As a person who sustained a disabling injury prior to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I can say with complete certainty that the ADA was a piece of legislation that truly changed the lives of Americans who face physical or developmental disabilities. My life before and then after ADA passage was quite different, and I can see the impacts of that important policy firsthand.
With the ADA also came a shift in our society; businesses and individuals began to pay more attention to accessibility issues, and soon, many were making updates that opened up places of worship, learning and commerce to a new clientele. Accessibility became a public priority.
For Marie and Don Perna, it has long been a priority.
Marie Perna suffers from multiple sclerosis, which has significantly limited her mobility. Rather than suffer in silence, however, Marie reached out to others going through a similar struggle. She found solace in support groups, and found strength by refusing to be excluded from any place or activity. Marie is a person with a physical disability, but she does not view herself or her future through that lens. With the support of her husband, Don, and their three daughters, Marie started the MS Dream Center to provide programs and resources to people with MS and their loved ones. From the MS Dream Center came Accessible RI, a guide to all of the parks, museums, hotels, restaurants, stores – any place of interest, really – that are handicapped accessible in our state.
As a past recipient of the Accessible RI Person of the Year award, I was honored to be at the re-launch of the guide. While the Pernas focused on hard-copy guides in the past, Accessible RI is now fittingly accessible to many more people by posting all content online. In addition to celebrating that breakthrough, the re-launch likewise celebrated the 2014 Person of the Year, Mike Matracia. A Providence Police Officer with multiple sclerosis, Mike now relies heavily on a wheelchair, but that hasn’t stopped him from serving his city or from advocating on behalf of others who face the frightening MS diagnosis. Mike is an inspiration, and to be counted in company like his is a tremendous honor.
Greencore Grows Jobs
Quonset Business Park has been and continues to be a source of pride for Rhode Islanders and a hub of economic activity. It is home to more than 9,500 full- and part-time jobs at more than 175 companies. Nearly a third of those jobs have been created since 2005 alone.
And in 2014, another surge in numbers.
Greencore Group, an Ireland-based food manufacturer, is bringing 400 jobs to Quonset. With approval from the Quonset Development Corporation’s Board of Directors, Greencore now has a 50-year lease and can break ground on a 107,000-square-foot facility. The agreement between the two parties also allows for additional expansion. If things work out, Greencore could expand by another 40,000 square feet, bringing the full job tally to nearly 650.
Major projects like this bring jobs to the given company and to the local construction industries, and also bolster nearby business. These employees will be shopping in our markets, gassing up at our pumps and eating at our restaurants. More jobs mean more people, and more people means more money spent in our community.
I am also pleased to welcome Greencore here because it represents another piece in the food economy puzzle. My RI Food Week initiative reaffirmed what I already knew: that Rhode Island has an incredible, vibrant food economy with many infrastructure elements needed to support future growth, including a staggering 1,200 farms, and manufacturers large and small like United Foods and Narragansett Creamery. Our size is an asset because all of these elements can collaborate more efficiently, bypassing high transportation and shipping costs for food. Moreover, the leaders and innovators I met on the RI Food Week tour can easily get together to brainstorm and effect change. It looks like Greencore and their team will soon be added to that list of leaders, and I look forward to seeing how their relocation to Rhode Island will help change our economy for the better.
Hungry to Help
I have a wonderful team of policy experts and legislative aides in Washington, but nothing is more important in directing my work there than feedback from my constituents. You are the ones who put me here, and you are the ones I have to answer to. So when I am in Rhode Island, I thoroughly enjoy touring businesses, visiting senior centers, attending educational events at schools and otherwise interacting in any way possible with Rhode Islanders. To that effect, I held two public town hall meetings over the summer, as well.
This month, we added another opportunity to connect with constituents – this one in a more informal setting.
In the hopes of engaging residents of the Second Congressional District and getting feedback on the issues that are important to them, I launched the Lunch with Langevin program. Each quarter, I will hold open office hours at a restaurant in my district, and constituents are invited to come and share their questions or concerns.
The first Lunch with Langevin was a huge success, and I was glad to see many residents in the Coventry area join me for some delicious food from Venus Pizza. Over pizza and sandwiches, I got to see some familiar faces and meet new ones, and even got a surprise visit from the student leaders involved in the Coventry High School JROTC program. It was a great group, and I really appreciate everyone coming out. I know how busy we all are with work, family and other obligations, but it is so helpful for me to hear from constituents, and I hope that Lunch with Langevin attendance continues to grow as the program becomes more well-known. The next Lunch with Langevin is scheduled for Saturday, June 21, in South County. My website will have all the details as it gets closer, or constituents can check my Facebook page.
I believe that being accessible and responsive is essential to effective representation. I am so fortunate to represent Rhode Island in Congress, and I will continue looking for new ways to communicate with my constituents.
Food for the Soul
Fresh off of my RI Food Week initiative, I was honored to be chosen as the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony for the 52nd Class of the Community Kitchen program. Run by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank with a wide range of partners in the culinary and hospitality industries in Rhode Island, the Community Kitchen is a culinary training program that takes students of all ages. Some have only completed high school and are looking to start a career. Others have worked in finance or education, and are returning to the classroom later in life either to pursue their true passion or because they have been unable to find work in their original fields.
Regardless of their age, background or career goals, the Community Kitchen brings these students together for an intense program that covers all aspects of food service. Halfway through the program, they go out into the community for on-the-job training opportunities. For many, the resulting connections get them work after graduation. And all graduates are well-prepared to enter the culinary workforce. The program has a remarkable success rate. More than 85 percent of graduates are currently working for area caterers and restaurants.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I am committed to expanding skills training opportunities like this across the spectrum of trades and at every level of education. Both degree programs and non-degree certificates are vital to building a vibrant workforce and a thriving economy here in Rhode Island.