Charlestown Celebrates ChurchWoods Groundbreaking

Photo gallery at end of post.

Master of Ceremonies and Charlestown Town Council president Tom Gentz addressed about a hundred residents gathered for the ChurchWoods groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, August 23, at the Church of the Holy Spirit. Gentz dubbed Geoff Marchant, executive director of Washington County Community Development Corporation, the “man of the hour” for working six years to transform the vision of ChurchWoods, a 24 unit, senior affordable housing project, from a dream into a reality.

Gentz detailed the collaboration with The Rev. Dr. Michael Tessman, then pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the challenges with funding, the patience of the Episcopal Diocese with sale of the property, and the eventual “silver lining” in the dark cloud of Superstorm Sandy that provided the last funding match. He acknowledged the support of town staff and volunteer commissions, and he expressed gratitude to the US Congressional team of Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Representative Langevin for tipping the scales in favor of funding for ChurchWoods. See this link for Gentz’s full comments.

US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, US Representative Jim Langevin, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, appearing in his role as prior Chair of the Episcopal Diocesan Board, State Senators Dennis Algiere and Elaine Morgan, and State Representative Blake Filippi – all echoed Gentz’s comments and congratulated Marchant and each other for collaborating successfully on the federal, state, and local levels to create this future affordable housing community for seniors. All acknowledged gratitude to The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of the Rhode Island Episcopal Diocese, for his patience in holding the ChurchWoods property for this worthy project. He graciously delivered the invocation.

US Sen. Jack Reed called the groundbreaking “a great moment and the work of many hands.” About Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief, he added, “From the midst of devastation came hope and opportunity.” He credited “effort, persistence, and patience” for the eventual success.

US Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a long-time advocate for increasing awareness of climate change, quoted Pope Francis and said, “God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.”   Sen. Whitehouse added that Charlestown is a community addressing the challenges posed by rising sea levels.

US Rep Jim Langevin, known throughout the state for his support of affordable housing, called South County, “God’s Country,” and took pleasure in realizing that 24-48 seniors could age in place. Although not a large project by inner city standards, Langevin used the analogy of the starfish to describe ChurchWoods. He said, “Some ask why throw an individual starfish back into the sea with so many washing ashore, and others know that being returned matters to that one.”

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian thanked The Rt. Rev. Knisely not only for his leadership on keeping the ChurchWoods property available for this project but also for his vision around the state. He credited Bishop Knisely for repurposing the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pascoag for use by a group associated with the Episcopal Conference Center Summer Camp and for opening the Episcopal Church in Coventry to worship for families dealing with autism.

State Senators Dennis Algiere and Elaine Morgan and State Representative Blake Filippi gave accolades to those working for the past six years on ChurchWoods. Filippi said, “It’s wonderful to see what can be accomplished when people work together toward a common goal.”

The Rev. Dr. Michael Tessman, former pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, explained that the concept of being at the center of the community was central to the decision to move the Church of the Holy Spirit 65 years ago from Shannock Village to its current location and said members of the church were always supportive of the ChurchWoods vision. He said, “They had a desire to be a center of the community.” He credited the late Turner Cobden, a Charlestown resident, and the late Ed Bennet, a former Chancellor with the Episcopal Diocese, for their support of ChurchWoods. He said The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolff, the now retired and former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, was a strong supporter from inception. He left those gathered with four words: “vision, bridge (the land is a bridge to the Town Center), village, and community.”

Evelyn Smith, Chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, thanked those who had contributed to the creation of ChurchWoods and noted that ten years ago today many were campaigning for the affordable housing bond. She also recognized the Rev. Jean Barry, former executive director of the WARM Shelter and former chair of the Affordable Housing Commission. She explained that $800,000 of the bond was earmarked for land acquisition and $200,000 was for essential matching funds.

The Rev. Eileen Lindeman, pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, delivered the convocation and inspired those gathered to work for the community and welcomed the future members of the ChurchWoods community.

Click on any photo to open a lightbox to view all photos in a larger scale.

A special thanks to Charlestown Photographer Fred Baker for the photographs!