Awards presented at 12th annual Issues Forum in Narragansett
The Washington County Coalition for Children, the region’s key advocacy group for children and their families for more than a decade, chose Ella Whaley of Wakefield as this year’s “Champion for Children”, its most prestigious award. The Coalition presented the award and two others at its annual Children’s Issues Forum on May 29th in Narragansett.
President of South Kingstown Town Council,fierce advocate for individuals with special needs
The Coalition’s top award, the Champion for Children, went to Ella Whaley. “Her nomination called her ‘a relentless and longstanding advocate for people with special needs’,” said Pamela Watson, chair of the Coalition’s Champion for Children selection committee. “We agree wholeheartedly.”
A music and elementary education teacher for the North Kingstown schools for 32 years, Whaley also chaired the Special Education Advisory Committee to the South Kingston School Committee, where she served for 20 years. The nomination read, “She had an extraordinary command of special education policy and case law, and a presence at the Department of Education. Even more important, she seemed to know every parent with a special needs child in South Kingstown. She still advocates for any child when asked.”
Whaley was elected first to the South Kingstown School Committee, where she was Chair for four years, and then to the Town Council, where she has been president for past four years.
In announcing the award, Watson added, “Ella’s advocacy now extends to many other communities in the state. She is a presence when education leaders get together to discuss how best to serve the children who most need our support.”
Community Partnership Award to couple who spearheaded “Chalk It Up” event
After Pier Pizza co-owner Eva Gallant attended a two-day bullying prevention training last winter as a parent, the Coalition asked her to help raise awareness community-wide, reported Coalition Co-Chair Sean Walsh and chair of the award selection committee
“She and her husband Justin not only said ‘yes’ despite running a thriving pizza
business, helping to launch a mobile coffee business, and raising their children; they committed themselves and their business to make it happen,” said Walsh.
“Eva came up with the idea of conducting a chalk art event and solicited the South County Art Supply to donate the chalk. Justin rallied the Wakefield Village Association and the South Kingstown Town Council.
“This event simply would not have happened without their commitment, creativity, and leadership.” Chalk It Up ultimately enlisted 35 youth, 25 adults, and business owners, in “chalking up” downtown Wakefield with anti-bullying messages, with drawings on sidewalks and parking lots..
The Gallants have owned Pier Pizza, with shops in Warwick, Wakefield, and North Kingstown, for 14 years. They also ran a renewable energy consulting company called Green Dream Construction. Ms. Gallant also belongs to the “Solar System Ambassadors Program” of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Through it, she has hosted such events as building film canister rockets with 5th graders at the Broad Rock Middle School in Wakefield, leading a discussion on the sun, SolarMax, and Earth at the PeaceDale Library, and speaking on rockets and Newton’s 3rd Law at the Robert Beverly Hale Library in South Kingstown.
Social Worker and RIC Professor Scott Mueller named “Champion for Community Change”
The Coalition also honored Stephen Scott Mueller, MSW, and Program Chair of the BSW Program at Rhode Island College, with its Champion for Community Change award. The Coalition only presents the award to one of its nearly 100 members of advocates, social workers, educators, legislators, parents, and other community leaders who “serves as both catalyst and facilitator for improved services” and collaborates “to make things happen,” said Walsh.
“Scott has been with the Coalition since the beginning,” Walsh pointed out. “He helped plan and orchestrate our very first Children’s Issues Forum in 2003 and he’s been helping guide our efforts ever since. He has advocated for children and families with state leaders and potential funders, facilitated our strategic planning, planned many of our major events, and chaired key committees,” he added. “Though his work is often behind the scenes, Scott is largely responsible for the Coalition’s success over the years.”
Mueller, who recently also received a Distinguished Service Award from the National School Boards Association, has served on the South Kingstown School Committee for 22 years. He was instrumental in developing and implementing the professional development program for the Rhode Island Association of School Committees. “We’re long overdue in recognizing Scott’s many contributions,” Walsh said. “I’m glad we did so today.” Mueller lives in Wakefield.