Stanley Kapelewski, cheerleader and tireless advocate for Providence’s street newspaper
Few of us see a life of value, a biography that should be told, when we pass a homeless person on the street. One of these rare people who saw “person” ahead of “homeless” was Stanley Thomas Kapelewski, a tireless volunteer and advocate for Street Sights, Providence’s unique newspaper for and about homeless people.
Mr. Kapelewski, a founding editor and staunch supporter of Street Sights, died January 10 at his home in Providence. He was 62.
Street Sights was founded in the early 2000s with a difficult mission: writing and producing a newspaper almost entirely by people who were or had been homeless.
Mr. Kapelewski had been homeless at one time, and he threw himself into the paper’s mission with unwavering dedication. He spent some time as managing editor but his primary task was to edit the Creative Writing pages. He put much of his restless energy into encouraging homeless people to tell their stories directly through poetry and art.
“I remember him encouraging folks who were skeptical about their ability to express themselves creatively,” a Street Sights volunteer said of Mr. Kapelewski. “He really helped them believe in themselves again. I can’t imagine a greater gift to give someone.”
Tall and broad-shoulder with a long gray ponytail, Mr. Kapelewski dove into every Streets Sights project with gusto. His high-octane and heartfelt monologues steamrolled through many heated discussions about the paper’s mission. His insistence on keeping the newspaper healthy and true to its mission led to some head-butting with others.
In addition to producing the monthly paper, Mr. Kapelewski barnstormed through an annual project to create a Street Sights wall calendar that was sold as a fundraiser. The calendar featured credited pictures by newspaper’s photographers and bylined bits from the Creative Writing pages. He contributed some of his own money to make sure that all of the people who were featured in the calendar got a copy.
A natural tinkerer and inventor, he loved experimenting on the computer. He created several videos composed of still images of Street Sights staff and friends, set to rock ‘n’ roll – including tracks from his favorite band, Pink Floyd. He would screen these videos, with gallant introductions and huge fanfare, at Street Sights social gatherings.
Another volunteer recalled, “Stan was very much the heart and soul of Street Sights and was so proud of every issue and every year that it continued to exist and all the progress it had made. He was dedicated to holding it to its roots — as a place for the homeless community to have a voice, even as we grew in size and made changes to keep it afloat.
Mr. Kapelewski was ill with cancer and incapacitated by hip problems for decades before his death. He talked about his health problems, but his zest for his project of the moment always took center stage. Even a few weeks before he died, he was talking about contacting TV host Ellen DeGeneres to get publicity for Street Sights.
A friend recalls working with Mr. Kapelewski about 40 years ago, when he was assistant manager of a McDonalds in his home town, Syracuse, New York. He loved to invent good times from skimpy resources. The friend said the McDonalds crew would play hockey with brooms and a frozen burger. After work, at someone’s apartment, they created an air band with a dust pan for lead guitar, boxes and chopsticks for keyboards and drum, and a chandelier and fan for strobe lighting. The voices were real and the audience was imaginary but wild with enthusiasm.
Mr. Kapelewski lived for a period of time in 2006 at a men’s shelter operated by the Urban League, and there he met Fred Pece. Pece said Mr. Kapelewski told him, “I’m going to get you out of there, trust me.” Before long, Mr. Kapelewski had moved through transitional housing and into an apartment on the private market. He soon moved Mr. Pece into the two-bedroom apartment, where the two created a stable home together.
Mr. Kapelewski was born on March 14, 1955 in Syracuse, NY, to the late Thomas Felix Kapelewski and Helen Rose Kapelewski. He was the oldest of three brothers. He graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Syracuse.
According to his brother, Mr. Kapelewski had many interests, including movies, inventing games, mineral collecting, and rock ‘n’ roll. He worked at times as a house painter, taxi driver, and in the restaurant business.
“He had a big heart,” said Joseph Kapelewski. “He didn’t have much money, but he made people smile and made them feel welcome.”
Joseph said when his brother Stan talked about his work with Street Sights, “he wanted to uplift people; he wanted them to do something for themselves.”
As Street Sights struggled over the years and volunteers drifted in and out of the picture, Mr. Kapelewski was diligent at phoning old friends from time to time, bemoaning his ailments and describing his next big idea, ending every call with “Be good.”
He is survived by two brothers, Thomas V. Kapelewski of Athens, GA, and Joseph A. Kapelewski of Pennellville, NY; and a nephew, Spencer Kapelewski; his friend, Fred Pece; and many friends from Street Sights.
Family and friends are cordially invited to attend Stanley Kapelewki's Funeral Service at 9am,
on Monday, January 22, 2018 at the Chapel of Hope and Memory in Swan Point Cemetery,
585 Blackstone Blvd. Providence, RI.
Burial will be private.
If you would like to make a donation to Street Sights in Stan's memory, you can make your check out to: Gateways to Change, Inc and write “Street Sights” on the memo line.
Send it to Street Sights c/o Gateways to Change, Inc 1060 Park Avenue, Cranston RI 02910.