Class of 2024

Nikai Fondon

Founder and Host, She Did That! Podcast: Age 28

They call it the Dream Maker Award.

It’s presented by Girls Inc. of the Valley to individuals who make a commitment to working with young women in the community to help make their dreams become reality.

And it’s just one of many awards and accolades that Nikai Fondon has earned over the past few years. Others include everything from first place in a pitch contest for a podcast that she conceived called “She Did That!” which highlights young professional women of color locally and across the country, to a BEST Award from the National Assoc. of Multi-ethnicity in Communications.

Because of these and many other accomplishments, she’ll soon have another award — a Forty Under 40 plaque. It’s been earned partly for her current work at Berkshire Bank, but mostly for a host of accomplishments and initiatives within and for the community, including, but certainly not limited to:

• Serving Girls Inc. as a board member, clerk, and, now, vice chair;

• Starting the first-ever DEI committee for the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield;

• Creating the region’s first virtual co-working space for young professional women of color during the pandemic;

• Facilitating leadership workshops through the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Maine Community Foundation, Bay Path University, UMass Amherst, and other entities starting at age 16;

• Teaching classes at Westfield State University and the YWCA of Greater Springfield;

• Speaking before more than a dozen youth groups across the region about entrepreneurship, leadership, and personal branding; and

• Facilitating the Springfield partnership between the Young Women’s Initiative and the Women’s Fund.

Until recently, Fondon, a graduate of UMass Amherst with a degree in business and marketing, was Financial Inclusion & Entrepreneurship community liaison at Berkshire Bank, where her work included building programs for financial literacy, workshops, and “opportunities to build trust in the community and provide educational opportunities within the community on financial matters.

“We want to make sure that the underbanked find a home at a bank in general, but, hopefully, our bank because of the work we do in the community,” she added, noting that Berkshire supports many nonprofit groups and initiatives across the region, and she has been involved with many of those efforts.

On the entrepreneurship side, she was also involved with a Berkshire Bank loan program called the Futures Fund, which has lower barriers to entry than typical loans and provides easier access to capital.

All this explains why Forty Under 40 isn’t the first award that she’s earned, and it almost certainly won’t be the last.

— George O’Brien