FabNewport—A Platform for Community Development?

“I want to be the matchmaker,” said Jim Reed, executive director of the Newport Housing Authority, at the February FabNewport community meeting. What exactly does match making mean? It means FabNewport will succeed if we build relationships across traditional community boundaries and link people with resources supporting the achievement of personal and professional aspirations. Take, for example, the story of Yoni Corleto, a 2012 graduate of Roger High School who recently joined the FabNewport team.

Yoni, showed up at the February meeting excited to participate. He’s a hard working Newporter studying engineering at CCRI and doing what he can to launch a life. When there was as opening to send someone to a digital manufacturing conference that had room for only two FabNewport team members, I thought, let’s send Yoni. What a great opportunity for him to make his first trip to the world’s premier technical institution of higher learning. “You are going to the Big House,” I told Yoni. He laughed shyly, still not sure how to take my sometimes off-beat enthusiasm.

Not only did Yoni go to the Big House for a day, he went with Tom Kowalczyk, an MIT graduate and FabNewport’s cofounder. Tom grew up in the hardscrabble town of Chicopee, did exceptionally well in school, had a stellar career and now is tireless community volunteer. Tom picked Yoni up—the two had never met–bought Yoni a train ticket, and the two had a day. Yoni was over the moon when he reported back to me yesterday. Tom and Yoni: match made. “Yoni can help us,” said Tom, who is not one for overstatement.

FabNewport can help Yoni, also. Help him develop working relationships with local engineers and makers. Yoni applied for Maker Corps program and has recruited another fine young person for the team who updated the website last night. Thank you. We need young people. It gets me thinking that FabNewport’s platform—an expert told us we need a platform—is community development with three forks: education; mentorship; and innovation and entrepreneurship.

Many US FabLabs are in schools and the students and staff are the users and their platform is education; but FabNewport lives in a community center that serves the underserved. The Florence Gray Center is home to a food bank, a GED and ESL programs. FabNewport serves by offering technical instruction and guidance, but our most beautiful stories will be told by hardworking community members utilizing FabNewport as a catalyst to improve their lives and by the local instructors, volunteers and mentors who serve those looking for support and inspiration. I can’t wait to see more matchmaking in action. Already we’ve a wonderful mix of volunteers stepping up to support the effort.  I’ll sing the praises of a few below at the risk of leaving some out.

  • Elizabeth Lynn of the van Beuren Charitable Foundation for patiently shepherding our grant application and the $25,000 award.
  • Jim Read, Executive Director of the Housing Authority, who said, “We are all in.” Space is critical.
  • Pierce Gafgen, a Middletown entrepreneur and sign maker, who has stepped in as our technical expert.
  • John Collins, a retired manufacturing executive who is supporting our business plan
  • Nick Logler, just out of graduate school, who helps with grant writing and other administrative details and curriculum ideas.
  • Peter Converse, a graphic designer from Jamestown.
  • Bill MacGowan, a Newport sign-maker who donated vinyl off-cuts and want to run workshops.
  • Terry Nathan and Brent Morin of the International Yacht Restoration Society who offered to support fundraising and organizing.
  • Donalyn Stephenson and two others who drove down from Boston to attend our last meeting.
  • Chris Semonelli, Middletown Town Council member and tireless advocate for youth opportunities as head of the Newport County CO-OP Mentorship Program
  • Pat Burke, employee of McLaughlin Research, who helped write the original grant
  • Taylor Rock, Mary Vieira, Samantha Murphy and Nancy Diaz of the Met School who offer support and inspiration.
  • The students at the Met School who eagerly are learning how to use the vinyl cutter and await the arrival of the 3D printer.
  •  Karen Conti, of Raytheon, who volunteered and ran a wonderful strategic planning session.
  • Charles Laranjo, a retired tech teacher from Newport who is rounding up equipment and infusing enthusiasm.
  • Dick Lynn, a furniture maker from Jamestown.

Our next meeting is March 19, 5-6:30 pm at the International Society for Yacht Restoration on Thames Street. Please join us and the team.

Steve Heath