Tau II project teams make Mariam proud

The forecast for another rainy Saturday created much angst for the team of Tau IIs as they debated whether to postpone their outdoor project yet again.

They tossed the decision to Mike Sollitto, superintendent of schools in Burrillville. “He’s used to making weather calls,” quipped Melissa Book, ca-reer path manager at Coastal1 Credit Union.

Sollitto gave a thumbs up, mostly because re-scheduling the mini-excavator, loader and dumpster wouldn’t be easy.

So, on a dreary fall morning, seven Tau IIs gathered in Woonsocket to clean up the site of a once-flourishing community garden, one that had fall-en into disrepair.

Their ranks were bolstered by Chris Beauchamp, then president of the City Council, now Woonsocket mayor, Valerie Gonzalez, council vice pres-ident, and eight other community volunteers.

They removed broken wire fencing, rotten posts, deteriorated wood that had framed the original beds, brush, weeds and litter from the 1.19-acre site, and then constructed five new ground-level garden plots and four raised, accessible beds.

“Surprisingly, it did not rain a drop,” recalls Anne DaSilva, Peregrine Group senior project manager.

Restoring the community garden lot was one of this year’s 10 Leadership-in-Action (LIA) team projects.

“I’m hoping we made Mariam proud,” said Book, referring to Mariam Kaba, 17, a high school senior whose vision of a better tomorrow for Woonsock-et’s young people of color was the inspiration for the projects and the 2023 “Restoring the Village” theme.

Leadership Rhode Island has been stewarding Mariam’s vision since 2022 when her ideas for transforming her village — the city of Woonsocket — won a statewide competition run by the Papitto Opportunity Connection, a private foundation.

As the winner, she was empowered to use $1-million in Papitto funds for activities that would address the problems and obstacles she has observed growing up.

Early in the 2023 class year, Mariam gave the Tau IIs a slide presentation listing dozens of ways she thought could have impact. “The class breathed life into the vision on those slides,” says Jane Nugent 1995 Omicron, longtime coordinator of LIA projects.

There were lots of pivots and Plan B’s, but nobody gave up, Nugent said after listening to the teams’ final reports during their graduation day.

“There’s no other group in Rhode Island who could have done what you did,” Nugent told the 74 new LRI alumni. “It was a unique convergence of talent that helped a young person’s dream for her community become real. For that reason alone, you succeeded.”
Kaba, after listening to what the LIA teams had accomplished, summed up her reaction this way: “I literally had goosebumps.”
The teams were asked to develop projects in one of three general areas: education, employment or community pride.

“It’s happening,” Jessica Kumar, senior account manager at Cox Busi-ness, said in mid-October, her voice filled with weary resolve. She was re-ferring to the fate of a mural for Woonsocket High School, a project origi-nally planned for last summer.

Instead of brightening the school’s master corridor, the mural will be in the cafeteria. Initially planned to be painted directly on a wall, it is being painted off-site on four large panels. But, during months of bureaucratic delays, the team held fast to its goal that the mural be student-conceived and student-created.

In a Nov. 11 update, Kurmar said students working after school at River-zedge Arts are days away from finishing. “It’s huge and it’s beautiful,” she enthused. An installation date had yet to be set.
Three teams responded to Mariam’s premise that the city’s young people need more guidance as they consider careers and job hunt.

One team linked its plans for a non-traditional career fair to a back-to-school event staged each August by Milagros, a Woonsocket-based non-profit.

In doing so, the team shifted its target from high school students to the young parents who bring elementary and middle school children to the Mil-agros event to pick up school supplies.
The team arranged for representatives of a half-dozen major employers and organizations, from Lifespan to Women in the Trades, to participate.

One young father stopped at the Electric Boat table to say he’d always wanted to work there. EB’s enthusiastic response prompted him to com-plete an application on-the-spot.

RI Energy representatives described the company’s career options, and re-sponded to practical inquiries about getting help in reducing monthly ener-gy bills.

A second team planned a Small Business Bash with contemporary flair that would connect young adults,18 to 24, with local business owners, especial-ly those engaged in non-traditional creative pursuits. To drum up interest, the team promised food vendors, a raffle of $100 gifts cards and even the participation of Ian Brownhill, popular Tik Tok social influencer.

The youth turnout was disappointing, but the 33 participating entrepre-neurs, small business owners and representatives of community organiza-tions and governmental agencies described the event “a big win” as a net-working opportunity. “Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but are still very positive,” the team’s final report says.

A third team prepared a Career Exploration Day toolkit which includes a list of 40 employers willing to participate, promotional flyers, signage, raffle prizes, and more. It was presented to the Woonsocket High School princi-pal for future use.

Still other teams addressed financial literacy, language literacy, food inse-curity and smoking cessation.

A total of 668 books now fill the shelves of the Woonsocket Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Club; 12 adults and children enjoyed an enriching farm-to-table feast at a farm retreat, and a partnership with We Share Hope is expected to lead to a food pantry at the Woonsocket Youth Center.

Woonsocket High School students will attend a “Cash Flow Academy” at Bryant University, with representatives of Navigant Credit Union and Fideli-ty Investments, among the speakers. And, a partnership between the Community Care Alliance and the URI College of Pharmacy is expected to lead to a smoking cessation program.

“We’ve been lacking hope and the Tau II class has helped restore that,” Kaba said, acknowledging that the work of engaging the community must go on.