Rhode Islanders of the Year

Meet the women, men and kids who have done the Ocean State proud this year.

(page 3 of 3)

Often when someone forgets their wallet at a store, there’s some type of identification that staff will use to contact the person. But when David Annotti found a red wallet in a cart in the parking lot of the Ocean State Job Lot on Warwick Avenue last July, he didn’t even know at first it was a wallet. The assistant manager brought it inside and put it in a safe. A few days later, a co-worker brought it to Annotti’s attention again and they realized it was a wallet with $800 in cash inside. His only clues to the owner’s identity? A DSW Warehouse card and a Job Lot receipt. Annotti put his detective hat on and checked out security footage to see if the costumer was a regular. She wasn’t. He tried to find her on Facebook, to no avail. Then someone suggested he Google the name on the DSW card. Annotti did, and several names came up in Warwick. He found the customer and the woman “was thrilled to get it back,” Annotti says. In general, he thinks it’s a good idea for people to keep a note in their wallets with a contact number in case they misplace it. “I put one in my wallet, just in case,” he says with a laugh.

Maternova is known around the world for tracking threats to pregnant women and supplying innovative products to help improve medical outcomes.

The Providence-based startup typically works with NGOs, government ministries and private hospitals and clinics around the globe. So when the Zika virus emerged in Latin America, was linked to newborn microcephaly and became a public health emergency, Maternova co-founders Meg Wirth and Allyson Cote were watching closely.

They decided to partner with Alessandra Gold, a designer who grew up in Brazil and launched her company with Cote in Pawtucket. Now based in Miami, the heart of where the Zika virus has spread in the United States, Gold designed a line of clothing for women that would both protect them from insects and be fashionable.

“We wanted to create something that women would be happy to wear,” Cote says. “We wanted it to look like regular clothing, and not like a beekeeper’s outfit.”
The idea grew out of a Zika innovation hackathon at Mass General Hospital and won $19,000 in startup funding from Grand Challenges Canada to launch the project. The project was also chosen by Republic, a crowd investing platform that allows anyone to be an angel investor in the wake of changes to rules by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

They’ve raised more than $39,000 and are testing 200 insect-repellent T-shirts with pregnant women in El Salvador.

Gold has designed four pieces for the collection: a dress that can be let out to accommodate a growing belly, two scarves that can be worn by a woman or draped over a baby’s crib, a pair of leggings and a cardigan/jacket. Each is imbued with nanotechnology that contains insect repellent approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is made out of soft jersey material and is washable.

And while Wirth and Cote say the clothing is effective in warding off the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus, it also repels more than forty other types of insects. That expands the range of possibility of its use to people who want to protect themselves against other insect-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and malaria.
Wirth and Cote want to make sure that not just NGOs and hospitals have access to the protective clothing, but private citizens as well. They’re starting manufacturing in the coming months. Wirth says they’ve gotten positive reactions from Latin America to South Africa to a mother-in-law wanting to buy something for her pregnant daughter-in-law to “can you please sell these at Walmart in Puerto Rico?”

“Which we would love to do, if we can do it,” Cote says. maternova.com

Vets in Rhode Island gets calls weekly — if not daily — about a family pet with a medical issue that its owner can’t pay to have treated. That’s why the Rhode Island Companion Animal Foundation, the charitable arm of the state Veterinary Medical Association, and the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) joined forces to form the Pets in Need Veterinary Clinic.

“Most of these people love their pets just like people of means, and it’s very sad because in a lot of situations, there can be a disease or an injury that carries a very good prognosis, but the cost of treatment is something the owner cannot take on,” says Dr. Hank Wietsma, one of the lead organizers with Dr. E. Finocchio from RISPCA.

Many of the pet owners are elderly and disabled, Wietsma says. In the past, the animal would sometimes get euthanized, or the owner would sign it over to the vet hospital, which would treat the pet and adopt it out. “So the pets are basically taken away from the family that loves them, and that’s not good for the animal or good for the owner,” Wietsma adds. “So we’re trying to keep these pets in their homes, where they are loved.”

What Wietsma wasn’t expecting was the scale of the demand for Pets in Need’s services. Within forty-eight hours of opening on June 15, Pets in Need got 106 calls.  “Initially, we had staffing to be open three days a week, and within the first ten days, we realized that wasn’t going to be enough,” he says.

Now Pets in Need is open four days a week. Located close to the RISPCA on Amaral Street in East Providence, the hospital is staffed by a full-time veterinarian, Dr. Alison Alias, and three other employees. Thirty vets from around Rhode Island and beyond — including several board-certified surgeons and a board-certified radiologist — are volunteering their time. And five student vet techs from New England Institute of Technology are also getting experience working in a small animal clinic several days a week.

To qualify for the services, which are typically at a 70 percent discount, clients have to prove that they are getting assistance from a state or federal program.

Each day brings a different cool story, Wietsma says. A couple of months ago, they saw a four-month-old kitten with a fractured humerus, a difficult bone to repair. “So I was able to call and send the images to a board-certified surgeon and he said, ‘I’ll come and do it.’ He came and he was able to surgically repair it with pin implants. Some of these orthopedic surgeries are not the typical things that the average vet does,” he says.

Wietsma has also completed several complex surgeries for the clinic, including removing bladder stones from a dog.

But most importantly, Pets in Need is helping return animals to the people who love them.

Rhode Island’s a diverse place, and Raymond Two Hawks Watson believes it’s one of the state’s biggest strengths, unrealized opportunities and greatest natural resources. The Providence native has long been a community advocate, serving as executive director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association and standing up for the city’s marginalized communities.

By highlighting the contributions of cultures that are sometimes overlooked, the longtime organizer of the Big Drum Powwow at the Roger Williams National Memorial is working to build on Rhode Island’s heritage and diversity to make it the cultural capital of the Northeast. Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Foundation recognized his vision with a $300,000 Innovation grant for his think tank and consulting firm, the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative. Plans include the revival of Sound Session festival, several conferences celebrating Native American culture, a new web magazine and supporting the development of sister city relationships with Guatemala City and other international locales. We can’t wait to see what Watson comes up with.

Much of the loveliness you see in Pawtuxet Village is thanks to the efforts of Carole Panos and other volunteers from the Pawtuxet Village Association Garden Group. Like clockwork, they meet on Wednesdays at 4 p.m., getting their hands dirty to make the village a more beautiful place. Encouraged seventeen years ago by the late Ed Greer and other residents, Panos and her neighbors transformed Pawtuxet Village Park by clearing it out to restore a view of Pawtuxet Cove, securing an underground sprinkler system and planting garden after garden. Panos had to step down in 2015, but she continues to make the area beautiful, tending to the six boxes on the bridge that splits Cranston and Warwick.

Richard Gingras has distinguished himself in the ring as a professional boxer, winning seven amateur and two professional titles over the year and starring in the reality TV series, “The Contender.” But when a man came to his Pawtucket gym, Fight2Fitness, three years ago and asked him what the boxer could do to help someone with Parkinson’s, it changed Gingras’s life. Now several times a week, the people throwing punches at the bags in his gym have some form of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or may have suffered a stroke. Once a month, Gingras hosts a support group for clients and their families, then leads them through an intense workout. As “We will, we will, rock you!” echoes off the gym walls on a Saturday morning, class members wait their turn to pummel away at the boxing bags. Some pound with all their might, while others touch the bag gingerly. One man rises from his walker for his turn. But Gingras doesn’t want to stop with boxing. He’s converted the floor above his gym into a space called Parkinson’s Place, a community rehabilitation and fitness center where people can also come and get physical therapy, massage or take a yoga class if boxing isn’t their thing. “The social and emotional aspect is probably the most important thing,” Gingras says. “People who are typically withdrawn are coming together and laughing.”


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