The Difference Makers Will Be Celebrated on March 20 at the Log Cabin
When BusinessWest launched its Difference Makers program in 2009, it did so with the knowledge that there are, indeed, many different ways in which a group or individual can make a difference and impact quality of life in this region.
Each class has emphatically driven that point home, with honorees ranging from a Holyoke police chief to the founder of the Rays of Hope fund-raiser to battle breast cancer; from the president of Holyoke Community College to the director of the Regional Employment Board; from the man who kept hockey alive in Springfield for the past 30 years to some law-enforcement officials implementing counterintelligence tactics to confront gangs in Springfield’s North End.
This year’s class of Difference Makers is no exception, and it adds several new wrinkles to the contention that there is no shortage of ways that people can change others’ lives — and for the better.
Let’s start with Paula Moore. A schoolteacher — in fact, a substitute teacher at the time — she started a program to help keep young people off the streets and out of trouble. She would eventually call it the Youth Social Educational Training (YSET) program, and when the church that originally hosted these after-school sessions told Moore she would have to move it elsewhere, she used her own money and credit to acquire a dilapidated former school and renovate it into what is now known as YSET Academy.
She wasn’t going to take that drastic step, but felt compelled to by overwhelming need in the community and an unrelenting desire to do something about it.
And these were the same sentiments that drove five members of the Sisters of St. Joseph and a partnering layperson to scrape together $500 and prevail at the public auction of a long-vacant, seriously rundown gray Victorian on Sheldon Street in Springfield’s North End in 1982.
Two years later, the Gray House opened its doors, and ever since it has been providing food, clothing, adult-education programs, and its Kids Club to a ever-widening group of constituents.
Improving quality of life for low-income individuals has also been the mission of a nonprofit called Rebuilding Together, which provides assistance to help people stay in their homes when, because of illness, old age, or simply a lack of resources, they cannot undertake needed repairs and upkeep.
In its early years, the Springfield chapter of this agency provided support one day in April, and only to a few homeowners. Under the guidance of its first executive director, Colleen Loveless, the Springfield office has expanded its reach in every way imaginable, and has put in place an ambitious 10-year strategic plan that will change the face, and the fortunes, of a large section of the city’s Old Hill Neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Michael Moriarty has committed much of his time and energy to taking on another societal challenge — early literacy.
An attorney and now director of Olde Holyoke Development Corp., he has taken the lead in Holyoke’s Third Grade Literacy Initiative, helping to put in place an infrastructure and a battle plan to dramatically increase the number of young people able to read by the fourth grade — the time when people stop learning to read and begin reading to learn.
And then, there’s the Melha Shriners. The first fraternal organization named as a Difference Maker, it’s changing lives in many ways, but especially through its efforts to help fund the many Shriners Children’s Hospitals across the country — and now Mexico and Canada — and, perhaps more importantly, raise awareness of the incredible work being done at those facilities.
The Class of 2014 will be honored at the annual Difference Makers Gala on March 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The event will feature butlered hors d’oeuvres, lavish food stations, introductions of the Difference Makers, and remarks from the honorees. Tickets are $60 per person, with tables of 10 available.
For more information, or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.