A love story flows through Alberta Brook in Westport, Mass

By Jeffrey D. Wagner / The Herald-News (Fall River)

WESTPORT, Mass. — He was from Fall River. She was from New Bedford.

They met at a place in the middle of the two cities — a teen hangout in Dartmouth known as Lincoln Park.

The couple later settled in the middle of their home cities. They built a home on Robert Street in Westport, and built a family and a great life on a former dirt-road neighborhood powered by three generators.

Sixty-eight years later, Fernand Lavoie, 91, and his wife, Alberta, 86, are happily married and Fernand still likes to surprise Alberta. This time, he persuaded local and state officials to name a brook near his house after her.

As of Monday, Nov. 13, state and town records recognize a small brook near 179 Robert St. as Alberta Brook. The brook flows into Sawdy Pond.

When asked why he wanted the brook named after his wife, Fernand Lavoie laughed at what he considered a no-brainer question.

“The more people do for their spouses, the happier and longer their lives will be,” he said.

Still sharp at 91, Fernand Lavoie did his research and then turned to state representatives and the selectmen’s office for additional help. Lavoie and the officials learned that on a federal level, a natural feature cannot be named after a person who is alive.

Luckily, the state has no such restriction in place.

“The Massachusetts State Names Authority lies with the state geologist at UMass Amherst. This is the last stop in the ... process,” according to Lucy Tabit, the selectmen’s administrative assistant, who researched details for Lavoie.

“The state geologist makes the final recommendations based on his local research. He stated that the person for whom the natural feature is being named had to have made some significant contribution to the community. There has not been a public meeting process involved in naming cases.”

Lavoie realized all this and marveled at the uniqueness of his quest.

“An event like this happens once every 100 years,” he said.

Tabit and officials found that Lavoie has made a great contribution to his community. A resident of Robert Street since 1952, he has been measuring the water level and precipitation weekly on Sawdy Pond since 1975 as a courtesy to the City of Fall River. The pond is part of the city’s drinking water supply.

“He enjoys an exemplary character throughout our area and region and I believe this would be an extraordinary act of love on his part. Mr. Lavoie has been committed to this task for quite some time and approached my office four years ago,” State Rep. Paul Schmid wrote in a letter of support.

The letter was read by selectmen on Nov. 13 and the Lavoies were given an official proclamation by the board.

From left are Brian Valcourt, Richard Brewer, Fernard Lavoie and his wife Albert, Steve Ouellette, Shena Shufelt, and Ann Boxeler. [Photo from EverythingWestport.com]

From left are Brian Valcourt, Richard Brewer, Fernard Lavoie and his wife Albert, Steve Ouellette, Shena Shufelt, and Ann Boxeler. [Photo from EverythingWestport.com]

Fall River legislators get rundown on new regulations to help get people off welfare

(L-R) State Representative Paul Schmid, Joe Amaral, State Representative Alan Silvia, Commissioner Jeff McCue, State Representative Carole Fiola, and Bristol County Chamber of Commerce President Mike O’Sullivan

(L-R) State Representative Paul Schmid, Joe Amaral, State Representative Alan Silvia, Commissioner Jeff McCue, State Representative Carole Fiola, and Bristol County Chamber of Commerce President Mike O’Sullivan

By Kevin P. O’Connor 
Herald News Staff Reporter 

FALL RIVER — The answer floored him every time he heard it, but eventually he understood it was true, Joe Amaral said. Many of his employees were correct in turning down raises or more hours.

They couldn’t afford the extra money, Amaral said.

These are part time bus drivers and bus monitors at Amaral Bus of Westport. Most earn little enough to qualify for food stamps, child care subsidies, rental assistance, Amaral said.

Those people would lose more money in assistance than they would earn in extra pay, Amaral said. They worried that making more might threaten their child care arrangement or housing.

On Nov. 1, that changes, according to Jeff McCue, commissioner of the state Department of Transitional Assistance.

McCue was at the Fall River Career Center Thursday morning, outlining the effects of new legislation, shaped in part by Rep. Paul Schmid, which will reduce the “cliff effect,” the dramatic loss of benefits that people on state assistance face when they go to work.

The effect is enough to keep some people, especially young single mothers, from accepting jobs or more work, McCue said.

“If offered, they can take work,” McCue said. “It is our attempt to let people get a running start at getting out of poverty.”

The genesis came about two years ago when Schmid went to McCue and asked him if Amaral was correct, that people would lose money by going to work.

“Rep. Schmid said to me, ‘This can’t be true,’” McCue said. “I had to tell him it was.”

The cliff effect is an unintentional consequence of the welfare reform that was ushered in by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

The reforms shrank welfare roles in Massachusetts from 150,000 people in 1996 to 28,500 on the roles now.

“But we often operate in silos in government,” McCue said. “Some programs didn’t play very well together.” Examples were work programs and assistance.

The program was tested in Springfield for a year and will be rolled out statewide next month, McCue said.

No matter what changes happen in a family’s work life, they will be able to hold onto assistance for six months, even after they start a new job or add hours. In addition, they will be able to save up to $5,000, doubling the asset ceiling families face now.

Some programs, especially child care subsidies, will continue until a family reaches 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of three, that is around $40,000, McCue said.

After six months, the DTA will consider only 50 percent of the new earnings until the family reaches 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“This gives families a chance to save money and actually think about the future and make plans,” McCue said.

“Our clients make very shrewd financial decisions. They balance their family finances on the head of a pin. This will give them more flexibility.”

It will also give business more flexibility by being able to offer more hours to good workers without having to worry about immediate financial harm, Amaral said.

The next step, Schmid said, is to make sure business owners know of the new rules so they can convey them to employees.

“This is far from mission accomplished,” McCue said. “This is really our first foray into this.

“Some of the changes we are bringing in today are just scratching the surface.”

Email Kevin P. O’Connor at koconnor@heraldnews.com.

Need health insurance for 2019? HealthFirst can get you signed up with the Health Connector in Fall River

Need health insurance for 2019? HealthFirst can get you signed up with the Health Connector in Fall River

In the state of Massachusetts, just 3 percent of the population is without health insurance making it the highest insured state in the country. The SouthCoast, however, sees a greater rate of uninsured with 4.3 percent, and even higher in Fall River at 5.9 percent.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to Celebrate Newly Constructed Fr. Travassos Park and Quequechan River Rail Trail

fr-travassos-ribbon-cutting_2_orig.jpg

FALL RIVER- Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, Fall River Mayor Jaisel Correia, state legislators, and city and business officials gathered on Monday to celebrate and recognize the newly reconstructed Father Travassos Park and connecting Quequechan River Rail Trail with a ribbon cutting ceremony.  The park and trail are welcome additions to the Flint Neighborhood.

A partnership between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), and the City of Fall River yielded significant state funding dollars for the completion of both projects.  EEA’s Gateway City Parks Program awarded $8.2 million for the design and construction of trail along the Quequechan River, along with the reconstruction of Father Travassos Park.  In addition, nearly $3 million in MassDOT funding went toward trail construction. 
 
“It is incredibly important that children and families residing in communities like Fall River have access to quality parks and other outdoor recreational facilities to utilize,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The Baker-Polito Administration continues to build and strengthen its partnerships with municipalities, state and local officials, and other stakeholders to ensure green spaces, such as Father Travassos Park and the Quequechan Trail, are readily available for today’s citizens to benefit from and are protected for future generations to enjoy.”
 
 “The park and trail are valuable new amenities for the local community,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack.  “These new public spaces reflect the commitment of the Baker-Polito Administration to expand recreational opportunities and to promote safe, healthy and efficient transportation options.”
 
“The Commonwealth’s investment in the Flint neighborhood is a true testament to the economic viability of our community and Fall River as a whole,” said State Representative Paul A. Schmid (D-Westport).  “We are already beginning to see the benefits that the construction of Fr. Travassos Park and the rail trail have created.  I want to thank all those involved in making this project happen, including my colleagues in the Baker-Polito Administration and the City of Fall River.”
 
“The newly constructed Father Travassos Park and Quequechan Trail represent the importance of local-state partnerships in providing resources to our communities,” said State Senator Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport).  “Ensuring every family in Fall River has access to recreational and green space is critically important in our efforts to revitalize the city.”
 
Father Travassos Park and the Quequechan River Rail Trail are open to the public.