NORTH KINGSTOWN —With one quick snip of a giant pair of scissors, a local community assistance agency in North Kingstown is back to helping people and changing lives.
On Oct. 19, Tri-County Community Action Agency staff celebrated the rededication of its North Kingstown facility, located at 415 Tower Hill Road, more than two years after the building sustained significant weather-related damage.
After the heavy snows from the winter of 2014-2015, the former St. Bernard Parish center suffered a roof collapse and sustained mold damage, forcing the building to close for four months. Tri-County President and CEO Joseph DeSantis said the renovations included a new roof, installing a new kitchen – one of the hardest-hit areas from the collapse – carpeting and other updates. The agency had to pay for the repairs out of pocket because Tri-County’s insurance didn’t cover the cost, but was fortunate the hired contractor did the work at cost in an effort to help to defray the overall budget.
“A lot of people didn’t think this could get done,” DeSantis said. “I even had my doubts when I thought the funds wouldn’t cover the damages.”
The rededication comes a month after Tri-County and South County Community Action agencies merged into a single nonprofit. With a total of 20 communities served, including Block Island, Tri-County covers the largest geographic area in the state for a non-state support agency.
The merger led the agency to relocate its commodities distribution, weatherization, boiler replacement, heating assistance and youth employment programs to its Tower Hill Road facility.
“We really expanded the programs here because we want to focus on North Kingstown,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the merger came as a result of obtaining a key three-year Head Start grant in September.
The grant, which Tri-County had obtained previously but lost in recent years, paved the way for one of the agency’s two Head Start programs, which provides early education programs for children ages 3-5, to reopen at the Tower Hill Road building.
“It caused a lot of anxiety among staff, but we thought we could get it back,” DeSantis said. “But we thought the gamble was worth it.”
The facility has a food bank, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and consists of nonperishable items offered to those in need. Tri-County is also currently looking into bringing the Women Infants and Children nutrition program to its agency to provide additional assistance to local families.
DeSantis also honored Rep. Robert Craven (D-Dist. 32) of North Kingstown, with a formal citation as a token of the agency’s appreciation. Craven sponsored a bill during the last legislative session to relieve the nonprofit of $15,000 in property taxes. The bill passed in the House March 17.
Three months later, the Senate passed a companion bill – sponsored by Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36) of North Kingstown and Narragansett.
“This [agency] is a Godsend,” Craven said. “As you walk this town, I didn’t realize how many people were challenged economically and in many other ways, especially the elderly. [It’s important] to have a place like this as a resource for people to go to in town and not feel as though they’re asking for a handout, but rather getting help from people who are willing and anxious to help them.”
For more information on the programs at Tri-County’s North Kingstown location, call 667-7151. The Wakefield location, 1935 Kingstown Road, can be reached at 789-3016.