Dream comes true for determined Smithfield woman

By Brittni Henderson

Sometimes our dreams come true. Greenville’s Kelsey Brackett is living proof.
Kelsey Brackett is Smithfield’s only female firefighter, a job she imagined doing from a young age. Hard work, a willingness to learn, strong family support and single-minded focus got her there.
“I really would never want to be anything else,” she said just days before her swearing-in on Jan. 30.
As a determined young woman from the start, Brackett never settled for mediocrity. From a young age she knew what she wanted in her life—and she made it happen. She turned a longtime goal into a career. And she never let her gender act as a roadblock in a field dominated by men.
Brackett, 26, grew up in Chepachet, graduated from Ponaganset High School in 2007, and now lives in Greenville. As a young girl she was convinced a career in healthcare would be the perfect fit. When she was 15, however, Brackett shadowed a close friend’s father at work as a firefighter/EMT for the Harmony Fire Department. The high-intensity and life-saving fire department environment changed her mind about her future.
Brackett earned her EMT Basic license when she was 17. Two years later she earned a paramedic license. With those two licenses in hand she studied for the tests to apply for firefighter jobs in Rhode Island.
She has learned there is more to the job that acquiring licenses and passing technical tests.
“Teamwork and communication are two of the most important skills,” Brackett said. She learned the value of the traits from playing team sports.
“To be a winning team, everyone needs to communicate,” she said. “We need to let each other know what’s going on, when something doesn’t look right, or what needs to get done.”
Growing up in a household with two brothers helps now that she works in a mostly male environment.
“Whether we are joking around or helping each other out with whatever needed to get done, it’s always a fun time,” Brackett said. “On our downtime we keep things clean, fix whatever’s broken, read new articles or magazines, and do a lot of training.”
Brackett is assigned to the Farnum Pike station in Georgiaville.
Brackett asserts that gender doesn’t matter when you are on the job.
“I think if you can do the job, there shouldn’t be any gender bias,” she says.
Brackett also attributes her success to her mentor, Gary Pinault.
“My Captain, Mike LeBlanc, assigned [him] as my mentor,” she said. “He’s very knowledgeable and open to help with anything I have questions about. With all of his experience, he’s able to give me tips and pointers on how to do certain tasks. Work smarter, not harder!”
Brackett was officially hired by the Smithfield Fire Department on May 1, 2015, and after successfully completing probation was sworn in on Jan. 30. She loves keeping busy by responding to emergency calls and asserts that she does not have one “least favorite” part of her job.
Outside of work, Brackett enjoys spending time with her husband, infant son, working out at the gym, taking her dog for walks, and supporting her beloved New England Patriots. She is grateful for the unconditional love and support that she received from her husband and family as she strived for her goal to work as a firefighter.
“They never told me I couldn’t do it,” said Brackett.
She never pondered or even daydreamed about doing something else with her life.
Having reached her dream, Brackett offers others pursuing their own dreams this advice: “Always give 110 percent and never give up.”

We’ve Moved!

By Jane Fusco

Entering into the driveway of 543 Putnam Pike from Sprague Street off of Route 44 in Greenville is a smoky grey, carved owl that sits atop a wooden perch, ready to greet workers and visitors to the new office of The Smithfield Times.

Publisher John J. Tassoni Jr. was looking at another piece of property down the road when the wise owl beckoned him to take a look at the vacant house that he seemed to be guarding.

One look and Tassoni was captivated by the 96-year-old house and all its potential.

“We outgrew our old office after just one year in operation,” said Tassoni. “The new office gives us more room and flexibility in a very appealing setting.”

The office moved on Jan. 30, from the busy highway of Route 102 to this quaint Dutch Colonial, which Tassoni painstakingly remodeled while maintaining much of the original structure, including the tongue-in-groove hardwood floors, rustic cabinetry, wooden ceiling beams, French doors, and large brick fireplace with oak breakfront, and corner curios.

New windows, fresh paint, new heating elements, and updating to electrical and fire codes were also part of the process to give the nearly 100-year-old house a bit of a facelift.

“It is an office building with the charm and charisma of a home,” Tassoni said. “It is a warm and welcoming place, just the way we want our readers to feel when they read our publications.”

A printer by trade, Tassoni purchased Your Smithfield Magazine in October 2014, changing the name to The Smithfield Times, operating out of the office on George Washington Highway.

Tassoni also publishes Common Ground, a statewide monthly newspaper dedicated to work issues, working families, businesses, and unions. In addition, Tassoni hosts two radio shows on AM Talk Radio 790: Common Ground Radio, Mondays 4-5 p.m., a complement to the newspaper with discussion on the business-related topics; and Recovery Radio, Mondays 3-4 p.m., which provides useful information to people suffering from addictions.

Body shaming declares war on bodies, ourselves

By Brittni Henderson

“Do you even eat?” An acquaintance once asked me with a coy smile on her face.

As I stood there in shock, a few thoughts ran through my mind. Without trying to make a face of pure rage and confusion, I thought about responding with, “Yes, believe it or not, I just had a piece of pizza.” But instead I smiled and awkwardly said, “Thanks!” and walked away.

Sadly, I think this person was trying to give me a “compliment” on my body, but to me it was more of an insult if the intent of the message is really dissected. First of all, there are ways far kinder than such an abrupt and honestly random question. Next, one can never really know if the reason a person’s body looks a certain way is due to a personal or health related choice that this individual would rather not share.

Coming from the point of view of a rather thin, young female, I know it sounds crazy that I would take offense to someone complimenting my body, but when you can tell there is harmful or even purposeful hatred behind a comment, it makes you feel very uncomfortable.

For weeks I replayed that seemingly unimportant moment over again and again in my mind. Why do we even make comments about the bodies of others in the first place? If someone is too skinny, they’re automatically deemed “sick.” If someone is overweight, we automatically assume that they have no regard for his or her health. A woman who is curvier might strive to be the stick-thin model, while the same svelte woman might wish she had a little more meat on her bones.

Dove, the soap company, teamed with Twitter to mine social media for body shaming data in conjunction with the publicity surrounding the 2015 Oscar Awards and found that four out of every five negative beauty tweets in 2014 were written by women, women wrote more than 5 million negative tweets in 2014 and women are 50 percent more likely to say something negative, rather than something positive about themselves on social media.

“It is important to promote positive body image because even relatively minor body concerns may lead to exercise avoidance in woman; use of anabolic steroids and other drugs to try to increase muscularity, particularly in men; and unhealthy eating behaviors, especially in women,” according to psychology Professor Sarah Grogan, Manchester Metropolitan University in England, in an article in “Sex Roles – A Journal of Research” in 2010.

What it comes down to is: many of us are unhappy with the way we look, so we use harmful words and messages towards others as a defense. Positive and negative messages about our appearance are putting us at war with our bodies.

Dr. Christina Tortolani, is a Staff Psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital in the Hasbro Partial Hospital Program. She treats children, adolescents, and young adults with eating disorders and other body image issues.

“What we pay attention to gains importance. If others are making comments about our bodies, we learn that our appearance matters—a lot,” Tortolani says. “We are bombarded with images and ideas around an unattainable ideal of thinness. The message: If you look a certain way, then you will be happy, successful, and fulfilled. We are socialized to place more importance on our bodies than on our own worth as people.”

Enter: body shaming

Without even delving into the lives of those people around me, I can find examples of this in the media instantaneously. One that sticks out to me the most, and is upsetting, is one of the more recent lingerie campaigns for plus-size women. Instead of embracing the fact that these women are blessed to have their body types—just as much as the “typical” bra and panty model—their marketing ploy was the “#ImNoAngel” message, one that puts them into the metaphorical ring up against the more popular “Angel” seen in Victoria’s Secret advertisements. Both groups of women are equally as beautiful, so why objectify one for being less so than the other? This also goes hand-in-hand with the commonly shared and re-tweeted phrase all over social media, “Real Women Have Curves.” It is fabulous to empower women in every way, but what you’re saying is that females whose bodies aren’t as voluptuous should feel like less of a woman. These ideas are what are making our views of self-image plummet to the depths of negativity.

For a young Smithfield woman, these derogatory comments went as far as affecting not only her views on herself, but her family’s, as well.

Hailey Grzych, 22, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion design a few years ago and has recently started her own line of lingerie. She frequently makes trips back to home to visit friends and family, but some people aren’t as welcoming as she’d like.

“Ever since I moved away, tons of people have made the comment that I’ve had a drug problem and that’s why I’ve lost weight,” Grzych shares. “For the record, I’ve never had a drug problem. Did these people see me, think ‘that girl is skinny,’ realize I live in Hollywood, decide they’re going to be mean for no reason at all, and the only comment they could come up with is that I do drugs?!”

For Gryzch, this is more than just a blow at her body image; it’s an insult to the hard work and dedication that she has put into living out a lifelong dream. The worst part is that she wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of these comments—her family members were questioned, too.

“It’s physically sickening to hear my mom ask me if I’m doing drugs,” Grzych says. “What’s even more sickening is when I know my brother hears something about me that’s untrue but we don’t even talk about it. You don’t realize the other issues people are dealing with behind the scenes, especially mental health-wise. Your one mean comment about someone’s body can really have a dangerous spiral of consequences for them.”

Instead of focusing on our overall self-esteem, things like how we think and feel, we put priority on body esteem, making the main focus only our outward appearance. This is concerning because it has the potential to develop into body image dissatisfaction and negative, critical self-talk, Tortolani said.

“Such self-talk could and frequently does lean to unhealthy dieting and exercise behavior, which puts one at risk for developing an eating disorder, which are dangerous, life-threatening illnesses,” Dr. Tortolani says.

Body shaming doesn’t just come from strangers. It can come from family members, too.

Shannon Caliri, 22, of Lincoln, knows that first hand. Caliri’s body went through a few major changes while she grew up and some people in her life made sure she knew about it. Whether it was when she lost a ton of weight during puberty or when she gained a few pounds after that, comments were always being spewed from every direction.

“The first person to point [my weight gain] out to me was either my grandfather or my dad, I can’t remember which one,” Caliri says, “but I specifically remember one of them saying, ‘Wow, you’re really getting a belly there!’”

Overtime, these statements made Caliri question her body type. Was her body supposed to look different, she wondered? She started feeling as though she was flawed for not having that “perfect” or “ideal” body. Since she was curvier from a young age, Caliri also dealt with comments about her breasts starting as far back as middle school.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone said, ‘you really shouldn’t be wearing that,’ I’d be a millionaire by now,” Caliri jokes. “I would walk into school with a pretty neutral top on, but because I had huge boobs that were extremely noticeable, it made the shirt appear ‘inappropriate.’ Getting told I didn’t have the ‘right’ body type to wear certain things got really frustrating for me. Why could a thin girl wear the same dress and be told she looks ‘cute,’ but I look ‘inappropriate’?”

Society is sometimes obsessed with telling us what to look like, and Caliri feels strongly about embracing the fact that we are all beautiful, instead of bashing each other in every way possible.

“Society tells us that fat is ugly, flat-chested isn’t sexy, and you have to be thin but still have womanly curves to be considered attractive,” says Caliri. “Because bigger women are put down so much for their weight, I think it makes them feel better to tear down the thinner individuals around them, make these women feel bad about themselves…and then no one wins!”

One 25-year-old female from Smithfield, who asked not to be identified, agrees that sometimes, even when she knew it was wrong, she’d find herself shaming the bodies of those women she strived to emulate.

“Growing up, I was always teased and called fat and constantly made fun of,” she said. “You would figure I would know how it feels to be hurt, but I still sometimes made comments to myself like, ‘Why are skinny people working out so much at the gym when they’re already skinny?’ I also have an under active thyroid condition which makes it more difficult for me to lose weight.”

This young woman admits to sometimes wondering why she was born with her body type, a body that she works so hard to have, while others can seemingly do nothing yet still have that “perfect” figure.

“What I told myself when I was body shamed is that I am lucky to have two arms, two legs, 10 fingers, and 10 toes,” she said. “I’m lucky I can run on the treadmill and I am lucky I can hear these people body shame because I am lucky enough to talk to answer them back.”

Dr. Tortolani helps her patients practice “mindfulness-based strategies,” which allow them to find acceptance and compassion within themselves. These activities help patients to focus more on what they can contribute, rather than what they look like. Individuals will feel more confident and develop a sense of purpose.

“Remember, your body is only one aspect of you,” Tortolani said. “Focus on other aspects of yourself that provide meaning and joy. Try to change your ‘cognitive channel’ away from negative self-talk, giving up on the goal of being ‘perfect.’ Become more media literate. Cast a critical eye on what you see, read, and hear, questioning what subtle messages about body image, health, and happiness are being communicated.”

Jolene Andrews, 31, of Attleboro, Mass. wasn’t able to use these positive self-talk mechanisms during a low point in her life. Body shaming had an adverse affect on her health, causing her to suffer from an eating disorder for a major portion of her life. Having always felt low body image, Andrews was diagnosed with anorexia four years ago. This diagnosis confused everyone around her because she had what seemed like a “great life.”

“I have a wonderful family and my parents are the most generous and caring parents anyone could ask for,” Andrews said, “but no one around me could understand depression or anorexia.”

Andrews felt depressed as far back as she can remember. Around age eight, she tried taking medication from her family’s bathroom cabinet to end her life, but her attempt did not come to fruition. Flash forward to her late teens, Andrews started dealing with her eating disorder, and thankfully saw a therapist who helped her find her way.

“Defeating anorexia was not an easy task and I do not wish that upon my worst enemy,” Andrews said. “I had to slowly start eating again. By going to therapy and learning more about myself, I was able to overcome it.”

We’ve all felt victimized or have caused others to feel belittled at some point in our lives. It is up to us to change the norm from negative to positive, to embrace those around us for their individual and unique beauty, and to just stop shaming others! The age-old aphorism taken from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew still apply: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

And Furthermore: Haven’t been there, never did that

We have become accustomed to Rhode Island being used as a unit of measure. You’ve probably heard it. You could fit 173 Rhode Islands into Texas. Florida could accommodate 42 of our state within its borders.

It might be small, but The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations does have the longest name. At 48 miles from top to bottom and 37 miles wide, it might be reasonable to assume if you come from here everybody knows everybody else. In a pocket-sized territory haven’t we all been every place and done everything there is to do?

Well, the Ocean State may be considered small (I prefer compact), but it’s not the backyard. Despite its 1,214 square mile size, Rhode Island has 400 miles of coast line which wend along the shore line and the meandering edges of our magnificent Narragansett Bay. There’s a lot more than meets the eye.

Yet, it sounds as if a life-long resident of the state has likely been exposed to all that matters . . . multiple times. However, as the cartoon character Little Abner was wont to say, “it hain’t necessarily so.”

In the present instance, for example, this writer has never been to Block Island. Nantucket, yes (several times), Martha’s Vineyard, uh-huh, Staten Island, yup, but never BI. Haven’t been to the Great Swamp either. Cedar Swamp, check. Great Swamp, nope.

Similarly, I have visited Rocky Point Park, Colt State Park, Roger Williams Park, Slater Park, and Wilcox Park in Westerly and a few others, but I never went to Crescent Park.

Been to Moonstone Beach (with my clothes on), Misquamicut with its legendary undertow, and many others, but not Matunuck. Went to the top of a couple of mountains in New Hampshire and Maine, but never hiked in (you go in from Route 6, not up) to Rhode Island’s highest peak, Jerimoth Hill in Foster.

Everybody who has lived here for any length of time has probably toured a Newport Mansion. Not me. I’ve gone to Blithewold in Bristol numerous times, visited the John Brown house in Providence, and the Smith-Appleby House right here in Smithfield countless times, but I haven’t crossed the thresholds of the famed “cottages.”

Staying with Newport, I have driven around Ocean Drive often, and once I walked dangerously far out on the surf -washed rocks off Brenton Point in Newport with a friend, but I haven’t done the Cliff Walk.

I tried skiing at Diamond Hill when you could do that, but I’ve never been to Yawgoo Valley. Have been a spectator at the Bristol Fourth of July Parade a few times, but not the Ancient and Horribles in Chepachet.

Given my background in journalism (with some side trips into academia) I have been on the campus of every college and university in the state except one. Sorry, Salve Regina.

Then there was the time I went to a church supper in Rice City. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to almost every city and town, but I can’t say I’m aware of ever having been in Wyoming, R.I.

Speaking of church-related things, I have been to the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the former Episcopal Cathedral of St. John, Temple Beth El, but never the very historic Truro Synagogue in Newport.

As for knowing everybody in a small state like ours, there is some truth to that. If you lived in Illinois or California or New York, you might never see your governor or senators or even your congressman or congresswoman unless you attended a campaign event.

Here you can run into Senator Jack Reed in a restaurant or the bookstore or see the mayor at a coffee shop. The late Buddy Cianci seemed to thrive on meeting people, as the saying went, “at the opening of an envelope.”

It probably isn’t good to use myself as a yardstick in this area, anyway. Due to the nature of my work, I probably interviewed every governor, senator, and congress person going back 30 years or more. Yet, even though she came from Smithfield, I have never met Governor Raimondo. Go figure.

Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century philosopher, essayist, and poet wrote: “I have travelled a good deal in Concord.” I bet there was a tavern or a fishing hole he missed, though.