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The Class of 2010

40 Under 40 The Class of 2010

Susan Mielnikowski: 38

Attorney, Cooley, Shrair, P.C.

Susan Mielnikowski will tell you that, after working as an attorney for 14 years, if she’s met her professional goals, then she’s not doing her job properly. “I don’t think there’s ever such a thing as being ‘done,’” she told BusinessWest. “The minute I reach a benchmark, I’ll raise the bar and set a new one for myself.”

Within her purview as an elder and estate-planning attorney, Mielnikowski sees her role not only as a source of information not only for her clients, but also for the community at large. “For anyone who needs the assistance — insurance agents, financial planners,” she explained, “I consider myself a good resource.”

And many would agree. From her work at the Mason-Wright Foundation retirement community, which she called “a fantastic gem,” to her particular passion, which is Planned Parenthood, Mielnikowski continues to push herself professionally and personally. But there is one interest that, sadly, will be unable to return to this year.

“But only because my daughter didn’t want to play tee ball any longer!” she said with a laugh, explaining why she will be unable to return to the coaching role she held last year in her hometown of Agawam.

While her son’s athletic exploits will still demand some of her time — “he was on the all-stars last year,” she said — work in the community and in the office continues. From starting her own firm years ago, on up to her current position with Springfield-based Cooley-Shrair, where she hopes someday soon to become partner, her work has always been defined by her focus on keeping herself an integral component of the region.

With time opened up from her brief sporting career, she said that pushing her benchmarks can proceed with earnest. “Three years from now, I’d like to be offering the same level of support. Five years ago, my clientele had different concerns than they do today, and I’m sure I’ll change with the times.

“I’m hitting my stride professionally,” she said with confidence. —Dan Chase


40 Under 40 The Class of 2010

Aaron Vega: 39

Co-director, Vega Yoga & Movement Arts;
Holyoke City Councilor

Aaron Vega said he never considered himself to be the “big entrepreneur type.”

After years of freelance video editing in New York City, though, Vega knew that the time had come to make a change. An avid practitioner of yoga, he thought that teaching the movement art would be a good fit. And for a few years, working for other people, it was. At colleges, gyms, and independent studios, Vega continued the freelance lifestyle. But, he said, you can only do that for so long.

“You’re not in control,” he said, ironically, about an activity that is all about discipline. “I’d have ideas about what a studio should be doing, and the other studios I’d work at would say ‘that’s great,’ but then would never do anything with those ideas.” Perhaps as a result of all those years of freelancing, Vega knew that he was, essentially, his own boss all the while.

“That’s the only option,” he said, “and the best possible option.”

In addition to starting the first yoga studio in Holyoke, Vega proudly joined the ranks of political leadership in his hometown this past year. And with his role on the mat, so to speak, he has big hopes for the city. “Holyoke is the kind of place where you can be active in the community, see a difference, and make change happen,” he said.

“There are a lot of people talking about revitalization of urban centers,” he continued, “but who is actually doing it?”

Vega Yoga, for one. His hopes in the coming years are to solidify his role in the business community, becoming an employer offering benefits and full-time work for his future staff, which at present consists solely of him and his wife, Debra.

“Before I ran for office, I saw that Holyoke is dealing with the same issues that they have been dealing with for the past 20 years,” he said. “I think that there is a lot of new momentum and new energy to push the city forward.”

—Dan Chase