By ARDEN BASTIA Rhode Islanders love to show off their sports teams, their special causes, state locations and their colleges, so it's no wonder legislators have approved the issuance of "charity plates" to groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to
Rhode Islanders love to show off their sports teams, their special causes, state locations and their colleges, so it’s no wonder legislators have approved the issuance of “charity plates” to groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to Providence College and the Saltwater Anglers.
But while these organizations have gained legislative approval of their automobile plates and hundreds have sent in their deposits, you won’t see a friar, the Gaspee, the arch at Rocky Point or a striped bass on a license plate.
That’s because these organizations haven’t filled 600 pre-orders for the Department of Motor Vehicles to produce the plates.
That could all change this fall, if the Rhode Island Senate passes a bill approved by the House earlier this year, and it is signed by the governor.
Introduced by Rep. Evan Shanley of Warwick, and after revisions worked out at the urging of Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, the current law would be amended for the DMV to produce the charity plates with 150 pre-paid orders provided the non-profit pay the state upfront what it would have received if there were 600 pre-paid orders.
But at this point, it’s not known if the Senate will consider the legislation when it is expected to reconvene in September.
In a recent interview, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey said senators are expected to act on judicial appointments next month, but there’s no guarantee they will consider on bills sent over by the House prior to its adjournment. If that happens, those who have fought to get plates to those who have paid for them would need to remount their campaign next year.
That could be the final straw for some organizations.
Here are the stories of just a few of the hundreds of Rhode Islanders who have paid $42.50 for a charity plate and have yet to get it:
Katherine Kimmel, a lifelong Rhode Island resident who ordered a Rocky Point license plate in 2017, recalls fond memories at the amusement park.
“I went to Rocky Point a lot when I was younger,” she shared in a recent interview. “I remember one year when my friends and I were 12 or 13, we rode the flume ride I think ten times in a row. We’d go there all the time.”
Kimmel brought her daughters to the park, and shared memories of the then-two and four year olds. Now, she takes walks in the park and her grandkids “are amazed that the arch is still standing,” she said. “I’d show them that this is where the tramway was, and this is where we’d go get clam cakes and chowder.”
Kimmel, who is considering moving out of state, said she’s “frustrated” by the barriers keeping drivers from receiving their plates.
“Legislators need to do a better job coming up with a more realistic number for the license plate orders,” she said, adding that she considered asking for a refund, or just donating the $42.50 to the Rocky Point Foundation. “I had no idea it was going to take this long, I honestly would’ve reconsidered ordering and just made a donation. A lot of people have a lot of happy memories there. The state saved the park. If it’s really important to the state, the state has to do something to.”
Kimmel isn’t alone in her frustrations.
Ben Gregoire shared in an interview he doesn’t remember when he ordered a plate. “It’s been a while,” he said.
But what he does remember are long summer days spent running around Rocky Point with his siblings.
“We lived in West Barrington,” he shared. “So my dad would pile us all in the boat, drop us off at the docks at the park, and go fishing for the day.”
“I remember the first time I rode on the Enterprise,” he said. “I remember sticking to my seat while spinning upside down. I used to get so mad because you had to be just the right height, so I’d stand on my toes to get in. The guys running the ride, they’d get so used to seeing me all the time they’d just let me through.”
Gregoire said he would be “proud” to have a Rocky Point plate on his car, preserving the traditions and memories that shaped him as a kid.
Even though he isn’t a chowder fan, Gregoire says Rocky Point’s “chowder and clam cakes was the best.”
“It was pretty magical, looking back. As kids, I think we took it for granted because one day it was just gone. It was really sad,” he said.
The Rocky Point license plate design was a collaborative effort from students in the graphic arts program at the Warwick Area Career and Tech Center. It features the Rocky Point arch against a warm sunset sky, the Newport Bridge faint in the background.
According to Cliff Deck, treasurer for the Rocky Point Foundation, the organization has received 205 pre orders for plates since 2017, but has had to issue 15 refunds. Right now, the organization has raised $7,600 for 190 plates.
“We’re still actively trying to pursue this,” he said
But for other organizations, if the amendment to the legislation lowering the preorders to 150 doesn’t pass, it might be time to pull the plug.
Steve Medeiros, executive director for the Salt Water Anglers, said he’s had “a really rough time getting to 600.” The organization currently has 177 plates ordered over the last three years.
“People signed up in the beginning, but grew tired of waiting. If we didn’t have to give out refunds, we’d be well over 200 by now,” he said.
Medeiros is confident that “once the plate begins appearing, you’re going to see all kinds of people come in and ask for it. Many people don’t know this plate is available unless they’re part of our organization.”
The Salt Water Anglers plate features a large leaping striped bass, the Rhode Island state fish, and a smaller scup.
“Every fisherman wants to catch a striped bass; it’s the most sought after fish in Rhode Island, and probably up and down the coast,” Medeiros said. “I just wish the head of the DMV would have a little sympathy for charities like ours. It would be a shame, but we’re very close to just giving up.”
The Salt Water Anglers host a number of service projects to benefit Rhode Island waters, like repairing fishing ladders, working with the DEM on nature conservancy efforts, and sponsoring Take A Kid Fishing Day, an event that introduces kids aged 7 to 13 to local mentors who teach them how to fish.
“The work that we do is charity work, for all fisherpeople in the state,” said Rich Hittinger, first vice president for the organization, in a brief interview last week.
Hittinger added that the organization “has helped fund some of the work that the DEM has had a hard time coming up with money for,” like fishing signage.
Hittinger is hopeful that the legislation to lower the ordering threshold to 150 will pass. He said the organization would put forward the money, as long as legislators keep the provision that the money eventually returns to the organization.
Otherwise, the Salt Water Anglers would owe refunds as the specialty plate project would be over.
“For me and others in the state, the plate means that Rhode Island is a great place to fish,” he said. “I love fishing in RI. If we’ve got these plates on the streets where people can see them, they’re more likely to purchase one.”
For the Gaspee Days Committee, the jury is still out on whether to end the project or not.
“The pandemic of course put us back a year,” shared Gina Dooley, president of the Gaspee Days Committee. “Using social media hasn’t been the same. We’ve advertised on Facebook, NextDoor, and hung posters throughout the village. It brings in a handful of orders here and there, but not the numbers we need.”
She said that the committee’s executive board hasn’t decided whether to end the project or not, as they’re waiting to see what the Senate’s decision will be.
Dooley didn’t share the number of orders received thus far, but did say they were “a ways away from 600, but if we need 150, then we’ll be fine.”
The organization has plans to drum up enthusiasm and support for the plate during the Gaspee’s 250th anniversary next year.
“Just like all the Gaspee activities, people really like the story,” said Dooley. “There are people who are firmly convinced that the revolution started in Pawtuxet Village, so there’s a lot of pride. People just love the Village, it’s not kitschy it’s just wonderful and we really loving living here.”
Judy Hoffman and her husband, Edward Oslund, have been living in the Village for four years.
“We do love being here,” shared Oslund in a recent interview. “We love all the activities and we’re happy to support all the activities.”
For Hoffman and Oslund, the specialty plate is a reminder of the Gaspee’s history.
“We love the enthusiasm of local folks for the Gaspee affair and the belief that this was the start of the revolution two years ahead of the Boston Tea Party,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman shared that in addition to supporting the Village, she and Oslund really liked the design.
“It’s a good-looking plate,” she said.
The Gaspee plate, designed by Rep. Joseph McNamara in 2017, features the iconic boat in shades of blue, with the Gaspee Days Committee logo.
The Providence College alumni license plate is another symbol of pride, shared Steve Maurano, Providence College alum and the school’s associate vice president of public affairs, community, and government relations. In an interview on last week, Maurano said that the PC alumni license plate has received 400 preorders.
“We’d love to see the threshold lowered,” he said. “When we put the original proposal together for the PC license plate, one of the things I think we underestimated was how many people already had specialty plates.”
The PC license plate has been in the works since 2016, and although Maurano said that the organization has “told people the effort is in process and we let them know it could take a couple years,” inquiries about the status of the plates are constant.
At this time, the alumni organization doesn’t plan cancel the project. Maurano said that if the legislation doesn’t pass the Senate when they reconvene, “we’ll go back at it in January.”
“We have a very loyal and connected alumni base here in Rhode Island,” he said. “For them, it’s another way to display their pride at being an alumnus from the college and remaining connected.”
For Kate Kennedy, the PC plate represents more than just her alma mater. It’s a symbol of pride, family, and community.
Kennedy’s parents both taught English at Providence College, and it’s where she met her husband when they were both freshman. Her older siblings also attended PC, her brother graduated in 1988 and her sister graduated in 1989.
“PC has been part of my life since I was a toddler,” she said in a recent interview, describing memories of visiting her parents on campus long before she was a student.
Kennedy, who graduated in 1992, is currently the president of the alumni association, and says she’s loved “finding new ways to connect with the community”, especially with virtual events during the pandemic.
Other organizations taking preorders include Autism Awareness, Boston Bruins Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, #DStrong, and the RI Day of Portugal.
To view all the specialty plates available for purchase, visit dmv.ri.gov/plates/special.