and educators. They are an invaluable resource, as are our public libraries.
I’m so grateful that we have a vibrant library network in Rhode Island. If your answer to my question wasn’t anytime recently, I encourage you to change that. Visit your local library branch and find out what opportunities are there for you.
Counsel to Council
One of my favorite occasions of the year has got to be when I have the honor of speaking to the New England Council. I am so grateful to Jim Brett for his continued leadership, as well as Board Chairman John Hailer, Executive Vice President Larry Zabar and CVS, which sponsored this year’s event.
One of the main reasons I love the New England Council luncheon – other than the exceptional audience – is that it is a chance to really dive deep and have a detailed discussion about the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our state and our nation. We talked about the budget, taxes, defense, education and cybersecurity, to name a few topics. Ultimately, everything came back to jobs and how we can craft policy in all of these areas that supports job creation and economic growth. From career and technical education and workforce development to affordable education and investments in infrastructure, we must always prioritize initiatives that support American workers.
And with partners like the New England Council, we will continue to fight to make New England a model and a leader across a dynamic spectrum of industries.
Countdown to Zero
There is a nationwide campaign underway right now that seeks to end homelessness by the end of 2016. That is an ambitious goal, certainly, but when I meet with advocates and see firsthand the important work being done by organizations like the Coalition for the Homeless, that goal seems possible. It is possible!
In order to tackle this complex problem, we must first understand its severity, and the Coalition has done an exceptional job surveying our state’s homeless population. They go out into the community to try to get a handle on how many people are struggling with homelessness, and, in the process, bring attention to this critical issue. With those numbers at hand, we can better understand what support services are needed, starting with affordable housing. Affordable housing is a gateway to opportunity, and is absolutely essential if we are to foster communities with a strong middle class.
There is no easy solution to homelessness, but there are solutions, and that was the focus of the Coalition’s annual luncheon. I was proud to offer my support, pledge my commitment to the Zero2016 campaign and connect with the hardworking men and women who fight this battle every day. Congratulations especially to all of the honorees recognized this year, including Senator Betty Crowley and Representative Scott Slater, Linda Impagliazzo of the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, the late Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times, RIHAP and the Municipal Court Program. Each of these organizations and individuals is essential to the fight against homelessness, and I am so grateful to have them in Rhode Island’s corner.
Work of Art
When it comes to the elements that make up a successful community, certain key factors come to mind: a booming economy, great schools, reliable public transportation and strong infrastructure, to name a few. None is perhaps more often overlooked than the importance of the arts in the community.
As a part of my Advisory Committee program, I have created a committee consisting of passionate people dedicated to helping the arts and culture thrive in the state of Rhode Island. It was inspiring to host so many talented leaders who are eager to discuss issues impacting our local communities and driven to make a change. Rhode Island has an amazing, vibrant arts and culture scene and it’s time we start recognizing the many ways they contribute to the strength of our economic landscape. The fact is that the arts enhance quality of life for Rhode Islanders each and every day. Art is everywhere in our lives, and so much of what we do is accomplished through the lens of creativity. As a community, we need to think of the arts as a strategy to solve problems.
A main focal point of our inaugural meeting was the STEM to STEAM movement. Recognized nationally and led locally by RISD, STEM to STEAM focuses on integrating art and design as a core academic subject, putting it on par with coursework in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. RISD leaders strongly believe – as do I – that art and design can help transform our economy in the 21st century, similar to how science and technology did in the past. I’m extremely proud to be a part of a state that leads the nation in this movement.
Providence has long been considered a leader in the arts and it’s time we expand that mantle to our whole state. If we can make Rhode Island a place where art students want to come and stay, not only will our arts community flourish, but our entire state will follow suit.
Saving Social Security
Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, pays monthly benefits to those who are no longer able to work due to a significant illness or impairment that is expected to last at least a year or result in death within a year. It should go without saying, then, that SSDI comes at an incredibly difficult time for recipients. They are perhaps sick or in pain, could be facing uncharted territory, and very likely are afraid and uncertain of what the future will hold.
Despite these already harrowing circumstances, the SSDI program is a perennial target for cuts, and Republican lawmakers are using solvency challenges as a way to try and decimate the program. If new funding is not found before 2016, SSDI benefits will be cut by about 20 percent for nine million workers, two million of their children and nearly 160,000 spouses. In Rhode Island, approximately 37,000 workers would be affected.
We need a solution, and one that does not hurt this already-vulnerable population. I was grateful for the chance to discuss these potential solutions with my friend and colleague, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who convened a productive roundtable with stakeholders and SSDI recipients.
SSDI is not only a critical safety-net for disabled workers, their children and spouses, it is a promise we make to everyone who pays into the Social Security trust fund that they won’t be impoverished if they are left with a debilitating condition or disability. The solvency of the trust fund is an issue that needs be addressed. However, we can make progress without sacrificing the wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations, including reforms that raise the tax cap on high-income earners to shore up revenue, and helping people with disabilities stay or return to the workforce to cut costs. There are ways we can tackle this complex problem, but I will never be willing to do that at the expense of people who need our help most.
More Than Meals
“I’m a great cook,” proclaims Alex Arabian, a former Navy SEAL, “but I do appreciate these meals and I love the program.” Alex is one of many Rhode Island citizens that benefit from the charitable work that Meals on Wheels has been delivering to the community for the past 46 years. As I sat down with Mr. Arabian and other residents of the Shoreside Apartments in East Greenwich, it was clear that Meals On Wheels was an invaluable service to the residents, as many are elderly or largely confined to the building due to disabilities. Sitting off of Sixth Avenue, Shoreside Apartments offers great views of East Greenwich and accommodates around 115 residents, many of whom rely on programs like Meals on Wheels.
My stint as a Meals on Wheels volunteer gave me the opportunity to deliver nutritious meals for the people I met, and it also allowed me to connect with some of my constituents. I participated as part of the nationwide March for Meals campaign that promotes the importance of meal delivery programs. Each door I knocked on revealed a new and interesting story, many of them revolving around growing up in Rhode Island and the pleasures this small state has to offer. One woman reminisced about ice skating in Goddard Park as a child. Mr. Arabian proved to be tremendously entertaining and it was interesting to learn that he had in fact helped engineer the building he now lived in, Shoreside Apartments.
Almost 350,000 meals were delivered to residents of Rhode Island last year, all of them delivered by hardworking and generous people. I was honored to be a part of the deliveries on this occasion, as I have in years past. I valued the time I was able to spend with the organizers of Meals On Wheels, and my constituents in need of a good meal.
Lunch with Langevin
Despite a rainy day and lingering cold, the turnout for my third Lunch with Langevin event was excellent, and I am so grateful to everyone who came out. These types of community events are important for me, not just so that I can remain accessible to constituents, but also because feedback from Rhode Islanders is essential to my work in Washington. I best represent our state when I have a strong pulse on the concerns and ideas of my constituents. I always appreciate the opportunity to share information on my priorities and what I am working on, and Lunch with Langevin is just another avenue to do that.
One of the best things, for me, is being able to connect constituents with the caseworkers on my team who may be able to help them with obstacles they are struggling to overcome. My District Office is open and ready to help constituents Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they work on a range of issues from Social Security to veterans benefits to immigration. Too often, people don’t think to call their representative in Congress, so I love these chances to spread the word on how we can help. You can also reach out on social media or through our website, or just give us a call at 401-732-9400.
If you couldn’t make it to this event, please stay tuned. We are going to keep getting out into the community to meet constituents and share our resources, and I hope to see all of you at the next Lunch with Langevin!
Innovation in Johnston
After spending 10 years in a mill building in Providence, Dassault Systemes Simulia moved to the former FM Global campus in Johnston. Like any true Rhode Islander, I describe locations by what used to be there. It was a beautiful space then, and it’s beautiful now, set on a sprawling lawn with offices articulated toward the windows that wrap the building. Dassault goes to great lengths to create a positive workplace culture. Employees benefit from an on-site gym, cafeteria and public meeting spaces that cultivate a strong team atmosphere. In conference rooms, state-of-the-art conferencing software allows Rhode Island team members to communicate regularly with the thousands of other Dassault employees worldwide.
Based in France, Dassault is an international 3D design software company that employs more than 11,000 people spanning five continents. Dassault’s reach is significant, with multiple brands across different industries, including aerospace, life sciences and natural resources. Simulia is the brand based in Rhode Island, and I was blown away by the technology being created and used there. Simulia is a virtual 3D simulation brand that helps customers answer two important questions: ‘Am I building the right product?’ and ‘Am I building the product right?’ Updating a current product or creating a new product can be a game of trial and error, with countless attempts to fix design flaws or malfunctions. Simulia products offer the ability to do all of that in a virtual 3D simulation, so that when you create the final product, you can be sure it works properly, saving you time and money.
After being briefed on the many uses of Dassault products, I was lucky enough to experience a 3D simulation first hand. The ongoing Living Heart Project focuses on the number one cause of death worldwide: cardiovascular disease. The project brings together leading cardiovascular researchers, educators, medical device developers, regulatory agencies and doctors to develop more accurate human heart models. With these models, doctors can get a closer look at comparing a healthy heart to a diseased heart, and understanding how that diseased organ may respond to interventions. To be able to see inside a human heart and its valves as it circulates blood was truly an amazing experience. I am excited to see what this company will accomplish in the future. From what I saw, the possibilities are truly endless.
The Dassault team believes that “Simulation powers innovation, so that innovation requires simulation,” and that’s exactly what they have illustrated.
Naval Tradition Lives On
Tradition plays an important role in our military, and the United States Navy takes its traditions quite seriously. The naming of naval ships is part of that tradition, as is the assignment of a “sponsor.” I was proud to see both traditions play out at an event to honor the USS Colorado and its sponsor, Annie Mabus, at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Quonset.
The name USS Colorado has a proud history, going back all the way to the mid-19th century. The first USS Colorado served in the Gulf and North Atlantic during the Civil War, while the second served in the Pacific throughout the early 20th century. The third USS Colorado (BB-45) was the lead ship of its class and earned seven battle stars for her service in World War II. I know that the people of Colorado will be justifiably proud that, once again, a USS Colorado will fly the American flag on the high seas.
That this newest incarnation of the USS Colorado is one step closer to setting sail is a testament to the excellence of our submarine industrial base. The men and women of General Dynamics Electric Boat work tirelessly to provide the boats that help keep our nation secure. The Virginia-class is a model shipbuilding program producing the finest submarines in the world, submarines that are absolutely essential to our national security. They are truly the all-purpose, unsung heroes of the fleet. Thanks to the great stewardship shown by all connected to this program, taxpayers today get more boat for less time and less money – that’s a great achievement.
It is fitting then, that the USS Colorado is now imbued with the spirit and passion of its sponsor, Annie Mabus. The daughter of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Annie is an impressive young woman with a lifelong connection to the Navy. She has been inspired by her father’s dedication and loyalty to the Navy and to his country, and I was proud to help welcome the Mabus family to Rhode Island for an exciting occasion and a tradition that deserves our recognition.
I know we all wish the Colorado a long and distinguished service to our nation, and I offer my gratitude again to Annie for visiting Rhode Island in order to lay down the symbolic heart of her ship.
100 Years Young
I was at the Pilgrim Senior Center in October of last year when I met a lovely woman named Lillian Zanfagna. Lillian has a wonderful spirit and has lived a very full life. She worked in manufacturing and has always been committed to her family, especially her three children, five grandchildren and now great grandchildren. During my visit, Lillian informed me that 2015 was going to be a big year for her, with her 100th birthday on the horizon. I told Lillian then that I wanted to be there when she blew out her birthday candles. That night, when Lillian went home, her daughter now tells me that she relayed the story of our meeting. Lillian’s daughter, Lillian Romano, said that the schedule of a U.S. Congressman can be busy, and warned her mother not to get her hopes up.
Truth is I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
When Lillian Zanfagna took a seat next to me at her birthday celebration, it was the first thing she mentioned.
“You promised you’d be here and you kept your promise.”
I was honored to be with Lillian and her family, along with Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, for a surprise birthday party at the Pilgrim Senior Center. I brought along with me a letter of special recognition from the White House, signed by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Lillian is a regular at the center, where she enjoys playing bingo. At home, she keeps busy with a special new addition – a pug puppy named Zoe. Lillian looks beautiful, has a great sense of humor and is sharp as a tack. When she walked into the room where her family and more than a dozen friends were waiting, she quickly announced that it was not yet her birthday, and the cake was premature by three days. Still, she was thrilled to have her loved ones together for the occasion, even if she shrugged off the many questions about her “secrets” to longevity. Lillian isn’t sure if there is a secret, but if I had to guess, I would say her positive attitude has something to do with it.