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HOLYOKE — Following a unanimous vote from their boards, PeoplesBank and Cornerstone Bank have announced they have entered into a definitive merger agreement to combine their holding companies in a merger transaction.

While the merger agreement between PeoplesBancorp, MHC and SSB Community Bancorp, MHC will unify holding companies, both banks will continue operating under separate names and brands for the foreseeable future. After the completion of the merger, the new, consolidated holding company for both banks will be named PeoplesBancorp, MHC and have approximately $6 billion in assets.

Thomas Senecal will remain as CEO and chairman, and Todd Tallman will become president of the combined mutual holding company. Brian Canina will be the chief operating officer of the holding company and will remain president of PeoplesBank.

Both institutions will benefit from the combined financial strength of two strong community banks coming together to create one of the largest mutual, multi-bank holding companies in the Northeast. PeoplesBank, serving Western Mass. and Northern Conn., and Cornerstone Bank, serving Central Mass., will each continue their normal operations with no disruption to customers. All account information, branch banking, and digital access will remain the same for both banks throughout the transaction.

“This merger of our holding companies will create more financial support for each of our banks, ensuring the kind of sustained strength that our customers have relied on since our founding in 1885,” said Senecal, CEO and chairman of the board of PeoplesBank.

This partnership opens up both banks to future opportunities and market growth. The merger was unanimously approved by the boards of trustees for both holding companies. Completion of the transition remains subject to approval by the corporators of PeoplesBancorp, MHC and SSB Community Bancorp, MHC as well as regulatory approval. Closing is anticipated in the first quarter of 2025.

“We’re excited to be joining forces with another mutual bank serving their communities with the same kind of commitment as us,” said Tallman, CEO of Cornerstone Bank. “While customers won’t see any difference in their day-to-day banking experiences, this merger offers us more scalability and strength, which we can build on in the future.”

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AMHERST — The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) has launched a search for a dynamic and visionary leader who is passionate about community development and possesses the skills to build on the organization’s successes as its next executive director. 

The search comes after the recent departure of interim Executive Director Liz Larson. Larson, who previously served as the BID’s director of Operations & Finance, has stepped down to pursue other opportunities. 

Barry Roberts, president of the Amherst BID, expressed his gratitude for Larson’s contributions and his optimism for the future. “We are deeply grateful for the dedication and hard work of Liz Larson, who was instrumental in managing the BID through a period of transition. As we embark on the search for a new executive director, we are excited about the future and the opportunities it holds for our downtown community.” 

The BID’s executive director will be responsible for the administration, operations, and financial management of the organization, managing its programs and services, and responding to stakeholders’ issues and concerns to improve the business climate and vitality of the district. The ideal candidate must have experience in urban planning or economic development and must have a deep commitment to the Amherst community. 

Interested candidates are encouraged to visit www.amherstdowntown.com for more information about the position and application details. 

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) is a nonprofit economic-development organization comprised of local property owners dedicated to providing programs and services that supplement those of the town of Amherst. The BID invests its resources to improve downtown Amherst’s vibrancy, sustainability, and economic health through advocacy, events, beautification, marketing, and special projects. 

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EAST LONGMEADOW — The 2024 Ride-to-Remember kickoff concert and fundraiser will be held tonight, June 20, from 6 to 10 p.m. at East Village Tavern, 53 North Main St., East Longmeadow, and will benefit injured Springfield Police Officer Nestor Santos. 

According to the Springfield Police Department website, Santos was shot in the face and leg on June 5 and taken to a Boston-area hospital with a bullet fragment lodged in his head. He has had one surgery, and doctors were able to save his eye, but he will lose his vision in one eye. He has since been released from the hospital. 

Fundraiser tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com/e/otan-vargas-concert-to-benefitride-to-remember-tickets-918422194507. The event will feature raffles and live music from Otan Vargas, and will be emceed by local comedian Jess Miller. 

There will be Ride-to-Remember sign-ups. Ride-to-Remember will also be selling T-shirts for State Police Trooper Ronnie Gibbons. 

“We all owe our safety to police officers and heroes like Officer Santos,” said John Sullivan, co-owner of East Village Tavern. “It’s our honor and privilege to host this fundraiser to help benefit Officer Santos and his family in this extremely difficult time.” 

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MONSON — Monson Savings Bank prides itself on sustaining a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse workplace and helping all team members reach their full potential by providing a work environment where all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute to the organization’s success. The bank strives to be a place where people want to work, diversity is welcomed, and individuals feel valued. 

In line with these efforts, Monson Savings Bank recently hosted a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Summit for its entire team. 

“I hope everyone walks away with a better understanding of the bank’s commitment and efforts relating to DEI. As an organization, we feel good about who we are and the value of our differences,” said Michael Rouette, the bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. 

“I want each and every one of our team members to be inspired on their own personal DEI journey, finding their ‘why’ and their purpose. We want them to be confident in their motive for committing to our DEIB journey,” he added, “whether it be because their heart is in it, and they want to make the world a better place, or they want to do their part in forming a stronger, more profitable organization that sustains itself for another 150 years.” 

The bank invited Adriana Vaccaro and Sarai Rivera of Culture Redesigned to be guest speakers at the summit, as well as the Rev. Terrlyn Curry Avery, owner and licensed psychologist at Sacred Intelligence LLC and reverend of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, as the keynote speaker of the educational event. Additionally, Monson Savings Bank President and CEO Dan Moriarty and First Vice President and Human Resources Officer Dodie Carpentier addressed team members during the program. 

Moriarty, also the recent past co-chair of the Massachusetts Bankers Assoc. DEI Council, emphasized the importance of embracing and implementing DEIB initiatives and values. 

“At Monson Savings Bank, DEIB is not just a concept, it is a core value. We recognize that embracing DEIB is critical to our individual and organizational success, as well as strategically and financially prudent. More importantly, it is just the right thing to do,” he said. “We are aiming to truly make a difference at the bank and in the larger community by embracing DEIB.” 

During the DEIB Summit, Vaccaro and Rivera of Culture Redesigned discussed the basic concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the importance of adding to a positive culture and building trusting relationships. Following their discussion with the Monson Savings Bank team, Avery gave an engaging and thought-provoking motivational speech discussing race and how it plays into everyday interactions, perceptions, and relationships. 

“Thank you so much, Adriana Vaccaro, Dr. Sarai Rivera, and Rev. Dr. Terrylyn L. Curry Avery for coming here to share your insights with us,” Carpentier said. “And thank you to our amazing team for all joining together to embrace this important discussion. It speaks volumes to everyone’s character and the morale of our team that we got together to respectfully listen, ask questions, and learn together.” 

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LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University recently announced two new dual licensure programs within its MSEd/EdS in special education: dual licensure in severe and moderate disabilities preK-8 and dual licensure in severe and moderate disabilities 5-12. 

Bay Path’s MSEd/EdS in special education is the only program in the region to offer these dual licensure programs, and only one of a handful in the state. Applications are now being accepted for a Sept. 3 start date. 

Both dual licensing programs aim to address the pressing need for qualified special-education professionals capable of supporting students with diverse needs across different educational settings. 

The dual licensure in severe and moderate disabilities preK-8 program is designed to prepare educators to effectively teach students with a range of disabilities, from mild to severe, at the preK-to-grade-8 level. It emphasizes curriculum modifications, applied academics, alternative assessments, transition strategies, and community inclusion. The coursework aligns with the Massachusetts Professional Standards for Teachers and the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2020 standards. The program includes a yearlong practicum and is delivered 100% online through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous classes. 

The dual licensure in severe and moderate disabilities 5-12 program similarly prepares educators for teaching students with disabilities but focuses on grades 5-12. It covers similar content areas, including modifications for general-education curriculum, alternative assessments, and vocational strategies, ensuring comprehensive training for prospective teachers. Like the preK-8 program, it is also aligned with Massachusetts standards and the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2020 standards, includes a yearlong practicum, and is offered entirely online. 

“Educators earning dual licensure are more marketable and can work with all levels of exceptional children in all special-education settings,” said Dr. Kristen Lech, director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. “Our special education programs ensure teacher candidates are competent to engage in evidence-based instructional practices, culturally relevant pedagogy, and the ability to apply principles of Universal Design for Learning within their classrooms. We believe that, when special education teachers are well-prepared in these practices, the opportunity for increased inclusive practices can and should occur for all children with exceptionalities.” 

After successful completion of the program, individuals are endorsed for two separate Massachusetts initial licenses: severe disabilities, all levels, and moderate disabilities preK-8, or moderate disabilities 5-12. The program is 36 credits (MSEd) or 39 credits (EdS). The coursework for both dual-licensing programs cover all the Massachusetts subject-matter knowledge requirements for both licensure areas, and all courses are aligned to the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2020 initial practice-based professional preparation standards for special educators with high leverage practices. 

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HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) has been awarded an $832,000 grant to help train workers for jobs in the clean-energy sector. 

The two-year grant, announced earlier this month, was part of an overall $3.4 million allocation from the Healey-Driscoll administration to three higher-education institutions for climate-related workforce-training initiatives.  

HCC was the only institution in Western Mass. to receive funding. Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology and Roxbury Community College, both in Boston, also received grant awards of $1.3 million each. 

“This is a great opportunity for the region,” said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC’s assistant vice president of Adult Education and Workforce Development. “The state is putting a lot of investment into the clean-energy sector, for a lot of reasons. To their credit, the Healey administration is very interested in getting some activity going in the western part of the state.” 

Overall, the grants will lead to green-industry-specific training for an estimated 400 individuals, 150 of them through HCC. 

Dunkelberg said HCC and its community and industry partners will spend the next few months developing training programs in five areas: EV (electric vehicle) charging station installation; energy auditing, solar installation, green industry supervision and management, and green careers job readiness. 

“You’re starting to see electric vehicle charging stations more commonly now, but there is still a need to build a lot more of them, and there needs to be people trained to do it,” Dunkelberg said. “And then, car companies will be able to sell more electric vehicles. All these things are connected.” 

For instance, he said, auto dealer Gary Rome wrote a letter in support of the grant. 

Dunkelberg said there are businesses looking to get into the emerging EV station market, but it’s difficult to start operations without enough trained employees. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. We’re going to be training people while these companies are trying to get their businesses going.” 

Electricians, he said, are critical in this emerging industry. “In the clean-energy sector, one of the biggest choke points, if not the biggest choke point, is the availability of enough training electricians to do the work. To work as an EV charging station installer or a solar installer, you don’t have to be a licensed electrician, but you have to have some experience as an electrician.” 

HCC’s partners in the grant include Holyoke Gas & Electric, Springfield Works, and the Coalition for Equitable Economy (CEE), an organization that supports businesses owned by people of color. Holyoke Community College is a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution, which was one of the eligibility requirements for the grant.  

“We’ll be doing some small-business development with the coalition with the goal of creating more opportunities for people of color,” Dunkelberg said. 

He added that he expects training to begin in early 2025, if not sooner. 

“HCC does a lot of work in the healthcare space,” he noted. “This grant will enable us to provide opportunities in a totally different sector. There’s a lot to learn here and new relationships to establish — quite a bit of groundwork to be done.” 

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FLORENCE — Florence Bank announced that it recently presented its 2024 President’s Award to three staff members for exceptional service. 

Established in 1995, the President’s Award recognizes outstanding performance, customer service, and overall contributions to Florence Bank. Those named are nominated by their colleagues at the bank. 

This year’s award recognizes Kim Downing, branch manager and assistant vice president in the Chicopee branch; Michele St. Germain, senior teller and customer-service representative in the West Springfield branch; and Christina Mullen, loan servicing manager in the main office in Florence. 

With 38 years in the banking industry, Downing was recognized for her communication, team management, and customer-service skills. She was also saluted for her commitment to community service. She currently serves as a board member of the Therapeutic Equestrian Center and sits on the gala committee for the Boys & Girls Club of Chicopee. 

St. Germain has 36 years of banking experience and was saluted for her ability to quickly and effectively respond to customers’ needs, her positivity, mentoring colleagues, and communicating effectively. She was also recognized for handling customer transactions courteously and for supporting the teller operations manager and tellers to ensure efficient operations. 

In her role at the bank, Mullen is responsible for servicing residential mortgages and consumer loans. She was lauded for her attention to detail and ensuring that her staff provides outstanding customer service at all times. She has 34 years of experience in the industry. 

“These employees have given their peers excellent reasons to nominate them,” said Matt Garrity, president and CEO of Florence Bank. “They are hardworking, determined, patient, enthusiastic, and compassionate — qualities we value at Florence Bank.” 

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HARTFORD, Conn. — On June 14, Whittlesey, one of New England’s largest regional CPA and consulting firms, continued its annual day of volunteerism with various projects across Connecticut and Western Mass. 

For more than a decade, Whittlesey team members have stepped away from their desks to engage in activities that directly impact the communities where they live and work. This year, Whittlesey mobilized team members throughout the region to collaborate with the Bushnell Park Conservancy, the Diaper Bank of Connecticut, and the Zoo in Forest Park. Volunteers engaged in a variety of activities, including park cleanup efforts, mulching, planting flower beds, and repairing and painting fences. At the Connecticut Diaper Bank, team members sorted and repackaged diapers to support families in need. 

“Our dedication to community service extends beyond our professional roles,” said Drew Andrews, CEO and managing partner at Whittlesey. “Our annual Community Day exemplifies our belief in giving back to our communities. Partnering with these extraordinary organizations this year has been an honor, and we are excited about the difference we can make together.” 

Whittlesey’s Community Day is part of a broader series of initiatives the firm undertakes throughout the year, underscoring its core belief in the power of community engagement. The firm takes pride in its longstanding partnerships with diverse nonprofit organizations and the real-world impacts they achieve together. 

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CHICOPEE — As schools close for the summer, nearly 27,000 children in Western Mass. face the harsh reality of not having enough food. Despite all Massachusetts students having access to free breakfast and lunch during the school year, the summer months leave many families struggling to fill the gap, relying heavily on the Food Bank’s 180-plus member food pantries and meal sites.  

Every month, the Food Bank provides approximately 1 million meals to more than 100,000 people. Hunger exists in every county across the Commonwealth, with Western Mass. seeing some of the highest levels of food insecurity. Berkshire and Hampden counties rank in the top five, according to Greater Boston Food Bank’s fourth annual statewide report.  

While a significant number of food-insecure households in Western Mass. live above the federal poverty limit, people still struggle to provide enough food for their families. The high costs for rent, mortgage payments, electricity, childcare, and transportation strain budgets and make it difficult for families to afford nutritious food.  

These challenges disproportionately affect single parents, particularly Black and Latino single parents. In addition to the financial strain of operating on a single income, these parents face systemic racism that manifests in employment and wage discrimination, as well as in the physical landscape of their communities. Planning decisions often isolate them from essential resources like full-service grocery stores, childcare, and transportation, further compounding their difficulties.  

“The summer months are challenging for families,” said Jillian Morgan, director of Development for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “Without school meals, many families must look elsewhere for food assistance. To meet the increased need, the Food Bank has launched a summer hunger appeal to ensure our food-assistance network can meet the demand.”  

With every dollar donated, the Food Bank donates the equivalent of three meals through its network of food pantries and meal sites. By supporting the summer hunger appeal, donors can make a significant impact on the lives of children and families this summer and beyond.  

Visit foodbankwma.org to make a secure online donation. For more information on childhood hunger, visit foodbankwma.org/summer-hunger. 

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EASTHAMPTON — bankESB recently hired George Michelakis as branch officer of its 253 Triangle St. office in Amherst. 

George Michelakis

Michelakis has 15 years of banking experience. He was previously a financial center manager at Berkshire Bank and, before that, a branch operations administrator at People’s United Bank. He brings an extensive background of retail banking leadership experience to his new role, where he will manage the Amherst office team while remaining engaged in the community. 

Michelakis has an associate degree in marketing management from Holyoke Community College and is an avid volunteer with many different organizations in Western Mass. 

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Berkshire Money Management welcomed two new staff members to its Great Barrington office: Operations Support Partner Katrina Fitzpatrick and Front Office Coordinator Lusha Martin.

Fitzpatrick’s goal is to continuously make Berkshire Money Management and its processes more efficient. She works closely with Chief Operating Officer Natalie Wheeler to assess company needs and identify opportunities for improvement, while and developing strategies for addressing both.

Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Westfield State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management with a concentration in finance and a minor in economics. Prior to joining Berkshire Money Management, she worked as a branch specialist at Greylock Federal Credit Union.

Martin manages the daily needs of Berkshire Money Management’s Great Barrington office, welcomes clients and guests, and manages the phone lines for the Dalton and Great Barrington offices.

Before arriving at Berkshire Money Management, Martin owned and operated Bakin’ Bakery in Sheffield. She also brings more than two decades of experience in office management to the team and is in the process of earning an associate degree in business careers at Berkshire Community College. She has raised funds for various nonprofit organizations, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and she is a member of the board of directors for Stanton Home in Great Barrington.

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GREENFIELD — On Thursday, July 18 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western Mass (BBBSWM) will host its annual Point 5K fundraiser with a rodeo-themed twist. 

Participants will enjoy a 546-yard dining experience featuring food and drinks from local businesses, including Buckland Pizza, the Food Booth, Ciesluk Farmstand, and the Brewery at Four Star Farms. Local artist DJ Lazer Chicken will bring his musical talents to the event. 

“This is the first Point 5K as BBBSWM,” said David Beturne, CEO of BBBSWM (formerly BBBS of Franklin and Hampden Counties). “We’re excited to use the event as an opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to Franklin, Berkshire, and Hampden counties.” 

Added Chief Growth Officer Chris Thompson, “we couldn’t put on events like this or support our 400-plus matches without great partners in the community. This year we have several partners helping us with the event. I’d like to highlight and thank our presenting sponsor, Greenfield Savings Bank, for their support of the event and our mission of youth empowerment.” 

For tickets and more information, visit bigbrotherssisters.org or the organization’s Facebook page. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs change the lives of children. Statistics show that children who are mentored are less likely to use unprescribed drugs, are more successful academically, and have better peer and family relationships. Mentoring helps youth reach their highest potential. 

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SPRINGFIELD — With temperatures expected to be in the 90s along with high humidity over the next several days across the region, air conditioners and fans will be working overtime at many homes and businesses. 

During the summer months, Eversource customers in Massachusetts use about 40% more electricity to keep cool when the mercury soars. While high electricity usage during a heat wave can put a strain on the electric system, the energy company is prepared to meet the increased demand, and its crews are ready to respond to any outages or issues that may arise. Remote system operators are also constantly monitoring the system and are ready to reroute power and shift other resources as necessary.  

“Our crews are focused on working safely to ensure reliable electric service for our customers year-round, especially during these hot and humid days when many customers will have their fans and AC units running in full force,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said. 

“We begin preparing well in advance for the increased demand we typically see this time of year by conducting ground and aerial inspections of the electrical system so we can proactively detect and address any issues,” he added. “As we all use more energy during the summer months, we also want to make sure our customers are aware of the simple steps they can take to help manage their usage and save money on their electric bills.” 

Eversource offers the following tips to manage energy usage this summer: 

  • Keep air conditioners set as warm as comfort allows. For every degree higher on the thermostat, the air conditioner will use 1% to 3% less electricity.
  • Don’t block air flow. Keep air vents and heat pump vents clear of obstructions such as furniture, curtains, and rugs.
  • Operate major appliances during the cooler parts of the day. Energy is conserved by using appliances that create heat, like clothes dryers and dishwashers, early in the morning or late in the evening. There is also less demand on the electric system during these times.
  • Keep blinds closed to prevent unwanted direct sunlight from entering a home through windows. Using curtains, shades, and blinds can lower indoor temperatures by up to 20 degrees.
  • Switch to Energy Star-certified LED lights. The energy-efficient bulbs run cooler and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lights.
  • Set ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise and at a higher speed in the summer to circulate the air more effectively, creating a cooling wind-chill effect. Remember to turn the fan off when leaving the room.

To learn about the many energy saving programs available, visit eversource.com. 

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NORTH ADAMS — MountainOne announced recently donated $10,000 to the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) as part of its 2024 Community Dividend Program. 

The BCAC is a nonprofit human-service organization that assists low-income residents of Berkshire County toward achieving sustainability and self-sufficiency. Working with the community to find creative and maintainable solutions that promote economic stability and alleviate the destabilizing effects of poverty for those in Berkshire County, the BCAC has had “self-sufficiency and dignity for all” as its vision since incorporating in 1966. 

MountainOne’s donation is earmarked specifically for the BCAC’s Warm Winter Clothing Program, which provides children age 12 and under with new coats, boots, hats, mittens, and gloves. While the cold-weather season is still months away, MountainOne is providing these funds now because preparations for the program span all four seasons. Families are provided with the opportunity to shop for items at the Children’s Winter Boutique at BCAC, allowing them the opportunity to chose items that best suit their children’s taste, style, and comfort. 

The Community Dividend Program at MountainOne supports nonprofits throughout the Berkshires and South Shore, particularly organizations that positively impact community members most in need. 

“It is our privilege to fund this critical program that supports children and their families during some of the most challenging months of the year,” said Robert Fraser, MountainOne’s president and CEO. “MountainOne places the safety and well-being of children as a top priority of our Community Dividend Program.”  

In addition to corporate sponsorship, BCAC offers the ability to for community members and groups to sponsor a child during the winter. For further details on the Warm Winter Clothing Program, visit bcacinc.org/winter-clothing-program. 

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GREENFIELD — With a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 14, the Greenfield Recreation Department is unveiled new bocce courts on Gerrett Street, parallel to Beacon Park. 

“In Greenfield, we strive to offer engaging and accessible recreation opportunities for the enjoyment of every person who visits our parks,” Recreation Director Christy Moore said. “These bocce courts will provide a space that fosters intergenerational recreational opportunities. Bocce ball is the ultimate blend of skill, strategy, and socialization for all ages and abilities.” 

Construction for the bocce courts began in April after Clark and Sons Inc. received the construction contract. The project included the installation of two bocce courts, various site work, concrete sidewalks and viewing areas, landscaping, benches, a parking area, water fountains, and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements near the baseball field and tennis courts. 

“Our Recreation Department continues to transform Greenfield into a vibrant recreation destination,” Mayor Ginny Desorgher said. “We are thrilled to welcome the new bocce courts, and I am excited to see them become a well-utilized fixture in the community.” 

The bocce-court project received funding from several sources, including Community Preservation Act monies, capital expenses, and the Disability Access Fund. The contract award was $112,100. 

The Recreation Department also continues to implement several amenity improvements across the city’s existing recreation sites. Earlier this spring, the department oversaw the resurfacing and repainting of the Hillside Park basketball court and installed cornhole boards and ping pong at the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area. Additional improvements, including trail maintenance work, trail mapping, and a pickleball feasibility study, are anticipated to be completed later this year. 

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SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health, in partnership with the Community Benefits Program, announced the recipients of the 2024 Better Together Grants. 

This year, proposals considered focused on advancing youth well-being through strategic interventions that seek to decrease adverse youth mental-health outcomes. Projects funded by Better Together must apply a framework of social determinants of health, be evidence-based, include routine performance evaluation, and align with Baystate’s community health needs assessment. 

“We recognize that addressing youth mental health is not limited to clinical and traditional medical settings,” said Dr. Tyonne Hinson, senior vice president and chief Diversity, Health Equity, and Inclusion officer. “These grants were awarded to organizations implementing initiatives that focus on the development of strategies and practices to address social determinants of health, access, and the social environment to make our communities a healthier and safer place to live.” 

Baystate Health announced the five winning proposals of the 2024 Better Together grants, totaling $500,000 in funding: 

  • Community Legal Aid ($100,000 for its Family Preservation Project);
  • Follow My Steps Foundation ($100,000 for its Steps to Empowerment Program);
  • Latino Counseling Center ($100,000 for its Mindful Connections/Conexiones Conscientes);
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services ($100,000 for its Beat the Odds Project); and
  • Springfield Pride Parade Organization ($100,000 for its Safe Space Program).

Funding for the Better Together grants is made possible through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s determination-of-need requirements. In addition to funding the grantees, Baystate Health has also contracted with the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts to provide technical assistance and evaluation support to the grantee cohort over the next one to two years. 

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HOLYOKE — Registration is open for Summer Session II classes at Holyoke Community College (HCC). Classes begin Monday, July 8 and run through Aug. 23. Course offerings can be viewed at hcc.edu/summer-2024. 

Registration is also open for the fall 2024 semester, which starts on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Full 15-week semester classes begin Sept. 3. 

HCC will also be running three accelerated fall flex start sessions: Flex Start I classes also begin Sept. 3 but run for seven weeks until Oct. 23; Flex Start II classes begin Monday, Sept. 16 and run for 12 weeks; and Flex Start III classes begin Monday, Oct. 29 and run for seven weeks. 

“Whether it’s for summer or fall, our admissions staff is available to guide prospective students through every step of the application process,” said Mark Hudgik, interim dean of Strategic Recruitment Initiatives, Admissions, and Financial Aid.  

Fall course offerings can be viewed at hcc.edu/fall-2024. Prospective students interested in starting this summer or fall can find more information at hcc.edu/admission or by calling (413) 552-2321.  

Students interested in visiting campus should contact the HCC Admissions office at [email protected]. 

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NORTH ADAMS — MountainOne announced the promotion of several employees in the North Adams office to new positions, acknowledging their hard work, dedication, and impactful contributions to the company.

“We are proud to recognize the talent and dedication of our Mountaineers with these well-deserved promotions,” said Robert Fraser, president and CEO. “Their hard work, leadership, and commitment to our values plays a vital role in MountainOne’s growth and success. We look forward to their continued contributions as they step into these new roles.”

Betsy Kapner has been promoted to vice president, Marketing manager. She joined MountainOne in 2013 and has deep knowledge and expertise in marketing compliance requirements. She demonstrates an ongoing commitment to professional development and excels at meeting deadlines, collaborating effectively with colleagues, and contributing meaningfully to every project.

Jessica Andrews has been promoted to assistant vice president, Deposit Compliance & Fraud Administration officer. Since joining in 2005, she has developed a deep understanding of the deposit compliance environment and helps leads the administration of the bank’s fraud-reporting platform. Her involvement in compliance projects demonstrates her leadership and commitment to MountainOne’s core commitment of regulatory accountability.

Lisa Mineau has been promoted to assistant vice president, senior Human Resources Operations officer. Over her 43-year career, she has adapted to change and taken on increasingly significant responsibilities. She started as a teller at North Adams Hoosac Savings Bank and then as a customer-service representative in community banking before finding her passion in human resources in 2002. Her recently enhanced role includes oversight of payroll, benefits, and personnel administration.

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BOSTON — On Thursday, the Massachusetts Legislature approved Aug. 10-11 as a sales-tax holiday weekend for Massachusetts. On those days, the Massachusetts sales tax of 6.25% will be suspended for most items that retail for less than $2,500.

The holiday welcomes Massachusetts residents to visit retailers and small businesses around the state. A spike in consumer activity routinely boosts indirect tax revenues. According to the Department of Revenue, during the 2023 sales-tax holiday, indirect tax revenues due to increased economic activity were approximately $3.54 million.

“I am glad to see the sales-tax holiday be approved in the Legislature today, giving our residents a great chance to get outside and embrace their local businesses and community at a little bit of a discount,” state Sen. Adam Gomez said. “This annual holiday gives a boost to our small-business owners and consumers, and I am proud to support this measure annually.”

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Construct will hold its 2024 annual meeting on Wednesday, June 26 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Egremont Barn, 17 Main St., South Egremont. All interested South Berkshire residents are welcome to attend to learn about Construct’s recent accomplishments and get a preview of what’s in store for the year ahead. Light refreshments will be served.

Registration is requested by emailing [email protected]. Registration is free and open to the public.

“The annual meeting is an important event for Construct, serving as our one public meeting of the year,” said Jane Ralph, Construct’s executive director. “Given the pressing need for affordable housing in the Southern Berkshires and the innovative approaches Construct is implementing, we are eager to provide an opportunity for anyone interested to gain deeper insights.”

Construct is currently transforming a Gilded Age mansion, Cassilis Farm, into 11 apartments, and is hosting a designer showhouse on the property to raise awareness and funds.

Based in Great Barrington, Construct has been the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services to South Berkshire County residents in need for more than 50 years.

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Tessa Lucey

WESTFIELD — Tessa Lucey has been appointed to the Westfield State University board of trustees. She replaces trustee and former Chairman Robert Martin, whose 10-year term ended March 1. He remained in holdover status by the governor’s office until Lucey’s appointment on May 6.

Lucey has more than 20 years of experience as a compliance officer, including extensive professional experience in healthcare and higher-education compliance, operations, labor relations, policy development, program implementation, investigations, government reviews, and audits.

She is currently director of Compliance Services and chief privacy officer at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Prior to this position, she was corporate Compliance officer and chief privacy officer at Hallmark Health System in Medford. Prior to her position at Hallmark Health, she was director of Compliance and chief privacy officer at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.

In addition to her bachelor’s degree in business with minors both psychology and women’s studies from Westfield State University, Lucey earned a master of healthcare administration degree from Simmons College.

“Returning to Westfield State University as a trustee fills me with immense pride,” she said. “WSU not only provided me with the knowledge and skills to succeed in my career, but also provided me with a solid foundation to succeed in life. I am looking forward to giving back by working with the board and with university leadership to ensure the continued success and impact of the university for generations to come.”

The 11-member Westfield State University board of trustees is appointed by the governor. Each member is appointed for a five-year term, with the possibility of one additional term of five years.

“Tessa’s business and higher-education experience will complement the work of the board,” said Linda Thompson, president of Westfield State University. “Her connection as an alumna is certainly something we appreciate. Tessa’s connection with Westfield State makes this appointment meaningful and personal. I very much look forward to working with her as a board trustee.”

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SPRINGFIELD — Pullman & Comley, one of the largest full-service law firms based in Connecticut, celebrated the opening of its new Springfield office on June 11 with a ribbon cutting and reception welcoming local business and government leaders, clients, and friends, including Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Diana Szynal, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber.

The new space is on the ninth floor of Tower Square at 1500 Main St. downtown. Pullman & Comley opened its original Springfield office, the firm’s first in Massachusetts, in 2019. It has Connecticut offices in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Westport, as well as in White Plains, N.Y. and Wakefield, R.I.

“Nearly five years ago, Pullman & Comley opened its first office in Massachusetts, and we’re thrilled to reaffirm the commitment to our clients in this area by opening a new office right here in downtown Springfield,” said Lee Hoffman, chair of the firm. “Our attorneys are deeply connected with the community in Western Mass., and we look forward to continuing to build on that foundation.”

Pullman & Comley has several prominent local attorneys located in the Springfield office, including business, real estate, and litigation attorney James Martin, who is recognized as a leading automotive franchise attorney throughout New England. Laura Bellotti Cardillo, vice chair of the firm’s Property Tax and Valuation practice, has been instrumental in the growth of the firm’s Springfield office. She represents commercial property owners and lessees seeking equitable assessments of their real and personal property interests in municipalities throughout Massachusetts.

Other key Pullman attorneys doing work in Massachusetts include Megan Carannante, Joshua Hawks-Ladds, Brion Kirsch, Frederic Klein, and Tabitha Ayer. The focus of the office will continue to be legal matters relating to business and finance, real estate, property tax and valuation, labor and employment law, and litigation. Sharpening that focus will be the new office’s videoconferencing capabilities that connect seamlessly with conference rooms in other Pullman & Comley offices to better serve clients in the region.

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Registration for Hooplandia, the second annual 3×3 basketball tourney and festival, ends Friday, June 14. Visit www.hooplandia.com to register for all ages and divisions.

The tournament, presented by Eastern States Exposition (ESE) and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, will take place June 21-23 on the ESE grounds in West Springfield, with select youth championship games at the Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Divisions of play have been created to provide an all-inclusive environment for players of all ages and playing abilities. Players are invited to build teams of four, create their own unique team name and uniforms, and register at www.hooplandia.com.

Hooplandia is also seeking basketball enthusiasts to step up and join the volunteer team as scorekeepers. Volunteers receive perks, including a ticket to the Big E and Hooplandia swag. Fill out the volunteer form on www.hooplandia.com. For more information, call Samantha DePergola at (413) 205-5052.

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Hans Jung

HARTFORD, Conn. — KeyBank announced that Hans Jung has joined the bank as senior relationship manager within its Connecticut and Western Mass. middle-market Commercial Banking team. In this role, he will work with companies with annual revenues from $10 million to $2 billion, offering a range of corporate finance solutions, treasury management, and liquidity solutions tailored to meet their unique business needs.

In addition, Jung will work with private-equity sponsors to support their investment strategies with acquisition financing. With extensive experience advising clients and providing comprehensive financial solutions, including M&A transactions, he will support the growth and success of KeyBank’s middle-market clients and report to Matthew Hummel, market president and Commercial Banking executive.

Jung brings an extensive background in corporate finance, transaction banking, trade finance, capital markets, and liquidity management, cultivated from previous underwriting, portfolio-management, and relationship-management roles with Santander Bank and Webster Bank, among others. He is committed to community involvement, actively volunteering with organizations such as the Metro Hartford Alliance, LISC, and the United Way. He also served as chairman of the Audit Commission for the city of Hartford, a board member of the Connecticut China Council, and a program committee member for ACG-CT.

Jung is a CFA charter holder with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance from Boston College.

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Nicole Blais

SPRINGFIELD — Nicole Blais, CEO of Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield (HCS) Head Start Inc., was recently re-elected to the Massachusetts Head Start Assoc. (MHSA) board of directors and will also serve as treasurer.

MHSA serves as the voice of nearly 30 Head Start and Early Head Start programs across Massachusetts. The not-for-profit membership organization provides collaborative learning opportunities, leverages partnerships, and advocates for Head Start programs.

Blais has spent most of her entire career with Head Start. Beginning in 1996 as the Parent Education and Support specialist for HCS Head Start, she was responsible for ensuring that Head Start performance standards and other regulations related to parent involvement were upheld at all times. For a decade, she developed and implemented various parent and family engagement programming — such as Parenting in the 21st Century, Men Involved in the Lives of Kids, Family Fun Nights — and other parent-driven activities; supervised a team; and began making a name for herself speaking and presenting throughout the Commonwealth as well as at National Head Start Assoc. conferences across the country.

In 2012, Blais transitioned to the position of director of Community Engagement, where she spent almost another 10 years supporting the work of HCS Head Start. In this role, she identified, maintained, and grew collaborations with outside agencies and community initiatives, local media outlets, political and community leaders, and funders.

The next phase of her career came when her mentor, Janis Santos, HCS Head Start’s longtime CEO, announced her retirement. In 2021, amid the pandemic, Blais began her role as CEO of the organization.

Blais serves the community in other ways, including roles as a Springfield Regional Chamber ambassador and Holyoke Rotary Club member. She attended the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and did her graduate studies in nonprofit management & philanthropy at Bay Path University.

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Peter Pan Bus Lines and Trailways, the largest and oldest network of independent motorcoach operators in North America, have announced a new strategic partnership effective immediately.

The new alliance adds Peter Pan destinations to trailways.com and trailways.ca, and many Trailways destinations to peterpanbus.com, providing customers with even more reliable, convenient, and affordable ground travel options.

Just in time for the busy July 4 holiday weekend, the companies have debuted overnight service connecting major cities such as Toronto and Montreal with Boston, Providence, Hartford, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The alliance has also seen transportation restored between rural communities for the first time since the COVID pandemic. Entire regions of the Northeast, from the Adirondacks to Cape Cod, are now reconnected by ground transportation as a result of the partnership.

“Connectivity is the lifeline of communities across North America. We are so proud of this partnership with Peter Pan and the quality service, yet affordable pricing, it will bring to so many cities,” said Alex Berardi, president of trailways.com and trailways.ca.

Peter Picknelly, chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines, added that “few family-run private bus companies, like Peter Pan and Trailways, continue to operate regular scheduled route services. We are very pleased to have our companies working together to make travel throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states more convenient and affordable for all passengers.”

Tickets are available now. Customers looking for information about service, schedules, arrival and departure times, and fares are encouraged to visit peterpanbus.com, trailways.com, or trailways.ca. The new services are powered by technical integrations from Transcor Data Services of Jacksonville, Fla.

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Attorney Katherine Garvey, founder of Garvey Law, LLC, announced the grand opening of the firm’s West Springfield office on Thursday, June 20 at 1 p.m. at 1312 Memorial Ave. Garvey Law, LLC, an all-female law firm specializing in Massachusetts and Connecticut real estate, estate planning, and probate law, recently celebrate its fourth year in business.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Garvey said of opening her first official location. “It’s amazing to know that if you work hard and focus on providing excellent customer service to all of your clients and partners, you can grow something from an idea into a full-scale business with its very own location.”

The grand opening will feature sliders from local food truck, Macken’s Specialty Sliders, as well as refreshments and a raffle drawing.

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SPRINGFIELD — New England Public Media (NEPM) recently announced four awards won by journalists with the organization.

At the recent Health Journalism Conference hosted by the Assoc. of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) in New York City, NEPM reporter Karen Brown earned second place in the Public Health category for her three-part series, “Safe Bet: Is Mass. Fulfilling Its Problem-gambling Mandate?” Brown is also the host and producer of NEPM’s new podcast, “The Secrets we Keep.”

In addition to AHCJ’s recognition, the NEPM newsroom received accolades from the Public Media Journalists Assoc. (PMJA). The PMJA awards recognize the best in public-media journalism produced in one year from across the country. Stations competed against others with similar-sized newsrooms; NEPM competed in Division A, representing stations with 8 to 15 full-time staff.

NEPM reporters Dusty Christensen and Nirvani Williams both won PMJA awards. Christensen’s investigative piece, “Records Obtained Under New Mass. Law Show Holyoke Police Dismiss Nearly All Civilian Complaints,” secured second place in the Digital Writing category, while Williams’ feature, “New Law Takes Effect, but Still Not Easy for Undocumented Immigrants to Get Mass. Driver’s Licenses,” earned first place in the Government and Democracy Feature category.

“This year, we had over 1,450 entries from 144 different organizations in our awards contest,” PMJA Executive Director Christine Diers said. “We’re proud to be able to recognize the great journalism across the country through this contest.”

Reporter Nancy Eve Cohen’s outstanding work on clergy sexual abuse was recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Assoc. (RTDNA) with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award in the Hard News category. Her story, “‘I Don’t Know Who Is Stopping This’: Advocates Urge Mass. AG to Issue Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse,” on the apparent delay in an attorney general report on what had occurred at the Springfield, Worcester, and Fall River dioceses, was honored. Cohen followed her award-winning work with “‘Another Level of Coverup’: How a Mass. Law Prevents Clergy Abuse Survivors From Getting Justice” and “Western Mass. Actor Depicts Clergy Abuse Survivor Who Rejects Church Settlement — Like He Did.”

The regional Murrow Award winners are chosen from all stories in a designated region, in this case Region 10, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Cohen will now advance to the national RTDNA Murrow Awards competition, winners of which will be announced in August.

“All four of these award-winning stories are great examples of enterprise reporting: reporters talking to sources, examining documents, and digging for more information,” NEPM News Director Sam Hudzik said.

Hudzik added that he is grateful to NEPM’s staff and listeners for their support, emphasizing the importance of sustaining in-depth reporting in Western Mass.

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Big Y Foods Inc. announced the reopening of its Family Market at 503 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. The project included major renovations in many areas of the store and various new additions in response to changing customer needs.

One of those additions is an expanded Hispanic grocery section featuring traditional ingredients and pantry staples from across Latin America, including Brazil and the Caribbean.

The kitchen now features a curated selection of ready-to-eat items, like empanadas, quesadillas, and burrito bowls. Meanwhile, a variety of specialty meats are featured in the butcher shop, and the seafood department includes octopus and a variety of frozen fish. For dessert, the bakery department features tres leches cake and more. And the produce department now features a selection of tropical fruits and vegetables like plantains, ajicito peppers (used for making staple sofrito), an expanded selection of roots, sugar cane, chayote, an assortment of chili, and more.

“We had a ton of demand for these types of products. People were having trouble finding them in the area and started requesting them,” said Sean Thompson, West Springfield store director. “It’s very exciting for us to be able to get our customers what they want. We’re looking forward to customer feedback and invite everybody to come out and tell us what they think.”

The renovation efforts began in February 2023. The remodel and new section are part of the company’s broader strategy to modernize its retail spaces to create a more enjoyable shopping experience for both customers and associates. The upgraded sales floor now features new décor with a farmer’s-market-style open-air entrance; an expanded grab-and-go section with an added self-serve pizza section; a renovated meat and seafood department; all-new, energy-efficient refrigerated cases; and upgraded flooring throughout. The exterior façade was also given a more modern look.

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SPRINGFIELD — White Lion Brewing Co. obtained local licensing approval to operate a series of beer gardens in three Western Mass. cities: Holyoke, Westfield, and Springfield. As a local brewer, White Lion collaborates with community stakeholders and engages a broad audience that embrace and support outdoor programming.

In Springfield, to stimulate small-business awareness, White Lion will rotate through downtown and set up near key points of business. The two primary locations are One Financial Plaza, 1350 Main St., which is home to a small-business incubator made up of several startup businesses. White Lion will be downtown every Wednesday through Aug. 28. The beer garden opens at 4 p.m.

The second location is the Plaza at 1550 Main St., the home of the Springfield School Department and other government offices. Evan Plotkin, owner of 1350 Main St., noted that “White Lion Wednesdays from years past were a huge success in the plaza. It created a space at the end of the workday to unwind. It is important for our downtown economy to be a place where people can have fun networking, listening to music, and enjoying the outdoor streetscape.”

Holyoke’s Armour Yard is located at the Cubit, 164 Race St. Centrally located, the site offers live music, food, and craft vendors. White Lion partnerships include the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and Holyoke Craft Beer. White Lion can be found every Monday at the Cubit through Aug. 26th. The beer garden opens at 5 p.m.

“We continue to build a great rapport with Holyoke stakeholders, and the city has been very supportive,” said Ray Berry, owner of White Lion. “City official Aaron Vega and Cubit owner Denis Luzuriaga understand the importance of community and event activation. Mondays are now on the map all summer long in Holyoke.”

For several years, 53 Elm St. in Westfield was home to live music, food vendors, and a White Lion pop-up. White Lion, in partnership with ArtWorks Westfield, helped sponsor the weekly music events. This summer, White Lion will be on site very Friday through Aug. 30. The beer garden opens at 5 p.m.

“This year, White Lion will set up in the newly renovated Elm Street Plaza Park, and we could not be prouder of our collaboration with White Lion,” said Cheryl Crow, treasurer of ArtWorks Westfield.

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GREENFIELD — Greenfield Cooperative Bank (GCB) is hosting two free information sessions designed to equip first-time homebuyers with the knowledge and confidence to navigate the homebuying journey. Led by Victor Rodriguez, GCB’s assistant vice president of Mortgage Origination, these sessions will provide valuable insights from industry experts on various aspects of purchasing a home.

The sessions will be held on Thursday, June 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at EforAll Holyoke, 193 High St.; and Tuesday, June 25 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at GCB’s South Hadley branch, 487 Newton St.

Attendees will gain a comprehensive understanding of the homebuying process, from financing options to legal considerations. Key topics covered include the impact of credit on mortgages and strategies to secure a favorable rate; the benefits of GCB’s mortgage programs designed specifically for first-time homebuyers; how a pre-approval strengthens an offer and gives a buyer an edge in a competitive market; and the process beyond financing, featuring insights from guest speakers, including a real-estate agent who will discuss home-shopping strategies and a real-estate attorney who will explain the purchase-and-sale contract and closing process.

Space is limited. For more information, visit www.greenfieldcoopbank.com/events. These sessions are for informational purposes only and do not offer certificates of completion.

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FLORENCEMomentum: Montessori, a Life in Motion by Elizabeth Slade of Florence has been named one of the best indie books of 2024 by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group. Slade’s book won the historical nonfiction category in the 2024 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the largest awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors.

Published by Atmosphere Press, Momentum is a historical fiction novel based on Maria Montessori’s life. The story, inspired by her 1913 diary, is a fictional retelling of her first voyage to America. Written from Maria’s perspective to her son, Mario, the novel explores her groundbreaking achievements and personal sacrifices that would later revolutionize education around the world.

Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette and Ahab’s Wife, writes that Momentum is “simply brilliant — no, complexly brilliant. I have never read a more absorbing, unflinching, intense embodiment of biographical fiction.”

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards are judged by leaders of the indie book publishing industry, including many with long careers at major publishing houses. Their love of a great read and experience in the publishing arena identify books deserving of a wider audience.

“I’m honored to have been selected and delighted that this may be an opportunity to have Montessori’s story reach more people,” Slade said.

According to Catherine Goulet, founder and co-chair of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, “like other independent artists, many indie book publishers face challenges that the industry giants don’t experience. The indies have to work much harder to get their best books into readers’ hands.

“Authors and publishers who compete in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are serious about promoting their books,” Goulet added. “They aim to stand out from the crowd of millions of books in print.”

For more information about Elizabeth Slade and Momentum: Montessori, a Life in Motion, visit egslade.com.

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NORTHAMPTON — For the third year in a row, Cedar Chest, the anchor store in Thornes Marketplace on Main Street in downtown Northampton, will partner with food and farming-justice organization Grow Food Northampton to conduct the “Give $10, Get $10” promotion that helps community members grappling with food insecurity to afford healthy, local farm foods at Grow Food Northampton’s farmers markets all year long.

Grow Food Northampton’s SNAP Match program ensures that low-income residents can more than double their purchase of nutrient-rich local produce and other farm products at Tuesday Market behind Thornes Marketplace from April to November and, in the winter, at the Winter Market at the Northampton Senior Center. The “Give $10, Get $10” promotion, beginning June 11, allows Cedar Chest customers to come into the store and donate $10 to Grow Food Northampton’s SNAP Match program and, in turn, receive a $10 gift card to spend at Cedar Chest.

“Cedar Chest is thrilled to partner with Grow Food Northampton for the third year in a row,” Cedar Chest co-owner Alex Feinstein said. “Our ‘Give $10, Get $10’ campaign achieves so many important goals: it supports local agriculture; helps a vital nonprofit like Grow Food Northampton; supports our local business, Cedar Chest; and ensures that everyone in our community, no matter their income level, can eat fresh, healthy, locally grown farm foods. We welcome customers to join us in making a positive impact by simply giving $10 and, in return, receiving a $10 gift card.”

Alisa Klein, executive director of Grow Food Northampton, added that “this partnership with Cedar Chest is local generosity at its best. Thanks to them and several other local businesses, our SNAP Match program ensures that food grown in the rich soils right here where we live are nourishing the people who need it the most. Every year, as food insecurity grows, the SNAP Match program grows. We’re lucky that so many local businesses understand the need to support this work. We rely on their generosity for the continued success of this ever-expanding program.”

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SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2024 are due Monday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these eight categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Health Educator;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcareheroes/nominations. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

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Melissa LaBonte

EASTHAMPTON — bankESB recently promoted Melissa LaBonte to assistant vice president, Core Systems.

LaBonte has 23 years of banking experience. She was promoted to Core Systems manager in 2018 and promoted to Core Systems officer in 2021. She joined the bank in 2001 as a teller, and over the past two decades has held a variety of roles in the Collections, Finance, and Strategic Projects departments.

LaBonte has an associate degree in business administration and accounting from Holyoke Community College and earned a project management diploma from the Center for Financial Training.

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Seth Shepard

NORTH ADAMS — MountainOne announced that Seth Shepard has been promoted to financial advisor.

In this role, Shepard determines a client’s financial objectives, offers strategic advice on products and services to meet client goals, and manages client assets through portfolio design and retirement solutions. His focus is on asset management, portfolio management, retirement planning, and college-education planning.

Shepard has been with MountainOne Investments since 2022, most recently as a paraplanner. He is a member of MountainOne’s communications committee and previously served on the MountainOne 175th celebration committee. Prior to joining MountainOne Investments, he was an account manager with Girardi Distributors in Pittsfield and a football coach at Mount Ida College in Newton. He holds a bachelor’s degree in coaching and event operations from Johnson & Wales University.

“It’s a pleasure to announce Seth’s promotion to financial advisor,” said Kevin Dupuis, vice president, Operations manager with MountainOne Investments. “He is a dedicated professional whose knowledge and interpersonal skills are ideally suited to this pivotal role within our organization.”

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — On Wednesday, June 12 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) will host a free financial seminar at the Chicopee Public Library, located at 449 Front St.

Attorney Gillian Szlachetka Dubay will share her expertise on wills, probate, healthcare proxies, power of attorney, and life insurance. There is no cost to attend, but participants are required to sign up by emailing or calling the library’s reference desk at [email protected] or (413) 594-1800, ext. 3.

“Gillian does an amazing job presenting a topic that is not easy to talk about. She makes sure people leave with new knowledge and resources,” said Olga Callirgos, GSHFH Homeowner Programs coordinator. “I find it to be a great seminar and am looking forward to learning alongside our community members.”

This free estate-planning seminar is the second of its kind hosted by Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity since its induction last fall. To keep up to date about future financial-based Habitat seminars, visit habitatspringfield.org/upcoming-events.

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Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts recently appointed Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez CEO of the philanthropic organization, effective June 17. A native of Springfield’s North End and a driven, longtime mentor of women and champion for social change and empowerment, Pabón-Hernandez succeeds Donna Haghighat in the key role for the nonprofit.

Throughout her 25-year career, Pabón-Hernandez has supported women and Latinx community members, first as a marketing strategist in business for herself and later in roles that include program director for the YMCA North End Youth Center, founder of a community-based digital storytelling center, and executive producer at New England Public Media, a role she left in early June after 14 years to accept the CEO position at the Women’s Fund.

Pabón-Hernandez has experience as a program developer, grant writer, mentor, facilitator, consensus builder, and storyteller, and she is excited to put her skills to work for the Women’s Fund. “I want to make a meaningful impact that’s less about program development and more about supporting the people who have the ideas,” she said. “I’ve been the one who has been dreaming big and creating programs of impact. Now, I want to support the dreams of others.”

Luzed Guzman Romano, current treasurer and incoming board co-chair for the Women’s Fund, said the board is excited about the opportunities that Pabón-Hernandez’s experience, determination, and leadership present. “We are all confident Vanessa’s leadership will drive the organization forward, continuing its mission to support and empower women, girls, and gender-expansive people in the region. In many ways, Vanessa’s life experience mirrors the reason why the Women’s Fund exists.”

Inspired by a strong, independent mother who helped facilitate her path, Pabón-Hernandez defied the odds several decades ago as a young, single mother, earning two associate degrees at Springfield Technical Community College before launching her own business as a marketing strategist for political candidates and area businesspeople.

She mastered the art of storytelling to advance social change, entered the nonprofit sector, and, over 25 years, led and founded innovative programs in marginalized communities that have allowed thousands of individuals to access resources, leverage their strengths, and drive their own career paths. She has received the Unsung Heroine award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and was named to BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty. She was also the grand marshal for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade.

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) announced $3.5 million in supplemental funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recapitalize its existing Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund (RLF).

The EPA previously provided $7.6 million in RLF funds to the program. BRPC was selected to receive additional funds because it has a high-performing RLF program with significantly depleted funds due to frequent activity. The RLF program has successfully made loans or subgrants, leading to 12 cleanup projects that are either completed or in progress.

“The Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund is a critical economic-development tool in our region,” BRPC Executive Director Tom Matuszko said. “In many cases, we’re filling gaps in a project’s financing that makes it possible to expand or redevelop locations that then provide housing or employment opportunities where they are most needed.”

The fund lends to private, public, and nonprofit entities for cleanup activities at sites contaminated by petroleum or other hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. Municipalities and nonprofits may also be eligible for subgrants from the fund, usually after participating in a phased brownfield assessment program also operated by BRPC.

“Our assessment program lifts the veil of uncertainty from sites, offering answers regarding levels of contamination and, in some fortunate cases, proving that no contamination exists, encouraging private investment and reuse of a site,” said Melissa Provencher, Environmental and Energy Program manager at BRPC.

Additional Berkshire County grants were awarded to projects in North Adams and include $1.9 million to clean up the former Tannery Dump located on Ashton Avenue and $1.863 million for cleanup at the Greylock Flume property.

The tannery dumping site contains a 1.5-acre, 10-foot-high mound of leather scraps that abuts the Hoosic River and is contaminated with heavy metals. Extreme storms have exposed the layers of leather on the riverbank. The flume property is located on State Road, a 7.8-acre former textile mill location that housed 10 above-ground storage tanks and 30 former dip tank drums. It is contaminated with sulfuric acids, phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide, nitric acid, metals, PCBs, and inorganic contaminants. BRPC staff provided assistance in preparing applications for both site-specific awards and will serve as grant manager for the Tannery site project.

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Cathy Velez

BOSTON — Berkshire Bank announced that Cathy Velez has joined the bank as managing director of Retail Banking and Deposit Operations.

As a senior leader, Velez will oversee the bank’s financial-center network, retail sales and service delivery, and branch operations. She will also direct the execution of the retail banking strategy to drive short- and long-term growth, business-line initiatives, and major divisional projects.

“We are excited to have Cathy join Berkshire’s leadership team as we look to further strengthen our retail franchise, drive deposit growth, and enhance our client experience,” said Sean Gray, Berkshire Bank president and chief operating officer. “Her knowledge of our New England and New York markets, commitment to talent development, and track record of driving profitable growth make her the ideal candidate to lead retail banking into the future.”

Velez joins Berkshire Bank with more than 25 years of extensive experience in banking. Most recently, she served in multiple senior retail and private banking roles for Webster Bank.