Quality Improvement Manager and Human Rights Coordinator, Department of Mental Health; Vice Chair, School Committee, City of Springfield, age 34
“I started off volunteering at the Everywomen’s Center while studying at UMass Amherst; I was a trained rape and sexual-assault counselor and advocate,” she explained. “From there, I landed a position with the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office, doing a lot of work around domestic violence and restraining orders. But I realized I needed to go back to school in order to further my education and get the skills needed to really advocate for those in need, particularly children and families.”
So she earned her master’s degree in social work at Springfield College while working for the state Department of Children and Families, spent time overseas in London as a child protective supervisor, and eventually transitioned to the state Department of Mental Health, where she works on quality improvement and human-rights issues.
On top of that, Hurst won a spot on the Springfield School Committee in 2009, and was re-elected last fall.
“I’m passionate about education, in particular for children in the city of Springfield,” she said. “I graduated from the public school system, and did so at a time when Springfield’s public schools had a better reputation. Now we have a lot of challenges, and there’s a sense that your zip code could dictate your future or how successful you can be. I want to help fight that idea.”
Hurst and her husband, Justin — a business owner and Springfield City Council member — are the first married couple to be named to the 40 Under Forty in the same year, but that doesn’t surprise former winner Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies, who nominated both. “They are truly the first family of Springfield in my eyes,” he said. “They love Springfield dearly and show it through activism in government, nonprofit volunteerism, and their professional life.”
It’s all about that passion, Denise Hurst said.
“I know what I’m doing will have life-changing effects for the broader community, and that can only be beneficial to us all,” she told BusinessWest. “Having grown up in Springfield, being a child of color, I’m passionate because I’m not that far removed from the many ills that affect our city.
“My mother always made it very clear we’re to help others,” she added. “I think it’s our responsibility.”
— Joseph Bednar