We the People
Before I was elected to Congress, I had the privilege to serve as the Secretary of State for Rhode Island. I have a deep interest in campaign finance reform, and in making sure that all elections are free of outside influence. This interest has continued throughout my career, and now that I’m in Congress, I am fortunate to be part of a delegation that believes fully in making elections transparent and accessible.
Our leader in the fight, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, brought us together for a “We the People” campaign finance reform roundtable, along with state leaders like Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Senator Juan Pichardo and Representative Art Handy, and agencies like Common Cause RI, Save the Bay, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club and Public Citizen. Dean Michael Yelnosky from the Roger Williams University School of Law also joined us, as campaign finance reform presents interesting legal questions. Together, we talked about the dire need for reforms to create a more open, fair system of elections.
In the wake of 2010’s Citizens United decision, we have seen an unprecedented influx of outside spending on elections across the country. Congress can, and must, act to fix this misguided decision. Senator Whitehouse introduced the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, which would bring much-needed transparency to shadowy super-PAC donations. I’m proud to be an original cosponsor on the House version of the bill. I’m also an original member of the Campaign Finance Reform Caucus and have cosponsored two amendments to overturn Citizens United.
It may be a cliché, but it bears repeating that democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires constant and vigilant participation for our system to succeed. I pledge to remain vigilant, and I’m glad to have so many strong, passionate partners in the fight.
A Healthy Business
Two photographs hang side by side in a hallway at the Edesia headquarters. On the left, a young girl is so malnourished that her development has been stunted. She cannot support her own head. Her ribs and collarbone are visible, and her arms look unimaginably frail. On the right, a girl about the same age is smiling. Her hair is growing in and she looks healthy. It seems impossible, but the photographs are of the same young girl and were taken just two months apart.
Over those eight weeks, the girl was fed Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based, high-energy food that treats severe acute malnutrition. And it gives me such pride to know that the food that put her on this path to recovery was made in Rhode Island.
Edesia is a non-profit manufacturer of seven different products aimed at tackling malnutrition. These products are shipped around the world, from their Quonset headquarters to impoverished communities, conflict zones, and areas recovering from natural disasters. Their global clientele makes them the largest international exporter in the state, and their products have helped countless children. Right in Quonset, constant research and development puts Edesia at the forefront of innovative nutritional solutions, and has them poised to help more children in every corner of the world.
Throughout the warehouse and offices, photos of healthy faces remind Founder and CEO, Navyn Salem, of why she set out on this mission. She recognizes the children and shares their stories, and her passion for the work is palpable. It’s that kind of hands-on, heartfelt mentality that inspires her team of nearly 70 employees, and it’s the driving force that has made Edesia an increasingly respected name not only among aid agencies, but in the overall business community as well.
If you spend any time at all with Navyn, or at Edesia, it’s impossible not to feel connected to and inspired by their work. It’s such a hugely important cause, and I cannot express enough how proud and excited I am that the source of this global effort is right here in Rhode Island.
Welcome, Secretary Castro!
It was a huge honor to welcome Julian Castro, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), back to Rhode Island, this time to discuss the dangers of lead poisoning and the efforts at the state and national level to end the damaging effects of lead paint on all Americans, and on children, in particular.
Lead-based paint is an insidious and silent threat to millions of Americans. Odorless and invisible to the naked eye, many families are unaware that they are living with this threat in their homes. Childhood lead exposure can lead to permanent developmental disabilities and lifelong learning difficulties; pregnant women risk birth defects or even a miscarriage.
Unfortunately, many of our public housing buildings were built before the risks of lead in paint became fully known. We now have an obligation to correct these mistakes and provide a safe living space for public housing residents. I’m very pleased that HUD is taking action to prevent poisoning in these at-risk populations. In Rhode Island, our housing authorities have been aggressively tackling this issue, which has been in the spotlight for many years locally thanks to the leadership of our senior Senator, Jack Reed.
As we have all seen in Flint, Michigan, failure to address the risks of lead poisoning can have a catastrophic effect. It’s time for a serious investment in our infrastructure to remove lead from paints, water pipes, and other public buildings. I’m very pleased that HUD, under Secretary Castro’s leadership, is working with communities to find and remove this toxic threat from our communities, and I will continue to do my part in Congress to fight for the resources necessary to continue addressing this public health threat.
Support for Stroke Victims
It is an incredible privilege for me to be able to meet so many Rhode Islanders and hear their perspectives on life and on our state. It is truly an honor, and it never ceases to amaze me how candid, honest, and generous people are with their time. When constituents trust me with their personal stories, it’s a gift.
My visit to the Stroke Support Group through Kent Hospital was certainly a gift.
The men and women participating in the Support Group have faced incredible challenges. Their recovery process, in many cases, has been long and arduous, and suffering from a stroke has irreversibly impacted their lives. It’s a struggle no one should have to face, and the stories shared around the room were, at times, heartbreaking.
It’s stories like theirs, though, that have inspired me to work on public policy that supports family caregivers and respite care providers. Family caregivers devote a substantial amount of time and effort caring for their loved ones, as mine did for me after my accident. And while caring for a loved one is its own reward, it can often take a toll on the entire family – especially for those who don’t have the resources of a support group. We must ensure the patients and caregivers have the supports necessary to live as healthy and productive a life as possible, and sometimes that requires respite services to provide temporary relief for family members engaged in the full-time task of caring for a loved one.
I’m also a huge advocate for biomedical research, which will not only yield more effective treatments, but also translate into 21st century jobs as we pursue new and exciting fields of scientific discovery. Biomedical research represents the future of medical innovation and economic innovation, and our state is well positioned to be a leader in this area. That’s why I fight every year to protect and increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, as well as the medical research programs at the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. These programs account for billions of dollars in biomedical research funding for institutions like Brown University, partner hospitals and the Rhode Island VA Medical Center.
Of course, I could go on about everything from the challenges of health care reform and prescription drug prices to the need to get rid of caps on physical therapy visits, but at the end of the day, it’s personal stories like those from the Kent Hospital Stroke Support Group that will engage the public in this debate and make the strongest argument for policy change.
Shovels in the Ground
Just months after Citizens Bank’s exciting announcement that they would build a new campus in Johnston, I was thrilled to join Citizens Bank’s Chairman and CEO Bruce Van Saun, Rhode Island State President Marc Paulhus, and a slate of local, state, and federal officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the campus, which will feature 420,000 square feet of office space, housing 3,200 employees.
Citizens Bank has a long history in Rhode Island, and they continue to invest in our state. By investing in our workforce as well as our communities, they have set the standard for what it means to be a responsible corporate partner. And our state is much better off for it. Through funded outreach like “Champions in Action,” a unique program in its 14th year that has awarded $1.25 million to support local non-profits in Rhode Island, and more than $8 million across the region, Citizens remains engaged in our communities, not just as an employer, but as a true partner for social change.
I know that Citizens will continue to evolve, as the nature of banking adapts to a 21st Century marketplace. I’m just so glad they will continue to do so here in Rhode Island. Thanks to the Citizens team for believing in Rhode Island, and I look forward to being back in Johnston for the ribbon cutting!
I’m so proud of our robust defense industry in Rhode Island, an economic engine that supports nearly 33,000 well-paid jobs and serves as the highest-paying sector in the state. Defense Innovation Days, organized by the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance (SENEDIA), is a celebration of these industry successes and an opportunity for industry leaders to come together to further position Rhode Island and all of New England as a source of economic growth in defense.
At Defense Innovation Days, Rhode Island’s vital contributions to national security are on full display. As a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, I spend a great deal of time in D.C. focusing on defense policy, so I am pleased to be able to share that insight with companies in Rhode Island and also highlight Rhode Island’s important role to my colleagues in government.
Our nation is facing unprecedented uncertainty and change. Across the globe we are seeing the development and proliferation of advanced military technologies and warfare techniques that mean we can no longer take military superiority for granted. It is my job to bring the innovative spirit of New England defense leaders to the halls to Congress to address these very challenges.
From kinetic interceptors to cyber warfare to Virginia Class submarines, the capacities of our military are extensive, and so too are the challenges we face. As I evaluate the wide array of disciplines involved in protecting our nation, I am reminded how fortunate I am to represent a state and a region where all these threads come together. We have the incredible concentration of undersea knowledge, anchored in Newport by NUWC, the Naval War College, and the soon-to-be Undersea Technology Innovation Center. We have the cyber expertise of the 102nd, and the academic rigor of our colleges and universities. We have the strong defense industrial base, anchored by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Raytheon. We also have an education and workforce training pipeline that is primed and ready; an interested, engaged, and senior Congressional delegation; and a robust history of action by the state government. We are overflowing with capabilities and expertise that the country desperately needs, and I am proud to take that message back to DC where Congress desperately needs to hear it.
Tip of the Glass
Tucked away in Exeter, off a long, winding dirt road, Matt Richardson is getting ready for the Friday night rush. It’s quiet now – just the sounds of his children playing with the dogs in the yard – but come 5 p.m., cars will start pulling around the bend for a taste of creative beers from Rhode Island’s first farm brewery.
Matt and his wife, Kara, opened Tilted Barn Brewery as a natural progression of the farm. They started by growing hops for other brewers under the name Ocean State Hops, but just under two years ago, decided to tap into their own product. They rehabbed the barn using a lot of the original wood, installed a bar and a loft for mingling, and were up and running. The couple’s home is just a stone’s throw from the barn, allowing them to pull double duty, sneaking back for a bedtime story before customers can order the next round. Other than a few friends who help out on busy nights, the Richardsons do it all themselves, and on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m., their backyard barn overflows with customers who have a passion for craft beer.
Microbreweries are a growing business in Rhode Island, but Tilted Barn takes a unique approach. Not only do they grow their own hops and source many other ingredients from local farmers, but they also exclusively sell their beer on site. Matt notes that a six pack could sit in a liquor store for weeks, degrading the quality of the product, and he would rather have full control over the taste his customers enjoy. They brew new batches every two weeks or so, and when a variety is gone, it’s gone.
And while Tilted Barn is only open twice a week, it’s enough to put their business on the upswing. Word of mouth continues to grow, as does the demand, and Matt recently made the decision to leave his full-time job so he could focus on the brewery. It’s an exciting time for their family – and for craft beer lovers in Rhode Island – and I don’t doubt that we’ll be hearing more from Tilted Barn Brewery in the future.
Going A-Round at Carousel
Our lives are intertwined with technology. At home and at work, so many of us rely on technology to make our lives more efficient. For businesses, utilizing technology can be an incredible asset. It can cut costs, improve outcomes, and help to better engage customers. But with the rewards come risks, and the resulting risks sometimes require an expert.
That’s where Carousel Industries comes in. Based in Exeter, they are a technology solutions firm that helps other businesses use technology to its greatest advantage while protecting their interests from vulnerabilities in cyberspace. They provide a wide range of services, including visual meeting and conferencing systems, conferencing infrastructure, content recording and streaming, and security and remote access.
Over its 21 years in business, Carousel has grown significantly, particularly in the past three years. They’ve grown an average of 30 to 50 percent per year, and I got the full run-down on why they have been successful during my #LangevinRhodeTrip visit. Carousel CEO Jeff Gardner was very generous with his time, as was my good friend Tim Hebert, CEO of the Warwick-based Atrion. Carousel announced their plan to acquire Atrion back in June, and it’s a union I know will help both companies to better serve their customers. Carousel serves more than 6,000 customers, including 35 of the Fortune 100, thanks to their skilled workforce that is more than 1,000 employees strong. And given our increasing reliance on technology, I imagine that the services that Carousel Industries provides will be in demand for many years to come.
Three years ago, Bob DiPietro and Mike Hallock were growing mushrooms in a closet. Literally in a closet. Today, their Rhode Island Mushroom Company’s business is booming, and is on track to grow even more in the years to come. They cultivate and distribute mushrooms – some of which they grow in their West Kingston warehouse and some of which are imported – directly to consumers, to restaurants, and to commercial enterprises. In fact, the Rhode Island Mushroom Company provides mushrooms for all of the Whole Foods markets in New England.
Tucked in a warehouse at the back of a lumber yard, it’s an unassuming building. You’d never guess that inside, multiple grow rooms are in operation, yielding maitake, portobella, pioppino, crimini, and many other mushroom varieties, some of which I had never heard of before. And not only do Bob and Mike know the ins and outs of growing these mushrooms, they’re also knowledgeable about the flavor profile of each and the best ways to prepare them. Ask about cooking with crimini, and Bob will share a recipe from memory. Ask Mike about his favorite recipe, and he’ll detail his preferred way of cooking maitake. Despite their success, they’re still very hands on with the operation, and under their leadership, Rhode Island Mushroom Company looks to continue its trajectory.
It’s exciting to see any Rhode Island business excel on this level, and once you meet Bob and Mike, you can’t help but feel personally invested. They are committed to doing business in Rhode Island, and they hope to connect with other small businesses to help them to grow successfully, just as they have been able to do. Their story and rapid ascent into an agricultural heavyweight is captivating, and their product fills a void in the Rhode Island food economy. I’m glad I finally got to pay them a visit during the #LangevinRhodeTrip, and I’m especially grateful that I can benefit from their expertise and insight going forward, as they agreed to join my Food First Advisory Committee!
Festival for Families
Festival Farm, to put it simply, is a wonderful place. It’s a charming destination for wholesome family fun. It’s the kind of place that just makes you feel good, and it certainly put a smile on my face when I stopped in during my #LangevinRhodeTrip.
That’s exactly what the Grays were aiming for when Jay and his wife, Judy, purchased the Festival Farm property in Hopkinton. They had no idea then what the business would become, but Jay is constantly dreaming up additions to the farm. Set in the couple’s backyard, the farm is now home to a pony, a jersey cow, donkeys, sheep, goats, alpacas, a bunny, and an emu, as well as the family’s personal pets – a dog and a cat that seem to get along fine with their more exotic companions. Children visiting Festival Farm have the opportunity to feed and pet the animals, while parents can shop in the country store that stocks jams, relishes and baking mixes, as well as candy and local drinks. Depending on the season, fresh produce, local eggs, and various plants are for sale. I got to take it all in during my visit, along with Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, who was kind enough to stop by.
From the sounds of it, October is the best time of year to visit Festival Farm. Pumpkins are their biggest crop, and the country store sells fall favorites like apples, cider and maple syrup, plus gourds, cornstalks and other fall decorations. Hay rides make their way around the farm in the fall, pulled by an antique tractor. It’s a fitting metaphor for the farm itself, as it feels plucked from the past and preserved by the Grays. It isn’t easy work, and they both maintain other jobs, but they remain committed to keeping the farm a place where families can go to be together, enjoy nature, and have a good time without spending a lot of money. Those are the things that Judy and Jay appreciate, and they’ve been kind enough to share it with all of Rhode Island.
Down in the Kenyon
As the largest subsidiary of Brookwood Company, which is headquartered in New York, Kenyon Industries employs 300 people in the Kenyon village of Richmond. That’s a sizable company by Rhode Island small business standards, but what’s more impressive is the product they’re turning out right in our backyard. My #LangevinRhodeTrip stop at Kenyon Industries was my first time touring the 300,000 square foot facility, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their work and talking to President Joanne Bagley and her team about the successes of the company and the challenges they face in running their operation. I also had the chance to say hello to the employees on the factory floor, and I appreciate everyone who took the time to tell me a little bit about their work.
Kenyon Industries processes fabrics and is responsible for dyeing, finishing, coating and printing, before providing those fabrics to an end user. What those end user customers do with the fabric is as varied as the designs that come out of Kenyon’s state-of-the-art digital printer. The company is a leading supplier of commercial and military fabrics, and those fabrics are used for everything from luggage and tents to industrial aprons and parachutes – making their motto, “fabrics that perform,” a fitting one.
Care and Crisis
Rhode Island has among the nation’s highest rates of serious mental health issues. There are many barriers to bringing these rates down, including the lingering stigma that surrounds mental illness. Too many people are afraid, ashamed or unsure of how to seek help, and when mental illness is left to fester, the consequences can be significant – even deadly.
There is no single answer to successfully tackling mental illness, but access to care is one major component. Lifespan is known as the hospital network that includes Rhode Island Hospital, including Hasbro Children’s Hospital, The Miriam Hospital, Bradley Hospital, and Newport Hospital. But Lifespan’s work extends beyond the footprints of these individual hospitals, and their East Greenwich facility is a perfect example of how Lifespan is reaching out to engage the community and serve Rhode Islanders where it is convenient for them. In February of 2015, Lifespan opened a walk-in mental health and urgent care center on South County Trail, and ever since, they have been meeting with and counseling patients through some of their most difficult, darkest times.
The clinic provides crisis counseling, as well as non-crisis psychiatry services for individuals, couples, and families. They are open Monday through Saturday, but also have a 24-hour crisis hotline, and their team includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and community treatment specialists.
I’m so glad that Rhode Islanders, and especially those in South County, have nearby access to these kinds of supports and mental health services. I’m grateful to the facility’s Director, Dr. Daniela Boerescu, and all of the clinicians and heath care providers in the Lifespan network, for showing me around and for their attention to this important issue. They are committed to helping reverse the alarming trends surrounding mental illness in Rhode Island, and it’s their work that will get it done. Having a resource like this in their backyard and in this kind of personalized setting increases the chances that an individual will seek help, and that’s the first, most important step in treating mental illness.
It is just a cleared patch of land right now, but at the site of the future ChurchWoods housing development, I could see in my mind the beautiful community that will soon stand in its place. Located in Charlestown, ChurchWoods will provide 24 units of much-needed housing to a community that struggles from a shortage of affordable housing. The project is funded by the Town of Charlestown, the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission, and through the Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief program, and the property became available thanks to the work of the town, the Rhode Island Episcopal Diocese, and the Washington County Community Development Corporation.
Designed for people age 55 and older, the homes in ChurchWoods will allow Rhode Islanders to age in place with dignity, and stay active in their communities at the same time. For senior citizens, living independently can make a tremendous difference for their health, happiness, and quality of life. When they are able to stay in their homes, connections with family and friends remain strong. It can be hard to quantify the value that stable housing provides. How do you assess the value of a family staying connected? There’s no appropriations line item for being able to continue the tradition of Sunday dinner with your children and grandchildren.
But we do know that it confers an immeasurable benefit. As people achieve stability, neighborhoods are cultivated and once-blighted communities begin to grow and thrive. The ChurchWoods development is an important investment in our community, and I can’t wait to see the sense of community it creates when it’s finished.
From the splendor of the Southeast Lighthouse to the world-class restaurants and the longtime family-run businesses, Block Island is really such an incredible place. I am so glad I had the chance to spend a little time on the Block – because the #LangevinRhodeTrip would not have been complete without a ride on the ferry to the beautiful community of New Shoreham – and I’m grateful to all of the islanders for their hospitality!
Because Rhode Island is so small, access to health care is overlooked by some as a real challenge. But when an individual has limited resources and no personal transportation, finding quality, affordable care can be difficult. Thankfully, there are entities working every day to close any gaps and bring services to underserved areas, including to our friends in the southern part of the state.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse joined me for the #LangevinRhodeTrip so we could receive an update on the work that Westerly Hospital, Wood River Health Services, and the South County Health Medical and Wellness Center are all doing when it comes to health care in Washington County. South County Health’s Medical and Wellness Center just opened in May, and it is a beautiful facility. They offer a range of services, from cardiology to women’s health and an urgent walk-in care clinic. At Westerly Hospital, they’re looking to expand services and serve more patients thanks to a partnership with Wood River Health Services. Wood River is pursuing federal grants so they can open a satellite office at the hospital, making service more accessible and creating more flexibility for patients. They are hoping, in particular, that such an arrangement could increase access to behavioral health care and mental health services.
Outside of health care, Senator Whitehouse and I also paid a visit to the Westerly Higher Education and Job Skills Center, which is currently under construction. Once completed, the center will house education and job training, first for Electric Boat, but eventually to the benefit of other Rhode Island companies. The center is expected to open in November, and I am eager to return to be able to see the training programs in action.
I wrapped up the day with a long-awaited visit to Hillandale Farm in Westerly. I’ve wanted to get to the farm for a while, and I’m so glad our schedules worked out. Hillandale is a lovely property (and they grow delicious tomatoes, among other things), but what makes it especially interesting is that it’s the centerpiece of a food hub that farm owners Max and Uli Hence started. They serve as the point of contact for seven other farms, connecting these individual growers with restaurants in the area. As a policy, they keep things hyper-local. The restaurants they serve are in a 20-mile radius, meaning that consumers are eating fresh foods grown right in their own backyards. The food hub has grown exponentially over the past two years, and that growth will continue with the Hence family’s vision for the property. They hope to build an education center and a commercial kitchen in the future, making Hillandale a resource for schools, restaurants, entrepreneurs and the community at large. It’s an exciting time for the farm, and luckily I will be able to keep up with their progress, as Max Hence agreed to join my Food First Advisory Committee. I can’t wait for the committee to hear about his plans!
An Afternoon at the Library
Louttit Library is the perfect blend of past and present, an example for preserving history and embracing the future. It also made for the perfect #LangevinRhodeTrip stop in the Town of West Greenwich.
Originally a one-room schoolhouse, the central building was moved to a town center where residents can do all of their town business in one place. The historic portion of the building has since been expanded to accommodate a growing base of patrons, with renovations making room for a community center, children’s space, and computer access. These improvements over the years have ensured that Louttit can keep up with the needs and demands of a changing community. Library staff is engaged in West Greenwich, and they all have a deep understanding of what their patrons are looking for. The library offers traditional programs like story time for kids, but they also tailor programs to the community, like the informational sessions they offer for families looking to build and maintain chicken coops. Louttit also joins many branches in the Ocean State Libraries network that go above and beyond to serve patrons looking for work. Staff will often meet with individuals to work on their resumes and make improvements, and Library Director Annette Feldman boasted of patrons who found work after such sessions. That is something to be proud of, and it reminded me of the importance of the work Annette and her team are doing. Libraries become a meeting space for residents and a center of learning, professional development, and civic engagement. They are integral to any community, and certainly to West Greenwich.
A RI Legend
In 2020, Cranston-based Taco will turn 100. And after nearly a century of business, the White family has crafted a reputation not only as a high-performing manufacturer of hydronic products and HVAC systems, but also as a company that values its employees. Now under the leadership of John Hazen White, Jr., Taco has a long history of putting employees first. Hazen White, like his father, and his grandfather before that, takes pride in the company’s success, but perhaps more so in the low turnover that Taco experiences, attributable to competitive wages, strong benefits, and ample opportunities for education and training.
That last point is a big selling point for Taco, and as co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, it’s also a priority that Hazen White and I share. At the Taco Learning Center, employees can advance their education and careers through professional development programming that allows them to keep up with technology and industry advances. Taco also offers on-the-job training and emphasizes cross-training so that every employee is an integral piece of the company puzzle. Advancement opportunities extend beyond industry standards at the Innovation and Development Center, where employees can take general education, GED, citizenship or English as a Second Language classes. Moreover, tuition reimbursement is available for employees who wish to go back to school or pursue a new degree.
That kind of generosity is rare, and exemplifies the values that the White family hold dear. They understand that the bottom line isn’t the only metric that counts and, in fact, the bottom line looks better when employees feel valued and supported. Hazen White even opens the doors at Taco for other companies, encouraging them to send their employees to take advantage of Taco’s learning and professional development opportunities.
One of the challenges that Taco faces is that young people continue to be wary of careers in manufacturing. A stigma surrounds the industry, as many parents and guardians have an outdated conception about manufacturing as a dirty, dangerous job. Taco, like so many other Rhode Island manufacturers, relies on advanced manufacturing technologies and a workforce made up of highly-skilled workers with specialized training. These are good-paying jobs with stability, longevity and, clearly, a sense of company loyalty to go with it. Taco is doing its part to dispel the manufacturing myths by connecting with schools, bringing on interns, and hosting open houses so students can learn more about careers with the company. I believe the tide is already starting to turn, and that work will pay off when young people see that advanced manufacturing careers will continue to grow in the future. Together with partners like Taco, we can support advanced manufacturing and implement strong workforce development programs that create a talent pipeline that helps Rhode Island companies to grow and succeed.
As co-chair of the bipartisan Career and Technical Education Caucus in Congress, helping to train a workforce to succeed in the careers of today and tomorrow is one of my top priorities. In conversations with employers across the state, they continue to express frustration over their inability to find workers with the skills needed to fill job openings. This skills gap is a persistent drag on our economy, but we have the tools to fix it.
The Rhode Island Career Development Association has a full toolbox to help workers, in fact, and I was thrilled to be with them for their annual conference.
It’s clear that a high school diploma alone is no longer sufficient training for the modern economy. Every worker will need some advanced training that gives them the skills to succeed in their field - whether it comes from a four-year university degree, a two-year community college program, or on-the-job training. Going hand-in-hand with skills training is the opportunity for students to explore their career options while still in school. Every student should have the opportunity to explore a path that matches their interests and passion. RICDA partners are committed to ensuring young people understand their options and have the right resources at their disposal to put their goals into action.
Strengthening the connection between employers and educators is a time-tested way to make sure students are training for in-demand careers, and that they are learning the skills for that job. The success of job training relies on the ability of the program to meet the needs of industry. This means employers and educators need to be working as partners to ensure that participants are learning skills that will lead to employment opportunities. The RICDA conference is a wonderful example of the collaboration required to accomplish that goal, and I’m so grateful to RICDA President Audra Lavoie and all of the members for including me in such a fantastic event.
Hands-on learning enhances any educational experience, and for students at the University of Rhode Island, hands-on learning opportunities abound in the oceanography and marine studies programs. Located adjacent to the Graduate School of Oceanography, is the Narragansett Laboratory, run through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA lab is one of many interactive, immersive experiences URI students can take advantage of, and it’s a partnership that benefits both parties as they work together to conduct fisheries research and make projections for a more sustainable future.
With a staff of approximately 50 people, the Narragansett Laboratory is focused on ecosystem observation and research, working with NOAA partners nationwide to create an accurate picture of fisheries. The data they collect then helps to inform modeling on climate change, spawning locations, population, and more. During my #LangevinRhodeTrip visit to the lab, we focused on several project areas, including shark research in the Northeast; cooperative research being conducted between science, academia, and industry; and the vulnerability of Rhode Island and its fisheries to climate change. Research in all of these areas has a significant impact on our state, both economically for our fisheries industries and environmentally for our vast coastal resources, so having NOAA here is a tremendous asset.
Exploring the lab and learning about their research was an educational experience for me, to say the least, and I’m so glad that Rhode Island can also benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience in our backyard.
Tools at Their Disposal
One of the great byproducts of touring companies and meeting with business owners is that my job gives me insight into the programs and resources that are available to the business community. I get so much satisfaction out of meeting with a business when it yields a positive result – when I tell them about an internship program or funding opportunity they can take advantage of, for example.
But for every program I mentioned, Guill Tool and Engineering was already well aware. Aware and participating, in fact.
Located in West Warwick and founded in 1962, Guill Tool designs and manufactures extrusion tool technology, which is used in the production of medical tubing, fiber optics, cable, and more. In the extrusion process, metal or plastic is shaped, and Guill produces the die that sets the shape. It’s a technology that is useful to many industries, and Guill has customers in the defense, automotive, medical and food processing industries, among others.
With roughly 70 employees, Guill is a good example of a next-generation manufacturer. Rhode Island once relied on traditional manufacturing as the foundation of our economy, but as those jobs have been outsourced, they’ve been replaced locally by high-tech, advanced manufacturing opportunities. There continues to be a lag when it comes to training young people and directing them to these types of jobs, and I’m proud to support many programs that aim to close that skills gap. Guill, thankfully, is the beneficiary of such programs. They participate in the SAMI program at New England Institute of Technology, the step program at Bryant University, the Advanced Manufacturing program at CCRI and the Real Jobs RI program. They are involved in the Rhode Island Manufacturing Industry Partnership and the Governor’s Workforce Board, as well as the RI STEM Center at Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island Manufacturing Institute. The list goes on. At Guill, they want to ensure that their workers have the skills and training to be successful, and that all Rhode Islanders have access to training that makes them competitive in the workforce. Guill’s leadership, especially CEO Richard Guillemette and President Glen Guillemette, is invested in not only their company’s success, but in Rhode Island’s success. That’s encouraging to see, and for the future businesses I visit, it gives me another story to share about companies that are doing great work in our state.
Advocates in Action
Community health centers provide critical services that many Rhode Islanders, and Americans, would not be able to access anywhere else. By offering medical, dental, behavioral and pharmaceutical care, and a variety of other support services to the most vulnerable patients in our communities, these centers have become a national model of care coordination and innovation.
Supporting this work, then, is a no-brainer. I continue to be so impressed by community health centers in Rhode Island, and I work closely with their teams to fight for the resources and support they need. I’m honored that my contributions were recognized yet again this year with the Community Health Advocate Award. This award represents our shared accomplishments that no more belong to me than they do to our health center leaders, board members, state and community officials, medical professionals, staff and volunteers who all work tirelessly to improve health care quality and access across our state and our country. They are the real champions.
It’s hard to believe how much our health centers have grown over the years. Just last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our community health centers nationwide, which started as a pilot project in 1965. But that speaks to the progress they are making to better serve our communities every single day. The people who work in community health centers are on the front lines of health care, providing essential health services to more than 152,000 Rhode Islanders, regardless of their financial, cultural or linguistic barriers. Patients receive quality treatment whether they are privately insured, publicly insured, underinsured or completely uninsured. That safety net is more important than ever.
I’m grateful for the recognition of my work on the policy side, but my job is made infinitely easier when you consider the tremendous contributions and work being done by the care providers and support staff in the trenches. Together, we can continue to grow community health centers and enhance care quality and access for all.
Housing at Hemlock
There are a lot of things that support a strong middle class. Good-paying jobs, quality education, accessible public transportation – all of these resources can help Americans access opportunity and build successful lives. But perhaps nothing is more important than affordable housing. Being successful and independent without a roof over your head is a difficult thing to do, making affordable housing a real cornerstone of a strong middle class.
At a time when home sales are on the rise, and inventory is limited, there is a distinct shortage of affordable housing in Rhode Island. Expanding inventory and investing in properties that are specifically designated as affordable must be a priority for the state, and I’m proud of the work I have done in supporting agencies like Rhode Island Housing and programs like the Hardest Hit Fund. I’m also so grateful for the affordable housing we do have available, which is why I paid a visit to Hemlock Village in Foster, an apartment building for low-income renters. Having an affordable option is a lifeline for the residents there, and I had a great time speaking with them and learning more about not just the housing they rely on, but also the other support services and resources they access. Many of the residents mentioned the need for better public transportation options, which is an issue I hear so often, especially for Rhode Islanders living outside of Providence and the urban ring.
I’m glad that the Hemlock Village residents have a safe, affordable place to call home, but I will keep fighting for additional resources – like transportation – that can improve their quality of life and better connect them to health care, education, and community supports.
Tri-Town Community Action Agency has worked hard for many years to provide employment, education, and training programs to the people of Rhode Island. These programs help lift Rhode Islanders out of poverty and put them on a track to success. With the right skills and training, Tri-Town clients can build better lives for their families.
The GED program is one of the many services Tri-Town provides, and I was proud to be a part of its graduation ceremony for 19 hardworking GED recipients.
This ceremony epitomized everything that Tri-Town’s GED program is all about, as these 19 graduates put in many hours of studying and preparation to get to where they are today. Education has always been important to me because I believe that with a good education one can accomplish anything that is front of them. Those values were on full display at the GED graduation. Despite the challenges that these students have faced, they worked hard to overcome obstacles and accomplish their goals. In speaking with them and seeing the looks on their faces when they received their diplomas, I could tell how deeply the students cherished their education and how proud they were of their achievement, and rightfully so.
All of the graduates faced some adversity in their life, but now they know that they are strong and determined enough to be successful. That’s inspiring to me. It motivates me to keep moving forward to improve the quality of and access to education and training opportunities, so that more Rhode Islanders can experience and share the same sense of accomplishment as the Tri-Town GED graduates.
Getting Down to Business
If you want to know about the business climate in our state, it’s best to go straight to the source. Small businesses make up 96 percent of business in Rhode Island, and the owners of these businesses are in the trenches every day, navigating the regulatory processes and finding new ways to connect with and attract customers.
I got a closer look at the challenges and opportunities these small business owners face at a meeting of the Glocester Business Association. GBA members told me more about the work they are doing, and outlined some of the areas that need improvement. The cost of health care is a common thread when it comes to hurdles for small business, as is navigating the regulatory and licensing processes at the state level. I really appreciated the candor of the group, and especially President Vinny Lepore for facilitating the conversation. It was an excellent stop on the #LangevinRhodeTrip tour.
Open conversation is the best way to hash out issues and figure out solutions, and open conversation is exactly what the GBA delivered. I hope I can come back to meet with them again, and that they will consider my office a resource as they do the tough work of running a business and growing Rhode Island’s economy.
Between 2011 and 2015, overdose deaths increased by nearly 50 percent. That is a staggering figure that, over the past five years, has translated into more than 1,000 deaths in Rhode Island due to drug overdose. It is a public health crisis, without question, and I applaud Governor Gina Raimondo and the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force that she assembled for exploring the causes behind the rise in addiction and outlining potential solutions. I was also pleased to join my Congressional delegation colleagues in supporting passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, originally authored by my good friend, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. This law is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing the fight for more funding to address these issues in the near-term. Reversing this public health threat is going to take all hands on deck, at every level of government, health care, and beyond.
At the center of this effort is CODAC.
For nearly 40 years, CODAC Behavioral Healthcare has provided treatment, prevention, and addiction recovery services to Rhode Islanders. The team at CODAC is well aware of the trends, and has been seeing first-hand the increase in addiction and overdose in our state. They are on the front lines of this fight, which is why I had to include them in my #LangevinRhodeTrip.
CODAC has locations in Cranston, Newport, Wakefield, East Providence, and two in Providence. I visited the Providence facility on Huntington Avenue, and found a team that is completely committed to ending addiction in our communities and treating each client with the highest level of respect and care. Addiction can be isolating, and is often a symptom of a broader mental health issue, like depression or PTSD, so the hands-on, intensive care provided by CODAC staff is critical to addressing root causes and making a path to recovery possible.
Paired with the statewide focus on stronger prescription drug tracking, public education, and expanded recovery supports, the work being done at CODAC is a huge part of the solution if we are to reverse the trends and decrease the number of lives lost unnecessarily in our state due to addiction.
Tip of the CCAP
Behavioral health counseling
Family support services
And more. This is the long list of services provided by the Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) network, which includes 12 locations across the state. I’ve been working with CCAP to meet the needs of Rhode Islanders since I was a State Representative, and ever since, I have been astonished by the breadth of the work they do and the commitment of their team when it comes to helping families get through tough times and put themselves on a path to independence and success.
As part of my #LangevinRhodeTrip, I visited CCAP’s Family Health Services of Coventry office for the first time. A rehabilitated school building, the facility primarily provides health care services, and will soon start work on an expansion project to bring dental services to the community. Also located on-site are several local service programs, including the Coventry Food Bank, which will move into a renovated basement space once CCAP’s dental clinic opens up on the third floor.
Knowing the caliber of the work done at CCAP, and now having seen the expansion plans up close, I am so excited that this project will soon be underway so that the people of Coventry can access quality and affordable health and dental care services right in their own community. I hope I can be there when the dental clinic opens, and as always, I will continue to do my part advocating for robust federal funding for the important work of community health centers and family support services like those provided through CCAP.
Rising to the Challenge
The late Eleanor Slater was an incredible woman. She was a mentor to me, and she set a shining example of what a public servant – and a female trailblazer – looks like. I knew I could always turn to Eleanor not only for advice on politics and public office, but also for guidance on the type of person I wanted to become. She was unfailingly compassionate and kind, which is why it was so fitting that the state’s mental health hospitals were consolidated under her name. The Eleanor Slater Unified Hospital System is a fitting tribute to a public servant and advocate who tirelessly fought on behalf of the disabled, the mentally ill and the elderly.
When I visit the Zambarano unit of the Eleanor Slater Hospital in Burrillville, I can see her legacy in action. The Rhode Islanders who are at Zambarano face significant disabilities and health complications, and most are unable to live independently. Staff members, too, do incredibly difficult work, under challenging and often emotional circumstances. As someone who lives with a disability, I know how important my support system is, and for the patients at Zambarano, that support so often comes from the staff.
I’m so grateful to the men and women who pursue health care as a profession and show an interest in the most vulnerable among us. That was the kind of person that Eleanor was, and I’m glad there are others willing to follow in her footsteps.
Laws of the Rhode
Being accessible to the people I represent and to all Rhode Islanders has always been a top priority. Whether it’s at an in-person Town Hall meeting, at my quarterly Lunch with Langevin, online at my first-ever Twitter Town Hall, or just in the local coffee shop, I encourage my constituents to reach out and connect with me and my office to share their concerns, ask questions, and give feedback on the challenges and opportunities facing our communities.
My #LangevinRhodeTrip is another way to make these connections.
Congress is in recess for the month of August, so I embarked on a month-long tour of the 21 cities and towns in the Second Congressional District that I represent. The initiative is made up of business tours, constituent meetings, and public events, and we started on a high note with a visit to the Rhode Island State Police headquarters in Scituate.
I’m so appreciative to the men and women who don the uniform to protect our state. I have a deep respect for law enforcement. And in Rhode Island, in particular, I continue to be so impressed by the forethought and planning that goes on within the ranks of the State Police. As the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, protecting critical infrastructure, consumers, and our national security from cyber attack have long been on my radar. Others have been slow to catch up, but that is not the case at the Rhode Island State Police. The State Police have a Computer Crimes Unit (CCU) dedicated to investigating, prosecuting, and preventing cyber crime. CCU officers are also leaders on the Rhode Island Cyber Disruption Team, an initiative that was created to better understand cyber threats and train so that Rhode Island can respond quickly and effectively prior to, during, or after a potential cyber attack. This kind of leadership is not universal among law enforcement departments, so it was great to be back at the headquarters for an update on current efforts to strengthen the department’s and our state’s cyber defenses.
The State Police have been tackling the challenge of cybersecurity for years, and I’m so proud that my state is representing law enforcement so well in cyberspace.
One of the most powerful tools we’ve had during our recovery from the housing crisis has been the Hardest Hit Fund, a program administered by Rhode Island Housing that provides targeted aid to states with the largest decreases in home prices. To date, Rhode Island has used over $79 million to help families stay in their homes, and our state was recently awarded an additional $36 million in Hardest Hit funds.
Hardest Hit funding assists struggling homeowners with mortgage payments, reduces the amount owed to make mortgages more affordable, and transitions homeowners to more affordable residences. Despite suffering some of the worst impacts of the Great Recession, the Rhode Island housing market is clearly on the upswing. Thanks to our allies at Rhode Island Housing, we are on a path to stability – but more work remains. Coupled with a new HelpCenter located in Warwick, additional Hardest Hit funding will help more families avoid the pain of foreclosure or eviction.
I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to Rhode Island Housing and all of its state and local partners for fighting to prevent foreclosures and increase access to safe, affordable housing. By providing this critical assistance to families in need, we can ensure a more prosperous economic future not just for our communities, but for our entire state.
The Providence VA Medical Center has a long tradition of providing quality care to veterans, a tradition that will be supported and enhanced thanks to the groundbreaking of a new intensive care unit. Over the past decade, we have seen tremendous advances in trauma care when our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are injured down range – the United States truly excels at providing medical care in theater.
And we must always work to provide even better care here at home.
Upon the opening of this ICU next year, the doctors, nurses, and technicians at the Providence VA Medical Center will have more resources and space available to treat patients who need their attention. As Abraham Lincoln reminds us, we must take it upon ourselves “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.” This state-of-the-art facility will allow us to further that goal.
Once it has been completed, this ICU will provide critical care and support to Rhode Island’s veteran community, helping us to serve them just as well as they served us during their time in uniform.
Circulator in Swing
As a lifelong resident of Warwick, and someone who passes through Apponaug village to get from my home to my office, the Apponaug Circulator project is something I’ve followed closely. I remember the traffic being a challenge even before I entered public service, and there have been many proposals over the years to improve the flow of cars through the heart of Warwick.
Many years, administrations, and bottlenecks later, the project is driving towards completion.
I was so excited to be at the opening ceremony for the Apponaug Circulator project, a $71 million undertaking that is slated for final completion in the fall of 2017. Elements of the project are already open to traffic, however, and the changes should ultimately decrease the number of vehicles on Post Road passing through the village center from 24,500 down to just 5,000. Two-way traffic will open up in the area, with the exception of Post Road in front of City Hall, allowing for a wider roadway there, on-street parking, and increased foot traffic for village businesses.
Most Warwick residents are familiar with the frustration of sitting in Apponaug traffic. With this redevelopment project, we have a state-of-the-art traffic design to move people around the city more freely and with less delay. The traffic pattern is also safer, and rotaries will create a smoother flow of traffic with less likelihood of dangerous crashes. Huge kudos go to Mayor Avedisian for bringing us to this point, and to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for their leadership in keeping this project on time and on budget. As a Congressman, and a Warwick resident, I thank you!
A Younger Perspective
School is out for the summer, but class reconvened at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography for a meeting of my Youth Advisory Committee. I was so pleased to see student representatives join me on their summer break (and in the morning, no less), for another lively discussion about the issues affecting our state and our nation.
With a view of the beautiful Narragansett Bay as our backdrop, Dr. Bruce Corliss, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, welcomed us to URI’s campus. My advisory committee has both college and high school participants, so it was a nice way to showcase URI to young people who may not be familiar with the different programs and campuses.
My Youth Advisory Committee tackles a new discussion topic at each meeting, which often focuses on current events and news stories that have been dominating the headlines. Race relations in America fits both of those categories, and we had a productive conversation about what we can do to improve race relations and equality in this country. I was particularly interested to learn what the students thought about building trust between law enforcement and the community at large. Education was a theme that came up repeatedly, both in the case of law enforcement shootings and in terms of race relations more broadly. The students believed, as do I, that the most effective way to combat racism and xenophobia will be through education and awareness. My sincere hope is that future generations will be able to avoid such prejudices through education, and if my Youth Advisory membership is any indication, there is certainly reason to hope.
Managing inventory and supply chain issues is a challenge for any large company, particularly one with a large geographic footprint. Now imagine that challenge on the scale of the United States Department of Defense. Keeping track of military supplies and equipment is an enormous undertaking, and critical to our national security. We need to know what materials we have, where they are, and what acquisitions must be on the horizon.
A2B Tracking Solutions is a Rhode Island-based company that aims to fill that need with an identification tracking system that helps clients – including manufacturers and government agencies – maintain a careful inventory and track equipment around the globe. From production through deployment, the system identifies, tracks, and traces assets, parts, and equipment, ensuring efficiency and putting control into the client’s hand through state-of-the-art technology that can be accessed anywhere at any time.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, I understand the value of military assets, and the importance of keeping track of such assets. The technology and service that A2B provides help things run smoothly for government agencies and private companies, and it’s exciting to see a Rhode Island company at the forefront of the industry.
Access to capital is a challenge I hear about regularly from small businesses, and for municipalities, funding opportunities are increasingly scarce and competitive. Leaders in both the public and private sectors are constantly looking for new funding streams that will help them to grow and innovate.
Enter the EDA.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration is focused exclusively on economic development, offering technical assistance, strategic planning and other services for businesses and entrepreneurs. The ultimate goal is to foster sustainable job growth and strong, resilient economies, and the EDA paid a visit to Rhode Island to further those goals locally. EDA representatives assembled business leaders and municipal representatives and shared an array of possible investment and funding options, and explained how Rhode Island organizations can access them.
These types of workshops are critical, especially when schedules and budgets are stretched thin and searching for grants and loans can be a full-time job. Rhode Island stakeholders now have a better understanding of how the EDA works and how they can access these resources, which in turn helps our local economy grow, leading to jobs in the future. Rhode Island has the talent and the vision to grow our economy, and the support of the EDA will help get us there.
Run, Narragansett, Run
The summer heat hasn’t deterred the Narragansett Summer Youth Track Series for the past 10 years, and it wasn’t going to for the 11th meet, either. After taking a hiatus last summer for the building of a new athletic complex, the program came back and attracted a phenomenal crowd. For four consecutive Mondays, track series organizers work with area kids to get them outdoors, to promote physical fitness and health, and to instill self-confidence. Year after year, the turnout is impressive, and coordinator Tammy McNeiece should be proud of the initiative her team has built.
It was great to be at the new and improved Narragansett High School track to watch young people – from toddlers up to age 13 – have fun and stay active. It’s an event I always look forward to, and I’m grateful that there are so many volunteers who make this kind of productive community activity possible.
The National Medal for Museum and Library Science is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community. To win a National Medal is an incredible accomplishment, and a rare one. In fact, only 10 institutions were recognized with the award this year.
One of those 10 is right here in Rhode Island.
Founded in 1958, the Tomaquag Museum showcases Rhode Island’s Native American history and culture, including invaluable oral histories that are preserved in the museum’s archive. Aside from their physical collection of art and artifacts, Tomaquag offers lectures, tours, offsite programming and workshops, educating the public about our state’s vibrant Native American story.
The Tomaquag Museum epitomizes the ability of museums to engage their communities, to challenge them, and to help them grow. I can’t congratulate them enough on this well-deserved honor, and I hope all of my fellow Rhode Islanders will take the time to experience and enjoy this true cultural gem.
Another Win for Quonset
The Quonset Business Park is home to hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs, and I visit the park often to celebrate the many successes of its resident companies. It seems like every month I’m getting a new update, and Quonset is constantly in the news for its continued growth and the exciting innovation coming out of its member businesses.
No matter how many times I’m there, the excitement never fades, because Quonset is truly an anchor of the Rhode Island economy. It was great to be back to welcome the first Neo-Panamax ships to the state, the largest ships to ever dock in the Port of Davisville. Neo-Panamax ships have only been able to pass through the Panama Canal since June of 2016, when the larger, third set of locks officially opened. That was an exciting milestone in and of itself, but the fact that Rhode Island can accommodate ships of this size is incredibly important.
Having the necessary infrastructure to accommodate these ships makes Quonset an attractive place to do business, and I hope the visiting ships are the first of many more to come!
Celebrating Cape Verde
Since 1975, Cape Verde has been a shining example among not only fellow African nations, but nations around the world, for its developmental growth, thriving democracy, and warm hospitality. Its reputation for political and economic stability has been well-earned, and I am glad that over the years, Secretary Clinton and President Obama have been able to visit Cape Verde on multiple occasions. In light of this strong friendship and rich bilateral cooperation, it is fitting then that our two nations celebrate their birthdays just one day apart.
And what a celebration it was.
The Cape Verdean Independence Festival took over India Point Park in Providence, and it was an incredible display of the Cape Verdean culture and its contributions to our state. Our shared values and commitment to progress only continue to strengthen our relationship, and I hope that one day I will be able to witness the beauty of Cape Verde for myself. Until then, I am lucky to experience much of what Cape Verde has to offer the world right in my own community. The music, art, and – my personal favorite – the food that comes out of the nine islands of Cape Verde enriches the lives of Rhode Islanders in so many ways.
The Independence festival allows us to experience this culture, history and heritage, bringing us closer together in an ever-changing and expanding world. I hope we will continue to learn from one another, promote local leadership on our most pressing issues, and instill social responsibility now and for generations to come on the issues our countries hold most dear.
One of the greatest “blessings of liberty” afforded to us as a nation is the ability to express ourselves without fear of retribution or imprisonment. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are core tenets of our government, and have been for more than 200 years.
But at a time in our nation’s history when fear and distrust, violence and hate have reached a fever pitch, it seems too often that these freedoms are interpreted by some to apply only to a few.
Unfortunately, I know that many American Muslims have felt this hypocrisy directed at them recently. These are American citizens who love their country but are treated with suspicion by those who confuse Islam with terrorism falsely committed in the name of religion.
It has been disheartening to see the Muslim community repeatedly attacked across the country. In Rhode Island, the most recent instance came with the vandalism of the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda, a mosque and gathering space near the University of Rhode Island. Hateful graffiti was scrawled across the side of the building, and a window broken with an ax. The Rhode Island Muslims who gather there to pray and build community should be able to consider it a safe space to practice their faith.
But in the midst of something so ugly came something beautiful.
That same weekend, more than 100 people packed into the community center to show their support for their Muslim neighbors. Faith and community leaders joined with dozens of Rhode Islanders to send the message that the vandal does not speak for our state. We support the Muslim community, and when they are under attack, so are we. I was so proud to be there to show my support, and the love in the room was truly overwhelming.
Freedom of religion is a right for all, not a select few, and that’s a principle worth fighting for.
Connecting the State
Rhode Island is home to the best food, an incredibly rich history, phenomenal arts and culture, world-class institutions of learning, and some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. It’s a fantastic place to live, and more and more people are discovering what a fantastic place it is to visit, as well. Making it easier for those people to do so is at the center of any successful tourism initiative, and it has been the primary motivation of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation for quite some time.
RIAC is laser focused on improving the infrastructure and capabilities of T.F. Green Airport. Expanding international flights and building capacity is an ongoing goal at the airport, and I was honored to attend the groundbreaking of the 1,500-foot expansion of Runway 5 in order to handle more international and long-haul direct flights. In order to get to this point in the project, RIAC modernized and renovated many of T.F. Green’s existing facilities, redirected a substantial portion of Main Avenue, and moved and rebuilt Winslow Park in its entirety. The expansion project won the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision Gold award both for how it has been constructed and for minimizing its eventual impact.
The improved capacity at Green will help route more tourism, commerce, and trade through Rhode Island, which benefits all of us and will show many more people just how fantastic a place Rhode Island truly is.
Happy Birthday, America!
For elected officials, community leaders, and for all Rhode Islanders, the Bristol Fourth of July Parade is a huge source of pride. As the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in the country, the Bristol parade is a symbol of patriotism, freedom, and all the values our nation holds dear. I am so proud to live in this country, and grateful to all the men and women who fight for our freedom.
Year after year, I am astonished by the work that goes into the parade and the incredible display that results from the year-round, hard work of parade coordinators. From the talented musicians and performers to the impressive procession of floats, and most importantly, the collection of veterans and active-duty soldiers who participate, the Bristol parade is an exceptional celebration of the United States of America. I absolutely love being a part of it, and there is no better way to celebrate Independence Day than at the Bristol Fourth of July Parade.
Pen Is Mightier
As the son of small business owners, I grew up understanding the importance of small business and also the challenges that come with it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for small business owners, and I recognize that these operations make up the foundation of the Rhode Island economy. I was reminded of this during a tour of Garland Writing Instruments, a pen manufacturing and retail company located in Coventry, where I saw once again how crucial local businesses are, especially to the state of Rhode Island.
The staff at Garland takes so much pride in their work. Most of the team has been working at Garland for decades, and some for more than 30 years! That is a testament to the quality of their products and to the management of the business. As Garland owner and President Rick Becker showed me around the factory floor, he described each step of the pen-making process with care and detail. It was obvious that he and his staff put a lot of thought into each style of pen, and are committed to maintaining high quality standards as a longtime Rhode Island manufacturer. One worker, Paul, even shared a story about a farmer who accidentally drove a tractor over his Garland pen. When he found his pen underneath the tractor tires, he was shocked to find that it still worked.
My tour of Garland Writing Instruments reminded me of the many options available to students as they graduate high school and college. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I think it is extremely important that young people are aware of the training opportunities available to them in their areas of interest. I was very glad to learn that Garland Writing Instruments has internship programs open to students at Coventry High School and the New England Institute of Technology, allowing them hands-on manufacturing experience. Programs like these help keep local businesses alive and thriving in the Rhode Island economy, and they give young people the skills they need to find good-paying jobs. With Garland’s workforce aging, that pipeline of talent will become more important than ever to the company’s future success. Rick recognizes that, and he is willing to invest in the next generation workforce.
I’m so grateful to Rick and his entire team for taking time out of their day to show me around and teach me about the work they do. I love my Garland pen, and I’m glad that the company continues to be a valuable contributor to the Coventry community and the Rhode Island economy.
I watched with deep admiration when Senator Chris Murphy embarked on his 15-hour filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate, demanding a vote on gun reform measures. I joined the Senator on the floor to show my support, and felt in that moment that his actions were the start of something significant. One week later, I found myself in the midst of a historic sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House. Led by civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, we followed Senator Murphy’s example and refused to be silent. Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, and in the wake of the Orlando massacre, many legislators reached a breaking point. Enough is enough.
I was disappointed that Speaker Ryan adjourned the House despite our best efforts, but was heartened once again when Congressman Cicilline and I arrived at the Providence Public Safety complex to a full room for a sit-in locally. Our call to action engaged Moms Demand Action, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, faith leaders and Rhode Islanders who all believe that more can, and must, be done to curb gun violence in our country. Tragedies like the shooting at Pulse nightclub have become too common, and yet the reaction in Congress has not changed. We offer thoughts and prayers and a moment of silence, but this is not enough. We want commonsense reforms, like universal background checks and passage of the “no fly, no buy” proposal that would keep guns out of the hands of individuals on the no-fly and terrorist watch lists.
Most importantly, though, we just want a debate and a vote. The obstructionism of this Congress needs to end. Because at the very least, our constituents deserve to hear our arguments and know where we stand on these important proposals. That’s what the Providence sit-in was all about: demanding a vote. And the incredible turnout and support at the event reinvigorated us to return to Washington and continue that call louder than ever.
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I have long said that people with disabilities are one of our nation’s greatest untapped resources. The disabilities community has so much to offer, and many of the people with disabilities I meet are eager to find employment. They want to contribute to their communities and support themselves, and they make enthusiastic, hardworking, capable employees in a range of industries.
The Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst (APSE) is a nationwide network that connects people with disabilities with job opportunities, and here in Rhode Island, the local APSE chapter is doing phenomenal work finding the right jobs for people with disabilities. I had a wonderful visit with the Rhode Island Chapter of APSE at one of their job sites, the TA General Store in West Greenwich. APSE program participants there – like at all job sites – get hands-on learning and employment opportunities, and supporting an APSE site like the TA General Store means you’re supporting inclusion and equality for all people with disabilities. I’m so grateful to the TA General Store and other APSE program sites for giving a chance to people with disabilities. From my visit, it is clear that they haven’t regretted it for a second. The store has gotten just as much out of the program, if not more, than the employees, and it’s a great reminder of why we must foster an environment of inclusion for all.
On a beautiful day in the beautiful setting of Burnside Park in Providence, I was so proud to join the Dorcas International Institute and the Refugee Dream Center to recognize World Refugee Day and celebrate refugee culture.
There is so much misinformation, discrimination, and bigotry faced by refugees coming to this country. For some, America is the land of opportunity. For others, it is a temporary refuge for people escaping war, persecution or natural disasters. But for all, it has been a necessary journey. They face unspeakable violence and destruction in their native countries, and were left with no choice but to flee. The plight of these refugees is a global tragedy, and they do not deserve our derision. They deserve our compassion.
I’m so grateful to have organizations like the Dream Center and Dorcas Institute to help refugees make the transition to Rhode Island, and integration efforts like their World Refugee Day celebration have been shown to be vital in reducing alienation among new arrivals. Still, we can and we must do more. As Americans, we hold ourselves up as champions of freedom, of justice, and of economic opportunity. But with such privilege comes responsibility to our fellow world citizens to assist them in their dire times of need.
The United States was built by immigrants, is populated with immigrants, and will continue to grow thanks to immigrants. Continuing to welcome those fleeing persecution is a moral imperative, and to all of the refugees finding a new home in Rhode Island, I welcome you.
The Senior Perspective
Between 2004 and 2014, the number of Americans age 65 or older increased by 28 percent from 36.2 million to 46.2 million. By 2060, that number is expected to more than double to 98 million. Growth of the senior population continues to increase, as Americans live longer, healthier lives. That’s great news, because it means that health care outcomes are improving, seniors are healthier, and our country can benefit from the tremendous contributions, knowledge and talents of older Americans.
But the longer we live, the more likely it becomes that we will face significant health challenges or issues that threaten our independence. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, the majority of older Rhode Islanders have two or more chronic diseases, and 50 percent of those over age 85 have some sort of physical limitation. High health care costs, despite fixed incomes, can leave seniors at a loss, unsure of where to turn in order to continue to live independently. Aging in place, then, becomes a major concern both for seniors and also for the agencies and advocates that support them.
This was one of the issues addressed at the most recent meeting of my Seniors Advisory Committee, and it is a challenge we continue to discuss as a group. Providing the supports necessary for seniors to age in place has many benefits, and not just for the senior. For the individual, they are able to age with dignity and live independently in their own homes with their families. And for the broader system, aging in place avoids significant long-term care costs for both the individual and the overall health care system. In our state alone, an estimated 134,000 Rhode Islanders are unpaid caregivers, and they provide an estimated value of $1.78 billion in care – costs that are deflected from an already-overburdened system. When seniors age in place, they are able to stay in the labor force longer and contribute to the economy and their communities.
There are a number of things we can do to make aging in place possible, including access to reliable, accessible transportation, affordable health care, affordable housing, nutrition assistance, and community engagement. As Rhode Islanders age, they need additional support. We must recognize that providing that support has a tangible benefit for all of us, and the longer seniors can live independent, productive, fulfilling lives in our communities, the better off we are as a state. I really appreciated the feedback from my committee members on how we can improve care and support for aging Rhode Islanders, and I will continue to push for programs and resources that ensure seniors have someplace safe to call home.
Hidden hunger is a growing problem in the United States, and it’s felt acutely by too many of our young friends and neighbors. Nearly 20 percent of children live in food-insecure households, and 44 percent of all SNAP participants are children.
For these kids, free and reduced school meals are critical. But when school lets out at the end of the year, parents worry about how they will make up the difference. Thankfully, Rhode Island has a Summer Meals program that can fill the gap and make sure these children don’t go hungry. In recent years, the number of meals served has increased by more than 42 percent – roughly equal to 10,000 additional students enrolled in the program. I must commend the USDA, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner and all of the educators and program administrators on their work in reaching these families, but this is also a call to action for all of us.
It is unconscionable that in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, children cannot get enough food to eat. Each meal delivered represents a day that a child doesn’t go to bed hungry; a day that a child is able to avoid the stress, anguish, and fear of food insecurity.
Thank you to the Summer Meals Program for continuing to raise awareness about food insecurity and continuing to help ensure children have enough to eat. I’m so proud of the work this program is doing, and I will continue to fight in Congress for increased funding for summer meals programs nationwide.
Let’s Do Lunch
Of all the challenges that can come up at an event, running out of chairs is a pretty good one to have, in my opinion. After a record turnout in Cranston, I was so pleased to see an equally large crowd come out for my Lunch with Langevin in North Kingstown. The dining room of Bravo Wood Fired Pizza was absolutely packed, with standing room only at certain points. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday in June, and when I woke up to see the forecast, I feared that we would lose out to the beach. I was instead very pleasantly surprised to see a big crowd, and I can’t thank enough all of the constituents who attended. I always appreciate the opportunity to take questions and discuss important issues, and it means a great deal to me that so many Rhode Islanders were willing to take time out of their weekends to do just that.
I want to give a special thank you to the team at Bravo for working so hard to keep up with the crowd. They had fresh pizzas out every time we ran low, and the food was absolutely delicious!
Welcome to the ‘Digital’ Age
We use technology for everything from banking and monitoring health records to purchasing groceries and paying bills. Technology is an integral part of our lives and an integral component to most businesses, and as such, the demand for tech-savvy, skilled professionals has risen and will continue to rise. Information technology is a growing economic sector nationwide, and here in Rhode Island, in particular, and every time a new tech company opens its doors, we improve our ability to recruit talent, invest in our state, and support our academic institutions as they seek to train a next generation workforce and empower them to set roots in our state. It sends a message that Rhode Island is open for business.
And soon, General Electric Digital will be open for business, too.
Huge kudos goes to Governor Raimondo on her tenacity and persistence in recruiting GE. She put Rhode Island in the ring to contend for a new GE headquarters, but when the company opted for Boston, she didn’t give up. She kept at it, building a stronger relationship with GE and putting a solid pitch together for attracting other divisions of their operation. The soon-to-be GE Digital presence in Rhode Island is the fruit of that labor.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, it is one of my priorities to give students and workers the skills for success in leading industries. With the announcement of General Electric’s impending move to Providence, I am certain we can better retain top-tier talent in our state. The company has 100 high-paying jobs planned, with the potential for further growth in the future.
This exciting news is a huge win for Rhode Island and especially for the Rhode Islanders with talent in technology. GE Digital is a welcome addition to our IT industry line-up, and I hope their relocation here is a sign to other businesses that Rhode Island is a world-class place to grow.
Building a Future
Apprenticeships are a proven approach to workforce development. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, it’s an issue I speak about often, and a cause I continue to advocate for vigorously in Congress. Increasing access to skills training and workforce development programs like apprenticeships are an effective way to prepare our next generation workforce and also support economic growth for the businesses that want to grow but need qualified talent to do so.
The building trades in Rhode Island have a dependable, tested stream of talent at the ready, thanks to the Building Futures program, a joint venture of ProvPlan, BuildRI and YouthBuild Providence. This kind of public-private partnership harnesses both the speed of the business community and the teaching expertise of our education system. It’s a wonderful recognition of the strengths that all parties bring to the table.
With cranes in downtown Providence creating a fitting backdrop, Building Futures brought together public officials with leaders in the construction industry to celebrate the 200th job placement for program graduates. Several graduates spoke about how the program has changed their lives, and it was a fitting testimonial to the efficacy of apprenticeships in developing workplace skills that chart a course to professional success. Two hundred jobs and counting is an exciting milestone and, I know, just the beginning of what Building Futures can do to help the industry.
In today’s world of virtual reality and evolving technology, it is increasingly easy to forget to go outside and actually experience the world around us. This is true for people of all ages, but it’s especially true for young people.
To build off of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has launched a Youth Initiative Program that aims not only to get young people back outside and into parks, but also to educate them about the environment. DOI chose Providence as one of 50 cities in the first round of partnerships, providing funding to hire additional staff through AmeriCorps for the next two years and creating volunteer and training opportunities through public-private partnerships. As a small state jam-packed with parks, nature trails, beaches, and other natural resources, what better place to kick off these efforts? I’m excited that the DOI chose Providence as one of the first partnership cities, and if the launch is any indication, Rhode Island kids are excited about it, too.
For 10 million students nationwide, this initiative seeks to create more opportunities to get outside and play, as well as provide interactive learning opportunities so that children may become more educated about and comfortable in nature. Across the country, we have seen how interacting with nature can help us better understand our environment and our collective impact on it. It reminds our young people that we are not alone in this world, and our actions have consequences for plants, animals, and our overall ecosystem. And as we try to get back to basics and enjoy the outdoors this summer, that’s a lesson we all can benefit from.
Supporting the Legion
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 to provide critical services and support for veterans, service members, and their families. Congress doesn’t always get it right, but in this case, I’ll count it in the win column. And celebrating that victory – which started long ago but continues to support our men and women in uniform – was the centerpiece for the American Legion Department of Rhode Island Convention.
Though the past several years have been difficult for many veterans and their families, I am keenly aware that our country owes its retired service members a tremendous debt. We must honor that commitment with a level of integrity commensurate with their service. I have been proud to support efforts to increase the level, efficacy and efficiency of our nation’s support to veterans. From my Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act to my Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, I have kept the needs of veterans at the front of my mind. Looking at those who gathered for the American Legion Conference, I was reminded of why these efforts are so critical.
As we seek new and innovative ways to serve our veterans with the same commitment with which they have served us, I am hopeful that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to improve veterans’ care across the board. All of us – Congress, the VA, and veterans’ service organizations across the country – must continue to work together to take concrete actions to make our veterans’ transition from the armed forces less arduous. And when I return to the American Legion Conference next year, I hope we have plenty of good news to share.
They don’t call Providence the Creative Capital for nothing, and the creativity was on full display for the second annual PVDFest. The very best that our state has to offer in food, art, music, poetry and dance were all on deck for the festival. I honestly can’t even capture just how phenomenal an event it was. I intended on stopping by between morning and evening events, but ended up staying longer than I had planned because I was having such a great time.
And I certainly wasn’t alone. Around every corner, Rhode Islanders and tourists were enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes. Mayor Jorge Elorza and his team did an amazing job building off of last year’s success, and they tell me that the event brought 75,000 people into the capital city. Despite the huge crowds and the late night events, there was not a single arrest. Restaurants reported record sales. Vendors could hardly keep up with the demand. City institutions, from the Providence Public Library to AS220, opened their doors and offered special exhibits and events to further enhance the lineup. From Friday through Sunday, the action never stopped.
As I participated in the parade, enthusiasm from the crowd was so palpable. It was as if even the locals were experiencing Providence for the first time. They were seeing our city from a fresh perspective, finding new things to appreciate about the talent that grows here. It’s exactly the kind of passion and appreciation that we need to help Providence’s economy flourish and grow.
PVDFest was great last year, it was unbelievable this year, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next year.
Two days, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of procedures – that’s the incredible feat pulled off each year at the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy dental clinic. Sponsored by the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation non-profit, in conjunction with Delta Dental, the Community College of Rhode Island, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and other generous supporters, the Mission of Mercy clinic provides free dental care to the uninsured, underinsured, or anyone who cannot access dental care. The CCRI Lincoln campus is transformed into a temporary clinic, complete with dental chairs, digital radiography, a sterilization center and electronic dental records. Services include cleanings, fluoride treatments, x-rays, tooth extractions, root canals and much more, provided by dental and medical volunteers. Community volunteers, many coming from the sponsoring companies, also provide administrative support, get patients checked in and help ensure the day runs smoothly.
To see an enormous crowd lining up to receive these services is overwhelming. Mission of Mercy fills a huge need in our community, and many Rhode Islanders rely on the availability of this free service. Volunteers encounter patients who are pain, but have been unable to afford professional dental care. This weekend clinic makes all the difference for them. Without this, they would continue to suffer.
No one is compensated for their work that day, and yet when I spoke to volunteers it seemed like many of them get more out of the experience than the patients. That has certainly been the takeaway from Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation President, Dr. Jeffrey Dodge. Mission of Mercy has been a labor of love for Dr. Dodge, and thanks to him and the hundreds of men and women who freely give their weekend for the cause, Rhode Islanders have a reason to smile.
Let the Games Begin!
A young girl came up to me under the tent at URI, thanked me for being there, and rushed forward to give me a hug. It was a spontaneous moment, but it really made my day, and summed up how I feel about Special Olympics Rhode Island. I cannot overstate how much I love the Special Olympics program and its incredible ability to change lives. These games allow athletes to reach – in every sense of the phrase – their full potential, and it is such an inspiration to see the faces of the Olympians as they compete and take home medals.
The games lay the groundwork for self-empowerment, social acceptance, and can help participants to achieve many other life goals. I have been delighted to see, firsthand, the wonderful effect that these games have had on my nephew, Josh, and the many other Rhode Islanders who put themselves out there and compete. Lessons from the playing field can be applied to so many aspects of life, from training and perseverance to teamwork and the confidence to overcome challenges. These skills come in handy on and off the field, and all of the athletes are better off having experienced the challenges of the games.
I am so tremendously grateful that we have such a vibrant Special Olympics organization in our state. Thank you to Executive Director Denny DeJesus and to all of the volunteers and staff who work year after year to make the Special Olympics such a success. Most of all, thank you and congratulations to the Olympians. You make me so proud.
Tapping the Talent
The staff and guests at Miriam Hospital were teeming with pride as six young men and women graduated from their internships through the Project SEARCH program. I first visited with Project SEARCH at their graduation ceremony at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and once again the program has successfully supported Rhode Islanders with disabilities in their pursuit of independence and fulfilling employment. Project SEARCH aims to train and secure employment for people with developmental disabilities, and provides them with the skills they need to succeed in a competitive work environment. Watching each graduate give a short speech about their accomplishments and the skills they have gained, I was reminded of the wide range of talents and passion that people with disabilities possess, and their underutilization in our society.
By embracing a diversity of thought, background, and ability, as Miriam Hospital and Project SEARCH certainly have, we open ourselves up to new ideas and experiences. Miriam is reaping the benefits of this approach, and staff members were visibly moved during the graduation ceremony, including Manager of Volunteer Services Jeni Mowry, who was effusive in her praise of the program and its graduates.
The graduates, too, had praise to go around when it came to the instructors and coworkers who helped them grow personally and professionally. They spoke of their work experience to date, and of the confidence boost that working at Miriam has given them. Their poise and enthusiasm are just further proof that Project SEARCH’s efforts are worthwhile and that these individuals, despite the challenges they face, should not be counted out of the professional workforce.
A Nice Riverview
Just a few days after my visit to the Scallop Shell care facility in Wakefield, I headed north to stop in at the Riverview Healthcare Community in Coventry. Administrator Kelly Arnold was kind enough to introduce me to a nice crowd that had gathered in their community room. In all fairness, they were there for an afternoon bingo game, but I’m grateful that so many residents stuck around to speak with me.
After I gave a brief update on my work in Congress, and particularly on my positions that most significantly affect seniors, like my opposition to efforts to privatize Social Security or turn Medicare into a voucher program, I took questions from the audience. We talked about everything from Presidential politics to prescription drug costs, and I really appreciate them taking the time to hear me out and share their concerns. Hopefully, next time, I can make it in time for the bingo!
A Coup for Cranston
Population of Louisville, Kentucky: 760,000+
Population of New York, New York: 8.4 million+
Population of Cranston, Rhode Island: 80,000+
Clearly, the City of Cranston isn’t exactly rivaling Louisville or New York in terms of population. Cranston is the small town to their big cities, and yet, these three municipalities now share a very honorable distinction: they are the 2016 winners of the LibraryAware awards, sponsored by Library Journal.
Despite its small size, Cranston Library made a big impression on Library Journal judges and put our library system in the national spotlight. In particular, the judges were impressed by Cranston Library’s commitment to serving ESL patrons and addressing the needs of a growing immigrant population by offering citizenship preparation classes. In their award announcement, Library Journal made note of the library’s community needs assessment to better understand the community they serve. Cranston Library is always looking for new ways to connect with and engage patrons, and I agree that it puts them on the same plane as major metropolitan library branches.
Libraries do so much more than just provide books. They offer internet access for those who may not have it at home, adult education that fits the schedules of busy families, resume and job search assistance, and other services to meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve. The Cranston Public Library does all this and more, and I am so thrilled that they have garnered national attention for their great work. Congratulations to Library Director Ed Garcia and the entire Cranston Public Library team on this exciting award. It is well deserved, and I am eager to see where you go from here.
A Gathering of Friends
For a lot of my colleagues in Congress, Washington, D.C., feels like home. That’s not exactly surprising given the amount of time we spend there. Our nation’s capital absolutely holds a special place in my heart, but without question, my home is in Rhode Island. More specifically, my home is in Warwick. I love my hometown and its people and its landmarks, including the Warwick Public Library.
So when the Friends of the Warwick Library invited me to be the featured speaker at their annual meeting, I felt right at home. I have so many fond memories of the Warwick Public Library. Going for story time with my family. Working on group projects after classes let out at Hendricken. Attending public forums and meet-and-greets after I began my career in public service.
The City of Warwick has changed and evolved over the years, but the library has remained a constant in our city and in our lives. On any given day, there are Rhode Islanders using libraries to research genealogy, to look for jobs and to sharpen resumes; to apply for college, to read the classics, and to connect with our communities. Libraries provide a center of learning for all ages. In many ways, libraries can be a lifeline for people. Rhode Islanders can find out what is happening in their city and state through the library. Seniors get out of the house and meet new people through the library. Our young people plan their futures and imagine new possibilities through the library.
And that is something to celebrate.
Thank you to the Friends of the Warwick Library and to the entire Warwick Public Library staff for your work in making Warwick feel like home for me and for all our neighbors.
They’ve Got Skills
Not every path to success includes a college education, and not all education happens entirely in the classroom. For too long, career and technical education pathways have been neglected by schools. But now we are seeing the tide begin to turn thanks to evolving workforce demands, a changing economy, and programs like SkillsUSA.
More and more students are demanding the opportunity to work and learn, and I’m proud to be an ally in this fight. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I am working to expand skills training programs to every student. Earlier this year, I led a bipartisan group of 119 members of Congress in requesting increased funding for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. I also passed an amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act that encourages states to offer apprenticeships and links up school counselors with local labor market information.
When I tackle this issue in Congress, it is students like those in SkillsUSA that I have in mind. They continue to impress me with their work in culinary arts, computer networking, automotive repair, biotechnology, and beyond, and I was proud to be with them for the SkillsUSA Rhode Island Gold medalist ceremony. These champions are the future of CTE in Rhode Island. We need more leaders like them, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen.
Keep the Faith
My faith has always been an important part of my life, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue a faith-based education at Bishop Hendricken High School. I found it to be a supportive environment that helped me to grow personally, academically, and spiritually, and I respect every community that pursues a faith-based option for education.
My personal experience certainly contributed to my excitement and interest in visiting the Islamic School of Rhode Island. Thanks to friends like Dr. Ehsun Mirza, a Muslim physician in Rhode Island who serves on my Diversity Advisory Committee, I have been learning more about Islam, and I was really looking forward to seeing how Rhode Island’s Muslim community had created a faith-based educational environment of their own.
The Islamic School of Rhode Island opened their doors in the fall of 2004, and served an initial class of 40 students. The school now has classrooms from pre-school through grade 8, and traditional curriculum is supplemented by studies in the Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic Studies. In their mission statement, the Islamic School notes that they “strive to teach [students] how to gain knowledge, increase their faith in their daily lives, and incorporate Islamic and exercise discipline in their pursuits to benefit themselves and society.” Substitute Islam for any faith you may follow, and the mission mirrors that of religious groups across the spectrum. They are noble goals, and I wish the Islamic School of Rhode Island well as they work to achieve them with Rhode Island’s young Muslim community.