Daily News

Lirianna Powers

MONSON — Monson Savings Bank (MSB) recently announced the hiring of Lirianna Powers as assistant branch manager of the Ware Branch located at 136 West Main St.

“Lirianna’s expertise in banking is a tremendous asset to our team and extends benefits to our customers and the local communities as well,” said Dan Moriarty, president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank. “Her positive outlook is perfectly in sync with the culture at Monson Savings Bank, and we are truly fortunate to have her as part of our organization.”

Powers will assist the branch’s manager and oversee the operation of branch functions. She aims to provide the bank’s customers with superior customer service and help them find the financial products that best suit their unique needs.

Powers comes to Monson Savings Bank with eight years of experience in banking and finance. She previously worked at Florence Bank as a teller operations manager and customer service representative. In this role, she oversaw and managed her branch’s teller line, educated team members, and provided customer service while serving as a positive role model.

“I am genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply the skills I have acquired throughout my banking career to my new role at Monson Savings Bank,” Powers said. “As a local bank that is deeply committed to its employees, customers, and the broader community, Monson Savings Bank has established a remarkable reputation for integrity and community engagement. I am very excited to be a part of this. I am eager to contribute to the dynamic team, where I believe my background in finance and customer service will not only be valued but will also flourish.

“Joining MSB feels like the perfect alignment of my professional skills and my personal values, where I can actively participate in initiatives that make a real difference in people’s lives locally,” she added. “This role represents a unique chance for me to grow while also helping to sustain and enhance the bank’s legacy of empowering local individuals and businesses.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As part of its ongoing commitment to helping customers across the Commonwealth take control of their own energy use with optimized solutions, Eversource announced it will bring its successful Main Streets program to more than 40 Massachusetts communities in 2024.

Through Main Streets, sponsors of Mass Save, including Eversource, partner with municipalities to connect small-business owners with approved contractors that offer no-cost energy assessments to discuss upgrades that lower energy use and reduce costs.

“Since Eversource first launched Main Streets nearly a decade ago, it has evolved from a few events per year into an equity-driven statewide initiative that serves, on average, more than 1,000 commercial customers annually,” said Tilak Subrahmanian, Eversource’s vice president for Energy Efficiency and Electric Mobility. “Main Streets provides opportunities for small and microbusinesses to improve their energy efficiency and gain a competitive edge by lowering their energy costs or demonstrating a reduced carbon footprint.

“In 2024, we continue to prioritize outreach in environmental justice communities, which often face an undue energy burden,” Subrahmanian added. “It is essential for us to connect with those customers who would most benefit from energy-efficiency measures, while supporting Massachusetts in reaching its ambitious decarbonization goals.”

Evolving from a small, Eversource-only initiative, Main Streets has continued to grow over the years, with more than half of all planned events in communities across the Commonwealth in 2024 in collaboration with other sponsors of Mass Save, including several events outside the Eversource service territory organized solely by other sponsors.

Through Main Streets, customers have saved on average nearly 13 million kWh per year — equivalent to the greenhouse-gas emissions saved from recycling over 3,000 tons of waste — as well as more than 100,000 therms of natural-gas savings annually. This year, Eversource will continue building on that success through close collaboration with local community partners, multilingual marketing efforts, and language support at in-person events.

Main Streets energy-efficiency solutions start with a no-cost, no-obligation energy assessment to identify energy-saving opportunities for small businesses, such as weatherization, insulation, occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats, refrigeration controls, lighting controls, and more. Improvements like installing aerators and spray valves happen on the spot at no cost to the customer. More involved projects, like the installation of energy-efficient motor controls, are scheduled for a future date. Eversource offers increased incentives for a range of energy-efficiency improvements to further offset the cost of upgrades, and interest-free financing is available for any remaining costs.

Local licensed electricians contracted by Eversource will complete approved projects and ensure minimal disruption to daily business operations, and all high-efficiency products installed as part of this initiative include warranties for both materials and labor.

Businesses interested in scheduling a no-cost, no-obligation assessment, including those in communities not part of an official Main Streets partnership this year, can click here to complete the registration form.

Daily News

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield Community College (GCC) nursing faculty has named Lauren Bell the third Jean Simmons Nursing Faculty Chair. Bell was chosen for her dedication to the GCC nursing program and her students. She will be honored at the nursing department’s pinning ceremony on Saturday, May 25 at 9 a.m.

The Jean Simmons endowed chair was established in 2013 with a $1 million gift from anonymous donors. It was the first endowed faculty position at a community college in Massachusetts.

“Lauren always puts her students first and demonstrates professionalism and exceptional patient care in the clinical setting,” said Melanie Ames Zamojski, GCC dean of Nursing Programs. “Within our laboratory, she’s developed simulations that test our students in ways that allow them to show their knowledge and the patient-centered care they’ve learned in the classroom.”

Since joining the GCC nursing faculty in 2012, Bell has guided faculty through curriculum and program assessments and outcomes, a critical part of state and national accreditation processes, and she has helped her colleagues incorporate the newest style of NCLEX questions in order to better prepare students for their licensing exams. She has also served on several college committees, including student activities and professional development. She co-teaches the second-year medical-surgical courses and has led the graduating class in organizing their pinning ceremony.

Bell earned her bachelor’s degree at Elmira College and her master of science degree at the University of New Hampshire. In addition to her work with GCC, she is a nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in the Progressive Care unit.

Surprised to be named the Simmons chair, Bell was characteristically student-focused in her response. “A lot of students want to make a difference, and a lot of them have the ability to do so. If I can support these talented students in pursuing their education, I feel honored for that,” she said.

She further expressed appreciation for being part of a rigorous program that helps students achieve their dreams. “We produce and support these strong graduate nurses who have a great reputation moving forward in the profession.”

While the endowed fund supports the faculty position, GCC uses the personnel cost savings to fund a nursing advisor as well as a scholarship program for GCC students at all levels of nursing education. This year, scholarships have been awarded to three members of the associate-degree class who will be continuing on to bachelor degree programs in nursing: Marylou Bliss, Kassidy DiGeorge, and River Edwin King.

The endowed nursing chair was named for longtime GCC nurse educator Jean Doherty Simmons. She was the first nursing program applicant to be admitted as a GCC nursing student, and she graduated with the first class from the program in 1965. Considered the face of the nursing program, she taught at GCC for more than 35 years and served as coordinator of the associate in science nursing program from 1998 to 2003.

The recipient may hold the Jean Simmons Nursing Faculty Chair throughout their tenure at the college. Previous honorees were Cheri Ducharme (2014-18) and Mary Phillips (2018-24).

Zamojski sees Bell as an ideal choice to carry on this legacy. “Lauren will continue to be an asset to our program and to the college. She is a shining example of how our faculty not only teach our students how to be nurses, they teach our students how to be great nurses.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In cooperation with PROSHRED Springfield, Freedom Credit Union will offer a free Community Shred Day on Saturday, June 8 at two branches. The event will take place from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at 1976 Main St., Springfield; and 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 296 Cooley St., Springfield.

The public is invited to bring old bills, bank statements, tax returns, and other sensitive documents for free, quick, and secure on-site shredding. Credit union members and non-members alike may bring up to five file boxes or paper bags per vehicle. There is no charge for this service.

Banking and Financial Services Cover Story

A Community Asset

 

Country Bank president Mary McGovern

Country Bank president Mary McGovern

 

Country Bank, according to its slogan, is “made to make a difference.”

Mary McGovern has taken that as a personal challenge.

“I’ve been at several institutions, public institutions, that run a little differently than mutuals, having to answer to shareholders every quarter,” said McGovern, who recently became Country’s first female president in its 174-year history. “With a mutual bank, we feel we take a different approach with our customers, and our involvement in the community means a lot to them. It’s a differentiator.”

McGovern brings three decades of context and experience — at different types of institutions — to that philosophy.

Prior to her 13-year rise at Country Bank, where she has served as chief financial officer, executive vice president, and chief operating officer, McGovern served in management roles at Danversbank, Capital Crossing Bank, and Boston Private Bank & Trust. Her areas of expertise include finance, operations, information technology, retail banking, commercial lending, financial and credit analysis, compliance, risk, sales, and strategic business and relationship development.

“With a mutual bank, we feel we take a different approach with our customers, and our involvement in the community means a lot to them. It’s a differentiator.”

“I started at Boston Private when it was a de novo with $80 million in assets. I was the 20th or 22nd person they hired. I came in on the ground floor in a finance role, in accounting, and grew with the department,” she recalled.

After that institution went public and was acquired, she left, earned her MBA, and moved to Capital Crossing in the late ’90s, doing a lot of work with distressed real estate. Danversbank, her next stop, was a reunion of sorts with some individuals she had worked with at Boston Private.

“They were like Country Bank is today, a nice, local, mutual community bank,” she said, adding that she served Danversbank as senior vice president and chief accounting officer. “But they went public in 2008 and were sold in 2011, and my position was eliminated.”

So, the same year, she joined the team at Country — and has never looked back.

“The mission is to be the bank of choice in Central and Western Massachusetts,” McGovern told BusinessWest. “I’m excited to lead as the first female president of Country Bank as we approach our 175th anniversary. It’s a good opportunity to get out and talk in the community, talk to our customers, put a new face in front of them. It’s been really exciting.”

Country Bank’s productive partnership with the WooSox

Country Bank’s productive partnership with the WooSox is reflected by its prominent right-field signage.

From a bottom-line perspective, she said, Country is doing well, even showing growth in the mortgage market, despite high rates and higher prices.

“Obviously people still have to buy and sell homes and move different places. The pipeline may not be as robust, but there’s still a lot of activity.”

On the commercial side, the bank is being selective, focusing on building lasting relationships and not targeting huge volume for its own sake, to maintain liquidity. “We’re looking for 5% to 6% growth in loans this year, so we’re keeping busy for sure.”

Geographically, the bank is in a growth mode as well. With a physical footprint that currently stretches from Springfield to Worcester, with the Ware headquarters between those two cities, County is adding two additional locations to the east this year — a second in Worcester and one in Uxbridge — while making plans to add two more branches to the west, in Springfield and another community.

Earlier this year, the board of trustees announced it had full confidence in McGovern to lead that strategy, as well as all of Country’s other operations and activities in the community. Paul Scully, who has been president and chief executive officer since 2004, remains in the CEO role.

“We are thrilled to announce Mary’s appointment as the next president of Country Bank,” James Phaneuf, board chair, said when the selection was announced. “Mary’s proven track record, dedication, and strategic vision make her the ideal candidate for this role.

“In a challenging time of food insecurity and other challenges out there, it’s important to give back to local nonprofits. They need our support to do their important work. That’s valuable to our staff, and I believe it’s valuable to our customers as well.”

“The board is confident that Mary’s leadership will drive the bank’s continued success and growth,” he added. “With her extensive experience, strategic mindset, and dedication to excellence, Mary is poised to lead the bank into a new era of innovation and customer satisfaction while maintaining its position as one of the most highly capitalized financial institutions in the region.”

 

Community Partner

Country is also well-known for its community involvement. Those efforts have focused in recent years on a number of priorities, including food insecurity, health, and education, as well as homeless shelters, senior-serving programs, youth organizations, and more.

To that end, Country reported more than $1.2 million in donations in 2023, with 463 organizations receiving grants. In addition, the bank’s team members volunteered 1,255 hours of community service in 2023, while 37 employees served on a total of 65 nonprofit boards and committees.

“We are a valued piece of the community. We try to give back to all the communities we serve,” McGovern said, adding that the bank’s financial-literacy programs continue to be a priority, as is a partnership with the WooSox — signified by a very prominent Country Bank sign in right field at Polar Park — and the team’s WooStars awards and its teacher-recognition program.

“We’re just continuing to build on a great foundation set by Paul in his 20 years here,” she added. “Being a community bank, we’re really invested in the health of our communities.”

McGovern speaks the language of community-bank presidents in Western Mass. that place a high value on local philanthropy.

“We’ll continue to do a hybrid approach. It seems to be working. The staff seems to be happy. We don’t see that changing — in the foreseeable future, anyway.”

“We’re different from a big commercial bank that’s not as worried about the individual communities that they serve,” she said. “As a mutual bank, obviously it’s important to make money, but making money also allows us to give back. So we’re trying to give back to our communities. In a challenging time of food insecurity and other challenges out there, it’s important to give back to local nonprofits. They need our support to do their important work. That’s valuable to our staff, and I believe it’s valuable to our customers as well.”

Also of value to customers is a physical presence in their communities, even at a time when online banking is dominant.

“There are differences of opinion among financial institutions, some of whom are pulling back from their banking centers,” McGovern said. “But we feel it’s important to support the different ways our customers want to bank.

“There are plenty of the younger generation who don’t want to talk to people, who would prefer to do everything online; self-service is important to them,” she added. “But we have a good component of customers who like to go in and talk to people face to face. Even younger people want to sit down and talk to somebody when they’re buying their first house; it’s an important, life-changing kind of event.”

In addition, she said, “I feel it’s important that we show our presence. It’s hard to say that you’re in Springfield without having signage there. We have a business center in Tower Square, but it’s not quite as visible as having a branch location with a sign.”

Country Bank has consolidated in some cases as well — for instance, it used to have three branches in Ware, but now only houses its headquarters and a digital banking center there. And many branches are staffed with fewer employees than in years past, to reflect how many customers bank online only.

“But while there’s less foot traffic, we’re still there to serve people, allowing customers to bank how they want.”

Other elements of the bank experience have changed over the years as well, including how — and where — employees work.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been a different way of working,” she told BusinessWest. “For some time, we were fully remote. Over time, we went with a more flexible work arrangement. So the average employee works three days in and two days out. There are some with a little more flexibility based on what kind of job it is.”

While some employees prefer to come in five days a week, and do so, McGovern added, for most of them — those who don’t deal face to face with the public, anyway — working remotely at least part of the time is a valued part of their job. “I don’t see how we can be competitive without that. I know different institutions that have lost staff when they requested people come in five days.

“So we’ll continue to do a hybrid approach,” she went on. “It seems to be working. The staff seems to be happy. We don’t see that changing — in the foreseeable future, anyway.”

 

Making a Difference

McGovern also doesn’t want to change a culture at Country Bank that she feels benefits both employees and customers.

“It’s hard to be a differentiator when all banks sell the same products, but I feel we are different,” she said. “Our people are spending a lot of their life doing something they like in an institution they like with peers they like. And we’re trying to keep that culture going.”

The challenge, she said, is understanding that employees want and appreciate hybrid work schedules, while maintaining a positive office culture whether they’re in the office or not.

“It’s a fine line managing both aspects,” she said. “But I think we’ve got a good thing going, and hopefully I can keep it going into the future.”

Restaurants Special Coverage

Good Vibrations

Andrea and Tim Monson

Andrea and Tim Monson, owners of Monsoon Roastery, are two of the original partners who brought the Urban Food Brood to life.

Almost a decade ago, Tim and Andrea Monson started a small business roasting and selling coffee, which grew to the point where they opened a retail and operating space on Albany Street in Springfield in 2019.

Not long after, the owners of Monsoon Roastery began talking to the owners of two other small businesses — Nosh, a downtown Springfield eatery, and Urban Artisan Farm, which specializes in hydroponic food production — about a concept that has now become one of the city’s most unique food-centric success stories.

“It started after COVID when small businesses were struggling to survive,” Andrea said. “We already did business with Nosh — we would carry her food products, and then they would carry our coffee. So that kind of social capital started very early on. We actually did that with a lot of small businesses. So we started to think … what if we were a small business corporation — a bunch of us kind of fighting together?”

That’s how the Monsons, Nosh owner Teri Skinner, and Urban Artisan Farm owner Jack Wysocki launched their concept, envisioning a place where small businesses could support each other in a shared space with a common kitchen and other amenities, and people could come stop by for lunch or a coffee and bring home some fresh produce, meat, or other items.

“We started to think … what if we were a small business corporation — a bunch of us kind of fighting together?”

“It took us three years to get financing and to get organized,” Monson explained. “This was an office building. So we had to transform it into food-manufacturing collaborative, which cost a lot of money. In the middle of COVID, there were a lot of shortages, a lot of delays. But we kept fighting for this dream and investing our own funds and sacrificing a lot of time and a lot of sweat equity, and it finally came together in July of last year.”

Skinner recalls collaborating with the other founders on ideas, looking into grant funding to turn the building on Albany Street — a stretch of road known as Gasoline Alley, due to the giant fuel tanks that line it — into a collaborative workspace that eventually became known as the Urban Food Brood.

“The three of us sort of came together, wanting to expand our businesses,” she said, adding that the project ran into a lot of infrastructure and renovation issues that weren’t expected, and cost more money than expected. “But now it’s flourishing,” she added.

Nosh is actually the latest — and largest — operation to move into the space, which, along with Monsoon and Urban Artisan Farm, also includes Corsello Butcheria, Happy Man Freeze Dried, Wicked Whisk, and Rocka Docka Foods.

Vincent Corsello

Vincent Corsello says the Urban Food Brood offers fresh options amid a food desert.

“Happy Man had a certified home kitchen, but he was expanding tremendously. He needed a kitchen, so he ended up taking a room here,” Skinner said. “Wicked Whisk acquired a food truck, but she also needed a commercial kitchen so she could produce her products, as she was growing as well.”

Vincent Corsello, who runs Corsello Bucheria, an Easthampton business that has expanded into the Urban Food Brood, said he took part in a pig roast on Albany Street a few years ago and was struck by the uniqueness of the setup.

“This place is magic. There’s such a vibe here,” he remembered thinking. “So I started coming — I don’t know to what end, exactly, but they were open to a collaboration. They got a grant to do a community kitchen, and I said, ‘can I be a part of it?’ And they said ‘yes.’ And then we went from there.”

 

Creating a Vibe

The building, with its community spirit and that creative vibe — the walls are lined with works from local artists, which are displayed on a rotating basis and available for sale — is a stark contrast to its surroundings, Corsello said.

“It’s in the middle of a brownfield, essentially. They call it Gasoline Alley for a reason; we’re surrounded by a million gallons of gasoline.

“I have a big window, and I did a brick facade outside the bakery so you can look through the window and see the bakers cooking.”

“But it’s easy to get to, and there’s plenty of parking, so it’s a good location,” he was quick to add. “And the vibe really attracted me to this this campus; it’s like a modern-day boys’ club, only it includes all different types of people.”

Indeed, Monson noted that she’s seen people of different backgrounds, experiences, and even religious persuasions enjoying the welcoming vibe of the space together.

“We have students, we have professionals, we have the police, we have the firefighters, we have EMTs, social workers, teachers … we have so many different people that come in here to enjoy the food or the coffee or the environment. Everybody’s here.

“The one thing I hear over and over again — unfortunately — is, ‘wow, I can’t believe this is in Springfield,’” she went on. “I both love and hate that. As a Springfield resident, a Springfield business owner, someone who grew up in Springfield, I feel like Springfield always gets the short end of the stick. There’s a lot of negative perception about Springfield. And we’re trying to disprove that. We’re saying, ‘hey, look, we built this thing, and people are coming.’

“I’ve heard, ‘this feels like I stepped into Northampton,’ which is, I guess, a compliment. But we’re not Northampton; we’re Springfield.”

Teri Skinner

Teri Skinner, seen here at her downtown Nosh location, is the most recent of the original Urban Food Brood partners to move to Gasoline Alley; she will continue to operate at both sites.

Corsello said the uniqueness extends to the business model, with the various tenants sharing one register, and the businesses sharing their products.

“So when I make sandwiches, I use Teri’s bread, and I use Jack’s vegetables. We use each other’s products to create. So you not only have an opportunity to get something for yourself, but if you like what you taste, you can buy any of those components here at the market. Plus, a lot of Springfield is kind of a food desert, and we’re small businesses offering locally created food products.”

He said patrons appreciate being able to eat or drink something on site, then bring something home to prepare.

“Anybody can come in here and get a cup of coffee, they can shop, they can get some vegetables, they can get some meat, they can get something freeze-dried. For us, it’s a model that doesn’t come without its challenges, and we’re still figuring some of that stuff out, but it’s very unique. People like a one-stop shop.”

Skinner, whose downtown Nosh location has long had an artistic, funky décor, appreciates the way the Urban Food Brood prioritizes art as well.

“People come here, and they’ll pick up some sausage and go, ‘you know, let me get a kombucha, let me get some mushrooms, let me get some spinach.’ And you go home, and you have all of this really good product that’s manufactured here in Springfield.”

“We have lots of artists that come in and display their work on a monthly basis, and then people can purchase their artwork. They’re in a rotation; if the art is there for too long, it seems like it’s just part of the décor. So it moves in and out, and there are some super talented artists that provide works for us.”

Monson said many artists have sold works in the space, or even gotten commissions based on their displays. “So it’s very cool that we can provide that.”

Skinner appreciates other elements of the Urban Food Brood vibe, like how it feels like the center of a town, only indoors and on a smaller scale, with each of the businesses acting as a storefront of sorts.

“I’m super happy with how it all came out,” she said. “I have a big window, and I did a brick facade outside the bakery so you can look through the window and see the bakers cooking. Vincent has the same idea; so do the others. That’s kind of neat.”

The complex, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., also hosts regular events, such as food truck Fridays and Thursday farmers markets from 4 to 8 p.m., which have already begun for this season.

“It’s early in the season for farmers markets, but hopefully, as the season progresses, we’ll have more and more items. We’re also going to try to do music,” Skinner said.

A sign outside the Urban Food Brood

A sign outside the Urban Food Brood lists the businesses currently operating there.

“The thing that’s great about the nighttime market is that all of our downtown Springfield markets have always been during the day, when people are at work. What are they going to do with their products after they’ve purchased them? Are they going to put them in the car or bring them back to the office? So this is kind of nice. People can just stop on their way home.”

 

Fueling Growth

Andrea Monson said the partners in the Urban Food Brood have been pleased with the organic growth of the Gasoline Alley complex.

“We don’t actively market; we rely on word of mouth,” she told BusinessWest. “And I have to say that the people who come here are very cool. They’re great customers. They’re great to my staff, they’re great to all of us, and they’re very supportive. They tell people who tell people who tell people, and now we have this amazing group of people that come here to support us.

“The cool thing is, we all have our own following. Wicked Whisk has their own following. Nosh has their own following. People come here, and they’ll pick up some sausage and go, ‘you know, let me get a kombucha, let me get some mushrooms, let me get some spinach.’ And you go home, and you have all of this really good product that’s manufactured here in Springfield.”

And it’s not just people from the city, Corsello said. Urban Food Brood has been drawing from all the surrounding towns, steadily developing a reputation … not as something vaguely Northampton-ish, but something uniquely and vibrantly Springfield.

“We’re really excited about it,” he said. “It’s only the beginning.”

Features Special Coverage

Beyond the Forecast

Dave Hayes

Dave Hayes

Like many New Englanders, Dave Hayes remembers the significant weather events of his childhood, like the Mother’s Day snowstorm that struck the region in 1977, dropping more than a foot of snow on parts of Massachusetts, and the Blizzard of 1978 that crippled much of Southern New England the following February.

But he also remembers something else weather-related from his youth: watching a Boston-area forecast, intrigued by the bright colors of the radar display, and then almost immediately watching the skies outside his living room grow dark, and a storm suddenly arise.

“Five minutes later, what was on the radar was overhead, and something lit up inside of me. I became obsessed with the weather,” he said — to the point where he’d flip between local TV forecasts to compare them. “I found I gravitated toward the meteorologist who explained why the weather is doing what it’s doing, rather than just what it’s doing.”

Hayes never lost that obsession with the weather, and it led to an unlikely, donation-funded career as Dave Hayes the Weather Nut, through which he posts and discusses the day’s current weather and upcoming forecast on social media, as his myriad followers converse about it all in the comments.

And there are a lot of followers — more than 57,000 on Facebook, in fact, and 6,600 on Twitter.

But while Hayes is widely known on Facebook today, early in 2011, he had become disenchanted with the site and deactivated his account.

“I didn’t get it yet. I didn’t understand virality and sharing with people and the idea that this might possibly be useful in some way.”

However, when a tornado struck Springfield and a host of other communities on June 1 of that year, he heard talk of his friends chattering online about what he thought about the destructive event. So he eventually logged back on and started talking more often about weather events. When an acquaintance complained that he was doing too much of that, Hayes decided to create a page separate from his personal account, called Dave Hayes the Weather Nut, where friends — or anyone else — could follow him if they wanted to.

And what a year that was for weather in Western Mass. — 2011 featured not only the tornado, but Tropical Storm Irene in August, the freak pre-Halloween snowstorm that felled countless trees, and a few other events. His reporting between 2011 and the summer of 2012 had about 200 people taking part in the local weather conversation, and his reports in the fall of 2012 on Hurricane Sandy — which seemed to be threatening New England before turning toward New Jersey — tripled that, to more than 600.

“People wanted to know what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t get it yet. I didn’t understand virality and sharing with people and the idea that this might possibly be useful in some way — a hub for weather that’s interesting. But I kept doing it.”

Dave Hayes collects raw data from numerous sources and uses it to craft his daily reports.

Dave Hayes collects raw data from numerous sources and uses it to craft his daily reports.

A blizzard in February 2013 saw Hayes’s audience crest to more than 1,000 people. “People said how helpful my work was to them. And as someone who hadn’t really launched in life yet, I wanted to be helpful to people. So that lit a fire inside of me, and I said, ‘I’m going to do this daily. This is something that people find useful.’”

When he began daily reports, which continue today, the audience doubled to 2,000, then swelled above 10,000 early in 2014, during a colder and snowier winter than any Western Mass. has seen since. Around the same time, he was laid off from a sales job when his company downsized due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

“Without a job, looking for work, not finding anything, I went deeper into weather reporting,” he said, and began attracting the attention of public radio, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and other media — and wondering if this could actually become a career.

 

Weather or Not

Indeed, when the page was taking off in 2014, Hayes’s father and others in his life started asking him seriously if he could make a living at this, he recalled. “I said I didn’t know. I hadn’t even thought of it. I was just doing something I love.”

But around that time, crowdfunding was becoming more popular, so he threw up a GoFundMe link.

“Without a job, looking for work, not finding anything, I went deeper into weather reporting.”

“I figured, if people want to support my work financially, they’ll do it. If they think it has value, they’ll kick me a few bucks. I linked to it during big storms, and during 2015, I produced a crowdfunded support drive, about four or five weeks, talking about different aspects of what I was doing. I was teaching myself as I went along. It was a very unorthodox way of making a living.”

But Hayes did, in fact, begin to slowly generate a steady income through voluntary donations, and while he still does some paralegal work on the side, Dave Hayes the Weather Nut is, in fact, his living now. He compares the model to Patreon, a popular site through which people can directly support artists and writers producing content.

“It’s very unorthodox, how my life has played out,” he added. “You never know what’s going to happen until you work on something and share it with others.”

In creating daily content, Hayes curates his reports by gathering information from multiple sources, gathering data and modeling from the National Weather Service, private meteorological subscriptions, and personal weather stations, then creates his own forecasts and analysis that people from across Massachusetts and parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut have come to rely on.

“I’m not a meteorologist,” he said. “I pay for data subscriptions, read multiple forecast discussions from regional National Weather Service meteorologists, and obtain other trusted weather data in the Northeast region. I take all that information, along with my 35-plus years living in the Western Mass. region, and use my own process to produce my reports.”

Dave Hayes says winter storm trends can be slow-moving

Dave Hayes says winter storm trends can be slow-moving, while severe summer weather can emerge with little warning.

The next phase for Hayes will be a mobile app, which he plans to introduce in 2025, and which he hopes will replace his social-media presence, given a widespread problem of algorithms restricting the reach of social-media content creators — a real problem during fast-developing storms.

“Three out of four people look at my info from their smartphone, so I figured I need to have a way to reach people more directly, especially during the summer severe events,” he explained. “Winter storms develop more slowly. You see them building across the country over three or four days. But thunderstorms, microbursts, and tornadoes can form within five, 10, or 15 minutes.”

He plans to offer both free and paid versions of the app with different features, and will definitely retain the all-important interactive aspect, with users able to comment. After all, that may be the most compelling and popular aspect of his passion turned unlikely career.

“The way we watch the forecast has traditionally been on TV; you consume the forecast, and that’s it. There’s no conversation about it,” Hayes explained. “What I’ve tried to create with social media is a two-way street where we can go back and forth and answer as many questions as we can.”

It essentially adds another dimension to weather reports, one he’s been delighted to find so many people are passionate about.

“The way we watch the forecast has traditionally been on TV; you consume the forecast, and that’s it. There’s no conversation about it. What I’ve tried to create with social media is a two-way street where we can go back and forth and answer as many questions as we can.”

“People are talking to each other — ‘I got this much snow in Belchertown.’ ‘Oh, I got this much down in Palmer.’ It’s a whole community vibe around something that we all have to deal with. Everyone has unique lives, but we all have to deal with the weather. So by fostering this community, we can all talk about what’s impacting all of us.”

It also lends an element of “ground truth” in real time, he added. Because a temperature difference of a degree or two can turn rain into snow quickly, not only can he quickly adjust a report based on comments, but a weather forecast becomes not a static report, frozen in time, but a living, evolving thing.

 

Seeing the Light

Speaking of evolving, Hayes has taken note of the trend toward warmer, wetter winters over the past decade, as well as more flooding events. But he says he’s not a climatologist and continues to focus on his bread and butter — forecasting, reporting, and talking about each day’s weather with a growing fanbase in the tens of thousands.

Even “space weather,” as he put it, got plenty of attention recently, as followers snapped, shared, and commented on photos of the aurora borealis making a rare appearance across the U.S. on May 10. With the solar maximum not having hit its peak yet, such a shared experience might happen again within the next year or so.

“It was beautiful and otherworldly; humans think they’re amazing, and it really puts things into perspective, shows how small we are,” Hayes told BusinessWest. “But you don’t want too many solar storms. The Carrington Event in 1859 fried the entire telegraph system. One hundred and sixty-five years later, we’re a lot more reliant on the power grid for a lot of things. So while the aurora is fun to see, I don’t want to see it too often.”

Education Special Coverage

A Bold Step Forward

Bay Path University President Sandy Doran

Bay Path University President Sandy Doran

 

As she talked about how Bay Path University’s acquisition of Cambridge College came about — and, more importantly, why — Sandy Doran, Bay Path’s president, turned the clock back almost a year to when the university undertook a ‘strengths and opportunities’ analysis to understand where its growth opportunities might lie.

This led to creation of a cross-disciplinary leadership task force to conduct an analysis of strategic growth opportunities, building on the things the school does well while also focusing on ways to amplify those traits.

This task force eventually identified five opportunities for growth — everything from graduate programs to business-to-business corporate sponsorships; from expansion of its online American Women’s College to growth in enrollment among Latino populations.

As it considered these opportunities and how to seize them, Doran said Bay Path, its leadership, and its board could “do some things around the edges” with all or several of them, as she put it, or “do something bold and think about our future in a transformational way.”

Given Bay Path’s recent history — one that has seen it achieve dramatic growth and rise from a two-year college to a four-year university with a growing slate of degree options and national recognition in fields like cybersecurity — the latter course was essentially a given, said Doran, now in her fifth year as president of the college, adding quickly that the question became what this bold move would be.

“Outside of Puerto Rico and New York City, Western Massachusetts has the largest Hispanic population in the United States. We knew that, in order to meet the needs of that population, we needed to grow our student services, we knew we needed additional support, and we identified it as a potential growth opportunity.”

As different opportunities were considered, the answer became an acquisition of Cambridge College, a Boston-based, private, nonprofit institution established in 1971, a move that should enable Bay Path to double its overall enrollment; gain a presence in other markets, including Boston and Puerto Rico, which Cambridge as a campus; and, overall, achieve growth in all those areas identified by the task force.

This includes enrollment among Hispanic populations, she said, noting that this is one of the fastest-growing constituencies in this region.

“Outside of Puerto Rico and New York City, Western Massachusetts has the largest Hispanic population in the United States,” Doran told BusinessWest. “We knew that, in order to meet the needs of that population, we needed to grow our student services, we knew we needed additional support, and we identified it as a potential growth opportunity.

“We wanted a partner that had experience serving this Hispanic market,” she went on, adding that Cambridge College, which is a designated Hispanic-serving institution, has this experience, among many other qualities.

Indeed, overall, Bay Path and Cambridge share a number of other strengths — everything from online programs (locally, Cambridge, which had a location in Springfield’s Tower Square, now offers programs only online) to meeting the needs of first-generation college students, said Doran, adding that the schools also share missions and values.

Longmeadow campus

Much of Bay Path’s growth is taking place beyond the borders of its Longmeadow campus.

“Those cultural aspects — of serving the same student populations, of thinking about our values and joining together with another organization and making sure that their values were compatible and strengthened ours — are key; we just knew that, without that shared mission, those shared values, we wouldn’t be able to move forward,” she said, adding that this merger represents the latest in a series of bold moves for Bay Path.

The ones to come before have taken it to levels that might not have been imagined 25 years ago. This latest one will build on those efforts and take the university to different places — quite literally, in the case of Puerto Rico and the Boston market — and figuratively when it comes to needed size and higher status among the region’s and country’s higher-ed institutions.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at this intriguing merger — how it came about and what it means for Bay Path as it continues its recent history of taking bold steps.

 

Course of Action

Sounding much like area bank presidents, which have been harping on the need for size in a changing financial-services environment for years now, Doran said growth is perhaps more important than ever for institutions of higher education.

Given the spiraling costs of doing business and the many challenges facing colleges and universities, including demographics in the form of smaller high-school graduating classes, growth in overall enrollment is critical.

“To be a financially sustainable institution, it’s important to have 5,000 students or more,” she said, adding that Bay Path now surpasses that number. “Five thousand students gives you the resources, it gives you the financial strength, the revenue streams — all those things that are essential to a sustainable institution.”

And, as in the banking industry, there are different ways to achieve growth in higher education. One method is organic growth, through everything from more aggressive marketing to creation of new degree programs, especially at the graduate level, a course taken by many schools locally, including Bay Path.

But there are also opportunities to partner with other schools and, increasingly, to acquire them, especially as more struggle with enrollment, face uncertain futures, and, in some cases, even close their doors.

Doran said Bay Path has been looking at many growth strategies, including acquisition, and had looked at several different institutions.

“We talked to some colleges in the Southeast, we talked to some in the Southwest, we talked to some in the middle of the country, and ultimately, we were very fortunate to find a partner here in Massachusetts,” she said, adding that Cambridge College emerged as the option that made the most sense, for many reasons, especially those shared traits and values, as well as areas of focus — particularly online programs and service to Hispanic students — that would provide Bay Path with avenues for growth. “They had so much of what we were looking for in a partnership. What they have to offer lines up beautifully with what we were looking for.”

Doran said she didn’t know if Cambridge was looking to be acquired, but did know that it was looking to partner, as many schools are in these challenging times. Elaborating, she said Cambridge certainly suffered during the pandemic — again, as many schools did — but coming out of COVID, its enrollment has been increasing over the past few years, with much of that growth coming in online programs.

“It’s not a just a checklist of how you communicate with students and families whose first language is Spanish. Are we offering all the right supports? Do we understand the cultural nuances of how to serve the Hispanic market, which is very much growing in Western Mass.?”

And while talks with other potential acquisition candidates progressed to different degrees, Bay Path eventually crossed the finish line with Cambridge College because the ‘fit’ — the word you hear so often in these transactions — was right for both sides, and especially Bay Path.

“It’s one thing to read about mission and culture and values on a website and talk about it with people inside an organization,” Doran said. “But it’s really when the boards sit down, the leaders sit down, and you have a chance to meet with students that you get a true picture. I had the chance to meet with students at Cambridge College, and that is really what convinced me, the board, and others that this is really the right fit.

“And that’s because their students are our students,” she went on. “Half are students of color, half are first-generation students, 60% of their students are in graduate programs, and 60% are online.”

 

Class Acts

Getting back to the growth-strategy exercises of a year ago and the establishment of a matrix to determine whether a potential partner might be right for Bay Path, Doran said several necessary common threads were identified, with shared mission and values being just one.

Others include everything from a strong culture of innovation to an opportunity to “expand our reach,” as she put it; from a commitment to workforce development to strong business-to-business partnerships.

When it comes to expanding reach, this is a broad term that covers considerable ground, said Doran, encompassing everything from expansion into new geographic regions to reaching new populations to expansion of online and graduate programs.

Merging with Cambridge College allows the university to do all of that, she said, adding that the acquisition brings with it a number of huge growth opportunities.

As one example, she returned to the Hispanic population and Bay Path’s desire to better serve — and, yes, capture more of — that market, explaining why this acquisition makes sense for the institution.

“We have here a limited experience in terms of fully serving the Hispanic market,” she explained. “We’ve developed some student supports; we’ve given them some academic supports. If you peruse our website, you’ll see that many of our web pages are now in Spanish, so we can speak directly to students whose native language is Spanish and to their parents.

“But we knew that we didn’t know enough because there’s a huge cultural component,” she went on. “It’s not a just a checklist of how you communicate with students and families whose first language is Spanish. Are we offering all the right supports? Do we understand the cultural nuances of how to serve the Hispanic market, which is very much growing in Western Mass.?

“We really wanted to reach into that marketplace because we knew how important it was for Western Mass., and for the nation, for that matter,” she continued. “This is the fastest-growing population in the country, and as an institution, our job, our mission, is to serve those students with equally robust and dedicated resources.

There are other benefits to be gained from this acquisition, obviously, said Doran, who listed Cambridge College’s portfolio of graduate programs as another of them.

Elaborating, she explained that developing new graduate programs and bringing them to market is a costly, very involved process that can take years, when time is a luxury few institutions have.

“To bring a new program to market can take two to five years,” she explained. “So the opportunity to grow graduate programs by acquiring another college was absolutely essential to what we were thinking about, and with Cambridge, we’re acquiring about 30 new graduate programs.

“So if you think about it, even taking two years to bring a program to market, it would have taken 60 years,” she went on. “That’s a long time, even for me.”

 

Grade Expectations

Doran said full integration of Cambridge College into Bay Path will take 18 to 24 months, and over that time, several issues will be settled, including whether — and in what ways — the Cambridge College name will live on.

That name has some value in various markets, she said, adding that she hopes the brand lives on in some form.

Meanwhile, she’s more certain about other aspects of this acquisition, especially the part about it being a bold, decisive step at a time when such actions are required of higher-ed institutions looking to fully emerge from the challenging pandemic and post-pandemic periods in a position to not merely survive, but grow and thrive.

“I will credit our board with being such strong partners,” he said. “They’ve always been bold, they’ve always been strategic — we were the first in the region to have online education — and that kind of support is very critical.”

And it’s yet another example of how a school with a rich past is focused, as Doran put it, on thinking about the future in a transformational way.

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

The Next Chapter

Brendan Greeley, president of the R.G. Greeley Co.

Brendan Greeley, president of the R.G. Greeley Co.

Growing up, Brendan Greeley never thought much about going to work for his father at the commercial real-estate firm he started the same year Brendan was born — the R.J. Greeley Co.

But as his undergraduate work was wrapping up at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, his father, Robert Greeley, asked him to start thinking about it.

And there was a lot to think about. Brendan didn’t really know much about this business, or business in general, and his college work didn’t exactly prepare him for that industry.

“I was a sociology and anthropology major with a minor in religion,” he said. “I was a singer in a band … and I never really thought much about my career.”

After telling his father he’d think about his invitation, Brendan sought the advice of one of his uncles, who told him, among other things, that commercial real estate was a good business for meeting … well, all kinds of people in many different businesses, exposure that could lead to different types of career opportunities.

“He said, ‘at the very least, you can go work for your dad for a little while, get a snapshot into different kinds of businesses, and see what you like,’” he recalled, adding that he went to work for his father for more than a little while, and eventually determined that commercial real estate was something he liked.

Fast-forwarding a little (we’ll go back and fill in some details later), Brendan learned a lot from his father, gradually assumed more responsibilities for running the business, and eventually became its president in 2017. After what he described as a somewhat difficult transition process, he bought his father out in 2019 and steered the company through the difficult COVID years and their aftermath.

Now, just over a year after his father passed away at age 73, the younger Greeley is writing new chapters in the history of the 43-year-old company. The firm is smaller now, with a staff of just two, but “doing more with less,” as he put it.

He is continuing to build on the portfolio of properties the firm handles, which is anchored by the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College in a collection of buildings that were once part of the Springfield Armory and later home to a massive Digital Equipment Corp. operation.

“My father always impressed upon me, from the beginning, that you have to go out and establish your network, the people you’re going to be doing business with — the people, as my father used to say, that you’re going to be in the trenches with.”

The Tech Park, as it’s called, has been around about as long as Brendan Greeley has been with the family business (which calls the park home itself), and it has been a career-long focal point and passion, he said, adding that the company has successfully filled most of the space vacated by a Liberty Mutual call center and continues to work to fill remaining vacancies in the sprawling complex.

“We had a great year last year — we brought on the Department of Developmental Services with a lease for just under 30,000 square feet for 10 years,” he said, adding that the state agency and other signed tenants now fill most of the 55,000 square feet once occupied by Liberty Mutual.

Meanwhile, the R.J Greeley Co. continues to respond to changes and trends within the market — everything from growing inventories on the office side of the ledger (a byproduct of remote work and hybrid schedules at businesses in virtually every sector) to an extreme tightening of the industrial and distribution markets, a byproduct of rising interest rates that have produced an environment in which it is far more advantageous to buy or lease than build new.

Technology Park at STCC

Brendan Greeley continues to build on his firm’s portfolio of properties, which is anchored by the Technology Park at STCC.

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Greeley about the market and what the future might bring, and about what might come next for the company that was started by his father and still bears his initials, but is now being steered by his youngest child.

 

Right Place and Time

As he talked about his time with the company, and especially about life in a family business, Greeley spoke for everyone who has ever had that experience when he said, “it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, that’s for sure.”

Elaborating, he described his father as a great real-estate broker, teacher, and mentor — “I wish I had his ability to mentor people and bring them along” — but not the easiest person to work with or for, and someone who didn’t think much about succession planning, didn’t really want to think about it, and did so only when the matter was pressed.

Indeed, when asked when his father first started talking to him about succession planning, Greeley laughed and said, “never.”

“That was a painful process,” he recalled. “Succession planning was really hard for him. He never really thought about wanting to retire, it seems, and he was pretty reluctant to think about it.”

So much so that Greeley admitted to thinking about perhaps doing something else because of that reluctance.

“I had to impose some timelines to move things along,” he went on. Eventually, a successful transition was achieved, made easier by some very strong years leading to that changing of hands, punctuated by the brokered sale of the former Westinghouse property to one of the players trying to bring a casino to Springfield.

Flashing back further, Greeley recalled that, as he entered the business, he certainly learned a lot from his father, especially when it came to the all-important work of getting in front of people building and maintaining relationships — duties that he referred to collectively as the “grunt work.”

“Those first few years, I was going out and getting to know people,” he told BusinessWest. “My father always impressed upon me, from the beginning, that you have to go out and establish your network, the people you’re going to be doing business with — the people, as my father used to say, that you’re going to be in the trenches with.

“So the first few years were filled with inserting myself into circles of attorneys, accountants, bankers, insurance people — those we work with often — and just making friends with them and creating a network,” he went on.

“There was a lot of driving around, pulling up to businesses, knocking on doors and saying, ‘I’m Brendan Greeley with the R.J. Greeley Co. — I just want to let you know that we’re out there and that, if there’s anything you need with commercial real estate, give us a call.’ There was a lot of going to lunches, playing in golf tournaments, and just … being out there.”

This grunt work has certainly paid off over the years, as the Greeley company has continued its run of success, even during times of stress and duress for the commercial real-estate industry, which is still coping with many lingering effects from the pandemic.

“When I came into the business, a manufacturing building was $50 a square foot, and now, it’s commonly $100 a square foot or more. To build new would be $200 a square foot.”

Foremost among those is the sea change in the office market, which has definitely slowed since the pandemic and has seen vacancies increase as remote work impacts whether companies will renew leases, as well as how much space they take if they do renew.

“Firms are creating opportunities for people to work at home, and that has certainly created some shifts in the office market,” he said. “We have some big chunks of office space that are available or coming available; as leases expire, people are renewing for less space, and that adds up to more inventory.”

This shift is certainly countered by a tightening on the industrial and distribution side of the ledger, where fewer properties are coming on the market and those frequented by ‘for sale’ or ‘for lease’ signs are not on the market for long, and for obvious reasons.

“There are far fewer construction projects taking place in this market because of higher interest rates, and this obviously helps with the value of existing inventory,” Greeley said, citing the laws of supply and demand. “The alternative is to build new, and building new is going to be very expensive.

“When I came into the business, a manufacturing building was $50 a square foot, and now, it’s commonly $100 a square foot or more,” he went on. “To build new would be $200 a square foot.”

As for the value of commercial properties — a huge issue in most major markets and communities of all sizes in the wake of COVID — Greeley said that, by and large, most properties in the region are holding their value, but this ability is being sternly tested by rising interest rates.

“Someone can afford to pay less for an investment property if they’re financing some portion of the transaction,” he explained. “So I would say that investment real estate has deflated some, although the quality inventory seems to be holding value better than the lesser-quality inventory.”

 

Bottom Line

Looking ahead, Greeley said his company will continue to do more with less in terms of office staff, but continue to look for growth opportunities.

This could include hiring an additional broker or perhaps more, he said, adding that he is always looking for good fits. Meanwhile, the firm is looking at opportunities on the property-management side of the ledger and on the development side as well.

“I have an open mind for opportunities that may present themselves in the future,” he said. “I’m always looking at ways to grow.”

Not bad for someone who never gave much thought to working at the family business growing up — and is now the owner of the family business.

Special Coverage Technology

Inside the IT Academy

Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC.

April Bellafiore teaches the IT Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC.

The IT Academy at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) is a “life changer” for Juan Burgos.

Echoing comments from other students enrolled in the IT Academy at STCC, Burgos said he’s excited to be working toward certifications that are tickets to good-paying jobs in the cybersecurity industry. Students in the first cohort, held this spring, are enrolled for free, supported by a grant.

“This opportunity came up, and I jumped on it,” Burgos said one Wednesday afternoon at STCC, where he was seated in a classroom with the other students. “This is a life changer. This is going to change everything.”

Launched on March 12, the IT Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC supports non-traditional students who are new to information technology (IT) and computer technology. They are learning skills that set them up for entry-level IT careers. Students also have the option of moving into the two-year Cybersecurity program, which can lead to an associate degree.

The comprehensive curriculum combines theoretical knowledge with practical, hands-on experience. The program includes a part-time option running classes three evenings a week for nine months. A summer and winter boot camp will be offered that runs for 10 weeks (full-time day program), which allows students to attend classes five days a week.

Eventually, students who follow the cybersecurity track will use the Richard E. Neal Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Springfield, scheduled to open later this year. The facility will serve as a dynamic hub for advancing cybersecurity awareness, education, innovation, and battling global security threats.

“This opportunity came up, and I jumped on it. This is a life changer. This is going to change everything.”

The 6,000-square-foot facility will include a cyber range, which is a simulated training environment, and security operations center, which is envisioned as a support service for Massachusetts municipalities, as well as regional businesses, to detect cybersecurity events in real time and respond quickly.

STCC offers a number of training opportunities through its Workforce Development division, from a free program that prepares students to be paraeducators in Springfield to the Hampden Prep program, which provides basic computer skill training.

“We are excited to offer a wide range of training programs that help non-traditional students pursue their dream careers,” said Gladys Franco, assistant vice president of Workforce Development at STCC. “Our goal is to make it easier for people looking to get started in a career. We’re particularly excited about the IT Academy, which provides a pathway to build a career in IT and cybersecurity. It’s a growing field with many opportunities.”

 

Immersive Education

Students in the Pathway to Cybersecurity program are learning in person in a classroom taught by April Bellafiore, Cruz Antonio Pagan, and Andrew Collins, a professor for the Cybersecurity program at STCC.

Students also participate in interactive computer training labs focused on obtaining CompTIA certifications, which are industry standards that IT professionals can use to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to potential employers.

The training is “beginner-friendly,” Bellafiore said. The course provides students with skills to be successful in the Cybersecurity program and in the workforce.

Students enrolled in the course come from a variety of backgrounds. Shelby Kiendzior graduated from STCC with a degree in dental hygiene and worked in the field, but plans on changing her career.

“We are excited to offer a wide range of training programs that help non-traditional students pursue their dream careers.”

“I will be getting four certifications in different IT-related courses,” Kiendzior said. “This course will set me up for where I want to go in IT or tech.”

Luz Padilla, who hails from Puerto Rico, called the IT Academy “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

She added, “I love computers. I love troubleshooting, and I would like to work in homeland security someday. The class is amazing. The teacher’s great. I got a lot of encouragement from everybody here, especially Miss April.”

She was referring to Bellafiore, an instructor who has taught in-person and online courses for more than 20 years.

“I am excited to work with the IT Academy students to prepare them for a dynamic and exciting industry,” Bellafiore said. “We also encourage students to continue their education and apply for the STCC Cybersecurity two-year degree program. In today’s digital age, every industry relies on IT expertise. It’s a growing field with many rewarding and diverse job opportunities.”