WEST WARWICK — The West Warwick Senior and Community Center was buzzing Thursday, as residents from across Kent County chatted with representatives of various local and state agencies during a community resource fair hosted by Congressman Jim Langevin.
Langevin’s reasons for hosting the event were numerous. One of his goals, he said, was to connect his constituents with services that could be of help to them that they may not have been aware of previously.
“Sometimes people may not know where to go or who to talk to,” Langevin said, as around him community members moseyed from table to table, picking up pamphlets and asking questions. “This brings the organizations to one location, and makes it easy to connect people with the right organizations.”
The event attracted dozens of residents and nearly 30 organizations and agencies,and was the first of its kind hosted by the congressman.
Langevin said he was grateful to the agencies in attendance, and added that, in addition to helping out residents, he’d hoped the resource fair could also help the agencies there to gain some exposure.
“They’re set up for a reason, and they want to be involved with addressing people’s problems and concerns,” he said.
The community center’s dining room was lined Thursday evening with tables manned by representatives of a variety of organizations. From the Alzheimer’s Association and Blue Cross Blue Shield to Taxpayer Advocate Services and West- bay Community Action, participating agencies offered services that ran the gamut.
Nancy Beattie, Langevin’s director of constituent services, said she wanted to make sure the event featured a range of services broad enough to ensure all needs could be met.
“Voting, housing, Medicare, Social Security, banking,” said Beattie, who played a key role in coordinating the event. “All of these agencies are here so that if folks need something, they can come and ask questions.”
While the community resource fair was Langevin’s first, the West Warwick Senior and Community Center holds a similar event annually.
Manny Murray, director of the West Warwick Senior and Community Center, said he was happy to partner with Langevin to host the fair this time around.
“There are services out there that our residents might not be aware of,” Murray said of the impetus behind the annual event, adding that he hears frequently from West Warwick residents who need help meeting their basic needs.
National Grid’s participation in the community center’s resource fairs has proven especially beneficial to residents, Murray added, gesturing toward a separate room where the utility company was set up.
“They’re here to help people who maybe have become delinquent in their payments,” he said, as he recalled seeing suddenly relieved residents leave past events “crying happy tears.”
Thursday’s event didn’t only offer residents a chance to learn about the myriad state and local programs available to them, however — it also gave Langevin valuable time to interact with the people he represents.
“It’s the reason I come home every weekend from D.C.,” Langevin said. “You have to stay in touch with people in the district. These are the people I’m representing, I need to hear what’s on their minds so that I can be a more effective representative.”
For John Susa and his son Frank, the event was an opportunity to talk to Langevin about wheelchair accessibility along sidewalks.
“He’s a busy person,” Susa said after speaking with Langevin, adding that he hopes ultimately to see federal and state dollars put toward making sidewalks across the state ADA compliant.
A resident of Warwick, Susa recently conducted a study regarding handicap accessibility along Warwick Avenue, where he said the sidewalk in parts is “unusable” for people in wheelchairs.
“There’s a curb cut at every intersection, but most of them are so old that they no longer comply with any kind of reasonable code, so are not actually even usable by anybody in a wheelchair,” Susa said of the three-mile stretch of road that was the focus of his study.
Frank and his brother Mark both use wheelchairs, and have experienced first- hand the difficulty navigating the inadequate sidewalks lining the busy street.
“And it’s not just people with disabilities. It’s seniors, it’s children walking to and from school,” Frank said. “This event is good, because it’s an opportunity for all of us to come together as a community to figure out what our priorities are.”
In between conversations with his constituents, Langevin lauded the staff at the community center for partnering with him on the event this year.
“I was here for the groundbreaking and when the West Warwick Community Center was first opened,” Langevin added. “They said they were going to hold many community events here, and I’m glad that this is one of those community events.”
Langevin added that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the number of residents who attended the resource fair Thursday.
“Given the turnout,” he continued, “I think this is something that we’ll want to do again.”
Murray, also thrilled with the event’s turnout, shared a similar sentiment.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Murray said. “People are walking away with information. And that’s a great thing.”