40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Dena Calvanese

Dena Calvanese

Age 35: Director, Gray House

Dena Calvanese lists travel at the top of her list of hobbies — and passions.

She’s been to India and the Far East, all around Italy, to several cities in the U.S., and, last summer, to Iceland. It was a great trip, but frustrating in one respect. A budding photographer, Calvanese wanted a nice shot of an Icelandic sunset. The problem was, she went there in the middle of summer, when the sun was out 24 hours a day.

“It was great, because you could visit places all day long,” she said. “But no sunset pictures.”

Things are similar, in some respects, at Springfield’s Gray House, now celebrating its 25th year in operation, which Calvanese has served as director for the past two and a half years. She says she keeps waiting for there to be some kind of lull in the action — and level of need — at this community center in Springfield’s North End. But, like a sunset in Iceland in July, one never comes, which is fine with her.

“We’re busy just about all the time,” said Calvanese, who, as she spoke with BusinessWest, was working on projects ranging from collection of prom dresses for underprivileged young women to assemblage of Easter baskets for area families.

“Need is constant, and it’s increasing with the economy,” she continued, listing everything from a surge in requests for food assistance to a rise in enrollment in adult-education programs from people who want to better themselves.

Managing all this has become another passion for Calvanese, who once worked as an analyst for MassMutual, but has made a very successful transition into the challenging world of nonprofit management.

As for her next travel destination? Calvanese has a trip to Chicago on the calendar. There should be some great sunset pictures by Lake Michigan to be taken there.

—George O’Brien