40 Under 40 The Class of 2016

Shannon Rudder

Executive Director, MotherWoman Inc.; Age 38

Shannon Rudder

Shannon Rudder

There is a lyric written by soul singer India.Arie — one of Shannon Rudder’s favorites — that reads: “I am not my age. I am not my race. My soul inside is all light.”

It’s an important sentiment for Rudder, who serves women from all walks of life as executive director of MotherWoman Inc., a national organization based in Hadley that works with mothers to create positive personal and social change for themselves, their families, their communities, and the world.

“Our complete mission is to support and empower moms to make positive changes and to really realize their inner resiliency,” she said, noting that the work is done through advice-free support groups, professional training, and advocacy.

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Rudder moved to Western Mass. three years ago. Since then, she’s led MotherWoman to a 67% increase in revenue and programming expansions across the country, not just in Massachusetts, but also in New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Washington.

She said MotherWoman’s mission is one she can embrace personally, too.

“We are not alone in this world,” she said, adding that she relies on both faith and community to bolster that belief. “When I feel isolated, I remind myself of that — it keeps me grounded. We need each other and that sense of community; it helps us all to grow and to empower one another.”

Rudder said was particularly motivated by the community that welcomed her here in the Pioneer Valley.

“I was a single mom for a lot of my life, and even though I was still ‘sassy Shannon’ inside, I felt I had become relegated to just ‘mom,’” she said, adding that it took some time to relocate the “kid inside” and start indulging in adventure from time to time: whitewater rafting, skydiving, and ziplining, to name a few examples.

But with her daughter, Egeria; a new partner in life, her husband, David; and a wide circle of friends and colleagues, Rudder said she’s been able to spread light into countless people’s lives — and rediscover her own as well.

“I hold myself accountable to live, and I’m jazzed and motivated by that,” she said, noting that, while the soundtrack of her life includes many different tunes, those lyrics to the India.Arie song will always hold true: “I am a star, a piece of it all. I am light.”

— Jaclyn Stevenson

Photography by Leah Martin Photography