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The Class of 2017

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Vice President, Commercial Portfolio Loan Officer, Farmington Bank; Age 37

Candace Pereira

Candace Pereira

Candace Pereira maintains a true work-life balance while continually setting new goals. The single mother of Hailey, 8, has always enjoyed being busy, and worked her way up the stepping stones of the banking world.

She began work as a teller almost two decades ago and earned an associate’s degree from Springfield Technical Community College in 2001. But at age 25, her love for learning and desire to advance in her career led Pereira back to school, and she graduated from the UMass Isenberg School of Management in 2007.

Two and a half years ago, when mentor Mike Moriarty at United Bank moved to Farmington Bank, she moved with him. But a month after she started her new job, her brother, Bob Driscoll, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

He spent a month in intensive care, and when he was released, she moved him into her home. It required ongoing remodeling and adjustments, but they have always been close and share the same friends.

Pereira said Farmington Bank’s attitude of “family first” helped her to achieve a realistic work-life balance. She took over her brother’s finances and learned to structure her day so she can fit everything in that is meaningful.

That includes her role as board member and treasurer of the Gray House in Springfield. “They serve the working poor who don’t qualify for services,” she said of the organization, adding that she brings her daughter to help out at its food pantry so she learns the value of community service.

“It only takes a few people to make something happen,” she told BusinessWest. “Once you begin volunteering, it has a snowball effect because you see how much it does for others.”

Pereira is a member of the grant committee at the Farmington Bank Community Foundation and board member of the East Longmeadow Educational Endowment Fund. She is active in several chambers of commerce and young professional societies, where she has assisted with fund-raising.

She also has a number of professional certifications and enjoys helping business owners achieve their goals with the help of bank loans.

But she schedules everything down to the hour on her Outlook calendar to ensure she has time to spend with family.  “You need to be grateful for it,” she said, “because you may not get another chance.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Professor of Accounting, Elms College; Sole Practitioner, Cathro LLC; Age 36

Charlotte CathroCharlotte Cathro calls herself a “solver.”

Math has always come easily to the licensed certified public accountant, and she is passionate about simplifying complex concepts and helping students and business clients reach their goals.

When Cathro was told the Corporate Tax course in the Elms College master’s program needed to be revised, she took it upon herself to revamp the curriculum and made the material more relevant and easier for students to understand.

Cathro serves on the Elms faculty budget committee, and is a member of the Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of CPAs. She has worked in public accounting since 2002 and was a former manager at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. in Holyoke.

She enjoys disseminating knowledge, which she has done via presentations at Forbes Library in Northampton, and for Merrill Lynch, Click Workspace, and the Estate Planning Council of Hampden County. She has written articles for BusinessWest and HCN, and helps clients with personal and professional financial situations.

“I try to find solutions for people, and if I can’t answer a question directly, I look things up or use my network, which I believe is incredibly important,” she explained. “If you are willing to help others, you can call on them when you need to. It’s how the world goes around.”

She and her husband, Patrick, are parents to 6-year-old Oliver and 2-year-old Graham. She volunteers at their schools and is passionate about rescuing animals. She has two dogs and a cat, serves as a foster parent for animals, and has driven across the Northeast to rescue them. She is a member of the MSPCA and treasurer for Dakin Humane Society, where she led the search committee for the organization’s executive director and helped it choose a new financial director, and is also involved with New England Bassett Rescue and Looziana Bassett Rescue.

Cathro serves on the Look Park Auction Committee and loves taking her children there. She was treasurer for DEAF Inc. and has volunteered for Boston Cares, Operation Hope, and Junior Achievement.

“I’m a good listener, am constantly problem solving, and love animals,” she said. “They are always there for you.”

Cathro strives to emulate that quality, as she finds solutions to help people, organizations, dogs, and cats.

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Physician Assistant, Spa on the Green; Age 39

Leah Kenney

Leah Kenney

While studying to be a physician assistant, Leah Kenney planned to go into pediatric plastic surgery, fixing cleft palates and birth defects. But when she trained with Dr. Glen Brooks, she was intrigued by the wide range of procedures and the way they changed lives in ways both big and small.

“I love the diversity of being involved in short, sweet cosmetic cases, and then big, involved cases,” she said. “Either way, you’re making life better for the patient.”

Those major cases include assisting Brooks with breast reconstructions after cancer-related mastectomies. “The advances in the field have been extensive; we can do smaller surgeries now with equally satisfying results and less downtime, so patients can move forward with their recovery much more quickly.”

But Kenney has also built a strong niche in cosmetic injections, fillers, and laser work, which have become as common as getting highlights in one’s hair, she said.

“I remember when Botox was a dirty word, and now it’s truly a household word. Today, the question isn’t ‘who’s getting Botox,’ it’s who’s not having it done. It’s such a small thing, but it makes people feel more confident and competitive in the workforce because they feel as good as they look.”

Kenney’s passion for improving lives extends far beyond her office, however, with a host of volunteer roles in the community.

“Throughout my life, I’ve always been advocating for my peers,” she said, from her term as class vice president in college to her launch of the Assoc. of Plastic Surgery Physician Assistants. “And when I became a mother, I started Longmeadow Swap.”

That’s a Facebook page she expected to link a small number of area moms, who would send each other used toys and household items they were done with, as a way to keep plastic out of landfills. “But it’s unbelievably popular,” she said of the 5,000-strong group (with another 2,400 on the waiting list), which has assembled its collective might in the service of everything from helping members find jobs to locating lost dogs and even, in one case, a child who had wandered off.

It’s impressive she fits all this in while also training students in injection techniques, working at a second practice in Connecticut, and raising three children. But her work keeps her energized.

“Every day is a good day at work. When students come from area programs, they always have a fun rotation here because the patients are so thankful. It’s very satisfying.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of Franklin/Hampshire Vocational Services, ServiceNet; Age 34

Shawn Robinson

Shawn Robinson

Shawn Robinson was 12 years old when he walked by a music festival in a park and was recruited into the Berkshire Coalition to Prevent Pregnancy.

At age 15, he wrote an application for and won a grant from the United Way to launch a free Culture Camp for kids that he ran with his peers, and a year later he was named to the Berkshire Coalition board of directors.

Robinson was exposed to people with diverse abilities throughout his youth because his parents worked for the Department of Developmental Services, and clients shared Thanksgiving and overnight stays with them. Those experiences, combined with parental values and his involvement in church, Boy Scouts, youth groups, and two missionary trips to Haiti during high school and college, fueled his passion to help others.

“I’ve always had a deep sense of wanting to make a difference,” he told BusinessWest. “I want to do anything I can to help the community, and often find myself getting involved in things without thinking, although I try to serve on only three boards at a time.”

Robinson and his wife, Jill, are parents to Sofia, 6, and Jake, 3, and he has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County since 2008. He co-founded the Pioneer Valley chapter of Young Democrats, and served as president and was named Massachusetts Young Democrat of the Year in 2010.

In 2011, ServiceNet asked him to develop a program to improve client health outcomes through fresh-air and outdoor work. He spent a year working with a disabled man who lived in a house in Hatfield with plenty of acreage, and they converted the property into Prospect Meadow Farm.

Today, it employs 70 people with developmental disabilities, autism, or brain injuries who raise chickens, sell eggs, manage one of the state’s largest log-grown shiitake-mushroom operations, build and sell wood products, and operate catering and community landscaping services.

Robinson is president of the board of Highland Valley Elder Services and serves on the Ethics Committee at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the town of Hatfield Finance Committee, the town’s Mental Health Awareness Committee and Council on Aging, and ServiceNet’s Diversity Committee. He has received awards from United Way of Hampshire County and the Mass. Department of Developmental Services. And he’s not slowing down.

“In the next few years,” he said, “I will look at new ways of engaging in the community.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Vice President, PeoplesBank; Age 39

Michelle Chase

Michelle Chase

Michelle Chase says she has a simple, yet quite poignant outlook on her career, parenting, and … every facet of her life, really.

“With whatever I’m doing, whether its running, with the kids, at work … I’m always trying to think of a way where I can leave my mark, or I can leave my legacy,” she explained, adding that she believes she’s been quite successful in those efforts to date.

As she elaborated, she started with a reference to a quarterly coffee hour she spearheaded at PeoplesBank, where she has been employed since 2011, currently serving as assistant vice president and manager of the branch in Westfield.

“A member of senior management speaks at that coffee hour about their career development and how they got to where they are — the career path they took, the mistakes they made, the things they did well,” she said of the gatherings, staged at the institution’s headquarters in Holyoke. “And it has spread like wildfire at the bank; we’ve run out of room for the people who want to attend. I left my mark — that event will continue long after I leave the bank.”

Chase is also leaving a mark, her mark, in the community through contributions to groups and causes ranging from the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (where she volunteers with everything from the CEO luncheons to dodgeball) to the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce; from Habitat for Humanity to the Springfield Boys & Girls Club.

She brought this passion to serve and help others together with another recently developed passion — running — to help in the fight against breast cancer. Indeed, soon after her best friend was diagnosed with that disease, she organized a 5k race called the Breast Run Ever.

And she believes she’s making her mark as a parent through … well, all of the above, by setting a solid example for her children, daughter Emma Daunais, 14, and son Chase Daunais, 11.

“One of the reasons why I do the things I do within the community is to lead by example and hope that these are things that they pick up and they want to do themselves someday,” she explained. “I’d love it if they’d say, ‘my mom did these things, and I want to follow that lead.’”

As she said, she likes to leave her mark, and it’s a mark of excellence and commitment to the community.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Teacher, English Language Learners School; Children’s Author; Age 26

Katherine Kraver

Katherine Kraver

Katherine Kraver jokes that she’s “retiring in reverse.”

That’s a reference to the fact that she’s collecting stamps on her passport — dozens of them — when she’s in her 20s, not 60s, 70s, or 80s. But she’s not traveling to destinations as diverse as Costa Rica, Croatia, India, Jordan, and South Africa to relax, sightsee, and snap photos for albums (although she does some of that).

No, she’s going to learn. Only she has another name for it.

“I keep it to business,” she noted, adding that this means absorbing everything she can about these countries, many of which are the birthplaces of students in her third-grade classroom at the ELL (English Language Learners) School in West Springfield.

“Every school vacation, I pick a student in my classroom, and I travel to their home country to learn more about their culture, customs, language, history, and some of the experiences they may have gone through,” she explained. “Students are more willing to learn when they feel you’re really connected to them, like if I know a little of their language, or a tradition, or something else I can connect to them with.”

And these trips have yielded more than insight, perspective, and those connections. Indeed, they have provided storylines and inspiration to tell those stories, in the form of children’s books told from the perspective of a child.

Her first, It Was Just a House, written when she was just 24, was inspired by her trip to a Middle Eastern refugee camp. Her second, The Boy with the Red Shoes, released last year, was motivated by her trip to Haiti following the earthquake there in 2010.

“I wrote that first book to teach other students about what that child might be bringing into our classroom, and how we can be compassionate and empathetic, as well as to teach my co-workers and adults about these people we know so little about,” she said, adding that it was the same with the second tome.

While she likes to talk about where’s she’s been, Kraver is more fond of discussing where she’s going next, to do more learning and perhaps gain the inspiration to pen additional books.

In fact, just a few days after the 40 Under Forty gala in late June, she’ll be off to Venice and a host of other destinations in Italy.

Retiring in reverse? Not even close. This will be another ‘business’ trip.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Executive Director, Palante Theater Co.; Holyoke City Councilor; Age 29

Nelson Roman

Nelson Roman

Nelson Roman loves the theater and played many roles in well-known productions during his youth. But his life story is more compelling and inspirational than any script.

“I’ve gone from hopeless to hopeful through the things I’ve done and am making my dream become a reality,” said the Puerto Rican, bilingual founder of the black-box-style Palante Theater Co. in Holyoke, whose first production will be a Puerto Rican/Latino play.

A decade ago, after learning he was HIV positive, Roman became homeless and spent two years on the streets of Holyoke before a state program changed his life.

Today, he has secured the initial investment for his theater, plans to launch a capital campaign to fund it, and has support from the Urban Theater Co. in Chicago and the Mass. International Festival of the Arts Victory Theatre in Holyoke.

His goal is to give local people an inexpensive venue to see live productions and showcase young talent via plays and films that raise awareness about social issues and celebrate the Puerto Rican and Latino cultures.

Roman is also working to help revitalize South Holyoke. The Ward 2 city councilor was first elected in 2015 and views himself as a connector between government and the neighborhood. He started three neighborhood associations, helped create Taste of South Holyoke and the Holyoke World AIDS City Event, chairs the Joint Committee of the City Council and the School Committee, and serves on the council’s Development and Government Relations Committee.

In 2012, he founded the Imperial Court of Western Mass. Inc., a nonprofit that raises money to provide services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and people who have HIV or AIDS.

“Five years later, we were able to give out $65,000 in grants to organizations that include the AIDS Foundation of Western Mass. [he served on that board from 2013 to 2015], the Holyoke House of Color, Springfield Pride, and Northampton Pride,” he said.

Roman served on the board of the Springfield Puerto Rican Cultural Council from 2014 to 2016, and has been feted with the Audre Lordes Founder Award and an International Court System Commendation.

“Every day when I wake up,” he said of his approach to life, “I think, ‘what if I am not here tomorrow? Have I done everything I can to make a positive difference in my community?’”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Co-owner, Camp K-9; Age 36

Alessandra Connor

Alessandra Connor

Ali Connor and her husband, Nick, wanted a change.

They both worked in upper management in the retail world, but the hours and lifestyle weren’t amenable to a growing family, which, in the spring of 2015, included a 2-year-old son, Reid, and another son, Wyatt, on the way.

That was the year their careers went to the dogs.

“We realized we wanted to do our own thing,” she told BusinessWest. “We tried a couple of things based on our experiences, but they didn’t pan out.”

But, dog owners themselves, they both loved animals and realized that their hometown of Westfield didn’t have a day camp for dogs — so they started one.

“We cater to customers who have busy lifestyles,” Connor said, noting that Westfield officials were excited about this new entry into the business community. “They saw what we offered was a lot different than the traditional kennel concept.”

At Camp K-9, which offers both day-care and sleepover services, the Connors emphasize getting to know not only the dogs, but their owners, in order to provide personalized care. Besides daily play groups, the facility arranges monthly events — like a Picnic in the Paw’k Pawty on April 24 — and allows dogs access to an indoor dog park and ‘fun-gility’ gym to socialize and exercise.

“We have fun,” she said. “We try to make the experience like a preschool daycare. A child might have arts and crafts or hobby days, and so do we.”

While brightening the days of their canine visitors, Ali and Nick also donate resources and energy to organizations including the Westfield Animal Shelter, Rainbow Rescue, T.J. O’Connor Animal Hospital, Westfield schools, the Kiwanis Club, Shriners Hospitals for Children, 126th Brigade, Children’s Miracle Network, Heroes at Home, Rays of Hope, and Westfield Little League, among others.

“I would love to do more, but we do what we can,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she takes pride in supporting groups that make life better for Westfield-area residents — by running a successful business that makes life easier for dog-loving families.

“There’s a bond you don’t get with other animals,” Connor said. “The companionship of dogs is so important to me, and it’s important to our customers. We were the first customers here, and as customers, we ask, ‘what do we want our dog to be doing?’”

Answering that question on a daily basis has been a rewarding experience, she added. “It’s great owning a business — a fun, family-oriented business — with someone you love.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Vice President, Internal Control, PeoplesBank; Age 32

Trisha Leary

Trisha Leary

It’s a challenging, tightly regulated world for banks these days, so it’s hard to overestimate the importance of auditors. But let’s hear Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, tell it.

“I formerly served as the CFO, so I know how important financial audits and risk-mitigation efforts are to our safety and security,” he noted by way of explaining why Trisha Leary was promoted from Risk Oversight officer to vice president of Internal Control. “Trisha is the person our leadership team turns to for information on federal and state banking regulations, risk management, and related reporting.”

Leary started her career in a different corner of the financial-services world, as an accountant with Wolf & Co., primarily focusing on banking. “That’s how I got into banking,” she said. “I started auditing banks from a public perspective, then came to be the internal auditor here. I focus on policy and procedure, and make sure we’re doing what we say we’re doing.”

In doing so, she gets to interact with every department in the bank. “We’re looking at everything from the teller line to financial statements, making sure everything is in line; we get to see how everything operates, and it’s interesting. I get to work with a bunch of great people.”

Like most PeoplesBank employees, Leary also has one foot firmly planted in community service, volunteering for the United Way Day of Caring — her projects have included revitalizing a rec room at the YMCA of Greater Springfield, restoring and painting fences surrounding Wistariahurst Museum, and landscaping and cleaning up Forest Park Zoo — and serving as treasurer for Girls Inc., a cause especially close to her heart.

“I’m honored to be on the board,” she said of the nonprofit, which provides girls with opportunities to reach their full potential through programs in STEM studies, leadership development, and life skills, among others. “I have two girls myself, and I see the impact this organization has on girls’ lives.”

Leary also volunteers for the bank’s social committee, employee appreciation committee, and holiday committee, but finds it most gratifying to reach out to the community.

“As fun as it is being an auditor, it’s more satisfying when you can go out and help others,” she added. “The bank is very good about allowing opportunities for getting involved; it’s something we pride ourselves on. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Owner and Instructor, MEGAdance; Age 32

Megan Shaw

Megan Shaw

Megan Shaw has been passionate about dance and fitness all her life, so, about eight years ago, she started teaching Zumba.

Noticing that her classes at the YMCA were always packed, she took a leap in 2012 and launched her own fitness business, MEGAdance — which she characterizes as a “high-energy dance party workout” — from a small church basement, starting with only eight students. But it grew quickly by word of mouth, and today, she’s moved to much larger facilities in Greenfield, where her classes typically draw 40 to 50 people.

“MEGAdance is a place where people of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and fitness abilities work out, dance, and have fun without fear of judgment,” she told BusinessWest. “I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is celebrated, supported, and encouraged to be themselves and express their own rhythm in class and in life.”

Shaw said her classes are a judgment-free zone for women and men of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. “I love that women in their 70s come to my class; it’s very inspiring. And I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to be themselves. We are a fit family.”

It’s also a business that gives back to the community, offering free classes in low-income communities, schools, nursing homes, and at the Center for Human Development, and holding fund-raisers to support the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Community Action, and most recently, the Peruvian Red Cross to help flood victims.

Shaw, who speaks Spanish fluently, is especially fond of Peru after spending the past two summers there, participating in internships that promote sustainable agriculture and working with indigenous communities.

“Because I come from a humble background and understand the struggle to live with few resources, I feel strongly about supporting the community,” she said, both in Peru and in her own backyard. To be able to do that while sharing her passion for dance, well, that’s just gravy.

“The goal in my professional life is nothing short of breaking the status quo and transforming my community through dance fitness, community building, and radical self-acceptance,” she noted, adding that seeing lives change for the better is only half the story.

“It’s reciprocal,” she said. “They change my life, too.”

—Joseph Bednar