Home Posts tagged 2023
Accounting and Tax Planning Special Coverage

Rolling with the Changes

By Daniel Eger and Cindy Gonzalez

Tax laws are like a constantly shifting landscape, subject to periodic changes that can significantly impact your financial bottom line. Whether you’re an individual taxpayer striving to maximize deductions or a business owner who wants to optimize your financial strategies, staying informed about the latest tax-law changes is paramount.

Daniel Eger

Daniel Eger

Cindy Gonzalez

Cindy Gonzalez

In this ever-evolving tax environment, we’ll explore the essential updates that individuals and businesses need to be aware of to navigate the new tax frontier effectively. We’ll dive into the critical modifications that may influence your financial planning and tax strategies in the coming year.



In 2023, several significant adjustments have been made to tax laws that individuals should be aware of. These changes encompass a wide range of topics, from energy credits to retirement contributions, interest rates, and tax brackets. Let’s delve into some of the key changes that may impact your financial planning.


Residential Energy Credits

For individuals looking to reduce their environmental footprint and lower their tax liabilities, residential energy credits are worth exploring. These credits aim to incentivize the adoption of clean and energy-efficient technologies in homes. A notable change for 2023 is the Clean Vehicle credits, which are now effective after April 18. These credits apply to new, used, or commercial vehicles, with qualifying requirements for sellers, dealers, and manufacturers.


Interest-rate Changes for Q4 Payments

Starting on Oct. 1, 2023, significant adjustments will be made to interest rates for tax payments. In cases of overpayments, where individuals have paid more than the amount owed, the interest rate will be set at 8%. In instances of underpayments, where taxes owed have not been fully paid, individuals will be subject to an 8% interest rate.


Contributions to Retirement Savings

In an effort to help individuals save for their retirement, the IRS has raised the contribution limits for 401(k) and IRA plans in 2023. If you contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b), you can now put in up to $22,500 a year, an increase from $20,500. Those age 50 or older can make an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500. Similarly, traditional and Roth IRA contributors can now contribute up to $6,500 (up from $6,000), with an extra $1,000 catch-up contribution available for those age 50 and older.

“Whether you’re an individual taxpayer striving to maximize deductions or a business owner who wants to optimize your financial strategies, staying informed about the latest tax-law changes is paramount.”

Enhanced IRA Contribution Limits

Traditionally, there have always been strict constraints on contributions to both traditional and Roth IRAs. For the majority of individuals, the contribution ceiling stood at $6,000. However, for those age 50 and above, there was the opportunity to contribute an additional $1,000 as catch-up contributions, bringing the total to $7,000.

The exciting news for 2023 is a boost in these limits by $500, allowing Americans to now contribute up to $6,500 to their IRA. For individuals age 50 and older, this figure escalates to $7,500.

Increased Contributions to Employer-sponsored Retirement Plans

Following a similar upward trajectory, the contribution limits for employer-sponsored retirement plans have also experienced a positive adjustment. In 2022, the threshold for employee contributions stood at $20,500. However, in 2023, this limit has risen by $2,000, providing a new maximum of $22,500. For those eligible for catch-up contributions, the prospects for bolstering retirement savings have become even more enticing, with an elevated contribution limit of $30,000.

It’s important to note that, if you participate in multiple workplace retirement plans, the limitations encompass all salary deferrals and total contributions across these plans. Contributions made to other types of accounts, such as an IRA, remain separate and do not impact these thresholds. These enhanced contribution limits offer individuals and employees greater flexibility and opportunities to secure their financial future.

Health Savings Account Contribution Limits

Health savings accounts (HSAs) have become increasingly popular for managing medical expenses and as an investment vehicle. In 2023, individuals will be allowed to contribute an additional $200 per year to their HSAs, raising the maximum contribution limit to $3,850. For families, the threshold for coverage will also increase by $450, reaching a maximum of $7,750 for the fiscal year. Keep in mind that you must meet the minimum deductibles to qualify for an HSA plan, which are $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for families.

Tax Brackets for 2023

Lastly, it’s essential to be aware of the changes in tax brackets for 2023. While there are still seven tax rates ranging from 10% to 37%, the income thresholds for these brackets have been adjusted upward by about 7% from 2022. This adjustment reflects the impact of record-high inflation, potentially placing some individuals in a lower tax bracket than in previous years.

These changes underscore the importance of staying informed about tax-law updates to make informed financial decisions and optimize your tax-planning strategy. Be sure to consult with a tax professional or financial advisor to understand how these changes may affect your unique financial situation.



In the dynamic landscape of tax laws, staying informed about changes that affect both businesses and individuals reporting their income and expenses on Schedule C is of paramount importance. In recent years, several noteworthy adjustments have been made, significantly impacting the way deductions are calculated, particularly for expenses like Section 179 deductions, bonus depreciation, and meals and entertainment. Here, we delve into these pivotal changes.

Section 179 Deduction Limits

One of the cornerstones of tax planning for businesses has been the Section 179 deduction. This deduction enables businesses to write off the cost of qualifying property and equipment in the year they are placed in service, rather than depreciating them over time.

In 2023, the Section 179 deduction limit has been raised to a generous $1,160,100 for property used 50% or more for business purposes. This marks an increase of $80,000 from the previous year. This change empowers businesses to invest in capital assets and equipment while enjoying substantial tax savings.

“While there are still seven tax rates ranging from 10% to 37%, the income thresholds for these brackets have been adjusted upward by about 7% from 2022. This adjustment reflects the impact of record-high inflation, potentially placing some individuals in a lower tax bracket than in previous years.”

Meals Deductions

The tax treatment of meals expenses has witnessed a notable transformation, with implications for businesses and individuals alike. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022, the IRS allowed a temporary 100% deduction for such expenses to provide economic relief and support the struggling hospitality industry.

However, starting in 2023, there has been a shift in the deductibility of meal expenses. Any deductible meal is now subject to a 50% deduction under the guidelines outlined in Publication 463. This change underscores the need for businesses and individuals to carefully document and categorize their expenses and adhere to the new rules governing these deductions.


Interest-rate Changes

Starting on Oct. 1, 2023, significant adjustments will be made to interest rates for tax payments. Corporations will experience a slightly different rate structure than individuals. For overpayments exceeding $10,000, the interest rate on the excess amount will be reduced to 5.5%. In contrast, large corporate underpayments, representing taxes owed but not fully paid, will incur a higher 10% interest rate. These adjustments in interest rates aim to ensure fairness and compliance within the tax-payment system for both individuals and corporations.


Changes to Bonus Depreciation

The window of opportunity for fully benefiting from one of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA) most significant provisions is closing rapidly. This provision allows for a 100% bonus depreciation on a broad range of assets categorized as ‘qualified property.’ Initially set to expire at the close of 2019, the TCJA extended these bonus depreciation rules for assets placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023, increasing the deductible amount to 100%.

However, unless there are changes in the law, this bonus percentage is set to gradually decrease over the next few years, ultimately phasing out entirely (100% in 2022, 80% in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, 20% in 2026, and 0% in 2027).


Stay Informed

The evolving landscape of tax laws necessitates vigilant awareness and proactive tax planning for businesses and individuals who report on Schedule C. The changes to Section 179 deductions, the phasing out of bonus depreciation, and the modifications to meals and entertainment deductions can have a significant impact on tax liabilities. As such, seeking guidance from tax professionals and staying informed about these changes is crucial for optimizing tax strategies and ensuring compliance with the latest IRS regulations.

This material is generic in nature. Before relying on the material in any important matter, users should note date of publication and carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness, and relevance for their purposes, and should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.


Daniel Eger is a tax supervisor, and Cindy Gonzalez is an associate, at Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.

Healthcare Heroes

Nurse Manager, VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System

Her Work Caring for Veterans Is Grounded in a Sense of Mission


Julie Lefer Quick

After a decade and a half in the nursing profession, Julie Lefer Quick was looking for a change, and found one at the Veterans Administration’s (VA) outpatient clinic in Springfield.

She also found a level of passion and mission-driven commitment she hadn’t experienced before.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never seen nurses more dedicated to their population; I feel the dedication,” she said. And so do the patients. “Last week, a nurse forwarded me an email that she received from one of her veterans’ caregivers about what great care she took of that veteran, just going above and beyond. And she said, ‘I love my job.’

“Every one of the nurses who works with the VA goes above and beyond every single day,” Lefer Quick added. “And it’s really wonderful to be a part of that, serving such a deserving population.”

She started at the VA in July 2018 as a primary-care nurse. Before that, she worked for a pediatrician in solo practice, including as practice manager, for two and a half years, followed by more than 11 years in the Springfield Public Schools.

“When my son went off to college, I thought, ‘now is a great time to try something new, get back into primary care.’ So that’s when I got the job at the VA.”

When they hear mention of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, most people think of the hospital in Leeds, which houses services ranging from inpatient psychiatric mental-health and substance-misuse treatment to primary care; from rehabilitation to specialties like orthopedics, radiology, cardiology, and many others.

“Every one of the nurses who works with the VA goes above and beyond every single day. And it’s really wonderful to be a part of that, serving such a deserving population.”

“And we also have five community-based outpatient clinics, where we primarily do primary care and then, depending on the clinic, some specialties to support the veterans,” she explained, noting that these are located in Springfield, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Pittsfield, and Worcester. “In Springfield, we have a very large mental-health department, and we also have a small lab, physical therapy, a registered dietitian, a clinical pharmacy, and what’s called home-based primary care.”

As it happens, Lefer Quick loves primary care, and missed that during her years working in the schools. “I had missed the ongoing, deep relationships with patients and their families.”

So, with her son graduating from the school system, she craved a return to care in a medical-office setting, and happened to meet some VA nurses at a Learn to Row event through the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club in Springfield, where her husband, Ben Quick, is executive director.

“They were like, ‘oh you should come work at the VA,’” she recalled. So she did — and, not surprisingly, she loved the work. Which is why she was hesitant to take the position of nurse manager when it became available last October.

“I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a nurse manager. I love taking care of my patients. I love working with my team in the VA,” she said. “Nationwide, we practice a primary-care delivery system called the PACT model, which stands for patient-aligned care team. So there’s one provider, one RN, one LPN, and one admin; it’s sort of like a mini-practice within a group practice.

“We always see the same patients, and I had a great team that I worked with,” she went on. “It’s a good model for the patients; they really love it. So I didn’t want to leave my team or my patients.”

But a mentor encouraged her to try something new, and she accepted the detail.

“As a PACT RN, I was providing direct patient care and education, working with my team to meet population health-management goals, such as certain levels of control for diabetes or hypertension. And now I work for the other PACT nurses, supporting them in their practice.”

The busy community-based outpatient clinic in Springfield

The busy community-based outpatient clinic in Springfield is one of five operated by the VA in Western and Central Mass.

As nurse manager for two clinics — Springfield and Greenfield — she currently supervises 23 LPNs and RNs, with about three more to be hired soon. And she quickly found she could apply her passion for care in this overseeing role.

“In the VA, we have a unique understanding of the military culture that other providers in the community don’t necessarily have,” she said. “It’s a very sad truth that a lot of our veterans have emotional issues when they come back, but we are on the cutting edge of all types of mental-health treatment modalities and therapeutic options, and we also have the support of Congress — it’s a single-payer system, and we don’t have to be bogged down by some of the stuff that community providers have to deal with. So we, as nurses and providers, can really focus on our veterans and come up with innovative ways to care for them.”


A Passion for Patients

A quick look at the typically full parking lot at the VA’s Springfield CBOC, which stands for community-based outpatient clinic, testifies to the need for the services it provides, from laboratory and pharmacy to primary care and behavioral health.

“From what I have learned as the spouse of a VA nurse manager, it seems that, while most of these workers could get paid more elsewhere, they stay with the VA because they are passionate about caring for our veterans, and they are energetic about supporting each other in this difficult, important work,” Ben Quick wrote in nominating his wife for the Healthcare Hero recognition.

Yet, nursing wasn’t her first career. After graduating from college, she worked briefly in human resources, found she didn’t like that career, and went back to school for a nursing degree.

“Coming out of nursing school a little bit older than the typical students, I kind of took the first job that I could get,” she recalled. “I had a small child, so I didn’t want to work hospital hours, even though I loved the idea of being in the hospital, so I went to work for a pediatrician.”

Which surprised her, considering that her nursing-school rotations caring for youngsters tended to make her cry because she didn’t want to see them hurt or sick.

“I think there’s more of an awareness of mental-health needs in general in healthcare right now. And certainly, veterans who have seen combat are going to need support afterward. So that’s part of our mission.”

But as a pediatric nurse, “I loved seeing the kids grow over the years, seeing new babies born into families, working with parents on all kinds of different diagnoses to help their kids,” she recalled, and her next move was born of wanting to keep caring for children. “Working in the public schools was a way to be available for my son while also reaching a big population of kids. And I loved it.”

So Lefer Quick felt torn about leaving pediatric care for the VA.

“I remember leaving the public-school job for this, and I was very, very excited, but I had this moment of, ‘oh my gosh, am I doing the right thing?’ I said to one of my friends, ‘but I love my kids so much here.’ And she said, ‘you’ll find new patients in a while.’ And I did.”

In doing so, she’s taken to heart Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote that the VA — established 65 years after he uttered it — has adopted as a sort of mission: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

“One of the things that almost kept me from accepting the detail to nurse manager was all my patients,” she said, but she understands that all her roles have been supportive in some way: “supporting kids and their families, supporting students at school to be optimally healthy and ready to learn, supporting our veterans, and now supporting the nurses who provide that care to veterans.”

Some of that care is behavioral and substance-related. “We recognize the need for that integrated care for our veterans. I think there’s more of an awareness of mental-health needs in general in healthcare right now,” she noted. “And certainly, veterans who have seen combat are going to need support afterward. So that’s part of our mission.”

She said the VA has felt the strain of a nationwide nursing shortage as much as any other facility, but added that the nurses who take jobs there value the mission President Lincoln put forward — and many are veterans themselves, or come from a strong military family, or are drawn for some other reason to caring for a veteran population.

“That was how I talked myself into the manager position. I thought, ‘well, if I can be a manager with my background, already doing this job, I can support these nurses, which ultimately provides better care for the veterans.’ So I’m not just doing it for my team; I’m helping every single team.”

The COVID pandemic posed challenges across the spectrum of healthcare, but Lefer Quick said the VA was uncommonly prepared for it, as it had already implemented a remote monitoring platform called VA Video Connect, so VA facilities were able to pivot to virtual appointments more quickly than other organizations.

For instance, before the pandemic, “I had a patient who needed monthly monitoring for medication he was on, and he liked to travel. So we would do video visits, and we would have a set appointment to do the follow-up for his medication, wherever he was. So we already all knew how to use this,” she recalled.

And when COVID struck, “we very quickly pivoted to using video for several months, almost exclusively. A lot of our patients did not want to come to the clinic. Nobody wanted to go anywhere. And we already had this in place.”

Their concerns were warranted, as the pandemic hit the elderly population hard in the earliest days of the pandemic. “As you can imagine, a large percentage of the VA population is elderly. I had a father-son set of patients — and the son was 74. So a lot of them, being elderly and therefore immunocompromised, were scared, but the VA already had this amazing video platform, and we had already trained everybody how to use it.”

Meanwhile, “the nurses that I worked with were coming up with great ways to rotate the staff through the clinic so that we could spread out more to allow for that social distancing and masking in a more comfortable way,” Lefer Quick explained. “And we took on new providers and new nurses, even during the pandemic. We didn’t slow down much.”


Cutting-edge Care

In his nomination, Ben Quick boiled his pitch down to three thoughts: the VA’s quality of care is second to none, downtown Springfield has a busy medical practice devoted to healing America’s heroes, and the workers there are humble, passionate, professional patriots. “That’s a Healthcare Hero story that everyone needs to hear,” he wrote.

And now they will.

“The VA is the best employer I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Lefer Quick said. “They value creativity and innovation, and they support us to explore that.

“We really are on the cutting edge,” she added. “The people I work with are doing amazing things and love to be there. No matter where they are, in Springfield or any other part of this country, if someone is eligible for VA care, they really ought to look into it.” n

Healthcare Heroes

Clinical Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Graduate Psychology, Bay Path University

She Impacts Lives — and the Next Generation of Mental-health Professionals — for the Better

Kristina Hallett

It’s not easy to cover everything Kristina Hallett has done in her wide-ranging career in one story. At least, not cover it in a way that fully conveys her impact.

Her past titles convey some of it. Director of Brightside Counseling Associates and then director of Children’s Services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, both in Holyoke. Supervising psychologist at Osborn Correctional Institute in Somers, Conn. Director of Psychology Internship Training at River Valley Services in Middletown, Conn. And currently, associate professor in Graduate Psycholology and director of Clinical Training at Bay Path University.

Oh, and she’s maintained a private psychotherapy practice in Suffield, Conn. for the past quarter-century.

There are some common threads.

“Dr. Hallett’s career spans over 25 years, during which she provided invaluable psychotherapy, consultation, and supervision to medical and mental-health professionals, addressing myriad relationship and major life issues. Her expertise in complex trauma and dissociative disorders is instrumental in supporting and empowering those facing significant psychological challenges,” wrote Crystal Neuhauser, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Bay Path, one of three people who nominated Hallett as a Healthcare Hero.

Just as importantly, “she is a guiding influence in shaping the next generation of mental-health practitioners. Her commitment to education and mentorship showcases her passion for instilling excellence, compassion, and cultural competence in students. She is especially passionate about guiding under-represented caregivers into the profession to help underserved communities see themselves in their mental-health professionals.”

That’s a mouthful, but it’s important to understand the generational impact of Hallett’s work — not only helping people move through often-severe challenges and trauma toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life (which she accomplishes as a teacher, therapist, executive coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and more), but she’s helping to raise up the next wave of mental-health professionals to do the same, at a time when the needs are great.

“When we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”

“I’m just ecstatic about our program,” she said of her role at Bay Path, where she started teaching in 2015. “When I came, we had maybe 50 students. Right now, in our program, we have 280-plus students. This summer, they did a 100-hour practicum with us before their 600-hour internship out in the community. We had 62 students in practicum this summer, which is a logistical challenge, but we’re really able to help shape them, educate them, and give tools and resources to the next generation.”

Kristina Hallett’s books

Kristina Hallett’s books have delved into topics ranging from relationships to banishing burnout.
Staff Photo

Meanwhile, Hallett’s bestselling books, Own Best Friend: Eight Steps to a Life of Purpose, Passion, and Ease and Be Awesome! Banish Burnout: Create Motivation from the Inside Out, inspire personal growth and empowerment, while a co-authored workbook titled Trauma Treatment Toolbox for Teens is a resource for young people facing trauma-related challenges, and her contribution as a co-author to Millennials’ Guide to Relationships: Happy and Healthy Relationships are Not a Myth! reflects her commitment to enhancing the lives of diverse populations.

As an executive coach, she helps participants find lasting change in the areas of burnout, stress, motivation, and self-confidence. And her podcast, “Be Awesome: Celebrating Mental Health and Wellness,” provides hope and guidance to listeners, fostering an environment where seeking help and prioritizing mental health is normalized.

As noted, it’s a lot to take in, but Hallett is energized by the opportunity to impact so many lives in so many different ways. The opportunity, in fact, to be a Healthcare Hero.


Connected to Kids

Hallett’s private practice offers individual and family treatment, with some intriguing specialty areas, including psychotherapy for medical and mental-health professionals, military personnel, and first responders; substance abuse; mood disorders; LGBTQ clients; trauma recovery; and treatment of complex trauma and dissociative disorders.

It’s a far cry from her earliest goal in life, which was to be a pediatrician.

At Wellesley College, where she was a biology major in a pre-med program, she took a psychology course “for fun” — and found the topic interesting, so she added a double major in psychology. “My professors were like, ‘oh, you should go into psychology.’ And I said, ‘no, no, no, I’m going to be a pediatrician … right?’”

During her senior year, as she took her medical college admissions tests, Hallett found herself in an interview, being asked, ‘why do you want to go to medical school?’ And something clicked.

“I had this experience where my mouth kept talking, but a part of my brain said, ‘yeah, why do you want to go to medical school?’”

Her answer was to enroll at UMass Amherst — in a graduate psychology program.

That’s not to say she wouldn’t work with children, adolescents, and families, though. At her earliest career stops, she had plenty of opportunities for that, from her stint as regional program supervisor for the Key Program in Springfield from 1991 to 1995 to her roles with Brightside Counseling Associates from 1996 to 1998 and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital from 1998 to 2003.

“I loved the idea of working with adolescents because, while I was young, still in my 20s, I felt like they’re ripe for change; you can be honest with them … it’s a very real interaction, while adults are just stuck in their ways,” she said, adding quickly, “I don’t think that way anymore.”

That’s because she’s had plenty of experience working with clients of all ages. In fact, her next stops — at Osborn Correctional Institution from 2003 to 2005 and River Valley Services from 2005 to 2015 — broadened her experience dramatically.

Kristina Hallett’s office

Kristina Hallett’s office in Suffield, Conn. is filled with photos, artwork, and mementos from her interactions with patients.
Staff Photo

“So the first half of my career was children and adolescents, but really centered on adolescents,” she said. “And it’s unusual for someone to be running an outpatient mental-health clinic and running inpatient children’s services, and then working in a prison.” At the time, she added, Osborn housed 2,000 male inmates and also arranged schedules for mental-health workers for some other local prisons.

Years later, while working at River Valley, Hallett had a yen to get into teaching, so she joined Bay Path as an adjunct professor in 2015, which quickly led to part-time work and then a full-time opportunity. It sure beat the commute from Suffield to Middletown, but there were other, more important reasons to make the jump.

“Bay Path had just started its clinical mental-health counseling program, and they were going to expand. And I thought, ‘yeah, I’m ready to do this full-time.’”

Her first title was coordinator of clinical training, which became director of clinical training. And this past spring, when the program director left, she took over that role.

“I’ve been responsible for bringing in a lot of faculty over the last few years, and this summer alone, I brought in four faculty who are former graduates of our program, all coming from different perspectives,” she told BusinessWest. “I like to bring back our graduates because they know the program, and we want to support them in their career. I’m trying to create a pathway for our students, post-graduation, to continue their own growth and learning.”

A couple years ago, Hallett’s department procured a behavioral-health workforce and education training grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration, to support and build up the young mental-health workforce, but also to better integrate these professionals into medical settings.

“So, you have a medical office with physicians, and then you have an embedded clinician,” she explained. “You come in for your annual physical, maybe you’ve been feeling a little down, and your physician says, ‘oh, you know what, I’ve got Stacy here who can maybe talk to you about that.’ And Stacy talks to you and sees if there are resources available to help you — therapy or whatever. So that’s a newer model that’s beginning to happen, which is great.

“It’s always about increasing access, because there’s a huge mental-health crisis, a huge need, a huge waiting list,” Hallett went on. “So anything to increase the workforce is great.”

In 2023, the third year of the four-year grant, Bay Path was able to fund 36 students to the tune of $10,000 each. “So 36 students are working full-time, many have families, and they’re still trying to get a master’s degree and go into the field. As you can imagine, it’s really hard to do all that and then work 600 hours as a clinician. So the $10,000 is phenomenal.”

She recently applied for another grant, with a bigger stipend, for students going through their internships and want to work in community-based clinics, either with services from the Department of Mental Health or a majority MassHealth clientele. “So the people who need the services are going to get good services,” she said, while, again, cultivating the next generation of professionals. “I am so excited about it.”


Heart of a Teacher

It was Hallett’s love for educating people, in fact, that led her to finding other ways to communicate.

“I love what I do one-to-one, and I love teaching. So what other ways do I have to make an impact with things that people really need to know?” she said. “The podcast and the books and the speaking are just ways to share messages and really say, ‘there are things that we can do to help ourselves, to feel a sense of agency, even when the world is sort of going crazy around us, and when there are really difficult challenges that we don’t necessarily have any control over.”

So much of her work, she said, has been with community-based organizations because she cares about access to mental health, especially for the underprivileged and underserviced. “I want to support and encourage an increase in a truly diverse workforce because that’s who we are. People need to see people like themselves. It’s not that they can never talk to people with differences; of course they can. But when we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”

As for her decades of work with stress and trauma, in particular her work with clients from the military and first-responder communities, it started early on, working with adolescents in difficult situations.

“There are horrific things that humans do to each other that are certainly hard to live through,” she said. “They’re hard to hear about, and they’re hard to know. So I try to counteract that darkness with some kind of support. People who have gone through really horrible things deserve someone to stand in the witness of that.”

For a while, in the pre-COVID years, Hallett said, she was primarily working with medical and mental-health professionals in her practice. “These are small communities; it’s hard to find providers who work with providers. So that just sort of evolved. I had already started working with veterans and first responders, and then COVID hit, and that was a time when there was so much need.”

She no longer works with teens, and the goal for her adult clients is to get them back out living their lives and doing the work that’s meaningful to them. “But if something comes up at another point in time where something new has happened, you can come back. We create a relationship that allows you to come and go. I’m always working to create these longer-term relationships.”

And, not surprisingly, she has applied that passion to her other career at Bay Path, helping to create an advanced trauma certificate in her department.

“As practitioners in the field, we’re always asking, ‘what’s the latest? What’s backed by science? What do people need to know? What do we wish we knew when we were in school? And how do we continuously support the growth of the next generation?’” she said. “Because we need them.” n

Healthcare Heroes

Chief of Emergency Medicine, Mercy Medical Center

He Considers Listening His Strongest, Most Important Talent

Dr. Mark Kenton


As a general rule, physicians working in the emergency room don’t get to know their patients as well as those in primary care or other specialties, who see their patients regularly and over the course of years and, sometimes, decades.

But Dr. Mark Kenton makes it a point to get to know those who come to his ER, the one at Mercy Medical Center. Indeed, he said he always looks to make a connection by listening to each patient and learning about what they are interested in and passionate about.

In addition to making these connections, he tries to get involved and make a difference, in ways that go beyond providing medical care.

“Sometimes, the best medicine you give someone is not actually medication,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s just listening. Everyone has a story.”

He was listening as one patient, a veteran named Homer who was going into hospice care, expressed regrets about never making it to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. So Kenton researched the Honor Flights program and worked with the patient’s family to help make arrangements for him to visit the stirring memorial. Later, he received a letter from that family.

“They said he died two weeks before he was scheduled to go, but he died knowing that he was going, and it meant a lot to him,” Kenton recalled. “That stuck with me.”

He was also listening to another patient who was near the end of his battle with cancer and came to understand that the two shared a love of baseball and the Red Sox. Kenton arranged a phone call to the patient from former catcher Rich Gedman, whom Kenton had come to know well from his participation in Red Sox fantasy camps.

“Sometimes, the best medicine you give someone is not actually medication. It’s just listening. Everyone has a story.”

“He said, ‘I can’t believe Rich Gedman actually called me,’” Kenton recalled, adding that the conversation had a lasting impact.

This ability to listen, and act on what he hears, is one of many traits that has made Kenton a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Healthcare Administration category — annually one of the most competitive categories within the program.

He stood out amid a number of others nominated for the award for his ability to act upon what’s heard — in a variety of different settings — and generate needed dialogue, which has sometimes led to real change.

This includes the ER at Mercy, where he has worked with others to improve flow, shorten wait times, and reduce the number of patients who leave the ER without being seen, battles that have become even more difficult amid critical shortages of trained professionals, especially nurses.

One of Dr. Mark Kenton’s passions is baseball

One of Dr. Mark Kenton’s passions is baseball and Red Sox fantasy camps, something that has become a family affair, as in this scene at Jet Blue Park in Florida with his sons (from left) Mark, Davin, and Jacob.

But it also includes the national medical stage, as we’ll see. Indeed, a letter posted on Facebook from Kenton to the CEO of Mylan juxtaposed the CEO’s salary against the sky-high cost of EpiPens and thrust the debate about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals into the national spotlight.

In Massachusetts, Kenton played a strong role in the passage of a bill that would allow EpiPens to be purchased in the same manner as Narcan for municipalities, whereby the state would purchase them at something approaching cost.

Kenton has also advocated for increased protection from workplace violence in hospitals, testifying at the State House after a colleague at Harrington Hospital suffered a near-fatal stabbing. Those efforts have been less successful in generating change — a result he blames on the high cost of measures such as metal detectors — but he continues to push for legislation that might prevent such incidents.

For his ability to listen and effect change — in his ER and many other settings as well — Kenton is certainly worthy to be called a Healthcare Hero.


A Great Run

The art hanging on the walls of Kenton’s office certainly helps tell his story.

Most of the pictures are baseball-themed — he played in college, has attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown since 1981, and has more than 7,000 baseball autographs, by his estimate — including photos from the fantasy camps he’s attended, with his children prominent in many of them.

“I’ve been going for 13 years now, and it’s been a pretty amazing experience,” he said, noting that he’s been on the same field as many Red Sox legends. “Now, it’s more about going back and playing with friends than seeing the Red Sox — but they’ve become friends, too.”

But there’s also a framed photo of the cast members of The Office, a gift from his children. He is a huge fan of the show, and notes with a large dose of pride that he’s met several of the cast members and possesses a suit jacket that Steve Carell wore on the show.

While Kenton spends a good amount of time in this space, his true office, if you will, has always been the ER, and especially the one at Mercy. He arrived there in 2003 and became chief of Emergency Medicine in late 2019, three months before COVID hit and turned the healthcare system, and especially the ER, on its ear.

The trajectory for this career course was set over time, and Kenton believes his passion for helping others began when he watched medical dramas on television with his mother and became captivated with what he saw.

“My mother had cancer as a child; she spent a lot of time in hospitals and always had a fascination with healthcare,” he recalled. “She was always reading medical books, and we watched every show you can think of — Quincy; Trapper John, M.D.; St. Elsewhere; you name it.”

Because of his love for baseball, Kenton initially considered a career as an athletic trainer, since he could combine both his passions, baseball and healthcare, and he attended Springfield College with that goal in mind.

He quickly realized that the life of an athletic trainer did not have a lot of stability. And after working as an EMT, a rewarding but also harrowing experience — “I remember going to shootings and the shooter was still on the loose” — he decided the emergency room was where he wanted to spend his career. He earned his medical degree at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, with the goal of completing his residency in Baystate Medical Center’s ER, a path that became reality.

“I hand out my business card to patients, talk to them, and ask, ‘why are you here today?’ I do that as one more check to make we’re not missing something.”

As he talked about working in the ER, Kenton related what he told his students when he served as medical director of the Physician Assistant Program at Springfield College. “I would always say, ‘be a little scared every day when you walk in — never lose that. Have a little fear when you walk in, because you don’t know everything, nor should you know everything. You need to know what your resources are and how to utilize those resources. You also need to know that you’re going to be tested — every day.’”


Safe at Home

These days, most of Kenton’s work is administrative in nature — he does one clinical shift per week — and, summing it up, he said it’s about making this ER as safe, welcoming, efficient, and effective as he can.

It needs to be all of the above because the ER is the “front door to the hospital,” as he put it, and a safety net for many within the community.

“There are so many patients that don’t have primary-care doctors now or don’t have insurance,” he said. “The ER is what they turn to.”

As he works with his team to improve flow, reduce wait times, and improve the ‘leave without being seen’ numbers, Kenton relies on what might be the strongest of his many skills — listening. In fact, he’s in the waiting room every ‘admin’ day talking with not only patients, but their families as well.

“I hand out my business card to patients, talk to them, and ask, ‘why are you here today?’” he said. “I do that as one more check to make we’re not missing something. I tell them that we’re working hard to get people through the system, and we’ll work on getting you through as soon as we can. And then, I listen.”

This brings him back to his comments about how everyone has a story, and it’s important to know and understand that story.

Dr. Mark Kenton holds up a card with the name ‘Homer’ on it at the World War II memorial

Dr. Mark Kenton holds up a card with the name ‘Homer’ on it at the World War II memorial in Washington, fulfilling, in a way, a dying patient’s desire to visit the memorial.

“You can look at the medical problem, but if you look at them as just a patient, you kind of forget that behind that patient is a person who’s scared, a family that’s scared,” he said. “Some people have lived incredible lives and been very fortunate, and some people have not had very good luck, or they’ve made bad choices, or they haven’t had the opportunities that others have had.

“I’ve taken care of Tuskegee Airmen; I took care of a gentleman who told me he flew on the Enola Gay,” he went on, referencing the famed African-American fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II and the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. “You learn from those stories.”

While listening, learning, taking care of patients and their families, and improving efficiency in the ER, Kenton has also become an advocate for needed change in healthcare. His open letter to the CEO of Mylan on Facebook was spurred by incidents in his personal and professional life.

Indeed, while on vacation with his family, his son had an allergic reaction to peanuts. He soon learned that a prescription for two EpiPens, the best treatment for anaphylaxis, would cost $600. Fortunately, that prescription was transferred to a pharmacy that would accept his insurance, bringing the cost down to $15.

But he understood that such good fortune would elude others. While working a shift in Mercy’s ED a few months later, he saw two patients suffering from anaphylactic reactions and gave them both EpiPens, knowing they wouldn’t be able to fill the prescriptions going forward because they didn’t have insurance.

His frustration with this matter prompted his letter, which garnered press across the country and a live interview on Fox Business. More importantly, it generated real change, especially in the Bay State. Kenton testified before the state Senate on a bill introduced by former Sen. Eric Lesser to make EpiPens available for purchase by the state, just like Narcan.


Stepping Outside the Box

Two years after Kenton received that letter from the family of that veteran who died before he could get to the World War II memorial, his wife was running in a marathon in D.C., and he made the trip with her.

He wrote Homer’s name on a piece of paper, took pictures of it in various spots at the memorial, and sent them to his family.

“I said, ‘your dad finally made it,’” he told BusinessWest. “From what he told me during that relationship we established in a really short period of time, that brought closure to me, that he made it there.

“There are things you can do beyond providing medication to someone — sometimes you just have to step outside the box a little bit,” he went on, using a baseball term to get his point across.

This ability to forge those relationships, listen to each patient’s and each family’s story, and go well beyond simply providing medication helps explain why Kenton stands out — in his field, in his ER, and in his community. And why he is being recognized as a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Pediatric Emergency Nurse, Baystate Medical Center

Her Passion for Behavioral Health Has Enhanced Care Across an Entire ER

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw


Ellen Ingraham-Shaw just couldn’t get away from children — even when she thought she wanted to.

And thanks to her leadership and innovative thinking, a lot of kids are better for it today.

“I actually started my career as a kindergarten teacher,” she said, before jumping back in time a little to when her interest in working with children really began.

“Growing up, I was a horseback rider, and I got into teaching younger kids how to horseback ride; that’s how I started working with children and adolescents, including working summer camps when I was in college,” she recalled.

Then she studied early childhood education and psychology at Mount Holyoke College before spending the first five years of her career as a kindergarten teacher.

There, Ingraham-Shaw saw needs that can’t always be addressed in the classroom.

“I worked in Chicopee, and in my classroom, I had a lot of homeless students,” she said. “So I started getting really interested in the socioeconomic status of kids and all the barriers that can really get in the way of how kids learn.

“I was happy, but I didn’t see myself doing it forever,” she continued, “so I went back to school for a second bachelor’s in nursing at UMass Amherst. After that program, I started working at Baystate Medical Center on one of the adult floors. And I just thought I didn’t want to work with kids anymore after feeling kind of burnt out.”

“Especially during the pandemic, the behavioral-health population just kind exploded in our ER. And I just got really passionate about it.”

So when friends asked her whether she wanted to enter pediatrics, she said no — but that feeling eventually thawed, and she applied for a position in Baystate’s pediatric ER. And she fell in love with it, calling it a well-run unit that, she realized early on, had an openness to new ideas and a focus on behavioral health that she would eventually expand in a number of ways.

“Especially during the pandemic, the behavioral-health population just kind exploded in our ER. And I just got really passionate about it,” she said. “And I’m lucky that my managers and my educators on my unit really support us working toward the things we’re interested in. If you want to seek out opportunities to do your own education, they give you opportunity to research.”

Thus began a fruitful career in pediatric emergency care with a focus creating more education and resources around behavioral health.

“I’ve been able to do education on de-escalating patients, just helping with the safety of the staff and the patients. And I think our physical restraint numbers have decreased; we have seen a decrease in having to resort to a restrictive environment with the kids.”

Ingraham-Shaw also worked closely with Pediatric ER Manager Jenn Do Carmo on Narcan take-home kits for the Pediatric Emergency Department. They were talking one day about how Baystate’s adult ED provides take-home kits to their substance-misuse population, but the Pediatric ED had no such process. So they decided to change that. Ingraham-Shaw created an education flier for nurses and doctors, made sure the kits were stocked, and educated every nurse on how to educate patients and families in their use.

“I did some education with our staff on how to identify patients that might be at higher risk,” she explained. “These are patients who come in with an overdose or, unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of adolescents these days with suicide attempts and self-harm; sometimes they could be opioid-related, sometimes not. But if someone has a past overdose attempt, they’re at a higher risk of potentially overdosing on opioids in the future.

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw says pediatric emergency nurses bring not only care, but large doses of compassion and education to parents.

“So we’re making sure we have Narcan out in the community,” she added. “The nursing job is to help identify the patients that could be at risk, then working with the providers to make sure Narcan gets prescribed.”

Do Carmo, who nominated Ingraham-Shaw, said this program has the potential to save the lives of pediatric patients who overdose on opioids in the community. “Ellen is also going into the community and teaching local schools about the process of administering Narcan,” she wrote. “Ellen is a strong advocate for her patients and is a Healthcare Hero.”


Knowledge Is Power

As another example of thinking — and leading — outside the box, Do Carmo noted that Ingraham-Shaw noticed a gap in education on the care of LGBTQ and transgender patients, and took it upon herself to create educational materials and a PowerPoint presentation on how to care for and support these individuals.

“The entire Emergency Department now provides her representation on transgender education in nursing orientation,” Do Carmo wrote. “This presentation provides a clear understanding of a population in dire need of support and words and ways that help support the care of this population.”

Ingraham-Shaw told BusinessWest that she developed that education on LGBTQ and transgender health for a staff meeting, and the educators in the ED now utilize it as a required part of onboarding training for all emergency-medicine staff at Baystate, not just in the Pediatric ED. “So all of our staff has some level of training in how to be respectful and understanding of patients in our community.”

That aspect of education can be lacking in the training and college programs medical professionals experience entering their careers, she added. “So I think our people are definitely able to support those patients a lot better.”

Providing care that’s not sensitive to that population typically isn’t a problem of malice, but ignorance, she was quick to add. “It’s just people not knowing. And now my unit especially has at least a little baseline of how to be more respectful and understanding of patients.”

Of course, sensitivity to what patients are experiencing comes naturally in a pediatric ER, where the days can be challenging and the situations dire.

“I did some education with our staff on how to identify patients that might be at higher risk. These are patients who come in with an overdose or, unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of adolescents these days with suicide attempts and self-harm; sometimes they could be opioid-related, sometimes not.”

“One thing I do like about it is that every day is completely different. I think it’s gotten a little bit harder now that I just had my own baby; I’m still adjusting to that,” she said of the toughest cases. “But the majority of what we see is more urgent care, or things likely to be seen in a primary-care setting. Those usually have a happy ending — you help educate the family, you make sure the child is safe, is eating, drinking, breathing, and then they usually get discharged home.”

At the same time, “unfortunately, we do see some really devastating new cancer diagnoses, we see some car accidents, so it’s definitely emotional. I think my co-workers do a really good job of supporting each other through those difficult times. Healthcare can be sad, and I think it’s especially sad when you know something bad happens to a child. And we do a lot of compassion with the families as well; we take care of the whole family, not just the child.”

Again, she comes back to the education aspect of her work, even for things families don’t specifically bring in their kids for, like properly installing car seats.

“When we’re at the triage desk, we first bring the kid in, we make sure they’re safe, and then that’s another point where we can just educate them and do that community health and make sure everyone’s safe by teaching families simple things like car seats.”

Going beyond the basics is how Ingraham-Shaw has really made a difference, though, implementing new ideas in an organization she says is very interested in hearing them.

“My management team is just really open. We have a lot of freedom to do things,” she said, before giving another example in the behavioral-health realm.

“One of my co-workers and I, a few years ago, started a behavioral-health committee. We try to meet monthly, just to talk about what’s going on with the unit, trying to work on different projects,” she explained. “One thing we did was make an informational pamphlet for the families and the patients that come in for behavioral-health issues because the way we treat them is much different than other patients. And sometimes they’re there for a really long time. So we want to do what we can just to support the families a little bit more.”

Do Carmo praised Ingraham-Shaw for identifying barriers in communication and creating a tool that has improved communication between nurses and patients. “Ellen works very closely with the behavioral-health team to ensure the behavioral-health population receives the needed care plans and treatments.”


Long-time Passion

Ingraham-Shaw’s interest in mental health was clear when she first studied psychology in college, but at the time, she couldn’t have predicted how it would become an important aspect of her career.

“When I was looking for jobs, if I didn’t find a teaching job, I was looking for other psychology-related jobs,” she said, adding that she’s in graduate school now, working on her doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP) to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“I always thought that was a possibility, but I didn’t think this was the route I’d take,” she said. “For nurse practitioners, at least, the education track is different. So you’re a nurse first, so you get that compassionate care and bedside manner down first. And then you start learning the more advanced things.”

Once she has her DNP, she said she’d like to stay in the pediatric arena, although she’s hoping to gain a wide range of experience through her clinical rotations.

“Baystate in general is very supportive of education,” she added, noting the system’s tuition-reimbursement and loan-forgiveness programs, in addition to its affiliation with UMass Medical School’s Springfield campus, which is where she’s taking her graduate track.

“One of the reasons why I chose that school is because they have a focus on diversity and behavioral health,” she noted. “So I’ve been working hard, but I have also been lucky to find myself in places, and around people, that are supportive and inspirational, and I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to focus on the things that I want to do.”

As part of her graduate education, Ingraham-Shaw is hoping to focus on opioid and overdose education in her scholarly project. “It’s something I’m passionate about, and I’ve done a lot of my own learning. So I’m hoping to do some more research and actually implement some projects with that.”

For her work creating and cultivating a handful of truly impactful projects at Baystate already, but especially for the promise of what she and her colleagues have yet to come up with, Ingraham-Shaw is certainly an emerging leader in her field, and a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Practice Manager of Thoracic Surgery, Nursing Director of the Lung Screening Program, Mercy Medical Center

She Has a Proven Ability to Take the Bull by the Horns

Ashley LeBlanc


It’s been seven years now, but Ashley LeBlanc clearly remembers the day Dr. Laki Rousou and Dr. Neal Chuang asked her to consider becoming the nurse navigator for their thoracic surgery practice at Mercy Medical Center.

She also clearly remembers her initial response to their invite: “absolutely not.”

She was working days in critical care at the hospital at the time, and liked both the work and the schedule: three days on, four days off, she told BusinessWest, adding that it takes a while for a new position like this to get approved and posted, for interviews to take place, and more — and the doctors used the following weeks to make additional entreaties, with reminders that she wouldn’t have to work any weekends or holidays.

But the answer was still ‘no’ until roughly six months after that initial invite, when she had one particularly challenging day on the floor with a very sick patient. Challenging enough that, when Rousou tried one more time that afternoon, ‘no’ became “I’ll update my résumé and hear you out.”

“He got me at a weak moment, and it was the best decision I ever made, because they have been amazing mentors, and they’ve opened my mind up to this whole other world,” she said, adding that her career underwent a profound and meaningful course change, one that led her to being named a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Emerging Leader category.

Indeed, during those seven years, LeBlanc has emerged as a true leader, both in that thoracic surgery practice, which she now manages, and in efforts to promote awareness and screening for lung cancer — one of the deadliest cancers, and one she can certainly relate to personally. Indeed, she has lost several family members to the disease, many of whom would have qualified for screening had it been available at the time of their diagnosis.

“He got me at a weak moment, and it was the best decision I ever made, because they have been amazing mentors, and they’ve opened my mind up to this whole other world.”

In many respects, and in many ways, she has become a fierce advocate for patients related to lung cancer screening, treatment, and research, and concentrates her efforts on ways to decrease the mortality rate of lung cancer and break down the stigma of that disease by educating the community, connecting them to resources, and, in many respects, guiding them on their journey as they fight lung cancer.

When the screening program was launched, those involved didn’t really know what to expect, LeBlanc said, adding that, in the beginning, maybe a handful of people were being screened each month. Now, that number exceeds 250 a month, and while only a small percentage of those who are screened have lung cancer, she said, each detected case is important because, while this cancer is deadly, early detection often leads to a better outcome.

This is turning out to be a big year for LeBlanc, at least when it comes to awards from BusinessWest. In the spring, she suitably impressed a panel of judges and became part of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2023. And in late October, she’ll accept the Healthcare Heroes award for Emerging Leader.

The plaques on her desk — or soon to be on it — speak to many qualities, but especially an ability to work with others to set, achieve, and, in many cases, exceed goals, not only with lung cancer screening, but other initiatives as well.

Dr. Laki Rousou never stopped trying to recruit Ashely LeBlanc

Dr. Laki Rousou never stopped trying to recruit Ashely LeBlanc to manage the thoracic-surgery practice at Mercy Medical Center, and he — and many others — are glad he didn’t.
Staff Photo

Rousou put LeBlanc’s many talents in their proper perspective.

“Before we even had the formal program, I would say something sort of off the cuff, like, ‘I wish we could do this’ … and the next week, I would have the answer, or it would be done,” he said. “Then it turned into ‘OK, let’s try and do this,’ and in the next week or two weeks, it would be done. And then it turned into a situation where she would have an idea and we would talk periodically, but she would take the bull by the horns and just do things that were best for thoracic surgery, but also the screening program.”

This ability to take the bull by the horns, and many other endearing and enduring qualities, explains why LeBlanc is a true Healthcare Hero.


The Big Screen

There’s a small whiteboard to the right of LeBlanc’s desk. Written at the top are the words ‘World Conquering Plans.’

This is an ambitious to-do list, or work-in-progress board, with lines referencing everything from a cancer screening program for firefighters to something called a Center for Healthy Lungs, which would be … well, just what it sounds like. “That’s a bit of a pipe dream,” she said. “We’re going to need our own building.”

While it might seem like a pipe dream, if it’s on LeBlanc’s list of things to get done … it will probably get done. That has been her MO since joining the thoracic surgery practice, and long before that, going back, for example, to the days when she worked the overnight shift as a unit extender at Mercy until 7, then drive to Springfield Technical Community College for nursing classes that began at 8.

“Sometimes, I would snooze in the car for 15 or 20 minutes,” she recalled, adding that she wasn’t getting much sleep at that time in her life. “You just do what you have to do to make it happen.”

Initially, she thought what she wanted to make happen was a career in law enforcement — her father was a police officer in Northampton — but her first stint as a unit extender at Mercy, while she was attending Holyoke Community College, convinced her she was more suited to healthcare.

But plans to enter that field were put on ice (sort of, and pun intended) when her fiancé, a Coast Guardsman, was stationed in Sitka, Alaska.

She spent three years there, taking in winters not as bad as most people would think, and summers not as warm as they are here, but still quite nice. And also working for the Department of Homeland Security as a federal security agent for National Transportation Safety Board at Sitka’s tiny airport.

“The evidence is staggering concerning the number of people who have a scan done, and they have an incidental finding, and there is no follow-up for that incidental finding.”

LeBlanc and her husband eventually returned to Western Mass. after a stint on the Cape, and she essentially picked up where she left off, working as a unit extender at Mercy.

“It was five years later, and it felt like I never left,” she said, adding that she soon enrolled in the Nursing program at STCC and, upon graduation, took a job on the Intermediate Care floor, which brings us back to the point where she kept saying ‘no’ and eventually said ‘yes’ to Rousou and Chuang (who is no longer with the practice).

Rousou told BusinessWest they recruited her heavily because they knew she would be perfect for the role they had carved out — and they were right.

Over the past seven years, LeBlanc has put a number of line items on the ‘World Conquering Plans’ list, and made most of them reality, especially a lung cancer screening program, which wasn’t even on her radar screen when she finally agreed to interview for the job.

Indeed, she was prepared to talk about patient education and how to improve it and make it more comprehensive when Rousou and Chuang changed things up and focused on a screening program.


Thinking Big

Once she got the job, she focused on both, with some dramatic and far-reaching results.

As for the screening program, she said such initiatives were new at the time because the Centers for Medicare Services had only recently approved insurance coverage for such screenings. At Mercy, with Rousou, Chuang, and, increasingly, LeBlanc charting a course, extensive research was undertaken with the goal of incorporating best practices from existing programs into Mercy’s initiative.

“We had no idea what our expectations should be or how it would be received in the community — it was a very new thing,” she recalled. “That first month in 2017, we did seven scans; then we did 29, and by the end of the year, it was over 50 scans a month. A year after we started, it was over 100.”

Now, that number is more than 250, she said, adding that such screenings are important because, while lung cancer is the deadliest of cancers, there are usually no visible signs of it — such as unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, or pneumonia — until its later stages.

“When patients are diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, the treatment is, by and large, palliative, not curative,” she explained, “which makes it extra important to try to diagnose these people with lung cancer at an earlier stage.”

In addition to her work coordinating the screening program, LeBlanc also handles work implied by her initial title — nurse navigator.

This is work to help the patient understand and prepare for the procedure they are facing, such as removal of a portion of their lung, and answer any questions they may have.

“When the surgeon leaves the room … that’s when a patient will take that deep breath and say, ‘I have so many questions,’” she told BusinessWest. “It can be overwhelming, and this gives me an opportunity to answer those questions, which can involve anything from the seriousness of the procedure to where to park or what to bring to the hospital with them.”

Meanwhile, she has taken a lead role in efforts to build a strong culture within the thoracic surgery and cancer screening programs, where 14 people now work, and make it an enjoyable workplace, where birthdays and National Popcorn Day are celebrated, and teamwork is fostered.

“I think it’s important to enjoy where you work, and when we’re happy, I think that carries over to patients, and they feel that,” she said. “At Easter, we have an Easter egg hunt, with grown, professional adults running around the office looking for Easter eggs. It seems silly, but it’s wonderful at the same time.”

Then, there’s that ‘World Conquering Plans’ board next to her desk. LeBlanc said she and the team at the practice have made considerable progress with many of the items on that list, including plans to expand the office into vacated space next door with an interventional pulmonary department and an ‘incidental nodule’ program.

The interventional pulmonary program is a relatively new specialty that focuses on diagnosis of lung disease, she said, adding that an interventional pulmonologist has been hired, facilities have been created, and patients have been scheduled starting early this month.

Progress is also being made on the incidental nodule program, which, as that name implies, is a safety-net initiative focused on following up on the small, incidental nodules on the lungs that show up on scans other than lung cancer screenings and are often overlooked.

“The evidence is staggering concerning the number of people who have a scan done, and they have an incidental finding, and there is no follow-up for that incidental finding,” she explained, adding that such findings often get buried or lost in reports. “When patients come to Dr. Rousou, they’ll often say, ‘I’ve had a scan every year for the last so many years; how come no one saw this until now?’”


Breathing Easier

As for the Center for Healthy Lungs … that is a very ambitious plan, she said, one that exists mainly in dreams right now.

But, as noted earlier, LeBlanc has become proficient in making dreams reality and in drawing lines through items on her whiteboard.

That’s what Rousou and Chuang saw when they recruited LeBlanc — and kept on recruiting her after she kept saying ‘no.’

They could see that she was an emerging leader — and a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Personal Trainer and Owner, Movement for All

She Inspires Others to Improve Their Mobility — and Quality of Life

Cindy Senk

One of Cindy Senk’s first experiences with yoga wasn’t a positive one.

Her back was very painful on the right side. “The yoga teacher came up in my face and said, ‘you can do better, you can do better’” — but not in an encouraging way, she recalled.

“It was almost hostile — this in-my-face attitude,” she went on. “I was really taken aback by that. I felt like, you don’t know me; you don’t know my health history; you don’t know what I’m feeling. I wanted to say, ‘get out of my face,’ but I didn’t — I just stepped back, and I never went back to that yoga studio.”

The experience drove her when she launched her own fitness and training practice, Movement for All, 20 years ago.

“I decided I would never be that teacher. I would never put someone in that particular place,” Senk told BusinessWest. “My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”

That philosophy has led her not only to success with Movement for All, but 40 years of successes with specific populations, like people with arthritis, older individuals, and clients with cognitive challenges — because she understands that everyone, no matter their challenges, can thrive when they’re not treated in a cookie-cutter way.

Kelly Gilmore understands this. One of three clients who nominated Senk as a Healthcare Hero, Gilmore, a department chair at West Springfield High School, was hospitalized with a condition that diminished her mobility, stamina, and overall physical and mental state so severely that she couldn’t return to her teaching position.

“None of the numerous medical specialists that I continued to see regularly could offer a path toward improvement, beyond pain relief,” she wrote. “I set out to find a healthcare/fitness professional that was committed to helping me restore my health, strength, and mobility. Cindy offered exactly that. She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”

Starting a yoga regimen sitting in a chair, rather than on a mat on the floor, Gilmore began, within the next few months, to move freely, climb stairs, and go on walks. “Most importantly, I was in charge of my classroom again, offering my students the energy and vitality they deserve from their teacher.”

That’s real impact on clients with real problems. Multiplied over four decades, it’s a collective impact on the community, especially populations not always served well, and it certainly makes Senk deserving of being called a Healthcare Hero.


Brotherly Inspiration

Senk traces her passion for helping people to her childhood — in particular, her experiences with her younger brother, Bobby, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1955, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act codified many accessibility measures.

But Bobby had his family.

“My mother was a real advocate for him,” Senk recalled. “And we grew up in this environment in Forest Park where Bobby was one of the gang. We would accommodate him if he had trouble keeping up because of his crutches; we would just get him in a wagon and drag him around the neighborhood. He was always just part of the group. There was no, ‘well, Bobby can’t do that, so we can’t do it.’ It was never like that. It was always, ‘how can we creatively include him?’ And I think that’s really where this passion of mine comes from.”

Senk has had her own share of physical challenges as well; she was diagnosed with spinal issues at age 18 — issues that led to a lifetime of arthritis and have given her unique insight into people with similar problems, and led her into decades of advocacy in the broader arthritis community.

She’s never been free from arthritis; in fact, the day she spoke with BusinessWest at her home, Senk said she woke up with a lot of pain.

“My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”

“It was just one of those days, you know?” she said. “So I started my gentle yoga I do every morning, I got in the shower, I was moving around my house, I had a class online that I teach, and then I had a client. And now I feel 1,000% better from when I woke up at 5:30 because I’ve been moving for six hours.

“It comes down to wanting to help people be functional, be fit, and have tools they can use to help themselves with whatever challenges they’re facing. And I think my passion for that came from a young age. Everything kind of flowed from all that: discovering how movement helps me and sharing that with others. Because I know how much movement helps me.”

Senk started her career with group exercise like step aerobics and regular low-impact aerobics, and later started practicing yoga to help her back — her main arthritic trouble spot. That was 35 years ago, and yoga has been an important part of her practice ever since.

the heart of my in-person classes on Tuesday nights

Cindy Senk calls these women “the heart of my in-person classes on Tuesday nights.”

“I have my basic certification, but then I have specialties in yoga for arthritis, accessible yoga, subtle yoga, and I use all of those to put together whatever program I need for this particular client in this particular class. I feel lucky to have a lot of tools in my toolbox.”

It’s been gratifying, she said, to help clients discover those tools, especially those who didn’t think they could achieve pain relief and mobility.

“A lot of times, in the beginning, people that are in chronic pain are very tentative about movement because they think they’re going to hurt worse,” she said, adding that she draws on her experience as a volunteer and teacher trainer with the Arthritis Foundation — and her own experience with arthritis, of course — to help them understand the potential of yoga and other forms of exercise.

“It’s the idea of the pain cycle, where we think, ‘oh I can’t; it hurts,’ so we move less, and then we hurt more,” she explained. “The idea of movement breaks that pain cycle. You’re giving the power to the client through movement. It’s a journey that I’m on with them.”

It’s a good idea, Senk said, for people in pain to first see their primary-care doctor or a specialist to find out exactly what’s wrong and what their options are, whether that’s yoga, an aquatic program, a walking program, or another activity that can keep them mobile.

“She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”

“There are more than 60 million of us in this country who have arthritis — and that’s doctor-diagnosed, so a lot of people probably have arthritis and are not doctor-diagnosed. And it’s not just older people; it’s kids as well. It’s very pervasive, unfortunately. So you need to get the knowledge first, and then, if you want to move and exercise or whatever it may be, you need to find a professional who knows what they’re doing.”


Living Her Passion

Senk’s four-decade career as a fitness professional has brought her to commercial fitness settings, hospitals, senior-living communities, corporate environments, and the studio she runs out of her own home. She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, and Manchester Community College, in addition to 25 years of volunteerism with the Arthritis Foundation and her role chairing of the Western Massachusetts Walk to Cure Arthritis for the past three years.

That’s a lot of passion poured into what essentially boils down to helping people enjoy life again.

“The bottom line for me is to just encourage people to find things that are helping them stay functional, whether it’s a gym they love to go to or a more private type of setting like I offer here,” she said, noting that her home studio also includes outdoor activities and virtual classes.

“I think it’s important for people to find where they fit, where they’re comfortable. And if they go to a gym or they go to a yoga studio and it’s not their fit, just keep looking. Find your people. Find the people that really speak to you and that will support you and not judge you and not put you down because maybe you can’t bend as much.”

She said she loves hearing clients say they were able to take a vacation and hike without falling down, ride a paddleboard, even reach up into the cabinets at their cabin.

Cindy Senk

Cindy Senk demonstrates some of the simple tools of her trade.

“I live for stuff like that. As somebody who has arthritis and chronic pain, I know it can be very easy to get in the bubble of your own head and say, ‘I can’t move today … right?’ But when I’m having my class here and I’m focusing on them, that takes a whole other attitude. It takes me out of my own pain space, if you will, and helping other people uplifts me. It just brings me joy and helps me feel better. It really does.”

It certainly has helped Lisa Borlen, a teacher at Valley View School in North Brookfield, one of Senk’s nominators, who shared how working with her has given both her and her mother a new outlook on life. Looking back to her recovery from surgery in 2021, she emphasized how Senk makes everyone feel welcome.

“I was still in a sling when I returned to yoga, and Cindy offered suggestions for poses from seated in a chair to standing against a wall,” she recalled. “My safety was her utmost concern. As I grew stronger, she made adjustments to the practice. I could continue to practice yoga with my class and I always felt supported. My physical therapist and surgeon were pleased with my progress and thought that the yoga classes were instrumental in my recovery.”

Susan Restivo, a retired Springfield teacher who also nominated Senk, joined Gilmore and Borlen in stressing that Senk is not only a teacher, but a lifelong learner, and that informs her work in the community.

“She is doing what she wants — what she started doing as a big sister, never knowing that helping her brother would be the start of her journey of serving others,” Restivo wrote. “Way back then, there was no equipment or an understanding of services for those that needed a Cindy Senk.”

That equipment and understanding are available now, though. So is Senk, and a lot of people are living more active, more pain-free, and happier lives because of the way she lives her passion.

“People say, ‘oh, you’re 70, you should retire, you should slow down,’” she said. “But I still feel like I have things to offer. I really do. I feel like I have people to help, ways to be of service, and I still have a lot of energy to do it. So that’s what I do.”

Healthcare Heroes

Nurse, Urology Group of Western New England

During Her Long Career, She Has Made a World of Difference

Jody O’Brien

Now 87, almost 88, Joanne (Jody) O’Brien is two decades and change past what the Social Security Administration considers ‘full retirement age.’

But she is still working — two days a week as a triage nurse for the Urology Group of Western New England (UGWNE), in its Northampton office. She’s doing plenty of other things to keep busy, which we’ll get to, but for now, let’s focus on her day job — and the fact that she still has one.

When asked why, her face curves into a huge smile — it seems to be almost permanently like that — and she offers a simple and direct explanation.

“I love nursing,” she told BusinessWest with a voice that would imply this would be obvious if she’s been doing it for more than 67 years. But she wanted to elaborate, and did.

“I lucked out picking nursing as a profession coming out of high school because it’s just been the most rewarding career I could possibly imagine,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it so much that I don’t want it to end. As long as someone keeps me employed, I’ll keep coming to work.

“I absolutely love what I do — I can’t say enough about how great nursing has been for me,” she went on. “It’s a wonderful career to have. I’ve tried so many different aspects of it, and I’ve loved them all. So I figured there’s no sense packing it in if you love what you’re doing.”

Her career has placed her in many settings — from a hospital ship that was part of Project Hope in the early ’60s to Western New England College, where she was director of Health Services; from an eye-surgery office in Hawaii to the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction, where she was a per-diem nurse and, later, director of nurses, with many other stops as well.

“I lucked out picking nursing as a profession coming out of high school because it’s just been the most rewarding career I could possibly imagine. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I don’t want it to end. As long as someone keeps me employed, I’ll keep coming to work.”

But longevity and this variety of professional settings only begins to explain why O’Brien has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Lifetime Achievement category. Beyond her various day (and night) jobs, she has undertaken a number of service and volunteer assignments — from reading at Valley Eye Radio to taking care of orphans in Romania; from teaching English to nursing students in China to tagging sharks in Belize; from restoring and protecting turtle habitats in Costa Rica to working at Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding, supporting riders with disabilities.

All this suggests she could easily have been nominated in several, if not all, the categories of Healthcare Heroes. Because of the length, variety, and broad impact of her work, she is being honored in the Lifetime Achievement category, one that has traditionally been dominated by administrators. In this case, though, it is going to a provider. A provider of care. A provider of hope. A provider of inspiration.

Jody O’Brien with staff members

Jody O’Brien with staff members at the Urology Group of Western New England’s Springfield office.
Staff Photo

Through her 87 years, 67 of them as a nurse, she has seen just about everything, including a global pandemic. Summing it all up, she said her passion for helping others hasn’t dimmed — and has probably only grown stronger — nearly 70 years after she entered nursing school.

This enthusiasm and energy was conveyed by Dr. Donald Sonn, a physician with UGWNE, who was among those who hired her 18 years ago.

“When we first interviewed her, we were struck by how positive and effervescent she was, and how energetic she was,” he recalled. “I’m constantly amazed by her energy and her positive attitude.”

Calling her an “ombudsman” for the practice’s patients, Sonn said O’Brien consistently draws praise for her calm, steady hand (and voice on the phone) and her desire to assist others.

All of this — and much more — explains why she is a true Healthcare Hero.


Riding the Wave

‘Cuba si, Yanquis no.’ That translates to ‘Cuba yes, Yankees no,’ and it’s a phrase, and a song, that O’Brien heard repeatedly as she served aboard the USS Hope, the former Navy hospital ship that was chartered to the People to People Health Foundation in 1960, when it was docked in Trujillo, Peru two years later.

“The people who met us at the dock were Communists, and they did not want us there,” she recalled, adding that the exploits of the USS Hope in Peru later became the subject of the book Yanqui Come Back!

O’Brien spent a year on the Hope, earning a $25 monthly stipend. But as those credit card commercials used to say, it was a learning experience that was priceless.

She worked beside a constantly changing team of doctors that performed surgery on the ship and in hospitals on the mainland, with procedures ranging from plastic surgery for burns to work to address cleft palate and hairlip, to removal of tumors, some of which had grown to enormous sizes because the patients hadn’t seen a healthcare provider in years, if not decades.

Urologist Dr. Donald Sonn

Urologist Dr. Donald Sonn calls Healthcare Hero Jody O’Brien an “ombudsman” for the practice’s patients.
Staff Photo

“People would walk for miles to get to the ship to be treated, and we treated everyone who needed it,” she recalled. “It was such a learning experience for me working with all these doctors.
“I was still young and adventurous,” she went on as she talked about how she paused her career, sort of, to serve on the ship, adding that she has remained young at heart and has always, in her recollection, been adventurous.

Indeed, the book on her life and career has many intriguing chapters, some of which are still being written. In literary circles, they would call this a ‘page turner.’

Our story starts in Iowa, where O’Brien was born and raised, and where she decided she wanted to be a nurse. She attended nursing school in Davenport — a three-year diploma program that cost $500.

Upon graduation, she took a job in Davenport, but soon thereafter, she went to Hawaii to stay with a friend who had recently had a baby and wanted her company while her husband was deployed.

It was in Hawaii that O’Brien became acquainted with Project Hope. She visited the ship when it was docked and became intrigued with its mission. After returning to Iowa, she filled out an application to serve in Project Hope as an operating room nurse, and in 1962, she was approved for service.

During her year on the USS Hope, she met a volunteer named Ed O’Brien, from Holyoke. Upon returning to Iowa, she would drive to the Paper City to renew acquaintances. They would marry in 1963 and eventually settle in East Longmeadow.

Thus would commence a series of assignments in the 413, but also well beyond it.


Care Package

These included a lengthy stint at what was then Wesson Women’s Hospital, working in labor and delivery, and another as a nurse practitioner in an ob/gyn office.

From 1983 to 1988, she served as director of Health Services at Western New England College, handling the needs of 6,000 students, and also as a per diem nurse at the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction.

She then accepted a travel nurse assignment at Castle Hospital in Kailua, Hawaii. She stayed in Hawaii for a dozen years, also serving as nurse manager of an eye-surgery center and as branch director of Nursefinders of Hawaii. And while in the Aloha State, she earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

“She would go on a trip every three or four months, and it was always something really fascinating — volunteering in some third-world country or teaching children or reading to the blind. She has a tremendous record of service.”

She returned to Western Mass. in 2000 and took a job as area director of Nursefinders of Eastern Massachusetts, and soon thereafter became a flex team manager at Baystate Medical Center, managing 60 RNs, 25 technical assistants, 45 constant companions, and the ‘lift team.’

At the Urology Group of New England, which she joined 18 years ago, she works two days a week — Monday and Wednesday. The former is generally the busiest and perhaps the most difficult of the days of the week, but that’s when the group needs the help, so that’s when she works.

O’Brien’s whole career has been like that, in many respects — showing up when and where the help is most needed.

That’s true professionally, but also in her work as a volunteer, with work that is wide-ranging, to say the least.

Indeed, during the three days she’s not working at the Urology Group — and all through her life, for that matter — she has found no shortage of ways to give back and be there, for both people and animals.

Among them is her work with Valley Eye Radio, where she reads the local newspaper for the benefit of those who can’t read it themselves.

“It makes you feel good to know that, for people who cannot read or have difficulty reading, we can share what’s going on today in Springfield or the United States or the world,” she said. “We can share that information with them.”

Meanwhile, she also volunteers with Greater Springfield Senior Services, helping individuals who can no longer handle their own finances with bill paying and other responsibilities, and with Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding, a nonprofit that, among other things, brings horses to nursing homes, where residents can feed and pet the animals.

“The way they light up when they see these horses … it’s so gratifying,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she and a colleague will visit facilities regularly — sometimes weekly, other times monthly.

Animals have always been a big part of her life — and her strong track record of giving back. In addition to tagging sharks and restoring turtle habitats, she has also volunteered at animal sanctuaries in Australia to care for koalas, often taking her grandchildren with her on such service trips, introducing them to the many rewards that come with such work.

“At this age, you know you don’t have many more days to fill, so you fill each one of them,” she said, but concedes that she’s always wanted to stay busy.

“She’s done so much in her life … I’ve always looked forward to listening to her talk about trips, her escapades,” said Sonn, choosing that word carefully. “She would go on a trip every three or four months, and it was always something really fascinating — volunteering in some third-world country or teaching children or reading to the blind. She has a tremendous record of service.”

In both aspects of her life — as a nurse and as a volunteer — the common thread has been a desire to help those in need, and this explains why she has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2023.

“I loved working at Western New England; the college kids were a joy to work with,” she said, adding that each stop in her career has been different — and enjoyable. “There’s something about taking care of people and helping them deal with mental and physical problems and seeing what you can do to help them in their lives.”


Still Making a Difference

There are many people who have worked well into their 80s in healthcare. And there are many people who have put dozens of lines on a résumé detailing a lengthy list of career stops.

But there are few who have the passion, dedication, and resolve to use their talents and their love for helping others to make a world of difference, in every aspect of that phrase.

Jody O’Brien is such an individual. That commitment has helped her stand out in this field for seven decades. It makes her a Healthcare Hero. n

Senior Planning Special Coverage Special Publications

Inside This Year’s Planner

When BusinessWest and the Healthcare News first started publishing an annual Senior Planning Guide, the idea wasn’t to create a roadmap to the end of life, though it could, in some sense, be described as such.

The goal is to make sure you get your plans in order — from where you or your loved ones will live to how finances will be distributed — so you don’t have to worry so much, and instead enjoy the senior years to the fullest, or to help your aging parents enjoy them.

After all, the retirement years should be an enjoyable time, highlighted by special moments with family and friends, the freedom to engage in a range of activities, maybe even a chance to develop new interests and hobbies.

But to make the most of that time, proper planning — estate planning, financial planning, plans for care — is critically important. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans age 65 and older — which was 35 million in 2000, just 12% of the population — will reach 73 million by 2030, or 21% of U.S. residents. That’s a lot of people. And a lot of planning. And a lot of living left to enjoy.

Achieving your goals — and your desires for your loved ones — requires careful thought, and that’s where our annual Senior Planning Guide, presented by UMassFive Financial & Investment Services, comes in. So let’s sort through some of the confusion and get those conversations — and the rest of your life — started.

View this  year’s digital Senior Planning Guide HERE

Wellness for Life

Sharing a Life

Journaling Is a Therapeutic Exercise — for All Those Involved

Savvy Seniors Freeze It

Nutrition-minded Older Adults Should Heed These Tips

The Emotional Bank Account

How Seniors Can Maintain Mental Wellness

A Whole Year of Fun

Older Adults Have Plenty of Ways to Stay Physically Active

Estate & Financial Planning

Estate Planning: An Introduction

Goals, Strategies Can Vary with Each Stage of Life

Creating an Estate Plan

The Process Begins by Understanding the Key Documents

Decisions, Decisions

How to Choose a Medicare Plan

Preparing a Will

It Can Be a Dreaded Task, but It’s an Important One

A Task Better Left to a Professional

Being in Charge of an Estate Can Be Unsettling for All Involved

Roadblocks to Equality

LGBTQ+ Elders Face Unique Planning Challenges

Let’s Not Fight over This Stuff

Distributing Tangible Personal Property Can Cause Conflict

Caregivers & Adult Children

A Gentle Reminder

Don’t Lose Yourself in Caring for Others

Reading the Signs

Six Indications It Might Be Time for Memory Care

Having the Talk

Ten Tips on How to Approach a Difficult Topic

Four Steps to Emotional Wellness

Caregivers Must Understand the Importance of Self-care

It’s Not About Dying

How Hospice Care Supports the End-of life Journey

Senior Resources

40 Under 40 Event Galleries Special Coverage
Healthcare News

Introducing the Area’s 2023 Nursing Graduates

Hundreds of nursing students recently graduated from the area’s colleges. American International College, the American Women’s College at Bay Path University, Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Springfield Technical Community College, and UMass Amherst have announced the names of their 2023 nursing graduates. BusinessWest congratulates all of the graduates on their success.


Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Banyatie BahTraore
Kendal Bates
Rileigh Berneche
Abigail Carney
Erin Chase
Valery Cortes
Catherine Desrochers
Shannon Dion
Sean Dziuba
Brianna Fontaine
Briahna-Mary Hersom
Sophia Hess
Sara Howard
Yvonne James
Meghan Kalbaugh
Liza Lapko
Mildred Lefebvre
Ariana Martel


Phuong Mazza
Debi McEnaney
Morgan Miller
Jade Mitchell
Laura Moya Mejia
Maria Navarro
Sarah Newsome
Madison Paul
Alyx Pollard
Courtney Provencher
Julitza Rivera
Shannon Santos
Michael Shvetsov
Danielle Sica
Jennifer Tousignant
Genesis Vasquez
Luigi Zebrowski

Master of Science in Nursing
Amanda Allegra
Janessa Andrews
Cherise Antoine
Nicole Bagge
Kerilyn Barrios
Katherine Bean
Danielle Brouillette
Tamia Cheeks
Amanda Chen
Annmarie Goulas
Ashley Graveline
Bertram Henry
Christina Latorra
Joel Leconte
Emily Mendez
Christine Murphy
Judy Nham
Claribel Parra
Katherine Pawlowski
Muoi Petruff
Alycia Piedra
Kristen Robertson
Victoria Rondinelli


Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Angela Abbatemarco
Bethanie Deleon
Thea Gallagher
Shenell Gayle
Winnie Lopez Sanchez
Jane Marozzi
Christina Mbabazi
Jaime Richter
Samantha Sardella
Karen Scott
Salifyanji Thomas


Doctor of Nursing Practice
Colleen Barker
Monique Brunelle
Sylvia Darko
Hyemi Kim
Jill Kordas
Elizabeth Nantaba
Jason Reyes
Jenna Tymkowiche


Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Dianelise Acevedo
Courtney Adams
Rebecca Adjei-Nyame
Emma Agli
Priscilla Akuffo
Stephanie Alden
Gabriel Asare
Jonathan Bailey
Leah Barr
Marie Basil
Reyna Bautista
Yelena Bazukina
Chelsea Bergeron
Maggie Berrier
Jillian Russell Buendia
Anna Burgener
Nicholas Butera
Miranda Cadena
Sara Campbell
Alexandria Carmon
Madison Carra
Gabriela Chavez
Daisy Chege
Kristen Chianese
Emily Christie
Brian Cintron
Kelly Clare
Kathreen Collado
Danielle Collette
Dominic Colucci
Sarah Congden
Mikayla Costello
Rosemary Costello
Ashley Cronkhite
Cynthia Davis
Autumn DeBlois
Nicole DeFeo
Alyssa Dunham
Monica Esten

Adriana Ewig
Krystal Fitzgerald
Hayleigh Gagne
Emily Gay
Jennifer Girard
Ashley Girouard
Samantha Goncalves
Abigail Goodnow
Julia Grando
Tori Grano
Aleesha Grochoweski
Victoria Guay
Sara Guijarro-Sines
Lily Gyasi-Denteh
Maria Hernandez
Sydney Howard
David Ivanov
Taylor Johnson
Katie Jones
Miranda Kamukala
Alfiya Khuzhakhmetova
Caroline Kirk
Matthew Kisiel
Agata Kluk
Emily Krasinkiewicz
Connor LaFlamme
Rachel Lambert
Samantha Landry
Rheanna Lannon
Jayla Latham
Brittany LaVigne
Miranda Lebel
Michael Maggipinto Jr.
Taylor Malinowski
Flavia Marques
Jemma Marsh
Margaret Mathon

Kiana McDonald
Nicholas McElroy
Madison McGinnis
Kelsey Doray McMorrow
Mary Michaud
Lainey Mwangi
Sarah Nguyen
Ruth Njaaga
Caroline Njenga
Dekyong Nyandak
Solomon Tomeka
Parslow Oneka
Peter Otiende
Chynna Pacheco
Kayla Pasquel
Karlie Petlock
Meaghan Petty
Amber Piedra
Amy Pont
Danielle Poppel
Madison Quinn
Gabriela Rasuk
Michelle Redenz
Victoria Ricciardi
Deviyana Rivera
Kiara Rivera
Jocelyn Rodriguez
Mia Rotatori
Amanda Santerre
Shana Spratt
Daisia Stinson
Cassidy Sweeney
Alexander Szarkowski
Hanna Ton
Dawa Tsering
Josephine Yeboah
Yitian Zhang


Master of Science in Nursing
Jessica Abisla
Melinda Behrens
Lindsey Bowen
Tracina Brown
Kerrin Conceicao
Ann Covey
Erika Cisneros Cullen
Jessica Douglas
Michelle Ewing
Pamela Garrity
Rena Gilliam
Elaine Kalinowsky
Cassandra Keller
Kirsten Kennedy-Alvarado
Melissa Stewart Laws
Lia Long
Alexandra Marques
Caroline Mechan
Georgeann Natale
Pamela Neleber
Beth Osha
Courtney Peets

Deborah Pipan
Tara Schiller
Fawne St. Pierre
Ashley Stazzone
Nicholas Taylor
Brian Toia
Susan Williams

Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Nursing
Samantha Gilpatrick
Lori Gramolini
Carly Masse
Claudia Palframan

Graduate Certificate
Sandra Neubig
Fawne St. Pierre
Nicholas Taylor
Susan Williams

Doctor of Nursing Practice
Anne Albano
Louisa Asianmah
Jaime Caron
David Chastain-Stultz
Lacey Harding
Marina Hoag
Beata Kubacka
Yolanda Marrow
Laura Monette-Currie
Kathleen Pont
Lou Rios
Abigayle Sidur
Jennifer Stebbins
Melecio Tan Jr.
Jennifer Tarczali
Lynda Tenorio
Catherine Thresher
Ashley Williams


Associate of Science in Nursing
Latisha Abraham
Ahmed Aljanabi
Matthew Aube
Paris Beaudette
Ash Berman
Jessica Boulanger
Kathryn Cardin
Enette Claxton-Toliver
Michelle Cosme Serrano
Jacquelyn Crosler
Chelsea Daniels
Leigh Montemagni
Rosemary Dennis
Makailah Desharnais
Elissa Dingman
Lillian Doherty
Amber Doucette

Monica Drew
Yana Dyurteyeva
Samuel Farinloye
Madeline Fenderson
Jose Flores
Noelle Fournier
Alison Hansen
Lindsay Hawley
Billie Jackson
Jessica Tynea Johnson
Kaye-Loni Johnson
Tanner Johnson
Victor Koskey
Jenafer Kularski
Valeriy Kuznetsov
Jennifer Lagoy
Laura Levin

Becky Lexial
Vadym Malenkyy
Shelley Mather
Sam Methe
Courtney Munns
Kerry Jo Nagle
Crystal Pares
Maurice Ramogi
Jennifer Rivera
Jamie Schmitt
Amarilys Sepulveda
Briana Silva
Ryan Skowron
Jocelyn Soto
Jackie Tran
Mildred Velez
Evans Wangari
Megan Williams


Associate of Science in Nursing
Julia Bihler
Natia Bledose
Lori Borrego
Chase Boudreau
Olga Caraballo
Sharon Velazquez
Rossana Chum
Hope Connaughton
Chloe Connery
Brittany Cortis
Sandi Croteau
Leah Daisy
Alesya Danyuk
Julie Demoracski
Rebecca Ellis
Mariah Flores
Di Fu
Janice Garcia
John Graham

Savannah Granger
Madelyne Grunden
Rachael Hawley Gutierrez
Jameson Kebba
Ashlyne Khayesi
Maria Lajara-Cris
Diana Lane
Jasmin Lantigua
Elizabeth Lombardi
Taylor Lukas
Dana Lund
Ashley Maldonado
Alyssa Mansfield
Paskel McDonald
Danasha McKenzie
Robin Molina
Kayla Monroe

Leah Muise
Kristin Nothe
Dorothy Atieno Omondi
Janet Perez-Rivera
Brenda Pomeroy
Jessica Provenzano
Matthew Przybyszewski
Adam Quinn
Zachary Rajpold
Kavya Rejikumar
Joleen Rettura
Tifanie Rivera
Alexander Rokosz
Christopher Singer
Pavel Slivka
Waniekie Stewart
Melissa Stokowski
Samantha Trace
Thea Yvon
Anna Zelasko


Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Rachel Aalto
Brendan Barrie
Patrick Bartosiewicz
Emma Becker
Makayla Belfiore
Laura Berry
Allison Brightman
Andrea Callahan
Allison Cebollero
Alana Connelly
Alexa Cruz
Alex Dai
Ria Deshpande
Tess Downes
Robin Dupre
Anna Duquette
Kevin Farwell
Katerina Filipova
Jillian Flynn
Marcus Friedel
Lauren Gusmini
Casey Heinrich
Jackson Hicks

Caroline Kennedy
Jennifer Kovarik
Andrew Lachtara
Joyce Li
Piper Lieto
Sarah Los
Jenelle Marius
Lauren McGrath
Alyssa Mello
Sophie Meltzer
Cailyn Merrill
Victor Mora
Tiffany Nguyen
Julie Obeng-Nyarkoh
Galen Oey-Langen
Luna Peary
Julie Pehlert
Jason Pham
Christina Phillips
Tessa Robertson
Jessica Rodrigues
Emily Schroeder
Grace Seaborn
Matthew Serdy
Brianna Shepherd
Aaron Sherck

Jessica Smith
Zuzanna Stepnowski
Olivia Teh
Holly Tremblay
Kylene True
Jefferson Wermuth
John Wilson
Samantha Yee
Joshua Zelikman

Accelerated BSN
Denise Anderson
Hannah Buckley
Devante Clarke
Danielle Culver
Karla Garcia
Todd Ruby

Ronald Cruz
Robert Erardy
Michelle Gingras
Maryblessing Nnodim
Michele Ragston

Doctor of Nursing Practice
Olivia O’Brien Bass
Rebecca Brady
Mara Clawson
Christopher Diaz
Katherine Doherty
Alicia Ellis
Cori Fappiano
Alyssa Freeman
Stephanie Henry
Lorraine Howlett
Lucky Igbokwe
Sophia Khalifa
Kendra Lehman
Tara Moseni
Daniel Njuguna
Ronald Rollon
Emily Thomas
Mildrine Tulysse

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

All AAAs

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program. Actually, it was a spin-off, or extension, of an existing recognition program — 40 Under Forty. The concept was rather simple: to recognize the individual (or individuals — there have multiple winners a few years) who has most improved upon their résumé of excellence, in both their chosen field and with their service to the community. Over the past several years, the competition for what has become known as the Alumni Achievement Award has been spirited, as it was this year. Indeed, a panel of three judges, including the 2022 honoree, Anthony Gleason III, scored nominations featuring individuals across several different sectors of the economy. The four highest scorers, the finalists for the 2023 AAA honor, are profiled here. They are: Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies; Orlando Ramos, state representative and Springfield mayoral candidate; Amy Royal, founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm, and Michelle Theroux, executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The AAA winner will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 15 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.

Select each finalist below to read their story:

Ryan McCollum

Owner of RMC Strategies

Orlando Ramos

State representative and Springfield mayoral candidate

Amy Royal

Founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm

Michelle Theroux

Executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy

This year’s 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award is Presented by:

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Let’s Have a Ball

Summertime is a great time to get away, but in Western Mass., it’s also a great time to stick around and enjoy the many events on the calendar. Whether you’re craving fair food or craft beer, live music or arts and crafts, historical experiences or small-town pride, the region boasts plenty of ways to celebrate the summer months. Let’s start with Hooplandia — a major basketball tournament that’s been a long time coming, as you’ll find out starting on the next page, but one that promises to grow even bigger as it returns year after year. After that, we detail 20 more recreational and cultural events to fill in those summer days. Admittedly, they only scratch the surface, so we encourage you to get out and explore everything else that makes summer in Western Mass. a memorable time.

Tipping Off a Tradition

After Delays, Hooplandia Finally Gets a Chance to Shine >>Read More

Fun in the Sun

There’s Plenty to Do in Western Mass. This Summer >> Read More


Alumni Achievement Award

Owner, RMC Strategies

Ryan McCollum

Ryan McCollum has grown not only his business but his civic impact since being honored by 40 Under Forty in 2012 (below).

Ryan McCollum 2012

Ryan McCollum 2012

When he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, Ryan McCollum had already established an impressive track record of entrepreneurship, community involvement, and simply being an advocate for, and supporter of, the Western Mass. region and its business community.

Indeed, at that time, he had established RMC Strategies, a full-service consulting and government-relations firm, as a force in the region. Meanwhile, he was involved in civic work — and helping to promote and strengthen the 413 — on many levels, from his work to help launch the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield to his service on the board of Best Buddies.

To say that, over the past 11 years, he has only built on this deep and impressive résumé would be a huge understatement.

As an entrepreneur, he has established two new ventures — Shoe Leather, a text-messaging marketing company, and Goldilox, an online payment platform for candidates and nonprofits — and he is also part-owner of a cannabis dispensary set to open this fall in Monson, part of the growing portfolio of Holyoke-based DAZE, one of his clients at RMC.

Speaking of RMC, McCollum continues to grow that venture and take it in different directions. Indeed, while he still handles political campaigns — he served as consultant to Joshua Garcia in his successful bid to become the first Latino Mayor of Holyoke in 2021, for example — he continues to build his client list and, recently, his portfolio of work as a lobbyist. When he spoke with BusinessWest, McCollum was driving to Boston to lobby for the Coalition for an Equitable Economy. He’s also done some lobbying for a company looking to enable small businesses — bars, restaurants, and private clubs — to be a part of the burgeoning sports-betting scene across the state.

But it’s his ongoing efforts to expand his volunteer work within the community that is perhaps most impressive.

Indeed, the current list of agencies and causes he’s involved with includes Suit Up Springfield and Square One, which he serves as a board member; Roca, which he serves as an advisory board member; the Springfield Museums, where he has been a member of the marketing and communications committee; the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, for which he was a celebrity dancer for its Fancy Steps fundraiser this year; and many others. He’s even involved in work to help bring others into the game of golf, a sport he discovered years ago and is now somewhat passionate about.

“If ever Ryan leaves a board, he immediately joins two more,” wrote Timothy Allen, principal at Birchland Park Middle School in East Longmeadow and a 40 Under Forty winner himself (class of 2013), who nominated McCollum for the AAA. “Despite the success of his personal business, it is still the community side of his work that drives his daily motivation.”

Increasingly, this work in the community has involved efforts to combat racism and level the playing field for all residents of the 413 — and beyond.

McCollum is now a board member for the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley as well as the National Conference for Community and Justice, and he recently became a member of the Longmeadow Coalition for Racial Justice Task Force. And then, there’s the recently formed nonprofit he founded (with 15 friends and colleagues, many of them involved in education) called 16 Lyrics.

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles.”

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles,” he said of the agency’s mission statement. “Our first initiative has been to provide kids with books that have diverse characters, diverse authors, diverse storylines — and we do that all over the country; we’ve given out books that we’ve purchased from Black-owned bookstores to places in New Jersey, Chicago, and, of course, Massachusetts. It’s been fun, and I think we’re already making a difference.”

While his work in the community and as a business owner and lobbyist are all impressive, perhaps McCollum’s most important work, Allen said, is as a connector — connecting residents, political candidates and office holders, and organizations with resources and opportunities for growth and advancement.

“He is the person to call to connect people and form other lasting bonds, which further creates great energy and outcomes here in Western Mass.,” Allen wrote. “Instead of sitting on each board he is asked to sit on, he’s working on setting up a talent bank of young and diverse leaders to sit on boards and fill other roles he’s often asked himself to take on.

“While clearly becoming an even more of a behind-the-scenes and sometimes out-front leader in the community, it’s Ryan’s ability to push for others that sets him apart,” Allen continued. “He consistently extends opportunities to those who may not have the connections or relationships to be thought of, but have the talent and love of the community to serve as well as anyone.”

When he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2012, McCollum summed up his work — and his overall mindset — this way: “I want to leave the world a better place than I found it … this is the driving force behind everything I do.”

That is still the force that drives him, and 11 years later, there is much more to talk about when it comes to ‘everything I do.’

And that’s why he is one of the finalists for the Alumni Achievement Award in 2023.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

State Representative, 9th District

Orlando Ramos

Orlando Ramos’ 40 Under Forty photo in 2012 (below) emphasized he’s a fighter in more ways than one — and that hasn’t changed.

For his studio photograph when he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2014, Orlando Ramos chose to put on his blue boxing gloves and robe — he trained under legend Duke Belton and fought for several years — with a dress shirt and tie underneath.

The juxtaposition of those clothing items was well-thought-out, and quite poignant.

Indeed, at that time, when Ramos was 31 and serving as a Springfield city councilor (Ward 8) and district director for state Sen. James Welch, he was essentially sending a message — that he was still fighting … just not in the ring. Instead, he was fighting for Springfield, the city where he grew up (the Pine Point neighborhood, to be more specific), and its residents.

That fight took him to the presidency of the City Council, a role he carried out for two years, 2017 and 2018.

Today, the fight continues, but in a different setting. Sort of. Instead of City Hall in Springfield, Ramos’ professional mailing address is now the State House in Boston, where he serves as representative for the 9th District, which represents Pine Point and other neighborhoods in the northern part of the city.

But Ramos is looking to come back to City Hall, in this case the corner office. Indeed, he is a candidate for mayor in what promises to be a heated fight (there’s that word again) that will play out over the several months. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, there’s Ramos’s ongoing fight for the city and how it has evolved over the past several years, a progression, and an escalation, if one chooses to call it that, which impressed the panel of judges weighing nominations for the Alumni Achievement Award and made him a finalist for that coveted award.

His story of service to the community starts more than 15 years ago, when Ramos, who began his professional career as a carpenter and later was appointed union steward of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 108, was offered an internship in the governor’s Western Mass. office, whetting his appetite for public service.

He was later offered a full-time position as Welch’s district director, and successfully ran for City Council in 2013.

Ramos said he chose to take his work to fight for Springfield to the State House to essentially broaden his impact.

“I saw an opportunity to bring more resources back to the community,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he was first elected during the COVID pandemic, a time that “highlighted so many inequalities and so many needs in Springfield.”

He added that “we needed a leader with experience to navigate the Legislature, and that’s why I decided to run.”

He said his freshman term was a productive one, with three bills that he authored passing the House. Elaborating, he said the sports-betting bill that eventually passed was the version that included diversity, equity, and inclusion language that he wrote. Another bill he steered through concerned biomass plants and essentially removed state subsidies for such facilities, a measure he believes was the “final dagger” for a controversial biomass plant proposed for Springfield.

“I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job.”

The third bill concerned regulation of facial-surveillance technology. It passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker. He is hopeful that it will pass this year.

As for his decision to run for mayor, Ramos said he believes it’s time for a change in Springfield, and a time to seize more opportunities, especially within the broad realm of economic development.

“I see that there is a need in the city for a new vision,” he told BusinessWest. “I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job. We’ve had a lot of missed opportunities, and I feel that people are ready for a new mayor.”

He said he was the first person on the ballot and has hit the ground running when it comes to his campaign. “I’ve been knocking on doors ever since. And I’m going to continue knocking on doors until election day.”

Areliz Barboza, coordinator of the nonprofit agency known as Listening with Love, who nominated Ramos for the AAA honor, summed up Ramos’s work, and his passion for Springfield and its residents, this way:

“I believe he is an ambassador for our community. He is not only an elected official, but he is also a mentor to our young people,” she wrote. “He has the heart to serve our seniors. He has devoted himself to be the change within his family and in our community. Even with his busy schedule, he still manages to always make time to go above and beyond for our community. I believe his integrity and passion to serve our community speaks volumes and brings inspiration that creates the change we need in Springfield.”

Those sentiments explain why he has been elected city councilor and state representative, why he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2014, and now, why is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder and CEO, the Royal Law Firm

Amy Royal

Amy Royal had only recently launched her law firm in 2009 (the photo highlights an early client), and now the firm has a physical presence in four states.

Amy Royal is in pretty much the same place she was last year at this time … well, at least when it comes to BusinessWest’s Alumni Achievement Award competition.

Indeed, her scores from a different panel of judges have again made her a finalist for the coveted honor, which is why she is now clearing her schedule for the third Thursday in June to enable her to be at the Log Cabin to see if it is her name being announced as the AAA winner for 2023.

But in many other respects, Royal is in a different place — literally and figuratively.

She is now living in Eastern New York, where she is hard at work opening the newest office for the law firm she started in 2008 (and which earned her 40 Under Forty honors the following year), now known as the Royal Law Firm. That new office is in Albany, the state’s capital, giving the firm a presence now in the Empire State and most of New England.

“I’ve been working really hard to expand our footprint here,” she said from New York, “and obviously continue to build in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire…”

As for the Massachusetts office, it is located in the historic Alexander House, just a few hundred feet down Elliot Street in Springfield from the federal courthouse. For Royal, acquisition and subsequent renovation of the stately mansion has become a passion, one we’ll get back to later.

For now, know that this new home for the Springfield office, and Royal’s affection for it, is enough to prompt her to commute from just outside Albany to Springfield several days a week; travel time is about an hour, she said, just a little longer than it took her to get to Springfield from from her former residence in Deerfield.

Getting back to that notion of Royal being back where she was this same time last year, she is — and then again, she isn’t.

Which helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award.

Indeed, many of the same accomplishments that impressed the judges in 2022 impressed them again this year. These include her ongoing work to grow the firm, take it to new markets, and add to an already-impressive client list that includes Google, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panasonic of North America, and KeyBank.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them. It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

The latest expansion effort, as noted, is in Eastern New York, a new office that Royal believes will open some doors for the firm, which once focused exclusively on representing employers in labor and employment-law matters, but in recent years has pushed into other areas of the law, especially the broad realm of commercial litigation.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them,” she explained. “It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

Royal said she is closing on some real estate for the New York office while also recruiting lawyers to staff it, work that has become increasingly challenging given the ongoing workforce crisis that has touched seemingly every sector of the economy, including the legal community.

Beyond the law firm, Royal has always been entrepreneurial, and that trend continues as well. In New York, she and a partner are closing on an ambitious project that will bring an indoor sports facility and childcare center together in one complex.

Meanwhile, what has also impressed the judges, last year and again this year, is her work in the community, which includes a long track record of service to the Center for Human Development, which recently marked its 50th anniversary; she is currently board president. She is also heavily involved with the Springfield Ballers, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for young people to take part in sports and which won its own honor from BusinessWest this year — the Difference Makers award. Royal is an active board member with the agency, and in the past has served as a coach.

But since being named a finalist last year, Royal has continued to build on this track record of involvement — in Western Mass., and now in New York as well. Locally, she has played a lead role in the creation of another nonprofit agency focused on young people and sports. It’s called Northeast Revolt, and it will feature multiple basketball teams that will involve young people, girls and boys, in grades 3 through high school, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

As for the Alexander House, the Royal Law Firm has settled in there, but renovation work continues, she said, adding that the work has become a labor of love.

Interior renovations are essentially complete, she said, adding that work there has included rewiring; installing central air; remodeling of bathrooms, the kitchen, and office spaces; and much more.

Now, the focus shifts to the exterior and work on the historic pillars, painting the building, and restoration of the fence surrounding the property.

“We’re giving a facelift to the entire building,” Royal said, adding that the work on Elliott Street mirrors what she is doing with the law firm — and youth sports, for that matter — in many respects; she’s setting the stage for decades of growth and continued success.

And that’s why, at least when it comes to the Alumni Achievement Award, she is in the same, good place she was last year.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Executive Director, Berkshire Hills Music Academy

Michelle Theroux

Michelle Theroux was one of the inaugural 40 Under Forty honorees in 2007 (below), and has made some significant impacts since.

Michelle Theroux was a member of BusinessWest’s first class of 40 Under Forty honorees. That was back in 2007, for those who don’t know the history of this program.

At that time, she was executive director of Child and Family Services of Pioneer Valley, and as she talked with BusinessWest on that occasion, she noted that her background in dance — she began studying tap, jazz, and ballet at age 5; added dance instruction when she was just 16; and later toured nationally in a jazz-based children’s show — helped her generate the skills, including discipline, drive, and “balance,” needed to effectively lead a nonprofit.

In her 40 Under Forty picture, her ballet shoes are prominently displayed. In her profile piece, she noted, “now, dance is sort of my balancing piece. It evens out stress. Still, in my life, sleep is optional.”

Sixteen years later, as she was being interviewed as a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award — the first time she has achieved that honor — the shoes were not visible, but the arts are still a big part of her life, personally and professionally. And between her day job, the arts, and her considerable work within the community, sleep … well, that remains optional.

Indeed, she still dances and teaches dance, and that day job, one she has held for the past decade, is executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The South Hadley-based facility is a unique, college-like program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome, who are looking to expand their social, vocational, and music skills in a music-infused environment.

“Our uniqueness comes from how we integrate music, dance, and other art forms into our programs so that individuals who are musically talented or art-minded can use that to scaffold to other skills, creating better opportunities for independence and developing their life skills such as money management, cooking, and more,” she explained.

Students at the school are provided with opportunities to perform locally, individually, and as part of groups, Theroux noted, and in settings ranging from local schools to Fenway Park, where students have sung the national anthem.

“It gives individuals who otherwise would not have had that opportunity the chance for their ability to be heard, not necessarily their disability,” she went on. “When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

Theroux’s role there brings her passion for managing nonprofits and her passion for the arts together in a role she finds both challenging and, in many ways, invigorating.

“This place really blended my nonprofit-management skillset with my dance background,” she said, adding that, during her tenure, she has been able to put the agency on firmer financial ground while expanding its footprint and growing its client base.

“When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

As she leads the organization, Theroux continues to lean on those skills she honed through dance — and an impressive track record of managing nonprofits; after spearheading a merger between Child & Family Services and the Center for Human Development, she remained with CHD, serving as vice president of its clinical division.

At Berkshire Hills, she has acted as a change agent for the nonprofit, stabilizing all facets of the operation, creating an operational budget surplus, doubling the operating budget over a two-year period, expanding contracts with the Department of Developmental Services, and exceeding set goals for a capital campaign.

While building on her impressive résumé of work leading nonprofits, Theroux has also built upon a strong track record of service to the community. Most notably, she currently chairs the board of trustees for Mercy Medical Center, and is also a regional board member for Trinity Health Of New England.

But her involvement in the community takes many forms, especially in South Hadley, where she lives and works. She has been a board member for the South Hadley/Granby Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade now, and served as president of the board from 2018 to 2022. Within the community, she is a member of the Master Plan Implementation Committee and the Redevelopment Authority, and is also a town meeting member.

Other work within the region includes a decade of service to MicroTek Inc., a Chicopee-based manufacturer of custom cable and wire configurations that maintains a focus on employing people with disabilities and supporting these individuals. Theroux has served on its board of directors since 2014, currently as its vice president. Previously, she has been involved with the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Human Service Forum.

At Mercy, Theroux has led the board during a time of extreme challenge — the pandemic tested the hospital and its staff in every way imaginable.

“It was awe-striking in a lot of ways,” she said, “starting with your admiration for the healthcare workers and the day-to-day challenges that they were facing, on all levels — those on the front lines, the administrators trying to make sure everyone was safe, everyone throughout the entire system.
“And then, you’re dealing with the reality of a pandemic and patients who were fighting in the ICUs and the COVID units,” she went on. “You were seeing both, while trying to manage and make sure that you could get as many resources into place as possible to support both ends of that paradigm.”

Her work to help lead the Mercy system through those dark and challenging times is just one example of how Theroux has continued to grow as a manager and a leader since she was first named a 40 Under Forty honoree, and why she is a finalist for the AAA Award.


—George O’Brien

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 162: May 15, 2023

Joe Bednar talks with Paul Lambert, president and CEO of the SSO

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra recently struck a harmonious note with its musicians, announcing a new, two-year labor deal. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar talks with Paul Lambert, president and CEO of the SSO, about how that deal came about and what it means moving forward. They also discuss the importance of the symphony to the region, the challenge of creating a robust and diverse season of performances, how the organization is connecting with the next generation of young music lovers, and much more. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.


Sponsored by:

Also Available On

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 160: May 1, 2023

George Interviews Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tourism has become a huge part of not only the region’s fabric, but its economy, and on the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, about this critical sector and how things are shaping up for 2023. They discuss everything from the upcoming Hooplandia 3-on-3 basketball tournament to new rides at Six Flags to the prospects for bringing more conventions and meetings to the region. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

Also Available On

Class of 2023 Special Coverage
Class of 2023 Cover Story

Introducing the Class of 2023

It is perhaps the best thing about a 40 Under Forty class. And also the most challenging thing for the judges who ultimately decide its makeup.

Each of the nominees has a different background, a different story, a unique set of challenges to overcome, a different path that brought them to where they are, a distinctive set of accomplishments.

This variety, this diversity, makes it difficult for judges, who are asked to weigh the merits of entrepreneurs, professionals, nonprofit managers, public servants, college administrators, and many more — and some who fall into several of these categories at the same time — and score them against one another.

It’s difficult for them, but for the rest of us … it’s what makes this program so special. It’s a salute to the rising stars in this region, and each year, the list of honorees is both a revelation and a celebration.

And the class of 2023 is no exception. It is diverse in every way imaginable.

Each story is, indeed, different, but there are, as always, some common denominators, including excellence within one’s profession, a commitment to giving back to the community, dedication to family and work/life balance, and a focus on how they can make this region better for all those who live and work here.

The judges for this year’s program — spotlighted below — reviewed more than 120 nominations, a number that speaks to the continued vibrancy of this program and the dedication of the region’s rising stars.

The class of 2023 will be celebrated on Thursday, June 15 at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. That gala will also feature the announcement of the winner of the ninth annual Alumni Achievement Award, a recognition program that salutes the past 40 Under Forty honoree who has most impressively added to their accomplishments in the workplace and within the community, as chosen by a panel of judges.

Tickets for this year’s 40 Under Forty event are sold out!

Go HERE to nominate a 40 Under Forty for next year.

2023 Presenting Sponsor

2023 Partner Sponsors

2023 Presenting Sponsor Alumni Achievement Award

Meet Our Judges

Raymond BerryRaymond Berry is founder and general manager of White Lion Brewing Company, the first craft beer company post-prohibition to recognize the city of Springfield as its home. Berry, a Forty Under 40 member, class of 2010, is currently a board member at Springfield College and Blues to Green, and an attorney general appointee to the Commonwealth’s Cannabis Regulatory Committee. He also sits on the Basketball Hall of Fame Finance Committee, Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the Mass. Brewers Guild, and Philanthropic Committee for the National Brewers Assoc. Berry earned his BS from American International College, MBA from Springfield College, and a graduate certificate from Tufts University. He was a graduate in the region’s inaugural Leadership Pioneer Valley LEAP class. He has received the Spirit Award from the local housing authority, the Affiliated Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Award, the Assoc. of Black Business & Professionals’ Business of the Year Award, and a Martin Luther King Social Justice Award. He has also been recognized as one of the region’s Top 100 Men of Color.

Latoya BosworthLatoya Bosworth is a life coach, author, and program officer for Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. She worked in Springfield Public Schools for 18 years, first as a special educator and then as a behavior specialist. When she is not facilitating workshops for nonprofit and corporate clients or inspiring others with her speeches and self-published books, she is giving back to her community with through mentoring and collaboration. She was a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2016, and one of BusinessWest’s Women of Impact for 2022.

Brian CaninaBrian Canina is executive vice president, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer at Holyoke-based PeoplesBank. He has more than 20 years of experience in the finance industry. He is a graduate of Bryant College and is a certified public accountant. He is also a graduate of the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking and is a recipient of the Wharton Leadership Certificate. He is president of the Finance and Accounting Society of New England. He serves on the board of directors for Helix Human Services.

Jessye DeaneJessye Deane is the executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Regional Tourism Council, and is the owner of two award-winning fitness studios, F45 Training Hampshire Meadows in Hadley and F45 Training Riverdale in West Springfield. She was a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2021, Franklin County Young Professional of the Year in 2020, and the 2019 Amherst Chamber MVP. She has serves on more than a dozen community-based committees, and is this year’s campaign co-chair for the United Way of Franklin & Hampshire Region. 

Aundrea PaulkAundrea Paulk is the Marketing and Communications director at Caring Health Center. She is also the founder and creative force behind Soiree Mi, LLC, an event-planning and design business. Soiree Mi offers creative and personalized services for private and corporate clients. She is a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2022. A graduate of Bay Path University, her areas of expertise include marketing, branding, communications, event planning, social media, and website content management.

Alumni Achievement Award

Read about past Alumni Achievers.

Please nominate for this year HERE

Alumni Achievement Award Judging Underway

When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region — individuals who were excelling in business and through involvement within the community — and celebrate their accomplishments. 

In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award. As the name suggests, it is presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. 

Past winners include: 2022: Anthony Gleason II, president and co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies (40 Under Forty class of 2010); 2021: Anthony Gulluni, Hampden County district attorney (class of 2015); 2020: Carla Cosenzi, president, TommyCar Auto Group (class of 2012), and Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health (class of 2015); 2019: Cinda Jones, president, W.D. Cowls Inc. (class of 2007); 2018: Samalid Hogan, regional director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013); 2017: Scott Foster, attorney, Bulkley Richardson (class of 2011), and Nicole Griffin, owner, ManeHire (class of 2014); 2016: Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president, Allergy & Immunology Associates of New England (class of 2008); and 2015: Delcie Bean, president, Paragus Strategic IT (class of 2008). 

This year’s program is presented by Health New England; nominees will be weighed by three independent judges, including last year’s honorees. They are: 

 Anthony Gleason IIAnthony Gleason II is the president and co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies, which provides commercial landscape and snow-removal services, property management, real-estate development, and leasing, as well as self-storage. Under Gleason’s leadership, the company has grown into one of the largest snow-removal contractors in the country. It now boasts a number of large contracts, including the city of Springfield (250 locations), UMass Amherst and its 157 parking lots, Western New England University, and many others. Gleason was part of the 40 under Forty class of 2010, and the 2022 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award. Gleason and his company are strong supporters of Spirit of Springfield and many other local community organizations. 

Ashley BogleAshley Bogle is assistant general counsel and director of Legal Services for Health New England. In these roles, she manages the day-to-day operations of HNE’s Legal Department which includes a wide range of duties, from reviewing contracts to providing regulatory guidance and maintaining licenses and accreditation. A 40 Under Forty honoree in 2021, she is a founding member of HNE’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Committee, which guides the organization toward its goals of embedding DEIB and health equity into its strategic plan, mission, operations, community outreach, and member community. She currently serves as president of Art For The Soul Gallery’s board of directors in addition to working on other community projects. A proud UConn Husky, she received both her juris doctor and her bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Connecticut.

Payton ShubrickPayton Shubrick is a Springfield native and graduate of Springfield Central High School, College of the Holy Cross, and Bay Path University. A member of the 40 Under 40 Class of 2019, she’s an entrepreneur, and started 6 Brick’s, a cannabis dispensary, with the help of her parents and sister. 6 Brick’s opened in September of 2022, and has already garnered ‘Best Massachusetts Recreational Dispensary’ honors at the New England Cannabis Community Awards. Shubrick she is an adjunct professor at American International College, teaching graduate cannabis courses, a coach in the CT Social Equity Accelerator Program, and was recently named Young Entrepreneur of the Year for her leadership and success in her industry. 

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Executive Director, Springfield Creative City Collective: Age 29

Tiffany Allecia“When preparedness meets opportunity, amazing things can happen.”

That’s how Tiffany Allecia described the events that led to the Springfield Creative City Collective.

To address chronic poverty in the Black and Brown community, Allecia and five others who shared her concerns determined that promoting a cultural and creative economy would be an effective way to help people now and build toward long-term success.

As one colleague put it, Allecia is an “amazing grant writer,” who applied for and won a $530,000 MassDevelopment grant to establish the collective last July. While that was an important start, Allecia recognized that launching a creative economy in Springfield required access to resources and key stakeholders.

“Through my work with two arts and culture organizations, I saw millions of dollars pour in to large, predominantly white, established businesses that didn’t reflect our community,” she said. “The small businesses in my community didn’t know how to get access to these resources.”

Allecia sees her role, and that of the collective, as a connector to support the development and growth of minority-owned businesses in Springfield. Early successes include a partnership with Berkshire Bank on a financial-literacy academy. The six-week course covered personal finances as well as small-business management.

“We’re working to connect mainstream organizations with our community members who have been overlooked for years,” she said. “The idea is to raise the game of Black and Brown businesses so they can succeed and grow.”

Coming soon are a creative entrepreneurship conference and a hiring fair.

“I believe there are plenty of resources out there, but we often operate in silos,” Allecia said. “The different individuals who could benefit from collaborating aren’t in the same room together. It’s my goal to bring them together.”

Part of that goal involves what she calls a “reimagining” of how resources are allocated in the community by first investing in what currently exists.

“It’s like a grandparent saying, ‘take care of what you have before you can get some more,’” she explained. “That’s where we are in the city right now, and it’s a beautiful and dynamic place.”

A lover of knowledge, Allecia stays grounded with the Socrates quote: “I know that I know nothing.”

“That phrase inspires me because it helps me remain humble,” she said. “I’ve learned a great deal, but I refuse to stop growing, and I refuse to stop learning.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer, Greenfield Northampton Cooperative Bank: Age 34


Adam BakerAs a commercial lender at Greenfield Northampton Cooperative Bank, Adam Baker led all team members in both number of loans originated and dollar amount closed. Not just one year, but in seven consecutive years, from 2016 to 2022.

Not bad for someone who found himself in an accidental career.

“I took a summer job as a teller and got promoted,” he said, a story that’s not uncommon in the banking world. As in many other cases, Baker found he not only had a knack for the work, but a passion for it, too.

“I’m a commercial lender, so I work with people buying investment properties. I get to help people follow their dreams, start businesses, reach their financial goals, or further their businesses,” he explained. “As a local bank, we know all our customers; they’re not just numbers, they’re people. We get to interact with them on a personal level and give them a higher level of service.”

As a leader of his institution who helped the bank achieve some of its strongest growth and profitability over the past six years, he also came through during challenging times, helping to lead the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic, and making sure hundreds of local businesses received a needed influx of cash so they could keep their teams employed.

Baker is also a managing member and owner of Alpal Properties LLC, which owns and manages more than $1 million in investment real estate.

Heavily involved in the community, he’s the treasurer and chair of the finance committee, as well as a member of the building committee and board of directors, for Lighthouse Personalized Education for Teens in Holyoke. He’s also on the board of directors for Empty Arms Bereavement Support in Florence and serves on its Syrup Stampede 5K fundraiser committee. He also devotes time to Horizons for Homeless Children in Springfield — volunteering more than 100 hours annually, in fact, with homeless children.

“These things are very important to me because I feel like I get to help these great organizations that do all the hard work,” Baker explained. “For example, Lighthouse is helping children, and I’ve always had a passion for helping kids in whatever way I can. My position as vice president of the bank allows me to be a treasurer at some of these places and make a difference; it’s one of the most gratifying things in my life.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Fitness Coach and Owner, BuildEmUp: Age 29

Emily Banerjee

Emily Banerjee

One of the many people who nominated Emily Banerjee for the 40 Under Forty class of 2023 called her “the living model of leading by example.”

That’s because Banerjee grew up in Springfield, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Elms College, then stayed in the area “to motivate and inspire folks of all demographics,” the nominator wrote.

She does so through BuildEmUp, her health and wellness business focused on personal training and group classes. With hundreds of clients, Banerjee’s reputation is growing as a coach and trainer, but also as a compassionate business owner who responds enthusiastically to community needs.

Like a project she spearheaded this past holiday season to collect $13,000 worth of clothes, toys, and necessities and donate them to women and children through the YWCA. She has also spearheaded projects that have resulted in large monetary donations to diabetes organizations, friends with cancer, and other recipients.

But Banerjee doesn’t have to look outside the walls of her fitness center to change lives; she’s doing that every week through a business she started thinking about while working for Baystate Health after graduation, gradually building up a clientele through social media and word of mouth.

“Our model is strong, not skinny,” she said, explaining a model that’s less about weight lost and more about strength — and quality of life — gained. “Being healthy is the bottom line; everyone can understand that.”

During the pandemic, Banerjee offered virtual training to her clients so they could continue living the healthiest life they could. After things started to open back up, she brought clients back to the gym but made sure it was a safe environment for everyone, with individual pods so that members could work out in the same room with confidence.

These days, her average demographic is ages 18 to 50, and most are minority women. She offers about 20 different class times a week, and is already thinking down the road to a possible move out of the ninth floor of 1350 Main St. in downtown Springfield to a larger, more accessible location for clients. After all, they’re what motivates her to be her best self.

“The best part about this is the people,” Banerjee said. “They come to us because they want to; it’s a choice to enter the gym with a positive attitude, and that’s good for me, too. Empowered women empowering women — that’s the goal.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Senior Clinician, Behavioral Health, Commonwealth Care Alliance: Age 38

Jennifer BellBy her own admission, Jennifer Bell was born to be a helper.

“While I picked social work as a career, I think it also picked me,” she said. “Even in my personal life, I always want to help people.”

From her high-school days, visiting her Noni, who was receiving care, Bell found herself also interacting with the other patients in the facility. These days, she leads a team at Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) on an innovative approach to provide medical and mental healthcare to people with non-traditional needs.

“Many of our patients haven’t always had the best experience with the health system in the past,” she said. “We’re here to show that we’re different.”

Using a wrap-around model of care, Bell and her team bring together a patient’s primary-care doctor and therapist to prevent any gaps in treatment. The CCA team is also involved in helping with a patient’s housing and food needs, as well as assisting with tasks such as filling out paperwork.

“My role is to help with the behavioral-health piece, breaking down the barriers that might prevent a person from connecting to mental-health and substance-use-disorder programs,” she said, adding that CCA’s professionals often make house calls for patients who can’t get out.

Trust is an essential part of caring for non-traditional patients, she added, and building that trust starts with showing up. “Sometimes, just having someone consistently show up makes a difference. So, I show up.”

Bell is proud that so many people are comfortable saying, “oh, I can call Jenn,” whether it’s on the job or in her voluntary work.

From serving as a mentor in the Sibling Connections program which reunites siblings placed apart in the foster-care system, to volunteering with her dog, Leila, in a program to help children build their reading skills and confidence by reading aloud to certified therapy dogs, Bell finds helping others to be rewarding work, even outside her day job.

“I have an ability to engage people who have a history of not wanting to be engaged. I feel it’s my main strength,” she said. “I bring a level of energy to the work because I enjoy meeting people from all different walks of life who are on many different paths. I let them know that I’m here for them.”

That’s why so many people know they can call Jenn.


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner, Madison Bull, LMHC: Age 36

Madison BullMadison Bull, as one of her several 40 Under Forty nominators noted, wears a number of hats.

She’s a psychotherapist who opened a private practice in October 2019. She’s also an adjunct psychology professor at Holyoke Community College (HCC); a trainer, speaker, and educator for Pathways for Parents, helping families access mental-health resources for children; and a wife and mother who’s active in her 6-year-old daughter’s life as an elementary-school PTO president and soccer coach.

Bull was working for small group practice before deciding to branch out on her own. She is a certified hypnotherapist and trained in perinatal mental health, but works with a wide range of clients.

“I see a variety of ages, but I mostly focus on girls and younger women. A lot of my focus is on anxiety and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder),” she said, noting that opening the practice when she did, just five months before COVID turned the world on its ear, was a challenge because of the restraints it put on seeing clients in person.

“I did a lot of Zoom sessions, did it virtually, but I like one-on-one, in-person interaction, when you can really get to know someone’s story. That was a little difficult,” she recalled. “But I found people still needed the services. Everyone was definitely thrown for such a loop.”

She said her mission for her practice is to be completely relatable, and to create a safe, comfortable setting for those who come in. “I want people to know who I am; I want that welcoming feeling and for people to know that I am human too.”

As an adjunct professor at HCC, she has taught there on an as-needed basis for a dozen years. She also volunteers in the community, with a special focus on animal welfare, donating time and resources over the years to animal shelters. “My family and I have always been animal people,” she said.

As for involvement in her daughter’s school, well, it’s important for Bull to make time for that, but it’s also a pleasure.

“There’s so much bad on the news and social media. Let’s find things in the community that get people excited, things that keep people hopeful,” she said, adding that, in the case of the PTO, “planning comes easy to me. It’s not super stressful. Somebody’s got to do it. So why not someone who likes it, who enjoys it, and is motivated?”


—Joseph Bednar


40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Director of Athletics, American International College: Age 35

Jessica ChapinJessica Chapin was a decorated collegiate athlete. In 2010 alone, she was named the University Athletic Assoc. Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, the Brandeis University Female Athlete of the Year, and a State Farm Women’s Basketball All-American; in 2018, she became a New York State Section 5 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

And then she went to law school, aiming to be an attorney.

But while coaching basketball during that time, she had a realization: that her passion was really in athletics. So, she changed course, enrolled in Springfield College, where she earned a master’s degree in Athletic Administration, and eventually found herself running the Athletics Department at American International College (AIC).

There, Chapin provides leadership for a department of 25 intercollegiate and four club sports, overseeing nearly 45 full-time coaches and another 20 staff members and more than 650 student athletes. She’s responsible for the strategic direction, administration, and supervision of all phases of athletics, including budget management, alumni engagement, fundraising, marketing, enrollment management, personnel management, long-term vision and strategic planning, crisis management and discipline, Title IX and gender equity, facilities, and more.

“Athletics was something I missed, something that was the foundation of my life,” she said of her decision to leave law school, and she’s gratified when student-athletes at AIC make similar journeys of self-discovery. “I love seeing a light go off in the minds of young adults who often come to college not necessarily knowing what they want to do, being able to work with them, seeing the struggles, but then seeing them come out on the other side.”

Chapin also serves with the NCAA on its Division II Management Council, the highest appointment in the organization’s governance structure outside of the President’s Council. In that role, she’s an active participant in the division’s decision making.

She’s also a believer in the value of the athletic experience as a character-building exercise, saying student-athletes possess qualities many others do not, which can serve them well over a lifetime in whatever career they choose.

“It’s definitely gratifying to be a part of all this,” she said. “Sports generally teaches us things that we don’t get to experience otherwise: being on a team, the importance of teamwork, of collaboration, so many things. I feel like, when students are taught by coaches, they learn lessons they might not learn any other way.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice President and Building Services Business Line Leader, Tighe & Bond: Age 35

Jason Curtis

Jason Curtis

Jason Curtis said he’s always been fascinated with the built environment.

“In elementary school, when some kids were playing computer games, I was drawing floor plans on an architectural drafting program on my parents’ desktop computer,” he recalled. “And when I was in high school and college, I did carpentry work as a summer job and on school breaks, and I always found that work to be quite rewarding.”

But what really cemented his desire to be an engineer was his coursework at Union College, where he started to see engineering as a way to make a difference in the world through sustainability, energy efficiency, and high-performance buildings.

In his multi-faceted role at Tighe & Bond, Curtis develops strategic direction, oversees day-to-day operations, and tackles business-development efforts, and has led a wide variety of projects for schools and colleges, municipal buildings, industrial facilities, and multi-family residences.

“Every project is different. As consulting engineers, we say every project is a prototype. Everything is tailored to the particular needs and constraints of each project and client,” he said, with one common thread being energy and sustainability efforts. “With the various challenges of the world we live in today, we always try to bring those things to the forefront. Whether it’s efficiency or greenhouse gases or fossil-fuel reduction or cost effectiveness or resiliency, those are all things we’re constantly talking about and thinking about, and I try to be our client’s trusted advisor.”

Active in the community, Curtis serves on the town of Deerfield’s energy committee, and, as an advocate of mentorship, he has been part of the Hartford, Conn. chapter of the Architecture Construction Engineering (ACE) mentorship program, which assigns STEM-related projects to students. He’s also working with others at Tighe & Bond to revive the ACE mentorship program in Springfield schools.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the mentorship I received over the years. That is something that Tighe & Bond is very cognizant of,” he said, noting that his workforce-development efforts at the company extend to participation on the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee and leadership of the anti-racism subcommittee.

“The firm has been around more than 100 years. For a firm to have that kind of staying power, we know how to transition leadership,” he said. “We want to be around another 100 years, so everyone in a leadership role appreciates that, and everyone invests in developing the next group of leaders for the firm.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Program Chair, Early Childhood Education, Springfield Technical Community College: Age 39

Aimee Dalenta

Aimee Dalenta

Aimee Dalenta has dedicated her life’s work to enriching people through education.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College and a master’s from Western New England University, Dalenta taught fifth grade in Longmeadow. After marriage and having her first two children close together, she left the workforce for a short time. Her first re-entry was running a small childcare center in East Longmeadow. Shortly after that, Springfield College offered Dalenta an instructor’s position in its Education Department.

“So I went from working with little kids to big kids,” she said.

In her current role at Springfield Technical Community College, Dalenta’s students range from those just out of high school to older adults seeking a career change. “Students in the course can be in their 50s and 60s, and they will collaborate with a 21-year old,” she noted. “They learn from each other, and I’m learning from them. It’s a cool environment.”

Dalenta ranks her proudest professional moments as earning her doctorate and how well she has navigated through the starts and stops along the way.

“I will never regret leaving the workforce to become a mom, but it was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “Then, re-entering and navigating my way after not working for five years was terrifying.”

While she enjoyed her time at Springfield College as an instructor, she knew she would need a doctorate to remain in higher education. She enrolled at American International College for its doctoral program even though her youngest child was a toddler.

“It was four grueling years to earn the doctorate, but it was a labor of love,” she said, adding that she is grateful for all the support her family gave her.

She also found inspiration from Pat Summit, the late, legendary women’s basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, who coached her players: “left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat.”

“It’s a simple mantra that helped me get through my doctoral work,” Dalenta said. “I only need to do the thing in front of me. I still use it to center myself when things get difficult.”

While proud of her role as program chair and professor, Dalenta still considers herself a teacher. “I’m inspired by my students as they persevere through life’s challenges. Teaching has always been there to ground me and help me to grow as a professional and as a person.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

CEO, LaunchSpace Inc.: Age 39

Brianna Drohen

Brianna Drohen

When Brianna Drohen’s career path brought her back to Western Mass. in 2013, she met Jack Dunphy, owner of the Orange Innovation Center, and her passion for the region was rekindled.

After learning about Dunphy’s vision, Drohen got to work helping him develop resources, training, and support for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. In the next two years, she brought the building to 90% occupancy and hosted classes and workshops to educate the tenant businesses in specific areas. She also secured grants for a new parking lot and a water-filtration system.

“It’s incredibly gratifying,” said Drohen, who grew up in Wendell and earned degrees at Greenfield Community College and UMass Amherst. “This is a very community-centered place; I grew up with that backbone. When I moved back here, I fell into this work, and I love it.”

But Drohen’s role would soon expand in intriguing ways. In 2016, Dunphy was looking to bring a vacant portion of the building back to life. When Drohen toured a facility in Columbus, Ohio that had similar characteristics as the Orange Innovation Center, she had a ‘eureka!’ moment when she saw businesses, a maker space, and artisans thriving together, revitalizing the neighborhood.

So, in 2017, she and Alec MacLeod co-founded LaunchSpace, a nonprofit organization providing opportunities to upskill, collaborate, and develop new businesses in the local Orange economy. Drohen took over as CEO in 2021.

LaunchSpace also acquired the 24,000-square-foot Pleasant Street School in Athol, intending to drive the local economy by repurposing the kitchen into a working, shared-use commercial kitchen and the classrooms into business-incubation suites and retail outlets, as well as a childcare facility.

LaunchSpace plans to host and support on-site agriculture, value-added food businesses, training and incubation, and community wellness at the former school, providing opportunities to support food sustainability in the region, as well as continuing to develop talent and create jobs for the local economy.

In 2021, Drohen also led a partnership with Greenfield Community College to launch an entrepreneur program to support creative businesses. In 2022, LaunchSpace, GCC, and Greenspace CoWork received funding to pilot a six-month acceleration program focused on the underserved residents of Greater Franklin County.

“I’m driven,” she said. “Some people call me aggressive, but I’m definitely driven by this idea that we can not only reuse old buildings, but we can create micro-economies that support these Western Mass. communities. I would love to have the LaunchSpace model replicated in other communities as well.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Chief Operational Officer, Franklin First Federal Credit Union: Age 38

Sarah ErmanSarah Erman didn’t attend college to prepare for a financial-services career. In fact, her focus as an undergraduate at MCLA was photojournalism.

“I worked with some local newspapers, and I did some freelance with the Greenfield Recorder until I got my job here at the credit union,” she recalled. “My student loans were coming due, and I needed to actually have a job that supported me for the payment of those loans. And there was an opening at Franklin First.”

Starting as a teller, Erman moved into member services and eventually became operations manager and then chief operating officer.

“This was not where I initially saw myself,” she said. “But the more time I spent at the credit union, the more I saw my future there, helping to provide new experiences for our members and staff. The philosophy of the credit union is people helping people, and that’s what really got me to stick around. Once I understood the philosophy, I really fell in love with the credit-union world.”

Erman said she wears many hats, including day-to-day operations, facility management, compliance, and security, and she acts as the institution’s Bank Secrecy Act officer.

She also earned praise from President and CEO Michelle Dwyer for bringing Franklin First up to date with modern technological standards that helped it navigate the pandemic seamlessly. “Had these operational improvements not been made,” Dwyer said, “our credit union would not have been able to continue meeting the needs of our membership.”

Active in the community in numerous ways, Erman has served on the board of directors for Root to Rise, volunteers at the credit union’s financial-education events, and helps nonprofits that reach out to Franklin First for assistance with creating new events.

Notably, she’s heavily involved with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin, serving for the past four years on the fundraising committee that enables three large events each year: the Hope and Healing Breakfast, the Race to End Child Abuse, and the Chipping Away at Child Abuse golf tournament.

“It’s unfortunate those services have to be provided, but they’re such necessary services,” she said. “I feel like I’m able to give back to these kids and the community by helping these committees raise awareness and raise funds for such an important, deserving organization. Those community events are critical to the operations they provide for kids in the community.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Director of Development, Springfield Symphony Orchestra: Age 39

Heather GawronHeather Gawron is nearly 15 years removed from her days as an elementary-school teacher, and there have been many career stops in many places — from Paris to American International College — since then.

But she still takes lessons from those teaching days, and from her degree in education, and applies them to all facets of her life.

“I think it shapes so much of what I do now organizationally, experience-wise, and knowing how to communicate with all different types of people,” she said of her work today, which takes place on both sides of Main Street in downtown Springfield.

On one side is the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO), which she serves as director of Development. On the other side is SkinCatering Inc., a salon and spa she serves as ‘chief impact officer.’ Last year, she led its efforts to create and launch a new brand of all-natural skin-care products called Weekend Beauty.

Her life and current work is captured neatly in all that she brought to her 40 Under Forty photo shoot, including her two daughters, Maxie and Charlie, a banner for the symphony, some art work depicting Weekend Beauty, a photo of the Eiffel Tower to represent her time in Paris — what she calls her “happy place” — and a picture of her family, including the family dog.

Gawron joined the SSO roughly a year ago, and her responsibilities there are in development, fundraising, marketing, and public relations, work that has been made much more challenging by the ongoing labor dispute with the symphony’s musicians.

“This year, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to reach new audiences, and showing that we’re here and that we’re committed to being an amazing cultural experience in the community, and bringing in a diverse selection of conductors in the hope that this helps us engage with the community and keep what is a pretty cool thing to have in our size city,” she said. “There are many cities larger than ours that don’t have a symphony orchestra.”

At SkinCatering, she handles marketing and branding for the new skin-care brand, which is packaged for travel, she noted. “These skin-care kits have everything you need to keep your routine consistent on the road, whether you’re traveling for business, at the gym every day, or you just want a simple way to spoil yourself at home.”

Meanwhile, Gawron is active in the community, supporting organizations such as Square One and Habitat for Humanity, demonstrating that her passions extend well beyond both sides of Main Street.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice Chair of Clinical Operations for Emergency Medicine,
Baystate Medical Center: Age 37

Dr. Seth Gemme

Dr. Seth Gemme

It wasn’t until late in his undergraduate studies at Westfield State University that Dr. Seth Gemme even thought about having those two letters appear before his name.

In fact, his initial aspiration was to be a meteorologist — he had an internship with Adam Strzempko at WWLP while in high school. But he eventually became an EMT, which brought him into the ER at Baystate Noble, which eventually led to a job there, which eventually led him to develop a fondness for the ER and the desire to be a doctor in that setting … which led him to the University of Buffalo Medical School, where he graduated first in his class.

That led to a residency at Brown University, and — here we can fast-forward a little — eventually Gemme returned to this region and to Baystate Noble Hospital, and then chief of the ED at Baystate Wing Hospital, and now, vice chair of Clinical Operations in the ED at Baystate Medical Center.

It has a been a fast and quite impressive ascent for Gemme, whose job (more of a passion, really) involves a mix of clinical work and administrative duties. When he’s not tending to patients, he’s working to improve processes, reduce wait times, and improve capacity management.

Like most who choose the ER, he prefers to say it found him, and he notes that he likes everything about it, from the pace of the work to the fact that every day, every hour is different.

“I like helping people at their most vulnerable time, and hopefully being someone who can change a life,” he explained.

He described the pandemic years as difficult and exhausting, with a full range of emotions.

“Initially, we were heroes; it was the first time where people stopped yelling at us and brought us food,” he joked, adding that the COVID years provided learning experiences and opportunites to grow professionally on many levels.

While the ER is the focus of his workday, Gemme has many other priorities and pursuits, starting with his family — his wife Chelsie and daughters Harlow and Hanna. There’s also his music — he plays guitar and piano and sings, and appears both solo and in an indie folk trio, the Ship and the Shield. Meanwhile, he’s also one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds and a board member for Hilltown Ambulance.

Needless to say, he’s instrumental to the health and wellness of people of this region — in every sense of that word.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Co-owner, the Naples Group: Age 29

Lucas GiustoWhen you ask Lucas Giusto about the secret to success for the Naples Group, he responds, “we always answer the phone.”

As a college student living off campus, Giusto understood that if he owned property and rented it out to friends, he could live for free.

After receiving a business administration degree from Westfield State University, he acted on his initial idea and began buying college rentals in different parts of Western New England.

After gaining more experience by working with several area realty groups, in 2019, he and a business partner founded Naples Group, which consists of three real-estate-related businesses.

Naples Realty Group is a real-estate brokerage with more than 50 agents. Naples Home Buyers specializes in purchasing distressed properties and improving them for resell. Naples Waste Removal, which opened last year, offers property cleanouts and dumpster rentals. In addition to all that, the group has a rental portfolio with 50 available multi-family units and a goal to grow that to 100 by the end of this year.

Giusto takes particular pride in the home-buyers group because it helps people get out of tough situations. “If someone is being foreclosed on or they have property blight they can’t fix, we can offer them a quick sale. If the house is in good shape, we will list it with the realty group so they can get top dollar.”

With homes in short supply, renovating distressed properties can be a real opportunity for someone looking for a home.

“If our realty group has a potential buyer, we can help them get into a newly renovated home, sometimes even before it goes on the market,” he explained. “A renovated property is a win for the buyer and the agent.”

Giusto emphasizes mentoring and learning as part of the culture at the Naples Group. “We help our people to hit their goals by teaching them how to flip a house, how to buy a rental property, and even when not to buy a property.”

In the community, he has formed a relationship with Bob “the Bike Man” Charland.

“Bob will often go through a property before we renovate it and find items to donate,” Giusto said. “We enjoy supporting his foundation, Pedal Thru Youth, which provides bicycles for kids in need.” Giusto also supports several other local efforts, including Empty Arms Bereavement in Northampton.

By renovating distressed and unwanted properties, Giusto gives them new life for new families — and makes Western Mass a better place to live.


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner and Clinic Director, Resilience Physical Therapy and Wellness: Age 28

Daniel GriffinAmid all the physical-therapy practices in the region, Daniel Griffin had a vision for a different approach.

“I wanted to bring a more innovative style to rehabilitation,” he said. “It’s important to look at a patient’s total health — how they eat, sleep, and how the rest of body moves — then tailor their rehab plan so they can return to the social activities they enjoy.”

He opened Resilience Physical Therapy and Wellness in 2019 after completing his doctoral work in physical therapy at Springfield College and immediately began using evidence-based approaches to physical therapy.

“Our youngest patient is age 6, and our oldest is in their mid-90s,” he said. “Having such a diverse age range is rewarding for us as clinicians.”

Part of his business includes providing physical-therapy services to first responders in several area communities. “Whether it’s police, firefighters, or military personnel, we understand what they do from a work standpoint, and we’re just glad to help when they get injured on the job,” he said.

Notably, Griffin and his staff run Resilience’s education program for healthcare students, encompassing students from high school through graduate level who are pursuing health careers. The program is designed to take students through the internship process and show them the day-to-day responsibilities of a physical therapist.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see our high-school students advance to physical therapy or pre-med programs and our undergrad students move into graduate-level training,” he said. “We hire many of our former students. In fact, most of our staff interned with us.”

Griffin said the program can really benefit high-school students by giving them exposure to a health-career pathway, as well as offering interactions for college and graduate students to better understand their experiences.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy to create this program,” he added. “We’re happy to see all our slots booked for the summer, and we look forward to a new group of students in the next school year.”

From the first Resilience location in Agawam, Griffin has expanded to Wilbraham and will open a third practice this summer in Suffield. He’s grateful to all those who have helped him along this successful path.

“In the beginning, I had great mentors who helped me get started,” he said. “We continue to grow because I’ve got a great team that works with me.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Executive Director, Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce: Age 33

Jordan Hart

Jordan Hart

Jordan Hart was attending Holyoke Community College and waiting tables at the Yankee Pedlar in Holyoke in early 2013, not really knowing she wanted to do with her life.

She saw an ad for a part-time administrative assistant at the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, thought about applying, but didn’t, because she thought the job would interfere with her college schedule. But a chance conversation with the chamber’s director, Kathy Anderson, when she came to the Pedlar for lunch prompted her to change her mind.

And that decision changed the course of her career.

Indeed, a decade and a few different positions with the chamber later, Hart is now in Anderson’s former role. And she’s not just leading the chamber, but leading it through an aggressive and much-needed change of course.

Under her direction, the chamber has become more responsive and also more inclusive, a place for business owners of all backgrounds, languages, and experiences.

“I worked for a chamber for a long time, and over the years, I’d seen how businesses had continued to change, but chambers had not changed with business,” she explained. “We weren’t seeing a lot of young entrepreneurs, we were not getting a lot of new members, and we were seeing members drop out because they felt they were not getting value for their membership. And we also weren’t doing much to engage the Latino business community in Holyoke. So I became really motivated to make sure we were a hub for business support and a bridge between Holyoke and its business community.”

Among her many initiatives, Hart has made the chamber an active part of many events and activities, including Holyoke Pride, the Paper City Food Festival, and the Great Holyoke Brick Race. She has also undertaken a rebranding, giving the chamber a new, more modern logo.

Meanwhile, she has made the agency more responsive to the needs of solo-preneurs and startups, which are a huge part of the Holyoke economy, with one-on-one technical assistance available to members free of charge.

Over the years, Jordan herself has become a fixture in Holyoke, lending time and talent to such initiatives as the food festival, the MIFA Victory Theater Entrepreneurial Strike Team, the city’s 150th-anniversary celebration, and the Holyoke Transformative Development Initiative with MassDevelopment.

When not doing any of that, she may be found playing softball, rollerskating, or bartending at Brennan’s, the legendary bar in downtown Holyoke.

In short, Holyoke has become more than a focus; it’s become a passion.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Financial Planner, Charter Oak Financial: Age 37

Terrell JoynerTerrell Joyner describes his life as an ever-expanding journey.

After graduating from Springfield College and earning an MBA at Western New England University, Joyner had planned to open a restaurant.

But before a restaurant could be reality, he had to earn some money. So he began a career in finance with Equitable Life, where he became a retirement specialist for public school systems, and his career possibilities began to diverge from the original menu.

“As I spoke with people, I realized they needed more financial advice than just retirement,” he said. “Clients need a comprehensive plan to know if they are on track with their goals and what changes they may need to make along the way.”

Joyner then moved to Charter Oak and obtained the securities and insurance licenses he would need to better serve his clients. He said he takes an education-based approach to working with them.

“Instead of telling a client what to do, I educate them on the reasons why certain things we recommend are beneficial for their situation,” he explained. “The best compliments I get are ‘you speak to me in laymen’s terms, but you don’t speak to me like I’m stupid.’”

Joyner enjoys the ‘a-ha’ moments when clients realize that following a smart plan made their finances more secure.

He also enjoys volunteering. At Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, he took part in a program to help students act professionally in areas such as job interviews, the way they send email, and community involvement. When the class graduated, one student asked Joyner if he would be his mentor.

“He is the first one in his family to attend a four-year college, so I could not say no to that,” he said. With the student maintaining a 4.0 GPA, Joyner is now helping him apply to Ivy League schools for a graduate program.

“I hope to be a role model for young Black and Brown children who don’t have those role models,” he said. “I want to bring financial education and literacy to the African-American and LGBTQ+ communities. I’m part of both communities, and both are underserved.”

When the journey gets rough, he take it one step at a time, and credits his husband, Dustin, for being his traveling partner. “We have been together for 16 years, and he has been instrumental in my success by continuing to be my cheerleader during tough times and making sure I don’t settle when things are going well. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without him.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner, Excel Therapy & Conditioning: Age 38

Sara HulsebergSara Hulseberg tells a story that demonstrates the meaning of a loyal clientele.

When COVID forced her to find a new home for Excel Therapy & Conditioning, the practice she started in 2012, she found a run-down garage and eventually cleaned it up, built it out, and prepared to move the practice and everything in it, thinking moving would take three 12-hour days to complete.

Then the help started to show up — not only her team, but clients. In three hours, she was not only moved in, but totally set up.

The nominations supporting her 40 Under Forty selection explain that loyalty.

“As a patient of Sara’s, I’ve regularly witnessed her reach out to help people under extreme trauma and hardships,” one wrote, sharing her own experience with pain reduction and greater mobility under Hulseberg’s care. “She has been a friend to me, going above and beyond every time — and I’ve seen her do this with every person that comes to her.”

Others talked about her pro bono work, her insistence on not laying off anyone during the pandemic, her donations of time and resources to local charity events, her mentorship and internships for aspiring therapists … the list goes on.

Hulseberg, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Springfield College and her doctor of physical therapy degree at Northeastern University, said she became frustrated with how patients were being treated in other practices where she worked, and sought to create a different model. “I saw a lot of treatment based solely around what their insurance was or whatever their pain was, not what it stemmed from. It was disheartening.”

She said the immediate gratification she gets from helping people isn’t something one finds in every field of healthcare.

“Someone comes in with a lot of pain, and if you do your job, they leave with significantly less pain and more functionality over the weeks and months. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do that for somebody.”

Hulseberg said she was first inspired by the way her father, an ophthalmologist in Holyoke, treats his patients, and asked him, before she launched Excel, why she doesn’t experience the same kind of relationships where she worked.

“I said, ‘I must be in the wrong field,’” she recalled. “He said, it’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but you often have to plow your own way to get there.’”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, the Markens Group Inc.: Age 36

Emily Leonczyk

Emily Leonczyk brought a lot of stuff to her Forty Under 40 photo shoot.

She said she needed it all because the various items convey what’s important to her and …well, what makes her tick. Together, they really help tell her story.

You can start almost anywhere, but let’s go with the coffee cup.

“Coffee is really important to me; I run on coffee,” she joked, referencing the mug, which says ‘Mama Bird’ on it, which is a good segue to another item she brought with her, a photo of her blended family, which includes her daughter, Sienna, life partner, Tod