Home 2011 April
40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Owner and President, NRG Real Estate Inc.

Nick Gelfand

Nick Gelfand

Nikita Robert Gelfand’s parents didn’t plan on giving him initials that sound out a word, but he’s definitely had the ‘NRG’ to succeed.
Having immigrated to the U.S. from Russia at age 11 with his family, Gelfand said that he always liked real estate, and he knew, even as a child, that he wanted to own and operate properties. But he has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, he said, and after working for a larger realty company, he knew the time had come to hang out his own shingle.
“Maybe it was the hot market I got into in 2003,” he joked. “Those boom years were awesome. I realized it was something I could make a living at — which is nice, when you can do what you love.”
He’s equally committed to bringing the sum total of his professional experience to others in need.
“I think it’s important for everyone in a community to give back to the community,” he explained. “You always look for somewhere you can contribute that’s close to your heart. There are many great charities and nonprofits to be a part of, but Habitat for Humanity seemed right for me. Because I help people buy houses in my everyday life, it just seemed like a natural fit to help these folks who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a mortgage in a traditional way.”
As a board member for the Greater Springfield chapter of Habitat, Gelfand also helps to coordinate the Fall Festival campaign, which last year raised more than $35,000.
Meanwhile, at work, Gelfand said that helping people get into their first homes is one of his proudest accomplishments — one he gets to enjoy on a weekly basis. “Some of my favorite clients to work with are first-time homebuyers, because I was in their shoes very recently.”
It’s the American Dream, he said, for a kid from Russia to own his own business. And with his energetic approach to real estate, he’s making that dream come true for others.
— Dan Chase

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Value Based Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, ITT Power Solutions

Lisa Totz

Lisa Totz

Lisa Totz had her 40 Under Forty portrait taken on her bicycle while wearing a business suit. Such imagery, conveying both dedication and physical prowess, would seem appropriate for someone who competes in triathlons and has the words ‘black belt’ included in her job title.
But she laughed when explaining what’s behind the words printed on her business card. “Basically a black belt is someone who is a change agent,” she said, “someone working to improve things around the company.”
And what a change she has made.
For 35 years, ITT had been a paper-based company, with all of its data analysis recorded in print. “That process is so wasteful, though,” she said, “because, first, someone has to analyze all that data, and second, it’s on reams and reams of paper.”
So, as a test engineer, Totz took her data-collections role and transformed it into ‘architect’ for an interfaced, electronic test-data collection system. It’s a technical approach to solving the inefficiency created by all that paper, and, using simple terms, she said it “changes how ITT Power Solutions functions.”
And with one look at what Totz does in her free time, it’s easy to see that efficiency is key to making time for all of her pursuits. Over the years, she’s volunteered time, energy, and imagination to such groups and causes as the Jimmy Fund, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Griffin’s Friends, ITT Watermark, the company’s corporate philanthropy program (which she’s served as site ambassador), and the Wave Triathlon, which she founded in 2009 to benefit the Westfield YMCA Wave Swim Team.
It was for her efforts with the triathlon, which has growing steadily in terms of participation and funds raised, that she received the Westfield YMCA’s Spirit Award, which she counts among the accomplishments of which she is most proud.
A five-time Ironman triathlete, Totz noted that “youths don’t have a lot of good role models these days.” But, through the work she’s done on the job and within the community, she has certainly become one.
— Dan Chase

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Program Manager, Human Resources Unlimited, Lighthouse

Jeffrey Trant

Jeffrey Trant

It’s called the HRU Café. That’s the name given to a new venture, a unique start-up business located at the Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC) that brings together most of Jeff Trant’s passions under one roof, or operation.
These include social work, which he’s been doing virtually all his life — currently as director of a facility called Lighthouse, a community rehabilitation and employment organization managed by Human Resources Unlimited (the HRU part of that name) — and also business, or, in this case, the all-important business side of nonprofit management.
And then, there’s the coffee. “That’s been a serious vice since grad school,” he said.
The café, open since Valentine’s Day, employs disabled and disadvantaged adults and thus brings awareness to the large and diverse JCC community about the abilities of all people, disabled or otherwise, said Trant. Doing this, and hopefully breaking even financially, he said, helps explain what he means when he says he’s “an untraditional social worker.”
“When you have the credentials I have, you’re automatically sort of put in this box — when people hear the words ‘social worker,’ they assume you do one of two things, that you do child-protective services, meaning you take kids who are abused or neglected away from families, or you do psychotherapy with people. I do neither. What I do is very important work — it’s working with folks who don’t have a voice and helping them get one. That cuts across all facets of society, and it’s all about building stronger communities.”
Through Trant’s leadership, Springfield-based Lighthouse, which he took over in 2008, has undergone a successful restructuring, and now serves more than 500 men and women recovering from the effects of mental illness.
Trant’s only passion not represented by the café is golf, which he calls the “great equalizer,” and a way to “decompress” from his hard and often trying work at HRU, trying to give his clients a voice.
Trant credits his wife, Rachel, with helping him find a balance between work, life, golf, and coffee.
— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
President, the Sandri Companies

Tim Van Epps

Tim Van Epps

Tim Van Epps remembers the conversation vividly.
It was Christmas night, 2004. He was enjoying a single-malt scotch with his father-in-law, W.A. (Bill) Sandri, when the conversation turned in a direction he wasn’t expecting. “He asked me if I would be interested in coming to his office, taking a look at the family business [the Sandri Companies], and giving my opinion on things. That was the first time he had ever raised the subject.”
And thus began more conversations — and some hard vetting on the part of company executives — that would eventually prompt Van Epps to leave a lucrative job as a portfolio manager for Sovereign Bank and take the helm at one of Franklin County’s largest employers, a deeply diversified, $200 million company involved in everything from gas stations (116 of them under the Sunoco flag) to photovoltaic installations; from a host of clean-energy ventures to three semi-private, high-end golf courses.
It is Van Epps’ goal to continue this diversification, thus further expanding a company currently boasting 500 employees — and counting. “Right now, we can’t build office space fast enough for new people.”
Many of these employees wouldn’t know Van Epps by face, which is good because he likes to pop into his gas station/convenience stores and other businesses while on the road in a form of Undercover Boss work that, he said, keeps him in touch with things happening on the ground.
While working to continually expand the family business, Van Epps is also busy within the community. He’s on the board at Franklin Medical Center and the Greenfield Community College Foundation, and is a member of the Western Mass. Chapter of the Young President’s Organization. He’s also a big supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, for which he helps organize a golf tournament that has become a key fund-raiser.
Meanwhile he travels extensively with his wife, Wendy, and children, Aiden, Aaron, and Ashley — Singapore was one recent destination — leaving Van Epps with little time for golf on his company’s courses, including Crumpin-Fox in Bernardston.
Which, at this moment, is his only regret.
— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Development and Marketing Manager, Food Bank of Western Mass.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

Melanoma, a common skin cancer, can kill quickly. Beating it gave Meghan Rothschild a new outlook on life — and a mission.
“I’m a stage 2 melanoma survivor,” she said. “I was diagnosed at age 20, in college, and basically, it was because of some poor decisions I made in my teenage years to be outside without sunblock and to use tanning booths.”
As a journalism student at Roger Williams University, Rothschild wrote about her experience in a Rhode Island newspaper, and that opened more doors.
“A year after the initial diagnosis,” she said, “I decided this had happened for a reason, and that it was an opportunity instead of a negative thing, and I started speaking out about my diagnosis.”
She eventually founded SurvivingSkin.org and has shared her message of sun safety in a variety of media, inclouding Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan magazines, various fitness publications, WebMD.com, Inside Edition, and World News with Charles Gibson, among other outlets. In her former marketing position with Six Flags New England, she founded an annual melanoma day that raised thousands of dollars for the Melanoma Foundation of New England.
“I’ve also done a lot of work with the American Academy of Dermatology as their national spokesperson. It’s been wonderful to speak at schools, mostly in New England, and at colleges across the country,” she said. “The whole point is to talk about making right choices and really paying attention to your skin. It’s the largest organ in the body, and we really don’t pay enough attention to it.”
As development and marketing manager at the Food Bank, Rothschild is bringing attention to yet another often-neglected need.
“I oversee all the special events and campaign fund-raising and try to bring in financial sponsorships to help us continue our mission. I do some corporate relations as well,” she said.
“Every dollar we collect brings in $13 worth of food. It’s been very rewarding work. All the money and food we raise stays local. To know that I’m investing my time every day in something that’s making a difference for Western Mass., it’s a really great feeling.”
— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011

Executive Director, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity

Jennifer Schimmel

Jennifer Schimmel

The plot of Jennifer Schimmel’s life has taken some unexpected twists.
“I actually had a degree in fine and performing arts, and I always envisioned I’d spend most of my life on stage,” she said. But when she took a job with Lenox-based Shakespeare and Co. in a fund-raising capacity, she found she had a knack for raising money.
That took her to similar positions at Hartford Seminary, an interfaith graduate school, and then the Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, two faith-based organizations whose missions spoke to her own values.
She eventually accepted the position of executive director at the Greater Springfield Habitat, where she has used her fund-raising and event-planning background to oversee a 113% increase in unrestricted donations to support the mission of providing home-ownership opportunities to low-income families, as well as a 127% jump in special-event support and a 30% increase in volunteer participation.
Those are impressive results, but Schimmel insists she’s the one who is inspired.
“I love getting to know the families, knowing that our families work hard for what they achieve,” she said. “The motto at Habitat is ‘a hand up, not a handout,’ and I love being here; we’re cheerleaders, a support system, educators — but the families do it all for themselves. We guide them, but they really take control of the process.”
Schimmel is committed to supporting Habitat’s efforts internationally as well. She’s certified with the organization’s Global Village Program and will lead a group of 11 people to Guatemala this fall to work with a family in need of affordable shelter — her second such trip. “It’s a life-changing experience,” she said.
Overall, Schimmel simply wants to make a difference, and she was frank with board members of Greater Springfield Habitat when she interviewed for the job.
“I said, ‘if I’m not right for the position, that’s OK — I’d rather go and be a waitress and pay my bills that way and spend my free time devoted to community service if that’s the right thing to do,’” she said. “This job is not about making a paycheck; it’s about making a difference.”
— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager, PeoplesBank

Lauren Tabin

Lauren Tabin

Lauren Tabin never intended to work in banking. But she’s glad she tried it.
“I came to Peoples in 1996 as a teller, and I honestly came just because I needed benefits; I was managing a candy store prior to that,” she said.
But she took advantage of the organization’s extensive management training program and quickly moved up the ranks; she was promoted several times on the way to her current role as branch manager and assistant vice president, not only running the operations of her office, but overseeing business development and community relations in the Holyoke market.
“I didn’t think this was going to be this much fun,” Tabin said of her accidental career. “I think the reason I’m enjoying myself is because of the great variety of tasks that I’m responsible for.”
She has always enjoyed the mentoring aspect of her job, and that ethos extends into the community, where she teaches young people about financial literacy. “I wish I had that as a kid,” she said. “A lot of families in Holyoke have very limited resources, and I feel the same way about the younger generation just coming into the work world. I want to mentor them and give them the tools to be successful like I was.”
Tabin’s civic involvement extends to her work with Providence Ministries for the Needy, the Holyoke Community Charter School, Girls Inc., and the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, among others.
“I like to be a motivation to people, to share my story with them and give them hope in hard times,” she said. “I had a child when I was very young and overcame lots of obstacles, and I share my story — that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I always see potential in everyone.”
It’s especially meaningful for Tabin to be doing this work in Holyoke.
“This is where I was born and raised, and this is where I’m raising my family,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the community where I live, and help make Holyoke a better place. I don’t want to be on the sidelines.”
— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Regional Director, Mass. Office of Business Development

Michael Vedovelli

Michael Vedovelli

Mike Vedovelli draws a number of parallels between coaching basketball, which he’s done at both Cathedral and Agawam high schools, and his day job as regional director of the Mass. Office of Business Development.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “Both provide different situations, different scenarios, each day, and you have to respond. In coaching, you’re put in some difficult situations where you have a kid who’s trying really hard and giving to the best of his ability, but not able to really compete; you have to explain why he’s not playing, but that he’s still part of a team. It’s similar with businesses: they’re coming to you asking for the sky, and you can only realistically give them so much.”
Vedovelli’s had considerable success on the court — Cathedral teams he served as assistant coach won four Western Mass. championships in six years, and two of his Agawam teams won sportsmanship awards — and within the broad realm of state-supported economic development. Indeed, he’s had his picture in several press outlets, including BusinessWest, for his work helping companies such as Titeflex and Smith & Wesson, both in Springfield, gain the state and local support needed to expand. But ultimate success isn’t measured in photo ops, but rather with jobs created or retained, he said, adding that the number was 225 with Smith & Wesson and more than 100 with Titeflex.
What he likes best about his work is the diversity. “Every day is different; one day I’m dealing with a tiny manufacturing company in Conway, a nine-person operation that’s going to create two jobs, and the town is going crazy because they think it’s great, and the company is very excited because it thinks this will open doors to new business. The next day I’m dealing with a Fortune 25 company that could potentially add 100 new jobs.”
The hardest parts of this job, he continued, are managing the expectations of those seeking help, and saying no, which he has to do on many occasions.
Vedovelli is married to Sarah, and has two sons, Cameron, 6, and Ryan, 4.
— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Owner and Founder, Wild Apple Design Group

Amy Scott

Amy Scott

Amy Scott laughed when she heard someone describe her as a woman “without the word ‘no’ in her vocabulary.”
“When people see my résumé, or I recite the litany of projects that I’m working on, they often wonder how on earth I do all this,” she offered as an explanation. “But it has a lot to do with efficiency, why I’m able to do as many things as I do. That’s at the core. It’s not that I’m crazy, or that I can’t say no, because I actually can. I selectively choose the nonprofits and charities that I plug into.”
Over the years, that list has included the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, the Zoo at Forest Park, the MSPCA of Springfield, Habitat for Humanity, Friends of the Homeless, and countless others.
“The reason why I choose to do so many nonprofit projects is that I find that other people who are involved in quality projects are also high performers,” she explained. “So it puts me in the right company.”
And that’s a message she likes to pass on to her clients.
As owner of a marketing and graphic-design firm, when Scott draws up something for a new client, “I ask them to consider a nonprofit facet as part of a well-rounded marketing strategy — to consider a grassroots approach, which means networking, networking, networking.
“And being visible when you’re doing that,” she added. “Everyone makes out in the end.”
With the coming of summer, Scott said she’s looking forward to fielding a new account: the Holyoke Blue Sox.
“I’ll be doing their sales and marketing,” she said, “and I’m finding that this is extremely exciting, because not only am I absorbing minor-league sports, which is a whole new dimension for me, but the Blue Sox are a nonprofit, and through them I was able to launch a tremendous number of fund-raisers through youth baseball leagues and school systems.”
Clearly, before the first shout of “play ball,” Scott has already hit a home run.
— Dan Chase

40 Under 40 The Class of 2011
Executive Director, Rockridge Retirement Community
Beth Vettori

Beth Vettori

Beth Vettori didn’t always plan to work in senior living. But her perspective changed while on vacation.
“My graduation gift from my parents was a trip to Switzerland with my grandmother, on a tour bus with other retirees,” she said. “Everyone was in their upper 60s, 70s, and 80s, and we toured Switzerland, Italy, and France. I bonded with the seniors without realizing it.”
After college, she went to work for Orchard Valley at Wilbraham and started up its Harbor program, an assisted-living neighborhood for elders with various types of memory impairment. “It was very challenging and a great experience to put that together,” she said. “It’s a great, caring atmosphere.”
She was later hired by Rockridge Retirement Community in Northampton and was promoted to executive director at age 27. At the time, the community had an operating deficit of nearly $1 million, but she led a restructuring effort to bring it to profitability within two years.
“My task is running the campus, so I oversee all the operations,” she said, noting that she especially enjoys the contact with both employees and residents. “It’s challenging, but it’s exciting. There are some great, great people who live here and work here with me.”
For her work at Rockridge — including opening its 42-unit assisted-living community and its memory-support neighborhood before being named executive director — Vettori earned the Emerging Leader Award from MassAging in 2010.
“While the [restructuring] task was difficult, especially for a young, new executive director,” said Paul Hollings, chairman of the MassAging board, “Beth pulled it off with grace and dignity and made everyone feel positive about the changes.”
In her spare time, she stays active with several nonprofits, including Steph’s Wild Ride, an organization launched five years ago to assist children with cancer; it was named after Vettori’s cousin, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 21. “I want to help other local families by providing children with funds and gift cards, things that can really help them out,” she said.
It’s just one more way Vettori is helping to improve lives — both young and old.
— Joseph Bednar