The Class of 2011
Host and Executive Producer, The David Pakman ShowIn the beginning, more than five years ago, the show was called Mid-week Politics. “It was on just once every other week, on Valley Free Radio,” David Pakman recalled. “I really just read articles on the air. It was … horrible.”
No one is using that adjective to describe The David Pakman Show, the current byproduct of a lengthy and quite successful course of evolution. Aired twice a week, it offers a steady diet of opinion, is aired on more than 100 radio and television stations, and features guests ranging from Richard Neal to Dennis Kucinich.
And then there was the show (an on-air confrontation, really) featuring the Westboro Baptist Church — known for its strong anti-gay stance and protests at the funerals of servicemen — and the hacking group called Anonymous. “We got them both on the air to sort of sort out whether Anonymous had threatened Westboro, and during that interview, Anonymous essentially seized the Westboro Web site and put up a message. It happened live on the show, about 10 a.m.; by noon, it was on more than 100 news outlets, and it received 1 million hits on YouTube.”
The show was a hobby when it started, he said, and it is now most definitely a business, one he is trying to grow through diversity — exposure via the radio, television, and the Internet — and creation of solid revenue streams, such as membership packages.
When asked about his style as a host and inquisitor, Pakman, a self-described liberal/progressive, said it’s not to be confrontational, necessarily, but to be direct, and ready with the right questions and commentary.
“My style is more to have researched well enough so that, simply by asking the right questions, I can expose that their position may be flimsy,” he explained, “or put into evidence the fact that the person may not be informed to the extent that they claim to be.
“I try to anticipate what the answers will be, and just be prepared — that’s my style,” he said, a characteristic of not only his show, but his approach to business in general.
— George O’Brien
Assistant Executive Director of Management, Springfield Housing AuthorityNicole Contois is an executive at the Springfield Housing Authority, a Big Sister, and a dedicated Red Sox fan. She was hired out of college for a temporary position seven years ago, but quickly climbed the ladder of success.
“Once I started at this organization, I knew I wanted to play a bigger role and interact with our residents by making decisions and creating programs that will enhance their futures,” she said.
Today, Contois oversees the management of three public-housing districts with more than 1,400 apartments, as well as the Housing Authority’s resident services, human resources, and finance departments. Her goal at the agency is to help people launch their own pathways to success.
“We serve a very vulnerable population, and are able to provide them with housing, which is a basic need in life,” she said. “We provide families and elders with affordable housing and wraparound services that assist them in meeting their goals. For some, these goals include education, careers, and home ownership.”
Contois said seeing families overcome obstacles gives her a real sense of accomplishment. “We are able to help families advance and move forward toward success through all the services we provide,” she added. “We empower them, because many don’t think they can move past their situation.”
Contois is also dedicated to helping people outside of work. It’s been that way since she was a middle-school student and worked in the snack bar at Jewish Geriatric Services, where her great-grandparents lived. “I have always gained satisfaction knowing that I could make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
Three years ago, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, she became a Big Sister to a 7-year-old girl named Haley, who needed a female role model. “I felt I could be a positive force in her life,” she said. They enjoy ice skating, movies, and, most of all, Red Sox games together.
Contois also plays tennis and golf and hits the ski slopes. But in every arena she enters, her winning spirit leads the way for others.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Founder and Executive Director, Western Mass. Development CollaborativeBusinessWest 40 Under Forty
Class of 2011
40 under Forty, Class, 2011, community, leaders, young, professionalThe most important thing in Donald Mitchell’s life is his family. The father of three daughters, ages 12, 9, and 5, lost his wife, Traci, to cancer two months ago, and says he wouldn’t be where he is today without her.
Providing for his family has always been important to Mitchell, and from 2000 to 2003 he was a budding entrepreneur with a cleaning business. Although it didn’t work out, the experience was valuable and planted the seed for the role the Western Mass. Development Collaborative plays today. The first is providing resources and support to small businesses, primarily in the construction field. The second is linking these small businesses with larger private and public entities in the community.
“They use us as a clearinghouse to find small-business contractors,” he explained. “One of their biggest problems is that they cannot find quality minority or women contractors, so we bring them together, making sure the small businesses have the capacity to do the job.”
Mitchell wants everyone to succeed, and says giving up is never an option. He has always worked with children, and became a Big Brother when he was still in college. He and Traci were also foster parents to more than 10 boys in a five-year period.
Mitchell was Big Brother Big Sister of the Year for Hampden County in 1997, plays an active role in Black Men of Greater Springfield, and is Polemarch of the Springfield Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
This winter, he coached his daughter’s basketball team for the first time, and the team earned a division championship. But wins and losses aren’t as important to him as serving as a good example to his children — and to small businesses, helping them gain the tools they need to become more competitive and successful.
“Nothing comes easy, but you have to work as hard as you can and never, ever give up,” Mitchell said. “If I can do that in my professional and personal life, hopefully it will soak into my children’s spirits. Quitting is just not an option.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
Loan Review Officer, Country BankMichelle Cayo says each of her mornings starts with a rigorous kickboxing workout. “They go about an hour,” she said. “I burn a lot of calories … it puts me in a really positive mood for the day.”
Which is good, because most of her days are long, crammed with challenging, rewarding work as loan review officer at Ware-based Country Bank; community involvement that ranges from service as a committee member for the Professional Women’s Chamber to mentoring of young women at the Mass. Career Development Institute; and a home life that centers around her husband, Ed, and son, Nicholas. And what she likes best is that each day is different — and fulfilling.
At Country Bank, her work centers around analyzing the risk in the institution’s commercial-loan portfolio and ensuring that factors are in place to mitigate the risk. She enjoys the diversity of her work, as well as the learning opportunities.
“I’m always learning something new, and it’s interesting to see what’s going on with the economy,” she said. “You can hear about it on the news, but to be hands-on and see directly what’s going on and how it affects businesses is very interesting. And no two businesses are alike, which makes this work intriguing.”
As for her work in the community, she said she has enjoyed working with others in the Women’s Professional Chamber (formerly the Women’s Partnership) to “ramp up” that organization, as she put it, and develop new and different ways to “empower young, career-oriented women to be leaders.” And she takes great satisfaction from her mentoring of young women, many of whom have seen life throw them some curveballs.
“These are women who would be considered non-traditional,” she explained. “They may have lost a job or been laid off, and now they’re coming back to school to try to get their lives back on track. I tell them that not everything comes easily, and that the most important part is to try hard, because it pays off, and that the trials and tribulations they’re experiencing are only going to make them stronger.”
— George O’Brien
Director of Estate and Business Planning, MassMutual Financial Group; City Councilor, City of HolyokeTodd McGee loves tax law. “That,” he said, “makes me probably the most boring person you’ll ever meet.”
Well, no. But he admits his career choice surprised him.
McGee originally wanted to work in criminal law. As a law student at Western New England College, he was required to take one class in tax law — “I figured I’d get my D and get out of there,” he said — but his professor managed to make the subject so engaging that he took another. And another. “For whatever reason, I fell in love with taxes.”
He went on to earn a master’s degree in Taxation at Boston University and to work in business planning for law firms in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including Bacon Wilson in Springfield. “Then MassMutual came calling,” he said.
Constant changes in his field are part of what appeals to McGee. “With tax law, you have a set of rules, but those rules can be changed by a revised ruling, or something that comes from the IRS changing estate-tax laws. And everything you’ve done, now you have to go back and see if you have to fix it. It’s always changing. Law is never stagnant for me; it’s always something fresh.”
He’s also putting his law skills to use in public service, now in his third term as a Holyoke city councilor.
“I’ve always been involved in politics,” he said, noting that his father and grandfather were also politically active. So when the incumbent councilor from his ward didn’t seek re-election, McGee threw his hat in the ring. During his second term, he was asked, because of his background, to be chair of the council’s Finance Committee.
“It’s a great job because I know the area — I was born and raised here — and I love helping people,” said McGee, who can be seen on weekends volunteering as a basketball or soccer coach.
“I’m a guy who loves to get involved where I can,” he added. “When I was young, my family and my friends in my neighborhood took care of me. I want to give back for what they did for me.”
— Joseph Bednar
Executive Director of External Relations and University Events, UMass AmherstNancy Buffone likes to say that she owes a lot to UMass Amherst. She met her future husband, Mark, there, and has three degrees, including a master’s and a doctorate in education, from the university, which has also been her employer since she earned the first of those diplomas in 1995.
But to say that she’s repaid that debt would be a huge understatement.
Indeed, as executive director of External Relations and University Events, Buffone is playing a large role in improving the university’s relationship with Amherst and helping the school increase not only its visibility, but also its influence across the region.
In this job, she keeps one eye on the present — and initiatives such as the Gateway project, a joint economic-development initiative between the town and the university to develop a parcel on North Pleasant Street — and another on the future and events large and small.
Often that future is months down the road, with celebrations such as commencement, which Buffone has helped redesign into a two-day event, or Founders Day. But sometimes it’s years off, and milestones such as the school’s 150th anniversary, coming in 2013.
“We’ve already started planning for it, and the background research work began a while ago,” she said. “It’s going to be a fun year; we’re planning a lot of things and still working out many of the details.”
Buffone’s career at UMass started while she was still a student, in the provost’s office. A month after she graduated, her boss retired, and the provost hired her to fulfill some of that role. “I remember thinking, ‘this is great … I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, so I’ll do this for a year until I figure things out.’ Soon, I’ll mark my 16th year — I love it.”
Her involvement in the community reflects her current job description — she’s on the steering committee of the Amherst Business Improvement District, a board member of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Amherst Future Committee.
She balances all that with work at home, and especially her two sons, Jack, 9, and Ben, 7.
— George O’Brien
Executive Director, Rockridge Retirement Community
Beth Vettori didn’t always plan to work in senior living. But her perspective changed while on vacation.
“My graduation gift from my parents was a trip to Switzerland with my grandmother, on a tour bus with other retirees,” she said. “Everyone was in their upper 60s, 70s, and 80s, and we toured Switzerland, Italy, and France. I bonded with the seniors without realizing it.”
After college, she went to work for Orchard Valley at Wilbraham and started up its Harbor program, an assisted-living neighborhood for elders with various types of memory impairment. “It was very challenging and a great experience to put that together,” she said. “It’s a great, caring atmosphere.”
She was later hired by Rockridge Retirement Community in Northampton and was promoted to executive director at age 27. At the time, the community had an operating deficit of nearly $1 million, but she led a restructuring effort to bring it to profitability within two years.
“My task is running the campus, so I oversee all the operations,” she said, noting that she especially enjoys the contact with both employees and residents. “It’s challenging, but it’s exciting. There are some great, great people who live here and work here with me.”
For her work at Rockridge — including opening its 42-unit assisted-living community and its memory-support neighborhood before being named executive director — Vettori earned the Emerging Leader Award from MassAging in 2010.
“While the [restructuring] task was difficult, especially for a young, new executive director,” said Paul Hollings, chairman of the MassAging board, “Beth pulled it off with grace and dignity and made everyone feel positive about the changes.”
In her spare time, she stays active with several nonprofits, including Steph’s Wild Ride, an organization launched five years ago to assist children with cancer; it was named after Vettori’s cousin, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 21. “I want to help other local families by providing children with funds and gift cards, things that can really help them out,” she said.
It’s just one more way Vettori is helping to improve lives — both young and old.
— Joseph Bednar
Manager, Stop & ShopJoan Maylor used a picture of her parents in her 40 Under Forty portrait because, she said, “they truly represent who I am today.”
She recalled something her father always told her. “Once a task is begun, never leave it until it is done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
Well, Maylor certainly has lived up to that. She started her career with Stop & Shop as a bagger 21 years ago, “then worked every single department throughout the stores, through three levels of management, to the position I’m in now as store manager.”
When she started out in her entry-level position, she didn’t see supermarket work as a long-term career. But, she said, as she continued to grow and mature, she saw the many opportunities that can come to someone who sets her mind on a goal and works hard to achieve it.
Maylor is active in her church and, through her faith, committed to being a role model for younger generations. “I see that the young people these days can have trouble with focus or have a lack of purpose,” she said, “and I believe that, if I can show them how I grew up and became who I am, they can see possibilities.
“I’m hoping, through my position as store manager, that I can reach out to the community and get them interested in working in my field,” she told BusinessWest, “so they can see that there’s more to grocery stores than just stocking shelves.”
There were people at every stage of her career at Stop & Shop who would act as mentors, “teaching me what I didn’t know, but also what I needed to move on to the next step,” she said. “I still talk about all of them, and they have each given me a piece of who I am today.”
For Maylor, that’s what is most important, for her nieces and nephews and all the youths she works with: to help them understand, she said, “and to get the word out that you can make it.”
— Dan Chase
Resource Development Director, Pioneer Valley Habitat for HumanityOn her climb to the top, Monica Borgatti said she was left gasping for breath. That is, as a volunteer for the American Lung Assoc. (ALA) Fight for Air climb held in the stairwells at Monarch Place, where she has been a fund-raising tour de force in the last three years.
Since earning a bachelor’s degree from Bay Path, Borgatti has worn many hats — she has licenses in auctioneering and real estate, and worked for a heating and cooling company. “I’ve even worked in a hotel and coffee shop,” she said.
But, she added, “none of those things were calling out to me, telling me what I needed to be doing. It was always working for someone else, making money for someone else, and it never felt amazing.
“I’ve got a pretty loud voice, and I’m fairly outgoing. I have strong opinions, and I’m not afraid to fight for what I think is right,” she continued. To channel that voice in the working world meant a return to her alma mater, where she finished a master’s degree in nonprofit management and philanthropy in 2010.
In the months since then, she has quickly proven herself an invaluable asset to the regional chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “When people ask me what I do for work,” she said, “often I see them recoil — like they’re thinking, ‘you ask people for money?’
“But it’s more an opportunity to have people give their philanthropic dollars in a meaningful way for them,” she explained. “At Habitat, we can offer those people a hand up to achieve something better for themselves. We all share this community, and we need to do the best we can to make it welcoming and healthy, to make it a good place for everyone.”
And with her team at the ALA, the Little Engines, Borgatti has been helping to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer. With her team of no more than four other volunteers and 24 flights, they have raised more per capita in the last two years than any of their fellow climbers — one step at a time.
— Dan Chase
Regional Director, Mass. Office of Business DevelopmentMike Vedovelli draws a number of parallels between coaching basketball, which he’s done at both Cathedral and Agawam high schools, and his day job as regional director of the Mass. Office of Business Development.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “Both provide different situations, different scenarios, each day, and you have to respond. In coaching, you’re put in some difficult situations where you have a kid who’s trying really hard and giving to the best of his ability, but not able to really compete; you have to explain why he’s not playing, but that he’s still part of a team. It’s similar with businesses: they’re coming to you asking for the sky, and you can only realistically give them so much.”
Vedovelli’s had considerable success on the court — Cathedral teams he served as assistant coach won four Western Mass. championships in six years, and two of his Agawam teams won sportsmanship awards — and within the broad realm of state-supported economic development. Indeed, he’s had his picture in several press outlets, including BusinessWest, for his work helping companies such as Titeflex and Smith & Wesson, both in Springfield, gain the state and local support needed to expand. But ultimate success isn’t measured in photo ops, but rather with jobs created or retained, he said, adding that the number was 225 with Smith & Wesson and more than 100 with Titeflex.
What he likes best about his work is the diversity. “Every day is different; one day I’m dealing with a tiny manufacturing company in Conway, a nine-person operation that’s going to create two jobs, and the town is going crazy because they think it’s great, and the company is very excited because it thinks this will open doors to new business. The next day I’m dealing with a Fortune 25 company that could potentially add 100 new jobs.”
The hardest parts of this job, he continued, are managing the expectations of those seeking help, and saying no, which he has to do on many occasions.
Vedovelli is married to Sarah, and has two sons, Cameron, 6, and Ryan, 4.
— George O’Brien
Co-founder, Chief Strategist, and Creative Lead, Gravity SwitchIn 1996, Jason Mark was a teacher. His future wife, Christine, worked for Microsoft, and another friend was making video games for Fisher Price and Nickelodeon. Together, they decided they’d rather work for themselves.
“We pooled our resources and decided we didn’t want to deal with bureaucracy,” Mark said of the origins of Northampton-based Web-development firm Gravity Switch. “It’s been a learning experience.”
The company, named after a Shel Silverstein poem — appropriate, since Mark has gone on to write two children’s books — at first concentrated mainly on animation and CD-ROM development, but quickly evolved to become one of the region’s most notable Web-design firms. “We’re on the forefront of defining what it means to develop a successful Web project,” Mark said. “And it’s been a really exciting time; over the past four years technology has taken a big jump.”
Gravity Switch has contributed its own advances, from creating the iBracket — used by hotels, museums, retail outlets, and others to securely lock an iPad in a public location — to developing Blitz Build, a patent-pending process that dramatically cuts the time required to create a Web site, thereby minimizing client time and expenses.
But Mark and his team have also been at the forefront of socially conscious business practices in the Valley, donating 15% of the company’s annual profits to various local and national charities.
“As a community member, that’s what life is all about,” he said. “You have to look at priorities; work is important, but you have to do stuff you believe in, and to give back in any way you can. That’s something that’s always been important to us.”
Gravity Switch is environmentally aware, too, with about 25% of its staff (including Mark) bicycling to work every day and about half carpooling. It’s another way he and his team live what they believe while doing what they love.
“As a business owner, you want to be around people who are inspiring, and we inspire each other,” he said. I’m a big believer in doing what you like. You have to follow your passion.”
— Joseph Bednar
Community Engagement Coordinator, ACCESS Springfield Promise ProgramGrowing up in Springfield gave Delania Barbee the realization of how her professional life would be dedicated. “We can’t strengthen a community unless we can strengthen the young people and our young adults,” she said.
With the wisdom of someone decades older than she, Barbee said her life has been about breaking through polarizing statistics. One of the most important of those distinctions, she said, was graduating from Smith College cum laude, on the same timetable as her peers — as a single mother.
After college, she was one of the pioneering members of her hometown’s ACCESS program, an organization committed to helping students in need find ways to matriculate into higher education. The program was the first of its kind outside Boston, and Barbee was instrumental in tailoring this outfit for Springfield.
“Financial barriers are one of the main reasons why people don’t go to school,” she explained, “and my role is to meet people in the community wherever they are, to help them with those barriers.”
Working with the city’s financial-aid advisors, Barbee is doing her part to help break another statistic — the current graduation rate of 53%.
But there’s even more work to be done, she said. “While we don’t have an educated workforce the way other communities do, I want to make sure that people can work in the communities where they live.”
To that end, Barbee has set her sights on law school, so that she can better help people through the process of starting businesses in Springfield — “not just as an attorney,” she said, “but as a counselor for them.”
Add to her goals the book she’s working on about hip-hop culture and black feminism, and it’s safe to say that Barbee will be making a change in her community for many years to come. “By raising the economic and educational qualities in Springfield,” she said, “this will add to the proud history that we have here.”
And for this local hero, that’s a pretty good rap.
— Dan Chase
President, the Sandri CompaniesTim Van Epps remembers the conversation vividly.
It was Christmas night, 2004. He was enjoying a single-malt scotch with his father-in-law, W.A. (Bill) Sandri, when the conversation turned in a direction he wasn’t expecting. “He asked me if I would be interested in coming to his office, taking a look at the family business [the Sandri Companies], and giving my opinion on things. That was the first time he had ever raised the subject.”
And thus began more conversations — and some hard vetting on the part of company executives — that would eventually prompt Van Epps to leave a lucrative job as a portfolio manager for Sovereign Bank and take the helm at one of Franklin County’s largest employers, a deeply diversified, $200 million company involved in everything from gas stations (116 of them under the Sunoco flag) to photovoltaic installations; from a host of clean-energy ventures to three semi-private, high-end golf courses.
It is Van Epps’ goal to continue this diversification, thus further expanding a company currently boasting 500 employees — and counting. “Right now, we can’t build office space fast enough for new people.”
Many of these employees wouldn’t know Van Epps by face, which is good because he likes to pop into his gas station/convenience stores and other businesses while on the road in a form of Undercover Boss work that, he said, keeps him in touch with things happening on the ground.
While working to continually expand the family business, Van Epps is also busy within the community. He’s on the board at Franklin Medical Center and the Greenfield Community College Foundation, and is a member of the Western Mass. Chapter of the Young President’s Organization. He’s also a big supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, for which he helps organize a golf tournament that has become a key fund-raiser.
Meanwhile he travels extensively with his wife, Wendy, and children, Aiden, Aaron, and Ashley — Singapore was one recent destination — leaving Van Epps with little time for golf on his company’s courses, including Crumpin-Fox in Bernardston.
Which, at this moment, is his only regret.
— George O’Brien
Attorney, Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLPWhile recognition as part of the 40 Under Forty might be the latest addition to Kelly Koch’s trophy case, it certainly isn’t the first.
She laughed when describing the three things that she really wanted to do when she graduated from college. “I wanted to do sports TV, I wanted to teach — that was one of my minors — and at some point I wanted to do something with law. I’ll admit that I wasn’t really mature enough to do the last one, so I figured the sports route would be the best first choice.”
Apparently, it was.
While working at ESPN for nine years, she produced features for SportsCenter and worked on various documentaries. For her efforts, she won a CableACE Award and a Sports Emmy. While at ESPN, she coached and taught at a high school in Connecticut, but there was still that last goal to fulfill.
“I thought that a good time for a career change was right around when I turned 30,” she explained, “and when I was in law school at Western New England College, I had the luxury of getting involved in a lot of student activities.” That’s how she modestly described her role as president of the Student Bar Assoc. and winning the prestigious Dean’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Law School.
While the list of her successes sets Koch apart from the crowd, there is one award that doesn’t come with a statuette, yet it’s the one for which is most proud. For the past four years, she has been a Big Sister to a girl named Chelsea.
“After I took the bar and got settled,” she said, “I went over and signed up at Big Brothers Big Sisters. I wanted to have the interaction with a kid who needed someone to help with homework, or just to play sports with.
“She’s grown up to be a part of my family, and I’ve become part of theirs,” Koch continued, adding that this partnership has proven to be what she calls a “perfect match for both of us.”
— Dan Chase
Project Manager, Tighe & BondBriony Angus admits to being a bit of a policy wonk when it comes to land use and the environment.
“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues,” said Angus, who started her career in the public sector, including a stint as a Mass. Environmental Policy Act analyst for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“I like law and regulations, and I liked administering laws and regulations and enforcing laws and regulations,” she said. “Now, at Tighe & Bond, I’m happy to be working on the other side of the table.”
Her interest in land-use planning started in graduate school; “I got a lot of very interesting work opportunities and internships that jump-started me into the field,” Angus said. Today, her role is equally varied. “I do an enormous amount of different things and wear a number of hats; it’s a pretty diverse work experience.”
Most notably, Angus is what Tighe & Bond calls its “wind-energy champion,” and is heavily involved in growing the firm’s renewable-energy market. She manages several wind-energy projects underway at the firm, including Holyoke Gas & Electric’s plans to develop a renewable-energy project on Mt. Tom, and she frequently provides expert guidance to clients on regulatory, technical, policy, and financing issues related to such efforts.
“My earliest start in the energy field came from when I did greenhouse-gas-emissions inventories for a couple of New England municipalities,” she said, “and there has always been an energy-efficiency or clean-energy focus to my professional career.”
Angus says she has been continually inspired by her mentors — “I’ve always been very lucky to have extraordinary bosses my entire career” — and is proud to be keying innovative projects at her firm during its centennial year.
“I’m excited to be helping the team expand into new areas like renewable energy,” she said. “The fact that Tighe & Bond is interested in developing these new services is a testament to how successful it’s been over the past 100 years. And it’s personally fulfilling to know that I’m at least getting people to think about their energy choices.”
— Joseph Bednar
Program Manager, Human Resources Unlimited, LighthouseIt’s called the HRU Café. That’s the name given to a new venture, a unique start-up business located at the Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC) that brings together most of Jeff Trant’s passions under one roof, or operation.
These include social work, which he’s been doing virtually all his life — currently as director of a facility called Lighthouse, a community rehabilitation and employment organization managed by Human Resources Unlimited (the HRU part of that name) — and also business, or, in this case, the all-important business side of nonprofit management.
And then, there’s the coffee. “That’s been a serious vice since grad school,” he said.
The café, open since Valentine’s Day, employs disabled and disadvantaged adults and thus brings awareness to the large and diverse JCC community about the abilities of all people, disabled or otherwise, said Trant. Doing this, and hopefully breaking even financially, he said, helps explain what he means when he says he’s “an untraditional social worker.”
“When you have the credentials I have, you’re automatically sort of put in this box — when people hear the words ‘social worker,’ they assume you do one of two things, that you do child-protective services, meaning you take kids who are abused or neglected away from families, or you do psychotherapy with people. I do neither. What I do is very important work — it’s working with folks who don’t have a voice and helping them get one. That cuts across all facets of society, and it’s all about building stronger communities.”
Through Trant’s leadership, Springfield-based Lighthouse, which he took over in 2008, has undergone a successful restructuring, and now serves more than 500 men and women recovering from the effects of mental illness.
Trant’s only passion not represented by the café is golf, which he calls the “great equalizer,” and a way to “decompress” from his hard and often trying work at HRU, trying to give his clients a voice.
Trant credits his wife, Rachel, with helping him find a balance between work, life, golf, and coffee.
— George O’Brien
Program Director, Center for Human DevelopmentSean Hemingway is striving for balance. He directs the Center for Human Development’s Assessment and Juvenile Justice Support programs at the DYS Westfield Youth Service Center, and has been raising three children with his wife while climbing CHD’s ladder of success and working actively in the community. “It’s a struggle not to be all things to everyone,” he said.
When Hemingway was in college, he was hired as a part-time maintenance man at CHD’s Assessment Program. The job gave birth to his career, and he became passionate about working to improve the lives of young people. He wrote a paper titled A Janitor’s Journey Through the Justice System before graduating from UMass with a degree in mental-health studies and at-risk youth.
Hemingway spent his early years at CHD working with young males, but soon rose to the position of assistant program director of CHD’s Terri Thomas Girls Program. He said it was a “monumental life-learning experience, as they were in a [detention] system developed and designed for boys,” adding that their situation really hit home after his daughter was born.
Fifteen years later, he now directs the program for teenage boys and has come full circle.
“These teens have had very challenging, abusive, and neglectful lives,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to give them tools so they can make better choices. I am working to enact positive change in the young men so when they are released, they don’t reoffend in the same neighborhood situations.”
This juvenile-justice expert and certified instructor in non-violent intervention gives frequent lectures and belongs to several professional groups. To be successful in many arenas involves balance, and Hemingway directs his 53 staff members to do their best for the young people they serve as well as for themselves. “I am passionate about this work, but we need a work/life balance so we don’t burn out,” he said. “It’s a team effort.”
And one that requires stability — for both the staff and the teens they serve — on and off the most difficult playing fields of life.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Adjustment Counselor, Elias Brookings E.L. Museum Magnet SchoolGianna Allentuck says her life and work have a number of focal points.
But they are all intertwined, and the common denominator is hope. “The way to get to it is by connecting within the community and supporting one another,” she said.
Her parents were both educators, her family is close, and she believes everyone deserves to have a good life. “I’ve been blessed, and that is part of what inspires and motivates me,” she said. “The people in my life always inspired teamwork, support, and dedication to each other and their craft.”
Allentuck spent several years working in Washington, D.C. as a nanny. After leaving the position, she was hired by a law firm, but three weeks into the job she was diagnosed with cancer. Her co-workers immediately joined together to support her.
“They went into action and called major cancer-treatment centers to get me the best care possible,” she said, adding that the love and care she received during her treatment at the National Institutes of Health led her to write a book titled Welcome to My Heart, which was used to raise $40,000 for the Children’s Inn for seriously ill children and their families.
Allentuck returned to Western Mass. in 2006 and began working at Brookings School. Since then, she has created “A Neutral Corner,” a youth boxing program; been a co-creator and coordinator of a Peace through Education, Acceptance, Courage, and Expression (PEACE) hip-hop poetry program; and founded the annual United in Hope event that brings community members together around issues of education and peace.
She writes for the African American Point of View, and has taken an active role with many other organizations, notably the Mayor’s Citywide Violence Prevention Task Force.
“I work with people of all ages, from preschoolers to adult community members,” she said. “Our cities, schools, and communities need a lot of help. We need to get back to where neighbors help neighbors. If we connect the dots and support each other, then hope is possible.”
And that’s where it all begins for Allentuck — straight from the heart.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager, PeoplesBankLauren Tabin never intended to work in banking. But she’s glad she tried it.
“I came to Peoples in 1996 as a teller, and I honestly came just because I needed benefits; I was managing a candy store prior to that,” she said.
But she took advantage of the organization’s extensive management training program and quickly moved up the ranks; she was promoted several times on the way to her current role as branch manager and assistant vice president, not only running the operations of her office, but overseeing business development and community relations in the Holyoke market.
“I didn’t think this was going to be this much fun,” Tabin said of her accidental career. “I think the reason I’m enjoying myself is because of the great variety of tasks that I’m responsible for.”
She has always enjoyed the mentoring aspect of her job, and that ethos extends into the community, where she teaches young people about financial literacy. “I wish I had that as a kid,” she said. “A lot of families in Holyoke have very limited resources, and I feel the same way about the younger generation just coming into the work world. I want to mentor them and give them the tools to be successful like I was.”
Tabin’s civic involvement extends to her work with Providence Ministries for the Needy, the Holyoke Community Charter School, Girls Inc., and the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, among others.
“I like to be a motivation to people, to share my story with them and give them hope in hard times,” she said. “I had a child when I was very young and overcame lots of obstacles, and I share my story — that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I always see potential in everyone.”
It’s especially meaningful for Tabin to be doing this work in Holyoke.
“This is where I was born and raised, and this is where I’m raising my family,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the community where I live, and help make Holyoke a better place. I don’t want to be on the sidelines.”
— Joseph Bednar
Vice President of Commercial Banking, People’s United BankJaimye Hebert has been involved in the theater, in one capacity or another, since she was 7. Together, these experiences have played a big role in helping her become the person — and commercial-banking professional — she is today.
“Theater is … well, theater is where I met my husband,” she started. “Theater is where I developed my ability to speak in front of people. It’s where I learned to have no fear of meeting people. I never would have had the success in my career that I’ve enjoyed if I hadn’t been involved in the theater and been able to push myself in uncomfortable situations, performing in front of hundreds of people. That can’t be taught, and the value of those lessons defies monetary value.”
Hebert’s theatrical résumé includes everything from acting — she counts her performances as Sr. Mary Leo in Nunsense and Nunsense II as perhaps her personal favorites — to stagehand to lighting crew member. She’s been a long-time board member with the Victory Players, and has done extensive work with the Exit 7 Players.
Meanwhile, her professional résumé has ‘summer teller’ as the first line, with other ladder stops, including credit analyst, senior credit analyst, credit officer, portfolio manager, and assistant vice president, before reaching her current position as vice president of Commercial Banking.
She draws a number of parallels between both spheres of her life, with the common denominator being creativity. “I’m a fine-arts minor,” she said. “I’ll be as creative as I need to be to get a deal done, because that’s the way my brain works. I thrive on creativity, which is why I love this job; people don’t equate creativity and commercial lending, but they really are one and the same.”
When not working or performing, Hebert is involved in everything from American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, to the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, to youth soccer in Monson, where she coaches the Blueberry Sharks.
All this takes time, and she credits her husband, Jonathon, and her children, Tristan, Sienna, and Paige, with playing strong supporting roles in helping her get it all done.
— George O’Brien
President, left-click Corp.Kelly Albrecht is a problem solver.
It’s a skill he learned while majoring in philosophy at UMass, never dreaming he would open a computer-repair business that has grown from a tiny ad he put in the Yellow Pages to a million-dollar business with three locations in Amherst and Northampton.
In fact, Albrecht majored in philosophy because he didn’t want to take “a lot of boring entry-level courses,” and didn’t plan on a career in computer science. But he was already knowledgeable in the field because his brothers started programming at a young age. “The documentation of how computers work was easy for me to understand, and I found it interesting,” he said. “But I realized that wasn’t the case for everyone.”
Albrecht was attracted to the logic in philosophy, but when he became frustrated by philosophical problems, he turned to solving computer problems, an effort he found more gratifying. “In philosophy, you troubleshoot an issue where there is conflict and contradiction between what you see in reality and what you think to be true,” he said. “But you can never solve anything. The difference between philosophy and a technical problem is that the technical problem can be solved.”
Today, his background plays a role in the way he manages his company. In short, it helps him work well with people and understand the complexity inherent in teamwork. “The company has tripled in size in the last year,” he said, adding that he opened a second location in Northampton a year ago, and in November rented a third space for a Web-development team.
Albrecht is also the lead organizer for the Western Mass. Drupal Group, which held its first learning camp this year, attended by more than 200 participants.
He said he named his company left-click because the left button on the computer mouse is the one used to execute a course of action. “The right click is more exploratory, but a left click gets the job done,” said the father of three. Which is exactly what he and his team members do every day.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Value Based Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, ITT Power SolutionsLisa Totz had her 40 Under Forty portrait taken on her bicycle while wearing a business suit. Such imagery, conveying both dedication and physical prowess, would seem appropriate for someone who competes in triathlons and has the words ‘black belt’ included in her job title.
But she laughed when explaining what’s behind the words printed on her business card. “Basically a black belt is someone who is a change agent,” she said, “someone working to improve things around the company.”
And what a change she has made.
For 35 years, ITT had been a paper-based company, with all of its data analysis recorded in print. “That process is so wasteful, though,” she said, “because, first, someone has to analyze all that data, and second, it’s on reams and reams of paper.”
So, as a test engineer, Totz took her data-collections role and transformed it into ‘architect’ for an interfaced, electronic test-data collection system. It’s a technical approach to solving the inefficiency created by all that paper, and, using simple terms, she said it “changes how ITT Power Solutions functions.”
And with one look at what Totz does in her free time, it’s easy to see that efficiency is key to making time for all of her pursuits. Over the years, she’s volunteered time, energy, and imagination to such groups and causes as the Jimmy Fund, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Griffin’s Friends, ITT Watermark, the company’s corporate philanthropy program (which she’s served as site ambassador), and the Wave Triathlon, which she founded in 2009 to benefit the Westfield YMCA Wave Swim Team.
It was for her efforts with the triathlon, which has growing steadily in terms of participation and funds raised, that she received the Westfield YMCA’s Spirit Award, which she counts among the accomplishments of which she is most proud.
A five-time Ironman triathlete, Totz noted that “youths don’t have a lot of good role models these days.” But, through the work she’s done on the job and within the community, she has certainly become one.
— Dan Chase
Vice President and Comptroller, Lincoln Real EstateKathryn Grandonico has a vision for Amherst. “I want to help it realize its potential,” she said. “It’s evolving from a college town to a place filled with boutiques that will touch everyone’s life in this area.”
Grandonico has played a major role in that development, which she first envisioned when she was working in New York City and began paying attention to details in restaurants and shops.
Her family has owned Lincoln Real Estate for more than 40 years, and she has been involved with the business since she was old enough to help carry tools. “We want to bring every building we own back to its original grandeur. Every family dinner is a business meeting,” she said, adding that she and her brother Peter plant flowers around town every spring to welcome people. “One of my goals is to get cast-iron snowflakes put on the lampposts in winter to give downtown more life and vibrancy.”
Grandonico is the first vice president of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce and a member of its Government Affairs Committee, and is also part of a group called Promoting Downtown, a liasion to the town’s Design Review Board that is instrumental in the annual Merry Maple holiday celebration. “My experiences are all coming full-circle,” she said. “I am seeing small-business owners work to create an atmosphere and experience like I saw in New York.”
She has been a mentor to many business owners and developed and marketed Boltwood Marketplace for farmers, artists, and craftspeople after she discovered space was limited at the Farmer’s Market.
“I feel it is my responsibility to modernize the town — keep it up with the times and help beautify it while filling it with local businesses,” she said. “We are at the cusp of hearkening back to the 1950s when Amherst was in its heyday. The locals are coming back, and Amherst is filled with culture and academic status and people who want quality goods and a quality experience.”
Grandonico is one of them, and her love for her hometown, combined with her energy, passion, and enthusiasm, are helping bring her vision to reality.
— Kathleen Mitchell
This Diverse Group Finds Ways to Stand Out and Give Back
The ‘club’ has now reached 200 members.
Indeed, with this announcement of the Class of 2011, there are now five groups of 40 Under Forty winners, each one distinct, but with several common denominators that run through all the classes.
The most important of these is a willingness to find the time, energy, and, yes, passion to not simply perform a job or manage a business or nonprofit — but also contribute to the community in some way, or several ways.
Like the groups before it, the Class of 2011 is diverse, with each story unique in some ways. Perhaps the most unique is that of a 16-year-old high-school student who became the youngest winner to date through his work in the community, which ranges from tutoring Somali refugees to work on the Web site for Link to Libraries; from involvement with a teen-philanthropy organization to membership in the aptly-named Don’t Just Sit There, a ‘good-works’ group that assists a number of causes.
Looking over this group of 40 individuals, it would be fair to say that none of them ‘just sit there,’ and most all of them could be considered truly inspirational. Here are some other examples:
• A lawyer who has also served for several years on the board of the Forest Park Zoological Society, but also recently helped initiate a new program to mentor fledgling entrepreneurs, thus improving their odds of survival and staying in Western Mass.;
• A melanoma survivor — and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass. — who founded SurvivingSkin.org and now actively promotes a message of sun safety while also helping to raise awareness and funds to fight the disease;
• A loan-review officer for a local bank who finds a number of ways to give back to the community, including work as a mentor to young women at the Mass. Career Development Institute;
• The regional director of the Mass. Office of Business Development, who helps area companies secure needed state assistance to grow and add jobs, while also helping young men learn life lessons (and a better jump-shot technique) as a high-school basketball coach; and
• A Web-site designer who has also created a recognition program that is inspiring Springfield-based businesses to become more earth-friendly in everything from how they make their products to how they build out their office space.
There are about three dozen more stories like these in this special section introducing the Class of 2011, which will be honored at BusinessWest’s annual 40 Under Forty Gala on June 23 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House.
We hope you’ll enjoy these stories and become inspired to find your own ways to stand out in the community and give back to it.
2011 40 Under Forty Winners:
Timothy Van Epps
Photography for this special section by Denise Smith Photography
Meet Our Judges
This year’s nominations were scored by a panel of five judges, who accepted the daunting challenge of reviewing more than 110 nominations, and scoring individuals based on several factors, ranging from achievements in business to work within the community. BusinessWest would like to thank these outstanding members of the Western Mass. business community for volunteering their time to the fifth annual 40 Under Forty competition. They are:
• Diane Fuller Doherty, regional director of the Western Mass. Regional Office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network. Previously, she founded and served as president and CEO of Doherty-Tzoumas Marketing. She is a founder of the Women’s Fund of Western Mass., and also serves on the boards of the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, Bay Path College, and the Community Foundation of Western Mass.
• Eric Gouvin, a professor of Law at the WNEC School of Law and director of WNEC’s Law and Business Center for Entrepreneurship. Previously, he practiced corporate, commercial, and banking law in Portland, Me. He founded the Small Business Clinic at WNEC School of Law, serves on the Board of Editors for the Kauffman Foundation’s eLaw web site, and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Scibelli Enterprise Center and Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.
• Hector Toledo, vice president and Retail Sales director for Hampden Bank, and member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty class of 2008. He is currently chair of the Board of Trustees at Springfield Technical Community College (from which he graduated), and has long been active with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Springfield’s libraries, his church, and a host of other nonprofit groups.
• Jeffrey Hayden, director of the Kittrredge Center for Business and Workforce Development at Holyoke Community College, which houses a number of workforce-development programs, the Mass Export Center, and WISER, the World Institute for Strategic Economic Research. Previously, he was director of the Holyoke Office of Planning and Development and the Holyoke Economic Development and Industrial Corp.
• Michael Vann, a principal with The Vann Group, a professional services firm that provides small-to mid-size businesses with solutions such as accounting and bookkeeping, human resources, recruiting and strategic advisory services. He handles day-to-day operations of the group’s strategic advisory services and merger/acquisition activities. He is actively involved in a number of charitable organizations, and is a member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2007.
President and Chief Marketing Officer, LogicTrail, LLCAlexander Simon’s passion for people and open-minded collaboration are the driving forces that have led this entrepreneur to success. The father of two has worked on many award-winning marketing campaigns, but accolades are not what propel him to work long hours and give his time to a host of civic organizations.
“I’m a people person and have a passion for collaboration that is reflected in my career and my civic responsibilities, and it’s also something I try to instill in my children,” Simon said. “It’s a constant learning; I’m motivated by inviting others to share in cultivating better ideas. I really try to build that with our clients, and it’s wildly satisfying to see a big idea reach the light of day with everyone on board. It’s my nature to try and push the envelope, but only when it’s for the right reasons.”
Simon said he believes strongly in teamwork. He takes pride in getting to know his clients well and says the “intimate” relationships he forms come after listening closely to the way they talk about their world, which helps him create campaigns that break through the clutter.
Simon is a founding member of the Sounding Board for Professional Development, a board member of the Ad Club of Western Mass., a youth coach for the Northampton Recreation Department, and a Look Park Board Development Committee member, and has been engaged in political action committees in Northampton.
“I’m still young and looking for the right opportunity, but I definitely have a passion for working at the civic level,” he said. “We have a responsibility to give back to our cities and towns.”
He founded his company in 2009 and has a small but highly experienced and dedicated staff. “We want to stay youthful, agile, and able to work with different-sized clients and industries, and that means staying small,” he said. “This is my calling, what I’m supposed to be doing. I started my agency to do things in a different way and to enjoy the process. And so far, we’ve been very fortunate to work with some stellar clients.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
Human Resource Manager, Commonwealth Packaging Corp.Elizabeth Gosselin laughed when asked what her title is.
“Everything — as anyone who works in a family business knows,” said the human resource manager at Chicopee-based Commonwealth Packaging Corp., who adds bookkeeping, customer service, and a host of other duties to her official title. “There’s almost nothing here that isn’t my job. The only thing I haven’t done is run the machines.”
Gosselin, who manages 35 people, has been with Commonwealth full-time for eight years, but before that, she was no stranger to the company. “We’ve been in business 27 years, and I think I’ve been here all 27,” she said. “Growing up, I always had a summer job here.
“Working with my brother and learning from my father has been a real privilege,” she added. “And working with the people who have been here since day one makes it really special. There’s one forklift driver who’d give us rides around the factory when we were kids. He’s still here. He doesn’t give us rides anymore, though.”
Gosselin supplements her career with a heavy dose of civic involvement, from the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade Committee and the Junior League of Greater Springfield (JLGS) to Count Me In, a community-service group in South Hadley.
“Much of the community work I do is really work I’ve taken over from my mother,” Gosselin said, citing as an example her participation in the Junior League; as part of that organization in the 1990s, her mother was involved in developing of the Holyoke Children’s Museum. “I sit on the board there now, as well as working on new exhibits.”
Gosselin has also served as a project manager for other JLGS efforts, including projects benefiting Gray House in Springfield and Kids in the Kitchen.
For the latter, “we bring in a chef for a cooking lesson and show kids how to create healthy meals, things they can do to put together healthy snacks. That’s one of the coolest things I do, and one of the most rewarding.”
In other words, she’s packaging plenty of good works into her schedule.
— Joseph Bednar
Owner and Founder, Wild Apple Design GroupAmy Scott laughed when she heard someone describe her as a woman “without the word ‘no’ in her vocabulary.”
“When people see my résumé, or I recite the litany of projects that I’m working on, they often wonder how on earth I do all this,” she offered as an explanation. “But it has a lot to do with efficiency, why I’m able to do as many things as I do. That’s at the core. It’s not that I’m crazy, or that I can’t say no, because I actually can. I selectively choose the nonprofits and charities that I plug into.”
Over the years, that list has included the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, the Zoo at Forest Park, the MSPCA of Springfield, Habitat for Humanity, Friends of the Homeless, and countless others.
“The reason why I choose to do so many nonprofit projects is that I find that other people who are involved in quality projects are also high performers,” she explained. “So it puts me in the right company.”
And that’s a message she likes to pass on to her clients.
As owner of a marketing and graphic-design firm, when Scott draws up something for a new client, “I ask them to consider a nonprofit facet as part of a well-rounded marketing strategy — to consider a grassroots approach, which means networking, networking, networking.
“And being visible when you’re doing that,” she added. “Everyone makes out in the end.”
With the coming of summer, Scott said she’s looking forward to fielding a new account: the Holyoke Blue Sox.
“I’ll be doing their sales and marketing,” she said, “and I’m finding that this is extremely exciting, because not only am I absorbing minor-league sports, which is a whole new dimension for me, but the Blue Sox are a nonprofit, and through them I was able to launch a tremendous number of fund-raisers through youth baseball leagues and school systems.”
Clearly, before the first shout of “play ball,” Scott has already hit a home run.
— Dan Chase
Certified Public Accountant, Gomes, DaCruz, and Tracy, P.C.During the work day, Mark Germain said he mostly specializes in small businesses, “from start-ups to companies with $50 million in sales.”
He said his office helps these companies with all of their accounting and management needs because “a lot of entrepreneurs can run their business, but maybe they need some help with the financial side of things.”
And it was through that dedication to his clients that he found a calling outside the office.
Since 2007, he has been a member of the Assoc. for Community Living (ACL), a Springfield-based organization whose mission is to “create opportunities, build relationships, and improve lives for children and adults with developmental disabilities and for others who will benefit from our services.”
The ACL was started more than 50 years ago by five young mothers of children with developmental disabilities who felt strongly that their families had the right to grow up with dignity in their own home communities. Germain has been the assistant treasurer since 2008, the chair of the Buildings and Property Committee, and a member of the Finance, Audit, Investment, and Executive committees.
He said the ACL “helps people who have struggled to help these youths get to where they are.
“The organization is the link between the family and the state, and we can help them with services,” he continued, “so these children feel more a part of the community than they have been able to. It’s a good bridge for the kids and their families.”
Germain said that involvement in community affairs is something that has always been important to him, even when growing up. “My mentors early in my career always encouraged that, saying it was the right thing to do.”
With two young children of his own, he said he hopes to instill his interest in community to the next generation of Germains. “Spending time with my family is important,” he said, joking, “I’d like to slow down a little.”
Like any successful accountant, of course, he knows the value of the important things.
— Dan Chase
Owner and President, NRG Real Estate Inc.Nikita Robert Gelfand’s parents didn’t plan on giving him initials that sound out a word, but he’s definitely had the ‘NRG’ to succeed.
Having immigrated to the U.S. from Russia at age 11 with his family, Gelfand said that he always liked real estate, and he knew, even as a child, that he wanted to own and operate properties. But he has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, he said, and after working for a larger realty company, he knew the time had come to hang out his own shingle.
“Maybe it was the hot market I got into in 2003,” he joked. “Those boom years were awesome. I realized it was something I could make a living at — which is nice, when you can do what you love.”
He’s equally committed to bringing the sum total of his professional experience to others in need.
“I think it’s important for everyone in a community to give back to the community,” he explained. “You always look for somewhere you can contribute that’s close to your heart. There are many great charities and nonprofits to be a part of, but Habitat for Humanity seemed right for me. Because I help people buy houses in my everyday life, it just seemed like a natural fit to help these folks who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a mortgage in a traditional way.”
As a board member for the Greater Springfield chapter of Habitat, Gelfand also helps to coordinate the Fall Festival campaign, which last year raised more than $35,000.
Meanwhile, at work, Gelfand said that helping people get into their first homes is one of his proudest accomplishments — one he gets to enjoy on a weekly basis. “Some of my favorite clients to work with are first-time homebuyers, because I was in their shoes very recently.”
It’s the American Dream, he said, for a kid from Russia to own his own business. And with his energetic approach to real estate, he’s making that dream come true for others.
— Dan Chase
Executive Director, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity
The plot of Jennifer Schimmel’s life has taken some unexpected twists.
“I actually had a degree in fine and performing arts, and I always envisioned I’d spend most of my life on stage,” she said. But when she took a job with Lenox-based Shakespeare and Co. in a fund-raising capacity, she found she had a knack for raising money.
That took her to similar positions at Hartford Seminary, an interfaith graduate school, and then the Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, two faith-based organizations whose missions spoke to her own values.
She eventually accepted the position of executive director at the Greater Springfield Habitat, where she has used her fund-raising and event-planning background to oversee a 113% increase in unrestricted donations to support the mission of providing home-ownership opportunities to low-income families, as well as a 127% jump in special-event support and a 30% increase in volunteer participation.
Those are impressive results, but Schimmel insists she’s the one who is inspired.
“I love getting to know the families, knowing that our families work hard for what they achieve,” she said. “The motto at Habitat is ‘a hand up, not a handout,’ and I love being here; we’re cheerleaders, a support system, educators — but the families do it all for themselves. We guide them, but they really take control of the process.”
Schimmel is committed to supporting Habitat’s efforts internationally as well. She’s certified with the organization’s Global Village Program and will lead a group of 11 people to Guatemala this fall to work with a family in need of affordable shelter — her second such trip. “It’s a life-changing experience,” she said.
Overall, Schimmel simply wants to make a difference, and she was frank with board members of Greater Springfield Habitat when she interviewed for the job.
“I said, ‘if I’m not right for the position, that’s OK — I’d rather go and be a waitress and pay my bills that way and spend my free time devoted to community service if that’s the right thing to do,’” she said. “This job is not about making a paycheck; it’s about making a difference.”
— Joseph Bednar
Vice President of Business Development, Webber and Grinnell Insurance AgencyMat Geffin introduces himself to people wherever he goes. The reason? He loves Western Mass. and is investing his time, passion, and energy into making it a better place to live and work. His professional and volunteer efforts are intertwined, and he gives his all to both.
“I will do anything I can to improve Western Mass. as a whole. I just put myself out there and say yes to everything,” he said.
Although Geffin worked in neighboring states after college, he was happy to be hired by Webber and Grinnell, where his efforts have exceeded the firm’s expectations. Thanks to his work, the agency experienced 8% growth last year in its commercial department during a very challenging time.
Geffin’s strategy is to get people together, and he has initiated executive roundtables and educational seminars designed to help clients learn, grow, and improve their businesses.
This father of a 9-month-old has also worked to create jobs through his volunteer activities. “We lose a lot of young people because there are not enough desirable jobs here,” he said. “And that is at the root of everything I do; it’s about investing in Western Mass. to create systems and sustainable employment for young people.”
Geffin has been very active in Community Enterprises Inc. “I believe in this mission,” he said. “They create jobs and provide housing for people with a wide range of disabilities. We partnered with Walgreens to get jobs that pay more than $30,000.”
He is also involved with the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield and Northampton Area Young Professionals, and sits on the Finance Committee of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce.
“I have worked really hard, but it’s so much fun,” he said. “I put myself in front of a lot of people to accomplish my goals, and I feel lucky. I believe so much in Western Mass., and everything I do is about improving it, promoting the value of what my company can bring people, and creating a great network in the professional and volunteer arena.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
Development and Marketing Manager, Food Bank of Western Mass.Melanoma, a common skin cancer, can kill quickly. Beating it gave Meghan Rothschild a new outlook on life — and a mission.
“I’m a stage 2 melanoma survivor,” she said. “I was diagnosed at age 20, in college, and basically, it was because of some poor decisions I made in my teenage years to be outside without sunblock and to use tanning booths.”
As a journalism student at Roger Williams University, Rothschild wrote about her experience in a Rhode Island newspaper, and that opened more doors.
“A year after the initial diagnosis,” she said, “I decided this had happened for a reason, and that it was an opportunity instead of a negative thing, and I started speaking out about my diagnosis.”
She eventually founded SurvivingSkin.org and has shared her message of sun safety in a variety of media, inclouding Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan magazines, various fitness publications, WebMD.com, Inside Edition, and World News with Charles Gibson, among other outlets. In her former marketing position with Six Flags New England, she founded an annual melanoma day that raised thousands of dollars for the Melanoma Foundation of New England.
“I’ve also done a lot of work with the American Academy of Dermatology as their national spokesperson. It’s been wonderful to speak at schools, mostly in New England, and at colleges across the country,” she said. “The whole point is to talk about making right choices and really paying attention to your skin. It’s the largest organ in the body, and we really don’t pay enough attention to it.”
As development and marketing manager at the Food Bank, Rothschild is bringing attention to yet another often-neglected need.
“I oversee all the special events and campaign fund-raising and try to bring in financial sponsorships to help us continue our mission. I do some corporate relations as well,” she said.
“Every dollar we collect brings in $13 worth of food. It’s been very rewarding work. All the money and food we raise stays local. To know that I’m investing my time every day in something that’s making a difference for Western Mass., it’s a really great feeling.”
— Joseph Bednar
Vice President, Insurance Center of New EnglandBill Trudeau, COO of the Insurance Center of New England, called Benjamin Garvey “a tireless advocate for his clients and for the Western Mass. business community as a whole.”
Speaking more modestly of his business, Garvey offered, “the better that this area does, the more opportunity there is, and the more need there is for insurance. There’s a direct correlation.”
He said that his work allows him a decent amount of time to dedicate himself to volunteer organizations, which provide “many different ways to give back to the community.” And, as a quick glance at a list of his activities would attest, he doesn’t waste a moment of that time.
For example, Garvey sits on the Board of Directors for the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, is the sergeant at arms for the Chicopee Rotary Club, and volunteers for Junior Achievement.
He singled out two organizations in particular as important ways he helps others in the community. He is a member and former president of the Pioneer Valley Rebuilders, which has a mission of providing on-the-job construction and carpentry training for non-violent offenders emerging from the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. Meanwhile, Garvey volunteers for the Community Accountability Board, which also helps people to transition back into society after having been incarcerated.
“It gives you an interesting perspective,” he explained, “and it reminds you that life can be tough, and there are many struggles that we all need to go through. Ultimately, you have people who are great individuals who had a bad break or made a bad decision, and it affects them in a negative way. You want to be able to help them turn it around, and leave them with the best life that you can.”
Greater Springfield is a special place, Garvey noted, with an incredible history of firsts.
“There is so much to be proud of here,” he said, “and in getting to help people — well, I’m fortunate that I get to do that in a number of different ways.”
— Dan Chase
Assistant Vice President and Secondary Market Officer, PeoplesBank
Kristen Pueschel was talking about her first appearance in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race, but the words she chose to describe her successful completion of the 6.2-mile run would apply to just about everything she does at her job and in her life.
“It’s been a personal goal of mine to do it for years,” she said. “I don’t like being a spectator; I like to get out and do things, so I said to myself, ‘go do it, and do the best you can.’”
She certainly takes this attitude in her position as assistant vice president and secondary market officer at PeoplesBank, where she wears many hats, including that of founding member and current chairman of the Environmental Committee, and also in her extensive work within the community. This includes everything from service on the board of Girls Inc. in Holyoke to membership in Kiwanis International, to participation in the bank’s financial-literacy program in local schools.
And you could say it applies to her personal life as well: she’s engaged to PeoplesBank colleague Xiaolei Hua, with the wedding planned for November.
All this adds up to a complicated balancing act and an extreme exercise in time management, but Pueschel is more than coping — she’s excelling. At PeoplesBank, she started as an intern in the Commercial Loan Department and, later, while overseeing the department, was responsible for new-product development, rolling out a loan-origination software to the bank’s branch network and assisting in the launch of an online home-equity application for consumers. She has been a key contributor to the bank’s strategic plan and a valuable player in its Mortgage Think Tank initiative, which resulted in the revamping of the consumer-lending department.
With the Environmental Committee, she has taken charge of developing earth-friendly policies and procedures at the bank, and played a lead role in the creation of the LEED-certified branch in Springfield.
All this, plus her community work, is packed into each work week. “The weekends — they’re for family,” she said, meaning both hers and Xiaolei’s.
That doesn’t leave much time for spectating, which suits her just fine.
— George O’Brien
Attorney, Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLPScott Foster says that, when it comes to work within the community, he’s not involved in many things, at least in his estimation.
“But when I do get involved … I get in deep,” he told BusinessWest. “I think you can only be successful if you’re really invested.”
This sentiment definitely applies to his work with the Forest Park Zoological Society, which he has chaired for five years running. In that role, Foster has helped the zoo achieve a level of stability and steady growth — in both revenue and population, including some pending arrivals that he couldn’t talk about just yet.
That ‘really invested’ description also fits his work with the Family Business Center at UMass Amherst, as well as the university’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, for which he has been a frequent lecturer. And it would sum up his efforts with regard to something called Valley Venture Mentors Inc., a nonprofit organization he co-founded in 2010, which connects talented Pioneer Valley entrepreneurs with mentors in the business community.
This is an important economic-development initiative, he said, designed to build relationships that may eventually keep more businesses — and jobs — from leaving Western Mass. for other regions.
“There are a lot of really neat, interesting people under 30 coming up with very interesting ideas and concepts for new businesses,” he explained. “And one of the issues we’re facing in the Valley is that young people come into the colleges and the graduate schools, they come up with ideas, they start to flush out a business concept, they get some advice from people in the area — and then they leave. And they leave because there’s no infrastructure for them; there’s no path for them to follow.”
When not doing all this work in the community, Foster is, of course, really invested in his day job as an attorney with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, where he specializes in general corporate, business, and finance matters, including mergers and acquisitions and other commercial transactions.
He’s really invested in one more thing, his family — his wife, Stephanie, and son, James.
— George O’Brien
Attorney, the Law Offices of Brooks and PoweWhen Maurice Powe was a young boy, his grandmother made it her mission to feed seniors in their neighborhood. She sent him to deliver the meals she cooked and told him to sit down and talk with the recipients in their homes.
“I learned to meet people where they were and try to build a common ground of understanding,” he said. “My mother and father also made sure I understood the importance of giving back. It was always important in our home to help the less fortunate. We called it ‘doing the right thing.’”
Powe feels blessed because many people helped him to go to law school and become an attorney. Today, he gives back through his profession and his volunteerism. He is on the Board of Directors for the NAACP of Springfield, the Urban League of Springfield, and theaBrethren.
This father of three keeps photos on his office wall of several football teams he coached for the Springfield Academics Athletics Arts Achievement Assoc. He has also coached youth football and basketball teams in Longmeadow, and was a recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Bar Assoc. Community Service Award.
When he works with young athletes, he strives to teach them teamwork, commitment, and an important life lesson: “although they may get beat up and knocked down in life, they have to get back up. I tell them they show a lot about who they are if they do that.”
Powe says everyone has a story and a past, which they bring to every situation. “It goes a long way in trying to understand them,” he said. “I just try to treat people with respect and dignity and work hard for them whether they are having good times or bad. I listen to them and hear them, which is the start of a good relationship between any attorney and client.” He is also a zealous advocate for civil rights in lawsuits that involve discrimination.
His accomplishments all stem from his core beliefs. He is definitely doing the right thing — for all the right reasons.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Creative Director, DIF DesignPeter Ellis grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, where, he said, people were ‘going green’ long before that phrase came into vogue in this country.
“Green came naturally to me — stores didn’t have plastic bags; you had to bring your own bags,” he said of an attitude that prevails in Eastern Europe. “We bought local, fresh produce; nothing was shipped across the country. Green was imbedded in me by default, I guess.”
This background, coupled with his desire to help Springfield catch up with Northampton, Boston, and New York in matters involving earth-friendliness, inspired Ellis, founder and creative director of DIF Design, to create something called the GreenSeal program for businesses in the City of Homes. Creation in conjunction with the city, it recognizes ventures that are making strides in this realm and fosters a greener, more sustainable community.
The program is one of several factors that helped Ellis — who came to the U.S. to study at a seminary, but ultimately decided to take a much different career path — attain the top score among 40 Under Forty nominees. The growth of DIF Design, and the quantity and quality of his work, especially in Web design, was obviously another factor.
The company, which started mostly as a consulting venture in the broad realm of digital imaging, now boasts a number of clients across several sectors, and with each one, DIF works to identify which message needs to be sent, to whom, and how.
“When someone comes to us for help with their Web site, we strategize with them on how to build that site and reach a certain demographic so that it’s not just out there and looks good. It also functions as a piece of their marketing, rather than as just a brochure online.”
In addition to his family — his wife, Meaghan, and two daughters, Avery, 4, and Emery, 2 — Ellis devotes free time to a woodworking hobby (he builds furniture) … and getting tattooed. Indeed, he said most of his chest and arms are covered with images, something most of his clients would never know, and by design.
“Image is everything,” he said. “That’s what I preach.”
— George O’Brien
Joint City Finance Director; City of Springfield; Chief Financial Officer, Springfield SchoolsTimothy “T.J.” Plante’s interest in Springfield began when he was in graduate school and wrote his thesis on the state of the city’s finances.
Today, the father of a 2-year-old son and newborn daughter is dedicated to restoring “a great city — the economic engine of Western Mass.,” he said. “I am driven to continue to improve Springfield and its schools, and I want to make sure people look to us and emulate what we do.”
Plante manages a $624.5 million budget for the city and its public schools. Not only is he the first to hold both positions simultaneously, he made history by winning the Meritorious Budget Award from the Assoc. of School Business Officials for his most recent school budget, which was a first for Springfield. He also won the Distinguished Budget Award from the Government Finance Officer’s Assoc. for fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011, which the city had also never won before.
“My job entails a lot of responsibility,” he said. But he is passionate about his mission. As he works to continue to implement a financial turnaround of the city, he wants to maintain the improvements made to date.
Plante is especially motivated to make a difference in the School Department. “There are a lot of critical needs, as there is a high dropout rate and a low graduation rate,” he said. “It’s a special and unique challenge, but I am working to ensure that the district’s limited resources are spent on students to help close the achievement gap, improve education, and implement best practices in school finance. I want to continue to build its reputation.”
Plante also serves on the Regional Employment Board, various committees of the Mass. Assoc. of School Business Officials, and the International City/County Management Assoc.
“Time management is the only way to get everything done. But this is a great city,” he reiterated. And one with a financial leader who has shown he can accomplish great things.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Program Manager, Human Resources Unlimited, Pyramid ProjectChristin Deremian says that people living with physical and mental disabilities often have a difficult time finding advocates to help with their various needs.
“Everyone has a different need for our services,” she said, explaining her role at the Pyramid Project, a division of Human Resources Unlimited in Springfield, “from getting up and walking around to working on their reading, writing, or socializing skills.”
For the past nine years, Deremian has been affiliated with HRU, striving to be one of those advocates she says the area lacks.
“I’m working to empower folks here,” she said, “because many people don’t know their rights, or even that they’re able to vote. We need to offer them the dignity of risk. Just because they’re disabled doesn’t mean they can’t go out and make their own choices.”
Deremian said Pyramid and HRU are proponents of the so-called ‘clubhouse model’ in a number of their programs, which means “focusing on people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities. We strive to make people feel wanted, needed, and appreciated — because that’s how everyone should feel.”
At Pyramid, she works with 70 members and 300 staff, and her colleagues credit her with taking the clubhouse to a new level.
By focusing more on what people can do than what they can’t, she has created programs that offer music, pet, swim, and massage therapies; armchair travel, culinary, and book clubs; a woodworking unit, and a member-produced newsletter. But her advocacy doesn’t stop at the office door.
Deremian, an accomplished equestrian — she was the youngest caption of the Central Mass. national show-jumping team — is also an active member of the Springfield Public School System’s Read-Aloud program, and supporter of the Molly Bish Foundation. Bish was a family friend, Deremian said, and she is proud to support efforts to raise awareness of missing and exploited children, “to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s family.”
“My father always said to me, ‘if you’re going to do something, do it well, or don’t do it at all,’” she added. “If it’s going to be worth my time, then it has to be something that I can take pride in.”
— Dan Chase