The Humanists of Rhode Island Set the Pace by Building Houses and Cleaning Bridges


Humanists of Rhode IslandThe Humanists of Rhode Island have been setting the bar high for all future VBB teams.

Steve Ahlquist, founder and president, started the group in April 2011. “Seven people met at a Panera Bread to hear my plan for an active, socially engaged secular humanism. From there the group took off in many directions.”

Volunteering always stood as the group’s focal point. From the beginning, Steve wanted to center the group around a regularly scheduled volunteer event. Habitat for Humanity fit the bill perfectly and currently plays an integral role in the group’s activities.

In addition to its monthly service with Habitat, the group participates in blood drives, park clean-ups, and holiday gift-wrapping to raise money for local nonprofits. The group has even adopted a highway, one that passes right through the heart of Cranston, Rhode Island, a town recently brought into the spotlight when high school student Jessica Ahlquist fought to have a Christian prayer removed from her school’s auditorium. Through this difficult time, the group responded the best way it knew–by adopting a highway and giving back to the community. Now there stands a sign proudly proclaiming: “Highway Maintained by the Humanists of Rhode Island.”

Through their volunteer efforts, community outreach, and desire to put a positive face on humanism, the community has rallied to their cause. When a controversial cross in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, became subject of a legal challenge, the group did not take a public position. When Steve took part in a local radio program, the interview became contentious as he fielded a line of questioning that had him defending his group, atheism, and humanism in general.

While at the Habitat build a few days later, the site manager said that he had heard Steve on the radio. Hesitant and cautious, Steve simply smiled and waited. The site manager later went on to say that his girlfriend had made some critical comments about Steve and the group, but the site manager sought to support them. His firsthand experience with the group building houses each month made it clear to him that this group is made up of good people who simply desired to foster positive contributions for the community.

These are the stories that the teams of VBB live each time they serve in their local community. “Not only do we help people, which is a humanist value and a social good, but we also accumulate moral capital, which grants us a certain gravitas when we speak out.” To learn more about the Humanists of Rhode Island, visit their website.