In a Scallop Shell
I host my quarterly Lunch with Langevin forums to provide a one-on-one opportunity for constituents to meet with me, but for many seniors, it can be difficult to get out into the community. They have to factor in health and mobility challenges, as well as transportation and accessibility. Instead, I make it a point to meet them where they are, and try to make it to a senior center or care facility nearly every month.
Elderwood of Scallop Shell provides a range of services, from nursing care and memory care to rehabilitation, assisted living and independent living options. More than 5,000 pass through the Elderwood care network each year at their 19 facilities across the region, and I had the opportunity to meet with some of those seniors during an informal discussion at the Scallop Shell center in Wakefield. I provided an update on what I have been working on, and then took questions from the group. I’m grateful to the Scallop Shell team for welcoming me into the facility, and I hope to be back soon to visit again with the residents and patients receiving quality care there!
Green to the Core
Quonset Business Park is home to almost 200 businesses and more than 10,000 employees. It is a major source of growth in the Rhode Island economy.
And thanks to the addition of an international food manufacturer, that growth is slated to continue.
Greencore, an international producer of convenience foods, is a newer addition to the QDC family. They were attracted by Quonset’s built-in infrastructure and resources, and a central location poised between New York and Boston. Their move here, however, was not entirely easy. Greencore faced significant challenges while building their 107,000 square foot warehouse during a brutal winter. Still, just over a year after my first visit to the vacant land, I was impressed with the level of progress. Already, they are employing roughly 350 people on the Quonset site, with hopes to double that amount in the future.
Greencore is located in several places across the United Kingdom and the United States, with its American headquarters based in Danvers, Massachusetts. In Quonset, employment opportunities will continue to grow in various stages of food preparation and packaging, as well as truck drivers and upper management.
It was interesting to get a glimpse at the behind-the-scene process, as we went on a tour that included ‘low-risk’ areas (kept at a brisk 38 degrees), which illustrated how dedicated the company is to food quality and safety. When asked about various allergens, the team noted that there was a separate room for all allergies to avoid any cross contamination.
When we think about Rhode Island’s food economy, we often think about our farms and fisheries, or about our vibrant restaurant scene. But the strength of the food economy relies on all related industries, manufacturing and production included, and Greencore is another exciting addition to an economic sector that is putting Rhode Island on the map.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” It is a fitting sentiment for Memorial Day, and particularly at Rhode Island events that are made possible by volunteers, veterans, and military families who live their appreciation every single day.
Operation Stand Down is an organization that lives by their commitment to veterans, and they put together an exceptional Memorial Day ceremony with their Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial. Rows and rows of military boots were lined up in Roger Williams Park, each marked with a placard in honor of a veteran who was killed in action.
In total, 6,844 boots – 6,844 soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
To be able to visualize the number of lives lost, and the number of families irreparably affected, made for a powerful statement. I commend OSDRI on all of their important work, and especially for putting together this unique and impactful event to commemorate Memorial Day.
I must also commend the Rhode Island Division of Veterans Affairs, the Rhode Island National Guard, and Lieutenant Commander Kasim Yarn (Ret.), the Director of Veterans Affairs, for putting together a beautiful Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Cemetery in Exeter. Director Yarn has really hit the ground running, and I have seen him at countless veterans events since his appointment was announced earlier this year. Like the team at Operation Stand Down, he lives by his pledge to support his fellow veterans.
I have tremendous respect for the courage it takes a person to serve our country on a battlefield far away, knowing they may not come home. I also know that the sorrow that follows when they do not return is not an easy burden to bear. America still stands today as a beacon of freedom and democracy because of the incomparable sacrifices of our soldiers. On Memorial Day, and all year, we remember them and we remember President Kennedy’s call to show our gratitude in our actions every day.
Road to Success
Strong infrastructure is the foundation for a strong economy, and strong infrastructure requires strong investments at the state and federal level. To demonstrate the incredible need for infrastructure funding in Rhode Island, I was honored to welcome Vice President Biden to our state so he could witness firsthand the highway and bridge challenges we face here.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Governor Raimondo hosted the press event to outline the future of infrastructure in our state if we want to remain competitive. When tourists, potential investors, or business owners encounter potholes and crumbling bridges, it sends the wrong message. We want people to see Rhode Island as a state that cares about infrastructure and makes the improvements necessary to accommodate the needs of residents and businesses alike. We need modern, safe, updated, and navigable highways and transportation systems. My colleagues in Congress and I take this issue very seriously, and have made personal appeals for Rhode Island to be included in the new “FASTLANE” program run by the U.S. Department of Transportation
Introducing the Vice President was Dee Pandolfi, a DOT worker and one of only two female truck drivers in the Department. Dee met Governor Raimondo this past winter during a storm, detailing for her the dangers she faces while on the road, and the two discussed the importance of roadway improvements. For Dee and for all Rhode Islanders, Governor Raimondo has made those improvements a priority. Her plans to improve Rhode Island’s structurally deficient highways and bridges caught the attention of the Vice President, and during his visit, he applauded the RhodeWorks project and described the benefits of investing in transportation and roads, including an increase in jobs and a transformation of the middle class.
With the combination of resources and commitment at both the state and federal levels, I know we can rebuild our highways and bridges to meet the demands of today, tomorrow, and the future, so that next time Vice President Biden is in Rhode Island, we’re celebrating our progress.
At the individual level, bicycling is about exercise. It’s a way to get in shape, stay healthy, and enjoy the outdoors. It’s also a healthy, affordable, and reliable mode of transportation.
At the community level, bicycling is about accessibility. A navigable community is a more livable community, and promoting safe spaces for cyclists can become a tool for economic development.
At the global level, bicycling is about being environmentally conscious and doing your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every time you choose to ride your bike instead of getting into your car, you’re making a difference.
At BikeFest RI, all of those benefits are cause for celebration. The benefits of bicycling extend well beyond the individual cyclist, and I applaud everyone involved in BikeFest for making smart choices in their lives and in our communities. I will continue to support policies and programs that make for livable, navigable communities, and encourage more people to break out their bikes.
Salute Our Soldiers
With VA Research Day behind me and Memorial Day on the horizon, I was really looking forward to recognizing Armed Forces Day with a duo of veterans-focused events. The morning began with Echo Taps, an annual ceremony that never ceases to move me. We gathered at the Veterans Cemetery to pay tribute to our brave men and women in uniform, and it was wonderful to see veterans of every era present, as well as young people with future military aspirations. All of us, together for the same reason, were silent as the volunteers with Buglers Across America played Echo Taps.
Before it was used for military funerals, Taps called the troops to their beds. Sounded at dusk, it signaled “lights out;” another day past, another days’ work finished. It is fitting, then, that we call Taps as we lay our fallen warriors to their final rest. On Armed Forces Day, its tune reminds us of those who have laid their lives down.
Later that day, I joined Starzz Entertainment for the Proud to be an American fundraiser. Started by a group of friends with a passion for helping veterans, this event benefits Rhode Island veterans and has grown each year. It was a packed house again this year, which is a testament both to the commitment of the Starzz team and event volunteers, and also to the community that turns out to support such an important cause. I’m deeply appreciative of the dedication of the people who make this event possible, just as we are all appreciative of the men and women who wear our country’s uniform around the world.
The (Re)search is On
The United States has been providing support to servicemembers since the 18th century, and since the official formation of the Veterans Administration, that support has evolved from just pensions to include health care, housing assistance and other critical benefits for the men and women who serve our country. For 91 years, in fact, the Providence VA Medical Center has made it a point to host a “Research Day,” to underscore the importance of research and development when it comes to health care technologies and treatments to better care for veterans.
The men and women of our armed forces exhibit such courage and commitment as they brave the battlefields to uphold our national defense. They spend months on end away from their families, and when they return home, they deserve our commitment to provide them with the best care available. Veteran-specific research was first seen in the 1920s with the establishment of the VA Research Program, and has been a cornerstone of VA health care ever since. Over the years, the VA health care system invented the cardiac pacemaker, pioneered concepts for CAT scans, and launched the largest ever Genomic Medicine initiative.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland, and I was amazed by some of their recent research successes, from the fabrication of medical models and custom implants, to critical traumatic brain injury initiatives. Through collaboration with federal, academic, and non-profit organizations, researchers use the most advanced technical and clinical resources to benefit the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for us. Conducting research to better understand the short- and long-term health care challenges our veterans and their families face on a daily basis must continue to be a central component of medical centers across the country, and I am glad, though not surprised, that the Providence VA Medical Center continues to excel in this regard.
Celebrating Our Seabees
When Rhode Islanders think of Quonset and the Port of Davisville today, their first thought is often of the robust business climate in the park, and the continued economic growth that the Port and its surroundings offer. For Rhode Islanders of a certain age, however, the business park elicits a different response. They remember a time when Quonset was the heart of Rhode Island’s military presence, and a home base for the U.S. Navy Seabees.
That home base has been resurrected with the Seabees Museum and Memorial, a hidden gem tucked away in Quonset, which celebrates the “can-do” Seabee spirit that dates back to World War II and continues to this day in theaters across the globe. This legendary attitude and hard work ethic continue to ensure the demands placed upon the men and women who serve are not just met, but exceeded.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I know the critical role the Seabees play when it comes to defending our nation, both at home and abroad, as our naval forces move inland to places like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and even Antarctica, completing not only naval construction missions, but also conducting important disaster relief efforts. Closer to home, I am so impressed with the tenacity of the former Rhode Island Seabees who worked to raise the funds necessary to make the museum a reality. Hosting this museum at Quonset Point is not only a tribute to the nation’s Seabees, but also to the important role Quonset has played when it comes to the naval defense of the United States.
Congratulations to the Seabees on the official opening of this wonderful museum, and thank you for everything you do on behalf of our national defense. Rhode Island – and the United States – is lucky to have you.
La Excelencia de la Comunidad
Having strong, independent media is an important part of democracy. Media outlets have a tremendous responsibility to educate the public and serve as a watchdog for government. That is true for all free press in Rhode Island, and especially for Latino Public Radio. As the primary Spanish-language resource for many Latinos in our state, LPR is a gateway for information and a community resource that helps keep people engaged in our communities.
For Latino Public Radio, it’s not just about reporting the news, either; it’s about celebrating the good news. At the annual Community Excellence Awards Gala, LPR chooses community leaders and professionals who have made a positive impact on our state. This year’s event focused on education, and the Class of 2016 Foundation Builders recipients included Todd Flaherty of the College Crusade of Rhode Island, Heather Tow-Yick of Teach for America, former Providence Superintendent Susan Lusi, Nancy Carriuolo of Rhode Island College, Meghan Hughes of the Community College of Rhode Island, former Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo, Julie Nora of the International Charter School, former Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira, former Providence Assistant Superintendent Tomas Ramirez, and Jose Gonzalez, the former director of Student Registration and Placement in Providence Schools. LPR also recognized Future Builder award recipients, including Tim Hebert of Atrion, Jonathan Acosta of Blackstone Valley Prep, and the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University.
Latino Public Radio had plenty to celebrate themselves, as they continue to deliver quality news to the Spanish-speaking community, but their focus on the other people and organizations doing good work is a testament to their commitment to Rhode Island’s success overall. Felicitaciones, LPR!
Carrying a Tradition
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Add the collection of food donations to the list and you’ve covered the bases for the annual Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. For 24 years, letter carriers nationwide have called on their constituency to make donations to fight hunger. In Rhode Island, those donations are funneled through the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and my visit to the Garden City Post Office demonstrated that it is another productive year for the Stamp Out Hunger effort.
I arrived at the Cranston branch just as a barrage of mail trucks were pulling in, unloading box after box of non-perishable food items to help Rhode Islanders who face food insecurity. Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff, a member of my Food First Advisory Committee, was on site to see the success of this year’s campaign, and he said the push makes a huge difference for families in need. Donations are typically high during the holidays, but often fall off when the weather warms up. For many families, however, we are approaching a critical time for food shortages, as children who have access to school breakfast and lunch programs now need to be fed entirely at home. Stamp Out Hunger helps to restock the Food Bank’s shelves, and I was glad I could stop by to thank all the volunteers and all of the letter carriers who go above and beyond to solicit and collect donations, year after year.
Starting a New Chapter
Graduation season is an exciting time in Rhode Island. For the graduates, it’s the exhilaration of a job well done, a mission completed. It’s the pride of a goal accomplished. It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
And for both the graduates and the entire state, it’s about hope. It’s about hope for a brighter future. These graduates represent the next generation of entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators. They will become our elected officials, our community leaders, and our business owners. That journey starts with commencement, a fitting word to describe the occasion, as it is the beginning of the next great adventure. Wherever the adventure leads, I hope that it will end here in Rhode Island.
I had the honor of attending commencement ceremonies for the University of Rhode Island, Providence College, the Community College of Rhode Island, and my alma mater, Rhode Island College. At each of these celebrations, I reflected on the path my own life has taken since crossing the stage at RIC those many years ago. I learned so much at RIC and gained a new perspective on the world, and my experiences in the classroom and on the campus shaped the person I would become. Rhode Island College set me on my path to public service, and regardless of where the interests of this year’s graduates lie, I am confident that their experiences at our state’s exceptional universities will serve them well in the pursuit of their own dreams. Whether they plan to pursue a job, an advanced degree, or start their own endeavor, what they learned in college will serve them for the rest of their lives. And the commitment that got them across the stage will be the force that drives them forward in the future.
To the Class of 2016: congratulations. You have so much to be proud of, and so does Rhode Island. We’re counting on you to be the visionaries of the future, and I look forward to seeing what incredible things you accomplish.
When it comes to building acceptance, trust and respect in any given community, communication is essential. Every person comes to the table with their own perspective and experience, and that shapes not only their point-of-view but often the way they communicate, as well. Being able to truly hear and understand that opinion therefore requires an open mind and empathy for those whose experiences differ from your own.
Looking around the table at my Diversity Advisory Committee at our last meeting, I was so proud to be in the company of people who have endless compassion and empathy. They have open minds, open hearts and open arms when it comes to making Rhode Island a more inclusive, supportive place. They work every single day to foster equality for all, and I am so lucky to have them to turn to for advice and support.
Diversity among race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability is represented on my Diversity Advisory Committee, which ensures no end to the topics we can discuss. At our second meeting, the discussion covered a variety of topics, with a particular emphasis on building stronger relationships between the Muslim community and others in Rhode Island. Dr. Ehsun Mirza, a Muslim-American doctor, has educated me so much about what it is like to be Muslim in America, and his perspective has been invaluable for the entire committee. It was exciting to see him discuss building ties with other religious communities, and Marty Cooper from the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island was likewise eager to participate in that conversation.
During the course of the meeting, we also talked about the plight of refugees coming to Rhode Island, and Omar Bah, the founder and executive director of the Refugee Dream Center, provided powerful insight into the obstacles that these refugees are up against. His kindness has been an inspiration for so many Rhode Islanders, and his voice is an important one as we move forward and make Rhode Island an even more accessible, supportive place for refugees who have fled persecution.
The challenges we face when it comes to building acceptance are significant and, unfortunately, due to dangerous rhetoric and fear-mongering at the national level, are not likely to go away in the near future. But when I meet with my Diversity Advisory and see their commitment to equality firsthand, I’m reminded that cooperation, collaboration, and respect are both achievable and incredibly worthy goals.
Getting a Head Start
When it comes to fighting poverty in Rhode Island and across the country, I believe the most effective path utilizes a ground-up approach. There are steps we can take to lift all people out of poverty, but when you address the causes of childhood poverty, you have the potential to completely change the course of a young person’s life. Head Start is one of our most important anti-poverty tools, and I am so grateful to the leadership in Rhode Island that makes the program such a success.
To me, Head Start is more than just early childhood education. It is recognizing that nobody gets through life without some help along the way. This is why I joined more than 130 of my colleagues in requesting $9.6 billion for Head Start in the coming fiscal year, and why it was important for me to be at the Rhode Island Head Start Conference. It is why I will continue to fight so that every family has access to these basic resources.
Head Start exists to ensure that every American child can take advantage of America’s boundless opportunities. The science is clear that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important for brain development, and particularly the first 36 months. For families who can’t afford daycare, Head Start is a vital part of their safety net. It provides resources that would otherwise be unavailable and helps parents of young children to return to work. For many families, the cost of daycare can quickly outpace what a single parent earns.
The results are clear: children in Head Start are better prepared to learn, more confident, and more socially advanced when they enter school. Those results are worth fighting for, and Head Start programs in Rhode Island can count on me to keep fighting.
Celebrating Our Heritage
They come from industries spanning finance and law to agriculture and culinary arts. They include different races, religions, genders, and welcome immigrants into their ranks. They are entertainers and academics; military officers and philanthropists. In fact, they fall into more than 50 different categories.
They are the 747 inductees of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, and their backgrounds are as varied as the people of our great state. Since 1965, the Heritage Hall of Fame has honored the contributions of those who have made a difference in our state and have brought acclaim and honor to Rhode Island. I was pleased to help celebrate these individuals, and the 2016 inductees, in particular, at the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.
Thanks to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame for honoring the people who make our state what it is, and congratulations to this year’s honorees: Dr. Robert Billington, Richard “Dick” Ernst, Charlie Hall, Ralph Papitto, Dr. Piyush Patel, Dr. James Patterson, Dr. Patricia Recupero, Arthur Robbins, Michael Tamburro, and Dr. Betty Vohr.
Breakfast with Business
The annual Congressional Breakfast hosted by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce attracts a crowd of more than 500 business and community leaders, and yet, year after year, the forum feels more like an intimate discussion. Led by Chamber President Laurie White, the breakfast gives the delegation the opportunity to weigh in on issues that are important to the business community and to all Rhode Islanders. It is an event I always look forward to, and I know Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline feel the same.
The centerpiece of discussion each year is how we can work together – public and private sector combined – to grow jobs and support economic expansion in Rhode Island. There are good signs that this expansion is already underway, with unemployment down nearly a full point from last year to 5.4 percent. To keep that trend going, it is essential that we make sure workers have the skills they need to be successful, especially in industries with growth potential in Rhode Island. The skills gap continues to hold back workers and businesses, and there are many things we can do to close it. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I believe skills training must be at the heart of educational initiatives. Our economy has changed and a high school diploma is no longer sufficient for a good-paying job. However, a four-year degree might not be the right fit for every student, either. We must shift the conversation from “earning a degree” to “what skills do I need to learn, and what’s the best way to learn them?” I know many of the Providence Chamber members understand this, and they are living it every day.
While business and economic issues always take center stage, the forum covered a lot of ground, including the vacancy on the Supreme Court, the Presidential election, encryption, foreign policy and climate change. It was a lively and productive discussion, and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with the men and women who make up the foundation upon which Rhode Island’s economy is built. They are leaders in business and in our community, and I will continue to keep the dialogue with them open so we can make smart choices on behalf of our state and all Rhode Islanders. Thanks to Laurie and the entire Providence Chamber team for including me!
It is always an honor to host a Cabinet Secretary in Rhode Island, and it’s even more thrilling when we have exciting things to share. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is devoted to fighting climate change and investing in clean energy, and that is an area in which Rhode Island truly shines. The threat of climate change remains one of the greatest political and policy challenges of our time, and meeting this challenge requires hard work and investment in critical research and development. I’m so proud of the work being done at our academic institutions, like Brown University, and it was wonderful to have Secretary Moniz in Rhode Island to see firsthand our vibrant culture of research and technology, cultivated by a joint commitment from academia, the public and private sectors.
Participants across industry and government joined a clean energy roundtable with the Secretary, and I was especially proud to hear from several members of my Strengthening Rhode Island Advisory Committee at the meeting, including the Slater Technology Fund, VoltServer, and CommerceRI, all of whom had representatives there to speak with the Secretary. In addition to the speakers, members from the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association, Utilidata, the Small Business Administration, and the Rhode Island Foundation were also in attendance.
Expanding our capacity for clean energy is necessary to fight climate change and to build up an industry with such tremendous growth potential. Clean energy jobs are the jobs of the future, and with the nation’s first offshore wind farm under construction just off our coast of Block Island, I know that Rhode Island will keep making waves in this area. We will continue to tackle clean energy issues, as we work to make this a more sustainable world for ourselves and for future generations.
KIDS do COUNT
Health, safety, education, economic well-being, diversity – you name it, and the RI KIDS COUNT Factbook has it covered. The RI Factbook tracks all of these statistics for young people, highlighting where Rhode Island stands in serving the youngest members of our community, and also identifying the key issues that help people like me make the right policy decisions. I have relied heavily on the Factbook in the past, and I will continue to use it as a resource to better understand the needs of my youngest constituents.
Not surprisingly, the Factbook tells us that the children most at risk of not achieving their full potential are those who live in poverty. The most recent data puts Rhode Island’s child poverty rate at 20 percent, meaning that 20 percent of our young people are at particular risk of falling through the cracks. Access to affordable housing, health care, and early childhood education, as well as fighting food insecurity and providing other community supports for kids and families, is critical if we want to pull those impoverished youth out of that category and put all youth on a path to success.
There are some alarming figures in the Factbook, but some encouraging ones, as well. Rhode Island has shown tremendous leadership, for example, in providing positive health outcomes for our children. I know we can continue to build on these valuable successes until the Factbook reflects a healthier, more supportive environment for our kids and the bright futures we hope for on their behalf.
The numbers vary year to year, but I am always reminded at the annual Factbook Breakfast that we are blessed to have the leadership of KIDS COUNT, its Executive Director, Elizabeth Burke-Bryant, and the hardworking, dedicated community leaders and advocates who fight every day on behalf of Rhode Island’s children.
Talent on Display
I hosted my first Congressional Art Competition 16 years ago. And each year since then, I have continued to be so impressed by the talent in Rhode Island.
Open to all high school students in the Second Congressional District, my Art Competition invites young artists to submit artwork in one of seven categories: paintings, drawings, collage, prints, mixed media, computer-generated art, and photography. This year’s competition attracted more than 60 entries from across the district, all of which were unique and thought-provoking in their own ways. Thankfully, I’m not the judge, because these judges really do have their work cut out for them. Sarah Hale Folger, Alexandrea Johnson and Anthony Tomaselli from the Wickford Art Association served as judges this year, and spent a great deal of time reviewing the submissions, walking my conference room over and over again to find new details in each piece. All artists in their own right, they knew what to look for, and evaluated the pieces based on skill, composition and the emotional response elicited.
I’m so grateful to the judges for sharing their time, talent, and insight. I’m thankful, too, for Julieann Krawczyk of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and George Ross of Jerry’s Artarama, for joining us at the art competition awards ceremony, hosted at the Warwick Mall. The Savannah College of Art and Design offers a scholarship for the first place winner, and Jerry’s Artarama has very generously donated custom framing, gift certificates and other prizes to our winners for the past two years.
This year’s honorable mentions were David Cuellar of Barrington Christian Academy, Heather DiFazio of Cranston High School West, Anita Fang of Cranston High School West, and Cameron John Frazier of Coventry High School. Chanel Khoury, a senior at La Salle Academy who studies art at the Nancy Stephen Gallery and School of Art, took home second place; and Christina Abramson of Toll Gate High School in Warwick took home third place. The first place winner this year, Johnston High School junior, Laura Wilson, was offered a SCAD scholarship and wins a free trip to Washington, D.C. She joins an elite group of young artists, whose work will hang in the U.S. Capitol for one year. I am still amazed that her drawing, “Fading Memories,” was created by a high school student, and I congratulate her and all of this year’s participants.
When I started hosting the art competition, I was amazed by the talent. A lot has changed in Congress during that time, but this much remains true: we have incredibly creative students in Rhode Island. I’m so proud of them for pursuing their passions and putting themselves out there. Rhode Island is blessed with a vibrant arts scene that not only enhances the quality of life for those who live here, but also serves as a centerpiece for tourism. It’s not just a component of culture; it’s a matter of economics.
And the reason our state continues to impress in the arts is because we have a constant flow of talent, starting in our schools. I hope all of my art competition participants will set roots in Rhode Island and keep sharing their talent with us.
The Open Web Application Security Project is an online community that prioritizes transparency and accessibility for application security so that businesses, organizations, and consumers can make informed choices. OWASP has chapters across the globe, and in Rhode Island, its following is significant – another sign of Rhode Island’s leadership in cybersecurity. This was my second time meeting with OWASP’s Rhode Island chapter, and we had a wonderful group of about 60 people who are well-versed in cybersecurity and its importance, both as part of good cyber hygiene, and as an economic and national security priority.
Since I started the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus in 2008, we have made tremendous progress on Capitol Hill when it comes to understanding and addressing cybersecurity issues. Back then, my colleagues would often give me blank stares when I mentioned the latest vulnerability or breach, but today, nearly all Members of Congress recognize the implications of this new domain. Unfortunately, however, there is a lot of learning left to be done, and we need to catch up fast to secure our networks from malicious actors. Strengthening our cyber defenses will require additional investment and willpower, and it will also take a coalition of people. Government learns, adapts, and innovates best when it does so in collaboration with private sector, academia, and technology leaders. It’s folks like the members of OWASP who are protecting our networks and websites on a day-to-day basis, and pulling from their input and experience is essential if we are to close our aperture of vulnerability in cyberspace. I’m grateful to OWASP for having me back, and I look forward to a continued dialogue about cybersecurity and how we can work together to strengthen it.
Celebrating the Chamber
The economic diversity of Rhode Island is on full display in North Kingstown, from the heavy industry at Quonset Point to the local mom-and-pop shop pizza place on Post Road. Health services, artists, small shops and high-tech manufacturers – North Kingstown really has it all – and is ideally situated as a hub of commerce, with transportation links from the land, air, and sea. Representing such a diverse membership is a challenge, I can imagine, but the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce does an exceptional job advocating on behalf of local businesses and helping to promote their brand.
Because when one business succeeds, the entire town succeeds.
Some of the town’s greatest success stories were on display for the North Kingstown Chamber’s annual meeting and Business Excellence Awards dinner, at which I was proud to be the featured speaker. It was a wonderful event and an even more wonderful crowd, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for North Kingstown and its vibrant business community. Congratulations especially to all of this year’s Business Excellence Award winners: Life Wear Technologies, Digital Innovator of the Year; Shayna’s Place, Rising Star; Carriage Inn & Saloon, Renaissance Award; Maria Mormile of Pilates Stance, Young Professional of the Year; North Kingstown Food Pantry, Non-Profit of the Year; JW Graham, Employer of the Year; and Jordan Becker of Let’s Read RI, The Bob Cioe Award.
One of the things I find so often with my constituents is that they don’t know where to turn for help. Whether it’s accessing veterans’ benefits or finding answers about affordable housing, by the time they call my office, they’re often at their wit’s end.
When I hear from my colleagues in state government, or at community agencies, I hear similar stories. I think many people are proud by nature, and they don’t want to ask for help. They figure that there is always someone worse off; someone more deserving or more in need of the assistance. That sentiment comes from a good place. But the fact remains that there are resources out there for people who need a little help making ends meet, and they’re there for a reason.
I spend a lot of time promoting the constituent services my office provides. I’m equally eager to promote other community resources, which is why I was so pleased to attend the National Grid Customer Assistance Expo at the Pilgrim Senior Center. Dozens of Rhode Islanders showed up for the expo and had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the United Way, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Public Utilities Commission and more. With these resources under one roof, constituents could find ways to reduce their monthly costs and make their money go farther. I applaud National Grid for putting these types of events together, and I hope they will continue to spread the word about programs, cost-cutting tips and community resources that are available for Rhode Islanders. I know I will!
Acting Like a Kid
Working in Congress can be pretty serious business, so I was grateful for the chance to cut loose and unleash my inner kid during a visit to the Providence Children’s Museum. I was visiting so I could meet the new executive director, Caroline Payson, and luckily we decided to meet at the museum instead of my office.
My office isn’t quite as exciting.
Caroline and Cathy Saunders, the Director of Education, were gracious enough to bring me on a tour, and I got to see what an incredible learning space the museum provides for Rhode Island kids. With a focus on hands-on play and creative expression, the Providence Children’s Museum allows children of all abilities to explore arts, culture, science, technology, engineering, and math. In addition to seeing the exhibits, I got to learn more about Caroline. She comes to Rhode Island after a nationwide search, and while she is originally from Boston, her career previously brought her to the Smithsonian Design Museum, Maryland Public Television, and the New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York.
Caroline and her team hope to usher in continued growth at the museum, which last year welcomed more than 161,000 visitors. Many of those visitors come from low-income households, and are welcomed to the museum on free family nights. Hundreds of children from court-separated families visit the museum, as well, and benefit from therapeutic visits.
I don’t often have occasion to visit the Providence Children’s Museum, but I’m so glad I did. It’s a fantastic place for children – and their families – to learn, explore, and create.
Come for the food, stay for the business. That seems to be the experience of many students at Johnson and Wales University, which is renowned for its culinary school, but has deep roots in business programming. In fact, JWU actually started as a business school in 1914, and it continues to expand its offerings, making it an attractive choice for would-be entrepreneurs. Business hopefuls have a wide array of course offerings, and outside the classroom, JWU students can take advantage of a network of more than 1,900 internship sites in 48 states and 30 countries.
JWU is doing exciting things in business across the board and at the Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship, in particular. The Friedman Center is the host for Sharkfest, an entrepreneurial competition currently in its fifth year that invites students to start a business or bring a new product to market. Finalists from all four JWU campuses have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, defend their business models and vie for up to $5,000 in seed funding. Crave Food Services – the company behind a brilliant application called WhatsGood that connects food producers with consumers and distributors – is actually a past Sharkfest winner. I met with creator Matt Tortora in the summer of 2015, and knowing the creativity and ingenuity behind his company made me eager to attend the 2016 competition to see what other new ideas would come out of the competition.
From an at-home cheese dip to a space-saving dish caddy, this year’s competitors put together impressive business ideas. Congratulations to all of the finalists, and especially to Thiago Rodrigues of the North Miami campus, whose Student Storage venture took home first place and a $5,000 stipend. Starting a small business is not easy, but when you’re diving in before graduation, I think it’s a positive indicator of success to come.
Profiles in Leadership
When I was young, the idea of running for office was intimidating, particularly because I was still relatively new to living with a disability. If I had the opportunity at the time to take a class in Leadership and Diversity, it would have been both reassuring and empowering.
I certainly hope that’s the result for the current Leadership and Diversity students at the School of Continuing Education at Providence College.
I don’t know if we had any future politicians or policymakers in the group, but I do know that Kirtley Fisher’s students are better off thanks to their study of leadership styles and their deep understanding of how to encourage a more diverse group of leaders in government, in education, and in our communities. Studying leadership, and identifying and enhancing your own personal leadership style, is useful across industries.
Knowing how to be a leader and how to inspire others to do their best and be their best selves is a universal asset. It’s also an asset I know that Kirtley possesses, and it makes me so proud to see my former legislative assistant in action in the classroom. She does a fantastic job developing the curriculum for the course, and it was such a pleasure for me to return for the second year to talk to the students about my experiences in a leadership role. They had excellent questions, yet again, and I look forward to seeing Kirtley’s class next year – if she’ll have me!
Stronger than Snow
The forecast called for flurries, but by the start of my Strengthening RI Advisory Committee meeting, at least two inches had fallen, with more accumulation on the way. Despite the slick roads and foreboding skies, we had a fantastic turnout, thanks in part, I think, to the meeting host, VoltServer, Inc. Based in East Greenwich, VoltServer develops remote power distribution products using their patented “Digital Electricity” technology, resulting in reduced costs and greater speed. It’s a fascinating concept, and I know many of the advisory members were eager to see the technology in practice. Before we got down to brass tacks on the agenda, committee member and VoltServer Founder and CEO Stephen Eaves led the group on a tour of the facility and gave a brief history of the company. The opportunity to hear about VoltServer’s innovations right from the source was too much to resist for those in attendance.
This was the third gathering for this committee, which is made up of some of our state’s greatest business leaders across a vast array of industries and economic sectors. The main topic of conversation was the recent Brookings Institute report entitled, “Rhode Island Innovates: A competitive strategy for the Ocean State.” The report finds that there are five industries that should specifically be targeted and strengthened: biomedical innovation, information technology, defense and shipbuilding, advanced business services, and design, food and custom manufacturing. As far as growth opportunities, the report also makes mention of arts, education and tourism, and transportation, distribution and logistics. I agree that there are definite opportunities in these areas and, as co-chair of the CTE Caucus, I believe investing in workforce development, training and education in those fields is of particular importance.
Access to capital, transportation improvements, immigration reform, trade agreements and green energy investments all made the cut as conversation continued. We are never short of topics to discuss with Strengthening RI, and bringing these voices together is an important first step in developing concrete strategies for growth.
SEARCH is on at Blue Cross
I have often said that people with disabilities are one of our nation’s greatest untapped resources. Their divergent backgrounds, unique experiences and wide ranging talents promote a culture of diversity that doesn’t just play a role in the workplace, but influences the very nature of our society. The Project SEARCH program underscores how true this is by finding education, training, and employment opportunities for these willing, enthusiastic and capable individuals.
At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, it’s a two-way street. Blue Cross is reaping the benefits of working with people with disabilities, both from a productivity and a company morale standpoint. And for the people with disabilities that they employ, the program translates into meaningful employment and a greater sense of self-worth; it presents new challenges and exciting opportunities for people who are too often overlooked.
When we embrace diversity – whether it’s diversity of race, culture, opinion, ability or disability – we open ourselves up to innovative ideas and fresh perspectives. We grow and adapt, turning obstacles into opportunities. Today in Rhode Island, more than 6,000 people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20 are preparing to enter the workforce. We owe it to them and to everyone else with a disability to explore new and innovative ways to provide the skills and opportunities that will help them succeed in today’s economy.
That requires matching strong vocational rehab services with enhanced employer engagement, and expanding initiatives in mentoring, internships and apprenticeships that give these young adults on-the-job training while helping employers to gain a better understanding of workplace inclusion. Project SEARCH has earned a reputation across the country for its success in bridging the divide between the classroom and the workplace in a way that leads to successful, rewarding and meaningful employment outcomes, and I’m so pleased to see it blossoming in Rhode Island.
I know all too well the challenges that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. However, I also am keenly aware of their abilities and their incredible potential when given the opportunity to shine. Thanks to Project SEARCH and Blue Cross Blue Shield, more young people are being given the opportunity to fulfill that potential, and our entire community will be better off for it.
South Dakota in Rhode Island
It feels like only yesterday that I was attending the keel laying and then the christening of the USS Illinois, but in true Electric Boat fashion, construction of the USS South Dakota is right on schedule. General Dynamics Electric Boat builds the best submarines in the world, and the keel laying is an important milestone in the life of this vessel. It’s also the time when a submarine is linked to a sponsor – an honorary leader. As the wife of General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deanie knows better than anyone the demands of military life. She long supported her husband’s work as a public servant and military leader, and I can think of no one more qualified to serve as sponsor of the USS South Dakota.
As part of the Virginia-class submarine program, the USS South Dakota represents the very best that our Navy has to offer. In the face of an impending shortfall in our submarine force, it is imperative that the Department of Defense, legislators in Washington, and our industry partners continue to work together to address the needs of the Navy, and is that collaboration that is consistently on display at EB’s Quonset facility.
Stamp of Approval
Each year, thousands of students participate in the Junior Duck Stamp program, a competition that ignites in young people a passion for art and a commitment to the environment. Junior Duck Stamp is a celebration of conservation and, I hope, a call to action for the next generation of environmental stewards.
In the 22 years since its inception, the Junior Duck Stamp program has transformed environmental education. Its unique model marries art and science, and I’m working hard in Washington to incorporate this educational model into our national curriculum as we seek to transform STEM into STEAM by incorporating art into science, technology, engineering and math.
In Rhode Island, our five wildlife refuges and more than 400 miles of coastline make conservation especially important. As human activities threaten delicate ecosystems and the endangered species list grows longer, we need advocates like the Junior Duck Stamp participants to keep us on track. Congratulations to all of the participants, and especially to the Best of Show: Artwork winner, Lea Fabre, and the Best of Show: Conservation Message winner, Mia Speciale.
Years of global conflict have given rise to an unprecedented refugee crisis, with individuals and families fleeing their homes in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and beyond. They seek safety, first and foremost, but when the fear of persecution and violence is behind them, they must embark on the difficult journey of starting a new life elsewhere. They need jobs and homes and health care, education and a place to practice their faith – all of the things that make up a life.
At the Northeast Refugee Conference, government officials, community leaders and refugees came together to help make that journey easier for the millions of refugees starting over in a new home. I am incredibly grateful that we in Rhode Island, and New England, have such dedicated individuals working to ease the transition for refugees.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, I understand the absolute need for the United States to assist in protecting and resettling these migrants, and there is an immense national security interest in ensuring that refugees are given opportunities to participate in their new societies. Integration efforts like the ones championed by resettlement agencies and caseworkers can be vital in reducing alienation among new arrivals. And we cannot forget the significant foreign policy interest in assisting with refugee crises around the world. In Lebanon, nearly one quarter of the population is Syrian refugees. Can you imagine the pressure this places on the government – on any institution, really – to deal with the influx of people, most of whom lack any ties to the country and are not yet economically self-sufficient?
Given these interests, I strongly believe the United States comes out ahead when it assists refugees. But I also believe that there is an even more important interest at stake here: a moral interest. As Americans, we hold ourselves up as champions of freedom, of justice, and of economic opportunity. With such privilege comes responsibility to our fellow citizens of the world to assist them in their times of dire need.
The United States was built by immigrants, is populated by immigrants, and will continue to grow, thanks to immigrants. Continuing to welcome those fleeing persecution is a moral imperative, and I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure that leaders like those at the Northeast Refugee Conference have the resources they need to welcome those who find refuge on our shores.
Honoring a Hero
Patriotic, kind, generous: these three words perfectly describe the Town of Bristol. They also perfectly describe one of Bristol’s proud native sons: First Sergeant Peter Andrew McKenna, Jr.
As home to the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the country, Bristol embodies patriotism. Along with neighboring Warren, Bristol is painted with the colors of our flag, from the red, white and blue road stripe to the American flags of every size that decorate the area. With the naming of the First Sergeant P. Andrew McKenna Memorial Highway, we are reminded of what this patriotism is truly about. It’s about the brave men and women who put service above self; the soldiers who lay their lives down for our country. Soldiers like Sgt. McKenna.
Sgt. McKenna dedicated his life to fighting for his country, a country he loved deeply. For 17 years, he lived his commitment to the United States. He was courageous and hardworking, but by all accounts, he was also kind and funny and supportive of those who served alongside him. He was a good friend who made the long days and challenging work a little easier to bear.
When Sgt. McKenna was laid to rest, soldiers came from far and wide to honor his service and sacrifice; childhood friends returned home to say their final goodbyes; and Rhode Islanders who had never had the pleasure of meeting him lined the streets to salute a true American hero. It was a testament to the mark he left on our community, as is this permanent tribute naming part of Route 114 “The 1st Sergeant P. Andrew McKenna Memorial Highway.”
Bristol’s historic Fourth of July Parade is a beautiful celebration of what it means to be an American. It’s a time to reflect, honor, and appreciate those who serve. But Sergeant McKenna was willing to fight for freedom 365 days a year, and we must likewise remember his sacrifice every single day. Every time we pass along the stretch of road now bearing his name, every time we see an American flag, we remember Sergeant McKenna.
Once Upon a Time...
J.K. Rowling, the celebrated author of the Harry Potter series, once said, “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” I have to agree, and I love sharing that magic with young people. In elementary school, children are still discovering what kinds of stories resonate most strongly with them. They are exploring new places and trying on different characters, and seeing the world from a new perspective. What’s more, a love of reading can spark a love of all learning. Literacy affects performance across academic subjects, and we must do everything we can to instill in our students an appreciation and love of reading.
That’s what Reading Week is all about, and I thoroughly enjoy participating each year. I brought one of my favorites, “House Mouse, Senate Mouse” to Quidnessett Elementary School, and had a great time watching the kids’ reactions and listening to them laugh at the silly parts. You can see the magic that Rowling talks about, and I hope it’s something they never lose.
As I dusted off my rusty-at-best French, I have to admit that I sounded pretty good. For the non-French speakers in the audience, they seemed impressed, too. Langevin is a French name, after all, but they looked surprised that I could speak a bit of the language.
For the French speakers in the audience, they were probably wondering why I was reciting the Hail Mary.
My accent is decent, but my vocabulary not as much. The Hail Mary is one of the few things I really remember from studying French as a young man. Despite my linguistic shortcomings, it was my pleasure to be with Boston’s Consul-General of France and members of the Francophone Foreign Service for the Grande Fete de la Francophonie des Ecoles, a celebration of French language and culture in honor of Francophonie Month.
The bond between the peoples of the United States and France is as old as the American Revolution. One of the heroes of the Battle of Rhode Island – in 1779 – was Gilbert du Motier, known as the Marquis de Lafayette. To this day, in recognition of the assistance France gave to our fledgling republic, there are two portraits that hang in the Chamber of the House of Representatives: Washington and Lafayette.
However, Francophonie Month isn’t just about celebrating the country of France, but all the French speaking countries and peoples around the world. French has long served as the primary language of diplomacy, and it continues to play an integral role in matters of foreign relations. I commend each and every student who, at any age, attempts to master this beautiful language and, in turn, celebrate French culture.
I just hope their French is better than mine.
Supply and Demand
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I hear again and again that the programs and platforms Northrop Grumman develops are truly critical to the future of national defense. For example, the new long-range strike bomber is poised to reinvigorate our military’s ability to operate in tomorrow’s threat environment, and give the Air Force the flexibility and capability to deliver airstrikes and provide protection for our men and women in theater.
We have also heard from Secretaries, Chiefs, and Combatant Commanders across the services that their dependence on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities is paramount. I am proud that Northrop Grumman is leading the way in our ongoing efforts to recapitalize our ISR capabilities with the JSTARS radar program, and I look forward to witnessing its progress through the coming years.
But for Northrop Grumman to continue on this path of growth and innovation, they must work with partners and suppliers who are just as committed to excellence. Northrop Grumman’s business sectors, from aerospace systems to technology systems, have vast and diverse supply chain demands, requiring a strong network of reliable, high-quality suppliers. To help build those partnerships, I was proud to be a part of Northrop Grumman’s Supplier Symposium at New England Institute of Technology. The event was an excellent opportunity for suppliers to learn about Northrop’s needs and how to navigate the process, leverage resources, and work with the company.
Northrop Grumman has done incredible work to build a robust supply chain here in New England, featuring smaller suppliers with the passion, experience, and expertise that drive American innovation and technical superiority. That’s why events like the supplier summit are so important – it has the potential to create exciting new prospects for an array of businesses, and generate employment opportunities for all Rhode Islanders.
Home Sweet Home Show
Improving infrastructure is a priority that is directly linked with economic success. Quality infrastructure can make or break a destination when it comes to attracting new businesses or providing an environment that helps existing businesses to grow. Strong infrastructure requires robust investment, but it also requires a talented workforce.
In Rhode Island, our construction workforce can’t be beat.
The talent of our design, construction and manufacturing professionals is on full display, year after year, at the Rhode Island Home Show. Hosted by the Rhode Island Home Builders Association, this year’s 66th annual Home Show did not disappoint. A solar treehouse, seven of Rhode Island’s finest interior designers, energy efficiency resources, and cutting-edge household products from the Rhode Island School of Design were all showcased at the Convention Center this year. Perhaps most impressively, more than 300 construction students participated in the show. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I know that on-the-job training is essential to building a successful career, and I’m thrilled to see so many Rhode Island students and businesses working together on that front.
Welcome to Johnston
My dad’s family came from Johnston and, although I’m a lifelong resident of Warwick, I’ve always thought of Johnston as a second home. It’s a wonderful town with residents who care deeply and are so engaged with their community, which is why I visit as often as I can. The Johnston Senior Center is a regular stop in my travels because it always attracts a crowd. The center is bustling at lunchtime and for programs throughout the day, and I had a great time stopping in to say hello to all the seniors. Thanks to Mayor Polisena for showing me around, and to Senator Reed for joining us for a fantastic visit!
New Hope for Veterans
Many years ago, I awarded one of my Service Academy nominations to a bright and poised student named Matt Vargas. Like so many of my nominees before him, Matt made my office proud and, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, served our country with distinction. To see him now helping to run a successful company makes me prouder than ever, because not only has Matt grown up to become a fine young man, but he is also paying it forward by dedicating himself to helping other veterans.
Matt is the Chief Operating Officers of Veterans Assembled Electronics, which trains service-disabled military veterans for careers in technology and electronics. While some participants have minimal training in electronics, it is not required for the program and, in fact, nearly 60 percent of participants enter the program with no experience in electronics. Still, VAe has an 80 percent successful job placement rate within six months, putting hardworking veterans back into the workforce and helping them to get back on their feet. The training is available at no cost to the veteran, and after the five month program, students are assigned a Veteran Advocate to help find employment. The advocate works with the veterans on soft skills like interviewing and resume writing, and then links veterans directly with companies that hire VAe graduates.
As a veteran, Matt felt an obligation to help his fellow men and women in uniform. Veteran unemployment and chronic veteran homelessness are serious challenges in this country, and Veterans Assembled Electronics seeks to reverse those trends. To steal a phrase from another veterans’ organization, Operation Stand Down, it’s a hand up, not a hand out. VAe teaches valuable skills, and veterans graduate feeling prepared and empowered to take on the next phase of their lives. It’s a fantastic company with some truly exceptional results. I can’t take any of the credit for that success, but seeing Matt in action today, I’m certainly proud to know him.
The times are a ’changing, and we must change along with them. That’s the idea behind Senator Whitehouse’s Drone Operator Safety Act, legislation that provides additional guidelines to regulate the operation of drones and unmanned aircraft systems. The bill would make it a federal offense to use a drone to interfere with or disrupt the operation of a manned aircraft. It sounds like common sense, but these guidelines and the corresponding consequences must be enacted in order to ensure the safety of a new and exciting technology. Senator Whitehouse convened a roundtable discussion with representatives from aviation and law enforcement, technology leaders and public policy stakeholders to discuss just how these guidelines should be applied.
While affordable recreational drone operation is an exciting technological development, we must figure out a way to resolve the serious risks to airplanes that occupy the same airspace. Just as we previously took action on laser pointers, and the threat they pose to pilots, we similarly need to ensure the safety of our planes from unmanned drones. The truth is, nobody really knows what would happen if a drone accidentally impacted an airplane – whether it would cause engine failure, puncture a window, or worse. As part of our ongoing deliberations to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, we have been discussing steps to help make drone operating both safe and rewarding. We hope to see this draft FAA legislation take shape over the next couple of months, and I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues on developing the language.
We want drone operators to be able to enjoy their hobby – while still respecting the safety issues and privacy concerns that come with being a responsible drone pilot. Our world is ever changing, and the old rules we have had for civil aviation need adjustment for the improvements in technology we have today. I look forward to continuing to work on this issue in Congress, and I’m grateful to Senator Whitehouse for leading the way in the Senate.
Sharing a Meal
Meals on Wheels is an exceptional program that serves nearly 1,500 meals to seniors and homebound Rhode Islanders each day. It’s a nutrition program that clients rely on, but it can also be a bright spot in their day. Volunteers get to know the clients, and they trade stories during meal delivery.
Getting to hear those stories myself is always a thrill.
I am proud to support Meals on Wheels, and to demonstrate that support, I make it a point to participate in the March for Meals campaign every year. The campaign promotes the mission of Meals on Wheels and draws attention to the cause by inviting elected officials and community leaders to volunteer to make meal deliveries during the month of March. Every year, Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island selects a wonderful client for me to visit with. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Alex, a visually-impaired veteran with a love for music. We talked about the musicians and bands we enjoy, and just one week later, I received a homemade mix CD in the mail from Alex. It was such a thoughtful gesture (and a very good CD!).
Each year, though, I think Meals on Wheels can’t be topped; that, this time, it will be a run-of-the-mill visit. Each year, I’m proven wrong.
During my delivery this year, I got to spend some time with Clarence and Katherine, an East Greenwich couple that has been married for nearly 68 years! Almost seven decades together – what an amazing accomplishment. Naturally, when I asked who the “boss” is, they pointed at each other. They both laughed and it appears that laughter is a huge part of the bond that keeps them together. Clarence is a veteran who served in the Seabees out of Quonset Point. He has worked many jobs over the years, including security at Quonset in his post-Seabee days, and as an East Greenwich Police officer. Katherine worked in a factory as a teenager and later found a career as a teacher’s assistant in town.
Clarence and Katherine worked hard all their lives to provide for their family, but getting around and making ends meet is getting more difficult. Meals on Wheels takes one worry off their minds and ensures they are getting the proper nutrition. And when the volunteer knocks on their apartment door each day, Clarence and Katherine have plenty of stories to share in return.
When it comes to building consensus and a spirit of bipartisanship, there are few issues that connect legislators and Americans more strongly than the plight of our nation’s veterans. Veterans make tremendous sacrifices for our nation, and without question, they deserve our full support. For Vietnam War veterans, however, that was not the sentiment to which many returned home. Too many Vietnam veterans faced hostility and isolation, stripping them of the pride they should have felt for serving their country.
Since the war ended, efforts have been made to lift up those veterans and show them once and for all that their service is not forgotten. To drive that message home, the theme of this year’s Vietnam War commemoration is “Welcome Home,” and I was proud to help “welcome” Vietnam War veterans from Rhode Island to the Providence VA Medical Center. There was a fantastic turnout, allowing me, and my colleagues in the Congressional delegation, to show the well-deserved support and gratitude we feel toward not only our state’s Vietnam veterans, but all veterans.
Problems with your car can be an enormous hassle. Many drivers feel intimated when visiting the mechanic because they don’t necessarily understand the inner-workings of their vehicle; others understand cars, but don’t have the resources or opportunity to fix them on their own.
Gearhead Systems International aims to alleviate those concerns. Customers can get a better understanding of their vehicles and do-it-yourselfers can save money by renting one of Gearhead’s five professional service bays for $20 per hour. That fee entitles customers to the use of a fully-equipped service bay with professional tools, air compressors, parts washers, diagnostic terminals and more, as well as the heavy-duty lifts that make possible the kind of detailed repairs you may not be able to do from your driveway.
Gearhead Systems opened in the fall, but they already have 300 customers, many of whom use the facility frequently. The clientele is diverse, according to co-owners Gary Neirinckx and Ron and Cheryl Long, and includes everyone from hobbyists to experienced mechanics with part-time repair operations. From the customers I spoke with during my visit, it sounds like a win-win: Gearhead turns a profit, and customers save money.
It’s really a great concept for a business, and I wish the Gearhead team the best of luck as they continue to grow.
Journey to First
The process of constructing the Block Island Wind Farm is signified by the #JourneytoFirst hashtag on social media, and I can’t think of a more fitting campaign for a project that is catapulting Rhode Island onto the national stage as home to the first offshore wind farm. When completed, the wind farm will be the pride of Rhode Island and a symbol of our position as a leader of the nation’s renewable energy movement.
This project has been many years in the making, so to see it come to life is so exciting. Some portions of the turbines are already constructed, looming tall on the Providence waterfront before their journey takes them beneath the Newport Bridge and to their final destination off Block Island. Each milestone is a step closer to realizing a dream for our state and for environmentalists who believe in the incredible power that can be harnessed from wind energy.
Construction is happening at Quonset and the Port of Providence, and beyond, employing hundreds and utilizing the talents of Rhode Island workers. I’m grateful to Deepwater Wind and General Electric for their commitment to hiring Rhode Islanders as the wind farm is built and put into operation, making the project not just a symbol of conservation, but of jobs, as well. I’m encouraged to see such a vibrant and enthusiastic partnership between private and public sectors. Growth and investment can sound like dry economic terms, but the wind farm is what they represent in reality – the hard work of Rhode Islanders to advance our community and make our state more competitive.
Happily Ever After
While my Washington, D.C., office is focused on public policy, my Rhode Island office is dedicated to constituent services, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a constituent issue brought to a successful resolution. It’s especially exciting when the case involves a veteran, and we can do something, however small, to thank them for their service.
The Johnson family is a perfect example of just such a case.
Kathy Johnson reached out to my office because she and her husband, Emile, a Vietnam War veteran, had fallen upon tough times. Their roof was in dire need of repair, and they were hoping to find volunteers to put up a tarp that could help the roof last longer since repairing or replacing the roof wasn’t an option they could afford.
Kathy connected with Ryan, a veteran himself and the constituent services representative who handles veterans’ issues in my office. Ryan reached out to Team Rubicon, an organization by veterans and for veterans that specializes in disaster assistance but will help veterans in other situations, as well. In the New England region, where natural disasters are thankfully not as common, Team Rubicon was more than willing to come out to Providence to take a look at the Johnson’s roof. When they saw how badly the roof was damaged, they decided a tarp wouldn’t be enough, so they reached out to Operation Stand Down Rhode Island to see if they would be willing to team up on the project. OSD rose to the occasion, as they always do, and also engaged the Home Depot Foundation’s “Team Depot” program. These three organizations assembled the resources, materials and the volunteers necessary to replace the roof entirely and put in a brand new hot water heater.
Kathy and Emile are overwhelmed to have this burden lifted. To see that change happen with my own eyes made for an incredible day. I wasn’t the one hammering nails, but I’m proud that my office could play even just a small role in connecting three extraordinary organizations with the Johnson family. I’m also just so grateful to Operation Stand Down, Team Rubicon and Team Depot for their generosity. Kathy was visibly excited while the work was being done, even passing out thank you cards to some of the people who made it happen.
Whenever you can help a veteran or a veteran’s family, it’s a good thing. When you can help people who are as kind and genuine as Kathy and Emile, it’s a great thing.
Eye of the TIGER
Transit directly affects people’s lives – how they get to work or school, how they access public services and recreation, and how they can better move around vibrant cities like Providence. A strong system of public transit, then, makes a positive difference in people’s lives, and makes cities more accessible, livable, and ultimately, more desirable for both businesses and individuals.
This is why I was thrilled to be in our capital city to celebrate the reallocation of $13 million in federal TIGER grant funds to improve public transportation in Providence and beyond. These TIGER funds will be used to create an enhanced transit corridor with high-frequency bus service, with stops as frequently as every five minutes during rush hour. This will enable people to get to work and explore the city on more predictable schedules. In other cities, these high-volume bus routes have become an essential part of quick and reliable commutes through otherwise traffic-clogged areas. The funds will also enable improved passenger amenities like real-time arrival information, ticket vending machines, on-board WiFi, and planned connections for a future Providence bikeshare program.
In other words, it will further develop our downtown into a hub for commerce, education, health care and community living for the 21st century. It’s no secret that accessible neighborhoods help attract talent and private investment, and I believe these improvements will make our city shine. The City of Providence is open for business, and this transit system sends that message loud and clear.
Free to File
After a winter storm derailed our earlier attempt to spread the word about helpful and free tax preparation and filing services, I was grateful for sunny skies and mild temperatures for my annual Free File tax event. I was joined by Senator Jack Reed, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, as well as representatives from the IRS, the RI Division of Taxation, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and my dear friend, Bernie McKay, from the Intuit Financial Freedom Association. We were graciously hosted by Ed Garcia and his team at the Cranston Public Library, which was the perfect venue for community agencies and constituents to come together, learn about Free File, and then try out the programs that are available.
Although many taxpayers do not realize they are eligible, Free File allows approximately 70 percent of taxpayers to use name-brand tax preparation software to prepare and file their federal and state tax returns online, at no charge. These software companies have provided this service as the tax preparation industry’s way of giving back, and I am so grateful to Bernie and his colleagues across the industry for their generosity in making Free File available to so many hardworking families. Free File ensures that taxpayers claim every single deduction and credit they are entitled to, including provisions like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, which I have fought hard for in Congress. Up to 25 percent of those who qualify for the EITC fail to claim it, but by promoting and raising awareness of Free File programs, my colleagues and I hope to reduce that number and ensure that Rhode Islanders get every dollar they deserve.
The event was also a good opportunity to remind taxpayers to be vigilant when it comes to defending themselves against scammers. I recorded a PSA earlier this year because my office has received calls from constituents who have been contacted by scammers claiming to be from the IRS. These individuals claim that the taxpayer owes money, and they threaten legal action or even arrest if personal information is not shared or a fee is not paid. The IRS will never call out of the blue to ask for personal information, and if you are ever unsure of the voracity of such claims, do not hesitate to call my office at 401-732-9400.
Tax filing season can be a stressful time, but it does not have to be. There are resources in our community that make it easy and free to prepare and file your taxes, and I urge you to seize these opportunities. Free File is a terrific example of how government, the private sector and local groups can collaborate to help Rhode Islanders, and I for one am so proud to be involved.
Fountain of Youth
It is always exciting and encouraging to see young people engaged in public policy and in the political process, and it is especially impressive when that interest and the pull of civic responsibility begins even before an individual is eligible to vote. That is certainly the case for the young people involved on my Youth Advisory Committee. I have several college students on the committee, but even more high school students, and these are individuals who feel strongly about the issues affecting our country right now. They recognize that, if left unchecked, the problems we face today will be inherited by their generation.
And while most of the members will not be able to vote in November, I was impressed by their knowledge of and interest in the current Presidential election. I heard a broad spectrum of opinions at our second meeting, and there was a healthy debate about what positions are most important to young people when deciding what candidate to support.
Priorities for these students range from education to the economy and everything in between, but immigration reform and what it means for our nation’s future became an interesting discussion point for our group. We were joined by Roberto Gonzalez, an attorney specializing in immigration law who is a board member of both the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the International Institute of Rhode Island. Mr. Gonzalez is also involved with the Coalition of Student Advocates, the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island and the Anti-Racial Profiling Coalition. He has a wealth of experience with the immigration system and a personal understanding of what immigrants go through in order to gain citizenship in the United States.
I’m so grateful to Roberto for joining the meeting, and I know his experiences provided important perspective for the students. I know it did for me, and that’s exactly what the Youth Advisory is about: sharing ideas and learning from one another. Young people have a unique point of view; they deserve to be heard. And I look forward to hearing more going forward.
Manufacturing a Workforce
Manufacturing in Rhode Island has changed dramatically over the past decade, with a shift from labor intensive jobs to advanced technology and robotics – positions that demand a high-tech and highly-skilled workforce. Those jobs are growing here and nationwide, and if we want to support and propel that growth, we need workers with the right skills. We need to invest in the education to employment pipeline.
That was the top priority at the Manufacturing Industry Partnership Workforce Development Symposium, an event dedicated to increasing educational and professional opportunities that support a robust manufacturing industry.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I understand how important hands-on learning and practical training is to preparing a young person for a career. Not every skill can be learned in a textbook, and if we want high school and college graduates to be attractive candidates for the companies that are actively hiring, we owe it to them to provide a wide range of learning experiences and training opportunities.
A sustainable manufacturing sector demands workers with the right skills for the modern workplace. No one knows those needs better than the people on the front lines of the industry, and Rhode Island is fortunate that so many of these individuals are willing and eager to share their expertise for the benefit of our next-generation manufacturers.
Citizens Bank has a long history in Rhode Island, dating back to High Street Bank in 1828. The institution formed Citizens Savings Bank in 1871 and, ever since, has had a strong presence in the Ocean State. When the bank began looking for new office space, some feared that Rhode Island could lose this anchor business. But while Citizens continues to evolve with a changing economy and adapt to the needs of consumers, one thing that never changes is that Citizens believes in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is their home, and with the announcement of a new campus being built in Johnston, it looks like that won’t change any time soon.
Citizens Bank Rhode Island President Marc Paulhus and Citizens Financial Group Chairman and CEO Bruce Van Saun have big plans for the new facility, including walking trails and publicly-accessible open space, as well as an on-site gym and cafeteria for staff. It will be built with energy efficiency as a top priority, and I spoke to many Citizens employees at the press conference who are looking forward to setting up shop in a brand new, state-of-the-art building.
We are fortunate that Citizens Bank is doubling down on Rhode Island, especially because of their commitment to being responsible corporate partners. Citizens is engaged in our communities in ways large and small, and their employees do so much good for our state. How many companies do you know that provide paid leave so employees can take a community service sabbatical? From their Gear for Grades program to Champions for Action, Citizens sets the bar high for businesses that make a real difference in our community.
High school is a challenging time for most adolescents, including myself. I went through the same ups and downs as many of my classmates, but in my sophomore year, the accident that left me paralyzed added an additional layer of difficulty. I was adapting to life as a quadriplegic, and it was a difficult time, to say the least.
It was after the accident that I realized how fortunate I was to be a part of the Bishop Hendricken High School community. My classmates, teachers, and Hendricken families all rallied around me and offered their support in so many ways, and as a result, I look back fondly on those years. Hendricken helped me discover new passions, including public service, and the school is still a big part of my life. Each student is different, but based on my experiences, the Hendricken environment is one that I would highly recommend.
Thanks to the Brother Thomas R. Leto Options Program, the Hendricken experience is now open to more students than ever before.
In the 2008-2009 school year, the Options Program was launched to provide a Catholic high school education for students with disabilities. Hendricken is one of only five Catholic high schools nationwide with this kind of program, and as a longtime advocate for accessibility and equality for people with disabilities, I am so proud that my alma mater is engaging students of different backgrounds. I had the opportunity to meet with participants from the Options Program and I truly hope their experience is as positive as mine was.
I am particularly excited to see that the Peer Mentor Program is a cornerstone for Options. Hendricken students can participate by giving up their study period in order to attend a class with one of their Options classmates. This gives students an important perspective on what life is like for people with disabilities. I wish Options had been around when I was a student, because I have no doubt that participants are more sensitive, compassionate and well-rounded people because of it.
A Veterans Welcome
One of the things I love most about my job is that no matter who is in leadership in Congress or what priorities are dominating the legislative calendar, I can guarantee accessibility to my constituents. Providing good constituent services is something that is always in my control, and I am so proud of the team I have working in my Rhode Island office. They cover a range of issues involving various federal agencies, from Social Security and Medicare to immigration and student loans.
One of the most important, and most in-demand, issues we deal with surrounds our veterans. Veterans and active-duty military members make tremendous sacrifices for the safety of our nation, and we owe them both a debt of gratitude and a commitment to support them when they return home. My constituent caseworkers who work with veterans are compassionate and hardworking, and they are fortunate to have partners in state and local governments who agree that we have a responsibility to care for our veterans. Many of those partners serve on my Military and Veterans Advisory Committee, and at each meeting, we discuss ways in which we can improve veterans services in our state. Making these improvements requires leadership at every level, and to that end, I’m very excited that Governor Raimondo has taken a major step forward by appointing Rhode Island’s first-ever Director of Veterans Affairs.
A Navy veteran, Kasim Yarn has completed four deployments and earned his master’s degree from Newport’s Naval War College. He has spent his entire adult life serving our country, and Rhode Island is lucky to have him continuing that service full-time for Rhode Island veterans. Kasim is the newest member of my Advisory Committee, and he hit the ground running at his first meeting. He is laser-focused on outreach, and I believe his presence in our state will bring more veterans into the fold so they can take advantage of the benefits and resources available to them.
My team is always working to do better and do more for constituents. With Kasim in our corner, as well as the entire Military and Veterans Advisory Committee, I am confident that we can do better and do more for our veterans.
We need to ensure that young people in Rhode Island have 21st century skills for a 21st century economy, and that means developing tech-based skills in areas like computer science. Technological proficiency is now essential across a range of industries, including cybersecurity, a field with incredible growth-potential. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I have seen firsthand the difference that experiential education can have on a child.
Thankfully, for Rhode Island students, those opportunities are on the verge of expanding.
Under the leadership of Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island is launching the state’s first comprehensive computer science initiative. The Computer Science for RI (CS4RI) effort engages Microsoft, Code.org, and colleges and universities in the state, all with the goal of setting up computer sciences in every Rhode Island public school by December 2017. All of these partners were on hand for the CS4RI kickoff at Tolman High School, and the energy in the room was palpable.
Computer science expertise is a critical skill for the modern economy, and exposure to coding and programming will help more young people explore careers in this growing field. By implementing one of the most comprehensive plans in the country, Rhode Island is on the verge of something great. Every student will benefit from learning the principles of computer science. Just as we want every student to graduate high school with a solid grounding in math, English, science and history, computer skills are key to unlocking success for young people today. No matter their chosen career path, CS4RI will provide greater opportunity to every student in Rhode Island.
Having a (Nerf) Ball
No parent ever wants to see their child in the hospital, but for Rhode Islanders who find themselves in such an unenviable position, I am sure they are grateful to have Hasbro Children’s Hospital to turn to. With more than 200 physicians, 130 nurses and experts in more than 40 pediatric specialties, Hasbro is a lifeline for sick or injured children in Rhode Island.
I am so grateful for the services and quality care provided at Hasbro, and if the Nerf Ball is any indication, I am not alone. In fact, I was in good company. I was one of more than 700 people to offer their support for Hasbro at the Nerf Ball, an annual celebration and fundraiser. Hasbro put together an exceptional event at the Rhode Island Convention Center, and attendees responded in kind, donating more than $1 million for patient care, life-saving programs, and research and education. Caring for kids is as worthy a cause as they come, and I know that Hasbro will put every dollar to good use for Rhode Island kids.
Once Upon a Time...
What started as a celebration to honor the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss as most people know him, has grown into a celebration of all authors, all books, and of the importance of literacy for all young people. The Read Across America campaign is now in its 19th year, and it is an occasion to which I always look forward.
Strong reading skills are important not just for the humanities, but for all subjects, including math, making literacy the foundation upon which a good education is built. I applaud the National Education Association for their commitment to literacy, and Read Across America is just another way to get young people excited about reading.
I used the occasion to try to spread the excitement about both reading and government, as well, by sharing one of my favorite children’s books: “House Mouse, Senate Mouse.” Written by Peter Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes, the book explains how Congress works through the lens of a fictional mouse-made legislature. The debate over the best choice for national cheese always gets a few laughs from the kids, and I had a wonderful audience at NEA Rhode Island’s Warwick Mall event. Thanks to NEARI for putting it together, and to chapters nationwide for all you do to educate and inspire children.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Before visiting Cranston, I had hosted six Lunch with Langevin events. In Coventry, Narragansett, Scituate, Providence, Westerly and Burrillville, I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with constituents, share some pizza and find out more about the issues that are important to them. It’s a nice, informal setting, where people can speak to me privately, as opposed to a town hall meeting where people stand up and ask their questions publicly.
Each Lunch with Langevin has been a success, because any time I get to spend with constituents directly is time well spent. But when I saw the crowd at Nino’s Pizza in Cranston, I was completely overwhelmed! More than 50 people showed up on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon, and everyone was very patient as I made my way through the room. The delicious pizza from Nino’s didn’t hurt, I’m sure, but I can’t say enough how much I appreciate so many constituents taking time out of their weekends to say hello, ask a question or voice their concerns. This was, by far, our biggest turnout yet, and it made me more excited than ever for my next Lunch with Langevin.
Now, we just need to find bigger restaurants!
Forward Food Thinking
Derek Wagner, the chef and owner of Nick’s on Broadway, is a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award. Backyard Food Company products have found their way onto the menus for Smashburger locations in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and will soon be featured in Massachusetts, too. Social Enterprise Greenhouse is outgrowing their Davol Square office and will soon expand onto the building’s second floor. Matunuck Oyster Bar is being featured on the Travel Channel. Eat Drink RI’s concept for a Central Market for food businesses is slowly but surely moving forward.
And these are just the highlights. At every meeting of my Food First Advisory Committee, I am overwhelmed by the exciting news shared by my members. Food is a huge industry in our state, and all signs point to continued growth. I was particularly thrilled to hear that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is creating a Chief Program Development position to oversee the conception and implementation of a comprehensive State Food Plan. This plan will include every part of the food system, including food waste, food insecurity, economic development, tourism and more, and I agree with Division of Agriculture Chief Ken Ayars when he says that this prioritization “shows the constant elevation of food.” It shows how much of a priority the food economy is, and I know it will pay dividends in the long run.
For my part, I continue to advocate for my members. I was proud to share with them my 100% rating on the National Food Policy Scorecard, and really, that is thanks to their counsel and the great work that they are doing in Rhode Island. I have always known Rhode Island to be home to amazing restaurants, farms and food producers, and it’s no longer a secret. Foodies across the country – and even worldwide – are hearing big things about our state, and the Food First Advisory Committee is about seizing upon that momentum and pushing it forward.
Big Numbers for NORAD
Quonset Business Park is a Rhode Island success story in and of itself. Within its confines, many other success stories have emerged, and North Atlantic Distribution, Inc. (NORAD) is certainly one of those great successes. For the sixth consecutive year, NORAD has broken records for automobile imports, with a 27 percent increase last year alone. More than 227,000 automobiles were brought in to the Port of Davisville through NORAD, making it one of only five North American ports to do that kind of business.
This is not an anomaly, either. Over the past 20 years, the Port of Davisville has experienced a growth of 547 percent. More than 500 percent! That’s not a typo.
To meet the increasing demand, NORAD has opened a new auto processing facility. That will mean, I hope, many more years of record breaking to come. Part of this success is due to the forward-thinking management under Michael Miranda at NORAD. While the major port at Halifax had to close in the winter, the Port of Davisville was cleared of snow and open for business. Having that reputation for dependability and quality of service raises the profile of the Port of Davisville, which in turn benefits all of the resident businesses. To use an appropriate port-related metaphor, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the tide continues to rise at Quonset.
To the Miranda family and to the team at Quonset, led by Steven King: congratulations on this milestone and thank you for believing in Rhode Island!
Fighting the Brain Drain
As our economy continues to recover from the recession, I have heard from some constituents who say their children, or grandchildren, are unsure of whether or not they can stay in Rhode Island. They see opportunities for jobs and advancement elsewhere. When talent graduates from one of Rhode Island’s stellar institutions of higher education and leaves the state, we call that “brain drain.” And brain drain is a very real challenge, because without a talented, vibrant workforce to pull from, companies could be discouraged from expanding in, or moving to, Rhode Island. Our workforce pool is part of the infrastructure that attracts development, and we need to do everything possible to keep the talent in state.
Enter Rhode Island Housing.
Rhode Island Housing has several programs that benefit young professionals, including first time homebuyer tax credits and informational classes that help young people to navigate the system of setting down roots in our state. To further incentivize young people to stay in the Ocean State, they have launched the Ocean State Grad Grant Program. Through this program, Rhode Island Housing will pay up to $7,000 of a down payment for college graduates from anywhere in the country, provided they make their home in Rhode Island. Participants must be first-time homebuyers, and must close on their home within 36 months of graduating to be eligible. I applaud Rhode Island Housing for thinking outside the box on this program and finding a new way to attract and keep young talent in our state. The grant immediately helps the individual or family, but in the long-term, there is a distinct benefit for our state, as well.
Applications are already higher than Rhode Island Housing anticipated. That’s a real testament to the importance of this program and, I hope, a sign that we’re reversing brain drain now and in the future.