WOONSOCKET – What do the Boston Red Sox, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island all have in common?
If you’ve driven through Little Rhody on the interstates often enough, you may already know – they’re among a handful of organizations authorized to raise charitable funds through the sale of customized license plates issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Now it looks like the DMV’s crop of Special Design Charity Plates will get an addition that’s as homegrown as meat pies and dynamites: the Villa Novan Pride registration plate.
With a push from State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket), the plates got the greenlight from the General Assembly in the waning moments of the 2013 legislative session just over a week ago.
Sports, music and arts programs that have been running on life support at Woonsocket High School will be the exclusive beneficiaries from the sale of the tags, which would cost $40 more than a generic registration. Half of the fee would go to the cash-strapped Woonsocket Education Department, the other half to the state’s general fund.
Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan said she had no idea state lawmakers were even contemplating such a measure when she learned the law had been passed.
“It was music to my ears,” said Donoyan. “Any way we can bring back the luster to our music and arts programs that have been cut in so many ways, that’s a gift, and we’re thrilled by it.”
The bill, which was introduced on the hectic, final day of the legislative session, was a kind of last-minute inspiration, says Baldelli-Hunt. The lawmaker says she saw the opportunity when colleagues started talking about similar proposals.
“I think we had a couple of pieces of legislation pertaining to license plates and I thought, ‘you know what, this would be a little bit of a boost in spirits for the community...why not?’”
“I think it’s good for the community,” she said. “I think it shows we have spirit in this community and this is a way of being creative to generate some funds that benefit students.”
The one caveat embedded in the bill is that the WED must field orders for no fewer than 900 of the charity plates or the DMV won’t produce any at all.
“It’s the break-even point, if you will,” says State Sen. Roger Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland), who introduced the companion legislation in the Senate.
“Those last three or four days of the session ideas were flying all over the place,” Picard recalls. “There were a lot of license plate ideas. Lisa contacted me and said, ‘Why don’t we do license plates for Villa Novans?’ She introduced her bill in the House and I introduced mine in the Senate at the same time.”
“It was a very unique idea, just a very unique way to try to help out arts and athletic programs at Woonsocket High School,” he said.
Officials are confident there will be sufficient demand from the community for the DMV to proceed with production. Donoyan says the school department will make sure parents know the charity plate is available and encourage them to purchase one. Baldelli-Hunt says she knows of WHS graduates from as far back as the 1970s who have already told her they’d buy the plates if they were available.
The final design of the plate must be approved by the DMV, but if Baldelli-Hunt has her druthers it will include WHS’s trademark logo of an American Indian in headdress along with the inscription, “Villa Novan Pride.”
If approved, the Villa Novan tags will be in good company. The DMV says there are currently eight charity plates in circulation. One features the image of Mr. Potato Head, with proceeds going to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Another, graced by the image of an endangered raptor, supports the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Save the Bay. Yet another depicting the Plum Island Lighthouse in Wickford Cove is dedicated to the restoration efforts of Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse.
Fans of the Red Sox and the New England Patriots can also buy designer plates to support charitable causes selected by the sports teams.
Brand-name plates are also authorized for the Bristol Fourth of July Parade, the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and the Rhode Island Breast Cancer Coalition.
But the legislature has never before authorized the DMV to commission license plates on behalf of a high school, according to Baldelli-Hunt.
“I believe we are the first,” she says.