A Class Act

Difference Makers to Be Feted on March 20 at the Log Cabin

BizDiffMakrsLOGO2011You might call this the ‘Home Depot class.’

Indeed, there are some notable building, or home-restoration, stories involving this year’s roster of Difference Makers, as chosen recently by the staff at BusinessWest.

For example, there was the massive effort 30 years ago to restore and repurpose an old Victorian on Sheldon Street in Springfield, a structure — and a nonprofit — that have both become known as the Gray House. There was also the extensive work needed to convert the former School Street School in Springfield into the Youth Social Educational Training (YSET) Academy, created by Paula Moore to help keep young people off the city’s streets and out of trouble.

And then, there’s the ongoing work being carried out by Colleen Loveless, the first executive director of the Springfield chapter of Rebuilding Together, a national organization committed to helping low-income homeowners stay in their homes.

But beyond these literal building projects, the Difference Makers Class of 2014 has been figuratively building momentum in a number of realms — everything from early literacy to vital support for low-income residents, to high-quality healthcare for young people — and thus giving this region a stronger foundation on which to build for the future.

These stories will be told — and the Class of 2014 will be celebrated — at the annual Difference Makers Gala on March 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

Tickets for the event are $60 each, with tables of 10 available. For more information, or to order tickets, call BusinessWest at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or visit here.

The Difference Makers program was launched by BusinessWest in 2009 as a different kind of recognition program. It was created to show the many different ways that groups and individuals can make a difference and improve quality of the life for the residents of Western Mass., and it has, by all accounts, succeeded in that mission.

Past recipients have been honored for work across many spectrums, from fighting crime in Holyoke to creating a hugely successful fund-raiser to combat breast cancer; from tireless work on behalf of the homeless to a 40-year effort to keep professional hockey alive and well in Springfield; from a creative initiative to give residents of Springfield’s North End their streets back, to inspiring work to fill the shelves of area school libraries.

This year’s class, as profiled in the Feb. 10 edition of the magazine (viewable here), certainly adds to that legacy of stepping up and giving back.

The honorees are:

The Gray House, which, for three decades now, has provided a range of services — from food and clothing to adult education programs — to not only residents of Springfield’s North End, but those who live in other sections of the city and other communities as well;

• Colleen Loveless, who, as the first executive director of the Springfield Chapter of Rebuilding Together, has put that organization on the path to continued growth, and positioned it to have a deep impact on both individual homeowners and entire neighborhoods within the city;

• The Melha Shrine Temple, the first fraternal organization recognized as a Difference Maker. It is changing lives in many ways, but especially through its efforts to fund the many Shriners Children’s Hospitals operating in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada (including the one on Carew Street in Springfield), and also by raising awareness of these facilities and thus bringing more children and families in need to their doors;

• Paula Moore, who started Youth Social Educational Training (YSET) Academy as a way to keep at-risk youths off the streets. And when the church that hosted the program decided it couldn’t do that any longer, she personally secured a loan and purchased the former School Street School to keep the initiative alive. Today, it provides a host of services, from preschool to after-school workshops on a wide variety of subjects; and

• Michael Moriarty
, an attorney, current director of the Olde Holyoke Development Corp., and now-former school committee member, who has been at the forefront of efforts to improve early-literacy rates in one of the Commonwealth’s poorest and most challenged communities.

The March 20 gala will feature entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, lavish food stations, introductions of the honorees, and remarks from the honorees. Over the years, the gala has become one of the region’s best networking opportunities, and an event not to be missed.

This year will be no exception.