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40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Co-executive Director, Women of Color Health Equity Collective; Age 39

Jenise Katalina and her family are avid Marvel fans, always up to see the latest MCU movie. But the heroes on screen have nothing on Katalina.

She serves as the co-executive director of the Women of Color Equity Collective, which recognizes the mental-health issues that mothers face, and addresses them.

“To not get food on the table or the constant rejection you face trying to get assistance for your family, that plays a huge role in your mental health, and then that plays a huge role in your physical well-being,” said Katalina, adding that the Collective’s approach is to address things at a systemic level and support individuals at the same time. It is a holistic model that recognizes that mental and physical well-being impact each other.

Katalina has spent her career in family and social-service work, a field that essentially chose her, rather than the other around.

“I feel like I’ve always been in it; I started at a young age in high school working after-school programs, early-ed programs, and just continued,” she noted. “I worked in an after-school program that was a drop-in center in the North End of Springfield and really loved it. I enjoyed the people that I met and the people coming from different backgrounds and different experiences.”

The ability to build relationships and create engaging programs played a big role in inspiring her career.

“I felt like it was creating a safe space for them that they were able to have a say in, so they felt empowered to contribute toward decision making in that space,” she said.

Katalina went on to earn her master of social work degree from Springfield College. While making home visits, she became exposed to the different systems parents were trying to navigate. It was then that she noted the treatment and biases these parents faced. It was these experiences that brought her into social justice, knowing she had to explore these inequities.

“I wanted to know why people were being treated differently and why some families were getting access and other families not, when it made a huge difference on whether they could get food on the table for their children,” she explained. “And I wanted to know why they were being turned away or told that they didn’t qualify for things when I could see them struggling.”

Katalina’s leisure activities are an extension of her love of people and cultures. She enjoys taking her children to explore new places, cultures, and communities.

 

— Elizabeth Sears

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Development & Communications, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Jessica Colson was looking for a new and different career challenge — a position where she could utilize her skills in fundraising and digital marketing, and in a setting where her personal mission aligned with her work.

She found all that after a quick visit to the Girls Inc. of the Valley website.

“A pro-girl environment is something I experienced as a softball player growing up and playing for various teams,” she explained. “I was able to thrive in that environment, so I could clearly see the need for such an organization in the community. It was a very easy decision to apply for the job there.”

We’ll get back to the softball in a minute, because it’s a big part of this story. But first, that job she took. It put her on a path to becoming the director of Development & Communications for the Holyoke-based nonprofit, a position with many responsibilities in both marketing and development, from events to mail appeals; from writing newsletters to coordinating the May 5 Spirit of Girls fundraiser, a drive-in event at the Big E with a goal of raising $100,000.

Summing it all up, she said it’s her job to make sure the Western Mass. community knows about Girls Inc. and its many programs — and that these programs have the funding they need to continue.

It’s a big job, one in which she works closely with other team members to achieve the organization’s stated goals — and set some new ones for the future. Which is what she’s always done while playing, coaching, and teaching softball, which is her other passion.

A long-time player — at Agawam High School and then Elms College, where she earned both a bachelor’s degree in sports management and an MBA — she is now a volunteer assistant coach at Elms, working specifically with pitchers. She’s also the head coach of the JV girls volleyball team at Agawam High School.

But softball is more than a pastime for her — it’s also a business. Indeed, Colson launched NWS Fastpitch, where she focuses on providing instruction to pitchers.

“It started as a real desire to give back to the sport that gave me so many life skills — communication, teamwork, pushing through adversity,” she explained. “I was really looking for an outlet to pass on my knowledge to the next generation.”

Active in the community, she is a board member for Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and has been a team captain for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for several years.

 

— George O’Brien

 

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