Daily News

SPRINGFIELD Baystate Health has awarded $1 million in Better Together Grants to five community initiatives with partner organizations as part of its Community Benefits Program.  

 “Baystate Health is proud to invest our Determination of Need (DoN) Community Health Initiative (CHI) funding in the communities served by our four hospitals. It is an honor to partner with these very deserving local non-profit organizations over the next three years,” said Annamarie Golden, director, Community Relations for Baystate Health 

 This year’s recipients, who submitted requests for proposals in January 2022 include: Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation in partnership with the Town of Ware, The Care Center in partnership with Greenfield Technical Community College, Westfield State University in partnership with Springfield Technical Community College, Montague Catholic Social Ministries in partnership with The Brick House Community Resource Center, and the Western Mass. Training Consortium in partnership with the Bridge Program community organizations  — The Recover Project, The Salasin Project and The Wildflower Alliance.  

 “Baystate’s Community Benefits Program, in partnership with our hospital Community Benefits Advisory Councils (CBACs) and Grant Review Teams, is making investments through Better Together grants that will have lasting and meaningful impacts on health outcomes, health equity, and social determinants of health throughout the Pioneer Valley,” said Golden. 

 Funding for the Better Together grants is made possible through the Mass. Department of Public Health’s (MDPH) Determination of Need (DoN) requirements related to the replacement of Baystate Medical Center’s Operating Rooms approved in November 2020. Although this project was unique to the hospital, Baystate Health’s goal is to equitably distribute the Community Health Initiative funds for grant making to all four Baystate Health hospitals. This was an intentional step toward health equity, recognizing that Baystate’s community hospitals historically have lower likelihood of accessing DoN CHI funds. The aim of the Better Together grant opportunity is to develop approaches that by targeting the social determinants of health, will improve people’s overall well-being and make our communities healthier places to live in, while complementing the health care system’s current offerings. In addition to funding the grantees, Baystate Health has also contracted with the Public Health Institute of Western Mass. to provide technical assistance and evaluation support to the grantee cohort over the next three years. 


Better Together Grant Recipients: 


Baystate Franklin Medical Center: $300,000 total budget (over three years); Social Determinant of Focus: Social Environment 

Montague Catholic Social Ministries & The Brick House Community Resource Center, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Development: $150,000 – 2 years


 Baystate Medical Center: $500,000 total budget (over three years); Social Determinant of Focus: Education 

The Care Center & Greenfield Technical Community College, Cabot Street College: $250,000 – 3 years

  • Westfield State University & Springfield Technical Community College, Pathways for New Healthcare Professionals: Promoting the Development of a Diverse, Entrepreneurial, and Innovative Nursing Workforce: $250,000 – 3 years


 Baystate Wing Hospital: $200,000 total budget (over three years); Social Determinant of Focus: Education 

Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation & The Town of Ware, Engaging Youth in Education to Employment: $200,000 – 3 years


  For more information about Baystate Health’s Community Benefits Program, visit baystatehealth.org/communitybenefits. 

Daily News


HOLYOKE — Holyoke Mall has welcomed, OneZo, with its unique house-made boba, to the shopping center. 

Boba tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink with sweet balls or “pearls,” made from tapioca starch and can be made from milk tea, green tea or fruit tea. Established in Taiwan in 2015, OneZo was the first café in the world to make their own boba in-store. Their goal is to serve the freshest boba drinks and use their creativity to develop new boba flavors. Some of the more popular flavors include Brown Sugar Bubble Latte, Hong Kong Style Milk Tea, Strawberry Slush Milk Tea, Grapefruit Green Tea, and Thai Tea.  

OneZo tea can be found in 17 countries and has several locations in Massachusetts including Quincy and Worcester. Holyoke Mall guests can experience freshly made bubble tea in their new location in Café Square. 

Daily News

LENOX — Shakespeare & Company, a theater performance, education, and training outfit now celebrating its 45th year, announced the appointment of Amy Handelsman as managing director, effective May 1. 

Handelsman accepted the position following an executive search process led by Arts Consulting Group (ACG), and comes to the company with more than two decades of diverse experience in theater, dance, film, and television, particularly in the areas of nonprofit management, business development, and strategic planning.  

“I am thrilled to be joining Allyn Burrows, the rest of the staff, and the board at Shakespeare & Company — one of the nation’s most highly regarded theater companies — to uphold the playful rigor of its work and to open up new avenues for programming, partnerships, and community engagement,” she said. 

In her new position, Handelsman will be responsible for championing Shakespeare & Company’s artistic vision through the development of new and expanded income streams, expansion, and cultivation of the company’s Board of Trustees; supervision of administrative, marketing, and fundraising efforts, and ongoing engagement with various constituents in the Berkshire County community.  

Most recently, Handelsman served as managing director of GALLIM, a movement production company based in Brooklyn, N.Y., which has staged productions at Lincoln Center’s Hearst Plaza, New York City Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Ailey II Dance Company, and other venues.  

She serves on the Artistic Council of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Playwrights Conference, and has worked as a curator, dramaturge, project manager, and consultant for a wide range of clients including the Hip-Hop Theater Festival (Hi-ARTS), HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and locally with Jacob’s Pillow and the Batsheva Dance Company’s 2018 Summer Tour.  

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The management of Big Y Foods, Inc. has announced the following new appointments:  

  • Kayla Constantine was named senior financial analyst at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center;
  • Christopher Eldredge was named Food Service sales manager at the Manchester, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
  • Otilia Brown was named store director at the Simsbury, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
    • Jennifer Devine was named Customer Service manager at the West Springfield Big Y Supermarket;
  • Shawn Kirchner was named store director of the North Adams Big Y Supermarket;
  • Anthony Zarlengo was named store director in Training at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center;
  • Natalie Alves was named Employee Services representative at the Ware Big Y Supermarket;
  • Christopher Krupa was named manager of Pharmacy Operations at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center 
  • Zachary Harris was named Customer Service representative at the Stafford Springs, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
  • James Simonds was named Deli sales manager at the Ware Big Y Supermarket; and
  • Kevin Connors was named Meat & Seafood sales manager at the Northampton Big Y Supermarket.
Banking and Financial Services

Branching Out — Again

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik says Hometown Financial Group’s latest acquisition, like those that came before it, is all about creating scale at a time when that quality is critical to growth and even survival.

A “survival tactic.”

That’s one of the phrases Matt Sosik, CEO of Hometown Financial Group Inc., the parent of bankESB, used to describe Hometown’s announced plans to acquire Randolph Bancorp Inc., the latest in a series of moves by Hometown to expand through acquisition.

Elaborating, Sosik said this acquisition will certainly give Hometown, the multi-bank holding company for Abington Bank as well as bankESB, a larger, stronger footprint on the state’s South Shore. Indeed, Randolph Bancorp is the holding company for Envision Bank, which will merge with and into Abington Bank to create a $1.4 billion institution with 11 full-service retail locations across the South Shore, including the towns of Abington, Avon, Braintree, Cohassett, Holbrook, Marion, Randolph, and Stoughton.

But the primary reason for this acquisition, as well as the other five undertaken in just the past seven years, he told BusinessWest, is to achieve something that is becoming ever-more critical in today’s banking climate: scale.

“Banking has become such a low-margin business that scale is absolutely critical,” Sosik explained. “We aren’t running our company to survive three years or five years; we’re running to survive 20 and 30 years. We want to be a relevant player in all our markets, and we want to ensure our long-term survival, and to do that, scale is the name of the game.

“We’re not seeking this growth because it makes us feel better or because it allows us to pump our chest out,” he went on. “This is a survival tactic in this business.”

With this latest acquisition, which is expected to be finalized by the fourth quarter of this year, Hometown will have consolidated assets of approximately $4.4 billion and a branch network of 38 full-service offices across Massachusetts and the northeastern part of Connecticut. The move will make Hometown the 10th-largest mutual banking company in the country.

“We aren’t running our company to survive three years or five years; we’re running to survive 20 and 30 years. We want to be a relevant player in all our markets, and we want to ensure our long-term survival, and to do that, scale is the name of the game.”

“That’s scale — that’s about us being one of the survivors when the dust eventually settles,” said Sosik, reiterating, again, the need for size in a changing, still consolidating banking and financial-services sector, where competition is growing — and evolving.

“I talk about low margins and scale, but there’s a dynamic that’s ever-increasing; we now have competitors that aren’t just credit unions or banks,” he went on, listing players such as SoFi, Chime, and others. “The non-bank competition is out to steal our lunch, and to an extent, they will be successful. But we need to be able to play in their space, and that takes scale, too.”

Hometown’s acquisition of publicly traded Randolph Bancorp will provide more of that scale, said Sosik, noting that talks between the institutions started last fall and quickly intensified.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, which has been unanimously approved by both boards of directors, Randolph shareholders will receive $27 in cash for each share of Randolph common stock. The total transaction value is approximately $146.5 million.

This transaction will be the sixth strategic merger for Hometown in the last seven years. In 2015, Hometown acquired Citizens National Bancorp Inc., based in Putnam, Conn., and then merged with Hometown Community Bancorp. MHC, the holding company for Hometown Bank, in 2016. It then acquired Pilgrim Bancshares Inc. and Abington Bank in 2019, and later that same year merged Millbury Savings Bank with and into bankHometown.

Like those other acquisitions, this one will enable Hometown to achieve needed additional growth quickly and effectively, Sosik said.

“From the Hometown Financial Group perspective, this is a move that allows us to grow with very little additional cost,” he told BusinessWest. “This particular acquisition is going to be extremely efficient for Hometown.”

And, as noted, it will give Hometown a much larger and stronger position in a very competitive banking climate on the South Shore.

“With the addition of Envision Bank, we more than double our full-service locations and assets in Eastern Massachusetts,” he explained. “This dramatically increases the branding power we have on the South Shore, as well as market share.”

One matter still to be determined — and there is time to make this decision — is what name will go on the new entity, said Sosik, adding that both brands (Envision and Abington) have value and cache in that market.

“We’ll try to figure out what’s the best brand in that market for that combined bank,” he said. “We want to be thoughtful about that, and we’ll give it some thought.”

Meanwhile, the search for additional strategic acquisitions and partnerships with like-minded acquisitions will continue, he added, because scale will only become more important in the years and decades to come.

As he said, it’s a survival tactic.


— George O’Brien

Banking and Financial Services

Smart Tax Planning for 2022

By Barbara Trombley


Most of you have probably just filed your taxes or an extension. Maybe you are shell-shocked by the taxes owed on unexpected capital gains, unemployment, or additional income picked up in the last year. Maybe you received a large refund, which means you are estimating a larger tax bill than is due.

It is not the time to close the drawer and forget. Smart taxpayers start planning right away for next year so that they are prepared for their 2022 taxes and have done all they can to minimize them.

The first task is to have a detailed discussion with your accountant to comprehend why you owed extra taxes this year or why you received a big refund.

If it’s the latter, you are having too much money withheld. If you expect your income to be the same in 2022, you can adjust your withholdings. If you are still working, call your payroll department and make a change. If you are retired, you are probably having taxes withheld from a few different sources — possibly Social Security, a pension, or investment distributions. Getting a big refund is not a good thing. Make a change to one or all so you aren’t giving the government an interest-free loan with your money. Also, do the same for state taxes.

Barbara Trombley

Barbara Trombley

“It is not the time to close the drawer and forget. Smart taxpayers start planning right away for next year so that they are prepared for their 2022 taxes and have done all they can to minimize them.”

If you owed money, have a clear understanding why. Many dual-income families enter a higher tax bracket when combing two salaries. Unless you fill out a new version of the W4, your payroll department may not be withholding enough. Also, in our new economy, many people have picked up side jobs. Unless you make quarterly estimated tax payments, you will have to pay the taxes owed on the additional income when you file. Talk to your accountant about making quarterly estimated tax payments. It is easier to fund a large tax bill over the course of the year instead of scrambling to find the funds. Also, you will avoid potential interest and penalties by having the correct amount of taxes paid throughout the year instead of in a lump sum in April.

Another common reason to have owed money for 2021 taxes was due to capital-gains distributions in non-retirement investment accounts. The stock market had a great year in 2021, and many mutual-fund companies realized gains on holdings. These are tough for the investor to plan for. If you have investment accounts that are not retirement-specific, you will see a 1099-Div form from the investment company each year. Dividends and interest may be predictable, but gains and losses, not so much. Taxable gains mean you were successful and made money in your investment account, and taxes are due.

Do you want to try to reduce your tax bill? Consider maximizing your retirement-plan contribution. In 2022, investors can contribute $20,500 to their 401(k), 403(b), or 457 with an additional $6,500 of catch-up contribution if over age 50. This is a great way to get a tax break (your contributions are deducted from your income before taxes are figured) and grow your assets. You will need to log in to your plan and adjust your withholdings to account for the increase, as the maximum contribution allowed was $19,500 in 2021. Contribution limits are also increasing for Simple IRAs, from $13,500 in 2021 to $14,000 in 2022, with a $3,000 catch-up contribution.

There are some notable changes in the 2022 tax year that may impact how much you will owe when figuring next year’s taxes. On the plus side, the standard deduction will slightly increase for all filing categories. Income thresholds for deduction phaseouts will also increase for traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. In addition, the federal lifetime estate-tax and gift-tax exemption for 2022 jumped from $11.7 million to $12.06 million — $24.12 million for couples if portability is elected when filing after the death of the first spouse. This is more than enough for most Americans.

Unfortunately, the Massachusetts estate tax is not nearly as generous. If you die as a Massachusetts resident, your heirs may have to pay an estate tax, which is calculated on the first dollar of estates that are over $1 million. Gov. Charlie Baker has current legislation that would exclude the first $2 million in assets when figuring the estate tax. This change is long overdue.

There are many other changes coming this year for taxpayers, and this article highlights just a few. If it impacts you, look up changes to child tax credits, earned-income tax credits, deductions for teachers’ expenses, and changes to the kiddie tax. Knowledge and planning are the keys to having a successful, uneventful 2022 tax season.


Barbara Trombley is a financial advisor and CPA with Wilbraham-based Trombley, CPA; (413) 596-6992. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Trombley Associates, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA tax, legal, or investment advice.

Banking and Financial Services

The Art of Being Ready

By Chelsea Russell


Each year goes by faster than the last, and before you know it, your nonprofit’s year-end audit is right around the corner.

Collectively, we can all agree that the audit process should be quick and easy, but we often face audits that never seem to end. Have you ever wondered what you can do to make an audit go smoothly and be as efficient as possible so that deadlines can be met? This is a great opportunity for you to learn about how your organization can have a more efficient audit process and how your organization can continue to improve procedures surrounding audit preparation.

As an auditor who is involved in many not-for-profits, I’d like to share some best practices to help you prepare for your year-end audit.


Have a Planning Meeting

It’s never too early to start reaching out to your auditor. Having a planning meeting with your auditor a month before your organization’s year end is encouraged. This meeting will serve many purposes, such as reminding everyone of specific due dates, discussing significant activity over the last year, and deciding on a start date for the audit based on your readiness.


Establish a Timeline

Once you and your auditor have discussed due dates and a start date for the audit, you should start preparing for the audit early by asking for your auditor’s data-request list. Review the list with your auditors, ask for what items are priority for testing purposes, and establish an internal due date for your team. As you and your team start preparing information for the audit, have regular check-ins with your auditor as you approach each due date and the start of the audit.

Chelsea Russell

“Collectively, we can all agree that the audit process should be quick and easy, but we often face audits that never seem to end.”

Reconcile All Significant Trial Balance Accounts

Prior to starting the audit, all significant trial balance accounts should be reconciled, and you should double-check that the supporting documentation agrees with the trial balance accounts. This is a great opportunity to make sure you have the necessary internal control procedures in place, and may present an opportunity for improvement. To prevent a delay in the audit, the earlier you can start your year-end closing process and reconciliation of accounts, the sooner you can review the audit support for potential errors before handing documents over to the auditors.


Compliance Requirements

The level of compliance requirements you have to adhere to depends on the funding your organization receives (state, federal, grants, or donations). A best practice would be to review your funding sources and determine the compliance requirements needed well ahead of the annual audit. Depending on where your funding is coming from can dictate the level of compliance requirements you have to adhere to. For example, if you receive federal funding or federal funding passed through the state, this could require additional audit testing to be performed and additional time incurred by the auditor. It’s best to review all funding sources on a regular basis and communicate any changes with your auditors.


Bottom Line

Once you invest your time and try these best practices, you’ll be able to develop your own processes throughout the year, keep the information organized, and be ready for your next audit.


Chelsea Russell, CPA is a manager at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.


Grade Expectations

By Elizabeth Sears


Rachel Romano certainly understands the importance of providing meaningful education opportunities to a community’s youth. She’s the founder and executive director of Veritas Prep Charter School, a charter-school system that uses innovative turnaround strategies to help students reach their full academic potential.

“Most of our students come into middle school performing below grade level, and the vast majority leave us headed to high school at or above the level of their peers across the state,” she said.

That transformative impact will no longer conclude at the end of eighth grade. Indeed, Veritas Prep High School is set to welcome its inaugural ninth-grade class in the fall of 2022. Now scholars have the opportunity to continue with Veritas, complete essential high-school graduation requirements, and even earn credits toward a college degree.

Veritas Prep Charter School started off in 2012 as a middle school in Springfield holding the belief that all students have the ability to achieve at high levels if given the right opportunities. It has been a decade now since the middle school opened, and since its founding, Veritas has grown more than those who created it could have imagined.

Rachel Romano

Rachel Romano

“Most of our students come into middle school performing below grade level, and the vast majority leave us headed to high school at or above the level of their peers across the state.”

The school now serves more than 370 Springfield students and is one of the Bay State’s top-performing middle schools. Veritas also has a Holyoke middle school in addition to its flagship Springfield location. Dramatic gains have been shown in student achievement, with double the ‘proficient’ and ‘advanced’ MCAS scores than those received in Springfield Public Schools. With such growth and success, the enthusiasm surrounding the opening of the new high school is immeasurable.

“We never had intentions of opening a high school when we started, but year after year, our students who matriculated on to ninth grade and were in high school would come back and say, ‘why don’t we have a high school?’” Romano explained. “So given the parent and student demand for Veritas to open a high school, a few years ago we decided maybe it is time that we expand our charter to serve our students through high-school graduation.”


Course of Action

Veritas Prep Charter School was given the approval to open a high school back in 2020. Veritas assembled a diverse design team to create a high school that can effectively serve the needs of its students. The design team was comprised of more than 200 Springfield community members, including current students, alumni, families of students, and stakeholders.

“We really wanted to center the voices of our students, our alumni, our teachers, our families, to design a high school that would meet the needs of our students,” Romano told BusinessWest.

That is where the ‘Portrait of a Graduate’ was developed — something Romano is particularly proud of.

‘Portrait of a Graduate’ was developed through the design team and embodies the vision of Veritas — that all of its scholars will “emerge as woke citizens, innovators, leaders of tomorrow, and learners for life.”

An important element of this mission includes the opportunity to earn up to 30 college credits — two years of college worth — completely free of charge. These college credits can be transferred to any state college or university. Students can even potentially earn an associate degree by the time they graduate high school.

“Too few Springfield students complete college degrees, and since we will have our students through high school, we want to go ahead and give them access to college courses while we can support them to earn some credits, tuition-free,” Romano noted.

Currently, only 26.4% of Springfield residents obtain a higher-education degree, compared to almost 50% statewide. Veritas is seeking to address key barriers to higher education such as access, lack of preparation, and cost.

“Our middle school is always focused on getting our students set up with a vision of themselves in college and pointing them toward high school ready to be on a college prep track. What we learned is that even that is sometimes not enough,” she went on. “We really are centering the need in Springfield for degree completion. We know degree completion is going to significantly increase the earning potential, health, and quality of life for our students and their families; earning a degree has been an asset that’s been pretty elusive for many Springfield Public School students.”

The Springfield community was prioritized throughout the entire planning process. Veritas scholars have played a key role in the planning and development of the new high school, providing input on everything from the school’s design to its curriculum. Students will have multiple areas of study to choose from that cover a wide range of high-impact careers, including health sciences, engineering, education, and more.

“With the right voices at the table, we have been able to reimagine what high school can look like and create a compelling, career-focused, early-college model,” Romano said.

Veritas Prep High School is following a career-focused early-college program. Students will not be able to select any course they want from the catalog, but rather will have pathways to choose from that are aligned with career trajectories. Veritas seeks to place its students on pathways where they can be certain about getting jobs and earning a good living.

“With the right voices at the table, we have been able to reimagine what high school can look like and create a compelling, career-focused, early-college model.”

Not only will students have the option to take college classes during their time at Veritas Prep High School, but they will also be able to get relevant and beneficial certificates — for example, a certificate in Google Suites or a nurse-aide certification for students who are in the health-sciences trajectory.

“We’re really trying to equip them with meaningful experiences in the high-school years that will send them off to hopefully four-year degree programs,” Romano said, while helping those who plan to work immediately after high school access gainful employment experiences while they work their way through school.

Even though charter schools operate a bit differently from their traditional public-school counterparts, they serve the community in a similar way. Charter schools were created from federal legislation with the intention of creating innovative schools within the public-school space while providing parents with choices.

Although students do have to apply to Veritas, there is no selection criteria — as long as a student has a mailing address in Springfield, the opportunity to attend is open to them.

“We’re really excited to open a new campus this August … we will have some vacant seats available for other Springfield students to join our inaugural class as well,” Romano said.

Current eighth-graders at Veritas are guaranteed a place in the new high school, and a lottery will be held to fill the remaining spots. The high school will expand by one grade per year up through grade 12.


Class Act

When discussing the immense impact Veritas Prep High School will have on the Springfield community, Romano spoke of the unlimited academic and social potential that Springfield students possess.

Given the opportunity, any student can achieve the goals they set their mind to, she insisted. “Veritas scholars will become changemakers who are equipped to choose their path, challenge inequity, and transform the world.”

Education Event Galleries

Women’s Leadership Conference

‘Reimagine’ was the theme for the 25th Bay Path University Women’s Leadership Conference on April 1, a day-long event that drew more than 1,300 women and men to the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield. The conference featured three keynote speakers and a number of educational breakout sessions, as well as networking and a message from Bay Path President Sandra Doran about the university, its 125th anniversary, and its future.

Photos by Leah Martin Photography


Mechanic and Girls Auto Clinic founder Patrice Banks takes the stage as the luncheon keynote speaker

Mechanic and Girls Auto Clinic founder Patrice Banks takes the stage as the luncheon keynote speaker


Tyra Banks, the closing keynote speaker, answers questions from conference attendees

Tyra Banks, the closing keynote speaker, answers questions from conference attendees


author and speaker Christine Cashen kicks off the 2022 conference with laughter and advice as the morning keynote speaker

Doran addresses the audience

Doran addresses the audience


Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno welcomes attendees to the city of Springfield

Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno welcomes attendees to the city of Springfield



Nonprofit Management

18 Under 18

Jennifer Connelly

Jennifer Connelly says JA’s 18 Under 18 program will recognize young people in three areas — innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement.

Jennifer Connelly says that, in many ways, the new recognition program created by Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Massachusetts was inspired by the pandemic and a recognized need to bring attention to the manner in which young people, who were impacted by COVID-19 in many different ways, stepped up and displayed true leadership and community involvement at a turbulent time.

“The past few years have been tough on everybody, but they’ve been even tougher on young people,” said Connelly, the agency’s president and CEO. “I think that being isolated, doing remote learning, having to wear masks, not being able to interact with people like they used to, like our volunteers … has challenged many of them, and they’ve felt isolated and removed from being part of the community. We wanted to do something to recognize them to help their self-esteem, but also for the community to realize what a bright future we have with these young people who are doing so much already and celebrate them.”

But these are qualities worthy of recognition at any time, she went on, noting that JA’s new initiative, called 18 Under 18 — in a nod to many regional and national recognition programs, including BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty — and presented by Teddy Bear Pools, will hopefully become a permanent fixture in the region. That is certainly the plan.

“We wanted to do something to recognize them to help their self-esteem, but also for the community to realize what a bright future we have with these young people who are doing so much already and celebrate them.”

The program, as its name connotes, will recognize 18 young people from across the region in both middle and high school. Nominees must attend school in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire County, and while involvement in JA programs is not required, it is considered favorably during the evaluation process, which is now underway. The class of 2022 will be introduced later this month, and they will be honored at ceremonies in the Tower Square food court on May 19.

Candidates will be judged in three areas, said Connelly — innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement — and the nominations that have been received, mostly from teachers, principals, guidance counselors, parents, and other students, show all of those qualities.

Connelly said the program is modeled after initiatives launched in recent years by JA chapters in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and is designed to bring attention to the accomplishments of young people, their leadership skills, and the manner in which they are inspiring others.

She said finalists for the program will be required to attend a 30-minute virtual interview with judges who will ultimately select the 18 to be honored this year.

Those who are nominated are asked to submit something “creative,” she added, be it a photo, a video, a poem or story they wrote, or, in the case of students from the Springfield Conservatory of Music who were nominated, YouTube videos.

“We’re asking these students to display leadership and entrepreneurship, but in the sense that entrepreneurship is creative thinking, the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, the ability to think outside the box, and problem solving.”

“We’re asking these students to display leadership and entrepreneurship, but in the sense that entrepreneurship is creative thinking, the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, the ability to think outside the box, and problem solving,” she explained, adding that the exercise in creativity should certainly give the judges some things to think about.

Elaborating on that concept of leadership, Connelly said it can come in many forms and many forums, and the 18 Under 18 program should bring this out.

“You don’t have to the student president of a particular grade,” she explained. “You can be demonstrating leadership in a class, for example, stepping up when you see someone having problems in class and helping them.”

Community service is the third leg of the triangle, she said, adding that, even during the pandemic — or especially during the pandemic, as the case may be — young people across the region have found ways to help others and serve their community.

The chosen 18 will be recognized in many different ways, which is one of the hallmarks of the initiative, said Connelly, adding that she is expecting several local media outlets to introduce the honorees to the region. At the May 19 event, there will be a reception for the honorees, with 250 to 300 attendees expected, and awards given out (Country Bank is the award sponsor). There will be even be ‘18 Under 18’ lawn signs to identify the homes of the 18 honorees.

Eventually, the goal is to award college scholarships to the honorees, said Connelly, adding that this goal can be realized if the program catches on as expected and additional sponsors can be secured.

Ted Hebert, owner and founder of Chicopee-based Teddy Bear Pools and, coincidentally, one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2022, said he was approached by JA several months ago to be a sponsor of 18 Under 18. A strong supporter of youth programs and organizations committed to serving young people, from youth sports leagues to Boys and Girls Clubs to YMCAs, Hebert said he attached the Teddy Bear name to the initiative because it dovetails with other work he and his wife, Barbara, are involved with, and meshes with his values when it comes to how such agencies should serve young people.

“I like to help organizations that don’t enable people,” he explained. “I like organizations that help people, give them a helping hand, to guide them and help them through whatever they’re going to go through to make it better for them and our society. I’m looking to assist people, and this program seemed to be something that would be assisting young people in their personal lives and, potentially, their business lives. And I liked that idea.”

As with other recognition programs of this kind, Connelly said 18 Under 18 will take some time to become part of the fabric of the region. As it gains visibility and the students are recognized for their accomplishments and talents, she expects the number of nominations to steadily grow.

Over the coming years, she believes, this recognition, a word she chose over ‘award,’ is something that students and those that they inspire will come to value and strive for.

“We’re really excited about this,” she said in conclusion, adding that such a recognition program for young people has been a missing ingredient locally. “We know how special these students are. We need to let everyone know.”


— George O’Brien


The Future of Work

By Mark Morris

State Sen. Eric Lesser

State Sen. Eric Lesser says the pandemic accelerated a number of work trends that were already in motion.

Topics like ‘the future of work’ can often sound like a lofty concept, something that’s years or even decades away from the present.

But to state Sen. Eric Lesser, the future of work has already arrived.

Lesser and state Rep. Josh Cutler co-chaired a commission on the future of work and recently released its final report.

The commission came to be after Lesser authored and filed legislation back in 2019 to address the rapid changes that are happening in workplaces across the state. From increased automation and robotics to international trade policies, all these factors affect the economy and the lives of workers in Massachusetts. The arrival of COVID-19 only accelerated and intensified these economic changes.

“The idea was to take a peek over the horizon, to look beyond COVID to see what a worker’s experience will be over the next five to 10 years, and how we can prepare for that,” Lesser said.

The legislation was signed into law in January 2021 by Gov. Charlie Baker as part of an economic-development bill. Lesser called the commission “diverse in every sense,” with members representing the private sector, the public sector, labor, and academia. Members of the commission also hailed from every region of Massachusetts.

“We gathered a group of people with a diverse set of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives,” Lesser said. “It was important to reach consensus by considering all our viewpoints.”

A major finding of the commission’s report discusses how every type of worker is facing some new level of technology integration into their jobs. Lesser gave an example of a restaurant server who once needed only a pad and pen to take dinner orders.

“The idea was to take a peek over the horizon, to look beyond COVID to see what a worker’s experience will be over the next five to 10 years, and how we can prepare for that.”

“Now many restaurants have software programs to keep track of orders, payments, and reservations,” he said. “We’re seeing this type of technology integration in jobs across industries.”

In order to qualify for jobs that use ever-changing technology, training workers for current and future jobs becomes essential.

“One finding in the report said the state of Massachusetts has to train or retrain 30,000 to 40,000 workers a year just to keep up with all the workplace changes,” Lesser said. “That’s more than double our current capacity at the MassHire Workforce Training Center.”

On top of all the challenges on the job, another key finding addressed work-adjacent issues that affect workers off the job and impact family stability. Escalating costs for childcare and housing are among the top work-adjacent concerns.

“Private childcare in Massachusetts is $8,000 higher than the national average,” Lesser said. As a byproduct of COVID, the price of houses and rents are soaring, which forces people to live further away from their workplaces and exacerbates another concern — transportation.


So, What’s the Answer?

While it’s easy to list all the issues confronting workers in Massachusetts, Lesser said the report also provides recommendations to guide legislation going forward to address these concerns and make life better for workers in the state.

“The idea is to integrate the findings and perspectives of the report into everything the state does,” he noted, giving examples of upcoming legislation on healthcare and economic development where the Future of Work report aided in drafting the bills.

The most pressing area where the report can influence workplace policies involves putting a focus on equity and inclusion to make sure no one is left behind. The report reveals serious roadblocks to finding meaningful work, which Lesser wants to see addressed.

“More than one-third of families in Springfield do not own a laptop or desktop computer,” he noted. “Today, nearly every employer requires the first application be done electronically, so right off the bat it locks out a whole population of people.”

The report also suggests an increase in language training for non-English speakers, which would make it easier for immigrants to join the workforce instead of being held back by language skills.

“Predictions are that today’s worker will have 12 different jobs over the course of their work career. That number will only increase five to 10 years from now, so the notion of training for a job once is really obsolete.”

While the report is future-focused, Lesser quickly pointed out that traditional models for successful careers are already out of touch with the demands of today’s workforce. The old model where workers learned a craft or students went to college and then joined the workforce for the next 45 years without much change rarely happens these days.

“Predictions are that today’s worker will have 12 different jobs over the course of their work career,” he said. “That number will only increase five to 10 years from now, so the notion of training for a job once is really obsolete.”

To adjust to a world that keeps changing at a faster pace, the report recommends an emphasis on “stackable credentials” for workers, with constant, specific training keeping them current and promotable.

“By acquiring skills that stack on top of each other, workers can move up the skill ladder, move up the income ladder, and build out a fulfilling career as a result,” Lesser explained.

As technology demands in the workplace keep advancing, the workforce itself is aging, especially in Massachusetts. Baby Boomers are staying on the job longer than previous generations, partly for financial reasons and because technology has lessened the physical demands of work. Lesser said it’s important to consider the needs of an aging workforce from several perspectives, including work-adjacent issues.

“It’s not surprising to see workers dealing with childcare and elder care for their parents,” Lesser said. “The work culture hasn’t really accounted for that type of situation because it’s a more recent consideration.”

All these issues are called out in the report to enable the state to have information on what’s needed to help workers in the years ahead, he added. “The state needs to do its part to make sure all these work-adjacent issues are considered when planning the future of work.”


Strong Foundation

While all these issues and concerns can sound dramatic and overwhelming, Lesser said it’s important to remember all the contributions made by the Massachusetts economy and its workers. Early development of COVID vaccines, as well as many breakthroughs in life sciences and new technologies, are just some of the innovations the state can claim.

“We are well-positioned to benefit from all these changes because we have a highly skilled workforce, great educational institutions, and leadership in many fields,” he noted.

Looking ahead, Massachusetts has a positive story to tell. Lesser said the next challenge is to make sure “this booming engine of a state” includes all communities.

“As a result of all the changes in the workplace, we are making contributions to the world. Now we want to make sure we continue to do this without leaving people behind in the process.”

Banking and Financial Services

Big Is Getting Even Bigger

By Jeff Liguori


Financial advice generally addresses the question ‘where should I put my money?’ It is a simple way of asking ‘what is the optimal investment for my hard-earned dollars?’ The more important meaning may be more literal: with today’s shifting landscape, where do I actually put my money?

The financial-services industry, which employs approximately 6.5 million people and is responsible for more than $123 trillion in assets in the U.S., has been rapidly changing over the past two decades. And the rate of that change is quickening. As with all industries, change may be the only certainty, but when it directly impacts our pocketbooks, it can create anxiety.

At the end of 2020, there were 4,377 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the U.S. That number is down from 6,519 in 2010 and more than 8,000 in 2000. During the same 20-year period, the dollar volume of loans generated by those banks has increased 127%, growing from $1.05 trillion to $2.38 trillion. Consumers seem to have fewer choices in terms of traditional banking.

Despite the number of banks being cut in half since 2000, there are more financial outlets than ever for depositors, borrowers, and investors. Finance has become a complex structure and confusing network of companies, from purely digital firms with a limited product offering, like PayPal, to massive financial supermarkets like Bank of America. Incidentally, in the past five years, the number of total active user accounts with PayPal has risen sharply from 165 million to 380 million, up 130%, with total annual transaction volume approaching $1 trillion.

Jeff Liguori

Jeff Liguori

“Finance has become a complex structure and confusing network of companies, from purely digital firms with a limited product offering, like PayPal, to massive financial supermarkets like Bank of America.”

The adoption of technology in banking is largely a function of age. At the end of 2020, nearly 50% of consumers ages 24 to 39 were making payments with digital or mobile wallets. That percentage decreases slightly up to age 54. But only one-fifth of consumers ages 55 to 73 transact digitally, and only one in 12 consumers age 74 or older are comfortable making digital payments. Focusing on younger demographics, ‘killer app’ technology has become a critical component of growth for companies in financial services. The number of financial-technology startups, or fintech, in North America has grown 90% since 2018.

Beyond technology, financial firms continue to expand their suite of products. For example, the five largest life-insurance companies measured by annual premium revenue are Northwestern Mutual, MetLife, New York Life, Prudential, and MassMutual, in that order. Those firms also have a significant presence in investment management, by way of mutual funds or wealth advisory or both. The same is true for the largest commercial banks, investment banks, and broker-dealers. Financial solutions are ubiquitous across the industry regardless of the type of firm.

Big is getting even bigger. It is an evolution in financial services, and not without precedent. Historically, consumers deposited their paycheck and took out their mortgage from the local bank. They obtained insurance through a local broker and invested with a local advisor. As these independent businesses got bought by larger firms, the relationship to the community slowly eroded. Meanwhile, our bank is connected to our PayPal account, directly pays our mortgage and car payments, and debits our monthly Netflix subscription. The idea of switching banks is enough to cause sleeplessness, even though our relationship manager works at a call center in Tulsa.

As with all trends, opportunities arise. The combination of an intricate financial landscape with rapidly changing technology and a greater access to products and solutions than ever before is exciting. Lost in the consolidation of banking is the local connection. In years past, a bigger institution had greater access, but that is no longer the case.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey was the frustrated local banker who single-handedly saved the town from financial ruin. He couldn’t compete with the wealthy industrialist, Henry Potter, who owned half of Bedford Falls. But George had one thing Mr. Potter didn’t, the trust of his neighbors. As financial products and services continue to multiply and digitize at a dizzying pace, it will ultimately be the local trusted banker or advisor who helps confused consumers make the right choices.


Jeff Liguori is the co-founder and chief Investment officer of Napatree Capital, an investment boutique with offices in Longmeadow as well as Providence and Westerly, R.I.; (401) 437-4730.