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The Class of 2014

40 Under 40 Cover Story The Class of 2014
The Young Business and Community Leaders of Western Massachusetts


In 2007, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program called 40 Under Forty. It was intended as a vehicle to showcase young talent in the four counties of Western Mass. and, in turn, inspire others to reach higher and do more in their community.

Seven years later, it has accomplished all that and much more. The program has become a brand, the awards gala has become one of the most anticipated events of the year, and the 40 Under Forty plaque that sits on one’s desk has become both a coveted prize and symbol of excellence, recognized by all.

On June 19 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke, 40 more plaques will be handed out, to members of a class that is both distinguished and diverse. It includes bankers, lawyers, and accountants, but also a Holyoke city councilor, a contractor who specializes in blitz building, and Springfield’s senior project manager. And it represents virtually every business sector, from healthcare to education; from technology to the nonprofit realm.

With that, we introduce the Class of 2014 with words (enough to explain why they’re an honoree) and pictures that tell a big part of each story, whether the winner is captured with his or her children, dog, or even boxing gloves or a giant candle. The stories are all different, but the common denominator is that these young individuals possess that most important of qualities: leadership.

Click here to download a PDF flipbook version of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2014

Sponsored by:
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2014 40 Under Forty Winners:

Tamara Blake
Sandy Cassanelli
Robert Chateauneuf
Nick Colgin
Izabela Collier
G. David Condon IV
Jose Delgado
Justin Dion
Garett DiStefano
Patricia Faginski
Sean Gouvin
Nicole Griffin
Lee Hagon
Denise Hurst
Justin Hurst
Sean Jeffords
Danielle Klein-Williams
Dr. Andrew Lam
Angela Lussier
Ruby Maddox
Kevin Maltby
Andrew McMahon
Geoff Medeiros
Alex Morse
Meghan Parnell-Gregoire
Orlando Ramos
Jason Randall
Liz Rappaport
Robert Raynor
Alfonso Santaniello
Michael Schneider
Paul Silva
Michael Simolo
Noah Smith
Seth Stratton
Geoff Sullivan
Kyle Sullivan
Anthony Surrette
Jessica Wales
Francia Wisnewski

Meet the Judges — Click Here

Photography for this special section by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Assistant Vice President, Commercial Lending, PeoplesBank, age 39

Meghan-Gregoire-01Meghan Parnell-Gregoire says she just “fell into banking.” And she’s glad she did.

“It wasn’t planned; I just needed a job with benefits,” she explained. “So I got a job with Northampton Cooperative Bank.” She started as a teller, then moved into work as a processor, then an underwriter, then a mortgage originator. But that latter role meant long hours and too much time away from her young children, so she applied in 2008 to be a branch manager for PeoplesBank in Amherst.

“It was a huge shift; I had not really been in management — or in retail banking, except for five short months as a teller. So the bank took a huge risk on me, and I took a risk on them.”

The risk worked out well for both. In 2012, she was promoted to the commercial-lending arena, working closely with the bank’s Business Lending Center, a unique PeoplesBank program that focuses on small, local businesses.

“The Business Lending Center collaborates with branch staff and allows us to provide a higher level of services to businesses in our geographic footprint,” she said, adding that she finds a great deal of satisfaction helping commercial clients reach their goals.

“We might be helping small businesses in the growth stage and providing the financing needed to do that, or working closely with a business owner to identify ways to improve cash flow. On the flip side, with more mature businesses, they might need help sustaining cash flow, or maybe they’re getting ready to hand things over to the next generation,” Parnell-Gregoire said, adding that, in any case, it’s all about nurturing relationships, not making deals.

Being a single mother with a full-time job leaves limited spare time, but she still manages to work a number of volunteer efforts into her schedule, serving with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, the Paolo Friere Social Justice Charter School, Family Outreach of Amherst, the Holyoke Children’s Museum, and the Holyoke Youth Soccer League, where she coaches preschoolers.

“I feel lucky,” she said. “I’ve been given a tremendous amount of opportunities, professionally and personally, and I want to take opportunities to give that back.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Director of Residential Dining, UMass Amherst, age 39

Garett-DiStefano-01It’s called the ‘missed meal factor.’

As the name suggests, it’s a statistic that tracks the number of meals that students enrolled in the dining program at UMass Amherst miss — for whatever reason or reasons. Going back 15 years, the percentage of meals missed was around 40%, said Garett DiStefano, director of Residential Dining at the university since 2010, adding that it’s now about 10% or less, because — and to make a long story somewhat short — the students don’t want to miss any meals because of the quality of the food, the service, and the experience.

That’s why, of all the numbers concerning the dining program, this is the one he’s most proud of, although there is some serious competition in that regard.

Start with 1 — that’s where UMass finished in University Primetime’s ranking of the “50 Best Colleges for Food in the U.S.” for 2013. Or 3, where the school finished in the prestigious Princeton Review’s “Best Campus Food” ratings the past two years. There’s also 5.5 million, the number of meals the department serves per year, and even 15,291 — the number of pounds of fruit salad UMass Dining produced last September to shatter the Guinness Book of World Records mark in that category.

Since arriving at UMass after working as a Wall Street analyst — work he found “unfulfilling” — DiStefano has had a huge hand in generating all those numbers and many more. The career move was a nod to his childhood and work he started doing at Captain Nemo’s, a burger and fried-clam shack run by his father and uncle that has been a fixture at the Big E for 40 years.

“I didn’t even know there was a giant slide at the Big E,” he joked. “I spent my youth there peeling potatoes.”

Today, he directs the second-largest self-operating dining operation in the country, and professes to love every minute of his job. “Food is so dynamic, and you always have a different take on it,” he said. “And the customer base we serve is here 16 weeks in a row, every day. So we have to continue to make it interesting for them and keep it fresh, and make it so they want to come to the Dining Commons.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Regional Program Manager, Raising a Reader Massachusetts, age 37

Francia-Wisnewski-01Francia Wisnewski takes pride in doing all she can to increase literacy and help families and children. “I’m a firm believer that providing high-quality, enriching opportunities for young children is critical for laying a strong foundation for their long-term health, well-being, and success,” she said, “and I am passionate about advocating for and promoting legislation that supports families and children.”

Passionate … and busy. The regional program manager for Raising a Reader is a 2008 Schott Fellow, an elected member/chair of the Greenfield School Committee, member of the Greenfield Democratic Town Committee, a three-time winner of Community Action’s Caught in the Act Award, an advisory board member of District Attorney David Sullivan’s Franklin County Children’s Advocacy Center, a 2012 participant in the Early Educator Fellowship Initiative, and a 2012 Emerge Massachusetts Fellow.

Wisnewski grew up in Colombia and worked as a biology teacher before moving to this country to pursue a master’s degree in education at UMass Amherst. After settling in Greenfield, she immersed herself in volunteer work and selflessly continues to give time and effort to causes she believes in. “You have to do whatever you can to be part of the community, and I enjoy being involved in an inclusive process,” she said, adding that she believes it is important to educate children to their full potential and raise the quality of life for families.

The wife of Mark Wisnewski and mother of Luke, 11, and Corin, 8, she was a developmental specialist for the REACH Early Intervention program at ServiceNet in Franklin County and served as coordinator of Family Center Programs for Community Action in Greenfield for 10 years before assuming her current job at Raising a Reader.

Wisnewski said her work at the Family Center, which included promoting literacy events, taught her that she could make a difference and empower others. “I learned the value of networking and building support,” she explained. “There are many people with voices that are unheard who just need a little push.”

She knows communities will always face challenges. “But when they come, you need to be flexible, make the best of everything, and move forward.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Mayor, City of Holyoke, age 25

Alex-Morse-01Looking back on his first 27 months in office, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse says there’s been progress logged in many areas and some notable accomplishments for the team he’s assembled.

The Mass. Green High Performance Computing Center has opened its doors, a creative economy is taking shape, a long-awaited urban-renewal plan — a sweeping initiative to revitalize the downtown through the reincarnation of the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority — has been introduced, an Innovation District has been created, a Community Literacy office has been established, and a tax-incentive program to stimulate new growth has been launched.

But Morse, the youngest mayor in the Paper City’s history when he was elected in the fall of 2011, said that perhaps the most important development — and it results in part from all of the above — has been his administration’s ability to “change the language around Holyoke,” as he put it.

“The number-one thing we’ve done, and in a relatively short period of time, is change the perception of the city,” the Holyoke native told BusinessWest. “And it had to start from within — we needed the residents of the city to feel there’s a sense of progress and that the city is going to get better, and that’s happened.

“The most humbling, and exciting, thing for me is going around the Valley and across the state and hearing people talk about Holyoke in a positive way, with this energy and excitement,” he went on. “I promised to be the chief marketing officer of Holyoke, and I’ve fulfilled that.”

There is considerable work still to be done, but Morse believes the foundation for progress has been laid. And the process of doing so has been a fascinating learning experience for the Brown University graduate and urban studies major.

He said every day is different and uniquely fulfilling, that he’s encouraged by the way in which all those on his team are working toward the same goals, and that perhaps the biggest downside is the slow pace of government, something he wasn’t fully prepared for.

“I’m oftentimes impatient when it comes to implementing new things and programs and seeing changes,” he explained. “Sometimes it takes longer than you’d like.”

But he believes the needle is moving in the right direction and this city, steeped in history, is ready to write some more.

George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Attorney; Chair of Legal Studies, Bay Path College, age 39

Justin-Dion-01Justin Dion was on what’s known as the ‘partnership track’ at the Springfield-based law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C. He had established himself as one of the leading bankruptcy lawyers in the region, and it was only a matter of time before he was to be named shareholder.

But then, he took a position as an adjunct faculty member at Bay Path College, and his career path took a turn he couldn’t have foreseen years earlier.

“The more I did it, the more I really enjoyed teaching,” he told BusinessWest. “I found it to be a very empowering experience. And the fact that Bay Path is a women’s college, I found that I was really having a strong impact on these women’s lives, giving them a chance to improve themselves and the lives of their families.”

And now that he’s at Bay Path full-time, as chair of the Legal Studies department, he’s found that he actually has the best of both worlds, or three worlds, to be more precise. Indeed, through his work to create and now direct the Bay Path College Bankruptcy Clinic, Dion can blend teaching with legal work — in an advisory role to students — and also do volunteer, or pro-bono, work, something he found he really enjoyed while at Bacon Wilson.

Working in conjunction with an agency called the Mass. Justice Project, the clinic takes on bankruptcy cases, providing services free of charge to those who cannot afford them.

“This program allows my students to get some real, first-hand experience on what it’s like to deal with clients, and there’s a lot to be said for that,” Dion explained. “You can read about law in a textbook, but until you’re sitting across the table, holding someone’s hand who’s crying, and explaining to them that it’s OK and helping them through the process, you’re not getting the whole experience.”

While Dion enjoys life in those three worlds, the one that matters most is his family — his wife Kathleen, son William, and daughters Bethany, Madison, Sophia, and Charlotte.

“I spend most of my free time as a dad,” he explained, “and that’s the job I enjoy most.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Consumer and Business Banking Center Manager, PeoplesBank, age 36

Jessica-Wales-01Associates at PeoplesBank are never surprised when Jessica Wales asks if they can volunteer for a special event or fund-raiser, and know it could mean they end up serving hot chocolate on a freezing day or wearing an elf suit.

“I have a lot of great friends and co-workers who are up for anything, and especially around the holidays, when you can make a difference in kids’ lives; everybody just wants to help out,” she said.

While donning an elf costume last fall, Wales helped lead one of the most successful branch openings in the history of PeoplesBank, and in the weeks leading up to the opening of the new LEED-certified branch in Northampton, she created and led TeamPossible, a group of branch associates that visited local businesses to perform random acts of kindness, treating customers to free burgers, ice cream, and coffee.

The effort resulted in a record $6 million in new deposits during the initial four months of operation. A driving force in efforts to implement environmentally friendly technology at the new branch, including iPad account opening and video drive-up teller service, Wales has applied those same leadership qualities to Northampton Area Young Professionals, securing speakers for its Leadership Luncheon Series, as well as assisting the FDIC Money Smart program at Junior Achievement and serving as a past member of the fund-raising and marketing committees for the United Way of Hampshire County. For the past seven years, she’s helped the United Way’s Allocation Committee, a group that qualifies organizations’ request for funds.

“You get your heartstrings tugged at these interviews,” Wales said. “I don’t know if people in Western Mass. understand all the services available to them, but there are amazing volunteers out there who put their heart and soul into the organizations they’re representing.”

It’s her love of her hometown of Northampton that has her recruiting PeoplesBank associates to volunteer at Santa’s Train and Earth Day Clean Up in Look Park, the Hot Chocolate 5K Run, and the Northampton Center for the Arts’ annual First Night event. Her own personal time has her sharing afternoons with her partner, Jeremy Cotton, scuba diving or skydiving.

By land, sea, or air, Wales is always up for a challenge and making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

— Elizabeth Taras

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Vice President, Brand, Yankee Candle Co., age 39

Geoff-Medeiros-01Geoff Medeiros says he’s not the one who comes up with the scents for Yankee Candle, such as the one that recreates the aroma of sizzling bacon — one of the so-called ‘man candles.’ No, there’s a committee of five or six devoted to that. Nor does he come up with the names for these products, such as ‘Luau Party,’ one of the offerings in the Exotic Escapes collection; there’s another team that handles that assignment.

But you might say that it’s his job, as vice president of Brand, to position these products, myriad others, and the stores that sell them for success.

That’s a simple way to break down a rather long and quite deep job description, one that includes everything from brand positioning to media planning to global consumer research. It was his decision, for example, to use the company’s highly visible billboard on I-91 to promote the scent called MMM, Bacon! “It definitely drew some PR for the company,” he said with a laugh.

Overall, Medeiros manages a number of brands for the company. Beyond the Yankee Candle label, there is the Home Classics brand sold at Target; the Simply Home brand, sold in Kohl’s outlets; and new offerings including Pure Radiance and Relaxing Rituals, both sold in the company’s retail stores.

Medeiros, who leads an 11-member Brand team, has honed his skills in a 15-year career in brand management, one that also included stints with Hasbro and Nestlé. He joined Yankee Candle in 2006, working first as director of Brand Management and then general manager before assuming his current position.

At all those stops, and especially with Yankee Candle, he has balanced his professional career with a passion to give back to the community. A Big Brother while attending Providence College, he currently sits on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County, and was instrumental in helping the agency increase its social-media presence for the 2013 Valley Gives event. Meanwhile, he has been an active member of the Mentor Program at Yankee Candle, which was established to create an environment that develops and advances talented young women at the company.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Mayoral Aide, City of Springfield, age 28

Jose-Delgado-01Jose Delgado says he cares deeply about Springfield. “There is so much potential here, and I want to highlight the positive, bring more jobs to the city, and help make it a destination where people want to live.”

Delgado told BusinessWest that his parents taught him the value of education, while President Obama inspired him to get involved in politics and the community. “I’ve had many mentors and feel the need to give back. A lot of what I enjoy is related to education and working with young people,” he said, adding, “my bachelor’s degree is very important to me because my parents never made it to college, and my 2-year-old son, Jonah, adds to my motivation to continue fighting to improve Springfield.”

Delgado is volunteer chair of the Buy Springfield Now program that provides services and incentives to potential homeowners. “We also show off beautiful housing and neighborhoods in Springfield and have started an Open House series,” he said.

Delgado completed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Springfield Department of Urban Studies Fellowship, which is focused on cultivating young area leaders. “It’s important to me to keep young professionals here,” he said, explaining that he understands the lure of large cities because, when he was in college, he obtained an internship in New York with Russell Simmons, who co-founded the hip-hop music label Def Jam and created clothing lines.

After graduation, Delgado’s volunteerism led him to become program coordinator for the Mass. Latino Chamber of Commerce in Springfield through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Today, the mayoral representative is a committee member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, the Puerto Rican/Latino Leadership Council, the Atwater Park Civic Assoc., and the Springfield Ward 2 Democratic Party.

In addition, he assisted with tornado-relief efforts in Springfield and the creation of a city resource guide for residents, is working to streamline the constable application process, and serves on the North End Counter Criminal Continuum.

“There is opportunity in Springfield,” Delgado said. “It’s a place where a kid who grew up on welfare in the North End can become a mayoral aide.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Principal, Corbin & Tapases, P.C.; Entrepreneur, age 31

Tony-Surretle-01Anthony Surrette has always juggled multiple roles with seeming ease. But maintaining balance in life is important to him, and he believes three factors pave the road to success. “If you’re passionate about what you do, have a solid work ethic, and put your family first, you can be successful,” he said.

The certified public attorney and certified fraud examiner, who has attained the title of principal at Corbin & Tapases, P.C., also owns real estate, is co-owner of 16 Acres Coin-Op Laundry, as well as the Nerdy Spoon in Springfield, and is a dedicated family man.

He loves people, enjoys working with start-up companies, takes pride in his ability to explain things in a simple or highly technical matter, and has an entrepreneurial spirit himself.

“I love working with new clients who are passionate about their interests,” he said. “You can seize their energy.”

During college, Surrette discovered that accounting and business were a good fit for his talents and personality. “Business is in my DNA. But the force that drives me is my family. It’s always been family first,” he reiterated.

After his 3-year-old daughter Andrea was born, Surrette became involved with the nonprofit group known as Angels Take Flight, which provides essential items, including luggage, to foster children moving from home to home. Surrette used his business expertise to establish the agency as a 501(c)3 organization, and served as vice president and treasurer.

Surrette recently became a member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and is involved with several organizations focused on business, entrepreneurship, and accounting. In addition, he mentors young people — he’s currently working with an accounting major at Western New England University who works for Corbin & Tapases — and has worked as a business consultant to help companies expand.

Surrette and his fiancée, Nicole, are expecting their second child, and it’s important to him to give his family every opportunity possible, especially since his own father died when he was 10.

“I care about what I am doing and don’t see myself as limited,” he said. “My family has always been very supportive, and I just want to give back.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Chief Financial Officer, Department of Veterans Affairs, age 33

Andrew-McMahon-01Sept. 11, 2001 changed many lives — Andrew McMahon’s included.

“I was in school and working a summer job cleaning air ducts,” he recalled. “The last job I worked was at the end of August; I was in New York City for a few days, working in the World Trade Center.”

Two weeks later, those towers were gone, America was shaken, and McMahon was reflective.

“I felt there was more that I could do. So, with some other guys at school, I joined the Air Force,” he said. “But there was a rush to get into the Air Force at that time, and it was hard to pick your job. I wanted to go be a fireman or an aerial gunner or something cool on the front lines, but I went in saying, ‘whatever you can give me.’”

Because of his accounting and business education, he was placed in a finance position — not exactly what he’d envisioned. But it turned out to be a good fit, and he managed, among other things, the finances of a special-operations unit — certainly a critical role.

Years later, working at Fort Bragg, McMahon and his wife had a son and wanted to return to their Western Mass. roots, where they both had extended families. So he became a reservist in the Air National Guard and took a job at Kollmorgen in Northampton, as a financial analyst working on defense contracts.

Three years later, he was hired by the VA Medical Center in Leeds, “which was more in line with all my training and would allow me to serve veterans in that capacity.” Veterans were close to his heart, especially because his brother — who did, in fact, end up with a ‘cool’ Air Force job, as a paratrooper — came home with a Purple Heart.

At the VA, McMahon manages close to $170 million in taxpayer funds. He has spearheaded efforts to centralize data, rebalance workloads, and automate processes, building the leanest fiscal department among all six VA medical centers in New England, and mentoring other managers in the organization to transform their service lines as well.

“I have a finance job, which I happen to be technically good at,” he said, “but I enjoy the fact that I’m still contributing to veterans, guys that served.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Chief Operating Officer, Northeast Security Solutions Inc., age 27

David-Condon-01It’s not easy having a Roman numeral at the end of your name.

That’s one of the things G. David Condon IV has found out during his career, and somewhat the hard way. Indeed, while with family members and very close friends he goes by George, to the rest of the world he’s David, his middle name. And this has come about far more out of necessity than choice, because he works in a family business, just down the hall from George David Condon III.

“Customers would call looking for George,” he explained. “We’d ask, ‘which one?’ They’d reiterate, ‘George Condon,’ and we’d again say, ‘which one?’ They’d say, ‘Big George,’ and we’d say, ‘do you mean the older George or the taller George?’ To clear it all up, I started going by David.”

By whatever name he’s called, Condon is a rising star in the local business community, and now a 40 Under Forty winner. He is working with his father to expand and diversify the family business, Northeast Security Solutions Inc., while also rising within the ranks of the local Rotary Club district, and even finding time to play on the road and in studio with a garage band known as Scrap Iron Sun.

With the company, which he joined in 2008 after graduating from UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, and now serves as COO, he sums up his duties with the phrase ‘everything else.’ “You have a bookkeeper, you have technicians, and an office manager, and I’m kind of everything else.”

He was one of the youngest people ever to join the West Springfield Rotary Club, then was its youngest president, and now he’s one of the youngest assistant district governors for District 7890, acting as a liaison of sorts between several of the area clubs and the district.

He and his wife, Michaelan, are expecting their first child in August. They don’t know the gender yet and don’t want to know. What they do know is that, if it’s a boy, he won’t be named George David Condon V.

“As someone who has had to go through the frustration of having the same name as someone else,” he said, “I’m ending the streak by not putting my kid through that.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Business Insurance Broker, John M. Glover Agency, age 28

Kyle-Sullivan-01Kyle Sullivan’s photo shoot for 40 Under Forty includes a random assortment of props — or perhaps not so random, in the way they reflect his many priorities.

The blue stuffed bear signifies his son, expected in July. The silver clock was an award for being named ‘most valuable participant’ at the Hartford School of Insurance last year while receiving his commercial lines specialist designation. And the coffee mug is from his close friend Terra Missildine, owner of Beloved Earth, an environmentally friendly cleaning company he helped navigate the insurance landscape.

But Sullivan doesn’t like to think of himself as a salesman. “I’m someone who builds relationships with clients,” he said. “I provide business insurance, and I work with people who buy homes, rental properties, auto — any insurance besides health and life.”

He focuses mainly on commercial lines, however, and he’s working toward his certification as a construction risk insurance specialist. “That gives me more specific knowledge to work with contractors, which is something I like to do. I hit it off with them; our personalities just mesh.”

Sullivan is a third-generation member of this family business, which was started by his grandfather. But growing up, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to follow the family path. Instead, he had a passion for entrepreneurship.

But his current role gives him a satisfying foothold in that world. “I like to learn about people’s businesses, and there aren’t many fields where you can learn about businesses in depth the way I do,” he said. “I need to understand a business to a great extent to make sure I have the right coverage for what they’ve built. I like to think, ‘they’ve put the last 10 years of their lives into this business. If they lost it all, do they have the right coverage to continue to be in business?’”

Sullivan helps people in other ways as well, through civic involvement that includes Western Mass. Junior Achievement, the Holyoke Blue Sox board, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and Leadership Pioneer Valley — all with a focus on building the region’s economic future.

“We’re doing anything we can do,” he said, “to better to the Pioneer Valley and build leadership skills and connect people in the Valley who are emerging leaders.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Attorney, Bacon Wilson, P.C., age 39

Kevin-Maltby-01Kevin Maltby remembers being in a courtroom watching a judge trying to give some advice to a pro-se litigant in a debt-collection matter — someone representing herself because she couldn’t afford to hire an attorney — and deciding that there was something definitely wrong with that picture.

“The judge isn’t supposed to give advice,” said Maltby, a litigator and employment-law specialist with Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, P.C. “And I knew she would wind up in the clerk’s office. The clerks aren’t supposed to give advice either, but they do, and that’s nice, but I sat there and said, ‘there should be somewhere for this person to go to get the answers they need in a relatively short period of time, for free, to get them on course.’”

That’s essentially how the District Court Lawyer for a Day Program was launched. It took some doing, and there are many parties and volunteers involved, but it was Maltby who got the ball rolling and kept it rolling. At last count, more than 250 individuals had received assistance from the initiative, which, as the name suggests, places volunteer lawyers in the District Court to assist pro-se litigants in non-criminal matters.

The program has been so successful that, in 2012, the Hampden County Bar Assoc. presented Maltby with its Access to Justice Pro Bono Publico Award for its efforts. That’s just one of many accomplishments inside and outside the courtroom for Maltby, an accomplished litigator who is a five-time recipient of the Super Lawyers Rising Star award from Boston magazine, and has also been honored by the Mass. Bar Assoc. as the 2013 recipient of its Community Service Award.

He earned that designation through a long list of contributions within the community. At the top of that list is work he and his wife, Eliza, undertook to create the Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Support Group of Western Mass. and take part in other initiatives to raise awareness of pediatric strokes.

“They happen right when children are born or right after, and they often go undiagnosed,” Maltby said. “Work in these areas has opened my eyes to a lot of things, and made me realize that we can make a difference if we just try.”

Suffice it to say that he does more than try.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Western New England University College of Pharmacy, age 37

Isabela-Collier-01Izabela Collier has a passion for diabetes treatment — but an even greater one for making sure people never need that treatment.

At Western New England University, her advisor suggested studying pharmacy because of her strong background in science. But after graduation, working for Baystate Health, she was unsure how she wanted to focus that degree. “Relentlessly, I would be asking my manager to switch me around to different areas of pharmacy.”

At the same time, she began to realize how many patients had diabetes — and, more significantly, how many people might be able to avoid it if they just understood how. “I really wanted to be on the other side of the spectrum, not just to be there to help them with crisis management, but to provide them with education so they never get to that stage,” Collier said.

So she became a certified diabetes instructor. She met a nurse and a dietitian who were as driven about the issue as she was, and together they launched the Diabetes Center of Western Massachusetts. “It was a fantastic opportunity from a business perspective, but it was very time-consuming.”

After three years, a different opportunity opened up at WNEU — this one as a clinical assistant professor of Pharmacy Practice. “I enjoy educating, and I really wanted to educate students. The teachers there made a tremendous difference in my life. Now I can give back what was given to me.”

Meanwhile, Collier established diabetes pharmacy clinics at two Veterans Affairs healthcare systems, in Springfield and Leeds, the success of which was recognized by the American College of Clinical Pharmacists in its Ambulatory Care Survival Guide. She also received a grant from the National Assoc. of Chain Drug Stores to provide community health screenings for the public, and she’s a founding member of the West Local Networking Group, a local chapter of the American Assoc. of Diabetes Educators.

“I’m passionate about working one-on-one with patients, focusing on chronic disease management and the pharmacist’s role in it,” said Collier, a native of Poland. “It’s not just medication dispensing, but re-education for chronic disease management. There’s a lack of education out there, and the pharmacist can provide that link between provider and patient.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Owner and Performance Coach, Continuum Performance Center, age 32

Geoff-Sullivan-01Geoff Sullivan is all about performance. It’s in his title and his company’s name, after all. But it took a few career stops before he set his eyes on his most challenging goal — entrepreneurship.

After studying exercise science at UMass Amherst, and a stint in the Corporate Wellness division of Yankee Candle, he became a fitness director for Healthtrax. At the time, Healthtrax was partnering with Altheus, an innovative business model for personal coaching. “I loved what they brought to the table,” he said.

In fact, he assisted in implementing the Altheus model in 12 Healthtrax facilities in seven states, growing fitness-related revenues by more than 600% in the process. He also created and implemented what’s known as the Small Group Coaching model in 15 facilities.

Eventually, he felt like he could bring his skills and knowledge to his own enterprise, so he left Healthtrax and opened Continuum Performance Center in East Longmeadow in 2011. It proved to be a smart decision, as the business has quadrupled in size since then.

“We are very, I don’t want to use the word ‘prideful,’ but if we are attaching our name to a fitness program, we’re going to give the best we have; we’ll give extra time, do something that wasn’t agreed upon, to reach our goals,” he said. “Our success comes quite literally from the fact that we put the program first, and people achieving the results they want.”

His business also pours energy into the Season of Giving, an annual effort around the holidays that raises money for organizations like Toys for Tots, the Western Massachusetts Food Bank, the Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity. Sullivan gives of his time, too, such as working with his employees on a Habitat house build and visiting regions affected by Hurricane Sandy to assist with cleanup efforts.

That’s gratifying, Sullivan said, but so is his everyday work, because it changes lives.

“Each time someone achieves something they always wanted to but didn’t think they could, you see the pure elation on their face,” he said. “You were an integral part of that — you mapped it out for them — but they were the ones who accepted the challenge and put in the work and accomplished their goal.”


— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Assistant Director, Miller Worley Center for the Environment, Mount Holyoke College, age 33

Ruby-Maddox-01Ruby Maddox has always had a heart for the environment. These days, she’s trying to put it at the heart of every student’s experience at Mount Holyoke College.

Her role at the college’s Miller Worley Center for the Environment involves coordinating partnerships with the various academic departments, the community, and national organizations to create on-campus programs, community projects, and learning opportunities for students centered on environmental literacy.

“Our goal is to help students connect to the environment regardless of what academic discipline they’re in, so they understand the implications of their subject of study,” she said. For example, a political science student might learn about land rights, deforestation policy, and other issues. “All these things intersect with the environment so students can have a true liberal-arts education.”

Perhaps more significantly, Maddox spearheaded the creation in 2002 of a youth gardening program in Springfield that evolved into an entity known as Gardening the Community, which is centered on urban agriculture, sustainable living, and youth development.

At the time, she was a theater major at Holyoke Community College, but she was active in community service, and was inspired by a professor’s recommendation to start the gardening program.

“We operate in the Mason Square area and teach kids how to grow food on vacant and abandoned lots,” Maddox said, adding that the program, which also emphasizes building healthy communities and developing youth leadership, recently received a grant from the Mass. Department of Agriculture, and is one of the only urban community-supported agriculture programs in the area. “We employ about 30 youth each summer. It exposes them to the fact that building community is possible, and that they can be producers and not just consumers.”

Today, she still serves as chair of the GTC board of directors, while also maintaining a blog, thecbosector.wordpress.com, that focuses on community-based organizations with an emphasis on urban philanthropy. She has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and was an organizing committee member for the Undoing Racism Organizing Collective in Springfield.

In other words, Maddox believes in helping urban young people build a healthier future, in every way.

“My big thing is experiential learning, both for youth and adults,” she said. “I love my work.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Owner, Right at Home of Western Massachusetts, age 29

Nick-Colgin-01Nick Colgin was asked what he liked about mountain climbing, and especially about leading veterans, many of them disabled, on such expeditions.

He started with some levity — “you can’t get cell-phone reception where we go, and that’s usually a good thing” — but then turned quite serious.

“Having served in Afghanistan as a medic at a young age, you become numb to a lot of things,” said Colgin, who was awarded a Bronze Star for saving the life of a French soldier under fire in that conflict, but obviously saw many people die or suffer horrific injuries.

“Things that used to make me really happy and put a huge smile on my face don’t have the same effect anymore; when you lose a lot of people in your early 20s as patients, it tends to harden you a bit,” he went on. “But when I get individuals who may be blind or disabled and they’ve never climbed a mountain before and I take them up — they’re excited, they’re happy, and I can really feed off that emotion.”

Colgin has had several opportunities to do that in recent months — he just led some ice climbs in North Conway, N.H., for example — but now has some serious competition for the time he spends leading such excursions.

For starters, there’s the business venture he started just last fall, Right at Home of Western Massachusetts, a home-care outfit that has quickly expanded to 22 employees and a number of promising accounts. There’s also a growing number of speaking engagements, like the one at West Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania recently, which center on the issue of hiring veterans, and how companies can, and must, become better at that assignment.

Colgin has become a national figure on the subject of hiring veterans — he was put in the spotlight after remarks to Congress about his inability to find work in his chosen field of healthcare after returning home from the war — and has been mentioned by President Obama in several speeches on that matter.

And then, there’s his best friend and companion, an English pointer named Dixie. He finds time for all of the above, because they’re all vitally important to an intriguing life story that’s still being written.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Attorney, Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law, P.C., age 37

Seth-Stratton-01Seth Stratton’s values are so important to him that he gave up a position with an international law firm that employed 1,100 attorneys and joined a firm in East Longmeadow with four lawyers.

“The work I do now is a lot more interesting and rewarding than working for Fortune 200 or 100 companies where I dealt with in-house lawyers for other firms,” he said. “Big firms are very lucrative, but you work all the time, and I came to realize that life is more than just working hard.”

Stratton grew up in East Forest Park in Springfield and earned a bachelor’s degree at Colgate University in New York, where he broadened his perspective by meeting people from many cultures, then received a master’s degree from UMass Boston and graduated magna cum laude from Suffolk University Law School.

After passing the bar exam, Stratton was hired by Brown Rudnick LLP in Boston, where he did business and commercial litigation. But seven years ago, Stratton and his wife, Jennifer, decided to move back to Western Mass. because they had an 8-month-old son and wanted to live closer to their families. He transferred to Bingham McCutchen LLP’s Hartford office, but found that the long hours and long commute prevented him from becoming part of the professional community in Greater Springfield.

So Stratton left Bingham McCutchen to work at Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law, P.C. He said there were challenges in moving from a big-city firm, because he no longer had hundreds of colleagues to collaborate with, but today he takes pride in representing local business owners — balancing work and family time (with his wife, Jennifer, and their children, Nolan and Caitlin) — and being involved in the community.

That’s an understatement, actually; he’s a board member of the World Affairs Council of Western Mass., on the board of trustees for First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, and a member of the leadership committee for Community Legal Aid’s Access to Justice Campaign 2013. He has also done work for Lawyers for Children America in Hartford.

Among its clients, Stratton’s firm represents MGM Resorts International’s Springfield casino project, and he is working again with attorneys from Brown Rudnick in Boston. “I’ve come full circle,” he said.

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
CEO, Angela Lussier Enterprises, age 33

Angela-Lussier-01Angela Lussier wanted to be a leader from the time she was a young child. But she was shy and six feet tall by age 13, which affected her self-esteem. “I was ashamed of who I was and afraid to take a leadership position because I didn’t want to speak in front of people,” she said.

Lussier finally overcame that fear and found her voice after joining Toastmasters International in 2006. “I had something to say, started talking, and people starting listening,” she recalled. Today, she uses her strength and personal story to help others realize their potential.

“Success isn’t about talent — it’s about courage. Living a mediocre life shouldn’t be an option,” she said. “But so many people are waiting for their life to start, rather than creating what they want.”

Lussier believes everyone has a gift, and encourages people to move forward by thinking about how they can use it to solve a problem and “become an asset to a company or to the world.” That philosophy lies at the core of her book, The Anti-Resumé Revolution, and her advice has been featured on Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, The Ladders, About.com, and CBS Money Watch.

“We all deserve a happy, fulfilling life, but people have to get out of their comfort zone and try new things that lead to different thought patterns,” she said, adding that she shared her own story during a 2010 TEDx talk in Washington, D.C. She also does public speaking and personal coaching, leads a ‘mastermind’ group, is working on a second book, blogs for Virgin.com, and is a monthly columnist for Lioness magazine.

Lussier has won many awards, including first place in the Division E Humorous Speech Contest of District 53 Toastmasters International in 2009, and she was featured in Billboard magazine’s “Transcending the Ordinary” in 2006. She serves on the board of directors of Junior Achievement of Western Mass., sits on the Business Advisory Council for the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission, and is a mentor with Valley Venture Mentors.

“It’s time to stop waiting for the future to change,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s time to start creating it.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
CEO and Co-owner, Greenough Packaging, age 38

Sandy-Cassanelli-01May 30, 2013.

Sandy Cassanelli says you always remember the day you were diagnosed with cancer. You don’t circle the date on the calendar, and you certainly don’t celebrate it, but you don’t ever forget. That’s because that date marks the beginning of a journey in which every emotion gets a workout, she said, one where the ending can’t be seen or predicted.

Cassanelli’s journey through diagnosis and treatment of stage 3 breast cancer included a bilateral mastectomy — “I knew I had to have one breast removed, and decided I didn’t want to go through this again, so I had them both removed” — as well as eight rounds of chemotherapy and then radiation. That last radiation treatment came in February, and soon thereafter, she was declared cancer-free.

Looking back on that journey, she said that what enabled her to keep going was all that she had going on in her life, and a firm desire not to relinquish any of it because she was sick. And the compilation pretty much tells her story.

In order, there’s her family — her husband, Craig, and daughters Samantha and Amanda — and the many things they do together. Then there’s the family business, Greenough Packaging. Casanelli was working as a travel agent for World Wrestling Entertainment, arranging flights and hotels for the Rock, the Undertaker, and others, when she and Craig opted to buy Greenough in 2003 from the estate of a deceased uncle who ran it. The West Springfield-based company distributes an array of cleaning and packaging supplies and paper goods, and the Casanellis, through a strong focus on customer service, have registered consistent growth.

“It’s a completely different experience,” she said of her profound career shift. “I love being a business owner, and I like that we’re creating jobs for people.”

And then, there’s her work in the community — everything from involvement with the West of the River Chamber of Commerce to her work on the board for the Glastonbury (Conn.) Education Foundation.

“Having the company and all the work in the community that I do has helped me move forward and barrel through it,” she said, “and not focus on the fact that I had that disease. It really helped me get through the rough days.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
President and CEO, Common Media Inc., age 31

Noah-Smith-01When one door closes, the old adage says, another door opens.

Noah Smith was on track to possibly be a part of some landmark artificial-intelligence application — think Apple’s Siri, the intelligent personal assistant and knowledge-navigator application. But his Tufts University computer-science graduate program advisor for machine learning and artificial intelligence passed away during his second year.

“I didn’t know where to go because he and his research were the reasons I’d come to Tufts,” Smith recalled. “There wasn’t a place for that work in the department after he was gone.”

However, there was the Tufts Business Plan Competition, and Smith and a deskmate decided to enter their recipe-bookmarking website called Common Kitchen. The site allows users to collect recipes from anywhere online as one master data source, facilitating future searches by category.

While they didn’t win the competition, they did win enough money to start a company, but soon realized they didn’t have the marketing savvy to do their great idea justice. That’s when the other door — one that enabled the partners to utilize their web-development skills to help other businesses achieve their goals — opened.

A connection with the editor of La Cucina Italiana’s American magazine started their web portfolio off with a bang, and by 2007, Common Media opened as a best-in-class integration partner with branding and communications agencies to deliver the technical component of websites.

“I used to say that I had an excellent business plan for a business that I didn’t have, and had no plan for the business I did have,” Smith said, laughing. “It’s the classic entrepreneurial story.”

Since 2008, Smith has been the lead software architect on more than 60 web projects, including work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and higher-education projects with MIT, Harvard, and Yale. Smith chose to bring his business from Boston back to Western Mass., where he’s grown the firm to 14 employees.

Smith divides what little spare time he has between his family — wife, Rachel Beaupre, and 24-month-old son, Elliot — and several hobbies, including fishing and sailing. He has also served on the board of the Hartsbrook School, his alma mater, currently volunteering on the finance committee.

— Elizabeth Taras

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Author; Retinal Surgeon, Baystate Medical Center, age 37

Andrew-Lam-01Dr. Andrew Lam always wondered whether he’d work in medicine. Growing up in Illinois, he wasn’t the only one who wondered.

“My father was a cardiologist, and I could tell, just from being out in our small city, that being a physician was very, very gratifying,” he said. “We would literally be stopped at the mall by a patient saying, ‘your dad saved my life! Are you going to be a great doctor like your dad?’”

Lam’s passion, however, was history, which became the focus of his undergraduate studies. Still, he remained intrigued by medicine, and in particular wanted to be a surgeon. When he became fascinated with ophthalmology, he chose a field that isn’t particularly crowded — retinal surgery. He trained at the prestigious Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and has worked at his practice, Baystate-affiliated New England Retina Consulants, since 2008.

“I can’t imagine any specialty more specialized than mine,” he laughed. “You don’t need too many of us; ours is the only practice performing retina surgery in Western Massachusetts, basically.”

But he still needed to scratch that history itch, which he has done by writing two books, with more to come. The bestselling Saving Sight is a history of eye-care innovators and the challenges they faced changing the status quo; the stories are interspersed with Lam’s own professional journey. Meanwhile, Two Sons of China, written first but published only recently, is a fictionalized account that brings to life the almost-forgotten Chinese theater of World War II.

“I felt like a lot of people don’t know about it, but tens of thousands of Americans served in China during the war,” he said. “I want people to know more about this history, and I thought the best way was to write a fast-paced, emotional, engaging war story.”

Lam also volunteers in his hometown of Longmeadow in a number of ways, from the Center School Council to the Longmeadow Soccer Assoc. to the Republican Town Committee. And speaking of history, he also serves on the town’s Historical Commission and Historical District Commission, helping to lead an effort to expand the town’s historical district and, in general, dedicating himself to the preservation of historic buildings and open spaces.

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Assistant Vice President, Commercial Lending, Monson Savings Bank, age 35

Rob-Chateauneut-01In almost 15 years in banking, Rob Chateauneuf has seen plenty of change — literally and figuratively.

He started out as a teller at Woronoco Savings Bank, later acquired by Berkshire Bank, while finishing his degree at UMass Amherst. “From there, I got my management degree, and I was lucky enough to be put through the management training program.”

And he found his true calling in commercial lending. “A senior lender noticed that I really like to do loans, and they’d started a small-business program; that’s how I got my first job in commercial lending,” he explained. “I really liked it.”

Eventually, Monson Savings Bank came calling, offering Chateauneuf a position as assistant vice president of Commercial Lending, a job he relishes. “People picture bankers as number crunchers, but so much more goes into it. I don’t do transactions; I build relationships.

“Every deal is different,” he went on. “And you’re helping a company that might employ a great deal of people in the area, so you’re actually helping to develop the economy in the Pioneer Valley. At the end of the day, I pick up my briefcase and computer and say, ‘wow, I feel like I contributed to society.’”

He has also contributed to the community through volunteer work, most notably by chairing the board at Hawthorn Services — a provider of programs for the elderly — until that organization merged with the Center for Human Development, where he now serves on the board of directors’ program committee. “We make sure that CHD continues to focus on the needs of our community, whether it be child services, elder care, or homelessness,” he said.

Chateauneuf, who has twin 3-year-old boys, Evan and Bryce, with his wife, Shauna, finds a certain creative spark in his job and his volunteerism — a side of his personality he used to nurture through music.

“When I finished college, I played drums on the road for five years while I was the assistant manager at the bank,” he said. “I still don’t know how I got into banking; my goal was to play the drums, to play music. I guess one day, you wake up and realize you need a job that pays the bills. And banking was where I was at the time. But I lucked out, because I love it.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Attorney, Robinson Donovan, P.C., age 37

Michael-Simolo-01Mike Simolo admits he’s not the handiest person in the world, and has developed a decent sense of humor about that subject, especially regarding his work with Habitat for Humanity.

“You don’t want me on the build site,” he said. “If I do show up there, they say, ‘go paint in the corner over there, and we’ll paint over it after you leave.’”

Such remarks, real or imagined, don’t bother him, because there are many ways to contribute to Habitat without wielding a paintbrush, and he’s found them — everything from fund-raising to serving on the committee that hired the current director; from strategic planning to rewriting policies and procedures.

“It’s a great board and incredibly rewarding work,” he said of Habitat. “It’s an incredible difference you’re making in someone’s life; you’re taking some of these families from very poor living conditions and providing them with a home that they can afford. It’s a step up, not a handout, and that’s very appealing to me.”

Comments like those make it clear that Simolo, an attorney with Springfield-based law firm Robinson Donovan, chooses his work within the community carefully. “It has to be something I’m passionate about,” he said, adding that this description certainly applies to his latest assignment serving on the board of Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society; he has two miniature schnauzers, Obi and Hobbes, and is a serious dog lover.

Finding time for community work is somewhat challenging, but Simolo makes the time, while spending the most of what’s left building a law practice that specializes in estate planning, administration, and business. A graduate of Hobart College and Cornell Law School, he started with a small firm in Amherst called Brown, Hart & Kaplan, and eventually became a partner there. His move to Robinson Donovan has him doing more complex work and positions him to grow his client list. Overall, he believes he’s in the right place at the right time, and in the right specialty — estate planning.

“It’s an interesting time to be in estate planning,” he said. “If you look at the statistics about how much money is going to be passed from one generation to the next, it’s a staggering number, and it all has to be done right.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Owner, Dani Fine Photography, age 34

Dani-Klein-01Danielle Klein-Williams has been taking pictures since she was a child.

“I’ve always been really fascinated with the ability to capture memories that will last a lifetime,” she said, recalling how she was inspired by a photo album that her mother received from close friends after her grandfather died. “It had photographs going back to when my grandfather was in the Navy. These black-and-white photographs told my whole family history. It made an impression on me.”

Soon after that, her parents bought her a camera for Christmas, and she dove headlong into taking pictures, learning about photography, and attending summer camps devoted to the craft. “I decided it was something I wanted to pursue after high school. My parents were definitely leery — ‘you’ll never be able to support yourself’ — but I made it work.”

But not right away. After high school, she trained at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, then launched Dani Fine Photography with her husband in 1999.

“I was only 19. As with every business, it was hard to get started,” she said, adding that the first seven years were a struggle, with little profit to put back into the company; marketing consisted of delivering flyers door to door. “We did a lot of work for free; we wanted to build our portfolio and get our name out there.”

The enterprise eventually grew, however, and Klein-Williams started focusing more on event and wedding photography. The business now employs eight people, including four photographers, and has won a number of awards, including being voted “Best of Wedding Photographers” by The Knot, and landing on the cover of Connecticut Bride. Meanwhile, over the past couple of years, she has cultivated a niche in boudoir photography.

Klein-Williams is staying busy in other ways as well, donating time, money, and photography services to a host of causes, including the Easthampton Learning Foundation, the Assoc. for Community Living, the United Way, the Susan B. Coleman Foundation, the Shade Foundation, the Hot Chocolate Run, Stepping Out for Autism, the Cancer Connection, Safe Passage, Best Buddies Massachusetts, and more.

“Getting involved in local charities is a great way to give back to the community,” she said, adding that they inspire her. “They’re people who are trying to make a difference, and they really know the definition of hard work, so it’s great to work with them.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Director of Psychology, Bay Path College; President and Founder, Angels Take Flight, age 31

Tamara-Blake-01As a licensed clinician working with children who have experienced loss and trauma, Tamara Blake knows about the big needs in troubled kids’ lives. But one day, she recognized a smaller, but still significant, need that she could help fill — literally.

In September 2010, while working at a transitional children’s home in Springfield, Blake saw kids getting picked up, and one had his belongings in a trash bag. “I said, ‘hey, wait a minute, I have a piece of luggage in my car.’ So I ran out, and we switched all the items from the trash bag to the piece of luggage. The face of the child was elated. You could see the posture change, the smile. I thought, that’s really, really easy to do.”

And she immediately wanted to do it on a larger scale. “That day, I created an e-mail, a flyer, and the name Angels Take Flight.” Within two months, she had gathered enough luggage for every child in the house for one year. With kids transitioning in and out every 14 to 45 days, that amounted to hundreds of pieces.

The nonprofit enterprise has been steadily growing ever since. “It became my goal to reach out to other homes, and now whoever has a need, whoever asks us, gets the luggage,” Blake said. “We give away thousands of pieces of luggage for multiple agencies, multiple families.”

In addition to soliciting donations and grants, Angels Take Flight conducts two major fund-raisers each year, a 5K run in the spring and a comedy show in the winter. Having connected with people across the country interested in the program, Blake believes her enterprise could go national. “I think it’s going to happen rather quickly — within the course of a couple of years.”

In addition to her other roles, Blake is an educator, starting out as a part-time teacher at Bay Path College, which hired her as director of Psychology for its one-day program in 2012. She’s also working to develop another nonprofit, Girls Will Shine, which will empower girls through the performing arts and media.

“I always knew I wanted to help people,” Blake said of the many facets of her professional life. “I just wanted to be that guide for people, to help them out any way I could.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
President, Click Workspace; Manager, River Valley Investors; Co-founder, Valley Venture Mentors, age 37

Paul-Silva-01It was a gift from his mother.

That might be motivation enough for Paul Silva to wear the bright yellow ‘rubber duckie’ tie that takes a small but increasingly significant role within his wardrobe. But he has other reasons — or at least one big one.

“Whenever my students are having a graduation ceremony or they’re presenting at a competition, I’ll wear this tie, and I usually have a rubber duckie with me, and I squeeze the duck,” he said. “It’s meant to relieve students’ stress; if the guy in front is wearing a rubber duck tie, how bad can it be?”

Silva has had to pull the tie from the closet more often in recent years, as his responsibilities, and business cards, within the broad realm of entrepreneurship and venture capital multiply. Currently, he is the president of the incubator and co-working space in Northampton known as Click Workspace. He calls it “an office without a boss.” He’s also manager of the River Valley Investors (RVI) angel-investor network and co-founder of the Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) entrepreneurship-mentoring program. He also advises the UMass Amherst Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Smith College Draper Business Plan Competition. Last fall, wearing his now-famous tie, he was emcee for the inaugural pitch contest at the Western Mass. Business Expo.

And while this father of two young girls carries a rubber duck with him to a host of events, Silva is quite serious about what he does, and he summons words and phrases from his college work in computational physics, such as ‘critical mass,’ to describe how the region has made strides to inspire entrepreneurship and then keep young business owners in Western Mass.

Summing things up with more humor, though, he said some have called him the “romantic comedy of entrepreneurship.”

“I’m at the colleges, I’m at the intro, where boy meets girl, someone has an idea and meets a business partner, and they start to explore it,” he explained. “They go to VVM to revamp their idea, and then they go to RVI, and if it all works out, they get investors, they get married. Then the hard work starts, and I’m not involved anymore.”

Until he reaches into the closet for the tie again.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Owner, Beyond Green Construction, age 39

Sean-Jeffords-01They’re called ‘deep energy retrofits.’

That’s the name that’s been assigned to projects that bring 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century buildings into the 21st century, at least when it comes to energy efficiency and ‘green’ practices. And that adjective ‘deep’ means that these endeavors go much further than conventional energy retrofits, and they achieve far greater energy savings.

Such retrofits have become a growing component of the portfolio for Easthampton-based Beyond Green Construction, a venture that founder and owner Sean Jeffords, the highest scorer in this year’s 40 Under Forty competition, has positioned for solid growth as demand continues to soar for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions and more clean-energy production for both residential and commercial buildings.

“I have a passion for wanting to be able to give homeowners options in the new landscape we live in, where we’re trying to reduce energy consumption,” said Jeffords, who has long had a fascination with historic-building restoration, and thus opted to focus his company’s energies on the huge inventory of older buildings rather than new construction.

“There’s a huge opportunity when it comes to the existing infrastructure,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve got a lot of old Colonials around here, and people are spending tons of money shivering with multiple sweaters on. They don’t know what they can do, and many times there are inherent mold problems at the same time. We can give them a healthier, more efficient home.”

Jeffords’ growing reputation has earned him some airtime on the Discovery Channel’s Renovation Nation, among many other media outlets, and he’s taken home several awards, including the Green Giant Award from the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. But he said his greatest reward is helping home and business owners find solutions to their energy and air-quality programs and become much more green and energy-efficient in the process.

And while such work is his business, it is also his passion, and he is eager to share his knowledge within the community. He partnered with Greenfield Community College in 2008, for example, to spearhead the development of the Western Mass. Green Consortium, an organization focused on connecting tradespeople, homeowners, business owners, and municipalities to new building-science information and networking opportunities.

Jeffords’ most recent voluntary focus is developing a trades alliance called ProjectRetroFIT, an envisioned partner to the NorthEast Sustainable Energy Assoc., advocating for high-performing buildings, while acting as a platform and resource association for tradespeople.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Associate Attorney, Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, P.C., age 39

Michael-Schneider-01bMichael Schneider studied theology and political philosophy as an undergraduate, and considered heading to divinity school for his master’s studies.

Eventually, though, “I didn’t think some of the work was for me,” he said. “I was happy with the education, and I really enjoyed learning about that field, but I didn’t enjoy the prospect of writing those books. I decided I wanted to work with people a little more.”

So he switched gears in favor of law school, and is now an associate attorney with Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, with a general business practice that encompasses everything from zoning and permitting in commercial real estate to mergers and acquisitions, especially in the precision-manufacturing field.

“We did two fairly large deals in 2012 that involved European buyers,” he recalled. “That was a lot of fun; it gives you an opportunity to punch above your weight class. In a Chicago or D.C. law firm, there might be 10 or 12 people on a team for that project; here, there’s one or two of us.”

In addition, Schneider was the lead attorney for the permitting and financial work for the Sisters of St. Joseph senior residences at Mont Marie in Holyoke.

“I enjoy getting people over the goal line on things that are difficult or complex, but ultimately very rewarding for them,” he said. “It’s a pretty intimate relationship, and we help them do some major things in their life. And it’s satisfying to help facilitate that with someone.”

Schneider enjoys helping people outside of work as well, including serving on the Longmeadow Conservation Commission and as vice president of the Children’s Chorus of Springfield. “This great group is in its seventh year,” he said, noting that it fills — or at least begins to fill — a serious need in Springfield, where fewer than half of grade-school students have access to music education in their curriculum.

“The kids in this chorus come from about 25 different schools,” he continued. “Countless studies show that kids with access to music education do better in school. My mother is a teacher, and my brother is an opera singer, so I have a lot of respect for it. Music education was something I took for granted, and to help fill that gap now is important.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Owner, Hurst & Crane Investments, LLC; Springfield City Councilor, age 35

Justin-Hurst-01Justin Hurst hasn’t exactly traveled a straight line to his current career.

First, he spent about 10 years in education, teaching English at Bridge Academy Alternative High School before moving to the Springfield High School of Science & Technology. Later, he earned his CAGS from UMass Amherst and went into administrative work, becoming the coordinator and later the director of Springfield’s Striving Readers Adolescent Literacy Initiative.

All the while, he was attending Western New England College School of Law at night, passing the bar in 2006. “But I was doing what I was passionate about,” he said. “The students were the driving force behind why I continued to teach for so long. It was a different challenge every day.”

But eventually, he found a different passion that would consume his time. He and a partner invested in a couple of houses, and that eventually became the enterprise known as Hurst & Crane Investments.

“What I love most is I that get to get dirty and use my hands,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who buys a property and hires someone to rehab it; I’m a hands-on guy, and I like to do a lot of the work myself.”

Having established deep roots in the city, Hurst eventually became interested in local politics and ran for Springfield City Council. He fell short on his first attempt, but in his second try, last fall, he was the top vote getter. “I love it,” he said. “In a classroom, you might impact 100 kids. But every single day as a city councilor, you have 150,000 residents to think about.”

Family is important to Hurst, who posed for his 40 Under Forty photo alongside his father, Frederick Hurst Sr. — publisher of the Point of View community newspaper — and his son, Justin Jr., to symbolize Springfield’s bright past, present, and future. Indeed, he and his wife, Denise, the first married couple to be named to the 40 Under Forty in the same year, are both vocal believers in their city’s future.

“I want to attract young professionals back to this city,” he said. “A lot of kids my age didn’t make it, or they made it out, but never came back. I think it’s imperative to do whatever we can to bring people back to the city.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
President and CEO, the Creative Strategy Agency Inc., age 29

Alfonso-Santaniello-01October 2010. This was a time of extreme mixed emotions for Alfonso Santaniello.

On the one hand, he gained the first national client, Agway, for the Creative Strategy Agency, a digital marketing and communications firm with a focus on web, mobile, and video that he launched roughly a year earlier. But he also lost his only sister, Lucia. Looking back, he said Lucia ultimately became his “motivating factor” as he battled through a long and difficult stretch for his new venture and eventually put it on solid financial footing.

Today, his client portfolio includes Williams Distributing, the United Way, the Insurance Center of New England, and others who have benefited from Santaniello’s expertise in everything from website design to effective use of social media.

Recounting how his firm survived a slow start and has since enjoyed steady growth, Santaniello said that, when he started his venture, many firms, large and small, were still trying to find their way in the quickly changing landscape of social media, and were, by and large, unaware of how they could use the various vehicles to build brand awareness and reach new audiences.

So he started to educate them. Indeed, he launched and hosted an online webinar, which morphed into a web talk show, called Strictly Businews, focusing on local business with an entertainment-like feel. After two years of the show and preaching the many potential benefits of social media to companies up and down the Pioneer Valley, it all started to gel.

And while continuing to grow his company, Santaniello spreads what little time he has left among a number of area nonprofit organizations, including the United Way, Human Resources Unlimited, and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and assisting events such Valley Gives. A 2013 graduate of Leadership Pioneer Valley and a spinoff project called Next Generation Pioneers, a resource for young professionals in the Pioneer Valley, he’s leading by example and feels that Western Mass. has a solid corps of young leaders.

“There’s a lot of synergy going on … a good vibe,” he said. “And over the next five to 10 years, I see young people doing more in the community.”

— Elizabeth Taras

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Quality Improvement Manager and Human Rights Coordinator, Department of Mental Health; Vice Chair, School Committee, City of Springfield, age 34

Denise-Hurst-01To say Denise Hurst has a passion for advocacy would be an understatement.

“I started off volunteering at the Everywomen’s Center while studying at UMass Amherst; I was a trained rape and sexual-assault counselor and advocate,” she explained. “From there, I landed a position with the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office, doing a lot of work around domestic violence and restraining orders. But I realized I needed to go back to school in order to further my education and get the skills needed to really advocate for those in need, particularly children and families.”

So she earned her master’s degree in social work at Springfield College while working for the state Department of Children and Families, spent time overseas in London as a child protective supervisor, and eventually transitioned to the state Department of Mental Health, where she works on quality improvement and human-rights issues.

On top of that, Hurst won a spot on the Springfield School Committee in 2009, and was re-elected last fall.

“I’m passionate about education, in particular for children in the city of Springfield,” she said. “I graduated from the public school system, and did so at a time when Springfield’s public schools had a better reputation. Now we have a lot of challenges, and there’s a sense that your zip code could dictate your future or how successful you can be. I want to help fight that idea.”

Hurst and her husband, Justin — a business owner and Springfield City Council member — are the first married couple to be named to the 40 Under Forty in the same year, but that doesn’t surprise former winner Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies, who nominated both. “They are truly the first family of Springfield in my eyes,” he said. “They love Springfield dearly and show it through activism in government, nonprofit volunteerism, and their professional life.”

It’s all about that passion, Denise Hurst said.

“I know what I’m doing will have life-changing effects for the broader community, and that can only be beneficial to us all,” she told BusinessWest. “Having grown up in Springfield, being a child of color, I’m passionate because I’m not that far removed from the many ills that affect our city.

“My mother always made it very clear we’re to help others,” she added. “I think it’s our responsibility.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Risk Oversight Officer, PeoplesBank, age 27

Robert-Raynor-01Armed with a business management degree from Springfield College, Robert Raynor said he wasn’t looking specifically at the banking world. “But it was definitely the most interesting option out there.”

So he joined PeoplesBank as a management development trainee in 2009 and was soon promoted to risk oversight auditor and then risk oversight officer. In that role, he develops and completes detailed financial and operational audits to evaluate the effectiveness of management controls, accuracy of financial information, and policy compliance.

“It’s a lot of testing, a lot of report writing, and a lot of interactions with various departments,” he said, adding that he enjoys this diversity because he has the opportunity to learn about many different areas of the bank, including ever-changing regulations, processes, and technology.

But Raynor also appreciates how PeoplesBank provides plenty of opportunities to improve its internal culture, which he takes by serving on the institution’s social committee, professional book club, employee appreciation committee, and especially the environmental committee, for which he’s currently co-president. On that group, he helped launch a program to promote and track employee carpooling, helps plan and run an annual environmental fair, contributes articles to a newsletter about green initiatives, and coordinates community events like cleanup days and tree plantings.

“Sometimes I feel like I really lucked out with where I work, and being able to come here directly after college,” he said. “I feel extremely lucky because not only do I have a number of opportunities professionally, but many opportunities to get involved in things like the environmental committee. I feel very good about the work I do and know I’m helping an organization involved in helping the community.

“It’s something that gets all the employees active,” he added. “The bank is great about giving us the time and resources to do these things.”

His community involvement extends to other organizations as well, including extensive work on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke.

“The Boys and Girls Club is such an amazing organization,” Raynor said. “I see the work that gets done there. It’s a great way to be involved in a community organization that directly helps children better themselves. It works.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Vocal Music Director, Minnechaug Regional High School, age 29

Lee-Hogan-01Lee Hagon took her first piano lesson at age 9.

“As soon as I felt the keys under my hand, I fell in love with music,” she said. “I always wanted to be a musician, loved to sing, and loved music lessons in school.”

Since then, music and education have played major roles in Hagon’s life. The Hartford resident taught piano for a decade before becoming the vocal music director for Minnechaug Regional High School last August. There, she directs three choirs, teaches the history of pop music and guitar, and is faculty advisor for the a cappella group Vocal Vibe, which has performed in many venues.

Hagon has performed extensively herself in the U.S., Spain, England, Belgium, Italy, Mexico, and Portugal; is part of the piano duo Belo Som, which released a CD of Brazilian and Argentine music last summer; and leads an adult choir at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Wilbraham.

She became minister of music there while earning her master’s degree at the Hartt School in Hartford, which led to her civic leadership in Western Mass. She founded and directed the Girls Inc. Chorus in Holyoke and was vocal music director for the Children’s Chorus of Springfield until 2012. She also founded and directs the Veritas Children’s Chorus at Springfield’s Veritas Preparatory Charter School.

“I love watching kids learn music, build confidence, perform, and feel empowered by it; it’s really powerful to be part of the process,” she said.

Five years ago, Hagon founded and organized the Joy of Music concert series in Wilbraham, which has brought world-class musicians to the area and generated funds for local nonprofits. She is also co-founder and organizer of the Springfield Unity Festival Chorus and is looking forward to its October festival at Symphony Hall, aimed at promoting diversity and racial harmony through the arts.

Hagon has won many awards and loves making a noteworthy difference in people’s lives. “Music has a way of connecting people and helping us remember that we are all human,” she said. “And if it is part of someone’s childhood, they can create an adult community that values the arts.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Manager of Properties, Marketing and Human Relations, Century Investment Co., age 28

Liz-Cohen-Rappaport-01A chance encounter with an employee from W.F. Young led to Liz Rappaport working in that company’s Equine Division for a couple of years.

“There are few times when you have the opportunity to combine your vocation and your avocation,” said Rappaport, who has been riding horses since she was 10 and is an accomplished equestrian, including an Arabian Canadian championship. “I took it as a chance to work for a family business and get a lot of amazing opportunities at a young age; I was only 22.”

But another family business called —specifically, the commercial real-estate firm her grandfather started 70 years ago. So Rappaport went back to school to earn her MBA, then knocked on the door at Century Investment Co. “I said, ‘Dad, will you hire me? Because, if you don’t hire me, I’ll just apply to your competitors.’ That’s what got me hired.”

Over the past three years, Rappaport has managed the sale of more than $1 million in real estate and negotiated leases with a host of tenants at Century’s many properties.

“Technically, Dad calls me the assistant gofer,” she said. “One day, I’ll be doing a mortgage refinancing and signing tenants to 10-year leases, while the next day, I may have to go pick up trash somewhere or help out parking staff. I’m a jack of all trades, master of some, hopefully.”

One thing she has mastered is the technology of her industry, introducing new digital and print marketing materials and updating the bookkeeping system. “We’re bringing the company into the 21st century, updating accounting processes and establishing the first digital marketing campaign, getting us on the Internet.”

Rappaport also pours herself into civic volunteerism, most notably serving on the board of the Western Mass. Council of the Jimmy Fund, taking a leadership role in several fund-raising activities each year. She takes pride in helping to fight against childhood cancer, but is also proud of her place in her family’s business.

“I love working with my father, and I love real estate. I get to interact with tenants, but also get the finance side, the accounting aspects, the management side — a little bit of everything,” she said. “You’ve got to like what you do.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
President and CEO, Griffin Staffing Network, age 38

Nicole-Griffin-01Nicole Griffin’s beliefs have played an important role in her career. They begin with her faith in God, love for people, and conviction “that we are commissioned to serve others” — beliefs that were strengthened when someone helped her land a job interview at MassMutual.

“I got the job and am so thankful for what I have. The door was opened for me, so opening doors for others has been the model for my life,” said the founder of Griffin Staffing Network and Springfield Mustard Seed, a club that helps startup companies and entrepreneurs obtain the resources they need to become successful.

Griffin, who is married with two children, spent 12 years in the insurance industry before launching her own business. She began in MassMutual’s contracting department, was promoted several times, earned numerous awards, and created a task force to help departments work together in a productive manner.

From there, she moved to an underwriting position at Phoenix Insurance in Hartford, then returned to MassMutual.

During a volunteer stint with Junior Achievement, a student who didn’t know how to dress for a job interview inspired her to become a certified job interviewer, then open ABC Interviewing Co., which she ran part-time. The work was fulfilling, but not profitable. “I loved watching people grow, but wanted to do more,” she said.

Volunteer work at St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield had sparked Griffin’s interest in human resources, and in 2010, she left the insurance industry and opened her own staffing agency, where she helps teens and adults acquire job-related skills and find temporary and permanent employment.

In 2012, she founded Springfield Mustard Seed in response to clients who wanted to become entrepreneurs. She is also a board member of Intercity Youth Inc. and Springfield Preservation Trust, and a member of the 2014 United Way Women’s Leadership Council Steering Committee and the Order of the Eastern Star. She was event coordinator for the Save Our Springfield Block Party in 2012 and served on the W.E.B. Dubois Committee in 2011 and 2012.

“I’m amazed at where I am,” she said. “But you only become successful when you help others.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Director of Human Resources, Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc., age 35

Jason-Randall-01Jason Randall is deeply committed to his family, his job, and the Pioneer Valley. “I’m driven to continually improve things, whether it is myself, the community, or the business I work for,” he said.

Randall has a strong history of leadership, organizational change, and process improvement, and has been promoted repeatedly in the three years he has worked for Peter Pan Bus Lines.

He wants to make a mark, but thinks carefully before responding to ideas. “I get all the facts,” he said, adding that, when he works for nonprofits, he looks at the big picture. “I want to help nonprofits develop things that will affect them long-term.”

Randall is married, has a 5-year-old daughter, Aleksandra, and is expecting a new baby this summer. He is a member of Northampton Area Young Professionals and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and facilitates communication between the groups, leading them to co-sponsor events. He is also active in Next Generation Pioneers, a group with a mission to create a more vibrant culture within the Pioneer Valley for young professionals.

He said this is important because college graduates often leave Western Mass. and move to large cities. “Over the years, there has been an outpouring of talent from our region, and we need to have jobs, resources, and networking groups to keep young professionals here.”

Randall is a member of Springfield Business Leaders for Education, the Davis Foundation, the Resource Development Board, United Way of Pioneer Valley, the advisory board for the Holyoke Blue Sox, and the Children’s Study Home. He was a participant in the Leadership Pioneer Valley Class of 2013 and a 2006 recipient of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Grant for Entrepreneurial Initiative, which he used to start the website countryclubcritics.com, which rates and reviews golf courses — one of his passions.

He is also a certified Green Belt in Six Sigma at American International College and hopes his efforts will help make Pioneer Valley a better place to live. “I don’t need the spotlight on me,” he said, “but I like to make sure it is shining.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Director of Facilities Planning & Engineering, Baystate Health, age 38

Sean-Gouvin-01Sean Gouvin remembers feeling really good, physically and otherwise, when he crossed the finish line at last April’s Boston Marathon.

“I was running strong in miles 18 to 26, which generally doesn’t happen,” said Gouvin, who has run the event 15 times, usually with Griffin’s Friends in support of Baystate Children’s Hospital. “And it was an incredibly beautiful day.”

But then, as he and his three children were sitting on a curb enjoying the sun, the crowd, the energy, and the moment, two explosions that they could hear but not see turned that beautiful day on its ear.

“It was like watching time stand still,” he recalled, noting that, after the blasts, there was silence for several seconds, then things went back to normal. “It was maybe 15 or 20 minutes before everyone fully realized what happened, and then the shock and the horror started setting in on people.”

Like many, Gouvin said, he was thankful he didn’t cross the finish line moments later, but also more thankful, and appreciative, of everything he has in his life. That includes his family, his soccer coaching, his work within the community, and a broad and quite rewarding job with Baystate Health.

It takes a lot of words to describe what he does as director of Facilities Planning & Engineering, so perhaps it’s all best summed up with a number: 4 million. That’s the number of square feet in all the facilities within the vast Baystate Health real-estate portfolio.

And it’s Gouvin’s responsibility to lead the team that essentially manages it all, handling planning, design, construction, and maintenance for buildings that range from the nearly century-old Springfield Building on the grounds of Baystate Medical Center to the recently opened Hospital of the Future just a few feet away.

It’s a huge job, one that ensures that there’s no such thing as a typical day, which is perhaps what he likes most about it.

“It’s different each day, so every day you have to be on,” he explained. “And with each day comes a new challenge. Thankfully, I’ve got a really great team. You’ve got to have a group of people that fit together extremely well to be effective in this environment, and we have that.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Springfield City Councilor; District Director, Office of State Sen. James Welch, age 31

Orland-Ramos-01Orlando Ramos has always been a fighter.

He trained under local boxing legend Duke Belton and took plenty of punches. “But I think I’ve been hit harder in politics than in the ring,” he said. “I fought in the ring, and now I fight outside the ring for the people — for what I represent.”

After graduating from Putnam Vocational Technical High School, Ramos began his professional career as a carpenter, and was appointed union steward of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 108 in 2007, followed by election to the executive board in 2008. But he eventually left the trade to focus on public service.

“It all started for me when I was involved in drafting a piece of legislation relative to construction unions, and I made friends in the process,” he said. “After I hurt my back, I got offered an internship in the Western Mass. governor’s office, and it took off from there for me.”

Broadening his passion for service, Ramos has been a member of the Indian Orchard Citizens Council, the Ward 8 Democratic Committee, and the Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement, as well as a stint as Springfield license commissioner.

“That was a great learning experience,” he said. “I was able to accomplish a lot in terms of making positive changes on the commission. Combined with the whole experience working in the governor’s office, I felt like that was the path I wanted to take — helping other people.”

He was then offered a full-time position as district director in the office of state Sen. James Welch, handling a number of constituent services, and was elected to the Springfield City Council last November.

“I’m a single dad, and my daughter just turned 9, so one of my priorities is education, and access to education equality,” he said. “My biggest motivation in doing what I do is providing a better future for my child and the other children in the city.”

That said, when Ramos considers Springfield, he sees a city on the rise, despite its challenges. “I love the way our future looks right now, with so many businesses willing to invest in our city. People are excited about what the future holds for Springfield.”

In other words, it’s a city worth fighting for.

— Joseph Bednar