Class of 2024

Lev BenEzra

Executive Director, Amherst Survival Center: Age 39

The levels of food insecurity in this region rose dramatically during the pandemic, Lev BenEzra notes, and they continue to rise, for several reasons — from inflation, and the enormous toll it takes on families’ budgets, to the curtailment of many COVID-inspired relief initiatives.

BenEzra’s determined and imaginative efforts to tackle this critical issue certainly help to explain why she is not only a Forty Under 40 honoree, but why she tied for the highest score among the class of 2024.

In short, she has provided the leadership and vision needed to not only see the Amherst Survival Center through the upheaval of the pandemic, when it had to meet soaring needs and find new and different ways to do things, but chart a course for the next several years through strategic planning and anticipation of future challenges.

In doing so, she is continuing a two-decade-long track record of working for nonprofits, dating back to when she served as an academic coordinator for Girls Inc. of the Valley and then a curriculum specialist for the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative in Springfield. Later, she spent more than a decade with Community Action Pioneer Valley in Greenfield, first as program manager of Youth Programs and then as director of Youth and Workforce Development, before coming to the Amherst Survival Center just months before the pandemic arrived, bringing challenge, but also opportunity, with it.

“There is something about a crisis that clarifies what it is that you’re supposed to be doing or what is truly important,” she said. “And I think that was very true, especially in the early days of leadership at the Survival Center; we provide a daily, essential service to people and, thus, did not have the option of closing or limiting access to our programs.”

During her tenure, BenEzra and her team have doubled the agency’s annual revenue; launched a successful grocery-delivery program; improved access for people from all cultures and backgrounds, while also increasing availability of food to meet different dietary needs and cultural styles of cooking; and spearheaded major HR improvements to better support the staff.

Active in the community, she is also a board member of the Community Health Center of Franklin County and has served Franklin County Pride, the Communities that Care Coalition, the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families & Youth, and the Regional Employment Board Youth Career Connections Council, among other nonprofits.

—George O’Brien