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'Tea with Marie' cable TV program earns plaudits for inspiring stories

Narragansett residents Judy Begin (left), director, and Marie Younkin-Waldman, host of the cable TV program "Tea with Marie," hold their PEG awards after the ceremony earlier this month at Hasbro in Pawtucket. The show won two awards for "Best Live Performance Program" and "Best Series" and was nominated for eight others.
 

NARRAGANSETT - For seven years, the cable TV program "Tea with Marie" has tilted at windmills, aiming to prove that the news isn't all bad, there are people who care and many of them live right here in Rhode Island.

"When we started I remember I was watching the news and half-an-hour turned into an hour then an hour-and-a-half and it was all reports of abuses and violence and crime and I thought about how to counterbalance all that ugliness," said Marie Younkin-Waldman, the show's host. "I knew that there was so much more happening than I saw on the news. There's a lot of good out there, happening right here in Rhode Island. So the underlying theme of every show became beauty, gentility and tranquility."

More than 200 episodes later, "Tea with Marie" is a public access juggernaut, avidly watched by a loyal coterie of fans and routinely honored. Earlier this month, the show won two PEG (Public, Education, Government) awards at a special ceremony at Hasbro in Pawtucket and was nominated for eight others.

"Tea with Marie" won a special recognition award for "Best Live Performance Program" featuring The Prout High School Singers and "Best Series," the most prestigious award given, for a segment that focused on the "Five Most Inspirational Women" on the program in 2007. The women, Anne Branch, Susi Franco, Antoinette Frederick, Pat Hastings and Betty Kornitzer, will be brought together and honored in a new episode to be aired on Dec. 28 at 3 p.m. on Cox cable channel 13. (Log on to www.teawithmarie.com to find out more about the program, including biographies of the women.)

Many of the "Tea with Marie" crew, whom Younkin-Waldman describes as "indispensable," live in southern Rhode Island. They include longtime collaborator, director and friend Judy Begin of Narragansett as well as director Lesley Wooler of Narragansett, assistant producer Joan Vessella of Jamestown, Marie Iacuele of Narragansett on camera, Judy and Dave Frederick of Wakefield on camera and in the control room, Jane Loffredio of East Greenwich and Pol Hermes of South Kingstown, both on camera.

"The program has changed so much since we started it," said Younkin-Waldman, a Narragansett resident. "Technically we're much better. I'm looser than I was. There's more of me being me on the set. And I think we're doing more inspirational shows, with more substance and depth. A lot of the shows we've done lately have become my favorites and I think that's because we're talking about things I really believe in and that touch people in a very heartfelt way."

Recent programs have focused on Grow Smart Rhode Island, the role of Red Cross in addressing the problem of homelessness, the emerging industry and economy of aquaculture and dealing with breast cancer. Other PEG-nominated episodes included "Best Children's" featuring All Children's Theatre's "Madeline's Christmas;" "Best Health" on cochlear implants with Eva Bero; "Educational" for a show about global warming with Dr. Carl Storm; "Music/Arts" featuring Susi Franco; "Best Spirituality" for a talk with Alan Seale, author and minister; "Best Political/Community" addressing the small villages concept with Grow Smart RI's Scott Wolf; "Best Cooperative Effort with Non Profit" for a show about the R.I. State Police Museum; and "Best Talk/Variety" featuring The Met School in Providence.

While "Tea with Marie" often shoots on location, most of the studio shows are produced in Lincoln, with a few made in Providence. It airs statewide on Cox cable channel 13. Younkin-Waldman, who has suffered from lifelong hearing loss, previously hosted a program on WSBE Channel 36 called "Able/Too," sponsored by the Governor's Commission on Disabilities.

"I was born with a cord wrapped around my neck," she said. "I refused to wear a hearing aid for a long time so I became a great lip-reader."

She gave in when her youngest daughter was born, wearing a hearing aid then returning to college to earn a degree at the University of Rhode Island, a decision that she said "changed her life." Another life-altering experience occurred when she had cochlear implant surgery last May and was activated in June.

"Over the years my hearing got worse," she said. "There was progressive nerve loss until I was in the profound range for hearing loss. I couldn't use the phone for the last few years. Now I feel like a different person. I look back and I don't even know how I did the show in those early years. I'm fighting not to take it for granted."

Younkin-Waldman said she'll continue doing the show as long as she finds subjects close to her heart that keep her interested and excited. And while it has evolved over the years, the show will always be grounded in the philosophy of "beauty, gentility and tranquility," and, of course, the ritual of tea.

"That was something that went back to my grandmother," Younkin-Waldman said. "She had tea every afternoon precisely at 4 o'clock. And people would stop by, drop whatever they were doing, sit down and join her for a few minutes of pleasant conversation. It just seemed like the right way to live."

"Tea with Marie" airs on R.I. Statewide Cable TV Channel 13 every Friday at 3 p.m. For more information, log on to www.teawithmarie.com.

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