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2019 Employment Law Year in Review

This past year was one that saw a number of landscape-changing developments in the broad realm of employment law. From paid family leave to cannabis to overtime-threshold changes, there were a number of changes to existing laws, new measures to keep track of, and new challenges for employers.

By Maureen James, Esq.

2019 … it’s been real.

Much like politics this year, employment law has experienced quite the roller-coaster ride. So what has this year taught us? Where will we go next? Has anyone really gotten over the Game of Thrones finale? Will 2020 include more Baby Yoda? You know … the important stuff.

This year saw many changes, most of which will really be felt during 2020 and beyond. Even so, those changes have opened dialogue to new and progressive topics that are changing the landscape of employment law. Here is a summary of the new developments, both here in the Commonwealth and nationally.

Paid Family Medical Leave

We cannot write a ‘year in review’ without starting with the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave law (PFML). A lot of attention was given to PFML last year, and rightfully so. This is an institutional change, and all involved have been nervous about its rollout.

As readers are likely aware, PFML is a state-offered benefit that, come 2021, will entitle most Massachusetts workers to take up to 26 weeks of paid leave for medical or family reasons. PFML is funded through a Massachusetts wage tax that is shared by employees and businesses with 25 or more employees.

Last summer, the Department of Paid Leave issued final regulations and rolled out an updated timeline for employers, which included the deadline for notification to employees of Sept. 30, 2019, the commencement of payroll withholdings on Oct. 1, 2019, and information on the application process for private-plan exemptions.

It is clear this will be a hot topic throughout 2020 as employers will start making their quarterly PFML tax contributions and begin preparing for the first round of claims beginning in January 2021.

Marijuana

Medicinal and recreational marijuana went from nowhere to everywhere this year. Commissions, taxes, licensing … there are lots of complicated issues. For employers, many have been trying to balance state and federal law, as well as existing policies and changing culture. Unfortunately, we are not yet at a place were clear policies and practices exist. Over the next year, this will likely be a hot topic as its effects continue to grow — pun intended.

National Labor Relations Board

Last summer, the National Labor Relations Board made some drastic policy shifts in three swift steps. In May, it was announced that it intended to set standards for union activity on employer property. It followed up in June 2019 with a ruling in UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, where it overturned decades of precedent and determined that employers can ban union organizers from public areas of their private property.

In August 2019, it held in Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation that property owners can bar labor protests by off-duty contractor workers unless they work “regularly and exclusively” on the property and there is no “reasonable non-trespassory alternative” for communicating their message. With these large shifts, it will be interesting to see what other areas NLRB reviews and possibly enacts changes to next year.

“This year saw many changes, most of which will really be felt during 2020 and beyond. Even so, those changes have opened dialogue to new and progressive topics that are changing the landscape of employment law.”

Continuing this trend of pro-employer decisions, a few weeks ago the board released a decision overruling a prior case that held that employees have a presumptive right to use an employer’s e-mail system for non-work-related communications, which includes e-mail traffic related to forming a union. The recent decision reconfirmed that an employer has a right to restrict employee use of its e-mail system as long as it is done on a non-discriminatory basis.

Union Fees

In a recent case — Janus v. State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 — the U.S. Supreme Court held that non-union workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public-sector unions. Throughout 2019, this has been a debated topic in Massachusetts. The Legislature passed a law providing Massachusetts’ public employee unions access to contact information for employees, as well as certain allowances to charge fees to non-members.

Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the law, but in September, he was overridden. As we move into 2020, the effect this law has on union dues and relationships between members and non-members, if any, remains to be seen.

Department of Labor Overtime Threshold Changes

One of the many regulations taking effect at the inception of 2020 includes a boost to the salary threshold for the eligibility of workers to receive overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This change will extend overtime protections to currently exempt workers making less than $684 per week (or less than $35,568 per year) and highly compensated employees making less than $2,066 per week (or less than $107,432 per year). This means, before year’s end, employers who employ exempt workers will need to review their compensation (including any non-discretionary bonuses and commissions) to ensure they earn enough to qualify for exempt status as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Non-compete Law

Massachusetts’ new Noncompetition Agreement Act has changed how employers draft, use, and enforce non-compete agreements. The law makes certain types of non-competes flatly unenforceable, and restricts how long and for what reason an agreement can be used in other situations. It also requires consideration (i.e., some sort of payment) to the employee if an employer wants to enforce a non-compete provision. The law has only been in effect a year, so we have not seen the full ramifications of the statute yet.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services’ H-1B Visas

March 2020 will bring the official beginning of the spring season, but also the first round of electronic registration for H-1B visas under the fiscal year 2021 cap. H-1B sponsorship is offered by employers in ‘specialty occupations’ that require at least a bachelor’s degree (or the equivalent in education and experience). In this new electronic process, employers seeking H-1B workers subject to the 2021 FY cap will complete an electronic registration that requires only basic information about the company and each requested worker.

The H-1B random selection process will use those registrations, and then the selected registrations from that pool will be eligible to file more detailed petitions for the H-1B visa cap.

2020 … Bring It On

There are only a few things that are certain: death, taxes, and another terrible reality show. However, 2020 most certainly will be a year where many new laws stretch their legs and see their first moments of sun. There will undoubtedly be new issues to confront, but no matter what year it is, you can never be too prepared.

Maureen James is an attorney with Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., one of the largest law firms in New England exclusively practicing labor and employment law; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Cover Story Giving Guide Special Publications

Regional Philanthropic Opportunities

View the PDF flipbook

While philanthropy is a year-round activity, the holidays are a time when many of us think about those who are most in need, and how, in general, they can help make Western Mass. a better community for all who call this region home.

To help individuals, groups, and businesses make effective decisions when it comes to philanthropy, BusinessWest and the Healthcare News present the annual Giving Guide. Open the PDF flipbook to view profiles of several area nonprofit organizations, a sampling of this region’s thousands of nonprofits.

These profiles are intended to educate readers about what these groups are doing, and also to inspire them to provide the critical support (which comes in many different forms) that these organizations and so many others desperately need. Indeed, these profiles list not only giving opportunities — everything from online donations to corporate sponsorships — but also volunteer opportunities.

And it is through volunteering, as much as with a cash donation, that individuals can help a nonprofit carry out its important mission within our community.

BusinessWest and HCN launched the Giving Guide in 2011 to essentially harness this region’s incredibly strong track record of philanthropy and support the organizations dedicated to helping those in need.

The publication is designed to inform, but also to encourage individuals and organizations to find new and imaginative ways to give back. We are confident that it will succeed with both of these assignments.

George O’Brien, Editor
John Gormally, Publisher
Kate Campiti, Associate Publisher

 

 

Presented by:

 

 

 


 

Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]


 

President’s Gala

An evening of elegance and passion, the Springfield College President’s Gala raised more than $500,000 for Springfield College student scholarships. More than 300 gathered on Saturday, October 26 at the MGM Springfield Aria Ballroom. All proceeds will go toward need and merit-based scholarships. The gala was also an opportunity to celebrate the Springfield College Humanics philosophy and its 50-year commitment of having an active member of the current student body serve as a voting member of the board of trustees. Pictured, clockwise from top left: Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper with sport management major Shamar Martin; Kristian Rhim, a communications/sports journalism major from Philadelphia who serves as the student trustee-elect this academic year and will continue on as the 50th student trustee starting in June 2020, is introduced at the gala; Alexandra Goslin, a math and secondary education major from South Windsor, Conn., who is serving as the 49th student trustee this academic year, welcomes visitors to the gala.

Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper with sport management major Shamar Martin

 

Kristian Rhim, a communications/sports journalism major from Philadelphia who serves as the student trustee-elect this academic year and will continue on as the 50th student trustee starting in June 2020, is introduced at the gala

 

Alexandra Goslin, a math and secondary education major from South Windsor, Conn., who is serving as the 49th student trustee this academic year, welcomes visitors to the gala

 


 

Children’s Study Home Art Show

On Sept. 19, the Children’s Study Home held a child and youth art show and auction at the Carriage House at the Barney Estate in Forest Park. More than 30 pieces of artwork from all mediums, including acrylic, watercolor, colored pencil, chalk, and sculptures, were shown from the students of the Children’s Study Home’s Mill Pond School and Curtis Blake Day School, as well as artwork from the children of the Children’s Study Home’s residential programs. Local area artisans participated and donated art pieces to the event. The art was displayed for the evening and sold to raise money for the Children’s Study Home’s art and culturing programs.

 


 

Uplifting Women

More than 130 people attended the COMMversations 2019 event at the Springfield Museums. This Bay Path University student-directed event, in partnership with community collaborators, honored and recognized the voices of historic women of the past, pacesetters of the present, and those who are working in ‘brave’ spaces today to define a future for all. Featured speakers were Bay Path President Carol Leary, who was recognized for her 25 years of leadership at Bay Path, and Freedom Rider Jean Denton Thompson, who courageously fought for justice on the front lines of the civil-rights movement.

Allison Zacynski (left) and Tabitha Shustock were two of many Bay Path students who participated in COMMversations 2019

 

From left, state Rep. Brian Ashe, Leary, state Sen. Eric Lesser, Denton Thompson, Bay Path Professor Janine Fondon, and Marvena Shubrick, representing state Rep. Jose Tosado.


 

Harvest of Creativity

On Oct. 25, students and staff from DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology in West Springfield delivered creepy, cute, and festive Halloween pumpkins to the young patients of Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield and Baystate Children’s Hospital. A yearly tradition at DiGrigoli School, the students spent weeks painting, gluing, and designing their pumpkins. Paul DiGrigoli, owner of DiGrigoli School and DiGrigoli Salon, purchases 60 pumpkins every year to increase creativity among the students and teach them the importance of giving back. Once the pumpkins are designed and completed, they are judged by staff members, and prizes are awarded. A selection of the best are then hand-delivered to the child patients of the two Springfield hospitals.

 


Note-able Family

The Ja’Duke Theater announced a father/daughter duo as winners of the Valley Voice competition, which took place Oct. 26. The winner of the Valley Voice Kids & Teen division is 10-year-old Natalie Duff of Wilbraham. She competed in three rounds of performances to win the top spot, a cash prize of $500, and a one-hour recording session at Next Level Records. This division is designated for singers in grades 1 to 12. Natalie’s father, Jared Duff, was named the winner of the Valley Voice adult division. He also competed in three rounds of performances and won a cash prize of $1,000 and a one-hour recording session at Next Level Records.

 


 

Super 60

Now in its 30th year, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Super 60 program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately-owned businesses in the region. Businesses on the Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories for 2019 represent myriad sectors of the economy, including nonprofits, transportation, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality. They were feted on Oct. 25 at Chez Josef in Agawam.

Pictured at right: Michael Mancuso (left) of event sponsor People’s United Bank presents a plaque to Nate Costa, president of the Springfield Thunderbirds, honored in the Revenue Growth category.

 

 


Passing the Torch

The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley (FBC) celebrated its 25 years of success and first leadership transition with a Legacy and Soul event on Oct. 23 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Founding Director Ira Bryck officially passed the torch to the new Executive Director Jessi Kirley (pictured belwo). FBC members, sponsors, friends, and family shared stories about Bryck and gave a show of support for Kirley. The night finished with dancing to local reggae band (and family business) ReBelle.

 


 

Keep the Ball Rolling

Joe Phillips (right), president of Phillips Insurance Agency Inc., recently delivered a $5,000 check to John Freedman (center) and state Rep. Brian Ashe for the eighth annual Joseph D. Freedman Bowl-a-Thon. John is the founder of the event, and Ashe will serve as master of ceremonies. The event is being held Saturday, Nov. 16 at AMF Lanes in Chicopee. All proceeds will benefit Camphill Village, a community for adults with developmental disabilities who live and work together, caring for each other. Last year, hundreds of bowlers enjoyed the bowling, face painting, and other activities.

Joe Phillips (right), president of Phillips Insurance Agency Inc., recently delivered a $5,000 check to John Freedman (center) and state Rep. Brian Ashe for the eighth annual Joseph D. Freedman Bowl-a-Thon

Cover Story Event Galleries Women of Impact 2019

Scenes from the Dec. 5th Luncheon

 

This is the second class of Women of Impact, a new recognition program created by BusinessWest to recognize individuals who are making a difference in this community and tell stories that need to be told.

This is a diverse class of winners, in every sense of that phrase, but especially when it comes to the manner in which they’re making an impact, whether it’s through public service, turning around a nonprofit, connecting individuals with opportunities to serve their communities, managing a school system, mentoring entrepreneurs, helping individuals and families find financial security, running a successful business, or donating time and talent to area nonprofits and institutions.

Join us as we celebrate them on Dec. 5 at the Sheraton Springfield. We invite you to come and applaud these truly impactful women.

Photos by Dani Fine Photography

The Women of Impact for 2019 are:

Tricia Canavan

President, United Personnel Services

Carol Moore Cutting

President, CEO, and general manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

Jean Deliso

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

Ellen Freyman

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin

Mary Hurley

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

Assistant superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Suzanne Parker

Executive director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Katherine Putnam

Managing director, Golden Seeds

Event Information

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Tickets: ON SALE NOW $65/person; $650/table of 10
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

 

THE 2019 WOMEN OF IMPACT AWARDS LUNCHEON IS SOLD OUT

Keynote Speaker

Lisa Tanzer, president of Life is Good, has over 25 years of consumer brand experience. Prior to becoming president, Lisa served as the company’s head of Marketing after spending over 20 years on the board of directors of the Life is Good Kids Foundation. She’s held executive positions in the entertainment, ecommerce, and education sectors. Earlier in her career, Lisa held marketing and strategy roles at Hasbro, Staples, The Gillette Company, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She received her BA from Tufts University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Co-emcee

Taylor Knight joined 22News in July of 2018 as a multimedia journalist. Currently, Taylor is the co-anchor of the 22News weekday morning newscasts and a reporter for the 22News I-Team.  Before arriving in Springfield, Taylor was a reporter for FiOS1 News in New Jersey. Taylor began her career as a multimedia journalist in Connecticut, covering news and sports in Fairfield County.  Taylor earned her B.A. in broadcast journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia. During college, she interned at WFSB in Connecticut and NBC Sports Philadelphia. In her free time, Taylor enjoys spending time with her dog, running, and watching the Philadelphia Eagles. She is excited to now be “Working for You!”

Presenting Sponsors

Supporting Sponsors

Speaker Sponsor

Exclusive Media Sponsor

Women of Impact 2019

President, United Personnel

By Connecting People with Opportunities, She Impacts the Economy — and Many Lives

Tricia Canavan spent much of her early career as an educator. Today, in a much different role, education is never far from her mind.

“As I’ve done this job for the last eight years, I’ve learned how education is tied to workforce development and people being successful. It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

She’s been helping people support themselves for much of the last decade as president of United Personnel Services, but also as a voice for the importance of education and workforce development in giving people the skills they need to access job opportunities. At the same time, by helping connect employers with talent, she’s helping companies grow, which boosts the region’s economy.

“When we have good jobs and we have thriving businesses, that’s good for everybody,” she told BusinessWest. “The health of the economy in Western Mass. is absolutely critical to every single person who works here and lives here.”

That’s real impact — which is why it’s no surprise Canavan is being honored with this award. But she’s not one to seek out accolades, said Jennifer Brown, United’s vice president of Business Development, who nominated Canavan as a Woman of Impact.

“Tricia is incredibly humble,” Brown said. “In spite of her success, she never considers any task to be beneath her. On any given day in the office, you can find her sitting beside her staff, fielding phone calls, or greeting clients and candidates. When understaffed, she jumps in to help and consistently proves that she is not just a leader, but also a partner to her team.”

Canavan similarly deflects praise to her team. “I’ve been really fortunate to have the opportunity to run this company and be able to combine my interests with an amazing team of colleagues,” she said. “I’m so lucky in that regard. I would not be able to do everything I’m able to do without them behind me. No, not behind me — with me.”

Knowledge Is Power

Back to that role as an educator, though. “I’ve always been very driven to give back, and I really thought my career was going to be in education or nonprofit management of some sort, and that’s a lot of where my career has taken me,” she explained.

As a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Canavan volunteered teaching English as a second language, and later worked as a tutor-counselor with Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps high-school students become first-generation college students.

“It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

“I really fell in love with these kids and their families. It became very clear to me that education is the key to so much,” she said. “I could see the impact that we can have working in partnership with them, helping them achieve their goals. I loved that opportunity.”

Prior to taking over her family’s business — her parents, Jay Canavan and Mary Ellen Scott, launched United Personnel in 1984 — Tricia ran the venerable lecture series known as the Springfield Public Forum. Prior to that, she worked in myriad teaching roles, including a stint at Berkshire Community College.

So her original career path wasn’t focused on following her parents’ path. Still, “when you’re part of a family business, it’s always part of you. I’ve worked here at various times as a younger person and have always been involved. My sister, my mother, and I are the board of directors. United has never been too far from my mind or my heart.”

After her father passed away about 20 years ago, Scott continued to run the company, and when she was getting ready to retire eight years ago, she was unsure what the best pathway forward was, Canavan said.

“So we hired some consultants to work with us and talk to me and my sister and the members of the senior management team at that time. At the end, they came to me and said, ‘we think you’re best suited to run this organization.’”

At the time, she was happy running the Springfield Public Forum, an organization she loved and remains involved with today.

However, “I had a mentor who knew I was considering this great opportunity — and how lucky am I to have had this opportunity? — anyway, she said to me, ‘you know, I think you want to make a difference in the world. And I think you will be able to make more of a difference running United Personnel than you will running the Public Forum. As great an organization as that is, you’ll have a different voice than you have now. And you’ll be able to make a difference and perhaps a bigger impact in your community than you currently can.’”

United Personnel moved its downtown Springfield headquarters to a larger space a few years ago.

That turned out to be a critical conversation as she considered how to move forward, she said. “I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

Clearing a Path

Many well-paying careers, Canavan noted, are in reach without a college education for those who are willing to access training, start small, and work their way up. Part of United Personnel’s mission is to dismantle as many roadblocks to employment as it can.

For example, employers typically prefer to hire someone with at least six months of recent, steady work without gaps. But, realizing there are reasons those gaps exist, United offers myriad short-term jobs to help people build a portfolio and references and prove they can handle something more permanent. Meanwhile, it helps connect job seekers with the myriad workforce-training resources available in the community.

There are institutional barriers as well, such as the so-called ‘cliff effect,’ which throws up financial disincentives to people on public benefits who want to work. She said a bill currently making its way through the state Legislature would address that scenario through a pilot program that would help low-income Springfield residents access jobs while reducing the need for public benefits.

Her advocacy for people seeking work starts where she believes it needs to start — in the schools, by making sure students are learning at an age-appropriate rate. Only 7% of Springfield children are considered kindergarten-ready when they enter school, and if they don’t hit reading proficiency by third grade, it sets them on a never-ending pattern of playing catchup.

“That’s my nonprofit heart, asking what does social justice look like for our kids and our families, and what role does education play in that, and then how does that feed into workforce development and a strong economy? It’s all tied together, for sure,” she told BusinessWest.

“How do we help our students and our families get to the point where they are at a living wage and they can support themselves and thrive?” she went on. “One of the social determinants of health, when we look at population health, is economic stability. So it even drives health outcomes. It’s critical.”

For that reason, making sure kids have the same educational opportunities no matter their address or family circumstance is nothing less than a social-justice issue, she said.

“I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

“I believe everyone is aware of these inequities, and we’re all working on them, but the reality is, if you live on the Springfield side of Forest Park as opposed to the Longmeadow side of Forest Park, you’re likely having a very different education experience.”

At the end of the day, helping people — from childhood through life — access the education and skills they need to live the life they want is a critical element of Canavan’s impact, and one she takes seriously.

“I feel like it’s a little bit glib to say the best way out of poverty is a job. But we need to help everybody achieve the educational background they need — and that can mean different things for different people,” she said, whether that’s a certificate or degree from college or vocational training in a trade. “What is the pathway to a living wage?”

Growth Pattern

And that brings her to the second pillar of United’s business, helping companies access the talent they need to grow.

“It’s all tied to economic development,” she said. “I see so clearly the importance of education to a strong economy. If our employers don’t have the qualified candidates they need, they’re not going to stay, and if they do stay, they’re going to struggle.”

United has grown significantly since Canavan’s parents opened their first office in Hartford, specializing in professional, administrative, and finance services. A few years later, they opened a second office in Springfield, focusing on support to the light industrial sector. Today, the firm also boasts offices in Northampton, Pittsfield, Chelmsford, and New Haven.

Meanwhile, its roster of specialties has grown to include manufacturing, hospitality, information technology, nonprofits, medical offices, and even a dental-services division, which has proven to be a significant growth area.

Cavanan said she enjoys working in partnership with clients because it allows United to become a part of their business and operational strategy and provide real value. Whether it’s helping clients with continuous improvement, staff-retention strategies, joint recruiting events, or simply serving as subject-matter experts in matters like HR compliance, she said United does its best work when it’s able to take on that level of partnership.

That said, she noted that legislative mandates from Boston, such as increased minimum wage and broadened leave laws, continue to burden employers and make it more difficult than ever to do business in Massachusetts.

“I’m interested in educational policy, but also regulatory policy as it affects businesses,” she said. “As a younger person, I would’ve said, ‘she’s sold out, she’s gone to the dark side, she’s become conservative.’ But being in this role has given me a much more nuanced picture of all the different elements that make up a thriving region. Businesses can look at competing, surrounding states and see a more favorable regulatory environment. So I think we in Massachusetts really need to make sure we’re balancing the needs of our residents with the burden on businesses. I don’t think we, as a state, have figured that out yet.”

After providing staffing and HR support to its clients, and career opportunities to its candidates, United’s third pillar has long been giving back to the communities it serves, Canavan said, and she encourages her staff to volunteer and serve on boards — both on work and personal time — while the company supports area nonprofits financially.

“I’m really fortunate to work in an organization I love where we’re doing work to help our candidates and help our clients, but also gives us a platform to do things in the community, whether it’s policy or volunteerism or being able to endow a scholarship. I feel very, very lucky to be able to do that,” she said.

Several years ago, Brown noted, United launched an annual Academic Merit Award. This program identifies one contract employee, or the child of a contract employee, currently enrolled in college or a recent graduate, as the winner of a $1,000 award to recognize hard work both inside and outside the classroom.

“It is opportunities like this that show her employees that she’s invested in their futures,” Brown said. “Tricia stands behind everything that her employees stand for — drive, determination, heart, and community involvement.”

Bottom Line

Again, that’s real impact on real lives — something Canavan wondered whether she’d have when she left a career she loved eight years ago.

“As my mentor said, ‘you can have a voice. You can have impact,’” she recalled, quickly noting that scores of other women in the region are just as worthy of being called Women of Impact, and she hopes more of them are publicly recognized as such. “I’m always struck by how lucky I am that a handful of people brought me to the table. It’s a privilege to be able do all this.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

President, CEO, and General Manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

This Radio Pioneer Has Overcome Obstacles to Better Her Community

“Success,” Booker T. Washington once said, “is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

By both standards, Carol Moore Cutting is certainly a woman of impact.

It’s a quote she has long loved, not only because she admires Washington — who established Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she earned a degree and met her husband — but because of the truth it reflects about her own life, and the lives of others with a passion or dream that encounters stress, hardship, and opposition.

“Booker was very much an entrepreneurial person who built Tuskegee from nothing,” said Cutting, who grew up in a rural, segregated area of Alabama and came to Massachusetts with some entrepreneurial dreams of her own.

It was her husband’s first job that led them to settle in Longmeadow; Dr. Gerald Cutting, now retired, is a Boston native who eventually opened his own veterinary practice in Chicopee. Carol was initially struck by how difficult it was to connect with places where communities of color gathered — in particular, how little community information was available on the radio at the dawn of the ’70s.

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?’ As naïve as I was — I was very young — I began to do research at the library.” That research, on what was required to launch a career in broadcasting, led to a license from the Federal Communications Commission in 1971.

But that’s just the start of the story that saw the birth, 28 years later, of WEIB 106.3 FM in 1999 — currently the only locally owned commercial FM radio station in the Greater Springfield market, the only female-owned FM radio station in Massachusetts, and the only station — AM or FM — in New England owned by a person of color, and now celebrating its 20th anniversary of eclectic programming, community awareness, and, yes, impact.

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress,” said Irene Thornton, who is both an on-air host and a member of the administrative, operations, and sales team at WEIB, in nominating Cutting for this award.

“In a world dominated by men, she has made bold decisions to command an on-air staff that is overwhelming female,” Thornton added. “She has broken the well-established industry stereotype that women are to be relegated as a second voice, a two-dimensional entity on the radio, and has placed women in her prime-time programing schedule. These women, most without formal training in radio communication, were mentored by Mrs. Cutting to become recognized and award-winning on-air hosts. These voices, with her support, are setting a standard for the next generation of female broadcasters who want to pursue the airways as themselves.”

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?”

That sort of pass-it-on influence is gratifying to Cutting, who has drawn inspiration from a strong role model in her mother and a series of pioneers who came before her.

“We had no resources, no money, and we were young,” she said of her idea to create the radio station. “Looking back, you might say, ‘the nerve of you, how did you think you could do that?’ Well, Booker T. Washington built Tuskegee University from nothing, so why not?”

Heading North

Cutting traces much of her ambition, in broadcasting and in life, to high expectations placed on her by her educational mentors, but more importantly her mother.

“I was told I didn’t have to let where I came from dictate where I was going in life — because where I came from, as I said, was this very segregated, southern environment,” she recalled. “But I also came from a family where my mom was an excellent role model in terms of pushing yourself and striving toward your goal.”

Her mother, a teacher, was a role model in several ways, she explained — as a kind, giving person who embraced people, but also a determined, hard-working woman who would teach all day, then drive from Livingston to Montgomery for night school — a 120-mile trek each way — then go back to school the next day to teach.

“That was the kind of environment I grew up in,” Cutting said. So, when she caught the itch to build a radio station, she drew on the same sort of determination her mother had displayed. “We just believed, ‘why not? It’s a long shot, but why not?’ Fortunately, I had a supportive husband.”

Others were less supportive. Cutting applied for a construction license to build the station in 1984, but she had a long fight ahead, particularly with a competitor who fought her in various courts for a decade and a half.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a tough 15 years. To be honest, it was a lot of prayer and being patient because it did not happen as quickly as one would think,” she recalled. “But even if you’re discouraged and people challenge you, that doesn’t mean you should just stop because you’re afraid of them. Knowing he had more resources and he was already in broadcasting made it even more difficult. But I prevailed at every level, all the way to the D.C. Court of Appeals.”

Carol Moore Cutting with T.J. Williams, who has been able to combine his twin passions for music and marketing at the station.

At least the long fight gave her time to hone her vision of what the station should offer. By the time the WEIB started broadcasting in 1999, she had been part of civic life in Greater Springfield for almost three decades, developing an understanding of what would draw in listeners and, crucially, advertisers.

“Because of my learned experiences and growing up the way I did, I’m more focused on the community, so I wanted to incorporate community things as well as broaden the scope of listening opportunities with programming that didn’t exist in this area,” she explained, adding that music that stirred her spiritually was one consideration.

“As much as I like gospel music, this is a commercial radio station, and even though it was a deep part of my faith and upbringing, I wanted something that brought everyone into the mix,” she went on. “So I decided on smooth, contemporary jazz, but I didn’t want to say ‘smooth jazz.’”

In the end, the mix that emerged is what WEIB calls “cool jazz, smooth sounds, and a touch of soul, with a cutting-edge blend.”

“But it took me a while to commit to that,” she added, with the process entailing copious research, attending broadcasting conferences, and plenty of soul searching. “I wanted something anyone can listen to.”

That mix has drawn a loyal core of advertisers who appreciate the station’s blend of a rich musical experience with community-focused information. Cutting’s mission, Thornton said, “is about getting a message out to her dedicated and loyal listeners, who she sees as family. In her eyes, it is vital that they are aware that there is someone right here in their own backyard who can support their needs. By tying this together, she effectively affirms the concept that we are one community, which promotes businesses and individuals growing together.”

And because she’s so rooted and invested in the Greater Springfield community, it’s important to stay here — and stay independent — at a time when most stations are owned by large conglomerates, Cutting said.

“It’s been difficult at times. It’s challenging because of the consolidation in the industry. Other stations have told advertisers, ‘well, we can cover everything, the entire market. You don’t have to deal with this little, independent radio station.’ But that isn’t true because our listeners are loyal, and [larger entities] don’t reach the audience we reach.”

That reach isn’t just local, she noted, but regional and even global through WEIB’s website, from which anyone can listen live.

“We get people writing us from all over the world saying, ‘we wish your terrestrial radio station could reach us,’” she told BusinessWest. “ So, we have listeners, but it’s something we’ve had to build. It hasn’t come easy.”

Voices Raised

Cutting’s commitment to the community includes the arts, as she has sponsored myriad cultural organizations and jazz festivals in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Meanwhile, the station’s “WEIB After Work Cool Down” program has offered a platform for up-and-coming musicians to showcase their talent.

The station has also supported non-arts-related nonprofits over the years through announcements and coverage, some with media sponsorships, but some of it under the radar. For example, Cutting was personally moved by TommyCar Auto Group’s annual Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament, which raises money for brain-cancer research, because she had a friend with the same condition.

“We didn’t approach them as a sponsor, but we promoted the event because of its impact. We ran commercials about how people could get involved and put in on the website because it was creating awareness of something important,” she explained. “You don’t always have to get a pat on the back to do what’s right and use the resources you have.”

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress.”

Of course, “we also do things in conjunction with organizations,” she was quick to add. “You can’t give away everything. I have to be careful because I have a soft heart and I empathize and I’m touched by so many needs in the community. If I was rich and had the resources, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. But we do have the radio station to get messages out.”

While striking that balance between lending community support and paying the bills, it helps that the station, unlike so many in America today, is locally owned.

“Because it’s local, we don’t have to go to corporate to decide what can we support. If we want to do something for breast-cancer awareness and there’s an event going on, or something for prostate cancer, we can do it. That’s what we strive for.”

Paying those bills is still a challenge, she said, because some potential advertisers will never see the value in partnering with a station with roots that are deeper than they are geographically broad. “They don’t get what we have to offer them, which is unique, and something they’re not going to find anywhere else in this market.”

The mother of two and grandmother of eight, Cutting has also taken on a caregiver role these days to her ailing husband — but says it’s a role she appreciates, cherishing the whole of their life together.

“My faith has seen me through some very challenging times, and I would say it continues. My strength doesn’t come from me,” she noted. “I tell people, ‘have faith and maintain and hang in there,’ and that’s what I’m doing with this radio station. It hasn’t always been the easiest time, to be honest with you, because of the fear of those who would minimize the impact we have the community.”

Twenty years of listeners, and organizations that have heard their voices amplified on the airwaves, would agree. So would the young African-American women who see Cutting as a role model and trailblazer.

They want to be inspired, she said — “and not just women of color, but any woman — and, I would venture to say, any person, because there’s no gender line, no racial line. People need to be encouraged.”

After all, you don’t need to be a national media giant to have an outsized influence.

“Don’t judge us by our size, but by the impact we have on this community,” she said. “We’re not corporately run — we are community-focused, yet with a broader regional and international flavor because we can be heard throughout the world.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

She Helps People — and the Community — Get Where They Need to Be

Jean Deliso likes to say she is part financial advisor, part therapist.

This description of her work as owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in Agawam sums up not only what she does, but how she does it. Indeed, while the primary objective of her job is to provide financial advice to her clients, she is also committed to forming a personal relationship with each individual who sits in front of her in order to better understand exactly where they are financially and where they want to be — and help them get there.

This is especially true with women, a rewarding niche, if one chooses to call it that, for Deliso, who has, over the course of her 25-year career in this field, become a specialist in empowering women and positioning them for a solid financial future, as well as during times of transition, such as divorce and widowhood.

“I spend a lot of time trying to speak to women because I want them to not be afraid and get educated so they understand that the decision they make, or the lack of the decision they’re making, is going to make a difference in their lives,” Deliso told BusinessWest. “We deserve equality, but we as women need to believe that we deserve equality.”

But helping women — and all her clients — chart a course for a lifetime of financial stability is only one of many reasons why Deliso has been chosen as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

She is also heavily involved in the community, especially with groups and causes that impact children and families. She currently serves as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation, and is immediate past chairman of the Community Music School, for example, and is also past chair of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield and past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

Meanwhile, as the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs (more on that later), and a successful one herself, she is also a mentor to young entrepreneurs, especially women, through work with Valley Venture Mentors.

Talking about the various aspects of her life — her work, her involvement in the community, and her family life — Deliso said they all connect and flow together.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not. We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

“Some people are different at work than they are at home, but I’m the same way throughout,” she said. “I’ve really identified that my effort in my business matches what I do in the community, and matches who I am. All three components are aligned.”

Together, they make her a true Woman of Impact, as noted by Scott Berg, vice president of Philanthropy at Baystate Health, executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation — and a client of Deliso Financial Services, one of her several people who nominated her.

“Jean is an outstanding person, both professionally and personally. She has built a successful business focused on helping people reach their financial goals,” he wrote. “I believe the key to Jean’s business success has been her unwavering dedication to the community; she is a person, both in business and in the community, who leads by example.”

On-the-money Advice

Deliso told BusinessWest that her strong work ethic, commitment to the community, desire to help others, and, yes, leadership by example are all what she calls family traits.

Indeed, she said she grew up in a family of entrepreneurs — her grandfather, Joseph Deliso Sr., founded HBA Cast Products, later run by her father — who made a point of donating time, energy, and talent to the community.

Her grandfather was one of the founders of Springfield Technical Community College, and his name is on one of the academic buildings on the historic campus.

Jean Deliso doesn’t have any buildings named after her — yet. But she is certainly following the lead of the generations before her when it comes to being an entrepreneur and giving back.

“My work at the YMCA, the Community Music School, and Baystate is all about helping children and helping those in this community who are not as fortunate as I was growing up,” she said. “I had wonderful parents, great role models, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family who were community-minded and taught me that hard work, dedication, giving back, and being kind to others was the way to live.”

With regard to entrepreneurship, Deliso said she knew early on that she wanted to work for herself, and she’s been doing that for 20 years now. After working in the family business in Florida, she relocated to Western Mass., where she consulted with small-business owners on financial operations and maximizing performance. She then segued into financial planning and has become a regional leader in that field.

Jean Deliso, seen here speaking with attendees at a Baystate Health Foundation event, has continued a family tradition of being active within the community.

She has been a New York Life agent since 1995, and is associated with the company’s Connecticut Valley General Office in Windsor, Conn. She is currently enjoying her seventh year as part of New York Life’s Chairman’s Council, ranking in the top 3% of the company’s sales force of more than 12,000 agents.

While such honors and accolades are rewarding, Deliso finds it more rewarding to assist individual clients, guide them through what can be a very difficult process at times, and help them make the right decisions to set them up for a financially stable future.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not,” she said. “We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

This is particularly true with women, she noted, adding that they often outlive their husbands and, too often, are not involved in the family’s financial planning.

“I like to educate women because I cringe when I hear the words, ‘oh, I’ll let my husband take care of that,’” Deliso said. “The value of a woman is so important, and I think we, as women, undervalue ourselves a lot.”

So, Deliso and her “small but mighty staff,” as she describes it, helps clients set goals and objectives, and then assists them with getting from point A (where they are) to point B (where they want to be, up to retirement and then through it).

“I will find the disconnects from where they are versus where they want to be, and I help them build this bridge to get them to where they want to be,” she said, adding that this sometimes includes asking difficult questions.

“She is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music.”

These include ‘have you thought of the what-ifs?’ and ‘are you prepared?’

All too often, the answers the answer to those questions is ‘no,’ she went on, adding that she has a passion for turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’

Balance Sheet

To get this point across, Deliso summoned a case from very early in her career — new clients who provided a critical lesson in being ready for one of those ‘what ifs.’

A young couple in their 30s had two young children and wanted to buy a house. Deliso sat down with them and talked about their goals and asked them those difficult questions mentioned above, especially the one about what would happen if something happened to one of them.

The couple decided they wanted college taken care of for their two children, and also wanted to take care of their mortgage. So, Deliso put them on a savings plan, bought them life insurance, and got them on track to start saving money.

Two years after she started working with this couple, she got a call from the husband: his wife passed away at the age of 32.

His first question, Deliso recalled, was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Her quick answer was that he could do it because of the plan she put in place for him.

“From that moment, those two children went to college because we put money aside for that college education,” she said. “We paid off most of the mortgage because I made sure that that family would be fine if one of those incomes went away, and that’s exactly what happened. This was so powerful that it cemented me in this career.”

Likewise, her family’s deep commitment to the community cemented in her the need to get involved and stay involved. And, as noted, this involvement often involves institutions and initiatives with missions focused on families and children.

Berg summed up this commitment in his nomination of Deliso.

“In addition to impacting the lives of her clients, she has influenced, both directly and indirectly, countless lives through her volunteer efforts at the Baystate Health Foundation, the YMCA, and the Community Music School,” he wrote. “As can be seen in the agencies with which she has given so much time, she is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music. This dedication to our youngest community members is truly an investment in the next generation of our community’s leaders.”

Elaborating, Berg noted that how Deliso serves the community is as important as where she trains those efforts, specifically with enthusiasm that is contagious and strong leadership.

“When Jean presents to the Baystate Health Foundation board of trustees, she strives to make her words resonate, to encourage introspection, and to promote enthusiasm,” he wrote. “Her passion is a reminder to all trustees why they have chosen to commit themselves to moving the foundation mission forward and the true impact it has on its beneficiaries. Jean is exactly what you would want in a leader.”

Her leadership skills were recognized, and applauded, by the Professional Women’s Chamber, which named her Woman of the Year in 2013.

Investments in the Community

As noted, there were several nominations for the Woman of Impact honor with Deliso’s name on them. Collectively, they do a fine job of explaining why she was chosen.

In hers, Judy Moore, director of Client Management at Deliso Financial, noted that working for Deliso has given her an inside look at all the hard work she invests in order to ensure her clients get the best service possible.

“Working for her for 11 years, I can attest to the fact that her high level of professionalism and ethics is astonishing, and her clients reap the benefits of that on a daily basis,” said Moore. “She never tires of giving back to the community and making lives better through her various work, both professionally and altruistically.”

Those sentiments effectively sum up both Deliso’s life’s work and her commitment to the community. In both realms, she always has one eye on today, and the other on tomorrow.

“What I do for a living makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “If I can make an impact on someone’s life, that’s a good day.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C.

She’s Made It Her Mission to Help Others Get Connected

‘Hi, Ellen. I hope all is well. I can’t wait to see you soon and hear all about your trip! My colleague Erica is very interested in getting even more deeply connected to the philanthropic life of the Greater Springfield area. Your name immediately came to mind, and I thought you both would have a lot to discuss.
Erica: Ellen is incredible! Please feel free to connect directly.’

Ellen Freyman doesn’t know how many e-mails like this one she’s received over the past few decades, but she does know it’s a big number. And she’s proud of each one.

The subject matter varies slightly (she’s obviously not recently back from a trip in all cases), but there are similar themes and like words and phrases used, and, yes, probably lots of smile emojis.

In short, this missive she agreed to share, sent by an executive at a large local employer, sums up perfectly why Freyman, an attorney with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, is a Woman of Impact and, well, what makes her tick, to summon a phrase from another time.

In short, Freyman’s name is the one that immediately comes to mind when people such as the executive who sent this note want to help others get more connected to the philanthropic life of this region.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating.”

That’s what Freyman does. It’s not all she does, as we’ll see. But that’s mostly what she does, and that’s what she believes is her biggest impact within the region.

She connects people with opportunities to get involved with their community, especially people new to this region and its business community, and also members of what would still be called the ‘minority community’ even though they’re not the minority anymore in Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she regularly gets e-mails like the one above asking her to make connections and introduce people to one another. “That’s what we need in this community — people working collaboratively — and that’s what I like to do.”

These sentiments explain why she founded an organization called OnBoard, which works to make some of those connections she spoke of and help organizations achieve not only diversity but cultural sensitivity by enlisting women, people of color, and other under-represented populations to their boards.

The nonprofit organization stages a biannual event at the Basketball Hall of Fame designed specifically to help organizations and people looking to get involved make much-needed introductions.

“I call it a cross between speed dating and a job fair,” said Freyman, noting that the event involves a host of area nonprofits with small tables arranged in a horseshoe. Attendees — those individuals looking to get involved — move from table to table looking for good fits.

The next event is slated for December (no specific date has been set), and Freyman is working hard to secure strong representation on both sides of the equation.

As she talked with BusinessWest for this story, Freyman brought along a cheat sheet of sorts — and she really needs one. It’s a running list of the boards and organizations she’s serving on or has served on in the past. There’s also a compilation of awards she’s won — and there have been many.

They range from BusinessWest’s Difference Makers Award (presented a decade ago) to the Pynchon Award; from Rotary International’s coveted Paul Harris Fellowship to Mass. Lawyers Weekly’s Top Women in Law Award.

The board-activity list is quite impressive as well, and includes everything from the Community Music School to Elms College to the World Affairs Council. Equally impressive, though, is her desire, as she put it, to replace herself on all those boards and get other people involved with those organizations and the community at large.

“I want all of these boards to have younger people on them — new blood,” she said as she ran her finger down the list. “And I want these boards to have memberships that look like the community today — not what it looked like years ago.”

She said this process of replacing herself will take place over the next few years and certainly by the time she retires — six years from now is the plan. In retirement, she might sit on a board or two, but her real ambition is to return to the classroom (that’s where she started her career) and teach adult basic education to refugees and others. But that’s another story.

This one’s about making connections and creating diversity, and those are the reasons why Freyman is a Woman of Impact.

Creating a Deeper Pool

Freyman said she’s made it a habit in recent years to stop for a minute at each event she attends — and there are several each week, and often a few each day, during the busy seasons in the spring and fall — and also at each board gathering, and do some counting.

Ellen Freyman says she launched OnBoard to help individuals get involved in their communities, and also assist area nonprofits and institutions with achieving diversity.

Specifically, she’s counting the Hispanics and African-Americans in whatever room she happens to be in, hoping that the number will represent something approximating the demographic profile of the Greater Springfield area.

Rarely, she said, does it meet that threshold.

“No one wants it to be that way — no one,” Freyman told BusinessWest, adding that there are reasons why boards and gatherings lack diversity. For starters, while there are some candidates, the number is not as high as it should be given this region’s demographic profile, she said, adding that many groups need introductions to the many fine candidates that are in the 413.

Creating a larger pool of candidates, and then making these connections, has become Freyman’s life’s work outside of her life’s work.

And that is a law practice focused on several specialties, but especially commercial transactions and commercial real estate.

She segued into law after stints in the classroom and as a commercial banker, and joined Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin in 1988. Even before that, though, she was getting involved in the community.

She started with Jewish Family Services (JFS) in 1984, not long after she relocated to this region and joined Third National Bank as an auditor training to be a loan officer — and also not long after she enrolled at Western New England University School of Law.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that.”

She recalls having lunch with Steve Dane, principal with the accounting firm Themistos & Dane, and asking how she could get involved. Dane was on the JFS board at the time and asked her if she wanted to join him.

She did, got very involved with the group’s efforts to assist Russian refugees, and soon added the board of the Springfield Museums to her schedule. And many others followed.

But her work in the community has involved much more than board sitting. Indeed, she has been very active in raising money for many of the groups she’s been involved with, and also with identifying, and in many cases mentoring, the next generation of leadership for those organizations.

Indeed, looking back to that lunch with Steve Dane, she said she’s doing for others what he did for her nearly 40 years ago — helping them get involved in their community.

Freyman said the initial impetus for OnBoard, which she created in the mid-’90s, was to get more women involved and on area boards.

“But immediately afterward, I realized that we’re not the only voice that’s missing,” she said. “We need to focus on all under-represented groups, and we have.”

In December, the nonprofit will stage its sixth board-matching event, she noted, adding that, to date, the initiative has had a good amount of success with connecting members of those under-represented groups to opportunities to get involved. But there is still work to be done when it comes to making boards, businesses, and, yes, those myriad events where Freyman takes a head count more diverse.

Overall, she wants other boards, commissions, and businesses to look like the Springfield Rotary Club, which is much smaller than it was years ago (all service clubs are), but more diverse, in large part because Freyman, who has been a member for nearly 30 years now, has recruited members of minority communities. And like the Springfield City Council, which is far more diverse than it was years ago because candidates from underserved constituencies have come forward and become candidates for those seats.

“The Springfield City Council looks like the city,” she said, putting a verbal exclamation point on that statement, adding that other groups need to take on that quality, not for the sake of numbers, but because boards and commissions are more effective, she believes, when their membership mirrors the community they’re serving.

How can boards become more diverse?

Well, Freyman, without exactly saying so, suggested this goal could be achieved if more people worked as she does to make connections and help others get involved.

This, as she said, is her most meaningful contribution locally, far more than her work on any specific board — or all the boards she’s served on over the past 35 years.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that,” she told BusinessWest. “What’s nice is that people do think of me as someone who can help them connected. People will say, ‘someone told me you’re the person I need to talk with if I want to get involved’ — I get those calls and e-mails all the time, and it makes me feel like I am helping to create progress.”

And these efforts extend to replacing herself on many of the boards she’s currently on.

“I want to open up my seat — I don’t want to take the spot of someone who should be there,” she said, using that phrase to reference younger people and those of color.

Overall, she believes progress is being made on this broad front — she noted that Springfield’s hiring of a diversity officer is a significant step in the right direction — but that much work still needs to be done.

Walking the Walk

The OnBoard website features a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that sums up not only its mission, but Freyman’s considerable impact in the community: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

Freyman has always done a lot for others, whether it’s donating time and imagination to a board, helping to raise money for a nonprofit, or assisting refugees as they try become part of the community.

But her biggest contribution has been prompting others to ask that question posed by Dr. King — and then answer it in a resounding, meaningful way.

And that’s why, as the e-mail writer noted, “Ellen is incredible.”

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Former Mayor Says Making an Impact Recharges Her Batteries

As she talked about her lengthy career in public service and her philosophy about such work, Mary Hurley summoned a 30-year-old memory that certainly speaks volumes about why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Then mayor of Springfield — the first (and still only) woman to sit in the corner office — she was eating dinner at the kitchen table with her husband, Michael (now deceased), when the phone rang.

Michael picked up the call and encountered a very frustrated man on the line complaining that his trash didn’t get picked up. After assuring the caller he would pass the message along to his wife, he looked at her and said, “if a Chrysler breaks down, do they call Lee Iacocca?”

Mary recalls telling him, and she’s paraphrasing, that maybe they don’t call the CEO of Chrysler when their car won’t start, but they do call the CEO of the city when their trash is still sitting on the curb.

“I told him it’s a 24/7 job,” Hurley recalled, adding that, throughout her long career, she’s made it a point to know not just the formal job description for the various positions she’s held, but everything that goes into each job, right down to making sure the trash gets picked up.

That goes for her stint as mayor, her lengthy career on the bench as a District Court judge, her time on the City Council before becoming mayor, her tenure in the city’s Law Department before running for City Council, and her current work on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, which she was elected to in 2017 after “coming out of retirement,” as she put it.

It was a short retirement, and not retirement as most know it — she left the bench in 2014 only to again practice law (she’s of counsel to the firm Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley) — because she decided she certainly wasn’t through serving people in the four western counties of Massachusetts and being a strong advocate for this region.

“It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people.”

Indeed, since being elected to the Governor’s Council for the Eighth District, she has worked tirelessly to not only fill vacancies on the bench — a problem she recognized while serving as a justice — but push for geographical equity in the Bay State concerning the appointment of judges and clerks. And she’s helped achieve progress in both areas.

“When I started in this judgeship, we had 28 judges out here in the District Court in this region, and when I left, we had 19; you try running a business when a third of your workforce is gone,” she said, adding that, since taking office, these numbers have improved considerably.

Looking back on her career, and ahead — she’s planning to seek re-election to the Governor’s Council — Hurley said she’s driven by a desire to help people, usually at a difficult time in their life, and use her knowledge and skills to make an impact. Succeeding in that quest has provided lasting rewards, as another story, this one from just a few years ago, makes clear.

“I was getting a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, and the girl who was waiting on me said, ‘you were my judge; you turned my life around,’” Hurley recalled. “It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people. It gives you a really long-lasting, good feeling. It’s like verification that you actually made a difference.”

There are a great many people who can say the same thing as that young woman in the coffee shop, people who can say that Hurley helped turn their lives around. And that’s why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Making Her Case

Looking back on her life and her career, Hurley said there were a few pivotal moments that positioned her to be able to make a difference in so many lives.

The first occurred at Elms College, where she was training to be a teacher, but, after some experience in the classroom practice teaching, she decided this wasn’t the route she was destined to take.

“I knew after practicing teaching that the one thing I didn’t want to do was teach school,” she said with a laugh, adding that, while she gives credit to all who do this extremely difficult job, it simply wasn’t for her.

Instead, she decided to enroll in law school with the goal of following in her father’s footsteps as a criminal lawyer. She got accepted into Boston College, but chose to go to Western New England University so she could take classes at night and work at her father’s office in Springfield during the day.

“That first year … I knew I loved it,” she said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

The second ‘moment,’ if you will, involved an internship she landed during law school in Springfield’s Law Department, an opportunity that put her on a path to a career in both the law and public service.

“My summer internship at the city Law Department was key to exposing me to the political side of things up close,” said Hurley, who would later serve as assistant city solicitor. “If I didn’t have that experience, my life would have been totally different.”

Mary Hurley has had many titles attached to her name over the years, including city councilor, mayor, and District Court judge.

Wanting to make an even deeper impact in the community, and with a little encouragement from former City Solicitor Frank Antonucci, Hurley ran for City Council. After coming up short in two bids, one to now-U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, she eventually served two terms on the council, an experience that only fueled her passion for serving the city she grew up in.

Indeed, when Neal, after becoming mayor, decided to run for Congress in 1988, Hurley triumphed in a special election to become the city’s first woman CEO.

But her mettle, and her ability to work with others to solve hard problems, was tested immediately, as she assumed the corner office during what became very difficult times for the city financially.

“I walked in the door, and [Massachusetts Gov. Michael] Dukakis was running for president,” she recalled, referring to the 1988 election eventually won by George H.W. Bush. “So all the financial problems in the state got swept under the rug. I had to lay off 850 people the first six weeks I was in office.”

The financial situation was so dire that Hurley convinced voters to override Proposition 2½ and raise their taxes by about $9.2 million — to this day, she is still the only mayor of a large metropolitan city to do this.

The override and the massive layoffs were just some of the steps Hurley took to lead the city back to financial stability, and, looking back, she counts this among her most significant — and rewarding — accomplishments.

“Springfield has always been my home,” she told BusinessWest. “I was proud to be able to get us through a serious financial crisis without having to close the schools, without having to go into bankruptcy, and coming up with some changes in the law that required a balanced budget and fiscal accountability.”

Court of Opinion

After serving two terms as mayor, Hurley decided to go back into private practice for a short time in 1991, becoming a principal of the firm Cooley Shrair, before she was encouraged to apply for a judgeship. She was sworn in as a District Court judge on Sept. 29, 1995 and served until July 4, 2014, when she ‘retired.’

But, as noted, it was not a typical retirement, and it didn’t last very long.

“My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

“For the first six months after I retired, I didn’t do anything,” she recalled. “There was a prohibition against me practicing law because I was a judge, so I bought a place in Florida. I was going to retire, play golf, and that was going to be it. But I just got caught up in the whole political scene again, and here I am.”

By that, she was referring to her decision to run for the Governor’s Council, a return to public service sparked by her concern about how understaffed the courts were with judges. She decided to run for the council in an effort to do something about it.

She recalls putting 30,000 miles on her car while campaigning hard in all four western counties during that 2016 election, introducing herself to people unfamiliar with her record in Springfield or on the bench. She eventually triumphed, earning 60% of the vote.

In her first year in office, she worked with the Baker administration to fill a number of vacancies: six new District Court judges, three Superior Court judges, three Probate Court judges, two Juvenile Court judges, and clerks in Orange and Chicopee. Of the new judges appointed, nine are women, a development she’s very proud of.

“I want to continue to keep the courts supplied with good personnel because I truly believe, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” she said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

She told BusinessWest that what’s important is not just filling vacancies, but filling them with the right people, which is a huge part of her work on the Governor’s Council.

She said the judicial nomination process is a lengthy one, with the council reviewing applications and interviewing candidates and ultimately making recommendations to the governor.

For each nominee, Hurley reads a 40-page application, interviews the candidates, and vets each person thoroughly to determine if they are right for the bench. And she uses her years of experience in public service to help guide her as she goes about such difficult and important work.

“I’m very interested and concerned about temperament, their character, what kind of involvement they’ve had in their local community, and who they have for references,” she said, adding that their experience, knowledge of the law, and what kind of judgeship the individual is seeking are all factors as well. “It’s also important to me to look at how they treat people in the courthouse. How do they treat the court officers? How do they treat their clients and the other lawyers that are on the other side of cases?”

Final Argument

Hurley said she plans to run for the Governor’s Council again in 2020 because, well, she’s a “glutton for punishment.”

That’s one way to describe nearly four decades of public service. She has many others, as well.

Indeed, she describes such work, as tedious as it can sometimes be, as immensely rewarding. For proof, she retells stories like the one involving the waitress in the coffee shop and her husband taking that phone call back when she was mayor.

Such seemingly small moments, she said, have a big impact and get her through the hardest of times. As a judge, it was a parent coming up to her and saying, ‘thank you for saving my child’s life.’ As mayor, it was someone thanking her for doing a great job.

“I could walk into an elevator frustrated as hell; there’s all kinds of stuff going on in the city, and you’re the mayor, and there’s a budget crisis, or it’s this or it’s that,” she said. “Then, someone walks into the elevator and says, ‘thanks for the job you’re doing.’ It gives you that little charge. It literally recharges my batteries.

“I never planned to do any of these things, but it just all fell into place,” she went on, adding that having family and friends by her side got her through the ups and the downs over the years. “You’re not here by yourself; your family, your friends, they all affect how you do things, what you’re able to do, and what motivates you to do the best you can.”

Hurley has been doing the best she can throughout her lengthy career, and success at each stop, in the many ways it can be measured, has certainly made her a Woman of Impact.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Assistant Superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

This Educator and Leader Strives to Position Students for Success

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez says she entered the education field somewhat by default.

As she tells the story, she was working first at American Airlines at its reservation desk in Hartford and then Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield doing similar work just to make ends meet.

And then … she took a job as a substitute teacher and, as she put it, “got the bug.”

Big time.

Nearly a quarter-century after entering that fifth-grade classroom at Samuel Bowles Elementary School as a sub, she is the assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (SPS). This is a position with a broad job description, as we’ll see, and one that ensures that each day is not like the one before it or the one after it.

She likes that aspect of it, certainly, but what she enjoys most is the challenge — and the opportunity — of positioning young people for success later in life, and this, when you get right down to it, is the basic job description for every one of the more than 4,000 people working for Springfield Public Schools.

It’s one of the many aspects of her work she is passionate about, as evidenced by these comments about the Working Cities Challenge — an initiative led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to create opportunities for low-income residents of smaller cities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — and Springfield’s involvement in it.

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally,” said Martinez-Alvarez, a core member of the team leading the city’s efforts within the program. “I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.

“That didn’t sit well with me,” she went on. “So when the opportunity came about to create a group to try to close that gap of unemployed and underemployed individuals, I jumped on it.”

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally. I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.”

She has jumped on a number of strategic initiatives to take what has long been one of Springfield’s weakest links — its school system — and make it an asset.

These efforts are still very much a work in progress, but there are encouraging signs.

Indeed, when Martinez-Alvarez and Superintendent Dan Warwick took their respective positions in 2012, the graduation rate in Springfield was 56.6%, and the dropout rate was 6.5%. Today, those numbers are 76.9% and 5.1%, respectively, rates of improvement that are among the most, if not the most, significant in the Commonwealth.

When asked what’s behind them, Martinez-Alvarez said there are many factors, but especially ongoing work to promote parental engagement and work vigorously to keep kids in school.

Summing it all up, she said it comes down to building relationships with those at every level of the equation — students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, and the community — and also creating more accountability.

While building these relationships, SPS works to develop plans for specific schools that will set goals for improvement, measure results, and keep the school in question on the desired track. And these are group efforts that involve many stakeholders.

Such efforts have generated improvement on many levels, including progress with taking a number of underperforming schools (formerly known as Level 4 schools) off that list (although many remain on it), and moving the needle in the right direction on graduation and dropout rates.

But the ultimate goal is to ensure that students can take those diplomas and use them to not only enter the workforce, but thrive within it.

And Martinez-Alvarez believes the system is making progress in this realm through initiatives ranging from internship and work programs to the new Conservatory of the Arts being created in the former Masonic Temple on State Street.

While playing a significant role is all these initiatives, Martinez-Alvarez, the first Hispanic to hold the assistant superintendent’s position in Springfield, has become a role model to all young women, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike, who aspire to careers in education.

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, left, seen here with Annamarie Golden, director of Community Relations at Baystate Medical Center at Baystate’s recent Adopt-a-Classroom Challenge, has been instrumental in helping Springfield’s schools get the tools they need to succeed.

That’s a role, like her one with the School Department, that she takes very seriously, and that’s one of many reasons why the judges have chosen her as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

Learning Curves

Martinez-Alvarez remembers a few intriguing, somewhat awkward, but ultimately “neat” moments when she became assistant principal of Chestnut Accelerated Middle School.

And perhaps with good reason.

After all, she attended the old Chestnut Middle decades earlier, and some of those who taught her were still at their jobs.

“All of a sudden, I became their boss, and that was interesting,” she recalled. “I would still call them … Miss Taylor, for example, and she would say, ‘no, Lydia, you don’t have to call me that.’ It was like I was still afraid of her, she was still my teacher; I couldn’t flip the relationship for some reason. But we did some really good things, and they were very supportive.”

Martinez-Alvarez has enjoyed a good deal of support during a 23-year career that has taken her from the classroom at Forest Park Middle School to the principal’s office at Chestnut to the administration offices of Springfield Public Schools.

Looking back on it, she said there has been a succession of opportunities made available to her, and she has taken advantage of each one — starting with that substitute teaching assignment.

After getting the ‘bug,’ as she put it, she knew she would need more than her degree in Business Management from Westfield State University to go any further in education. She consulted with David Cruise, then HR director of SPS (now director of MassHire Springfield) about charting a new career course. She earned her MAT (master’s degree in teaching) at Elms College, and while doing so took a job teaching Spanish part-time at Forest Park Middle School.

That job eventually led to a full-time teaching post at Forest Park Middle, during which Martinez-Alvarez said she was encouraged by her principal to get her administrators license. She did, taking part in both the Lead program within SPS and returning to Westfield State to earn her certificate of advanced graduate studies in education administration. She eventually became certified as a principal.

When asked about the shift from teaching to administration, Martinez-Alvarez said she started to take on administrative duties at Forest Park Middle — everything from the yearbook to creation of an annual talent show to MCAS tutoring — and enjoyed those assignments. With some encouragement, she decided to alter her career goals.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself,” she told BusinessWest, adding that this was the case with her principal at Forest Park Middle, Carol Fazio, who became a mentor in many respects.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

“She said, ‘I would love for you to become an assistant principal,’ Martinez-Alvarez recalled. “When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she said ‘absolutely,’ and that prompted me to go back to Westfield State and enter Project Lead.”

She interned at Forest Park Middle, and when Jesus Jara was named superintendent of the High School of Science and Technology in 2003, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as one of four assistant principals, a challenge she accepted.

“He gave me the 9th-graders,” she recalled, putting an exclamation point on that comment while acknowledging that was a logical move because she just came from a middle-school environment and knew many of the 9th-graders. “That’s a hard assignment for a newcomer like me, but it was fascinating; I really enjoyed the challenge.”

That has been a consistent theme throughout a career that saw her then take the helm at Chestnut Accelerated Middle School, which at the time, in 2004, had more than 1,200 students, an assignment that is in many ways a microcosm of her career and her commitment to help students succeed.

Grade Expectations

Like Sci Tech, as it’s called, Chestnut was facing a number of serious challenges when she arrived, including high absenteeism, a high suspension rate, test scores she described simply as “not so great,” and a relatively poor level of parental engagement.

She addressed those issues the same way she and the team at Sci Tech did, and the one the current administration does now.

“We really took a deep dive into what was happening through quantitative and qualitative data,” she explained. “We took a good look at who the teachers were, their strengths and weaknesses and attributes, and made some changes around the needs of the children.

“We had to look at everything, from the way the children were interacting in the halls to the PE schedule to the lunch schedule, and adjust according to the needs of the children,” she went on, stressing that word ‘we,’ and noting that this was a team effort.

And an effort focused on building those relationships she mentioned earlier, including one with the neighborhood, Plainfield, that surrounded the school.

“Many of our teachers at the time didn’t know the community, and they were afraid of it in many ways,” she explained. “Plainfield had a reputation which I didn’t agree with because I’d always lived in that part of town; I didn’t see what others saw. I saw a beautiful community filled with beautiful people. So we did a lot around the community so people would get to know it and people would get to know us.”

Martinez-Alvarez remained at Chestnut until 2008, when she became senior administrator for the Leadership Continuum and was named to the system’s senior leadership team.

Near the end of 2009, she became chief schools officer for Zone 3, meaning she supervised and led nine middle schools and high schools in the city. And when Warwick became superintendent in 2012, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as assistant superintendent.

As noted earlier, this position comes with a detailed job description and a host of responsibilities.

Running through them quickly, she’s involved in all school initiatives, but specifically oversees everything from IT to attendance; from college readiness to summer school; from student services to Springfield School Volunteers.

That list also includes athletics and, most recently, work to identify the latest members to be enshrined into the SPS Sports Hall of Fame and the naming of its class of 2019, to be honored on Nov. 23 at Central High School.

Slicing through everything within her job description, Martinez-Alvarez said she and all those in administration at SPS are charged with positioning teachers, schools, and students for success.

This brings her back to those aforementioned strategies developed for specific schools within the system in conjunction with the state — and the relationship-building efforts with the many stakeholders involved with these strategic initiatives. And also to something she called “learning walks,” which are taken after plans are created and put into place.

“We need to monitor things and make sure these plans are not dust collectors on the shelf — that they’re live plans that are being fulfilled,” she explained. “We do learning walks — we go through the classrooms and look for evidence that change is occurring and that we’re doing what we told the state we were going to do to in order to make progress and close the learning gap for our students.”

Such initiatives have succeeded in helping 10 city schools exit the list of underperforming facilities, she went on, adding that several are still in underperforming status.

Overall, she believes SPS has turned a corner of sorts over the past several years.

“There are many things we’ve been doing, and that I’ve become personally involved with, to change the dynamics of what’s happening not only in our schools, but in our city,” she told BusinessWest. “And I believe we’re making some real progress.”

That phrase extends to efforts to close that gap involving the unemployed and underemployed, she said, adding that, through a host of initiatives, students are more workforce-ready when they take their diploma on graduation day.

Class Act

When asked to look back at her career to date and identify what she’s most proud of, Martinez-Alvarez didn’t hesitate.

“It’s the work to ensure that our students have the best possible learning experiences before they leave us, and that there’s something for them to go to when they leave,” she said. “It’s not just taking them to the end of their time with us — it’s about where they’re going next and preparing them for that.”

As noted, significant progress has been made in this realm, and Martinez-Alvarez has been a real force in making it come about.

And that’s just one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Executive Director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Girls Inc. Leader Is an Innovator, Role Model, and Inspiration

The phone call came roughly 13 years ago, but Suzanne Parker remembers it like it was yesterday.

It came several days after she had agreed to become the new executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, but a few days before she officially took the helm. The caller was informing her that the nonprofit was not going to be able to make payroll that week — unless some action was taken.

“I said, ‘you have a line of credit — and you’re going to have to use it,’ she recalled, adding that this was an expensive but very necessary step for an organization that had relied heavily on a federal grant that was due to expire soon and essentially lacked a plan for sustainability.

As she recounted that phone call all these years later, Parker said she wasn’t entirely surprised by it — “I went into this with my eyes wide open,” she told BusinessWest, noting that she was well aware of the agency’s fiscal condition — and not at all fazed by it.

“I like a good challenge — I knew what I was getting into,” she said, adding that she was in many ways motivated by the situation she found herself in.

Indeed, within a year she had righted the financial ship at the agency through a series of cost-cutting and revenue-generating steps (more on those later) and recalls with a huge dose of pride that she has never again had to tap that aforementioned line of credit.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”

But Parker, who earned a law degree earlier in her career and has certainly put it to very good use in her position, has done much more than put Girls Inc. of Holyoke on solid financial footing. Since becoming executive director in late 2006, she has led the nonprofit on an ambitious course of expansion — geographically, programmatically, and in terms of its overall impact to the region as a whole and to the individual girls who walk through the door.

For starters, she has taken the organization beyond its original borders and into Springfield and Chicopee, territorial expansion that has prompted a name change to Girls Inc. of the Valley. She has also helped introduce new programs, including the hugely successful Eureka program, an innovative and intensive five-year program that Girls Inc. operates in partnership with UMass Amherst and which is developing a pipeline of girls into STEM majors and careers.

Overall, Parker has become deeply and energetically involved in every aspect of the program, from board recruitment to fundraising; from events management to marketing.

And the results have been stunning, with the local chapter of Girls Inc. winning recognition for its efforts regionally — the nonprofit was named one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2018, for example — and within the Girls Inc. network, especially for its innovative programming.

Melyssa Brown-Porter, chair of the Girls Inc. board, put Parker’s impact on the nonprofit, area girls, and the region in its proper perspective while nominating her to be a Woman of Impact.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold,” she wrote. “She is extremely passionate about the work that GI is doing for girls and the communities they live in. She is always looking out for the best interest of the girls and concentrates very hard on the results programming has on their lives. Her focus is to reach and serve more girls with impact on our community.

“Suzanne has been an innovator and leader throughout her career,” Brown-Porter went on. “In tune with workforce needs and changes in the economy, Suzanne was piloting state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering, and math programs for girls long before STEM became the focus that is today.”

Innovator. Leader. Inspiration. These are the words many people have used to describe Parker’s work not only at Girls Inc., but at Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start before that and other stops on a lengthy career working with and on behalf of young people.

Some of her best work, however, may be as a role model for the girls who come into the program.

Indeed, Parker, who became a mother at 41, has managed to effectively balance work, life at home, and deep involvement in the community, meaning that girls looking for proof that all that can be accomplished need only walk down a few doors at the Girls Inc. complex in Open Square.

And now, those looking for more descriptive terms that can be applied to Parker have three more — Woman of Impact. Although, truth be told, they’ve probably been using them all along.

Orchestrating Progress

Parker joked that, while she played the clarinet well in her youth growing up in Belchertown — and later in some impressive performance venues, like the Esplanade and Government Center in Boston — she didn’t play it well enough to get paid to do it.

But her love of music prompted her to get a degree in music education from UMass Amherst and eventually teach instrumental band music at Cohasset Middle School. And that’s a good place to begin our story, because it was there that Parker developed an interest in working with young people — and a passion for helping those less privileged.

Seen here with some members of Girls Inc. of the Valley, Suzanne Parker has become a mentor and role model for many members.

“Cohasset was a very affluent community, and, with my humble beginnings in Belchertown, it was a little bit of a culture shock for me,” she explained. “The students I connected with the most were those who were part of the METCO program, mostly students of color living in Dorchester.

“It was important to me to make sure they were included in the band,” she went on. “I also wanted to include kids of different abilities, something that wasn’t the case when I got there, thus creating an environment and atmosphere where there was a lot of inclusion. That’s what I was most proud of from my work there.”

These themes of inclusion and working to provide opportunities to those less fortunate would define her work throughout her career.

Fast-forwarding a little, Parker said she soon realized that she wanted and needed more than teaching, but didn’t know exactly what. She started by returning to Western Mass. and working in sales for a time. Her career path took a rather sharp turn, however, when she saw a sign on the roadside advertising for Head Start substitute teachers.

She knew was overqualified, but took the job anyway, with her first assignment at the Westover Air Reserve center for Head Start. She spent the next 16 years moving up the ladder, serving in a number of roles and eventually deputy director.

Along the way, she realized she needed another degree, and after considering several options, including a master’s in social work and a master’s in education — she settled on a law degree.

“A friend of mine who I grew up with decided to go to law school at Western New England University, and he passed,” she recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘I know that guy — I think I’m as smart as this guy; I think I can do it.’”

So she applied, received some needed financial aid, and went to law school part-time at night, commencing an arduous journey that ended in 2003 when she passed the bar.

“There were many days of tears because I was working tons of hours as a senior-level exec at Head Start,” she said in reference to the difficult task of balancing everything she was doing at the time. “But I did it.”

And now, her very unofficial job description at Girls Inc. is to not only show young girls that they, too, can do it — but to give them a road map for getting where they want to go and the tools to get on the right course and stay on it.

Degrees of Progress

As noted, she has put that law degree to good use, providing ample evidence that such an education isn’t just for those who want to work in the courtroom.

“I use it every day,” she told BusinessWest. “That law-school education helps you every day as an executive director. I use it with everything I’m involved with: contracts, employees, real estate, administrative law — we have federal and state funding — as well as writing skills — I was on the Law Review. It was a really great education, and it has really helped me.

Beyond serving as a great advertisement for law school, those comments hint at Parker’s broad job description at Girls Inc. Slicing through it all, though, her primary work early on involved turning the organization around, putting it on solid financial ground and a path to sustainability — and keeping it on that path.

“It’s all about the mission. It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.”

She’s done that through a variety of measures, including some restructuring, belt-tightening, and the establishment of several of reliable fundraisers, especially the annual Spirit of Girls breakfast, launched in 2007, which does a lot more than raise roughly $150,000 each year, although that is certainly significant.

Indeed, girls involved in the program are heavily involved with the event, and several take to the microphone — in front of an audience of more than 500 people — to talk about Girls Inc. and how it is impacting their lives.

“We keep the expenses incredibly low; it’s a light breakfast, and we don’t pay for speakers — the girls are the speakers,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s an empowering experience for the girls themselves — they take leadership roles in this event.”

The breakfast is just one of the ways the organization works to empower girls and put them on the path to becoming leaders — in their chosen fields and the community as well.

Looking ahead, Parker said the obvious goal is to broaden the regional impact of Girls Inc. and continue those efforts to give the nonprofit the same qualities it strives to give young girls — to be strong, smart, and bold.

Thus, the agency will look to continually extend its reach within Springfield and Chicopee, while keeping Holyoke as its home and base. Finding a new, permanent home is one of the assignments moving forward, said Parker, as is creating sustainability for the Eureka program, conducted in partnership with UMass Amherst and its College of Natural Sciences, Bay Path University, and several other area colleges, and scaling up that initiative. A capital campaign to pay for all this is also in its formative stage.

As for Parker, who has continually sought out new challenges throughout her career, she’s looking forward to being with Girls Inc. as it strives to get to the next level.

“It’s all about the mission,” she noted. “It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.

“Every year, we have the conversation — am I still helping this organization, and is it still a win-win, for me and Girls Inc.?” she went on. “As long as I can still feel challenged and that we’re growing and we’re changing, and that I have something to give and I’m making a difference, I’m in.”

Leading by Example

And there are a great many people who are happy she’s in.

Indeed, Parker has become a Woman of Impact not just because of what she’s done as the leader of a nonprofit clearly in need of strong leadership.

She’s also reached that status by being an effective role model for the girls who join her program — and girls across the region. Years ago, she set goals for herself, understood what was needed to reach those goals, and positioned herself to succeed.

That, in a nutshell, is what Girls Inc. is all about, and while its success doesn’t stem from the work of a single woman, Parker’s influence has greatly enhanced its ability to carry out that all-important mission.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Managing Director, Golden Seeds

This Investor and Mentor Is Making a Difference within the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

Katherine Putnam was a history major in college, and she certainly knows her stuff.

While she really likes European history, she knows all about this country — and this region — as well. She knows, for example, about the very rich tradition of entrepreneurship in Western Mass., and what it meant for the development of individual cities and towns.

“From the 1880s to the turn of the century, Holyoke had more millionaires per capita than any city in the country,” she said, referring to the dozens of mill owners living in the Paper City. “There are two McKim, Mead & White buildings in Holyoke; there was so much money, they were paying for world-renowned architects to come in and design their buildings. And it was the same in Springfield.

“When you read your history books, for 100 to 140 years, this region was a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity,” she went on. “But that hasn’t been true for 50 years.”

Putnam knows that a return to those glory days is certainly not likely, given how global the economy has become and the development of innovation and entrepreneurship hubs such as Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and the Research Triangle. But she firmly believes that the region can once again be a thriving center of new business ventures, and she’s playing an active part in such efforts as managing director of Golden Seeds — a national investment firm that focuses on early-stage businesses that have women in management and leadership roles — and in a host of other roles within this region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

As an investor and a mentor — the two primary roles she plays — she has a number of goals and missions. They include sparking levels of entrepreneurial activity reminiscent of those from generations ago, and also leveling what is currently a very uneven field when it comes to which demographic groups receive venture capital and mentoring, and which ones don’t.

“We have two main problems overall. We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

“We have two main problems overall,” she noted. “We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

Putnam brings an intriguing background, a wide variety of experience, and a host of skills sets to this mission and her various roles within the region’s growing entrepreneurship infrastructure.

Indeed, she started her career in the banking industry before shifting to corporate treasury work and then deciding she wanted to run her own company. In 1996, she put together a group of angel investors and purchased Package Machinery. Before selling it 20 years later, the company had become a technology leader in wrapping machinery for consumer-product manufacturers.

Today, while investing in some developing ventures, she spends most of her waking hours advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, especially women.

Meanwhile, she’s working diligently to create strategies for helping women and minorities crash through the many barriers facing them as entrepreneurs.

“Statistics tell us that 70% of angel money and about 95% of VC [venture capital] money go to teams that are all white males,” she told BusinessWest. “I love white males — I had one as a father, I have one as a son, and I have one as a husband — but that’s not equitable. What are the barriers that are keeping women and minorities — diverse teams — from getting more money?”

There’s no quick or easy answer to that question, she went on, adding that she and some colleagues are hard at work trying to not only find some answers, but develop strategies for somehow changing this equation.

Ali Usman, founder and president of PixelEdge and a fellow investor and mentor of entrepreneurs, summed up Putnam’s work in this region while nominating her for the Woman of Impact award.

“Kate should win this award for her consistent commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he wrote. “Kate is not just involved with one project or company at a time. She is constantly using her knowledge and expertise to help others day after day, week after week. Currently, she serves on three different boards, is a managing director of an angel-investment group, and, in her spare time, manages to mentor entrepreneurs through several different programs.”

Actually, mentoring is much more than a ‘spare-time’ pursuit. For Putnam, it’s her passion, and that’s one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Ventures and Adventures

When asked to summarize the best advice she gives to entrepreneurs at all levels, Putnam didn’t hesitate and recited the lines as if she’s uttered them hundreds of time, which she is undoubtedly has.

“Have lots of conversations with your customers and your prospective customers,” she said. “Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this.’ And then they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they’re solving that problem now.

Kate Putnam says it’s her mission to level the playing field when it comes it diverse groups and their efforts to gain capital and mentors.

“If you get out and make a lot of your widgets without figuring that out, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money,” she went on. “Whether it’s something really cool that you’ve developed in some esoteric lab at UMass at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences or you did it in your garage, you have to figure out who is feeling enough pain to change however they’re doing it now and adopt whatever it is that you’ve developed.

In short, she explained, people are more motivated by pain then they are by gain. “People will go a lot further to avoid losing $10 than they will to gain $10, and so I tend to ask people to think in terms of whether they’re solving someone’s pain and if people will be uncomfortable enough in their pain to switch.”

Steve Jobs was famous for not asking customers what they wanted and for actually saying that “customers don’t know what they want if they haven’t seen it before,” she noted, but he is certainly the exception to the rule with development of such products as the iPhone, and young entrepreneurs would be wise not to emulate that approach.

Passing on such advice has become a career of sorts for Putnam — or the latest career, to be more precise. Indeed, as noted earlier, she’s had several, which in sum have given her exposure to business and entrepreneurship from all angles.

That includes the finance, or funding, side, and also the entrepreneurial, risk-taking side with Package Machinery, which was struggling when she took it over, and she guided it back to prominence within that specific manufacturing niche, increasing machine sales by more than 300%.

In this, her latest career, she spends a good deal of time on the road — she’s put 40,000 miles on her car over the past 15 months by her reckoning — working in a variety of settings and with companies of all shapes and sizes.

Currently, she’s mentoring a few entrepreneurs involved in a program called I-Corps, a National Science Foundation initiative to increase the economic impact of research the agency funds.

“It uses the Lean LaunchPad model for getting people to identify a problem to solve,” she explained, adding that she’s mentoring teams behind ventures in Connecticut and Vermont. “You’re a scientist, and you’ve invented something cool; now you have to figure out if anybody wants it.”

She’s also involved with MIT and its Venture Mentoring Service, and also Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, which she has served in a number of capacities, including entrepreneur in residence for its most recent accelerator class, as well as Greentown Labs. She’s a founding member of Women Innovators & Trailblazers, which strives to make Western Mass. a more vibrant hub for women innovators and entrepreneurs, and also serves as an instructor with RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established small business owners created through a collaboration between the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business and Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

All this keeps her quite busy and her car’s odometer spinning, but it’s work she’s passionate about.

That’s especially true when it comes to mentoring women, leveling the playing field when it comes to capital and opportunities for women and minorities, and launching — and keeping — more businesses in the 413.

Capital Ideas

And the playing field is certainly not level, she told BusinessWest, citing those statistics concerning venture capital awarded to teams comprised of white men given to white men and noting that, by and large, the investing community has historically treated women differently than men, holding them to what amounts to higher standards.

When asked to elaborate and offer a tutorial, she talked about questions asked by potential investors and some of the categories they fall into, including ‘promotion’ and ‘prevention.’

“Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this. And then, they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they were solving that problem now.”

“A promotion question would be ‘how big would the market for your product possibly be globally?’” she explained. “And a prevention question would be ‘how are you going to reach your first $1 million in sales — how are you going to do that?’”

Prevention questions are associated with raising less money, she went on, adding that the more of these questions an individual or team gets, the less money they are likely to raise.

“We know that women get more prevention questions than promotion questions,” she went on, adding that she can’t get inside the heads of investors and come up with an answer to why this is the case, but she had some guesses.

“The sense of it is that the general theory is that women are less competent than men,” she said. “It’s also true that most of the people who are doing the investing are white men, and that they prefer to invest in and mentor people who look like them.”

Diversity refers to geography as well, she said, adding that there is less money flowing to people in more remote areas because, well, there is simply less money there, from the seed (friends and family) level on up to the VC rounds.

“If you’re in Wellesley and you want to raise seed money, it’s a lot easier there than if you’re in Holyoke,” she explained. “In Wellesley, you’ve got friends and family who are likely to have money, and in Holyoke, you’re less likely to have that.”

As she mentioned, changing this equation has become a mission, and she’s carrying it out in a number of ways, from creation of Golden Seeds to involvement with groups like VVM and SPARK EforAll Holyoke, to mentoring in places like Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities in this region.

These are cities, which, as she noted at the top, have a rich history of innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking that is, unfortunately, referred to mostly in the past tense.

“That kind of attitude toward building it, and taking the risk, and making that investment has been gone from this region for quite a while,” she noted. “And it’s tough to recreate it; it’s a real challenge.”

She acknowledged that the needle is moving in the right direction when it comes to entrepreneurial energy and startups taking flight, but not enough movement to suit her.

“I’m impatient — I want to see more activity, sooner, faster, all those things,” she said, adding that the two main ingredients needed are capital and mentoring. There is some of each, but there needs to be more if companies are going to get off the ground and then remain in the 413 rather than packing up and going to where the capital is, be it Cambridge, Boston, San Francisco, or somewhere else.

In Good Company

Reflecting on what has happened in recent years when it comes entrepreneurial activity in this region and efforts to level an uneven laying field when it comes to opportunities and capital for women and minorities, Putnam said there has indeed been change.

Just not enough of it.

As she said, it is her mission to create more of it. That’s the latest focal point of a career that has included success in business and a host of initiatives to help others enjoy some of that same success.

And it’s just another way in which she’s certainly a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

People on the Move

Michele Feinstein

Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C. announced that attorney Michele Feinstein, a shareholder in the firm, has been certified as an accredited estate planner (AEP) by the National Assoc. of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). The AEP designation is a graduate-level, multi-disciplinary specialization in estate planning that requires estate-planning professionals to meet special education, experience, and knowledge requirements, as well as ongoing continuing-education requirements. The NAEPC is a national network of affiliated estate-planning councils and credentialed professionals. It includes more than 270 estate-planning councils and provides services to an estimated 30,000 individual members. It has nearly 2,000 active AEP designees with representation in nearly every state of the country. The professionals are typically within the accounting, insurance, legal, trust-services, philanthropic, or financial-planning fields, all of whom spend at least a third of the time on estate planning. In addition to estate-planning administration, Feinstein concentrates her practice in the areas of elder law, health law, and corporate and business planning, including all aspects of planning for the succession of business interests, representation of closely held businesses and their owners, and representation of physicians in their individual and group practices. Feinstein has received many professional recognitions, including repeated selection to Super Lawyers of Massachusetts, Top Women Attorneys of New England, Best Lawyers in America, and Top Women of Law by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

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The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) recently announced Gabrielle Gould as its new executive director. Gould’s appointment followed a two-month search after the departure in May of long-time Executive Director Sarah la Cour. A recent Amherst transplant, Gould has extensive executive leadership background in the nonprofit sector with significant fundraising experience and a record of success in building successful organizations. Along with her husband, she has started and operated two successful small businesses on Nantucket and served as vice president for Business Development at Nantucket Bank. Gould and her family moved to Amherst this past January after 20 years as Nantucket residents. Since moving to Amherst, she has been active on the Jones Library SAMMYs events committee and the Amherst Regional Middle School PGO. According to Roberts, Gould’s early goals have been to familiarize herself with downtown landlords and businesses, institutional partners at UMass Amherst and Amherst College, and partners in Town Hall and the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. She has also jumped headfirst into helping plan the BID’s fall events.

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Tim Armstrong

Berkshire Design Group (BDG), a landscape-architecture, civil-engineering, and survey firm, recently welcomed Tim Armstrong, PLS in the role of survey manager. Armstrong comes to BDG with more than 20 years of land-survey experience, and has experience managing staff and data on small and large projects from local boundary surveys to interstate energy-transmission projects. Prior to joining BDG, he was the chief land surveyor at Hill Engineers, Architects, Planners in Dalton.

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The Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (YPS) board of directors elected Amie Miarecki, director of Community Relations at Sunshine Village, as the new board president. Miarecki is the former vice president and will serve a two-year term, succeeding Ashley Clark, Cash Management officer at Berkshire Bank, who has six years of board service and leadership, including a two-year term as president. As provided by the organization’s bylaws, Clark has reached her maximum consecutive years of board service and will remain an advisor to the board of directors. The YPS board of directors also elected Meredith Perri, High School Sports editor for MassLive, to a two-year term as the vice president, and Andrew Mankus, director of Operations for Residential Dining at UMass Amherst, to a two-year term as treasurer.

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Joanne Marqusee

Greenfield Community College (GCC) recently welcomed Joanne Marqusee, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Health Care (CDHC), to its board of trustees. One of 11 trustees, she was officially appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Aug. 30 and will replace former trustee Elizabeth Sillin. Marqusee has been a respected healthcare leader for over three decades. Before coming to Cooley in 2014, she served as chief operating officer and executive vice president of Hallmark Health, after having spent 15 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston as senior vice president. With a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University, her career began in government, where she served in agencies including the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. and the New York State Department of Health.

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Michael Dias

LUSO Federal Credit Union announced the promotion of Michael Dias to assistant manager of its Ludlow and Wilbraham branches. In his new role, Dias will be responsible for overseeing member service and daily branch operations, as well as increasing business-development efforts. Dias began his banking career at LUSO as a Member Service representative in early 2018 and has most recently served as Member Service Department supervisor and lead VIP banker. In addition to his role at the credit union, he is working on obtaining his MBA in business analytics from Western New England University and serves on the board of directors for the Our Lady of Fatima Festival.

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Brooke Thomson, most recently vice president of Government Affairs for AT&T and a former senior official with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, will become executive vice president of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). Thomson is no stranger to AIM. She has served as a member of the its board of directors and executive committee and chaired the board’s government affairs committee for the past year. She replaces John Regan, who took over as president and CEO of the 3,500-member business association in May. Thomson joined AT&T in 2013. Her duties for the telecommunications company include legislative and regulatory affairs in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She came to AT&T after six years in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, where she served as chief of the Business, Technology and Economic Development Division. Prior to that, she worked as legal counsel to the Massachusetts Legislature’s Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. She is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law and Mount Holyoke College. Her political experience includes managing the successful campaign of Martha Coakley for attorney general in 2010.

Company Notebook

UMass Amherst Ranks 24th in U.S. News Rankings

AMHERST — UMass Amherst has climbed into the top 25 of the nation’s premier public universities, coming in 24th among the approximately 130 public institutions ranked in the “Best Colleges 2020” guide published by U.S. News & World Report. The Commonwealth’s flagship campus moved up two slots this year. With student success, graduation rates, and other key metrics on the rise, the university continued its ascent as one of the fastest-rising, top-tier public-research universities in the country, advancing from 52nd in 2010 to 24th in 2020. For six years running, UMass Amherst has been ranked in the top 30 public universities. UMass Amherst also ranks 64th in the U.S. News & World Report Best National Universities category, moving up six places from last year’s rankings among 312 public and private institutions rated by U.S. News. The U.S. News rankings are based on a variety of weighted factors: graduation rate, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, graduation and retention rates, social mobility, alumni giving, financial resources, student selectivity, and high-school counselor ratings.

 

UMassFive Voted Best Credit Union in Poll

HADLEY — UMassFive College Federal Credit Union has once again been honored with the title of Best Credit Union in the Valley Advocate’s annual reader voting poll, extending its streak in the number-one position to 13 years in a row. The credit union was also favored in multiple categories in the Hampshire Gazette’s Reader’s Choice poll, where it took home the titles of Best Credit Union for the sixth year in a row, the Best Place to Get an Auto Loan, and Best Financial Planning. Jon Reske, vice president of Marketing, attributes UMassFive’s success in the polls to a company culture centered on personalized experience that has created a loyal community of members.

Hampshire College to Reinvent Its Academic Program This Fall

AMHERST — Hampshire College announced a major effort to reinvent its pioneering academic program, engaging its campus community and 12,000 alumni in ongoing meetings this fall and promising to publish a plan by November. The initiative, called Hampshire Launch, marks the college’s 50th anniversary next year and the launch of its second half-century. The effort is led by President Ed Wingenbach and supported by a campus planning group, who are facilitating weekly meetings with students, faculty, and staff, as well as virtual meetings with alumni. The intensive community discussions will lead to board of trustees action on a plan in October. The college is exploring new academic and financial models as it creates a vision and roadmap for its future, an effort critical to its admissions recruiting and fundraising. The goal is to produce an inspiring, realistic plan, which also exemplifies its identity and reputation as an experimenting college and presents a model for others in higher education. The academic plan will be accompanied by a sustainable financial plan.

Third Delaney’s Market Opens in Wilbraham

WILBRAHAM — The third Delaney’s Market store opened on Tuesday at 2030 Boston Road, Wilbraham. Delaney’s Market is a retail store that features chef-inspired meals that are fresh and ready to serve with little effort. It also features a selection of wine and craft beers. Delaney’s Market strives to assist the busy individual or family that wants to eat a quality lunch or dinner at their home or office without the hassle of long prep times and/or high costs. The first Delaney’s Markey store opened in 2016 at the Longmeadow Shops in Longmeadow. The Springfield location opened just two months ago downtown on Main Street. One more store will open later this year in Westfield.

Elms College Ranks Highly in Northern Region, Social Mobility

CHICOPEE — Elms College ranks in the top half of schools in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 list of Best Regional Universities (North). Elms College improved significantly in the 2020 rankings, moving to 86th among regional universities in the northern U.S. region, up from 99th in 2019. Elms College also was named in the top 20% (37th) among Regional Universities (North) in a new category, Top Performers on Social Mobility, which ranks schools for enrolling and graduating large proportions of students who have received federal Pell Grants. U.S. News ranks Elms College as a university because of changes to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s basic classification system and the number of graduate programs Elms offers. The Carnegie categories are the accepted standard in U.S. higher education.

Springfield College Earns Top-20 Ranking from U.S. News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College has advanced into the top 20 in its category in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings. In the Best Regional Universities – North category, Springfield College is ranked 19th. This year’s position represents a continuing rise in the rankings for Springfield College over the last 10 years. The college’s overall Best Colleges score has increased each year since the 2011 rankings. Also, Springfield College has moved up in the rankings in nine of the last 10 years, including jumping up nine spots from last year. The college has moved up 48 spots from its ranking in 2011. The college’s constant ranking in the top tier in its category is spurred by improved graduation rates and improved retention of first-year students. The ratings are based on such variables as peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, class size, alumni giving, and student-faculty ratio. Springfield College was also ranked 15th in its category of the U.S. News Best Values rankings that showcase colleges with high quality and a lower cost, up four spots from last year. This is the fourth consecutive year that Springfield College has been listed in the Best Values category, which takes into account a college’s academic quality and net cost of attendance. Springfield College was also ranked once again in the U.S. News A+ Schools for B Students category. Colleges in this category have strong ratings and accept a significant number of students with non-stratospheric transcripts.

Country Bank Recognized for Charitable Giving

WARE — Each year, the Boston Business Journal celebrates Massachusetts corporations and nonprofits for their contributions in giving back to communities in Massachusetts. During this year’s celebration held on Sept. 5, Country Bank was recognized as one of the Top Charitable Contributors in 2019 and received a Corporate Citizenship Award. A total of 105 companies were recognized during the evening; Country Bank ranked 62nd with total donations of $1 million to various nonprofits within the region. Country Bank employs 235 staff members within Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester counties. In 2018, staff members actively promoted the bank’s mission of giving back to the communities they serve by volunteering more than 1,100 hours in community service.

UMass Amherst Startup a Winner in Technology Transfer Contest

AMHERST — Ernest Pharmaceuticals, a startup venture based at UMass Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), is one of four companies to win $2,500 from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) in a business-pitch poster competition in Boston. This recognizes the groundbreaking young biotech firm as it brings its research on programmed bacteria that deliver anti-cancer treatment to tumors from lab to market. Ernest Pharmaceuticals CEO and bioengineer Nele Van Dessel presented the poster at MTTC’s 12th annual Massachusetts Life Sciences Innovation Day; the company was one among 30 vying for four prizes. She said she and co-founder Neil Forbes, a professor of Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst, believe the company’s association with IALS has been a crucial factor in its steady success. Van Dessel, who earned a Ph.D. in bioengineering at home in Belgium, came to UMass Amherst looking specifically for Forbes after she read all his published papers on what she calls his unconventional but effective use of Salmonella bacteria to deliver cancer-busting compounds to kill metastatic breast cancer tumors from inside. Forbes named the company after his grandfather Ernest, who died of prostate cancer. Since co-founding Ernest Pharmaceuticals with Forbes, Van Dessel has talked with a large number of oncologists to learn where the greatest need is in cancer treatment today, in particular which metastatic diseases are the hardest to treat. In this way, she and Forbes identified an urgent need for new tools to treat metastatic liver, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers. Also benefiting from the UMass Amherst – IALS Business Innovation Fellows program, Ernest and three other campus startups received Small Business Innovation Research phase I grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in 2018, bringing them into this year with significant funding.

United Way of Pioneer Valley Announces Thrive To Go!

SPRINGFIELD — The United Way of Pioneer Valley announced the expansion of its successful Thrive Financial Success Centers with Thrive to Go!, a mobile version of the same one-on-one financial coaching that has been available in Holyoke, Westfield, and Springfield. This free program served 585 low- to moderate-income residents of Hampden County last year and, with Thrive to Go!, aims to reach even more residents in a wider area within the United Way service footprint. At Thrive, the client works one-on-one with a financial coach, who offers assistance with setting financial goals, opening bank accounts, budgeting, building credit and credit repair, reviewing credit reports, debt reduction, building assets, referrals to social services, and assistance with income-support applications. Thrive provides services in a bundled, sequential manner so that clients can build on their knowledge for their future successes and goal completion.

Opinion

Editorial

In the U.S., 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day.

This equals about a pound of food per person, or about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. What may not be totally obvious when we throw out that banana with a brown spot on it, or the slightly mushy red pepper, is that all this food waste contributes to a much bigger problem in America — the waste of about 40% of country’s food production.

This shocking fact shared by the Center for EcoTechnology is a testament for just how serious the food-waste epidemic is.

In addition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. The food we throw out affects our lives in more ways than one, including our own financial resources and a bigger carbon footprint.

Thankfully, while food waste remains a huge problem in America and the world, more and more awareness is being brought to this subject, and more action is being taken to significantly reduce this problem. This includes organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit dedicated solely to food rescue and distribution in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up food from more than 75 vendor partners in refrigerated trucks and serves more than 40 cities and towns across Massachusetts. It focuses primarily on perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, which are the most likely to be wasted, and provides meals to more than 30,000 people a week.

Aside from organizations like this, there are simple ways families can do their part to significantly reduce food waste — everything from planning meals for the week before going to the grocery store to freezing foods that won’t be eaten right away. Looking in the refrigerator and cabinets and cooking food already on hand — and saving leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day — are other habits that add up over 128 million American households.

Businesses are increasingly implementing food-waste reduction strategies as well — spurred in many cases by state regulation. The bottom line is, if everyone tries a little each day to help, significantly less food will be wasted and dumped into landfills.

While Massachusetts in general has been a national leader in addressing food waste, it is important that individuals do their part by implementing their own strategies. With the help of organizations like the Center for EcoTechnology and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we can only hope those shocking food-waste numbers begin to go down in the next several decades.

Healthcare Heroes

This Public Health Leader Is a Visionary and Innovator

Frank Robinson, Ph.D.

“Dr. Frank Robinson is a true visionary. He sees partnerships and systems that most other people don’t see. He doesn’t stop there … and he doesn’t allow other people’s short-sightedness or lack of imagination to get in his way. He persists because he loves to see other people, particularly young people, grow and thrive and achieve their dreams.”

Over the next few pages, you’ll read quite a bit of material that will help explain why Robinson, currently vice president of Public Health for Baystate Health, is one of two Healthcare Heroes in the Lifetime Achievement category for 2019. But none of the words to come can do that more effectively that those at the top.

They’re from the nomination form submitted by Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Mass., a job Robinson once held himself, when the agency was known as Partners for a Healthier Community.

And Greater Springfield has, indeed, become a healthier community because of Robinson, who, over the past 35 years or so, has conceived or been closely involved with initiatives in realms ranging from children’s oral health to asthma; from food insecurity to sexual health; from health education to overall population health.

And who really knows if he would have been involved in any of that had it not been for … Hurricane Agnes.

The storm barreled into Elmira, N.Y. in late June, 1972, flooding the recently opened Elmira Psychiatric Center, where Robinson was working as a psychiatric social worker. That’s was, because the storm put him out of work.

He found new work essentially counseling youths displaced by the hurricane and relocated to nearby Elmira College.

“Dr. Frank Robinson is a true visionary. He sees partnerships and systems that most other people don’t see. He doesn’t stop there … and he doesn’t allow other people’s short-sightedness or lack of imagination to get in his way.”

“A call came out for help because these youngsters were running wild in the dorms unsupervised,” Robinson recalled, adding that he and a friend were dispatched to the scene because they were staff at a facility called the Elmira Neighborhood House — Robinson taught boxing there and knew most of the teens.

In some ways, Hurricane Agnes blew Robinson onto a different, more community-focused career path that, early on, featured extensive work with young people. And, by and large, he has stayed on that path.

Fast-forwarding through his résumé, he worked locally for the Mass. Department of Mental Health (at the same time as the other Lifetime Achievement hero for 2019, Katherine Wilson; see story on page 22); the W.W. Johnson Life Mental Health Center in Springfield; the Springfield Community Substance Abuse Partnership and Prevention Alliance, part of the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services; Partners for Community Health; and Baystate Health, first as director of Community Health Planning and now as vice president of Public Health.

At each stop, he has been a visionary and an innovator, leading initiatives ranging from the BEST Oral Health program to Baystate Academy Charter School to the Baystate Springfield Educational Partnership.

“Over the years, I have worked in positions that have advanced my specific interest in creating a healthier community and preventing health problems from occurring by giving people what they need,” he said while summing up his life’s work in a simple yet effective way, adding quickly that, while progress has been made, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

And he’s still doing it.

Indeed, Robinson, who turns 70 this month, acknowledged that he is working past what would be considered retirement age. He attributes this to both a passion for his work and the simple fact that he has some projects he’s still working on that he wants to see to conclusion.

These include something called 413 Cares, an online community-resource database that provides resource and referral information to residents as well as healthcare and social-service agencies across the region, and also works to make Baystate an “anchor network” within the region.

Explaining the latter, he said that, by adjusting and refocusing some of its spending — in such areas as goods and services, hiring, and real-estate facilities — an institution like Baystate can have an even more profound impact on the communities it serves.

“Simply by changing our business practices in terms of how we spend money — spending it deliberately, intentionally, to benefit communities where there’s been substantial disinvestment or there are substantial disparities — we can change those community conditions,” he noted. “That’s the healthcare anchor institution mission and vision.”

A lifelong desire to change community conditions for the better explains not only why Robinson is still working — and still innovating — but also why he’s a Healthcare Hero. Again.

Background — Check

Indeed, this will be Robinson’s second trip to the podium at the Healthcare Heroes gala.

He was one of a large contingent on hand to accept the award in 2017 in the category called Collaboration in Healthcare. The name on the envelope, if you will, was the Healthy Hill Initiative, or HHI, a broad effort to change the health landscape in the Old Hill neighborhood of Springfield.

Robinson, one of nearly a dozen players involved in the initiative who were gathered around a conference-room table at Way Finders to talk about it, described it as a program that existed at “the dynamic intersection of two social determinants of health — public safety and access to physical activity.”

And he should certainly know. In many respects, he has spent his whole career working to address the many social determinants of health, including poverty, food insecurity, inadequate housing, lack of transportation, domestic abuse, and the stress that results from all of the above.

Retracing his career steps, Robinson said there have been some pivots — such as the one forced by Hurricane Agnes — along the way, and also some pivotal moments.

One of the latter was the consent decrees that eventually closed Northampton State Hospital and Belchertown State School and the creation of community-based programs to serve the residents of those facilities.

Frank Robinson has been called a true visionary by those who have worked with him over the years, and a long list of accomplishments bears this out.

Robinson was involved in this work during his time with the Department of Mental Health, and he remembers it leaving him inspired in many ways.

“Both of those institutions were closed by forward-thinking insiders who worked with progressive outsiders, or advocates, and formed this sort of perfect union around change,” he told BusinessWest. “That was a pivotal event; I knew I could create large-scale community change if you got the formula right and if you got in front of problems, prevented problems, and worked to change the lives of individuals.”

And over the past 40 years or so, he has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to create community change by getting in front of problems and using teamwork to address them.

This has been the formula at each career stop, including a brief stint as deputy commissioner and superintendent of the Northeast Ohio Development Center in Cleveland in the early ’80s before returning to this area and working at the W.W. Johnson Life Mental Health Center, the community substance-abuse partnership, and especially at Partners for a Healthier Community, where Robinson spent nearly 20 years at the helm.

During his tenure there, his ability to convene, create partnerships, and stare down difficult problems resulted in several new initiatives to improve the overall health of the Greater Springfield community.

One such effort is the BEST Oral Health program, blueprinted to address the alarming problem that children with MassHealth had very limited access to oral-health preventive and comprehensive treatment services. Robinson secured state funding to launch a demonstration project in Springfield that became the BEST program; it created a local system of education, screening, and treatment for preschoolers to decrease oral-health disease.

Another example of coalition building during his tenure at PFC is the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, which strives to improve asthma management and indoor air quality in Springfield and other area communities where substandard housing contributes to this ongoing health problem.

The Big Picture

Looking back over his career, Robinson said one of the goals — and one of the big challenges — has been to create change and generate solutions that would have an impact much longer than the typical three-year grant cycle.

“What you really need are initiatives with lasting impact where you can see change occur at a level where you improve the conditions of a whole population — where you can say, ‘we’ve changed community conditions,’” he explained.

With that thought in mind, he said there are two programs that “rise to the top,” as he put it, when he talks about career accomplishments.

One is the Baystate/Springfield Educational Partnership, an initiative that brings hundreds of students into the Baystate system to learn about careers in healthcare and places many of them in internships.

“Over the past 20 years, there have been substantial gains from our ability to work together across sectors and across organizations. And that’s new; there’s that essential element of trust across organizations that didn’t exist 15 years ago or 20 years ago, to be sure. And in spite of the competitive nature of social-service organizations in healthcare, there tends to be more agreement today that there is a public space where we can all come together and make a difference.”

These internships often lead to careers in healthcare, he went on, adding that, over the first 10 years of the program, there are many examples of this.

“Some of them are physicians, some of them are nurses — it’s across the whole spectrum,” he explained. “I know there are youngsters who are now physicians because of this program.”

The other program is the Baystate Academy Charter School, a 6-12 grade school based in Springfield and focused on healthcare careers.

The school graduated its first class of students, 45 of them, in June, said Robinson, adding that there was a 100% graduation rate and each graduating student was accepted at a two- or four-year college.

“The social determinant of health solution there is education,” Robinson explained. “The idea is that, if you graduate from Baystate Academy Charter School, you are college-ready.

“These two programs will be around long after I’m gone, producing change on a large scale and at a population level for our community,” he went on. “I’m very proud of both of them.”

Looking at the proverbial big picture from his unique vantage point, Robinson told BusinessWest there have been significant gains in many areas and many respects, especially when it comes to agencies and providers of healthcare working collaboratively, but significant challenges remain.

“Over the past 20 years, there have been substantial gains from our ability to work together across sectors and across organizations,” he explained. “And that’s new; there’s that essential element of trust across organizations that didn’t exist 15 years ago or 20 years ago, to be sure. And in spite of the competitive nature of social-service organizations in healthcare, there tends to be more agreement today that there is a public space where we can all come together and make a difference.

“This is especially true with matters of equity,” he went on. “We understand that there are significant challenges for large segments of our community, and the only way you’re to change those conditions is if people work together collaboratively and pool resources. There’s a clear recognition that this is the way to go.”

Elaborating, Robinson said there have always been coalitions, but today there is greater strength and “sophistication” to such partnerships, which has generated progress in a number of areas.

But when asked if Springfield is a much healthier community than it was 20 or 30 years ago, Robinson paused for several seconds and said ‘no.’

He based that answer on standard health measures and still-apparent gaps, or disparities, in overall care as viewed through what he called a “racial-equity lens.”

“If I compare poor people to the average, and black or brown people to the average, there are huge health-disparity gaps,” he noted. “The infant-mortality rate is still three times higher for black women than it is for white women; although the rate for black women has improved over time, the gap still exists.

“We find that same gap in issues such as low birth rate,” he went on. “These are measures not necessarily of the quality of healthcare, but measures of the conditions under which people live. Those gaps still exist, and so this city is still not healthy.

“We’re great as a community, and as a health system, when it comes to dealing with stuff that occurs inside the skin,” he continued, referring to the care provided at Baystate and other area facilities. “But if you think of health as things outside the skin that actually determine one’s health, we haven’t really improved there; poor people are sicker.”

These problems are not unique to Springfield, obviously, said Robinson, adding that most large urban centers continue to have these inequities in overall health based on income and opportunity. Progress has come, slowly, and the hope is that, by continuing to build coalitions and get in front of problems, more progress can be achieved.

This is what Robinson has spent a career doing, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

View to the Future

“Dr. Frank Robinson has worked tirelessly over the past 30 years to address public health and health inequities in our city and beyond. He is a recognized leader and a visionary in creating systems that make it easier for people to access needed healthcare services and creating systems in our neighborhoods that make it easier for people to make the healthier choice.”

There’s that word ‘visionary’ again. This time, it was put to use by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, in that same nomination submission, as he went on about trying to put Robinson’s career, and his contributions, in perspective.

And visionary certainly fits. He’s been able to look at the community he serves, identify needs, and most importantly, create solutions for meeting those needs.

He’s spent a lifetime doing that, and that’s why he’s a Healthcare Hero.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

While She Manages People and Programs, Her Job Is About Changing Lives

Katherine Wilson

It’s probably fair to say that the discussions had at the dining room table when Katherine Wilson was in high school were not like those going on in most households in the mid’-60s.

Indeed, Wilson’s father was a physician, specializing in family medicine. Beyond the work at his practice, he was one of the pioneers of a sort when it came to the broad subject of healthcare management.

“From having a solo private practice, he got into the development of systems of delivery of healthcare,” she recalled. “He started an HMO, he was the first medical director of Community Health Center … my father was a big part of the systems that are now in place.

“We had discussions around the kitchen table about healthcare,” she went on. “His interest was in healthcare management, and he was progressive in his thinking at a time when they didn’t have community health centers and they didn’t have HMOs; he did a lot of work with the community physicians and community hospitals.”

One might say that Wilson, certainly inspired by not only those dinnertime talks, but later work at her father’s practice and in one of the first community health centers, has a made a career — a long and very successful career — of working innovatively and in partnership with others to find new and better ways to manage healthcare, and especially mental and behavioral healthcare, in this region and across the Commonwealth.

She’s done this in a variety of settings, most notably, for the past 30 years, as president and CEO of Behavioral Health Network Inc.

Created in 1992 through the merger of four entities — the Child Guidance Clinic of Springfield, Agawam Counseling Center, Community Care Mental Health Center, and the Hampden District Mental Health Clinic — BHN now serves more than 40,000 individuals annually in a service area that stretches across the four western counties.

There are 40 locations in all and more than 2,000 employees. Together, they provide and manage services that come in a variety of forms, from detox centers and ‘step-down’ facilities to a wide variety of counseling services for adults, youth, children, couples, and families; from a 24-hour crisis-intervention service to a host of developmental and intellectual disability services.

“In a society where, even today, stigma may still surround mental illness and those it affects, Kathy not only keenly understands, but goes to every length to help others understand as well. Kathy Wilson has changed innumerable lives for the better, and she’d be the first to say her work is far from finished.”

Wilson has spent the past three decades building and shaping BHN into a $115 million network that continues to expand and find new ways to provide care and a support network to those in need. In recent years, she has been at the forefront of efforts to better integrate general healthcare with behavioral healthcare, particularly in the Medicaid population, with the goal of driving down the ballooning cost of care nationally (more on that later).

And certainly this work to build and manage BHN goes a long way toward explaining why Wilson was chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2019 in the Lifetime Achievement category. Actually, she is one of two who tied for the high score. The other winner is Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health at Baystate Health (see story, page 19). Suffice it to say, these two won’t have to introduce themselves when they meet at the Healthcare Heroes gala on Oct. 17. They both worked for the Department of Mental Health in the late ’70s, and both worked to create community programs for residents of Northampton State Hospital and Belchertown State School after those institutions were ordered closed. And they’ve been working in concert on many initiatives ever since.

But there is more to this honor than the vast portfolio of programs and initiatives that is today’s BHN. Indeed, it’s also about a lifetime spent advocating for those with mental illness, substance-abuse issues, or developmental disabilities, anticipating and then meeting their needs, and then asking the difficult but necessary question, ‘what else can be done?’

It’s a philosophy, or mindset, perhaps best summed up with these words from her nomination form, submitted by her daughter, Amy Greeley, formerly a nurse manager at BHN:

“Kathy exemplifies a unique combination of innate compassion and fervent determination that’s led to the helm of a regionally renowned institution. It’s from a position from which she never stops working for greater, more advanced, and even more accessible services for all who need them.”

“In a society where, even today, stigma may still surround mental illness and those it affects, Kathy not only keenly understands, but goes to every length to help others understand as well. Kathy Wilson has changed innumerable lives for the better, and she’d be the first to say her work is far from finished.”

Care Package

It’s called the ‘Living Room.’

As that name suggests, this is a warm, home-like place where anyone age 18 or older can come to “regroup and get help,” said Wilson.

Elaborating, she said the facility, one of many that BHN has carved out of old, mostly unused or underutilized manufacturing buildings in the Liberty Street area, is one of the latest additions to the agency’s portfolio. It was designed for people in a developing crisis, a current crisis, or a post-crisis situation, and is a place where people “can find help from others who have had similar experiences and who can provide support, encouragement, and guidance,” according to a brochure on the facility.

The Living Room, as noted, is just one of dozens of facilities under the BHN umbrella, and its creation speaks to Wilson’s ongoing work — and mission — to continually find new and different ways to meet unmet needs and build support networks for those who desperately need them.

And, as mentioned, this has been her career’s work — going all the way back, in some ways, to those discussions at the dining-room table.

Retracing her route to the corner office at BHN, Wilson said that, after working at her father’s practice and other health settings while in high school and college, she eventually decided that psychology, not healthcare, would be her chosen field; she earned a bachelor’s degree in that field at Denison University and a master’s in clinical psychology at SUNY Plattsburgh.

After a very short stint as a psychotherapist, she applied for a job with the Department of Mental Health, and was hired as a planner during that critical time when Northampton State Hospital and Belchertown State School were ordered to close.

“It was my responsibility to identify individuals from both institutions, look at what their needs were, and see what we could create in the community,” she recalled, adding that she worked to develop some of the group homes that are in use today. “I also worked with agencies that began to adopt the agenda of creating community programs to support people, such as the Community Care Mental Health Center in Springfield, which created day programs so individuals could get some of their rehabilitation in a clinical setting.”

The consent decrees that shuttered the institutions in Northampton and Belchertown coincided with national initiatives imbedded within the Community Mental Health Act, established by President John F. Kennedy. It made federal funds available to create more community systems of care, said Wilson, adding that, locally, a consortium of agencies was created to administer this flow of federal money.

“We got together and said, ‘survival means you have to get bigger, you need to have a stronger base at the bottom to support what we do, and this will give us a platform for growth.”

Called the Springfield Community Mental Health Consortium, it administered a number of initiatives, including hospital supports, group-living environments, outpatient systems of care, emergency services, and more, said Wilson, who transitioned from working for the state to being employed with the consortium as a planner.

“It was my responsibility to help establish the Community Mental Health Center range of services,” she explained. “Now that we had more people in the community living with mental illness, we needed to create the system of healthcare support.”

When the Reagan administration closed the tap on federal money for these services, with funding to be secured through state-administered block grants instead, the agencies that were part of the consortium broke apart and continued to do their own work, said Wilson, who then went to work with Child Guidance Clinic of Springfield, first as Business and Finance director and then executive director of the Child Guidance Clinic of Springfield.

As funding for mental-health programs became more scarce, Wilson said, she and the directors of three other agencies — Agawam Counseling Center, Community Care Mental Health Center, and the Hampden District Mental Health Clinic — decided that the best strategy was to merge those entities into one corporation.

“We got together and said, ‘survival means you have to get bigger, you need to have a stronger base at the bottom to support what we do, and this will give us a platform for growth,’” she recalled, adding that this new entity would become BHN.

And over the years, it would continue to get bigger and widen that base of support, as those administrators knew it had to, through additional mergers and the addition of many new programs.

Room to Grow

As president and CEO of BHN, Wilson wears a number of hats and logs tens of thousands of miles each year traveling back and forth to Boston for meetings on a range of topics and with a host of groups and individuals.

As for those hats, Wilson said she is the face of BHN and, for many, a first point of contact. She also considers herself a problem solver and a “convener,” a strategist, a mentor for many, and even an interior designer.

“I’m often the one that picks the colors for the walls,” she said, referring to the seemingly constant work to open and renovate new facilities, not only at what has become a ‘BHN campus’ off Liberty Street in Springfield, but across the region, while also noting that much goes into to picking those colors.

All those skills have been put to use over the past 30 years, an intriguing time of growth and evolution for BHN as it responds to emerging needs within the community, said Wilson, who cited, as one example, profound expansion into addiction services.

“One of the areas we identified maybe 10 years ago is that we were seeing many more of the parents of the children we were seeing at the Child Guidance Clinic, and many more adults coming in to adult outpatient clinics having mental-health issues co-occurring with substance use,” she explained. “And we said, ‘we can’t just treat mental-health problems without acknowledging the fact that there is a substance-use disorder concurrently, and that we really need to think about building a system of care that serves that population.’”

As a result, BHN collaborated with Baystate Health, which had a community-based system of care that included a detox and some community group-living environments for post-detox care, said Wilson, adding that Baystate asked BHN to manage those facilities and eventually transfer them into its system of care.

“We inherited Baystate’s system of community services for those with addiction,” she said. “And once we did that, we got established with the Department of Public Health and its Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, and we became known as an agency that could handle co-occurring treatments as well as individuals whose primary diagnosis was addiction, and from there, they helped us grow a system of treatment for people with substance-abuse disorder, and that really took off because the state was making significant investments in that world.”

That system now includes two detox operations, two step-down facilities, and a number of beds in what are called ‘residential recovery,’ or group-living facilities, she told BusinessWest, adding that this is just one example of how BHN continues to grow and evolve.

And it’s also just one example of how Wilson has led efforts to improve access to a wide array of care at a time when more people need access. The creation of the Northern Hope Center and Recovery Services in Greenfield, blueprinted in response to needs created by the opioid crisis in Franklin County, is still another case in point.

And these initiatives provide ample evidence of the additional emphasis placed on integrated healthcare and behavioral healthcare with the twin goals of improving population health and bringing down the cost of care, said Wilson, adding that BHN has been at the forefront of these efforts.

“This is what the federal government wants its funding to support, particularly for the Medicaid population,” she explained. “This is the population whose behavioral health — addictions or mental health — really interfere with their managing health.

“You have this small group of people that is driving high costs to Medicaid and both commercial and private insurance,” she went on. “So the move these days is for physicians and healthcare systems to work with behavioral-health systems of care and provide wrap-around services for individuals to see if you can manage the behavioral health, because that will help bring the cost of healthcare down.”

BHN adopted this rather profound operational shift several years ago, said Wilson, adding that, overall, it is part of her job description to keep the agency on the cutting edge of trends and developments in healthcare, while also making sure it remains viable and able to function properly in the years to decades to come.

That means continuing to find more ways to grow the network (the ‘N’ in BHN), building upon its base of support, and developing new methods for providing all-important access to care.

When asked about her most significant accomplishment, she quickly changed the subject of that question to ‘we,’ meaning BHN, but in doing so still managed to sum up her career’s work.

“I think we’ve created excellent, value-based, top-of-the-line service delivery for people who need access, sometimes very quickly, to good treatment,” she noted. “I have excellent medical leadership on both the addiction and behavioral healthcare side, and we hire really good, skilled, competent people. So I think people who are not used to getting good access to care now get it.

“Also, we’ve hired so many people that we have helped come from an addiction to sobriety, reunification, and now they’re BHN employees,” she went on. “To me, that warms my heart to know that people have been able to turn their lives around with the help of BHN.”

Change Agent

Which brings us back to that passage from Wilson’s nomination form. There are a number of key phrases within it that explain why she will be at the podium on Oct. 17 to receive her Lifetime Achievement award.

There’s the part about battling the stigma attached to mental illness, something she’s been doing for more than four decades. There’s also that point about how she would be the first to acknowledge that her work isn’t finished — because it never is.

But perhaps the words to remember most are those concerning ‘changing thousands of lives for the better.’

Indeed, while Wilson manages people, programs, and facilities for BHN, changing lives is what she does for a living.

And that’s why she’s a Healthcare Hero.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

This Nurse Midwife Gave Birth to an Intriguing Concept in Care

Amy Walker

‘Accountability.’

After pausing to give the matter some thought, this was the word a woman who chose to be identified only by her initials — S.M. — summoned when asked about what the New Beginnings program at Cooley Dickinson Health Care has given her.

There were other things on that list, to be sure, she said, listing camaraderie, friends, ongoing education, and even role models of a sort. But accountability, on many levels, was what was missing most from her life, and New Beginnings, which supports pregnant women with an opioid-use disorder with education, skills development, peer support, and goal setting, helped her develop some at a time when she needed it most.

“I wanted to come even though I was struggling to stay sober,” she said, referring to the regular group meetings attended by mothers facing similar challenges. “I didn’t have to come, but I wanted to; it’s hard to explain, but it was the beginning of me being responsible and accepting the fact that I was pregnant and here with the other women in the same situation.”

These sentiments speak volumes about why Amy Walker, a certified nurse midwife at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH), created the program in 2018, and also about its overall mission.

“We want to empower women to be successful mothers,” said Walker, whose efforts to create New Beginnings have not only filled a critical need within CDH’s broad service area but earned her the Healthcare Heroes award in the ultra-competitive Community Health category.

She said the foundation of the program is a group approach, which is nothing new when it comes to expectant mothers, but it is new when it comes to this specific at-risk population, which makes New Beginnings somewhat unique and innovative.

“I wanted to come even though I was struggling to stay sober. I didn’t have to come, but I wanted to; it’s hard to explain, but it was the beginning of me being responsible and accepting the fact that I was pregnant and here with the other women in the same situation.”

“There are a couple of other places in the country that are doing this,” she explained. “There’s not a lot of studies on this yet, but it made sense, because it works so well in general and has these added benefits of providing community and more education, that it seemed like the way to go.”

While the program is still in its relative infancy (pun intended), it is already providing some rather dramatic, and measurable, results. Indeed, since the initiative was launched, 10 women with substance-abuse disorders who have participated in the program have delivered at the Childbirth Center at CDH, and nine of the 10 babies went home with their mothers. Walker believes that number would have been much lower had it not been for New Beginnings.

To send more mothers suffering from opioid-abuse disorder home with their babies, New Beginnings provides the many things these women need at this critical, and vulnerable, time in their lives. That list includes what amounts to a support network at a time when family and friends may be unable or unwilling to fill that role.

Indeed, S.M. told BusinessWest that, while her mother was quite supportive during her pregnancy and the period to follow, her friends were still using drugs, and thus, she didn’t want to be around them.

Support is provided in the months and weeks prior to delivery, during delivery, and then during the post-partum period, said Walker, adding that, while post-delivery is a challenging time for most all mothers, it is especially so for those suffering from opioid-abuse disorder.

“The riskiest time for relapse is in the post-partum period,” she explained. “We find that many women are able to maintain sobriety during pregnancy, but of course, the stresses of parenting, and sometimes parenting with limited resources, can be a triggering factor when it comes to relapse.”

The program also provides education and help to mothers with babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), the incidence of which is growing as the opioid crisis continues, said Walker.

Such babies are fussy, cry a lot, and are hard to soothe, she went on, adding that many remain in the hospital for several weeks. New Beginnings addresses these needs through something called the ‘eat/sleep/console’ method of evaluating and treating newborns with NAS, an initiative that results in shorter hospital stays and less opioid use for the newborn.

Above all else, New Beginnings provides a judgment-free zone that offers both compassion and quality care, said Walker, adding that all three ingredients are needed to properly provide for both mother and baby.

Pregnant Pause

Flashing back to her first New Beginnings group session roughly 16 months ago, S.M. remembers feeling relatively calm, but also a little uneasy about what she was getting herself into.

“I think was kind of numb and a little nervous,” she recalled, adding that she was struggling with sobriety at that time, when she was on methadone. “But at the same time, it felt comforting knowing what it was for; it was for women with addiction problems who were having babies. It was exactly what I needed at that time.”

S.M. said she was referred to New Beginnings several weeks earlier, about three months into her pregnancy and while she was still using heroin, which she described as her “drug of choice.” She said she was experiencing a number of emotions, but mostly anger — directed at herself.

“I was going through a really tough time accepting that I was pregnant,” she told BusinessWest while sitting in the same small room where the group sessions are held. “I couldn’t face the fact that I was using while I was pregnant, because I was really mad at myself. I came here because I wanted to do everything I could to try to do my best and get my life in order.”

Amy Walker says the New Beginnings program provides a critical judgment-free zone for pregnant women and new mothers battling opioid addiction.

In most every case, these emotions, these sentiments, and this particular drug of choice make S.M. typical of a growing number of women who are going through pregnancy while still using opioids or struggling with sobriety, usually through medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or Subutex, said Walker. She added that this growing demographic is an intriguing and sometimes overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic — one that has now become a focal point of her work as a certified midwife.

And in many ways, this work reflects the values and passions (that’s a word you’ll read often) that brought her to the rewarding profession of midwifery — and will her bring to the podium at the Healthcare Heroes gala on Oct. 17 to accept the award in Community Health.

Our story begins during her undergraduate work when Walker took a job with Planned Parenthood in Gainesville, Fla. She worked at the front desk, selling birth-control pills and checking people in for their appointments.

“I was really inspired to grow in women’s health,” she explained. “I met nurse midwives and nurse practitioners who worked there, and started working in the Health Education department there, doing sex education, HIV-prevention outreach, and more, and from there I decided I wanted to go to midwifery school.”

She would earn her degree at Columbia University and, while doing so, see her career ambitions crystalize.

“My roots were really in gynecological care, but then I developed a love for caring for women and families during pregnancy and birth,” she explained. “I found that I love that intimate connection that you make with families.

“Meanwhile, one of my biggest passions was caring for underserved populations — people who maybe didn’t have access to all the care options,” she went on. “I wanted to provide them with the same type of care as someone who was more able to select what kind of care they wanted; that was really important to me.”

These twin passions have come together in a powerful way with New Beginnings, which Walker conceptualized several years after coming to CDH in 2014 after stints at Leominster Hospital and in St. Croix.

Tracing the origins of the program, she said it was one of many strategic initiatives that sprang from the work of an opioid task force created by CDH in 2016. That group’s work revealed that there were many unmet needs and, overall, that services needed to be better-organized and better-focused.

“I really wanted to be involved with that task force because I felt that the care we were giving to patients with substance-abuse disorders wasn’t really poor care, but it was all over the map,” she told BusinessWest. “There was no consistency in the messages that patients were getting and the education they were getting, and I knew that we could do better.”

One of those many efforts to do better is New Beginnings.

Delivering Results

At the heart of the program and its group sessions is the belief that women going through pregnancy while using opioids or trying to stay sober can benefit from being in the same room together, talking about their experiences, their emotions, their fears, and their hopes for the future.

And S.M.’s story, and her recollections of her year in the program, provide ample evidence that these beliefs are well-founded.

“It was really helpful coming here and knowing that there were other pregnant women who were either going through the same thing or had been there,” she said. “There were other women I’d met through New Beginnings who had kids and had them taken away. That made me feel … I don’t want to say better. It made me feel … well, not as mad at myself, knowing that someone else had been through this and had struggled with being able to have their kids in their life because of their addiction.

“I also came to know the risks of actually having her taken away,” she went on, referring to her daughter, who was playing with other children in the middle of the room as S.M. talked. “And knowing how mad I was just for using, that made me want to just do everything I could.”

These sentiments speak to that goal of empowering women to become successful mothers, said Walker, adding that empowerment comes through accountability and being responsible, but also through education.

And from the start, education has been one of the main focal points for New Beginnings, said Walker, who cited neonatal abstinence syndrome as an example.

“We expect it, and it’s treatable, but it can be challenging, because that baby may need a lot of soothing care, and sometimes needs to be held or soothed or rocked 100% of the time,” she explained. “All this could be challenging for anyone, but if you are someone with your own chronic illness who may not have a lot of support … all those things add up to make it really challenging.

“So if someone was coming into that without having any knowledge of how to care for their baby or what to expect from their hospital stay, that can be really shocking,” she went on. “I felt that we could do a better job of providing that educational prenatally, and there needed to be an avenue for that.”

Elaborating, she said that, typically, most pre-natal visits (for all women) run only about 15 minutes or so. This isn’t much time for women to learn or be supported. In response to this, she created two-hour group prenatal sessions for those involved with New Beginnings. The first hour would be the physical exam, she noted, while the other 90 minutes would be spent providing education and support in a group setting.

“We can cover so many more topics in that amount of time, as opposed to the 15-minute sessions, and you’re also speaking to many patients at a time,” Walker said. “And one of the great things about group prenatal care is that patients are able to hear from other patients and get their perspective.”

As noted earlier, the group sessions can extend to the post-partum period, which, as Walker said, is an extremely vulnerable time for those trying to stay sober.

“What we’re finding statistically is that the biggest risk for relapse is in the six- to 12-months post-partum time,” she noted. “Initially, in the first six months, there’s still a lot of that new-baby glow — even though it’s a hard time, there can still be sweetness. As they get older, it can get more draining; as one patient, who framed it in a good way, told me, ‘the newness wears off.’”

Only a year or so since working with its first participants, New Beginnings is generating measurable results.

Changing Room

S.M. told BusinessWest that the post-partum period was, indeed, a difficult time for her as she worked to keep sober amid the many changes and challenges that came into her life with motherhood.

She said she kept coming to group sessions staged by New Beginnings not because she had to, but because she wanted to — and needed to.

“I was having a hard time, but I just kept holding myself accountable,” she said. “There were days when I wanted to stay home and watch TV, but I made myself come to those meetings.”

She still struggles with being a mother — and with staying sober — but she knows she doesn’t have to face these challenges alone.

And that’s what New Beginnings is all about.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

This Assisted-living Facility Manager Leads by Example

Emily Uguccioni

It’s safe to say that, at the age of 13, most people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

But Emily Uguccioni thought she had it all figured out; she wanted to be an attorney or judge — a figure in the courtroom. At the very least, she knew what she did not want to do — work with the elderly.

But a volunteer position at the Alzheimer’s Resource Center in Connecticut changed her perspective. The facility, right across the street from her middle school, became the foundation for what would become a career she completely fell in love with.

“I wanted an assignment anywhere not near an old person,” noted Uguccioni when explaining her decision to volunteer at a nursing home, but not work with or near those living there.

All her friends read to residents or took them to activities, but she wanted no part of that; instead she got a job in the library organizing all the books. One day, she was instructed to bring a paper to a nurse on one of the units, and upon her arrival, she ran into an old woman.

“This lady said, ‘I’ve been here for four days, and no one has come to pick me up,’” Uguccioni recalled, adding that she did not realize at the time that people with dementia have a disassociation from time. This women had actually been living at the facility for several years.

Feeling bad for the confused woman, Uguccioni said she would try to resolve her issue and offered to get her a drink from the juice cart. Together, they sat and talked for a while until a nurse came by.

“I pride myself in knowing all the residents and all the family members here by name. I pride myself in knowing all the staff by name. I think I know a lot about the residents themselves in terms of what they like, what they dislike, and what might be a concern for them or their family, which is sometimes very different things.”

“She said, ‘you’re the only person in a week that has been able to get her away from that door,’” Uguccioni recalled, adding that, when word got back to the activities director that she was able to do that, she was promptly transferred from her library job and to a position as a resident volunteer.

Fast-forward to today, as Uguccioni sits as executive director at Linda Manor Assisted Living in Northampton, a facility she has put on the fast track when it comes to growth, vibrancy, and recognition.

Indeed, since arriving in 2015, she has doubled occupancy from 40 to more than 80, and there is now a waiting list.

Meanwhile, Linda Manor has been named the best assisted-living facility in Northampton by both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and SeniorAdvisor.com. Under Uguccioni’s direction, the facility has twice won the Silver Honor Affiliate Excellence Award through Berkshire Healthcare Services.

But it’s not so much what she’s accomplished as how that has earned her the Healthcare Heroes award in the category called Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration.

The ‘how’ boils down to a lead-by-example style and an ability to make each and every team member feel not only valued but a key contributor to the health and well-being of all the residents at Linda Manor.

Nicole Kapise-Perkins, Human Resources manager at Linda Manor, summed this up effectively and poignantly in nominating Uguccioni for the award.

“Emily’s fairness and open, engaging manner has had a huge impact on employee morale, and as a result, the services we provide to our residents and families is rated the best in the Northampton area,” Kapise-Perkins wrote. “She lets her staff members know they are appreciated, and they give 110% on the job.”

Manor of Speaking

One of the first things Uguccioni did when she came to Linda Manor was relocate her office.

She moved it out of the administration “suite,” as she called it, and into an office that any person can see the moment they walk into the lobby. This seemingly innocuous change is an effective representation of one of Uguccioni’s biggest personal goals as both a manager and a leader: visibility.

On any given day at Linda Manor, one could find her chatting with residents at breakfast, meeting with staff members to get updates about how they are doing, or attending a check-in meeting with residents and their families, an important time for both constituencies.

“I pride myself in knowing all the residents and all the family members here by name. I pride myself in knowing all the staff by name,” said Uguccioni, noting that there are more than 80 people working with her (not for her). “I think I know a lot about the residents themselves in terms of what they like, what they dislike, and what might be a concern for them or their family, which is sometimes very different things.”

This doesn’t sound like the 13-year-old who took a job in the library because she didn’t want to work around old people.

And it’s not.

As noted earlier, that chance encounter with the woman looking for someone to pick her up changed the course of Uguccioni’s career — and her life.

Emily Uguccioni’s goal is to make every team member know they are valued and a key contributor to Linda Manor’s success.

The volunteer experience she embarked upon after transferring out of library lasted three years until she was hired to be an activities assistant, where she worked at night and on weekends.

“When I was there, I got to see the operations of a nursing home, and I got to see what nurses do and how you interact with the residents and how important a long-term care facility is,” said Uguccioni, adding that this prompted her to explore options in healthcare degrees for her college education.

She graduated from Springfield College in 2006 with a degree in health services administration, knowing she wanted to end up at a higher-level administration or perhaps an executive-director position.

After graduation, she served as a therapeutic recreation director and managed the activities department in various assisted-living homes in Connecticut. Most recently, she worked as director of Operations and Services at Seabury Active Life Community in Bloomfield, Conn., a position she was offered when her previous boss left.

She came to Linda Manor just a year after it opened in 2014, and immediately commenced changing its fortunes.

The facility sits next to Linda Manor Extended Care Facility, also affiliated with Berkshire Healthcare Services, which opened in 1989, and Uguccioni immediately recognized opportunities to create synergies and potential growth for both facilities.

“My vision was to create community and to build a campus concept with the extended-care facility so that the community as a whole saw this campus as a place where housing meets healthcare, a unique concept without a buy-in fee that many of the competitors have,” she said. “Because we are not a ‘life-care community,’ the referral flow and process were not already built into the campus of care with a blink of an eye.”

Elaborating, she said that, while a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the two facilities seemed like a natural outcome, it took time, patience, and diligence to make it work.

This meant months of working with Mark Ailinger, administrator at the extended-care facility, and his team to build a solid relationship.

“That [relationship] was missing, and I could see that right when I got here,” said Uguccioni, adding that was a problem that could have affected several facets of both facilities had it continued. In order for facilities like Linda Manor to be financially stable, Uguccioni told BusinessWest, maintaining a consistent resident census at or above the target, as well as managing controllable operating expenses, are crucial. But, in order to accomplish this, facilities need solid referral sources, and wellness programs and models for the residents. All this comes much easier when you can utilize the resources at the extended-care facility right next door.

So Uguccioni and Ailinger worked together to build trust between the two buildings so that the extended-care facility could become a consistent referral source at the assisted-living facility, and vice versa.

“It is one of my proudest accomplishments since my tenure here,” she said.

At Home with the Idea

But there have been many accomplishments since Uguccioni’s arrival, including those ‘best-of’ awards.

They are generally a measure of customer service, and Uguccioni said she believes quality in this realm is a function of having a staff that knows it is valued and appreciated.

Indeed, it takes a village to run a successful assisted-living facility that leaves residents and their families happy, and Linda Manor does that well by putting an emphasis on relationships.

To help staff members accomplish this, Uguccioni helps them realize the impact they have on residents, and the value they have in affecting their lives.

For example, she said a certified nursing assistant providing daily services to a resident, like giving medication or offering assistance in the bathroom, translates into much more than completing a simple task.

“You’re really here to be an integral part of that person’s day,” Uguccioni said. “You’re the first person that they see in the morning, and, therefore, their interaction with you really shapes how their day might be.”

This, she says, is the key to running a successful assisted-living community.

“If you don’t have a staff that’s committed and engaged, you don’t have anything,” she said. “I think that it’s really important that you have people and staff in general that are invested in their role and they realize the value that they have in assisted living, and what they mean to the people that live here.”

But building a strong, caring team is not an easy task in this employment environment. Uguccioni says one of the biggest challenges in running an assisted-living facility is that not many people seem to want to be aides.

“There’s a lot of open positions in healthcare for certified nursing assistants, and we don’t find as many people seeking that out as a desired level of employment,” she said, adding that she puts staff satisfaction high on her list in order to reduce turnover.

“I don’t ever want someone here to feel like ‘oh, I just work in housekeeping,’ or ‘I’m just the server in the dining room; what do I know?’ Everybody here knows a tremendous amount,” Uguccioni added. “It’s not just me that runs the building, it’s all of us. If one person could do it, I wouldn’t have everybody else that works here.”

This attitude has helped Linda Manor to continue to be recognized as one of the best assisted-living facilities in the area, and Uguccioni is always thinking about ways to improve.

“I’m always looking at how we can positively affect someone’s life through the residents and the families,” she noted, adding that she has positive experiences every day that remind her why she does what she does.

She recalls one instance from a few years ago, while she was covering for someone in the Admissions department while they were on vacation. A woman walked in looking for a place for her mom to live. The minute she sat down in Uguccioni’s office, she began to cry.

“This woman was in a terrible predicament. Her mother lived in a totally different part of the country, and she didn’t know how to talk to her to tell her she couldn’t live alone anymore,” she said.

In this instance, Uguccioni advised the woman not to tell her mom why she couldn’t live alone, but explain how living in an assisted-living facility would help her live an easier, happier life.

The next week, the woman got her mom on a plane and moved her into Linda Manor.

“Being able to help her, I really do feel like I have a pivotal piece to that,” Uguccioni said. “Every time I see her when she comes in, she says, ‘I thank you every day.’”

Live and Learn

When she reflects back to that experience she had at the Alzheimer’s Resource Center as a 13-year-old girl, Uguccioni is grateful that the nurse sent her to deliver that paper, because it put her on a path to a career she loves every day.

“If I hadn’t had that volunteer experience doing something that was completely out of my comfort zone, I would never have what I have today,” she said. “I would never be in this field at all.”

But she did go down that path, and doing so started her on her journey to be a Healthcare Hero.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

She’s Forging Pathways to Help People Overcome OCD and Hoarding Disorder

Tara Ferrante

To illustrate one of the many ways obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, can manifest itself, Tara Ferrante said everyone has stood at a rail atop a high building, looked down, and thought, what if I jumped? It’s a little scary, and basically harmless.

“But with OCD,” she continued, “you actually evaluate that thought and think it could happen, and then, ‘I must be a terrible person to have that thought.’ Or it creates anxiety because that thought means something, and you have to do something to feel better.”

OCD often begins as an intrusive thought, she explained, and everyone has intrusive thoughts. What sets OCD sufferers apart, though, is their response to those thoughts. “Sometimes it’s a compulsion, sometimes avoidance — ‘I can’t be in tall places,’ or ‘I can’t be around knives, because I imagined myself stabbing someone once, so I must be a dangerous person. What person must think something like that? I must be a horrible person. People shouldn’t be around me.’”

But while avoidance — or whatever compulsive, repetitive action helps to mitigate that intrusive thought — might bring temporary relief, it also reinforces the initial evaluation of that thought, she went on, “so the next time that thought comes up, you’re stuck in that same cycle where you have to do something to feel better.”

Then there’s the behavior known as hoarding, which buries people, both psychologically and literally, in their own possessions because they’re unable to get rid of anything — presenting a wide variety of dangers.

“It can be a fire risk, or it can be a fall risk, especially as people get older, or someone may have other health issues and the path’s not wide enough for a gurney to get into their house for emergency support,” Ferrante said.

“It also causes people to isolate more — they’re afraid to have people in the home, or to reach out to people,” she went on. “There’s a thing called clutter blindness, where they might not see all the clutter, but when another person is there, it’s striking. There’s the shame and the guilt and everything else that comes up around that, so a lot of people do isolate more because of the clutter.”

Ferrante is program director of the Holyoke Outpatient Clinic at ServiceNet, one of the region’s largest behavioral-health agencies, and treats patients with a wide range of behavioral-health conditions. But it’s her work leading ServiceNet’s OCD and Hoarding Disorder Program that earned her recognition as a Healthcare Hero in the category of Emerging Leader.

To be sure, Ferrante doesn’t see herself as a hero — just someone passionate about helping people overcome behaviors that range, depending on the patient, from mildly annoying to completely debilitating.

“It feels so good to see people thriving in their lives who wanted to die at points,” she told BusinessWest. “While their lives may not be perfect by any means, they’re able to live their lives the way they want to, with much more ease.”

Starting the Journey

Ferrante’s journey in this specialized field began while working with a client who was experiencing extreme distress from OCD symptoms. She had read about emerging OCD treatments, learning that the most effective approach seemed to include a mix of structured clinical treatment and home-based and peer support.

So, two years ago, when ServiceNet’s senior leadership proposed the launch of an OCD program in Western Mass., she jumped at the opportunity to lead the program.

“They saw this area as a kind of desert in terms of people who can really specialize and are able to provide good care to people with OCD and hoarding disorder,” she explained. “I was super interested, and I expressed interest in overseeing it.”

“It feels so good to see people thriving in their lives who wanted to die at points. While their lives may not be perfect by any means, they’re able to live their lives the way they want to, with much more ease.”

Before launching the program, Ferrante and fellow clinicians first completed four days of training in OCD and hoarding disorder, then conducted a series of consultations with two nationally recognized experts on these conditions: Dr. Randy Frost, a professor of Psychology at Smith College, and Denise Egan Stack, a behavioral therapist who launched the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital in Belmont, a Boston suburb.

“We’ve been so lucky,” Ferrante said. “People have invested so much time and energy in our program to get it off the ground and get it going and helping me as a leader. It’s been really great.”

Currently, six ServiceNet clinicians provide specialized OCD and hoarding-disorder treatment at the agency’s Holyoke, Greenfield, and Northampton clinics. The program’s model continues to evolve, but several facets have crystalized, including the use of Smith College students as interns in the program. Frost trains the students for adjunct work in the community, such as conducting ‘exposures’ with clients battling OCD, Ferrante explained.

“They’ll give emotional support to people [with hoarding disorder] as they are sorting and discarding, or as they go out and practice non-acquiring — going to a store where they like buying things, and then not getting anything, sort of building up the tolerance of resisting that urge.”

Tara Ferrante says people with OCD and hoarding disorder span all ages and demographics.

The student collaboration has been valuable and productive, she noted. “We’re limited in how much we can get out into the community or into the home between sessions. The introduction of the interns has helped create steady progress.”

The term ‘hoarder’ is actually out of fashion, she noted, having taken on a stigma in recent years, thanks partly to TV shows that often vilify those who struggle with the condition. Frost has written extensively about the reasons people hoard; some call themselves ‘collectors’ or ‘finders-keepers’ because they see value in every item in their cluttered homes.

“That’s a strength, to be able to see value where other people don’t, or to see beauty where other people don’t,” Ferrante said. “But it’s a strength that’s gone too far, and that can make a hindrance in being able to get rid of things. Also, people don’t want to be wasteful, they don’t want things to go into landfills, and again, that’s really a wonderful quality — but it then impedes their quality of life.”

Hoarding is also a form of perfectionism, at least in the eyes of collectors, she went on. “You want to use something to its full ability, or it needs to go to the just right place. Or, if it’s going to be given away, it needs to be given to just the right person who’s going to love it fully, and if you can’t find that person, then you’re just going to keep it, and that can stall progress sometimes.”

As for OCD, like many mental-health conditions, it can differ in severity from one person to another, Ferrante said.

“Sometimes people can function pretty well, but even for those people who aren’t seeking treatment, it can affect their ability to have relationships, to get to work on time, even to leave their house,” she explained. “There are so many ways it can make people’s lives difficult. And even if they can function sometimes, they’re living in this constant state of anxiety and panic, which is really unpleasant.”

Then there are the more severe cases — stories of people unable to touch their children or their partners for years, or unable to leave their home, hold a job, or participate in life in any way.

The standard treatment in Ferrante’s program is known as exposure and response prevention, a form of cognitive behavior therapy.

“We form a relationship and create situations where they get exposed to the anxiety, the intrusive thought, and we don’t do the compulsion,” she explained. “We do it in a supported way at first, in session, and then we have the interns who can do that out in the community, and eventually we want people to do it on their own. We make exposure part of life — this idea of, ‘let’s turn toward anxiety rather than away from anxiety.’ It takes the power out of it, and they’re able to really start living their lives the way they want to be living.”

Many patients are treated with a combination of therapy and medications, often anti-depressants. “But not everyone needs meds,” she said. “I see a lot of positive outcomes with just exposure and response prevention on its own.”

Breaking Through

The ServiceNet program runs a series of support groups called Buried in Treasures, named after a book Frost co-authored. Ferrante also sits on the board of the Western Massachusetts Hoarding Disorder Resource Network, which puts on conferences that focus on what resources are available in the community for those who struggle with the condition. ServiceNet also brings in experts for lectures where mental-health professionals can earn CEUs for learning more about hoarding and OCD.

All this training is aimed at broadening resources for a patient population that cuts across all socioeconomic barriers and cultures around the world. Hoarding, in particular, is often seen as an older person’s condition, but that may be because they’ve had more time to accumulate, so the signs are more readily apparent.

Progress in overcoming a compulsion to hoard can be slow, Ferrante added. “That stuff didn’t get in the home overnight, and it’s not going to get out overnight. I mean, it can get out of the house overnight, but that generally is going to make things worse — it creates a trauma, it makes the person treatment-resistant, and doesn’t actually address how it all happened.

“It’s almost a guarantee, if someone has a forced cleanup, they’re going to fill their space up again,” she went on. “So we take a slower approach that looks at what got someone there and creates the skills they need to declutter on their own, and not have it return.”

While people who hoard often struggle with stigma, OCD sufferers are plagued with the opposite: the many Americans who think they have OCD because they have certain routines, and proclaim it with an odd sense of pride.

“They say, ‘oh, I’m so OCD,’ and it really minimizes it for people who are suffering,” Ferrante explained. “It’s not just being really clean or wanting things in a certain order. If those things are torturing you and you can’t function, sure, but people can have certain obsessions or compulsions and not have OCD. The ‘D’ part of OCD is that it’s impairing your ability to function, and most people who say, ‘I’m a little OCD’ … well, they’re not.”

On the other hand, it’s also frustrating for someone with OCD to be misdiagnosed, she added.

“I get calls from people saying, ‘I’ve been looking for help forever; no one knows what I’m talking about.’ Sometimes, when people think they’re dangerous because of an intrusive thought, then a therapist buys into that because they’re not sure what this is, and it reinforces that belief. But even suicidal thoughts can be OCD. People can get hospitalized when that’s not the right intervention. You want an expert making sure you’re making the right call there.”

Outside of her OCD and hoarding work, Ferrante continues to manage all the clinicians at the Holyoke clinic, and handles a caseload of about 15 patients at a time, dealing with a wide range of mental-health concerns, from substance-use disorders to trauma, anxiety, and depression. In that sense, she and her team were already doing heroic work before launching the OCD and Hoarding Disorder Program.

But since that launch, she’s been able to help a patient population that often finds it difficult to access resources — and wind up suffering in silence, and often falling prey to other conditions; in fact people who hoard are 80% more likely than the general population to develop depression.

“It’s amazing to see people get better,” she told BusinessWest, whether progress occurs quickly or not. “It’s not always simple — sometimes there’s more than just OCD going on, and it’s more complicated. But if people are coming in, they’re already motivated to do the work, and progress can be pretty quick.”

She thinks of the client who inspired her interest in OCD research, and said “it blows my mind” how far he’s come.

“It’s so, so great when people graduate and don’t need therapy anymore. To see even small progress — people being able to do things they couldn’t do before — makes my job totally worth it.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

She’s One of Many Improving Quality of Life for People with Dementia

Carol Constant

As director of Community Engagement at the Loomis Communities, Carol Constant has developed a number of ways residents of the three sites — Loomis Village in South Hadley, Loomis Lakeside at Reed’s Landing in Springfield, and Applewood at Amherst — can be, well, engaged with the world outside their walls.

“It’s not a silo — we’re out supporting the community, and the community is invited to be a part of what we do,” she said, citing examples like supporting awareness walks, food drives, and other events relevant to area seniors.

But it was a resident of Loomis Village, named Rachel Tierney, who got her thinking about the concept of engagement in a new, broader way.

“She had been a long-time caregiver for her husband, and she’s a retired psychiatric nurse,” Constant said. “She had heard about the dementia-friendly movement, and when she saw my title, she approached me and said, ‘hey, do you want to think about this?’”

Constant did. In fact, the idea of dementia-friendly communities — a movement that aims to teach first responders, municipal workers, and business owners how to interact with people with dementia — appealed to her, so she was pleased when her first meeting in South Hadley, in March 2015, drew a wide range of stakeholders: fire and police chiefs, the town administrator, a librarian, the senior-center director, and Chamber of Commerce members, to name a few.

“They’re going to the bank, they’re going to the grocery store, they’re out in the community. So how can we, as a broader community, recognize it and be helpful to them?”

“We sat them down in a room and said, ‘we have this idea about educating and raising awareness about dementia. How have you experienced dementia in your daily lives?’” she recalled. “These are busy people, and we promised to take only an hour of their time, but just going around the room hearing the stories took an hour. Everyone had a story.”

That’s because, of the approximately 5.3 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, 70% are living in the community, rather than assisted living or nursing care — and 30% of that group are living alone. Going by these estimates, approximately 8,460 individuals with dementia in the Pioneer Valley are living in their homes, and 2,538 are living alone.

“They’re going to the bank, they’re going to the grocery store, they’re out in the community,” Constant said. “So how can we, as a broader community, recognize it and be helpful to them?”

More than four years after that first meeting, the loose coalition known as Dementia Friendly Western Massachusetts (DFWM) has drawn the support of dozens of area organizations, sponsored myriad awareness and education events, and, most importantly, made area communities better places to live for people with dementia.

It’s an effort that will only become more important as Baby Boomers continue to march into their senior years, living longer, on average, than previous generations. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise by 55% by 2030, and by 2050, the Alzheimer’s Assoc. estimates the total number could explode to nearly 14 million.

Proponents of the dementia-friendly movement say greater public awareness and support programs will reduce the stigma of dementia and improve the quality of life for these individuals and their families. In addition, greater public awareness may lead to earlier detection and earlier treatment.

“There’s a huge stigma around dementia,” Constant said. “How can we make people recognize that there’s no shame in it, that nobody who has dementia did something bad? One of the goals is to destigmatize it because people get worried they’re going to embarrass themselves.”

It starts with small steps, she added. “Just check yourself. You may be in a hurry at the store, there’s a long line at the register, and this person is having a hard time counting their money. So slow down and recognize what’s happening and how to be helpful.”

For taking those steps along with a raft of like-minded individuals and organizations, Constant is positively impacting an often-forgotten population, and teaching entire communities that there’s plenty of work left to do.

Knowledge Is Power

The work of Dementia Friendly Western Massachusetts includes several basic activities, including:

• Education and training for those who might encounter an individual with dementia, including fire and EMT first responders, faith communities, and frontline workers in banks, retail stores, and restaurants;

• Development of support groups, memory cafés, and other programs that support individuals and their families; and

• Development of a website and materials that provide a calendar of events and resources available to families the region.

These supports are critical, Constant said, as research shows that supportive care helps people living with dementia and their caregivers experience less physical and emotional stress, better health, fewer hospitalizations, and less time in long-term-care facilities. Additionally, caregivers need support, as caring for someone with dementia puts a strain on their physical and mental health as well as relationships with other family members. Finally, educational programs that build awareness of the challenges faced by these individuals and their families will help assure that, when they are in the community, they are treated with respect and dignity.

To Constant, much of this work comes down to one question. “How can we be supportive of people in the community and destigmatize dementia? When they get embarrassed and shamed, they isolate and become depressed, and that does not help — that further exacerbates the problem for them. This is a movement to raise awareness and destigmatize dementia, in addition to providing education and support for people in the community about dementia.”

Carol Constant says many people with dementia are out in the community, and the community needs to know how to interact with them.

Take memory cafés, for example — places where people with dementia and their loved ones and caregivers can hang out and relax, free from the stress that often accompanies other community outings, because everyone knows everyone else in the room understands their experience.

“So often, we get caught up with caregiving, and we forget to have fun with the person we’re caring for,” she explained. “So it’s an hour, hour and a half where people can meet someone in a similar situation, hang out together, relax, and have fun.”

Memory Cafés have been established at Armbrook Village in Westfield and councils on aging and senior centers in Holyoke, South Hadley, Belchertown, Hampden, Greenfield, and Shelburne Falls. Heritage Hall East in Agawam is in the process of starting one.

Meanwhile, dementia support groups have been established at Armbrook Village, Heritage Hall East, Loomis House, the Holyoke Soldiers Home, and the Belchertown, Holyoke, and South Hadley councils on aging and senior centers.

Constant is gratified to be recognized as a Healthcare Hero, especially considering the category — Collaboration in Health/Wellness. On several occasions during her interview with BusinessWest, she emphasized that she can’t take credit for all this work; it’s about creating partnerships with area agencies that serve older adults. “We got the right people together in the room, and we started programming.”

Those partners in Dementia Friendly Western Massachusetts include the Alzheimer’s Assoc.; the communities of South Hadley, Holyoke, and Springfield; the Department of Elder Affairs; Holyoke Medical Center; WestMass ElderCare; Greater Springfield Senior Services; Holyoke Community College; Chapin Center; A Better Life HomeCare; Springfield Partners for Community Action; Grupo de Apoyo de Demencia at Baystate Medical Center; the Public Health Institute; PeoplesBank; O’Connell Care at Home; Massachusetts Councils on Aging; Silverlife Care at Home; River Valley Counseling Center; Safe Harbor Adult Day Services; UMass College of Nursing; Springfield College; and the Holyoke VNA.

The purpose of their collective efforts, simply put, is to build broader community awareness of the issues around dementia, not only through the website and materials promoting support resources and programs, but by encouraging and training organizations, agencies, and towns in the region to become involved in the dementia-friendly movement.

First Response

To date, DFWM organizations have established and led hundreds of educational programs across the region, including educational programs to a wide array of audiences, including first responders, city and town employees, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, councils on aging, schools and colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, home healthcare agencies, chambers of commerce, businesses, Rotary clubs, faith communities, retirement communities, civic organizations, elder-law programs, and local and national conferences.

Each target audience has different needs and different ways to connect. For example, first responders often feel frustration when encountering people with dementia, because their role is often to stabilize a situation and then move on. When they encounter a situation where it’s obvious that someone in a home is struggling with dementia and may not have the supports they need, they often feel there’s not much they can do, Constant said.

With that in mind, Dementia Friendly Western Massachusetts developed a visual resource, the size of a business card, that’s printed, in both English and Spanish, with the contact information of organizations that can provide dementia-related resources to families. First responders can leave this card with a family when they feel it’s warranted.

“First responders rush in and rush out — assess the situation and get everyone safe. Then they leave,” Constant said. “There’s a sense of frustration when they know the situation is bigger than ‘we got the fire out.’ This is something they can hand to the family member.”

Or, when police arrive at a home, they might encounter someone who’s agitated and on edge, but not dangerous or mentally ill — they simply have dementia and are trying to navigate a stressful situation.

“Maybe we need to slow it down a little bit, make eye contact, get at their level,” she said. “When I talk to first responders, I see and hear that they do this naturally, but a little layer of education around it is also really helpful. And I’ve heard that from police chiefs in all the communities we’ve been working in.”

It’s just one way she and the other coalition members are changing the conversation around dementia — right down to the very words people employ.

“So much of the language we use around dementia is ‘afflicted,’ ‘stricken,’ ‘the tsunami’ — all this negative language,” she noted. “No wonder it’s stigmatized. So, how do we make people feel not ashamed, not embarrassed about it, and not isolated?”

The community education goes beyond words, as well, and gets to the heart of how people with dementia are treated. For instance, people will sometimes stop talking to an individual with dementia altogether — instead always addressing their companion — even though there’s often many years between diagnosis and the time when someone becomes so debilitated they can’t go out anymore.

“The essence of that person is still there,” Constant said, citing a Maya Angelou quote — not first uttered in reference to dementia, but nonetheless applicable: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“They can still experience joy; they can still experience humor,” she went on. “So what are we doing when we say, ‘you are no longer able to cognitively keep up with this fast-paced conversation, so sit in the corner by yourself.’ One of the goals of all this work is to improve quality of life.”

That goes for everyone — individuals with dementia, their care partners, and the community as a whole.

Filling the Room

Constant is grateful the Loomis Communities gives her a “long leash” when it comes to her work with Dementia Friendly Western Massachusetts, but not surprised, as it’s really in Loomis’ best interest.

And she’s also thankful for the individual moments that demonstrate the value of engaging people with dementia fully in society.

“Having someone who’s living with dementia come up and talk to you and start a conversation and share their experience and that of their care partner, it’s wonderful to see,” she said. “If we can do one thing to make the quality of life for someone better, why wouldn’t we?”

When her mother-in-law was diagnosed with dementia 30 years ago, she added, she didn’t have the resources available today; no dementia-friendly initiatives existed back then. But she wishes they had. “I learned all my lessons the hard way. I wish I had known as much about it as I do now.”

Still, there’s a lot to learn, she added, and a lot of passionate people — again, this is certainly a collaborative award — working on improving quality of life, one person and one community at a time.

“It’s been great making these connections, and that’s really powerful,” Constant concluded. “If it was up to just one person to do this, it wouldn’t happen. It’s all about getting all the right people in the room.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

3rd Annual Healthcare Heroes Awards

HERO (n.) a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

BusinessWest and Healthcare News have created Healthcare Heroes to honor those who live up to that word’s definition. This region’s health and wellness sector is large, diverse, and dominated by heroes of all kinds. They’re on the front lines, in the administrative office, the research lab, the neighborhood clinic, the family dentist’s office, the college health and science building. They’re making real contributions to the quality of life in our communities, and it’s time to recognize their efforts!

3rd Annual Healthcare Heroes Gala
Thursday, October 17, 2019
5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Sheraton Springfield One Monarch Place Hotel
$90/person; $900/table of 10

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE

Submit nominations for 2020 consideration HERE

Deadline to submit nominations is July 10, 2020, 5 p.m. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Presenting Sponsor

Partner Sponsors

Supporting Sponsor

2nd Annual Healthcare Heroes Awards

Women of Impact 2019

2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards

BusinessWest has consistently recognized the contributions of women within the business community and has now created the Women of Impact awards to honor women who have the authority and power to move the needle in their business; are respected for accomplishments within their industries; give back to the community; and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within the field of influence.

Nominees can be high-level executives, entrepreneurs, leaders of a non-profit organization, business owners, volunteers, or mentors: any inspirational woman, at any level in her career, who is doing remarkable things. Nominate NOW! 

Event Information 

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
Tickets on Sale: September 1, 2019; Price $65
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

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Kate Campiti 413.781.8600 (ext. 104)  [email protected]
Kathleen Plante 413.781.8600 (ext. 108)  [email protected]

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2018 Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6, 2018 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

The 2018 Women of Impact Honorees:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allen Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

2018 Women of Impact Honorees

Celebrating the 2018 Women of Impact

Scenes from the Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2019

Scenes From the June 20 Event

40under40-logo2017aThe Class of 2019 was celebrated at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala on Thursday, June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

More than 650 people crammed the Log Cabin which has become one of the region’s best networking events.

Presentation of the Continued Excellence Award to Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls Inc., was the opening act of the 40 Under Forty celebration.


Photography for this special section by Leah Martin Photography

A Gallery of the Celebration

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Features

Fabulous Five

With a whopping 480 past 40 Under Forty winners, it’s no easy task to choose the one who has accomplished the most since his or her selection. But, for the fifth straight year, our judges are giving it a try.

“So many 40 Under Forty honorees have refused to rest on their laurels,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “Once again, we want to honor those who continue to build upon their strong records of service in business, within the community, and as regional leaders. And, like previous years’ finalists, these five individuals have certainly done that.”

This year’s crop of finalists were chosen from a field of 60 nominations by three independent judges: Elizabeth Cardona, executive director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Life at Bay Path University; Scott Foster, partner with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas; and Susan O’Connor, vice president and general counsel at Health New England.

Four years ago, BusinessWest inaugurated the award to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who had significantly built on their achievements since they were honored.

The first two winners were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both were originally named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008. The judges chose two winners in 2017: Foster (class of 2011); and Nicole Griffin, owner of Griffin Staffing Network (class of 2014). Last year, Samalid Hogan, regional director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013), took home the honor.

The winner of the fifth annual Continued Excellence Award will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty Gala, slated for Thursday, June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The nominees are:

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

When Fenton was named to the 40 Under Forty in 2012, he was serving his second term on Springfield’s City Council and preparing to graduate from law school. He was also a trustee at his alma mater, Cathedral High School, where he dedicated countless hours to help rebuild the school following the 2011 tornado.

Since then, Fenton continues to serve on the City Council — including as its president from 2014 to 2016 — and is a shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., practicing in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, commercial finance, and estate planning. He received an Excellence in the Law honor from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2014 through 2017.

Meanwhile, in the community, he is a founding member of Suit Up Springfield; a corporator with Mason Wright Foundation; a volunteer teacher at Junior Achievement; a member of the Hungry Hill, Atwater Park, and East Springfield civic associations; and an advisory board member at Roca Inc., which helps high-risk young people transform their lives.

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Gleason was just 24 when he earned the 40 Under Forty designation in 2010. At the time, he was commercial sales manager at Roger Sitterly and Son, overseeing about 20 people, while also managing the operations of his own company, Gleason Landscaping, which at the time was bringing in $500,000 in annual revenues.

Today, he’s no longer affiliated with Sitterly, as his landscaping and snow-removal outfit now services all of New England, employing more than 100 people during the landscaping season and 300 during the winter. The firm grosses more than $10 million annually and is the 32nd-largest snow-removal company in the country. He also co-owns Gleason Johndrow Rentals, which has a portfolio of properties valued at $10 million. He’s also a co-owner of MAPAM-1, LLC and a director of Gleason Brothers Inc.

Meanwhile, Gleason is active with Spirit of Springfield, leading the largest cadre of volunteers for the annual World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, serving on the organization’s golf committee, and sponsoring Bright Nights and the Bright Nights Ball. He has also donated landscaping services to a number of municipal and nonprofit projects.

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Jones was a member of the inaugural 40 Under Forty class of 2007, chosen not just for her role as president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, but for her ninth-generation leadership of WD Cowls Inc., which managed timberland in 31 communities. At the time, she managed the company’s real-estate division and oversaw its sawmill and planing mill.

Since then, Jones has grown Cowls’ timberland base by more than 1,000 acres, closed the unprofitable sawmill, and built nothing short of a new town center, called North Square, in its place. She also hosts two major solar farms and is planning more, and sold the largest conservation restriction in state history; the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest raised $8.8 million and was named for her father. This year, she will add 2,000 more across to her conservation legacy.

Jones also stays active in the community with the Amherst Survival Center, donating her contractors’ time to mow and plow for this food bank and sponsoring community food-collection programs.

Eric Lesser

Lesser was chosen for the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 following his election to the state Senate in November 2014. Elected at just 29 years old, he represents nine communities in the First Hampden & Hampshire District. His legislative agenda focuses on the fight for greater economic opportunity and quality of life for Western Mass., with initiatives around high-speed rail, a high-tech economy, job training, and innovation in government. He also spearheads the Senate’s agenda on millennial issues, including technology policy, student debt, and greater youth engagement in public affairs.

Since 2015, in addition to securing several leadership positions in the Legislature, Lesser has been overwhelmingly re-elected senator twice, and has authored several pieces of successful legislation, including lowering the cost of Narcan for first responders, which has contributed to a decrease in the Commonwealth’s overall opioid deaths for two straight years.

Lesser has also supported economic programs that bridge the gap between Boston and Springfield and has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for area organizations, including Valley Venture Mentors, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Greentown Labs, and more.

Meghan Rothschild

Rothschild, then development and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass., was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 mainly for her tireless work in melanoma awareness. A survivor herself, she began organizing local events to raise funds for the fight against this common killer, and launched a website, SurvivingSkin.org, and TV show, Skin Talk, that brought wider attention to her work.

Since then, Rothschild has stayed busy, increasing her profile with the Melanoma Foundation of New England and IMPACT Melanoma, and hosting a community talk show on 94.3 FM. Most notably, however, she has grown Chikmedia, a woman-focused marketing firm, into a true regional force. The firm recently marked its fifth anniversary and continues to expand its roster of clients, community workshops, branded events, and social-media impact.

Rothschild also teaches at Springfield College and is a board member at the Zoo at Forest Park, donating her time to its marketing and PR initiatives. She has also participated in events benefiting the Holyoke Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement, and a host of other groups.

Picture This

A photo essay of recent business events in Western Massachusetts April 15, 2019

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]

Women’s Leadership Conference

Bay Path University staged its annual Women’s Leadership Conference on March 29. The theme for the day was “Why Not Me,” and a number of keynote speakers and focus sessions addressed that broad topic.

More than 1,700 people attended the day-long conference

More than 1,700 people attended the day-long conference

luncheon keynote speaker Mel Robbins shares the ‘five-second rule’ with the audience

luncheon keynote speaker Mel Robbins shares the ‘five-second rule’ with the audience

Rita Moreno, winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Golden Globe, was the closing keynote speaker at the conference

Rita Moreno, winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Golden Globe, was the closing keynote speaker at the conference

he sizable contingent from MassMutual poses for a photo

he sizable contingent from MassMutual poses for a photo

Dr. Ann Errichetti, chief operations and academic officer at Presence Health

Dr. Ann Errichetti, chief operations and academic officer at Presence Health

Kate Kane, managing director and wealth-management advisor for Northwestern Mutual, were both inducted into the Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame

Kate Kane, managing director and wealth-management advisor for Northwestern Mutual, were both inducted into the Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame




Cutting the Ribbon

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were conducted on April 5 for a new medical/professional building at 15 Atwood Dr. in Northampton, a project led by Development Associates and Northwood Development, LLC.

Ken Vincunas, right, president of Development Associates, with Ronald Waskiewicz, assistant chief probation officer, and Michael Carey, Hampshire County register of Probate, both tenants in the building

Ken Vincunas, right, president of Development Associates, with Ronald Waskiewicz, assistant chief probation officer, and Michael Carey, Hampshire County register of Probate, both tenants in the building

from left, Vincunas, Susan O’Leary Mulhern of Northwood Development, Eileen O’Leary Sullivan of Northwood Development, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, and Travis Ward of Development Associates

from left, Vincunas, Susan O’Leary Mulhern of Northwood Development, Eileen O’Leary Sullivan of Northwood Development, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, and Travis Ward of Development Associates

officials cut the ceremonial ribbon

officials cut the ceremonial ribbon

O’Leary Sullivan addresses those gathered at the ceremony

O’Leary Sullivan addresses those gathered at the ceremony




Partnering with the Sox

As part of its ongoing Worcester expansion, Country Bank is teaming up with the Worcester Red Sox as one of the team’s 21 founding partners in anticipation of its move to Worcester in 2021. The bank’s recent annual annual meeting in Worcester featured a keynote address that included a video of the site of Polar Park narrated by Worcester Red Sox President Charles Steinberg, along with remarks regarding the team’s decision to relocate to Worcester.

Pictured, from left, are Rob Crain, senior vice president of Marketing for the Worcester Red Sox; Shelley Regin, senior vice president of Marketing for Country Bank; Paul Scully, President and CEO of Country Bank, and Jack Verducci, vice president of Corporate Partnerships for the Worcester Red Sox.

Pictured, from left, are Rob Crain, senior vice president of Marketing for the Worcester Red Sox; Shelley Regin, senior vice president of Marketing for Country Bank; Paul Scully, President and CEO of Country Bank, and Jack Verducci, vice president of Corporate Partnerships for the Worcester Red Sox.




Show of Support

The YWCA of Greater Springfield recently hosted a somewhat unusual, but important gathering — a show of support for Cheryl Claprood, the recently named acting police commissioner in Springfield, a role she assumes at a time of considerable controversy within the department.

Claprood, center, with Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi and YWCA Executive Director Elizabeth Dineen, a former prosecutor in Hampden County. Behind them are some of the more than 30 women who attended the event

Claprood, center, with Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi and YWCA Executive Director Elizabeth Dineen, a former prosecutor in Hampden County. Behind them are some of the more than 30 women who attended the event

Dineen addresses the gathering

Dineen addresses the gathering




Visit from the Earl of St. Andrews

Elms College recently received a visit from the Earl of St. Andrews, a senior member of the House of Windsor, the reigning royal house of the United Kingdom.

George Philip Nicholas Windsor, Earl of St. Andrews, is the elder son of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and his wife Katharine, Duchess of Kent. He holds the title Earl of St Andrews as heir apparent to the Dukedom of Kent. The earl stopped by Elms College on his way through Springfield to attend a conference on the Middle East in Washington, D.C., later this week. The conference was co-sponsored by the Next Century Foundation, where he serves as a trustee with retired ambassador Mark Hambley, who is also a trustee of Elms College.

George Philip Nicholas Windsor, Earl of St. Andrews, is the elder son of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and his wife Katharine, Duchess of Kent. He holds the title Earl of St Andrews as heir apparent to the Dukedom of Kent. The earl stopped by Elms College on his way through Springfield to attend a conference on the Middle East in Washington, D.C., later this week. The conference was co-sponsored by the Next Century Foundation, where he serves as a trustee with retired ambassador Mark Hambley, who is also a trustee of Elms College.




Degrees of Progress

Elms College President Harry Dumay, left, and Springfield Technical Community College President John Cook shake hands after signing a partnership agreement to offer accelerated online degree-completion programs in Computer Science and Computer Information Technology and Security. The bachelor’s degree programs are completely online and accelerated, which means students can earn their degree in 14 months after obtaining an associate degree from STCC.

Elms College President Harry Dumay, left, and Springfield Technical Community College President John Cook

Elms College President Harry Dumay, left, and Springfield Technical Community College President John Cook




Berkshire Blueprint 2.0

1Berkshire recently launched the implementation phase of the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 at ceremonies at the Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield. The event was the culmination of more than 100 interviews, thousands of hours of work, and more than 20 months of planning and design. 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler kicked off the primary outline during the launch by recognizing that $1 billion in regional investments have been made in the Berkshires in just the last three years, noting that investment in the Berkshires is “a good bet.” (Photos by Kara Thornton)

John Bissell, President and CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union, addresses the large crowd

John Bissell, President and CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union, addresses the large crowd

Butler, left, with Ben Lamb, director of Economic Development for 1Bershire

Butler, left, with Ben Lamb, director of Economic Development for 1Bershire

from left, Betsy Strickler, chief communications officer for Community Health Programs Inc.

from left, Betsy Strickler, chief communications officer for Community Health Programs Inc.Kevin Pink, Economic Development coordinator for 1Berkshire; and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer




Safety Awards

Peter Pan Bus Lines recently hosted its annual Safety Awards presentation at the Student Prince and the Fort. A total of 175 drivers were recognized for completing 2018 with no accidents, and the company also recognized drivers, operations, and maintenance departments for outstanding customer service and performance.

Michael Drozd was honored as a 2 million-mile driver

Michael Drozd was honored as a 2 million-mile driver

Siyana Abdulbasir received the company’s Customer Excellence Award for outstanding customer service

Siyana Abdulbasir received the company’s Customer Excellence Award for outstanding customer service

Features

About the Judges

A panel of judges was kept quite busy over the past few weeks, reading, evaluating, and eventually scoring nearly 200 nominations for the Forty Under 40 Class of 2019.

Yes, that’s a record, and it’s a clear indication of how coveted that designation ‘BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree’ has become within the 413.

Who will be most recent 40 people able to add that line to their résumés? The judges are concluding their work, and the letters alerting the winners should be going out sometime this first full week in March. They will be announced in late April, and the gala is in June at the Log Cabin.

To say the judges had their hands full this year is an understatement. But it is a very capable group that includes one previous winner, representatives of a number of business sectors, and a few players within the burgeoning entrepreneurship ecosystem within the region. Here are the judges for this year’s competition:

Michael Buckmaster

Michael Buckmaster

Michael Buckmaster, vice president of Commercial Banking for Community Bank, N.A. He has more than 30 years of experience within the banking industry working for a wide range of institutions, from global market leaders in corporate and investment banking in The U.K. to U.S. regional and community banks within the areas of small-business and middle-market commercial lending. Current specialties include commercial banking loan origination and relationship management for small and medium-sized businesses, and commercial investment real-estate financing within the New England region.

He serves as board president for Hartsprings Foundation (an affiliation of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County), and as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County and for the East of the River (ERC5) Chamber of Commerce.

Kristin Leutz

Kristin Leutz

Kristin Leutz, CEO of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), a nonprofit organization based in Springfield offering mentorship, startup accelerators, and co-working space to build the innovation economy in Western Mass., and 40 Under Forty honoree in 2010.

Previously, she was the director of Development for RefugePoint, an innovative NGO, working to help at-risk refugees by improving humanitarian systems. She also consulted with the global philanthropic membership organization Women Moving Millions, creating strategic communications to catalyze unprecedented resources for women and girls. Before that, she served as vice president for Philanthropic Services at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, where she led donor services, professional advisor engagement, fundraising, and communications.

She earned a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Springfield College, a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University, and her yoga teacher certification from Kripalu.

Julie Quink

Julie Quink

Julie Quink, CPA, CFE, managing principal of the accounting firm Burkhart Pizzanelli, P.C.

A graduate of Elms College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Quink joined the firm in 2011. She is involved in the accounting and consulting aspect of the practice and manages engagements of various sizes and complexities. She also performs services relative to forensic and fraud-related engagements.

Quink is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Mass. Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Assoc. of Certified Fraud Examiners. She is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is a certified fraud examiner.

Active in the community, she serves in a number of boards for the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, Baystate Wing Hospital, and Square One. She’s also a member of the School Committee of Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Christina Royal

Christina Royal

Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College. Royal is the fourth president of Holyoke Community College and the first woman to lead the school since it was founded in 1946.

She holds a Ph.D. in education from Capella University and a master’s degree in educational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in math from Marist College.

She sits on the boards of directors for the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Mass. Technology Collaborative, and the American Assoc. of Community Colleges’ Commission on College Readiness. 

Before coming to HCC in January 2017, she served as provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Inver Hills Community College and previously as associate vice president for E-learning and Innovation at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and director of Technology-assisted Learning for the School of Graduate and Continuing Education for Marist College, her alma mater. 

Gregory Thomas

Gregory Thomas

Gregory Thomas, executive director and lecturer at the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. He works with constituents on campus and throughout the Commonwealth to develop and execute partnerships while also teaching courses in entrepreneurship and innovation.

A 1991 UMass Amherst graduate, Thomas held senior-level global roles in his more than 20 years with Corning Inc. In his last five years at Corning, he was a strategist in the Innovation Group. He is also the immediate past president of the UMass Amherst Alumni Assoc. board.

Law

Knowledge Is Power

By John S. Gannon, Esq.

John S. Gannon, Esq

John S. Gannon, Esq

As an employment attorney, my job is to help businesses comply with the myriad laws that govern the workplace. No business is immune from workplace problems, and for those who violate employment laws, hefty penalties and damages await.

In order to help businesses avoid these problems, I’ve put together a list five costly employment-practice mistakes we frequently come across, with tips for correction and prevention.

Misclassifying Employees as Exempt from Overtime

Employers are sometimes shocked when they learn that salaried employees might be entitled to overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week. The shock quickly goes to panic when they are told the salaried non-exempt employee is due several years’ worth of unpaid overtime, and that this unpaid wage amount can be doubled and potentially tripled under state and federal wage laws.

Misclassifying employees as exempt is a common mistake. This is because many employers associate paying a salary basis with no overtime obligation. True, paying employees a salary is typically one part of the test, but there are several other factors to consider during your exemption analysis.

We recommend you work with legal counsel to audit your exempt employee classifications. While you’re at it, consider doing a pay-equity audit to help protect against equal-pay discrimination claims.

Leave-law Headaches

When an employee is out for a medical condition, there are a series of complex and challenging employment laws that need to be navigated. This includes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers’ compensation laws, the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time law, and, coming soon, the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave law.

These laws have a plethora of traps for the unwary. What do you do when an employee continually calls out in connection with a medical condition? Do your supervisors know what to do if an employee requests several weeks off for surgery? The answers are not always easy, so make sure you know how these laws interact with one another.

Outdated Handbooks and Employment Agreements

Recently, I was reviewing whether a non-compete agreement would be enforceable in court. It turned out the agreement was signed roughly 10 years ago. To make things worse, the last update to the document was pre-Y2K.

The point here is that employment agreements and handbooks should not grow cobwebs. Changes in the law require changes to these documents. For example, Massachusetts enacted significant legislation in October 2018 changing the entire landscape of non-compete law in the Commonwealth. The state also saw the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act take shape in April last year. This new law included a notice requirement that meant an update to the employee handbook was in order.

Having your employment agreements and handbook regularly reviewed by counsel is a good way to stay on top of the constant changes in the employment law world. Remember, if you have not updated these employment documents in a few years, they are probably doing more harm than good.

Failure to Eradicate Harassment at Work

Last year was dominated by headlines spotlighting sexual-harassment scandals and cover-ups. But was the #metoo movement just another fad? The answer unequivocally is ‘no.’

To prove it, late last year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published data on workplace harassment claims that revealed a 50% increase in sexual-harassment lawsuits filed by the EEOC when compared to 2017 numbers. The EEOC also recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment in 2018, up from $47.5 million in 2017.

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: businesses need to take proactive steps to create a workplace free from harassment. This involves updating anti-harassment policies and practices, adequately training your workforce, and promptly investigating all harassment complaints.

Lack of Supervisor Training

Most of the mistakes listed above are fertile ground for supervisor slip-ups. Whether they fail to report harassment (or, worse yet, engage in harassing behavior themselves) or discipline an employee who has taken too much sick time, supervisors who don’t know any better are in a position to do considerable damage to your business.

Proper training can alleviate this risk. Plus, a supervisor who spots an issue before it spirals out of control could prevent a costly lawsuit from being filed.

John S. Gannon is an attorney with Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., one of the largest law firms in New England exclusively practicing labor and employment law. He specializes in employment litigation and personnel policies and practices, wage-and-hour compliance, and non-compete and trade-secrets litigation; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Accounting and Tax Planning

2018 Tax Planning (in 2019)

By Brendan Healy, CPA

Brendan Healy

Even though we’re into 2019, there are still tax-saving opportunities available for the 2018 tax year.

This article summarizes a number of options that businesses and taxpayers should consider to help minimize their tax burden when they file their 2018 tax returns. As with any tax-savings strategy, you should discuss these post-2018 year-end planning techniques with your tax advisor before implementing them.

Retirement-plan Contributions

Although some retirement plans needed to have been in place before Dec. 31 to be used for the 2018 year, there are plans that could be set up in 2019, funded, and then used as deductions for the 2018 tax return.

A simplified employee pension (or SEP) IRA, for example, can be set up after year-end and funded up to the due date (including extensions) of the taxpayer’s business.

New Opportunity-zone Funds

The new tax law created a significant tax incentive to encourage capital investment in certain locations that need development. If you sell an asset with a large capital gain, you may be able to defer that gain if you essentially reinvest that gain into an “opportunity-zone fund” within six months of that sale. If done properly, you wouldn’t recognize the tax gain until the latter of when your new investment is sold or Dec. 31, 2026. You can also get up to 15% of the deferred gain forgiven entirely for holding the investment for specified time period. And if you held the investment for an additional 10 years, you’d pay no tax on subsequent capital gains.

Capital-expenditure Tax Writeoff

The new tax law allows businesses to write off (or expense) larger amounts of fixed-asset purchases. The new law not only applies to personal property (machinery, equipment, computers, office furniture, etc.) but also increases the ability to write off certain real-estate improvements. It also increases the amount of tax deduction available for business-owned automobiles. These capital-expense writeoff elections are made at the time you file the tax return.

State Tax Planning

If you ship product to different states or if you sell over the internet across the country, there may be state tax-planning strategies available for your business. Certain businesses can take advantage of apportioning their revenue across several states. And if they do not have to file tax returns in those states, that apportioned revenue may never be subject to state income tax.

There have been significant changes this past year in the way states are allowed to (or not allowed to) tax out-of-state shipments entering their state. You should review your state income tax plan as well as your state sales tax reporting process in light of these new and significant changes.

Tax Credits

The tax law provides certain incentives to businesses by offering tax credits. The research and experimentation tax credit, for example, allows a business to convert a dollar of deduction into a dollar of tax credit. Since tax credits reduce taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis, a tax credit is more valuable to the business than a tax deduction. So if the business is allowed to convert an expenditure into a credit, the tax savings could be substantial.

Many businesses (such as manufacturers or software companies) are not taking advantage of this tax credit that may be available to them.

Estate Planning and Gifts During Lifetime

The new tax law significantly increases the ability for families to transfer wealth upon death as well as allowing gifts during lifetime on a tax-free basis. Although estate and gift planning can get very complicated, the limits available today (which will expire in about seven years) are substantially higher than they have been in the past and allow for great flexibility in wealth-transfer planning.

Bottom Line

Just because 2018 is over does not mean we should stop thinking about tax-planning strategies for 2018 tax returns that will be filed over the next several months.

There are many tax incentives written into the tax law to encourage business and individual taxpayers to reinvest. It is up to you to make sure you are taking advantage of every one available to you and your business.

Brenden Healy, CPA, a partner at Whittlesey, is an expert in state and federal tax matters who consults with businesses and individuals and focuses his practice on closely held businesses in the real-estate, manufacturing and distribution, and retail industries.

Construction

National Outlook

According to the 2019 Dodge Construction Outlook released by Dodge Data & Analytics, a leader in construction-industry forecasting and business planning, total U.S. construction starts for 2019 will be $808 billion, staying essentially even with the $807 billion recorded in 2018.

“Over the past three years, the expansion for the U.S. construction industry has shown deceleration in its rate of growth, a pattern that typically takes place as an expansion matures,” said Robert Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “After advancing 11% to 14% each year from 2012 through 2015, total construction starts climbed 7% in both 2016 and 2017, and a 3% increase is estimated for 2018. There are, of course, mounting headwinds affecting construction, namely rising interest rates and higher material costs, but for now these have been balanced by the stronger growth for the U.S. economy, some easing of bank lending standards, still-healthy market fundamentals for commercial real estate, and greater state financing for school construction and enhanced federal funding for public works.”

One important question going into 2019 is whether deceleration is followed by a period of high-level stability or a period of decline, he noted. For 2019, it’s expected that growth for the U.S. economy won’t be quite as strong as what happened in 2018, as the benefits of tax cuts begin to wane. Short-term interest rates will rise, as the Federal Reserve continues to move monetary policy towards a more neutral stance. Long-term interest rates will also rise, reflecting higher inflationary expectations by the financial markets. At the same time, any erosion in market fundamentals for commercial real estate will stay modest. In addition, the greater funding from state and local bond measures passed in recent years will still be present, and it’s likely that federal spending for construction programs will increase.

“In this environment, it’s forecast that growth for construction starts will decelerate further, but not yet make the transition to the point where the overall volume of activity declines” Murray noted. “For 2019, total construction starts are forecast to hold basically steady at $808 billion. By major sector in dollar terms, residential building will be down 2%, non-residential building will match its 2018 amount, and non-building construction will increase 3%.”

The pattern of construction starts by more specific segments includes the following:

• Single-family housing will be unchanged in dollar terms, alongside a modest 3% drop in housing starts to 815,000. There will be a slight decline in homebuyer demand as the result of higher mortgage rates, diminished affordability, and reduced tax advantages for home ownership as the result of tax reform.

• Multi-family housing will slide 6% in dollars and 8% in units to 465,000. Market fundamentals such as occupancies and rent growth had shown modest erosion prior to 2018, which then paused in 2018 due to the stronger U.S. economy. However, that erosion in market fundamentals is expected to resume in 2019.

• Commercial building will retreat 3%, following 2% gains in 2017 and 2018, as well as the substantial percentage increases that took place earlier. While 2018 market fundamentals for offices and warehouses were healthy, this year, vacancy rates are expected to rise as the economy slows, slightly dampening construction. Hotel construction will ease back from recent strength, and store construction will experience further weakness.

“There are, of course, mounting headwinds affecting construction, namely rising interest rates and higher material costs, but for now these have been balanced by the stronger growth for the U.S. economy, some easing of bank lending standards, still-healthy market fundamentals for commercial real estate, and greater state financing for school construction and enhanced federal funding for public works.”

• Institutional building will advance 3%, picking up the pace slightly from its 1% gain in 2018, which itself followed an 18% hike in 2017. Educational facilities should see continued growth in 2019, supported by funding coming from numerous school-construction bond measures. Healthcare projects will make a partial rebound after pulling back in 2018. Airport terminal and amusement-related projects are expected to stay close to the elevated levels of construction starts reported in 2017 and 2018.

• Manufacturing plant construction will rise 2% following a 18% jump in 2018. The recent pickup in petrochemical plant projects should continue, and cuts in the corporate tax rate from tax reform should encourage firms to invest more in new plant capacity.

• Public-works construction will increase 4%, reflecting growth by most of the project types. The omnibus federal appropriations bill passed last March provided greater funding for transportation projects that will carry over into 2019, and environmental-related projects are getting a lift from recently passed legislation.

• Electric utilities and gas plants will drop 3%, continuing to retreat after the exceptional amount reported back in 2015. New generating capacity continues to come online, dampening capacity utilization rates for power generation.

Dodge Data & Analytics is North America’s leading provider of analytics and software-based workflow-integration solutions for the construction industry. 

Opinion

Editorial

Back nearly a quarter-century ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program — the first of what would become many: its Top Entrepreneur Award.

And that name pretty much says it all. It’s an award recognizing entrepreneurial spirit — the kind that made this region what it is today, business-wise. The kind possessed by people like Milton Bradley, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, Mike Kittredge of Yankee Candle, and Prestley and Curtis Blake, who were just 20 and 18, respectively, when they launched Friendly Ice Cream in 1935.

That kind of entrepreneurial spirit lives on today, and it needs to be recognized, because it is that spirit, as much as any effort to lure casinos or subway-car-building companies to the region, that is responsible for the economic vitality we enjoy in this region.

Indeed, BusinessWest now has a number of recognition programs, including the wildly popular 40 Under Forty competition and the Continued Excellence Award that emerged from it, Difference Makers, Healthcare Heroes, and Women of Impact. But the Top Entrepreneur Award may in some ways be the most significant in terms of its ability to recognize excellence and inspire others.

And entrepreneurship is inspiring, because it comes in many forms. There’s the more traditional variety — generally in the form of bringing new products and services to the market. And BusinessWest has recognized individuals who have done that over the years, such as Paul Kozub, creater of V-One Vodka. There are also serial entrepreneurs, like Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and several other businesses, and Bob Bolduc, founder of Pride, who continues to find new ways to expand and improve upon that brand.

There are generations of the same family who have taken an enterprise well beyond its original roots — the Balise family (auto dealerships) the Falcone family (Rocky’s Hardware), and the D’Amour family (Big Y) have been so honored.

And then, there are individuals and groups who would be considered non-traditional and honored because of the manner in which they have brought entrepreneurial thinking to an organization. There have been several winners in this category as well, ranging from former STCC President Andrew Scibelli to former Cooley Dickinson Hospital CEO Craig Melin, to last year’s honorees — the owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Actually, those who have resurrected hockey in Springfield fit into several of those categories, because they’re introducing new products and inspiring an organization to become entrepreneurial in everything it does.

And the same can be said for the Top Entrepreneurs for 2018, the Antonacci family. Indeed, its work also falls into several categories, of you will, especially that of the serial entrepreneur. The various generations have created everything from a waste-hauling operation to a horse-breeding and racing farm; from a family-entertainment complex to a high-end country club. But they have also worked continuously to find new and imaginative ways to expand those ventures and make them even more successful.

Younger generations of the family talked about their grandfather (Sonny Antonacci) as a visionary who could see opportunities where others didn’t — like bottled water during the 1970s, even though he didn’t actually get into that industry. But they possess the same trait themselves as they take GreatHorse, Sonny’s Place, Lindy’s Farm, and especially USA Waste & Recycling to new heights.

The Top Entrepreneur Award was created to recognize entrepreneurship, showcase the many forms it takes, and inspire those looking to follow in the footsteps of some of those now-famous names mentioned earlier.

In all those respects, the many members of the Antonacci family are certainly worthy recipients.

Difference Makers

Celebrate with Us!

2019 Difference Makers
Thursday, March 28, 2019
5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
The Log Cabin, Holyoke

This program, initiated in 2009, is a celebration of individuals, groups, organizations, and families that are positively impacting the Pioneer Valley and are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. As previous classes have shown, there are many ways to do this: through work within the community on one or many initiatives to improve quality of life; through success in business, public service, or education; through contributions that inspire others to get involved; through imaginative efforts to help solve one or more societal issues; or through a combination of the above.

Our 2019 Difference Makers will be announced in the Feb. 4, 2019 issue of BusinessWest

Tickets are $75 per person/$750 for a table of 10.

Purchase Tickets Below:

Sponsored by

40 Under 40

40under40SMALLBusinessWest is now accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2019, a celebration of young business and civic leaders in the Western Mass., and an undertaking in which our readership will play a pivotal role. Indeed, the process of selecting this region’s 40 Under Forty begins with nominations. And we urge you be thorough, because 40 Under Forty is a nomination-driven process; the background material submitted on a given individual is the primary source of information to be weighed by the judges who will score the candidates.

Please take a few minutes and help us identify the region’s 40 Under Forty. For more information about 40 under Forty >>Go Here

Save the Date

The selected individuals will be profiled in the April 15th edition of BusinessWest and celebrated at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala on June 20, 2019.
For more information call (413) 781-8600

About the nomination form:

• Candidates should have achieved professional success and actively volunteer for civic and/or non-profit organizations.
• Only nominations submitted to BusinessWest on
this form will be considered.
• Fill out the nomination form completely.
• Photocopies are acceptable.
• Supporting information (i.e. résumé) may be sent to [email protected] Please include nominee’s name in subject line.
Deadline is February 15, 2019. No exceptions.
• Nominees must be under 40 as of April 1, 2019

Fill out the nomination form completely.
  • As of March 1
  • (job responsibilities, special projects, business-related affiliations)
  • (board involvement in community, state, or national organization, including trade associations)
  • (spouse, children if applicable)
  • Nominated by (your information):