Honoring the Difference Makers


Seventh Annual Gala Set for March 19 at the Log Cabin

The big night is almost upon us.

That would be March 19, of course, and the annual Difference Makers gala, an event that has become a not-to-be-missed networking opportunity and, much more importantly, an opportunity to celebrate groups and individuals who are making a difference in Western Mass.

The tradition began in 2009 with the first class of Difference Makers, which featured a diverse group that showed the many ways one can make a positive impact. It included Bill Ward, director of the regional Employment Board of Hampden County; Susan Jaye Kaplan, founder of GoFIT and co-founder of Link to Libraries; the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield; and PeoplesBank President Doug Bowen and Kate Kane, managing director of the Springfield office of Northwestern Mutual, both of whom have donated countless hours to area nonprofits and economic-development-related agencies.

Each successive class has had both its own unique character and a common bond with all the others — individuals, groups, or companies who have stepped up and used their talents, energy, and imagination to improve quality of life in this region.

The class of 2015 HERE carries on that legacy. This year’s honorees are:

• Katelynn’s Ride:
The K-Ride, as organizers call it, was created in 2011 to honor the memory of Katelynn Battista, who lost her courageous battle to leukemia at age 11. The event raises money for both Baystate Children’s Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute through the Jimmy Fund. Locally, some of the funds awarded to Baystate have gone to support a new position, a nurse practitioner who acts as a liaison between the families of cancer patients and the teams of specialists that provide needed care.

• MassMutual: The financial-services giant is being honored not simply for the depth of its philanthropy or community involvement, but the strategic nature of such endeavors. Focused in three areas — education, economic development, and ‘community vitality,’ the company’s many contributions are long-term in focus with the goal of strengthening the community and building a quality workforce.

• Judy Matt, president of the Spirit of Springfield: For more than three decades, Matt has been at the forefront of coordinating family-focused events for the residents of Springfield and surrounding communities. That list includes Fourth of July fireworks, the annual pancake breakfast (once touted as the world’s largest), the Big Balloon Parade, and Bright Nights, the holiday lighting display that is on many national lists of must-see attractions.

• The new ownership team of the Student Prince and the Fort: Last summer, Rudy Scherff, second-generation co-owner of the Springfield-based institution known as the Student Prince and the Fort, announced that, if new ownership could not found, the iconic restaurant and tavern would likely close amid falling profits and rising costs. Into the breach stepped a somewhat unlikely group — Peter Picknelly, owner of Peter Pan Bus Lines; the Yee family, owners of the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee and other restaurants; and Kevin and Michael Vann, father-and-son consultants who have worked with a number of restaurateurs over the years.

• Valley Venture Mentors: Through a host of initiatives ranging from monthly mentoring sessions to shared-workspace initiatives, to a new accelerator program which just welcomed its first cohort of 30 companies, VVM is, according to many observers, making real progress in creating an entrepreneurial renaissance in Springfield and the region as a whole.

The March 19 event will feature butlered hors d’oeuvres, lavish food stations, a networking hour, introductions of the Difference Makers, and remarks from the honorees. Tickets are $60 per person, with reserved tables of 10 available.

For more information or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or go HERE.

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