Ms. Pauline is a prominent figure in the Newport community, as she has dedicated many years to helping others. While attending Salve Regina University, I chose to write about Ms. Pauline for one of my communications courses. For years I could not find the article that I wrote about her, and then recently out of the blue, I found an old email with the article attached to it. Her story is worth sharing! And if you ever get the chance, sit down with Ms. Pauline and ask her to tell you a story. She has a whole lot to share! Looking back, I can't believe how much I learned just by asking her questions and listening to what she had to say. Here is my Feature Friday / Flashback Friday post about Ms. Pauline.
NEWPORT, R.I. - It’s Tuesday afternoon and the committee for the Homeless Coalition meets at the YMCA in Providence for their weekly meeting, inside a small enclosed room, with glass doors on one side and a dry erase board hanging on the white wall on the other side. Sitting in grey chairs that surrounded the grey wooden table, the committee members sat and discussed the preparations for the Journey Home March scheduled for May 21 to May 25. Plans for the march included walking for 50 miles; 10 miles each day, and stopping in the towns of Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingston, Wickford, and Warwick, where walkers would participate in rallies and other special events. One member in particular sat quietly at one end of the table, taking notes with a black ink Bic pen in her left hand. Dressed with a black blazer and a leopard print scarf around her neck, reading glasses resting on her nose, and dangling black earrings from her ears, she speaks up to ask a question concerning the march for the homeless, one of many social issues in Rhode Island, including the city of Newport.
Known to the Newport Community as “Ms. Pauline”, Pauline Perkins-Moye spends her days as an advocate for social issues. Perkins-Moye, the director for social services at the Florence Gray Senior Center, organizes activities and keeps programs running, in order to help people become self-reliant and self-sufficient. Working at the Gray Center, located in Newport Heights, Perkins-Moye is very much involved with its residents, case managing those that lived in Tonomy Hill. While renovation for Newport Heights continues, Perkins-Moye directs the residents to different programs and sends them newsletters, the most current addressing childhood obesity and diabetes. She oversees the activities at the senior center like bingo and cards and brings in special guest speakers to talk to the seniors about Medicare needs, scams and frauds, and elder abuse. Ruth Thumbtzen, a retired teacher for Newport Schools and a fellow committee member, describes Perkins-Moye as a tireless worker for human rights.
“She is the ultimate role model for someone like myself who is out and involved in the community,” Thumbtzen said.
Soon the Summer Feeding Program will begin, where Perkins-Moye picks up food and feeds local children at Miantonomi Park at lunch time. The purpose the Summer Feeding Program is to continue feeding the children who receive hot lunch throughout the school year. The program also brings in the Girl Scouts once a week and provides a literacy reading program to encourage students to continue reading while on break.
Aside from being committed to the Gray Center and the committees that she is a member of, Perkins-Moye volunteers as a Meal Mate at the Newport Hospital. Each Saturday morning for breakfast and Sunday evening for dinner, Perkins-Moye helps feed patients, makes their menus for the following day, and says prayers with them to help lift their spirits. Perkins-Moye was recognized at the Newport Hospital’s annual luncheon, along with other volunteers on Thursday, April 27, for volunteering 400 hours as a meal mate. With all the activities Perkins-Moye is involved in, she always has something to do.
“There’s never a time to be bored,” Perkins-Moye said. “There are choices out there.”
Growing up in Newport, Perkins-Moye learned the importance of the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." Children in the neighborhood of West Broadway during the 40s and 50s amused themselves outside, by playing hopscotch, mother may I, and steal the bacon. At a time when there was no television, little boys made horses out of mop sticks and old sheets and little girls made dollhouses out of cardboard boxes. Perkins-Moye's family lived in a home located at 4 Pearl St., which had kerosene lamps for lighting, since they had no electricity. They also bathed in a galvanized tub since there was no tub in their home. Many grew up poor at this time, including Perkins-Moye and her siblings.
“I grew up hungry”, Perkins-Moye said. “We didn’t have much to eat.”
In December of 1946, about a week before Christmas, Perkins-Moye's mother had left their home to iron clothes at her grandmother’s house. Perkins-Moye's father was in the army and had been sent to Korea at the time. Eight children including Perkins-Moye played in the house while their mother was gone, when a fire broke out. All of them were able to get out, but their house had burned down. Perkins-Moye was only in the fifth grade when this horrible event occurred. According to her fifth grade teacher Sidney Williams, who said Perkins-Moye was very pleasant and got along well with her classmates, was provided help and support from the faculty and students of Cranston-Calvert, where she had attended elementary school. Williams organized a drive within the class to collect food, clothing, and any other necessities Perkins-Moye's family would need, and then brought the items to their home.
The saying "There’s a reason for everything," explains why Perkins-Moye has chosen to do the things she does today. Perkins-Moye never forgot what her teacher had done for her and her family and to this day, they continue to keep in touch. They both consider each other to be family, Perkins-Moye referring to Williams as her father and Williams referring to her as his daughter.
“She’s more like a daughter to me,” Williams said.
It is from this event that Perkins-Moye made a very important decision in her life that would have an effect on her future. Williams had inspired Perkins-Moye to go out and do something for other people.
“He taught me more than reading and math,” Perkins-Moye said. “He taught me how to share with people.”
In the late 60’s, Perkins-Moye began joining different marches in Newport, to fight against neighborhood issues such as better water piping and slum landlords. As a mother of three, who lived on the third floor of an apartment building with leaking pipes, Perkins-Moye wanted to provide a better living situation for her children. In attempt to get changes made for other residents of Newport as well as herself, Perkins-Moye organized a group of people and went to Newport City Hall to address this issue. She was paying $31 a month, which at that time was a lot of money for a working mother who only made $1 an hour working at a laundry mat. Her goals were to work towards providing for her children and avoid the experience of them not having much and being teased by their peers. As a result of the march, The Escrow Bill was established. This bill allowed people to bring their rent to Newport City Hall, forcing the landlords to come into compliance with the housing regulations that they had to abide by and make the necessary repairs for their residents. Being the first to put her rent in at the Newport City Hall, Perkins-Moye had an inspector come to her apartment and list all the things that needed renovating. When her landlord failed to make repairs, a group of people rallied outside of the hotel that he owned, including those that were staying at the hotel.
“I come from a family of workers,” Perkins-Moye said. “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
Without a high school diploma or GED, Perkins-Moye was able to work as a part-time secretary and eventually worked as a full-time secretary for New Visions in 1969. Because of her participation in activities within the community, Perkins-Moye was able to become the director of neighborhood organization by June 1972. In 1976, Perkins-Moye received her GED and later on attended school at the University of New Hampshire at age 45. At the university, Perkins-Moye attended a program in human services one weekend a month for a year. She was given an associate's degree after proving all she had done thus far, in a binder that took her eight months to complete. Perkins-Moye was required to be involved in a community project while attending the university, and decided to speak to St. Lucy’s Church in Middletown, RI. Perkins-Moye was interested in converting St. Lucy’s convent into a shelter for battered women. St. Lucy’s denied the request because they were concerned that the shelter would be too close to the school and the church. Perkins-Moye then met with a social action group and joined them in opening a shelter for children and mothers in 1984, called Lucy’s Hearth. From there, Perkins-Moye was able to receive her bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and continued to be involved in social activities in the Newport community.
“I’m driven,” Perkins-Moye said. “Those are the things that drive me.”
With the drive to help others, Perkins-Moye shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. She has plenty ideas for programs that she would like to bring into the Gray Center, such as restarting the program for double dutch and the state-wide basketball league. Perkins-Moye would also like to start cooking classes for young mothers. The only problem is the lack of funding and support. Perkins-Moye also has a couple of projects she would like to get to, but just hasn’t had the chance to. At one point she wanted to open a restaurant called ‘Auntie Pauline’s Perky Pot,' but after realizing how much time and work it would require, she passed up the idea.
“My slogan was going to be, ‘I can put the south in your mouth and the north in your broth,’” Perkins-Moye said.
Perkins-Moye has plans of writing a book and traveling to Africa. She has always had an interest in creating a book with stories from the elders of the “village” of Newport, that speak of where they came from, called ‘I Remember.’ Since the age of 34, Perkins-Moye has wanted to take a trip to Africa for a month or two. She said she would love to go there and work, which has been something she has really wanted to do. Perkins-Moye has the money saved up and is ready to go; she just needs to decide when she will take the trip that she has dreamed of for so long. When Perkins-Moye does choose to retire, she plans to continue volunteering at a hospital or nursing home.
“When I retire, I hope to keep moving and doing something,” Perkins-Moye said. “I want to keep making people smile.”
Originally written Spring semester 2006.