RCAP Solutions’ Caribbean Team Participates in USDA Rural Development Stakeholder Meeting with Secretary of Agriculture

Written By: Juan Campos Collazo, Community Specialist

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, hosted a discussion with stakeholders in Puerto Rico, including community groups and economic development officials, to discuss the importance and impact of the Rural Partners Network (RPN). The purpose of this conversation was to encourage further development of the community networks. Secretary Vilsack wanted to hear directly from stakeholders about the benefits, opportunities, and their hopes for the RPN in Puerto Rico.

Background: In April 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA launched the Rural Partners Network, an all-of-government program to help people living in rural areas access federal funding and resources to create thriving communities. The network is working in 36 rural and tribal community networks; three of those community networks will serve regions in Puerto Rico. These community networks were selected through a series of deliberations with state directors and teams from RPN states, and additional consultations with prospective community networks. Each of these networks will be supported by up to four full-time federal staff who live and work locally. These community liaisons help communities navigate federal programs, build relationships, identify community-driven solutions, and develop successful applications for funding.

Cohort I: The first RPN Cohort was announced in April 2022 and included the launch of community networks in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Presently, participating community networks are selecting their initial projects and refining their long-term priorities (i.e., future projects); USDA will organize federal partners to support these initial projects in an effort to secure early wins on behalf of the network. Additionally, thirteen staff have been hired to support these community networks with the only outstanding positions being an additional liaison in Mississippi, Kentucky, and New Mexico, and supervisory positions in Mississippi, Georgia, and Kentucky. Every Cohort I state has some level of RPN staff in place that are engaging with networks to facilitate a community-driven vision.

Cohort II: The second RPN Cohort includes Wisconsin, West Virginia, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Alaska, and North Carolina. Secretary Vilsack announced the inclusion of Puerto Rico in November 2022, but did not announce the specific community networks in Puerto Rico (nor in Alaska) since the selection process was interrupted by recent natural disasters.

Secretary Vilsack wanted to know from each of the panelists about the kind of work we do and how it relates to the Rural Partners Network. RCAP Solutions staff explained that we are part of a national affiliate, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), providing rural communities with on-site technical assistance and training to help small, rural communities address their drinking water, wastewater, and other community development needs. In addition, RCAP Solutions staff elaborated on how we help these communities access dollars from state and federal agencies for necessary infrastructure upgrades and improvements. RCAP Solutions also acts as a liaison between these communities and USDA Rural Development funding programs in Puerto Rico. The technical assistance provided by RCAP Solutions to the communities is free of charge and is funded under the grants from the USDA , EPA, and HHS.

A question arose from the secretary about what we consider to problems in achieving economic development. The mayor of Coamo, Puerto Rico pointed out the decrease of population as one of the most relevant problems, because of the lack of professionals, the decrease of laborers, and the decrease of economic movement. The mayor of Villalba, Puerto Rico mentioned the lack of agriculture development in Puerto Rico as a problem, and noted a dependance on foreign imports.

RCAP Solutions expressed that not all the rural communities have the commitment to improve their capacity and our work depends on community collaboration to achieve their goals and improve their quality of life.

Finally, the secretary advised to all the partners, especially the mayors, to first identify an economical driver and then write proposals based on it. He referenced the example from the mayor of Villalba, who identified the agriculture as an economical driver. The meeting ended with the thanks from Secretary Vilsack and from the USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, Maximiliano Tujillo.

Proposed Legislation Would Enable Statewide Drinking Water Protections and Financial Assistance for Massachusetts Households With Private Wells

It’s time to promote equitable access to safe, clean drinking water across the state!

Right now, many Massachusetts residents who rely on private wells are consuming water that may be unsafe. Over 500,000 people throughout the Commonwealth rely on these wells, yet there are no statewide regulations to ensure private well water is safe from harmful contaminants such as PFAS, arsenic, radon, uranium, and more. In contrast, public water systems are regulated by the state and are subject to routine monitoring.

In January, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Dan Sena, and Representative Smitty Pignatelli filed legislation which would provide equitable access to safe drinking water for all Massachusetts residents – regardless of where they live and what their financial resources are.

An Act Promoting Drinking Water Quality for All (SD.2387/HD.3322) would enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to develop regulations which would provide minimum statewide water quality standards for private wells supplying drinking water.

The regulations themselves would be developed by drinking water experts at MassDEP, likely in consultation with a technical advisory group and with a process for public input. To maximize public benefit, the bill would require MassDEP to evaluate practices to minimize the paperwork burden for affected parties.

In addition, the bill would expand the existing MassHousing Septic Repair Loan Program (SRLP) to provide low-income homeowners with access to financial assistance to remediate contaminated private wells.

“The importance of testing your well water is reflected in this important legislation put forth by Senator Eldridge, Representative Sena, and Representative Pignatelli,” said Brian D. Scales, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “Too many homeowners take for granted that their water is safe and clean. Water is all around us, we bathe in it, cook with it, and drink it on a daily basis. The only way to ensure all this water is clean and safe to consume is to have it tested.”

“We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Eldridge, Representative Sena, and Representative Pignatelli in addressing long-standing drinking water inequities,” explained Amie Shei, PhD, President & CEO of The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. “The state regulates the wastewater leaving a home, yet it does not regulate private well water entering a home and being consumed. This legislation closes an important gap in access to safe drinking water.”

RCAP Solutions and The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts are working together to improve access to safe drinking water for private well owners. From 2020 to 2022, the Private Well Program to Protect Public Health, which has received nearly $1.5 million in grant funding from the Foundation, has conducted over 500 water quality tests across several Massachusetts towns and found that approximately 32% of wells had levels of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks. The Coalition for Safe Drinking Water was recently formed as a way to engage a wide range of stakeholders in working together to ensure safe drinking water for all Massachusetts residents.

For more information about this legislation, our private well programming, and the Coalition for Safe Drinking Water, please visit: www.whatsinyourwellwater.org.

Synergy Spotlight: Meet Pat Byrnes, Development Advisor

The name Pat Byrnes is well-known throughout the Massachusetts affordable housing industry, and for good reason. Throughout her extremely tenured career, Pat has worked for many organizations throughout the Commonwealth, including the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, MassHousing, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts (RHN), and most recently, RCAP Solutions.

Born into a family who immigrated from Italy, Pat grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although she has worked in other states on both the east and west coasts, Western Massachusetts has always been her home. Pat’s very first job was working in retail at a children’s clothing store while in high school. This sparked her love of retail, leading to an executive training opportunity with Filene’s, which, she explained, “set my career on fire.”

One of Pat’s earliest accomplishments was working as a property manager at a 160-unit affordable housing complex in Springfield. Pat was in her early 20’s when her work managing such a large complex got her noticed by industry leaders. She moved to Boston, which was “the big click” for her career in housing, she loved what it stood for and that, much like retail, many of the industry leaders were women.

Later, Pat was recruited by DHCD and RHN to write the contract for the state’s Section 8 Homeownership Program. Upon completion of this project, Pat’s skills proved to be invaluable, and thus she was hired at RHN full-time. Pat worked there for 16 years, where she made strides assisting the nine Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs), hosting annual conferences, and working with legislators and advocates to ensure proper funding for affordable housing programs and developments across Massachusetts.

During her substantial time at RHN, Pat worked together with Maureen Fitzgerald, then-Executive Director of the organization, to ensure fair and equal treatment for the people we all collectively serve, as well as to uphold respect for the staff. These two female trailblazers brought the agency to where it is today – the forefront – and eventually positioned it for success under new leadership.

“For 16 years, I had the pleasure of working as a team with Pat Byrnes at the Regional Housing Network. Her efforts were woven into everything that the Network accomplished”, said Maureen, “Pat is one of the most mission-driven, smartest people I know in the housing industry. She is also one of the warmest, funniest, most generous people I know.  RCAP Solutions is very lucky to have her on board!”

Pat reflected on her history at RHN, stating, “For me and for Maureen, it was a shared experience. Whatever one accomplished, was also the accomplishment of the other. We were kind of seamless.”

Pat has worked tirelessly with other industry leaders, including Nancy Rivera, Housing Advisor at RCAP Solutions, who said, “Pat and I have known each other for more than 40 years. During this time, I’ve had the pleasure of working and participating with Pat in a variety of projects and subcommittees. Her knowledge and expertise have been invaluable. She is such a wealth of information in the housing industry and is always willing to share. Pat is a very kind, caring, and loving person. She is very sympathetic and is willing to support causes by contributing her time or helping monetarily. Pat is not only my co-worker, but she has also been a true friend to me and many of us who know her.”

In late 2019, Pat joined RCAP Solutions as the Development Advisor and currently works extensively with the organization’s housing department and in support of grant-writing activities. She is always up for a challenge and ready to assist with any new project which lands in her inbox. Pat’s extensive experience, knowledge of the housing industry, and familiarity with the non-profit world has proven an integral resource for the many RCAP Solutions staff members who collaborate with her on a daily basis.

When asked what she is most passionate about, Pat said, “People having homes – people having keys to a door that nobody else has. That has been a driving force of mine for years.”

Pat is a member of the board of directors at Valley Community Development in Northampton. When she is not working to ensure people have safe homes, she is often working to ensure animals have safe homes – Pat is a volunteer at her local animal shelter. Pat is also an avid college basketball fan and currently enjoys rooting for the Providence Friars, an NCAA Division I team.

Brian Scales, President & CEO at RCAP Solutions remarked, “I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Pat for a number of years. When she came to work at RCAP Solutions, she brought with her a wealth of knowledge and experience; she very quickly became a vital member of our team. I am extremely grateful for all of her input and can rely on her to accomplish anything put before her, including assisting in filling out March Madness brackets.”

Fun Facts About Pat:

  • Hometown: Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Favorite Book: Still Life by Louise Penny
  • Favorite Movie: The Big Easy directed by Jim McBride
  • Favorite Food: Anything Italian
  • Favorite Musician: Tish Hinojosa (folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist)
  • Historical Figure She’d Like to Meet: Josephine Baker (American-born French dancer, singer, actress, and civil rights activist)
  • Place She’d Like to Travel to: Italy

Groton Commons Accepting Applications for Studio & One-Bedroom Apartments

A Place You Can Call Home!

Groton Commons, one of our Affordable Senior/Accessible Housing properties located in Groton, Massachusetts, is now accepting applications for studio and one-bedroom apartments!

The facility is set in a quiet, rural area, only minutes from groceries, banks, retail shops, and other conveniences; and only 35 miles from Boston.

These beautifully designed, 100% smoke-free studio and one-bedroom apartments are equipped with spacious closets, emergency pull cords, cable TV/internet hookup, air conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting, ample storage, kitchens with modern appliances, and showers with grab bars.

Head of household must be 62 or older, OR mobility impaired. Residents must be income-eligible. Qualified applicants pay 30% of their monthly adjusted income for rent. Heat and hot water are provided. Residents are responsible for electricity, telephone, and cable services.

For more information, contact management at: (978) 448-9551 or GrotonCommons@rcapsolutions.org

Click Here for Groton Commons Application

Save the Date! Water Auditing & Leakage Management Training for Central Pennsylvania Water Utilities

Through this two-part instructional training, we aim to advance the knowledge and skills of utilities in regard to water auditing and leakage management.

When: April 11 & 18, 2023 • 8:30 AM – 3:15 PM (both days)
Where: Toftrees Golf Resort • 1 Country Club Lane State College, PA 16803
Add To Calendar

Register Here

Nationwide, an estimated six billion gallons of water per day is taken from water sources but never reaches the customer; this is enough water to supply the drinking water needs of the ten largest cities in the United States. Water loss also results in revenue loss for many utilities.

RCAP Solutions, Cavanaugh & Associates, P.A. and Kunkel Water Efficiency Consulting are hosting a two-part instructional training in April 2023. We aim to advance the knowledge and skills of utilities in regard to water auditing and leakage management. The training is part of a project sponsored by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to elevate the efficiency of water utilities in Centre County, PA and adjacent counties.

It is intended that the training will qualify for continuing education hours for certified water system operators under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). There is no cost to attend this event. Lunch will be provided.

Register today, mark your calendars, and be on the lookout for additional information in the coming weeks!

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Sukhwindar Singh, Pennsylvania State Manager, via email: ssingh@rcapsolutions.org or phone: (814) 861-7072

John and Rebecca’s Story: Using Funds From the Home Modification Loan Program to Improve a Loved One’s Quality of Life

John and his wife Rebecca have been living in their Shrewsbury, Massachusetts home for over 40 years. Rebecca, who met John at a company they formerly worked at, is an avid ornamentalist and hangs the walls of their house with numerous pieces of art and other décor, making their home their home feel truly cozy.

During 2014, the couple went to the doctor after noticing changes in Rebecca’s behavior, such as her difficulty remembering things and confusion when performing daily activities. Rebecca was shortly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

For several years the disease progressed. Rebecca began to use a wheelchair and John looked for new ways to make their home more accessible.

John and Rebecca’s bathroom proved difficult for mobility, as Rebecca could not lift herself into the bathtub-shower. For Rebecca to stay clean, she was given sponge baths. Their caregiver, who tends to Rebecca while John is at work, informed John of the Home Modification Loan Program (HMLP) and how it could improve Rebecca’s quality of life.

After applying for the loan, identifying a certified contractor, and construction was completed, John and Rebecca’s old bathtub-shower was replaced with an ADA compliant barrier-free shower, allowing Rebecca to be rolled into the shower using a shower wheelchair.

Thanks to HMLP, Rebecca is now able to take frequent showers with ease and John has peace of mind knowing that his wife can cleanse safely. After taking her first shower in several years, Rebecca, who has limited vocal capabilities, managed to express her gratitude by saying the words “thank you” and giving a kiss to the caregiver who was assisting her.

RCAP Solutions is Providing Water Auditing and Leakage Management Assistance to Water Utilities in the Centre County, PA Region

We are pleased to reach out and share the news that RCAP Solutions is partnering with Cavanaugh & Associates, P.A. and Kunkel Water Efficiency Consulting to provide technical assistance and training to water utilities in the Bald Eagle Creek Watershed area of Centre County, Pennsylvania on water auditing and leakage management. Utilities will learn best practice methods for compiling an annual water audit and water loss control techniques, helping them conserve large volumes of water, and enabling them to be more financially resilient and environmentally sustainable. This program is made possible thanks to generous funding from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Water utilities in the Bald Eagle Creek Watershed and adjacent areas are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. Because the Bald Eagle Creek Watershed in Centre County is a designated priority watershed and potentially water stressed area, conservation efforts play an important role in environmental sustainability. RCAP Solutions and its technical assistance partners will be offering services based on the American Water Works Association (AWWA)’s best practice and water auditing and leakage management methods.

The services being offered include:

  • AWWA Water Audit Training: We will be hosting a 2-day in-person training during the Spring of 2023. This training will be open to all utilities in Centre County, Pennsylvania and nearby communities and will provide education on the AWWA Free Water Audit Software and advanced leakage management methods. It is intended that the training will qualify for continuing education hours for certified water system operators under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). There is no cost to the water utility to attend this event. Additional information regarding this event will be announced soon. It is expected that the training will be repeated later in 2023 and 2024.
  • Water Audit Validation & Operational Assessments: For select utilities, we will be conducting a detailed evaluation of their water audit (known as a water audit validation), including inspection and evaluation of production flowmeters and supply data, leak and main break data, pressure management practices, customer metering and billing practices, review of the costs of water production and operations, and development of recommendations for improvements in measuring water withdrawals, water auditing, and leakage management. For most water utilities this service will be at no cost.
  • Implement Advanced Leakage Management: For select utilities, we will provide engineering guidance and direction to install equipment (funded by our grant from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission) to establish advanced leakage controls, which may include installation of one or more District Metered Areas (DMA), advanced pressure management, leak noise logging/correlation, and other techniques. Participating utilities may be requested to make a modest in-kind funding contribution to participate at this level of the program.

Nationwide, an estimated six billion gallons of water per day is taken from water sources but never reaches the customer; this is enough water to supply the drinking water needs of the ten largest cities in the United States. Water loss also results in revenue loss for many utilities.

Through this initiative, RCAP Solutions and its partners aim to advance the knowledge and skills of utilities in regard to water loss control techniques, help them to conserve water, and to improve their financial resiliency and environmental sustainability.

If your utility is interested in participating in this program or would like further information, please contact Sukhwindar Singh, Pennsylvania State Manager, via email: ssingh@rcapsolutions.org or phone: (412) 554-2572

Featured Career Opportunity: Apartment Maintenance Technician

Multiple Openings – Apply Today!

Our affordable housing apartments for seniors, families, and individuals with disabilities/mobility impairments would not function successfully if it weren’t for our awesome maintenance team! And guess what? Our team is growing!

RCAP Solutions is hiring several maintenance technicians to staff our apartment complexes across Central Massachusetts! We have openings at our Groton, Hubbardston, and Worcester locations.

You can be part of this hardworking, collaborative team who use their skills to help our residents – and each other – in making these apartments feel like home.

We offer an outstanding benefits package; including 14 paid holidays, free life insurance, and more! Interested candidates should submit their resume and cover letter to HR@rcapsolutions.org.

Maintenance Technician Position Description

Senior Maintenance Technician Position Description

RCAP Solutions has earned a 2022 Gold Seal of Transparency with Candid

We have earned a 2022 Gold Seal of Transparency with Candid! Learn more about our organization through our nonprofit profile, here.

By sharing our impact, strategies, and financials, we aim to be transparent about our efforts to support the power and potential of communities.

Rockdale House Accepting Applications for Studio & One-Bedroom Apartments

A Place You Can Call Home!

Rockdale House Apartments, one of our Affordable Senior/Accessible Housing properties located in Northbridge, Massachusetts, is now accepting applications for studio and one-bedroom apartments!

Head of household must be 62 or older, OR mobility impaired. Residents must be income-eligible.

For more information, contact management at: 508-234-9263 or RockdaleHouse@rcapsolutions.org

Click Here for Rockdale House Apartments Application