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The Class of 2017

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Donor Outreach Manager, Baystate Health Foundation; Age 31

Jenna Conz

Jenna Conz

Jenna Conz says a career in the world of giving is a natural fit.

“I grew up in a family that was really involved in the community; our family culture was giving back,” she said. “That was ingrained in me from an early age, and it followed me through my experience at UMass. When I was job hunting, I had a real passion for being involved in the community and seeing the impact of what fund-raising can do.”

A development position opened up at the Jimmy Fund, and from there she made her way to Baystate Health Foundation, where she spent her first five years fund-raising for Baystate Children’s Hospital, which involved another of her loves, event planning, and saw her managing some of the health system’s signature events, from the Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon to the Max Golf Classic.

In that role, she got to hear plenty of patient stories, both heartwarming and heartwrenching, and occasionally inspiring, like the young patient who was transported in an adult-sized wheelchair and started a fund-raiser to purchase pediatric wheelchairs — one that took off when he shared it on the Radiothon.

Since 2015, Conz has taken on the role of donor outreach manager, overseeing stewardship of foundation donors across the health system, in so doing exposing herself — and others — to a wider range of patient success stories.

“I am so appreciative of the relationships I’ve formed, personally and professionally,” she said. “I get to meet people who have had amazing care at the children’s hospital or the Cancer Center, and hear life-saving stories from the Emergency Department. I feel so honored to share those stories in the community, letting people know about all that’s going on here.”

But Conz is doing much more than soliciting gifts. Outside the workplace, she’s doing plenty of giving herself — of her time and energy, to organizations like Northampton Dollars for Scholars and the Easter Seals. All the while, she’s thankful for a career that continues to bring her face to face with life-changing stories.

“It’s incredible to see the high level of care right here in our backyard; it’s incredible,” she told BusinessWest. “My job is to make sure people continue to choose Baystate as their charity of choice.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

President, Treasurer, and Director, Five Star Transportation Inc.; Age 35

Nathan Lecrenski

Nathan Lecrenski

Plenty of 40 Under Forty winners know how to use careful navigation, vision, and execution to drive their careers in the right direction. For Nathan Lecrenski, those aren’t just metaphors, as he leads his family’s school-bus transportation business where it needs to go.

Lecrenski’s been steering Five Star Transportation Inc. since 2013, when he and his brother Darren bought the business from their mother. Since then, Five Star has grown revenues by nearly 300%, resulting in the creation of more than 110 new jobs, eight new contracts, 125 new buses, and expansion from three terminals to five throughout Hampden and Hampshire counties, with plans to add a Cape Cod location this summer.

“Numbers are my thing,” he said of his significant achievements. “I got my bus-driving license when I was 19 and a half years old, and had my own route in Amherst for almost two years.” Lecrenski is also a mechanic and can run any part of the business, but says what he likes most is planning and “supplying clients with what they’re looking for.”

Like technology, for example. All of Five Star’s radios are digital, securely controlled from any location. There’s GPS on every bus, which means Lecrenski knows if a driver speeds, and he can track any bus on any route, at any time, which could throw a (virtual) wrench into the old ‘my bus didn’t come’ stay-at-home excuse.

“Our company was started in the ’60s, a decade before the first personal computers came out,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how technology has driven innovation and success in the transportation industry.”

But Lecrenski says the real key to his success is the relationships he’s forged, not only with his brother, but with his vendors, clients, and business associates. “Nothing we do is a one-man or one-woman job. Partnering is the real key to success; it’s given us the support and control we need to grow.”

Lecrenski, who has two boys, Grayson and Preston, with wife Stephanie, inspires teamwork on the home front and in his community as an active volunteer with Boy Scouts of America and as a youth soccer coach, coaching Grayson’s team for three seasons.

“I’ve learned, on board a bus or on the field, there’s usually one child who leads the group,” he said. “Once you’ve earned their respect, the whole group comes together.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Principal, Customer Relationship Development, Sumner & Toner Insurance Agency Inc.; Age 36

Jack Toner

Jack Toner

Jack Toner is a third-generation business owner who you might say is going the distance. He’s an insurance agent by trade, and a marathoner for fun.

“The insurance business is always evolving and changing; on any given day you might come across a new risk that you need to manage,” he explained. “Running is a mental and physical recharge for me.”

He’s also on the run for his clients, some who’ve been with Sumner & Toner for more than 40 years.

Toner said the insurance industry is all about partnerships, bringing agents and customers together to tailor policies to meet each of their specific needs. “I like meeting people and figuring out not only how to help them prepare for the unexpected, but also make a positive difference in their lives.”

He got a jump start on changing lives for the better two years out of Georgetown University, when he taught English as a second language in China. “I was working in D.C. and decided I wanted to see the world and do something different,” Toner said. “It was amazing to experience their culture, and share ours.”

When he returned, he worked as a leasing agent for just over a year. He decided to come home to work at his family’s agency because it was an opportunity to not only carry on a family legacy, but build on a solid foundation of success.

“In 1967, our family became involved in a local independent insurance agency that was founded in 1933 in Springfield,” he noted. “The agency took its present form in 1998, when my father, Bill, and Warren Sumner III merged their two agencies. Today, Warren’s son Bud is my partner in the agency.”

Toner, who lives with wife, Elizabeth, in Longmeadow, is also involved in the community, serving as a leader for the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Habitat for Humanity, and the Springfield Rotary Club. He also serves on St. Mary’s Parish Council in Longmeadow, and is a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus.

“I truly believe in the Rotary’s mission, ‘service above self,’ and serving humanity, whether it’s in our own backyard or across the world,” he said.

He added that he’s blessed to have loving parents who taught him that the world was bigger than him. “They told me to be patient, humble, and considerate, and that would lead to success.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of New Beginnings Early Education & Care Center, Springfield Partners for Community Action; Age 38

Tabitha Desplaines

Tabitha Desplaines

When Tabitha Desplaines was a child, she’d pretend to be a teacher, imagining her stuffed animals were students.

“I loved school, and teaching was all I wanted to do,” she said, adding that, when she was 17, she got pregnant and figured she’d hit a roadblock on her way to a career in education. But her mother had other ideas.

“She told me I was going to finish high school on schedule and go on to college; I had her full support, and together we figured it out.”

So Desplaines graduated high school with an 11-month old. Then she not only earned her college degree, she graduated at the top of her class. In her valedictory address, she praised her mom for helping her achieve her goals. “It was a struggle, getting through college, having a young child, but I looked to my mother, who was a single parent; she always figured out a way to take care of our family and give us what we needed, and that’s something I’ve taken with me my whole life.”

Desplaines planned to teach kindergarten, but when she couldn’t find a job in the public-school sector, she took a position at a private early-education and child-care center. There, she worked her way from the classroom to administration, leading to her present job as director of Early Education & Care for New Beginnings.

“I like teaching and guiding people — children and adults,” she said.

Her boss, Paul Bailey, says her experience of being a young, single mom “enhanced the skills she needed to become an ideal mentor, model, and (at times) shoulder to cry on for parents, students, and staff.”

Desplaines told BusinessWest she’s able to do what she does because she has a great family. She and her husband, Joshua, will celebrate their 14th anniversary this year. Her son Connor, who’s almost 21, is in college studying business.

She says her proudest New Beginnings achievement has been leading the center’s journey to accreditation, which was earned the year after she started. “I believe every child has a right to a quality education,” she said. “And I want to make sure our children have the skills, tools, and resources they need to grow and succeed. If there’s no funding, I try to find it.”

Desplaines says she’s always at the table, making herself known, because “it’s really important to me that these children get the best education they can.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Co-owner, On Point Construction Services, LLC; Age 36

Keith Locke

Keith Locke

Most people plan a day or a week ahead. Imagine planning a detailed, multi-year, multi-million-dollar, heavy civil construction schedule from start to finish. Then consider the road rage at stake if the plan goes awry.

Well, Keith Locke and his partner are the driving forces behind a company that’s in many ways like aspirin for the headaches everyone has experienced with road, building, and bridge construction.

They started their business to streamline project scheduling and improve elements critical to the success of construction contracts. They met working on the replacement of Northampton’s Calvin Coolidge Bridge in 2001. Locke was an intern, studying civil engineering at UMass Amherst.

“The project’s scope and overall value more than doubled from the original bid throughout the course of construction,” said Locke. “I learned first-hand about the importance of accurate project planning.”

After he graduated, he went to work for the contractor that replaced the bridge, Cianbro Corp., and, while with the firm, worked on many large, multi-year projects in the area, including the fish lift over the Holyoke Dam, as well as the Mt. Tom Power Plant. He gained experience juggling multiple projects simultaneously on his next job, at Baltazar Contractors of Ludlow. “This really honed my time-management skills and introduced me to a lot more industry contacts,” he said.

By 2010, Locke said, there was a noticeable shift in the culture of construction planning. “Project demands were increasing, and resources were decreasing. State agencies wanted projects completed faster and cheaper, but there were fewer available people and resources to plan and execute the work.”

Thus, On Point was launched to improve project controls. “My partner and I saw a need in the industry to provide more efficient solutions, from constructability reviews and contract-time determinations, to schedule compliance, claims preparation, and general project management,” he explained.

Locke also lends his planning expertise to his community, serving on the Southampton Planning Board and volunteering with the PTO at his children’s elementary school — he and his wife, Juliet, have three children, Livia, Kameron, and Jesse — where he’s currently leading a drive to build a preschool playground. He’s also coached his son’s soccer team and his daughter’s softball team.

Locke says On Point has helped him find the right work/life balance. “Seventy- to 80-hour work weeks are common in the construction industry. By specializing on just a few key aspects of the industry, we can fit a lot more in our days.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Management Consultant, Jen D. Turner, MBA; Age 39

Jen Turner

Jen Turner

Jen Turner calls herself “a beyond-the-box business-performance advisor,” helping small businesses throughout the Pioneer Valley grow and succeed.

“I like working with smaller companies and helping them through transitions,” she explained, adding that she’s been partnering with business owners for six years. Before that, she held traditional jobs in the sales, finance, retail, medical, and software industries. They provided typical benefits, but not a lot of work/life flexibility or job security.

“In my last full-time salaried position, I could see the writing on the wall,” she said. “The company was not really doing well, and I was laid off.”

She seized the opportunity and struck out on her own. “It was a natural progression for me. I had my MBA, and knew I could apply the same analyzing, optimizing, and collaborative skills I’d honed for 17 years without being tied to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule; I wanted the freedom and flexibility to create my own schedule and release my creative spirit.”

So she did, finding her out-of-the-box niche by splitting her time as a financial analyst with the Delta Group and working with more than 30 area companies in industries like agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, fitness, advertising, nonprofits, and even her own.

“I just went through rebranding myself,” said Turner, “and I worked really hard to find the right look and feel for what I do. I’ve tried to be fun without losing sight of the hard work, skill, and determination it takes to help businesses grow and thrive.”

She also has a successful track record working with businesses at the brink of failing, helping them make a comeback and thrive. “It’s been really rewarding to do this work,” she said.

And it’s given her the flexibility she needs to not only volunteer in her community, but also find time to stretch creatively. “I wear many hats,” said Turner, who lives with husband Brad, son Gaius, and daughter Althea. “I’m a wife, a mom, a money manager, and an artist who’s discovered life really is about balance.”

Turner also serves as co-chair of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School Family Assoc., treasurer of the Belchertown Cultural Council, volunteer for Leadership Pioneer Valley, and vice president of the Quabbin Art Assoc., which she founded.

“Everything I do is for my family,” she said, “and I couldn’t do it without their support.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Executive Director, Springfield Central Cultural District; Age 26

Morgan Drewniany

Morgan Drewniany

When Morgan Drewniany was living on a reservation in New Mexico — studying soil chemistry and writing about the intersection between environmental and social justice as a project for Hampshire College — a career curating public arts programs may have seemed an unlikely next step.

But her desire to work in community development after college led her to the assistant director position at the Springfield Business Improvement District. When the director’s chair at the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) opened up in 2014, she lobbied for the opportunity to run that agency.

“I said, ‘give me six months. If it’s not a good fit, you’ll know it.’ But it worked out well.”

It certainly has, on many levels. For example, Drewniany has spearheaded street and storefront initiatives like utility-box painting and Art Stop pop-up galleries, with the goal of promoting walkability and livability downtown. “To see the artists install their work, and at the same time see property owners make their spaces look amazing, and therefore make their tenants much happier, we’ve made several people’s day. Everyone feels more invested.”

Then there are broader programs like SCCD’s participation in Futurecity Massachusetts, which aims to reposition the cultural assets of Springfield, Boston, and Worcester as economic drivers.

Other SCCD initiatives have included an online video map to accompany the Downtown Springfield Cultural Walking Tour, and one-off events like a free concert last fall with three local organists in Old First Church in Court Square, playing the church’s full-size 1958 Aeolian-Skinner organ with its 56 ranks and 3,241 pipes, demonstrating the potential in a historic building and encouraging future activity there.

Besides connecting art and culture to the city’s economic-development efforts, many of these initiatives also provide income to local creatives, an outcome Drewniany values, noting that too many people take the arts for granted and think it’s enough for artists to produce works in exchange for exposure alone.

Leading a nonprofit that counts some 55 organizations as members, Drewniany told BusinessWest she enjoys helping people connect the dots between culture and commerce, bringing vibrancy and quality of life to Springfield.

“We can use art to solve public-safety issues, economic-development issues, and education issues. And more often than not, it’s a grass-roots approach; the community is involved in deciding what kinds if placemaking they want to see,” she said. “I always say art has a unique capacity to solve a number of problems in the most inclusive way.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Commercial Real Estate Broker, NAI Plotkin; Consultant, Lopez Consulting LLC; Age 38

Wilfredo Lopez Jr.

Wilfredo Lopez Jr.

Freddy Lopez has overcome many challenging obstacles. Having grown up in Springfield in an impoverished neighborhood where violence was a part of daily life, he’s self-taught, and takes pride in using his hard-earned knowledge to help clients and more than 13 community groups find solutions to challenges.

Lopez first realized he could make a difference in 2007 when the housing market crashed. He was a residential real-estate broker, and as lending guidelines tightened, he began educating clients about credit and financial literacy.

A few years later, he changed his focus to commercial real estate and was encouraged by his mentor, Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, to get involved in the community. At that point, he began to realize how much he could offer neighborhood groups and organizations.

“I wanted to work for the common good of all people and became a community activist,” Lopez said.

He has been a member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield since 2007, and serves on the board or is a member of groups that are too numerous to name. They include Springfield’s E3, Neighbor to Neighbor, Common Capital, DevelopSpringfield, Springfield Partners, and the steering committees of FutureCity 2025 and MGM’s Community Partners Network.

“My goal is to alleviate challenges for people in any way that I can,” he said. “I want to empower people based on their individual abilities and starting points.”

Lopez is passionate about the Alternatives to Violence Project in Springfield, which he has chaired since 2013. “Violence in inner cities is considered normal, and that needs to be addressed and changed,” he said. “The goal is to educate one person at a time about conflict resolution.”

The father of Lexus, 15, Jaylene, 10, and Diego, 9, Lopez serves on the board of trustees for Sabis International Charter School, which his children attend. His involvement with the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Committee is also important to him because it celebrates his culture, diversity, and inclusiveness, and caters to the largest demographic in the City of Homes.

Lopez is a member of Leadership Pioneer Valley’s class of 2016, is director of business development for Metrocare of Springfield LLC, serves as a senior consultant at Lopez Consulting LLC, and manages a multi-million-dollar portfolio at NAI Plotkin.

But all his diverse roles have a common thread. “I find inner peace in helping others.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Doctoral Student, Springfield College; Project Coordinator, ParaDYM Inc.; Age 30

Sedale Williams

Sedale Williams

When he was young, Sedale Williams never dreamed he would be able to attend college. But today, he is finishing his doctorate and has dedicated his life to helping young and underprivileged individuals realize their potential.

“An adolescent’s confidence is fragile, and they need to know they are capable, can set goals, and can realize their dreams,” said Williams, who grew up in several neighborhoods in Springfield and didn’t get the encouragement he needed in school, but set his sights on a doctorate in psychology after taking a course in the subject at Central High School.

Several months ago, Williams left his job as a clinician at BHN Carson Center for Human Services in Westfield to finish the doctoral program at Springfield College. He will return to Carson in August and is currently project coordinator for ParaDYM Inc. in New Britain, Conn., which serves at-risk youth.

Williams worked with the homeless in San Diego from 2010 to 2012 and saw a high incidence of underlying mental-health issues, which he said are often repressed in the African-American community. He served in AmeriCorps to support the Springfield College School Turnaround Initiative, was a peer advisor at Westfield State University, and has volunteered and worked on special projects at UConn, University of Hartford, United Way of Pioneer Valley, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Carl Robinson Correctional Institute, Springfield Academy for Excellence, and Veritas Prep Academy.

He is on the board and steering committee for Brothers United to Inspire Lifestyle Development, helps facilitate the annual Constructing Kings Male Youth Summit, and collaborates with Springfield youths and the community to lower the dropout rate. “I like working with middle-school students because that’s when you see a dropoff in interest in schooling,” he said.

In 2015, Williams was a speaker at the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s 93rd annual celebration and feted with its Youth Generate Presidential Service Award, presented at the 15th annual Boston College Diversity Challenge, was awarded the Key Program’s Deborah Feldstein-Bartfield Memorial Scholarship, and will speak at the 125th national conference of the American Psychological Assoc. in August.

Williams’ family has always supported him, and Springfield College advisor Peiwei Li has helped him stay motivated.

“I take on a lot that’s challenging,” he said, “but I want to pay it all forward.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of Risk Adjustment, Health New England; Age 33

Jessica Dupont

Jessica Dupont

Jessica Dupont is passionate about hockey. Really passionate.

That’s quite evident from the manner in which she can talk about everything from the ‘Broad Street Bullies,’ those famous Philadelphia Flyers teams that won Stanley Cups a decade before she was born, to the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s latest expansion team, but not, she believes, its last, due to the sport’s ever-rising popularity.

Dupont, the highest scorer among the 150-plus nominees for the 40 Under Forty class of 2017, is also passionate about giving back to the community, which she does through involvement with organizations ranging from Dress for Success Western Mass. to Square One. So she was really enjoying herself last month at a unique fund-raiser for Dress for Success called Hockey in Heels, undertaken in conjunction with the Springfield Thunderbirds. The event was staged this year just prior to the March 11 tilt against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

“That event,” she explained, “brings my two favorite things together: Dress for Success and creating programs that will empower women to re-enter the workforce, and hockey, which is my favorite thing ever — NHL, AHL, you name it.”

Dupont is quite passionate about something else, too. That would be health insurance (a most unlikely career choice for this sociology major from Mount Holyoke College) and the broad goal of making sure those who have it understand it and get the most out of that critical benefit.

When asked what she does as the Director of Risk Adjustment, there was a noticeable sigh, because the explanation — at least to those not in the business — doesn’t come quickly or easily. She summed it up this way:

“I work with the physicians in our community to make sure the care they’re delivering to their patients is properly documented and coded, so that we have accurate data to build our clinical strategies around,” she explained. “We can only build interventions, do work, and make sure we’re getting paid appropriately if we know what’s going on with our membership base.”

Slicing through all that, she said her work involves making sure health insurance works for all the parties involved — HNE, those who provide the care, and, especially, those receiving the care. And she finds that work, and the company’s “holistic approach,” rewarding.

“We’re very member-focused,” she said. “And we try to take care of our members, because they live in our communities: they’re our neighbors, they’re our family members; they’re not just a number.”

—George O’Brien