Feature | Community

Doing Good in South County

Meet some of the volunteers working to make South County an even better place

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Here in South County, we take this seriously, donating thousands of hours of volunteer service time, opening our wallets, our homes and most of all our hearts. Here’s a peek inside some local organizations making a big impact on the world, from stray dogs to homeless families.

Finding a Furever Home
Save One Soul Animal Rescue League helps dogs in need

In their four years of experience in animal rescue, Emma Dawley and Heidi Durand-Lenz were bothered by something. Most rescue efforts were breed-specific and tended to focus on smaller dogs. That left a lot of animals out in the cold. Together, they founded Save One Soul (SOS) Animal Rescue League, an adoption agency welcoming dogs of all breeds and sizes, dedicated to finding permanent homes for dogs from areas of the country known for their kill-shelters.

“In New England, we’ve done a great job with leash laws and with spaying and neutering our animals. But in other parts of the country, it’s just not that way,” explains Heidi. “And there are only so many spots in shelters. Our goal is to match these animals that have no chance of living to homes in New England that want to add a pet to their family.”

SOS partners with shelters in West Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas to pull dogs at risk for being euthanized due to overcrowding. SOS pays to vet the dogs, arranges foster homes and ships some of them north so they can meet potential new families face-to-face. To this day, SOS has placed 322 dogs in forever homes, providing in-depth support and training to ensure that each match is a good fit for both dog and family.

“Our specialty is providing adoption counseling and post-adoption support,” says Emma. “We really want to make sure these adoptions are successful.” SOS has a dedicated team of volunteer adoption counselors, who spend hours each week interviewing families interested in opening their home to a dog, matching them with dogs that are a good fit for their family and ensuring they have the resources necessary to fully integrate the dog into their family. “We are looking for reasons to say yes to a family and for opportunities to support the adopter,” Emma adds.

SOS is always looking for volunteers, for everything from one or two nights a month to transport and handle dogs at local adoption nights or becoming a foster family for animals waiting for their forever home.

Wakefield, 206-0727 

Adoption Events
May 23 & June 13, 12-3pm
Westerly Petsense
143 Franklin Street, Westerly

June 7, 10am-4pm

Balise Toyota

1400 Post Road, Warwick

Big Work, Big Hearts
The Narragansett Lions Club has a passion for community service

The Lions Club has a long lineage of service around the world, founded in 1917 and today proud to call itself the world’s largest service organization. The Narragansett Lions Club upholds this tradition with a focus on serving their local community. Through efforts ranging from clearing snow from an elderly neighbor’s driveway to organizing several large annual fundraising events, they live by the dual mottos of “We serve,” and, “Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion.”

“Our mission is to serve the community. It’s that simple,” states Narragansett Lions chapter president Steven Fabrizio. “We work very hard to serve the community in any way we can and are particularly mindful of helping people right here in Narragansett.” The Lions run a variety of programs to assist and engage local families, ranging from kids to the elderly and provides scholarships for high school seniors heading into higher education. This winter, the Narragansett Lions delivered 1,600 gallons of oil and propane to 16 local families in need of fuel assistance. Over the holidays, 115 families were provided turkeys for Thanksgiving, and over 125 families received food and gift baskets for 260 children at Christmas.

“It’s also a big part of Lionism to do what we do for the benefit of sight-deprived people,” explains Steven. The Lions coordinate eyeglass donations, offer vision screening and give financial assistance with eyeglasses or eye exams. Since 1992, the Club has organized the weeklong summer camping experience at Camp Mauchatea (which means “Be My Guide”), open free-of-charge to all Rhode Islanders aged 6 to 17 who are legally blind. With a 2:1 camper/staff ratio, the over 50 participants are provided with the rare opportunity to enjoy a camping adventure, with summer camp staples like swimming, boating, hiking, multi-sensory creative arts and adaptive cooking. Camp Mauchatea is funded through the annual Lions Golf Tournament, at the Laurel Lane Country Club in West Kingston.

In addition to the Golf Tournament, the Lions organize several other annual fundraising events, including the Sweeney Road Race and the Blessing of the Fleet festival in Galilee. Membership in the Narragansett Lions is open to all who have a passion for helping their neighbors. “All you need is dedication to serving the community,” says Steven. “We’re not there for some personal gain or to proliferate any kind of beliefs. We’re there to contribute to members of our community when they are in need.” 

Annual Events

Lions Club Golf Tournament
June 26
, 7:15am check-in

Laurel Lane Country Club
309 Laurel Lane, West Kingston

Blessing of the Fleet Weekend: Seafood Festival
July 24, 5-11pm
 July 25, 12-11pm

Memorial Square (near the Towers)
Ocean Road, Narragansett

Road Race
July 24,
 12pm check-in
Narragansett Pier School

235 South Pier Road, Narragansett

Blessing of the Fleet
July 25, 
Port of Galilee

More Than Four Walls and a Roof
South County Habitat for Humanity
helps families find their grounding

As part of a worldwide organization, South County Habitat for Humanity has done its part in providing 300,000 families across the globe with a stable place to live. The organization works in local chapters to build houses from the ground up, using volunteer labor, to provide homeownership opportunities for low-income families. South County Habitat for Humanity recently celebrated its 55th home build, when a local family took up residence in their new Charlestown home in November.

Executive Director of South County Habitat Lou Raymond says, “When you think about it, everything in life is based on having a place to be. If you don’t have a stable home, it’s very hard to gain any traction in life.”

Lou fondly remembers one family that South County Habitat was able to help, a single mother with two sons. “Before they got into the house, she was struggling to make ends meet and take care of her boys. When she was able to give her kids a stable place to be, they absolutely blossomed. They got involved in many civic activities and started doing really well in school. Now the oldest is graduating from law school and the youngest is heading off to college in the fall. If they hadn’t had the stability of the Habitat home and the financial opportunities it provides, they couldn’t have done that well.” Recent builds include a Home for a Hero, providing housing for a disabled veteran. The house dedication is open to the public and will take place on May 16 at 122 Franziska Noring Lane in Kingston. The organization also runs the Re-Store, located at 1555 Shannock Road in Charlestown, offering donated housing materials, furniture and furnishings at low prices to further support its efforts.
“Our work is important not only for what it provides to the community and the families we serve, but for how it brings the community together. We need a lot of volunteers to come together and work as a group,” Lou says. “This is what builds the community.”

1555 Shannock Road
Shannock, 213-6711

Upcoming events

House Dedication
May 16

122 Franziska Noring Lane, Kingston
Open to the public

Girl Power
The Women’s Club of South County

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) is an international organization that seeks to “live the volunteer spirit” by supporting local organizations in need. Founded in 1890, it is the oldest women’s volunteer community service organization in the country. The GFWC Women’s Club of South County was founded in 1962 and draws inspiration from human right advocates like Eleanor Roosevelt, who once said, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourselves.” Team Leader for Community Outreach Diana Crane adds, “She realized she could not do it alone. Many hands make light of the work.”

The GFWC Women’s Club of South County provides a forum for women to discuss and address issues of concern to the community. The chapter has chosen to focus on four areas of service: arts, conservation, education and social services. Through their yearly fundraiser, the Book and Author Luncheon, they fund the Grow Hope Community Grant Initiative, which makes contributions to Washington County non-profits impacting these four areas.

The Club touches many areas of the community, from the Rolling Library volunteers who deliver books and visit with homebound people to running a children’s essay contest for middle-school children to write about an organization they feel is deserving of a donation. Four essays are selected and each child is able to present a check to the organization they’ve chosen. Recently, the Club created a program called “Peace in Our Back Yard,” using theater arts to expose the root of bullying. Children wrote plays based on bullying that were staged at the Courthouse Center for the Arts. The Domestic Violence Resource Center partnered with them on the project and it included an art show and 5K Road Race.

They also fund a scholarship invested with the Rhode Island Foundation that helps women returning to higher education, with preference given to highly motivated, low-income single women with children who need further education or training to become self-supporting. “One of my favorite stories,” says Diana, “is a young woman whose father owned an automobile repair shop. Her brothers did not want to take over the business, and with our help, she is now running the business herself.” 

Annual Event

Book and Author Luncheon Fundraiser
July 8
The Dunes Club

137 Boston Neck Road, Narragansett

Giving to Those Who Gave Everything
Operation Support Our Troops, Inc provides Wheels for Warriors

Mary Kay Salomone has five West Point graduates in her family. Both of her sons served overseas and her gratitude for their safe recovery sparked the desire to give back to those who have served and were not so fortunate. In 2002, she formed Operation Support Our Troops Inc, preparing supply boxes for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. While spending time at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Mary Kay was struck by the number of soldiers who were in wheelchairs and missing limbs. She remembered her own two sons and wondered how, if circumstances were different, they would be able to get their wheelchairs into their beloved Hondas. When she returned to her North Kingstown home, Wheels for Warriors was born.

“In April 2006,” says Mary Kay, “we gave our first vehicle to a young solider who had a brain injury and was paralyzed from the waist down. Since then, we’ve given modified, adapted vehicles to 35 soldiers, most of them non-commissioned officers who would have a hard time affording this on their own.” Wheels for Warriors provides the funds to purchase and adapt each vehicle to the specific needs of a wounded service member, working with their medical team to determine what type of modifications they require. Adaptions range from wheelchair ramps, power doors, EZ-Lock mechanisms to secure wheelchairs, and a rear or side-entry apparatus. The cost of the vehicles run between $35,000 and $40,000 and the modifications cost anywhere from $25,000 to $70,000, making them life-changing gifts to wounded soldiers.

“When we pass the keys over to a service member, they are not out one cent,” explains Mary Kay. “We pay all the taxes, titles, six months worth of insurance and give them a $500 gas card. We put a hand-made quilt in the van, a gift from one of our partner chapters in Wisconsin. We give the soldier’s wife or mother, whoever their caretaker is, a day of beauty at the spa. We buy gifts for their children, clothes for school or whatever they need.”

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