Home Posts tagged 40 Under Forty
Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On Thursday, Sept. 23, BusinessWest will stage its annual 40 Under Forty Gala at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a series of steps are being taken to help ensure the health and safety of all those who will be attending the 40 Under Forty Gala. The overriding goal is to create an event that will recognize these rising stars in the manner they deserve, but in a way that addresses the health and safety concerns related to COVID for attendees and Log Cabin employees alike.

As we continue to monitor local and state guidance, 40 Under Forty event organizers have worked creatively and collaboratively to create an event that keeps everyone’s safety in mind. Thus, the following steps are being taken:

• Masks must be worn by ALL attendees when not eating or drinking or seated at your assigned table.

• ALL registration and check-in will be conducted outdoors, outside the main entrance.

• The popular VIP reception hour prior to the event will take place outdoors on the terrace located directly outside the Grand Edna Ballroom.

• Both indoor and outdoor seating will be utilized to create the ability for social distancing and spacing between tables: indoors in the Grand Edna Williams Ballroom and the Southampton Room; and outdoors (ALL tented) on the Grand Edna Terrace, the Southampton Room Terrace, and the Upper Vista (the event space above the Log Cabin that comes complete with breathtaking views of Mount Tom and the valley below).

Details of the program and presentation are still being finalized, but the plan is to bring portions of the announcement of the 40 Under Forty class live to those in both the indoor and outdoor spaces. Streaming of the proceedings will remain available to all those gathered at the Log Cabin and those wishing to join remotely.

Watch for updates on the event in the coming days at businesswest.com.

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new award, an extension of its 40 Under Forty program. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award, and as that name suggests, it recognizes previous honorees who continue to build on their résumés of outstanding achievement in their chosen field and in service to the community. Recently, a panel of three judges identified the five finalists for the 2021 award — Tara Brewster, Gregg Desmarais, Anthony Gulluni, Eric Lesser, and Meghan Rothschild. The winner for this year will be unveiled with Alumni Achievement Award presenting sponsor Health New England at the 40 Under Forty Gala on Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. As the profiles that begin on page 7 reveal, all five finalists embody the spirit of this award. Their stories convey true leadership and are truly inspiring.

 

Tara Brewster

Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank


Gregg Desmarais

Vice President and Senior Private Client Relationship Manager


Anthony Gulluni

Hampden County District Attorney


Eric Lesser

State Senator, First Hampden and Hampshire District


Meghan Rothschild

President and Owner, Chikmedia

 


Past Alumni Achievement Award Winners:

2020

Carla Cosenzi
President, TommyCar Auto Group, Class of 2012
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
Nicole Griffin
Owner, ManeHire, Class of 2014

2016

Dr. Jonathan Bayuk
President of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. & Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center, Class of 2008

2015

Delcie Bean
President, Paragus Strategic IT, Class of 2008

Opinion

Editorial

 

Back in 2015, those of us at BusinessWest decided it was time to build on what was already a pretty good thing — our annual 40 Under Forty compilation of rising stars in this region.

That decision was to add another layer of recognition, and another layer of intrigue, to the equation by creating a new award, one that would acknowledge a previous 40 Under Forty honoree who has continued to build on the accomplishments that earned them membership in one of the region’s more prestigious clubs.

Originally, we called this the Continued Excellence Award, which works, but doesn’t tell the whole story. So in 2019, we changed it to the Alumni Achievement Award, which does a better job of explaining what this is about.

It’s about achievement — in one’s profession and with work in the community to address the many issues and challenges facing those who call this region home. And sometimes, one’s profession is addressing those aforementioned challenges.

Such is the case this year, with at least two of the five finalists for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award, but we’ll get to them in a minute. First, more about the award and what it’s about.

It’s about calling attention to people who are setting the standard when it comes to making a difference and serving as role models for other young people in this region — individuals who continue to find ways to impact quality of life for the better.

There can be only one (or two) winners of this award annually, but we call attention to all the finalists — and really all those nominated for this award — because of the way these stories can, and should, inspire everyone to keep reaching higher and find new ways to give back.

The five finalists this year (see profiles HERE) are:

• Tara Brewster, the “recovering entrepreneur” (former co-owner of the clothing store & Connor) who is now the vice president of Business Development at Greenfield Savings Bank and extremely active within the community, with groups ranging from the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce to the YMCA to the Downtown Northampton Assoc. And she’s recently added another line to her résumé — radio personality, as the new host of the Western Mass. Business Show on WHMP;

• Gregg Desmarais, another banking executive — he’s vice president and senior private client relationship manager for TD Private Client Group, a business of TD Wealth — who has made it his business to get involved in the community. Much of that involvement is with Revitalize Community Development Corp., which he has served as chair and helped bring to new levels of success with revitalizing area neighborhoods;

• Anthony Gulluni, district attorney for Hampen County, who has introduced a number of new programs since first being elected to office in 2015, initiatives that include everything from a cold-case unit to an addiction task force; from a campus-safety symposium to a human-trafficking task force; from a youth-advisory board to one of the nation’s first courts focused specifically on high-risk young adults;

• Eric Lesser, the state senator representing the communities that comprise the First Hampden and Hampshire District. Since first being elected in 2014, Lesser has worked tirelessly within the broad realm of economic development, but especially toward the goal of leveling the playing field between east and west in Massachusetts and bringing new opportunities to those who live, work, and own businesses in the 413; and

• Meghan Rothschild, president and owner of Chikmedia, who has steadily built on a résumé of success of business and giving back to the community. In addition to growing her company, she has become an advisor and mentor to many women in business while also donating time and her considerable talents to a number of area nonprofits, volunteering for everything from help with social-media marketing to emceeing an event.

The winner of the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award will be announced at the 40 Under Forty Gala on Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. But in our view, all five of this year’s finalists are truly winners. They exemplify all that this award is about, and, more importantly, they set the standard when it comes to being a leader in this region.

Alumni Achievement Award

Hampden County District Attorney

It’s called the Emerging Adult Court of Hope, or EACH for short.

The court, blueprinted by Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni in partnership with Springfield District Court and the Massachusetts-based youth-justice nonprofit Roca, is one of very few in the country to focus specifically on high-risk young adults typically aged 18 to 25.

And it was created with the goal of helping these young adults — whose brains, research has shown, are still developing, and whose understanding of consequences and of risk taking is not the same as it is for adults — break the cycle of crime and incarceration that has ruined so many lives by intervening and putting them on the path to not just a job, but a career.

“These are young people who are starting off 100 steps behind, really at birth,” Gulluni told BusinessWest. “They are born into really poor situations, disadvantaged situations with poor role models around them … they never get off on the right foot in school, they’re not supported, they’re not enriched, they’re not resourced, and they end up committing crimes.”

EACH is just one of the number of new programs, initiatives, and events launched by Gulluni and his office since he prevailed in the race for Hampden County DA in 2015, a lengthy list that easily explains why the judges made him a finalist for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award. Others include:

• A Cold Case Unit that has experienced a number of successes, including an arrest and later a guilty plea to first-degree murder in the 1992 slaying of Lisa Ziegert and, more recently, what amounted to a deathbed near-confession on the part of defrocked Catholic priest Richard Lavigne in the death of Chicopee altar boy Daniel Croteau (Lavigne died before he was set to be charged with the crime);

• The Hampden County Addiction Task Force, a collaboration of community resources, local and state law enforcement, healthcare institutions, service providers, and community coalitions working toward the common goal of a county-wide approach to addressing drug overdoses, addictions, and preventions;

• Development of the Western Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration of local, state, and federal law-enforcement partners working on a new approach to pursuing and prosecuting human-trafficking cases based on an understanding that some of those who are traditionally prosecuted for prostitution are victims of force, threat, and coercion;

• The Campus Safety Symposium, which focuses on a multi-disciplinary team approach to the investigation of sexual-assault and domestic-violence complaints and a review and update of applicable laws and the legal issues frequently occurring during these investigations;

• A training event called “Protect, Report and Preserve: Fighting for Elders and Persons with Disabilities” for service providers and care workers to learn best practices for the recognition and reporting of abuse;

• Creation of the District Attorney’s Youth Advisory Board, which consists of local high-school students who meet on a regular basis with the DA’s office to address issues facing today’s teens and research-effective prevention strategies;

• A training event called “How Can You Not Remember? Understanding a Victim’s Response to Violence” for members of the law-enforcement community to highlight a trauma-informed approach to interviewing victims of sexual assault;

• The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children conference, designed for healthcare, mental-health, law-enforcement, and school professionals to provide tools and skills for recognizing and accessing the necessary resources in the aid of children suspected to be victims of exploitation;

• A #StoptheSwerve public-service-announcement contest for Hampden County high-school students to highlight the dangers of impaired driving; and

• A summer job fair and 3-on-3 basketball tournament that combines fun with a chance to learn about employment opportunities.

Slicing through all those new initiatives, Gulluni said that they are the embodiment of the mindset he took while first campaigning for the office.

“During that campaign, we communicated to the public that we could build a safer community by engaging with young people, by preventing crime, and by dealing with the core issues that cause crime, namely addiction, mental illness, and others, while also continuing to do the core work of the district attorney and law enforcement,” he explained, “which is to deter serious crime and to take people who are violent and repeat offenders off the streets.

“And when I look back on the first six and half years, I really feel that we’ve lived out that very philosophy,” he went on, adding that recent headlines have provided testimony to the progress his office has made.

Lavigne’s deathbed interview with Massachusetts State Trooper Michael McNally, which was front-page news across the state and beyond, tops that list in most respects, but there have been many other developments, including multiple arrests of members of the Knox Street Posse, a local street gang in Springfield, the first strike made by the Strategic Action and Focused Enforcement Team, which operates out of the DA’s office. The sweep resulted in the seizure of 20 firearms, 100,000 bags of heroin, and approximately 2.8 kilograms of cocaine.

And then, there’s EACH, which was first conceived more than four years ago. It first convened in March 2020 and was slowed in its development by the pandemic, but early results are very positive, said Gulluni, noting that the court has caught the attention of both the press and other regions looking to emulate it because of its potential to intervene and help steer young, high-risk youths to a different path.

“We’re intervening and wrapping these young people with support and services,” he explained. “We have seven young people in the court, and they’ve really begun their turnaround. And we’re dealing with high-risk young people — these are people with records who have committed serious offenses for which they would almost certainly be going to jail.”

As noted, EACH is just one of the initiatives that have not just made Gulluni a finalist for this award, but are changing lives in this region.

 

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Owner, Chikmedia

Meghan Rothschild says the role of event emcee comes naturally to her — and that’s just one of the many reasons why the requests for her to take on those duties keep pouring in from groups ranging from the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts to the American Cancer Society’s regional chapter.

She’s adept behind the mic and standing in front of people because … well, she’s had a lot of experience doing so — as a college instructor, specifically in marketing and public relations, and as a public speaker delving into subjects ranging from social-media marketing to sun safety (she is a melanoma survivor who started survivingskin.org to help share her message).

Sometimes she gets asked to emcee, but quite often she volunteers, one of many ways she gives back to specific nonprofits and the community at large.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “And I try to use a little humor, a little self-deprecation, and try to get people to laugh; I try to reflect what the organization wants me to reflect.”

Rothschild, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2011, has been a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, formerly known as the Continued Excellence Award, on several occasions. And it’s easy to see why different panels of judges have come away so impressed.

Indeed, over the ensuing decade, she has continued to add scores of new lines to her résumé (figuratively but also quite literally).

She started Chikmedia in 2014 and has grown the agency to a staff of five and a client list that includes Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s Pizza, Square One, and many others. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Rothschild has also become a mentor to several young women in the region and a coach and resource for many women-owned businesses looking for effective ways to tell their story.

Efforts in this realm also include the recent creation of scholarships for women of color pursuing degrees in marketing and public relations. Last year, the first for this initiative, the company awarded one $500 scholarship; this year, it awarded four because several area companies heard about the program and wanted to be part of it.

“This was something we felt passionate about last year, when everything was going on in the country and there was so much turmoil over racial injustice,” she told BusinessWest. “It was something we needed to do to give back and try to combat these issues; since we’re very much focused on women’s empowerment, we thought this was a great way to support a young woman who is pursuing a degree in this field.”

In addition to her success in business and efforts to mentor and coach other women in business, Rothschild is well known for the many ways in which she gives back to the local community, and especially its nonprofits.

Indeed, she has become a resource on many levels, from those aforementioned emceeing duties to the way in which she engages the classes she teaches at Springfield College and Southern New Hampshire University in building social-media strategies for selected nonprofits (five to 20 of them, depending on the size of the class).

Meanwhile, Chikmedia chooses three to five nonprofit events each year to sponsor on a pro bono basis, with help ranging from free publicity to fundraising to event coordination. Beyond that is ongoing support to several nonprofits. Rothschild said she started her company with such efforts to give back in mind, and it has become a huge part of the culture of the business, one that others are now striving to emulate.

“We donate five hours of time every month to Girls Inc. of the Valley, we work with Square One, we have been very involved for years with all of the Food Bank of Western Mass. events, and I’ve been volunteering for and emceeing events for the American Cancer Society for many years,” she said, offering just a partial list of such efforts.

But Rothschild and her company go further in their backing of nonprofits by compelling their for-profit clients to make support for, and alignment with, a nonprofit part of their overall marketing plan.

“Every marketing strategy I devise for my for-profit clients aligns them with a nonprofit that makes sense for their mission; that’s something I’ve always been passionate about,” she explained. “Yes, you can buy traditional advertising, and that’s great; you can place digital advertising, you can do all these things. But if you can find a nonprofit or a charity you can support, it’s going to really help reinforce your mission, but it’s also what you should be doing.”

Rothschild’s effort to mentor others, work within the community, and be a role model to countless others was summed up perfectly by Heather Clark, event manager for Baystate Children’s Hospital, who nominated her for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“People tell me all the time how much Meghan inspires them through her passion for not only helping businesses to succeed through great marketing and PR, but also her straightforward approach,” she wrote. “She cares deeply about her clients and about the nonprofits for which she volunteers her time. Most importantly, Meghan is as authentic as a person gets, and is the best friend anyone could ask for. She has personally lifted me up more times than I can count and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

“She doesn’t settle for mediocre, but instead demands the best from herself and everyone around her,” Clark went on. “I truly wouldn’t be in the career I am today without her encouragement and leadership. I have learned so much about business, marketing, and events, and I push myself each day to present myself in a way that would make me proud.”

Those sentiments, echoed by many others, explain not only why Rothschild is a finalist for this award, but why she has become a true business leader in this region — in every sense of that word.

 

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

State Senator, First Hampden and Hampshire District

Eric Lesser

Eric Lesser

Eric Lesser says he doesn’t know if a proposed high-speed rail project linking the eastern and western parts of the state has enough support on Beacon Hill to become reality.

What he does know is that the concept has never been this close to becoming reality, and he isn’t shy about touting his role in getting what has become known as ‘east-west rail’ as far down the tracks as it has ever traveled.

“We’re at a closer and more exciting moment than we’ve ever been,” he said of the initiative. “With Joe Biden in office, with the feasibility study done … after eight years of advocacy and work, we have the best chance we’ve ever had of making this reality.”

The rail proposal is just one of the initiatives Lesser has led since first being elected to the First Hampden and Hampshire District Senate seat in 2014 (and earning a 40 Under Forty nod the following year). Most, but not all, of them have fallen into the broad realm of economic development and, more specifically, into the area of leveling the playing field between east and west within the Commonwealth and bringing opportunities to the people — and communities — of the four western counties.

“The animating principle of both my campaign in 2014 and, really, every day I’ve been in office since then has been unlocking and creating economic opportunity for Western Mass. that’s comparable and equal to people in Eastern Mass.,” said Lesser, a first-time finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award. “I will have succeeded if a child born in Springfield or Chicopee or anywhere in Western Mass. has the same shot at making a good living and supporting a family as a kid born in the Boston area.”

By now, most know the story of how Lesser, then 29, moved to the State House from the White House, specifically a position in the Obama administration as a special assistant to Senior Advisor David Axelrod. Lesser, who has a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard and a juris doctor from Harvard Law School, started his career as an aide on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Today, he holds several leadership positions in the Legislature. He is Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, and Senate chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, the Gateway Cities Caucus, and the Libraries Caucus.

Recent initiatives have included a number of efforts to bolster the state’s manufacturing sector and raise awareness of the 10,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in the four western counties, including work to create apprenticeship tax credits and fund mid-career training programs for workers. Lesser has also been at the forefront of efforts to create the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, which recently became law in the Commonwealth.

As for those efforts to level the playing field between east and west, they come in a number of forms, said Lesser, who started by referencing the Clinical Trials unit at Baystate Health, which will open in the fall, part of the Life Sciences Bill passed several years ago. It will create jobs, but also enable people in this part of the state to take part in clinical trials without having to travel to Boston.

He also cited his efforts to lead an initiative to encourage more people to relocate to Western Mass. through a remote-worker incentive, which would pay workers up to $10,000 to move to this region, a concept that, given the lessons provided by the pandemic about where people can work and how, proved to be ahead of its time.

And then, there’s east-west rail.

“Frankly, I got laughed out of a lot of rooms when I talked about connecting Springfield and Boston by train service,” he told BusinessWest. “People said it would never happen; they said it was something we shouldn’t focus on. But now, our chances are as good as they’ve ever been, and the next year will provide the answer. We need to get the federal money secured, and we’re closer than we’ve been to seeing that happen.

“A major unfinished piece is the governor supporting it from there,” he went on. “That’s a major piece that requires our focus and our attention. An eyelash isn’t batted about investments in Boston, but when an investment will help the whole state … suddenly there’s a lot of questions about how expensive it will be.”

Lesser’s latest assignment is as co-chair of the new Future of Work Commission, which will include 17 members from across the state who will address a topic that was already dominated by question marks before the pandemic.

“These are some of the biggest questions in society right now,” he said. “How are people going to work in an era of remote working? How are benefits going to work? How is commuting going to work? What does transportation look like when people are no longer in 9-to-5, in-an-office-building jobs? How is automation going to be impacting society? These are some of the biggest questions we have, and this commission will look to answer them.”

Summing up his first seven years in the Legislature, Lesser said this time has been a learning experience, and what he’s learned is that change and progress come through patience and diligence.

“Success in politics is about methodical, persistent progress,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back; sometimes it’s two steps forward, three steps back. But staying focused on the ultimate goals and working collaboratively with people is the key. One of the things I’ve seen seven years in is that some of the seeds we’ve planted back in 2015, 2016, and 2017 are now blooming.”

By keeping that focus and working collaboratively, Lesser has certainly seen many of his initiatives bear fruit, which helps explain why he is a finalist for the coveted Alumni Achievement Award.

 

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Vice President and Senior Private Client Relationship Manager, TD Private Client Group

Gregg Desmarais

Gregg Desmarais

It was more than 10 years ago now, but Gregg Desmarais still remembers the day one of his managers at TD Bank invited him to spend part of a Saturday joining others as they did some work revitalizing one of Springfield’s neighborhoods.

“I joined him and a few other volunteers cleaning up an old lady’s house and tidying up her yard, cutting down some trees, stuff like that,” he recalled. “I liked doing that kind of work anyway, and knowing that it helped someone in need made it even more enjoyable.”

And so began what has become a long and ongoing tenure of service to Revitalize Community Development Corp. (CDC), a nonprofit that serves the Greater Springfield area and performs critical repairs and modifications to the homes of low-income families with children, the elderly, military veterans, and individuals with special needs. That service punctuates a résumé that has made Desmarais a finalist for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award.

A member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 (three of this year’s finalists are from that class), Desmarais captures the essence of this award, which was created that same year to recognize those who have built upon their track records in both business and service to the community.

He has steadily risen in the ranks at TD Bank, moving from an assistant store manager in Agawam to vice president and manager of the store in his hometown of Westfield, then to manager of the flagship office in downtown Springfield, the post he was in when he took his walk down the 40 Under Forty red carpet at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House.

Today, he serves as vice president and senior private client relationship manager for TD Private Client Group, a business of TD Wealth.

In that role, he serves as a liaison to whom those in the area branches refer high-net-worth customers. “I’m their point person for anything to do with their finances, be it deposits, lending, financial planning, investment-management services, trust and estate work, and more,” he said, adding that he works with others to see that all these various needs are met.

His work covers essentially all of Western Mass., and he works with TD employees in, and customers of, more than 20 branches stretching from Longmeadow to Great Barrington. It’s rewarding work, he said, noting that many of the aspects of work with high-net-worth individuals is complex and involves solving problems.

“I’ve been in customer service my whole career, so this is essentially the culmination of everything I’ve done,” he told BusinessWest. “Not many people can say, ‘I love what I do,’ but I can.”

Like all those in financial services, Desmarais said the pandemic has created a number of challenges when it comes to customer service, which have forced adjustments when it comes to how work is carried out and where. Indeed, he’s been to his office at the bank’s local headquarters at 1441 Main St. only a few times over the past 16 months.

“We’re just reinventing ourselves and figuring out new ways of doing business, like videoconferencing, and it’s been working out just fine,” he said.

While working to serve high-net-worth individuals, Desmarais continues a long track record of service to the community, especially with Revitalize CDC. When named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2015, he told BusinessWest, “I take advantage of any opportunity to get out of my suit and tie, get my hands dirty, and give back to the community; I want to make Springfield as healthy, safe, and beautiful as it can be.”

He meant that quite literally. While he has given back in a number of ways, including as chairperson for three years during the Community Foundation’s annual Valley Gives fundraiser, as a former member of the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s grant approval board, and service on the fundraising committee for the American Cancer Society, he is best known for his work for Revitalize CDC, where he has also risen in the ranks, if you will.

Indeed, he moved from volunteer that Saturday a decade ago all the way to chairman of the board (a role he recently relinquished), although he remains quite active with this nonprofit group, in fundraising and also as a house captain for its rebuilding events.

During his tenure with Revitalize CDC, and especially as chairman of the board, Desmarais worked to improve fundraising efforts and create more community events for the nonprofit, enabling it to grow and serve more families each year. Under his leadership, Revitalize CDC officially became a community-development corporation in 2015.

During COVID, Desmarais helped orchestrate a needed shift in services, with volunteers mostly unable to go into individuals’ homes. Indeed, the nonprofit found new ways to give back.

“We had a few projects to rehab here and there, but mostly we were bringing sanitary products, household cleaners, masks, and food to people,” he explained. “We found more ways to help people in those difficult times.”

Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize CDC, who nominated Desmarais for the Alumni Achievement Award, summed up not only his work with her group, but his ability to inspire others to give back.

“Gregg exemplifies the characteristics of a strong, community-based leader — vision, mentorship, hands-on service, and a positive understanding of the strength of the local community,” she wrote in her nomination. “He quickly saw the underserved population of Springfield residents who could directly benefit from the services of Revitalize CDC, and he understood that it would take a more robust fundraising structure.”

In these and other ways, Desmarais truly exemplifies the characteristics of an Alumni Achievement Award finalist — an individual who continues to build on an already strong record, both in business and within the community.

 

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank

Tara Brewster

Tara Brewster

Tara Brewster likes to refer to herself as a “recovering entrepreneur.”

She uses that phrase to describe everything from how she can’t fully unplug while on vacation (which she was when talking with BusinessWest) to life in general after she and partner Candace Connors sold the clothing store they created, Jackson & Connor, in 2013.

She has spent the years since … well, recovering from a thoroughly enjoyable time running her own business and essentially deciding what comes next for someone with entrepreneurial energy still to be tapped and a deep commitment to serving the community.

Actually, many things have ‘come next,’ from some work in consulting to her current assignment as vice president of Business Development for Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB); from a wide range of work within the community, especially in Hampshire County, to something new and completely different — her own radio show.

Indeed, Brewster recently succeeded Ira Bryck as the host of the weekly Western Mass. Business Show on WHMP. She started only a few months ago and admits to still being in the process of learning the ropes and becoming comfortable behind the mic.

“I’m still kind of shaking off the jitters and the ‘how am I going to craft my voice,’” she told BusinessWest. “And I’m still figuring out what I can ask and how deep I can go, all those things. I’m still learning, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Meanwhile, she was already quite comfortable with getting involved in the community, but has only become more so in recent years, donating her time and talents to agencies and causes ranging from the Hampshire Regional YMCA to the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA) to the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce. But more on that, and how the sum of her work has made her a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, later.

First, we flash back to when Brewster sold Jackson & Connor — a difficult time, as she described it, because she really didn’t know what to do with herself and fill the void created by selling the business that had been her passion — or one of them, anyway.

“I was like, ‘this was my whole identity; what am I going to do now?’” she said, adding that she worked as a consultant for the Vann Group (which helped her sell the business), and later did some work for the Springfield Business Improvement District and CityStage. Through those assignments, she reconnected with her former loan officer from Greenfield Savings Bank, who took her to lunch, at which Brewster did a lot of ‘complaining’ (her word) about being a consultant and how different it was from the retail world she was in.

She remembers saying, “‘after a decade of being entrepreneurial and making my own economy, I think I’m ready to go back to being an employee — but no two days can be the same; it has to be entrepreneurial, I’ve got to have freedom, and I have to be out and about in the community and making an impact.’”

All of which is serendipity, because that loan officer was essentially there to encourage her to apply for a position in business development at GSB, a job that offered essentially everything she just said she needed.

Overall, her job at the bank, which began in late 2016, has allowed her to take her work within the community to an even higher plane, one that recently earned her the Kay Sheehan Spirit of the Community Award, presented by the Community United Way of Hampshire County.

That involvement, which includes work with the YMCA, DNA, MassHire, Double Edge Theatre, Pathlight, Safe Passage, the chamber, and many other groups, was put into its proper perspective by Bryck, who not only gave Brewster the keys to the radio show he handled for more than a decade, but nominated her for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“Tara exemplifies for many what commitment and giving back looks like,” he wrote. “Western Mass. is fortunate to have Tara continuing to improve our backyard. She is a person for whom each day is a blessing, and she shows her appreciation, and uses her position, in ways that help fellow humans.

“I know a lot of people who see Tara as an inspiring leader,” he went on. “They are lit by her fire, and they become better people by seeing her compassion and action. She embodies sincerity and is brilliant at luring others into the river that she flows with.”

Brewster, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2009, summed it up this way: “To work for a community bank in Western Massachusetts is just a gift, especially for someone who is a true philanthropist at heart, someone who really sees the jeweled web of a region and understands that everything happens because of connections, everything happens because you make asks, everything happens because you see others before you see yourself.”

As for the radio show, she sees it as an extension of her work in business — and in the community — and she has committed herself to using the show to give a platform to those who need to tell their story.

“I try to focus on people in the community who need to be highlighted and aren’t necessarily highlighted,” she explained. “I have a real bent in my heart toward nonprofits, so I try to bring them on so they can talk about themselves. Also, people of color. COVID really took off my rose-colored glasses and put on some pretty intense eyeglasses from which I now view a lot of the work that I do, how we are in the community, how we treat each other, and who has the mic.”

Her work sharing the airwaves is just the latest installment of ‘what comes next’ for this recovering entrepreneur, a list that now also includes being a finalist for the 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award.

 

—George O’Brien

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest’s 15th annual 40 Under Forty gala will take place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke on Thursday, Sept. 23. The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may be read online at businesswest.com.

Tickets cost $80 per person. This is expected to be a sellout event, and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, or e-mail [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest’s 15th annual 40 Under Forty gala will take place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke on Thursday, Sept. 23.

Tickets cost $80 per person. This is expected to be a sellout event, and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, or e-mail [email protected].

The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may be read online at businesswest.com.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, 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.

Episode 65: May 24, 2021

George Interviews Joel McAuliffe, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Eric Lesser and a city councilor in Chicopee

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien continues his series of discussions with members of the magazine’s 40 Under Forty class of 2021. This week, his guest is Joel McAuliffe, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Eric Lesser and a city councilor in Chicopee. The two discuss everything from his work to bring high-speed Internet access to his constituents in Chicopee, to the need for — and prospects for — high-speed rail in state, one of the priorities identified by Sen. Lesser.  It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local.

Also Available On

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In light of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent announcement that most, if not all, restrictions on events will be lifted effective Aug. 1, BusinessWest has made the decision to move its annual 40 Under Forty gala, originally scheduled for late June, to Thursday, Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

“We make this move because … well, we want as many people as possible to celebrate with the class of 2021,” said George O’Brien, editor and associate publisher of BusinessWest. “This gala has always been an event — one of the biggest and best on the calendar in Western Mass. for many years. We can’t predict the future, but we firmly believe that we can stage a larger, better event — one worthy of this class of rising stars, and this region — in September than we can in June.”

The class of 2021 will be introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue. Additional details on the Sept. 23 gala will be forthcoming. Tickets, which will go on sale later this spring, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Class of 2021 Cover Story

When BusinessWest launched a program in 2007 to honor young professionals in Western Mass. — not only for their career achievements, but for their service to the community — there was little concern the initial flow of nominations might slow to a trickle years later.

We were right. In fact, 40 Under Forty has become such a coveted honor in the region’s business community that the flow has turned into an annual flood, with almost 200 unique nominations arriving this year — a near-record — making the task of five independent judges tougher than ever.

But it was also an inspiring task, as these nominations testified to the continued vibrancy and dedication of the region’s young professionals, even during a year that has been unusual at the best of times and, for many industries, crushing during the worst.


View this year’s 40 Under Forty digital flipbook here!


As usual, the honorees — 26 women and 14 men — hail from a host of different industries, from law to engineering; from education to healthcare; from energy to media, just to name a few. 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 what else they do in each of those realms.

The class of 2021 will be celebrated on Thursday, Sept. 23 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 seventh annual Alumni Achievement Award, a recognition program that salutes the 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.

Presenting Sponsor

Sponsors

Alumni Achievement Award

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 (formerly the Continued Excellence Award). as the name suggests, will be presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon their track record of accomplishment.

This year’s nominations are CLOSED. Nominate next year’s Alumni Achievement Award recipient HERE.

2021 Alumni Achievement Award Presenting Sponsor

Class of 2021

Attorney, Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law; Age 34

Nick Amanti grew up in a family business where he learned life lessons he still follows.

For 60 years, his family has owned Advance Manufacturing, which provides precision-manufactured parts for a number of industries. Amanti was taught to treat the people who work for Advance like family. Though his career is outside the company, Amanti provides legal services for many different business owners and feels a true connection with them.

“I know how much they care about their business and how much they care about their employees,” he said, adding that it’s an honor to help his business clients. “It takes so much courage to actually start a business and take on the responsibility for yourself, as well as to help others support their families.”

Amanti’s decision to pursue a legal career was the result of a near-tragic event. When he was 18 years old, his father, David, suffered a brain tumor. Many of the people who came to their house were lawyers who worked hard to get all the family’s affairs in order. Amanti called this episode a turning point in his life.

“Watching them, I realized I could help people in their time of need, and I could help businesses through tough times,” he said. “Whether it was my family or other individuals, I felt this is something I could do.”

This story has a happy ending because his father survived the brain tumor, has returned to work, and these days enjoys golfing with his sons.

As an attorney, Amanti provides legal counsel to businesses from inception through all the services they need while they are up and running, to guidance at the end when a company decides to wind down.

He helped local businesses keep their doors open during the worst of COVID-19 by helping them claim federal PPP grants totaling more than $3 million. And when restaurants and taverns were hit hard by loss of business, he appealed to the state licensing board to allow them more time to pay their bills without penalty.

Meanwhile, among his many civic roles, he volunteers with the YMCA of Greater Westfield and bikes in the Pan-Mass Challenge, personally committing to raise a minimum of $5,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Center and the Jimmy Fund.

Through all that, his advice for a good life is simple. “Take pride in your work, show respect to others, and enjoy the ride.”

 

—Mark Morris

Opinion

Editorial

When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in the spring of 2007, there were many goals attached to that initiative.

First and foremost, we wanted to introduce 40 rising stars to the business community here in Western Mass. Second, we wanted to tell some really inspiring stories about people doing incredible things — both at their jobs and in their community. Also — and this was not an official goal, to be sure — we wanted to assure the sometimes cynical members of the older generations that there were strong leaders in place for this region for the years and decades to come.

As we introduce the class of 2021, all these goals come to the forefront. This is a tremendous class of young leaders, one that speaks volumes about our region. Indeed, Western Mass. is diverse, and its business community is also diverse, with a strong mix of ventures across all sectors, from technology to healthcare; hospitality to agriculture. Its up-and-coming leaders have chosen a number of different paths; some are entrepreneurs, others lead nonprofits, still others are professionals in fields ranging from law to accounting; marketing to financial services. Some are professionals who are also entrepreneurs.

The class of 2021 reflects all this. It reflects something else, as well — the willingness of these young leaders to step forward, serve their community, and address the many issues confronting our region, including homelessness, poverty, illiteracy, access to healthcare, and more.

The 40 remarkable stories starting on page 25 illuminate all this. They tell of young people excelling in their chosen field, and people who are making it their business to give back.

People like Dr. Jessica Bossie, the highest scorer among the nearly 200 nominees, who serves as the primary-care doctor for a program called Health Services for the Homeless and brings medical care and large doses of compassion to that population.

Or Claudia Quintero, who turned her passion for social justice — and her gratitude for U.S. citizenship — into a legal career advocating for the rights and well-being of migrant farmworkers.

Or Crystal Maldonado, who never gave up on her dream of writing a book, and, in doing so, shared her own life and perspective with teenage readers who don’t often see themselves reflected in mainstream media.

Or Matthew Kushi, an administrator at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst who also grows hot peppers and chairs Hadley’s Agriculture Commission.

Or Julissa Colón, who struggled to finish college after having her first child and now helps others achieve their dreams through Holyoke Community College’s Gateway to College program.

Or Brendon Holland, who brought a cutting-edge skillset to regional public-access television and helped keep a city and its residents connected during the critical months of the pandemic.

Or Chris Thibault, the first-ever posthumous winner of this award, who will be remembered for using his camera to help others tell their stories, but especially for how he shared his own — a courageous battle with cancer.

There are nearly three dozen more stories of this nature involving the class of 2021, a class that showcases all that is good about this region — and all that is good about the young leaders now making their mark.

Class of 2021

Regional Director of Marketing & Communications, Trinity Health of New England; Age 38

Amy Ashford got her start within the healthcare sector not in marketing, but in human resources. It was a chance conversation in the ladies’ room with the CEO of the hospital where she was employed that changed the trajectory of her career.

“She said, “we have a position in marketing, and I think you’d be a really great fit for it; would you consider it?’” Ashford recalled, adding that she had lunch with the director of that department, and … well, that was not only the start of a friendship that continues to this day, but the next important step in a journey that has taken her from a supporting role with a hospital in New Hampshire to her current role as regional director of Marketing & Communications for Trinity Health of New England.

There were steps in between, and all that accumulated knowledge and experience has certainly been needed during what Ashford described as the most difficult test, and in some ways the most rewarding experience, of her career — coordinating the region’s communications efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Those first several months, it was basically crisis communications and trying to keep the community as updated as possible,” she recalled, adding that she and other administrators were hunkered down (safely) in an incident command center. “Things were changing quickly, and it was our duty, and our responsibility, to communicate with people as much as possible.”

While excelling in her field — she recently received the Society for Health Care Strategy and Market Development’s Rising Star Award — Ashford is also active within the community. She has been the second vice president of the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County since 2014, and is also a former board member for Symphony Hall and CityStage.

Returning to her relationship with the woman who first hired her to do marketing, Ashford said she remains a mentor to this day, and the experience has prompted her to seek out opportunities to mentor young people in this profession, which she finds quite rewarding.

“That lesson has really stuck with me, and I take very seriously the opportunity to mentor younger people in the marketing field,” she said. “I enjoy helping them grow and advance their careers.”

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

CEO and Founder, Tech180; Age 39

To borrow a phrase from the industry it serves, Easthampton-based Tech180 has certainly taken off over the past few years.

Indeed, the company, founded by Chris Bakker — one of the true entrepreneurs in the class of 2021 — and now located in the Paragon Arts & Industry building in Easthampton, is gaining altitude in a highly competitive industry through his efforts to modernize and streamline the necessary but inefficient process of testing and certifying flight-worthy vehicles.

As Bakker, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, explained it, “an aircraft has a lot of different computers on it that handle all sorts of things, like the flight controls, the engines … anything that moves on the aircraft has its own computer. And that computer has software on it that needs to be tested.

“To test that product, you don’t want to just put it on an airplane and then hope it doesn’t crash,” he went on. “You want to be able to test in a laboratory environment and make sure it’s completely vetted and safe before it goes on an aircraft.”

By creating such an environment, or testing system — one that “simulates the airplane” — Bakker and his team have enabled the company he and a few partners started in 2018 to grow to 30 employees and expand its footprint for a third time, adding a large warehouse and more manufacturing capacity to its suite of offices and existing manufacturing space.

In late 2020, the company announced an official partnership with NI (formerly National Instruments) and SET, two companies in the test industry. This partnership has brought Tech180 access to a larger pool of potential clients.

Such access is needed because, while COVID-19 hit every industry hard, it hit aerospace really hard, Bakker said. The company has responded by diversifying and adding military clients — flexibility that should serve it well when the market picks up again, which experts predict it will.

When asked what he does when he’s not working, Bakker joked that he “doesn’t do anything besides work.” What ‘spare’ time he does have is reserved for family — his wife, Rebecca, and daughters Inara and Juno — and also for sustainability and environmental causes.

Indeed, Bakker has served on the board of Grow Food Northampton and is currently involved in efforts to promote solarization, including at the mill buildings where Tech180 and other businesses are located.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Program Manager, Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts; Age 35

Samantha Bilal is no stranger to making real, street-level change.

For most of her professional life, she did so with Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services in Springfield, where she gradually progressed from lead camp counselor to director of Operations.

In her 15 years there, Bilal supported prevention initiatives around gang violence, substance abuse, and teen dating violence, while training young people who successfully advocated for the passing of laws raising the legal tobacco-use age to 21. She also implemented youth safe-haven programming, education around domestic and dating violence, and annual community-engagement events.

These days, she’s impacting the community in a different way, managing the Live Well Springfield Coalition, a program of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, through which she leads the Climate Change and Health Equity initiative, which aims to create strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, improve health outcomes for those in marginalized communities directly impacted by climate change, and dismantle systemic racism.

She has also led the institute’s Transforming Community initiative, which promotes health equity by targeting issues like nutritious food access and safer streets, and the Age-Friendly City initiative, which focuses on issues of housing, transportation, social services, and health to make Springfield a more livable city for older adults, so they can age in place.

“All these are very different, but they all impact community, and they all engage residents,” Bilal said, emphasizing the social-equity aspects of each. “I’m really passionate about community engagement and making sure residents are uplifted as champions — because we won’t make the biggest changes without their advice and their advocacy.

“I’m always excited to see the fruits of our work manifest into policy changes,” she went on. “That means we’re having a great impact and not just talking about ideas, but finding ways to implement change. That’s my biggest pride at work — seeing the changes in our community over time.”

Away from work, Bilal is the co-founder of A Queen’s Narrative, a personal-enrichment program for women and girls of color, which uses narrative power and storytelling to harness self-empowerment and self-awareness.

“I love youth and empowering young women — there’s so much value in uplifting people and helping them find their voice and making sure they have access to opportunities they normally wouldn’t have gotten,” she said. “When we come together to share these narratives with each other, we find commonality, but also find ways to better collaborate.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Assistant General Counsel and Director of Legal Services, Health New England; Age 37

When asked why she became a lawyer, Ashley Bogle started by explaining why, for a long time, she didn’t want to become a lawyer.

“I thought that all attorneys did was argue — like on Law & Order. I’m not really a fighter, so I really didn’t want to do that,” she explained, adding that she took a different route and became a pre-pharmacy major. She eventually worked in a pharmacy and didn’t enjoy what she was doing, to put it mildly, so she went to work for a law firm as a legal assistant, an experience that changed her perspective — and her career track.

Meanwhile, Bogle found Health New England through a staffing agency in 2010 and, after graduating from UConn School of Law, worked her way up at HNE to the twin duties of assistant general counsel and director of Legal Services. She described her work as a “mixed bag,” everything from reviewing contracts to keeping track of the regulatory filings with respect to maintaining licenses and accreditation.

But there is another important aspect to her work at HNE. Indeed, Bogle co-chairs the company’s diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) committee, which guides the organization toward its goals of embedding DEIB into its mission, operations, community outreach, and practices in several areas, including associate engagement, corporate social responsibility, recruitment and retention of diverse talent, advancing health outcomes, and community engagement. Bogle has initiated a diversity and inclusion e-mail inbox to allow associates to share feedback about DEIB within the organization, and regularly shares updates to all HNE associates via biweekly town halls.

“We want to push forward a diversity mindset and an equity mindset,” she explained. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been very exciting, and the organization as a whole has been very supportive of these efforts.”

In 2020, Bogle was appointed to represent HNE in the Massachusetts Assoc. of Health Plans’ recently established Racial Disparities Work Group, advancing the work of two important initiatives on behalf of MAHP’s member health plans.

Meanwhile, she is also very active within the community, volunteering for meal service at Friends of the Homeless, taking part in community-service projects through the United Way’s Day of Caring, and fundraising and organizing events for Go Red American Heart Assoc. Heart Walks.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Primary-care Physician, Health Services for the Homeless; Age 34

It’s called ‘street outreach.’

That’s what Dr. Jessica Bossie calls the work she does on Thursday afternoons and Fridays, and it’s aptly named.

That’s because she is, quite literally, on the streets — and also under bridges, in homeless camps, and in other locations, bringing needed healthcare directly to the homeless population in Western Mass.

“Sometimes it’s Main Street in Northampton or some of the drags in Springfield — we know where our patients panhandle; we know where they go,” she explained. “If we need to find them for something serious, we’ll go find them — and we do.”

Street outreach is part of an extremely broad set of responsibilities for Bossie, the only primary-care physician working within a Springfield-based but regionally focused program called Health Services for the Homeless.

Others include seeing patients at both the Worthington Street homeless shelter in Springfield on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the homeless shelter in Northampton on Tuesdays and Thursdays; acting as a repository of information for a transient population that crosses many city and county lines; directing a harm-reduction program for the homeless patients who suffer from chronic alcohol abuse; and even overseeing and operating all aspects of an 800-square-foot community vegetable garden in Barre.

Her work is difficult to describe in much detail in this space. Suffice it to say it is 24/7 and involves caring for and advocating for the homeless population in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, work that involves both treatment and prevention. This work resonated with the judges for this year’s 40 Under Forty program, as Bossie was the highest scorer among nearly 200 nominees.

A graduate of Boston University School of Medicine and the mother of three young girls, Bossie said she always intended to serve underserved populations, and was specifically interested in substance-abuse treatment. She had some direct exposure to Boston’s highly acclaimed healthcare program for the homeless, and has brought many of its best practices to this region.

When asked what she found most rewarding about her work, she said it’s the “human component,” the relationships she’s made with her patients.

“It’s wonderful to be able to help them in ways they’ve been wanting but haven’t found a way to get before,” she said. “Even after they move on, some of my patients travel hours just to come back and see me. It’s really flattering, and we develop these really amazing, really strong relationships.”

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Supervisor of Science, Technology, and Engineering, Westfield Public Schools; Age 32

Growing up in Westfield, Lauren Figy Cadigan was interested in pursuing medicine or some other field where she was helping people.

“But I had a knack for science,” she said. “What I enjoyed about it was the inquiry, being excited about figuring things out. So I started doubling up on science in high school, taking as many classes as I could.”

It’s a fervor she shares with other young people today as supervisor of Science, Technology, and Engineering for Westfield Public Schools. “I have a passion for helping people and really encouraging students to go into STEM.”

After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University and working in the Columbus, Ohio school system, Figy Cadigan returned to her home state and taught at the High School of Commerce in Springfield, then went through a master’s in education program focused on organizational management.

That opened a door to an assistant-principal job in Westfield, and eventually her current role, where she has authored or co-authored successful grant applications including $55,000 in partnership with MassHire to get students interested in healthcare professions and obtain their CNA licenses; $30,000 to create a biomedical career pathway in the public schools; and $97,000 for a pilot program in engineering career pathways.

In all of this, she has sought to expose students to science, medical, and engineering careers they might not have considered before, and to cross-pollinate STEM fields that are traditionally male-dominated and healthcare careers that attract mostly women. “We’re making sure kids are getting a sampling of each, instead of society telling them what bucket they should fit into.”

That also goes for underserved demographics like special-education students and English-language learners. “All students can be successful, and we want these opportunities to be available to them as well.”

Figy Cadigan serves her community in other ways, too, volunteering with the YMCA of Greater Westfield, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield, Amelia Park Arena, Our House, and an annual Thanksgiving food drive.

But she’s especially gratified by the impact her efforts are having on the future leaders of STEM.

“The best part about being in education is five or six years later, when kids write back to you about what they’re doing now,” she said, adding that she’s especially excited about the future of her own daughter, expected to arrive this summer. “This is the education I want for her.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Chief of Operations, West Springfield Mayor’s Office; Age 25

Carly Camossi has grown up in West Springfield — in more ways than one.

Yes, it’s her hometown, but she’s also forged a satisfying, multi-faceted career here, starting as a soccer referee for the Park & Recreation department when she was just 14 years old — with her role quickly expanding over the next few years to office intern, gym supervisor, dance staff member, babysitter training course instructor, and more.

Meanwhile, she was helping care for her younger sister, Corey, who would pass away in 2015 from cerebral palsy at age 17. Carly coordinated a fundraiser for the Special Olympics in honor of her sister, which caught the attention of West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt.

“He was like, ‘I want her to work for me.’ My involvement in his office just stemmed from there,” she recalled. As his outreach coordinator starting in 2017 — when she was still just 21 — she provided professional assistance and advice, represented the mayor at meetings, and performed a host of other tasks.

Meanwhile, in volunteer roles, such as blood-drive coordinator for the Red Cross, she gained keen insight into the ways local nonprofits can connect with the resources available in town, and work in tandem to benefit residents.

This past February, Camossi was promoted again, to chief of Operations in the mayor’s office, where she oversees certain town projects; investigates problem situations; handles marketing, press activity, and advertising for the town; and acts as a liaison among the mayor, town departments, the Town Council, and state officials, just to name a few roles.

“I think very highly of people who live in the community they work for,” she said. “When I’m in the grocery store, I’ll see someone I know who’ll ask me a question — if taxes are going up, or if they’re looking for a service in the community. It’s awesome to have that personal connection.”

She recognizes the same passion for service in her co-workers as well — especially over this past, very challenging year.

“You don’t always hear good things about municipal employees, but in pandemic times, it’s refreshing that we were able to take everything in stride and figure out how to streamline our processes and run our activities under COVID guidelines,” Camossi said. “Everyone stepped up and played key roles in making sure people’s needs were taken care of. We never skipped a beat.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2021

Director of Business Systems, Clinical & Support Options Inc.; Age 32

Jes Charette-Fallon’s path to her current career has been a winding one; she originally studied political science and thought about becoming an attorney, and eventually earned a degree in art therapy.

But she then enrolled in a graduate program for mental-health counseling at Springfield College, where her time as a resident director laid bare some common needs. “I was responding to a lot of mental-health crises and got really involved in that; it felt like a natural fit.”

As part of her master’s program, she interned at Clinical & Support Options (CSO) in 2012, then came on board as an employee in 2013. “I loved working with the Springfield population; to be able to work with such a diverse population was incredibly meaningful.”

Charette-Fallon moved up quickly in the organization, first as a clinical supervisor and most recently as director of Business Systems, a senior leadership position created out of a need to have someone with a clinical background handling the administration of electronic health records.

“People questioned my transition from the clinical area because I have such a strong calling, but it really is the best of both worlds,” she said. “I’m able to have an impact on a larger scale, helping clients across all services, and also making the lives of our staff easier.

“We probably spend more time in our electronic health records than we spent with our family and friends,” she went on. “If our experience using that interface is not a positive one, we’re probably not going to deliver the best service to clients.”

At the same time, she keeps her hand in the clinical world at CSO, leading a support group for parents who have experienced trauma, and carrying a small caseload as well. “That keeps me connected to our very, very important mission,” she said, adding that she has advanced-practice certification in trauma-informed care, which is the organization’s treatment model in every program.

In her spare time, Charette-Fallon is an avid runner. “I was significantly overweight, and I lost 100 pounds after I started running,” she said. “I never thought I could run a marathon; then I did, and I kept doing it. It’s been one of the most rewarding and stress-relieving experiences, and I’m really passionate about it. If I can do something that hard, I know I can do anything.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Special Programs Coordinator, Gateway to College, Holyoke Community College; Age 39

Julissa Colón can certainly relate to those individuals she assists through the Holyoke Community College (HCC) Gateway to College program.

Indeed, when she was 19, she left college when she had her first child. She thought the opportunity to earn a college degree had passed her by.

She was wrong, of course. She now has an associate degree from HCC and a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from Smith College, with a minor in history. What she needed to earn those diplomas was some encouragement and a path forward — and that’s exactly what she helps provide to others who have left traditional education.

“These are students who have already left high school or are on the verge of leaving,” Colón said. “They don’t leave because they’re not smart, they don’t leave because they’re not capable; they leave because of life. Some of them have had to go to work; some of them have stayed back so many times they feel too old to be in traditional school; some are homeless; some have had children, or they’re ill, or their parents are ill.

“What they all have in common, though, is that they don’t want to give up — they do want their high-school diploma, they do want to be successful, they do have dreams,” she went on, adding that Gateway exists to build a unique pathway to success for each student.

Colón joined Gateway a decade ago and has been instrumental in transforming the program, according to Vivian Ostrowski, the program’s director, who nominated her for this award. She said Colón is also a big reason why the program now enjoys an 83% graduation rate for those who left traditional school.

While rising in the ranks from clerk to office manager to Special Programs coordinator, she has drawn on her own experiences, and also her mother’s (she came to Holyoke from Puerto Rico) to help her understand and appreciate her students’ experiences, and also to help guide them and keep their dreams alive.

She said students often ask her to describe her role, and her answer is usually something like this: “I’m like your high-school guidance counselor and your college advisor and your auntie and a social worker — I’m all those things wrapped into one.”

She’s something else as well: a tremendous role model.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Director of Communications & Development, Community Action Pioneer Valley; Co-owner, F45 Training Hampshire Meadows, F45 Training Riverdale; Age 33

Jessye Deane often asks her kids a simple question: “how are you going to make the world a better place?”

She lives out her own answer in her dual careers, with the anti-poverty agency Community Action Pioneer Valley and two F45 Training franchises. “We strengthen our communities in different ways, but both are impactful.”

Deane has worked at Community Action for 11 years, wearing a number of hats over that time. Currently responsible for all communications and private fundraising efforts for six departments and 40 programs, she has increased private funding more than 16-fold.

“So many mini-miracles happen every day because of our staff,” she said of an organization that serves 30,000 low-income neighbors each year. “I am so honored to work with people I consider to be heroes and get to help them do that work. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”

Meanwhile, she and her husband, Danny (a 40 Under Forty honoree last year), despite both having other careers and three children under age 4, launched F45 Training Hampshire Meadows in Hadley in 2018, and doubled down in 2020 — yes, during the heart of the pandemic — by opening a second location in West Springfield. Jessye oversees all aspects of member relations; recruitment, hiring, and supervision of 18 employees; and marketing and social-media campaigns.

“At the same time Danny and I founded the F45 franchise, my mom was having open-heart surgery, and it really scared me,” she recalled. “But I wanted our kids to see us prioritizing our health and to create a place where everyone felt supported and encouraged to become the healthiest versions of themselves. F45 really does change lives — mine included. Because of F45, I am now someone who wakes up at 3:50 a.m. to work out — and likes it.”

It’s a busy life, she admits. “But having three hilarious kids, coffee, and a minivan really helps.”

What really keeps her going, however, is passion.

“I’m so lucky to be in a position to help people and see the life-changing impacts of our work,” she said. “At F45, we’ve had people lose more than 100 pounds. At Community Action, we have single moms who are no longer homeless. I’m given opportunities where I’m able to help, which is the reason I wake up every morning.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2021

Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment and Enrollment, UMass Amherst; Age 33

Xiomara Albán DeLobato had to pack up a lot of things for her 40 Under Forty photo shoot. She wanted to tell her story visually and explain what’s important her.

That’s Brody the boxer, her best friend, on the other end of the leash. That’s the Ecuadorian flag to the left; her parents emigrated from there to the U.S. And that’s the LGBTQ flag to the right, which represents who she is and symbolizes a core driver of the work she does.

The pennants? They explain where she works (UMass Amherst), where she worked previously (Elms College, Springfield College, and the University of New Hampshire), and where she’s earned degrees (Elms and UNH). There’s also signage for Girls Inc., which she serves as a board member and Development chair, and also as sponsorship chair of the agency’s annual Spirit of Girls event, as well as for Veritas Prep Charter School, which she’s a trustee, and the Springfield Public Forum, where she sits on the board of directors.

As for the books, they represent some of the reading she’s been doing when it comes to her work, which has also become … a passion.

Indeed, DeLobato is the first person to hold her job title at UMass Amherst — something that speaks volumes about the growing importance of this role — and it’s a title that effectively and succinctly sums up what she does.

Sort of.

There are many responsibilities attached to this position, but she smashed it all down to a simple and powerful sentence. “We want to create a sense of belonging.”

As she explained, “universities are seeing the need for their communities to be inclusive. It does take intentionality — you can’t just say, ‘we’re a diverse place and an inclusive place’ without mindfully and very intentionally creating spaces that are inclusive for all our students. We need to do our very best to make people understand that this is a place where they belong.”

This is the real meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and the foundation of all of her work, which includes everything from developing strategic DEI goals to actively shifting the culture within the enrollment-management division to focus on DEI.

Yes, DeLobato had to pack up the car for her photo shoot. But, by doing so, she helped explain who she is — and why she’s a member of the class of 2021.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Director of Nursing, Mercy Medical Center; Age 35

Lindsey Gamble doesn’t have any trouble recalling the time and the circumstances when she first decided she wanted to be a nurse.

She was 12 years old, and her mother was pregnant with her fourth child. Lindsey made up her mind that she wanted to witness the birth of that child, and successfully lobbied those at the hospital for the right to be in the room. She’s very glad she did.

“It was the best day of my life,” she said. “I immediately knew I wanted to become a nurse and hopefully deliver babies at one point — but definitely nursing. It was a really positive experience.”

She used it to propel herself into a career in nursing, one that eventually did include a stint as a labor and delivery nurse before she made the transition to management roles within the Nursing Department at Mercy Medical Center.

Today, Gamble is director of Nursing, a broad role that carries with it many responsibilities, including staffing, budgeting, training, and ongoing education of the nursing staff. And that list became even longer during the past 14 months of COVID-19.

Indeed, at the start of the pandemic, Gamble implemented a daily huddle to keep the day and night shifts up to date on the changing protocols and testing for the virus, while also collaborating with the departments of Respiratory Therapy and Education to cross-train nurses to perform certain duties to relieve the workload for respiratory therapists. She also coordinated ‘resiliency rounds’ to allow frontline staff to decompress and take care of themselves, and worked with the Philanthropy team to coordinate the many food donations and deliveries to frontline workers.

She also played a key role in the opening of Mercy’s Innovation Unit, designed to ensure that families of COVID patients stay connected with the patient and the care team during their hospital stay — a connection that became especially important when the hospital could no longer allow visitors.

Gamble is also active in the community, especially at the school her children attend, Enfield Montessori. There, she’s a volunteer — handling everything from reading in the classroom to teaching gym to working in the cafeteria — and also serves on the advancement committee.

Meanwhile, at Mercy, she has been instrumental in the hospital’s annual holiday campaign to collect hygiene products and clothing items for the homeless.

In other words, she’s a true leader — in all aspects of her life.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Assistant Dean of Student Initiatives, Springfield Technical Community College; Age 35

Once Kiyota Garcia walked onto the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) campus, she never really left.

Her first exposure was taking summer classes there while working toward a bachelor’s degree at Bay Path University. Then, as a graduate student at American International College, she took a job at STCC in the Academic Advising and Transfer Center. She’s been there ever since.

And it’s her job, she said, to make sure STCC has the same sort of drawing power for today’s students.

“I’m trying to come up with new, fun, and interesting ways to keep students engaged, keep them retained, and get them really focused,” she said of her latest role, as assistant dean of Student Initiatives. “We know how to get the students in — now, how can they be successful? We’re don’t just want to retain them — we want to see completion as well.”

That concept doesn’t apply only to graduation, Garcia added, but to all the smaller goals along the way, from passing a class to simply passing a test. After all, small roadblocks to success can snowball into big ones — and she wants to help students smooth their path.

Her background in psychology — she holds a doctorate of education in educational psychology, a master’s degree in clinical psychology, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology — has been helpful in her approach to working with students, but just as important is a commitment to keeping them connected. That might mean personal check-in calls from a professor or coach, or surveys on what kinds of non-academic supports they might need, which have been especially critical during the pandemic.

Through one program, called Survive and Thrive, “we tap into students when they first arrive at STCC and give them the resources they need to be successful, whether it’s financial aid, meeting their adviser, test-taking strategies — really touching the student at whatever level they need.”

Active in the community, Garcia volunteers with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and is a board member for Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence, among other roles. But her most gratifying is making sure students succeed at STCC.

“It’s a big family on campus,” she said. “People develop personal connections you don’t get everywhere. And I think the culture at STCC has allowed us to do that.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Director of Production and Technology, Focus Springfield Community Television; Age 25

When Comcast ceased offering public-access television a decade ago and Focus Springfield Community Television rose up in its wake, Brendon Holland, then a high-school student, was on the scene, helping dismantle the old Comcast studio and create a new one on Main Street.

When he returned to Springfield after graduating from Brigham Young University — with considerably more production experience under his belt — he started working at Focus Springfield again, as the station was evolving from an old, analog enterprise to a modern, digital media-production facility. He relished the transition.

“At Brigham Young, we had an insane budget for audio-visual equipment, millions of dollars, and we could buy whatever we wanted, top-of-the-line stuff. Back in Springfield, we’ve been able to do high-end production on a smaller budget.”

The station’s impact, however, has been anything but small, especially during the pandemic. Holland designed and maintained the city’s remote municipal meeting system, which helped Springfield become the only community in Massachusetts — out of 351 — to have never stopped any essential municipal business during COVID-19.

Meanwhile, he produced all nine of the city’s virtual high-school graduations last year. During normal years, he helps residents access recordings and streaming of signature events like the Jazz & Roots Festival and the Hoophall Classic. “We put community first and show up when it matters. We’ve really been able to integrate ourselves into a lot of households in the city.”

Two aspects of his job are especially gratifying, he said. “First is when people come into the station to create media and video, when the lightbulb clicks and they understand how all the audio, lighting, video, and editing come together.”

Second, simply put, is providing a community service no one else can. “Without us, no one would hear about some of the positive things happening in Springfield. We’ve been great at changing the perception of a city that needed a facelift, but that I grew up in and love.”

While his wife, Morgan Drewniany Holland (a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2017), is certainly a fan of his work, Brendon is also quick to credit his golden retriever, Cooper.

“I owe pretty much every single thing I do at work to my dog,” he said. “I come up with the best ideas on evening and morning dog walks. When I’m stuck in a rut, I’ll go for a walk, and it totally makes sense.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Director of Procurement, Logistics, and Special Projects, Auxiliary Enterprises, UMass Amherst; Age 39

Chris Howland says it was a phone call that ultimately “changed the trajectory of my life’s path.”

It was 2003, and he was a senior at UMass Amherst, working toward a degree in animal science. Looking for some needed pocket money, he made a call to the university’s Auxiliary Enterprises in hopes of getting part-time job. Long story short, he did. But what he really found was a very rewarding career.

“I had aspirations to maybe become a veterinarian or work in a lab,” he told BusinessWest. “But I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. Once I graduated in May, those in Auxiliary Services invited me to stay on through the summer, and then in the fall … I just continued on and kept taking on more responsibilities and moving my way up in the ranks.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Today, he’s director of Procurement, Logistics, and Special Projects for Auxiliary Enterprises, which includes residential and retail dining (the largest and most-awarded collegiate food service on the country; Princeton Review has ranked it number one for ‘Best Campus Food’ for five years running) as well as catering, concessions, food trucks, the University Club in Amherst, conference services, and more. He currently oversees an annual spending budget of more than $30 million (in a normal, non-pandemic year) and a staff of 10 who administer bids, contracts, vendor payments, accounts payable, and much more.

It’s intriguing work, with “a number of moving parts,” as he put it, with one of the more intriguing — and rewarding — being the ability to work directly with many of the farms he worked with, and learned from, as a student majoring in animal science, like Mapleline Farm in Hadley, which provides milk to the university.

“It’s like coming full circle for me to be able to understand their business, help them with sourcing their milk, and telling their story,” Howland said. “And I’ve been able to do that with a lot of different farmers.”

While his work keeps him busy, as in very busy, he says weekends are reserved for family time, and he, his wife Karen, and two daughters, Emma and Violet, are looking forward to the day when loosened pandemic restrictions will allow for more day trips to museums, zoos, aquariums, and other places that blend fun with learning.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

BSEP Program Coordinator and Mobile Health Bus Project Coordinator, Baystate Medical Center; Age 36

Kelly Lamas has always taken a street-level view of healthcare delivery — in some ways, quite literally.

“I grew up wanting to do something to help people,” she said, and that passion eventually led her into the world of public health, most notably her role with the Baystate Springfield Educational Partnership (BSEP), starting in 2017.

“I run most of the high-school programming for students after school,” she said of the 13-year-old partnership between Baystate and Springfield’s public schools, providing career-exploration courses in medicine, nursing, and allied health.

Lamas brought a public-health perspective to the program at a time when Baystate Health was more broadly embracing a population-based healthcare model and building bridges to public-health initiatives in the community.

“We’re having students really look at health through different lenses, root causes, social determinants of health, and we created a couple of project-based classes,” she explained. Specifically, in partnership with Focus Springfield Community Television, students created PSAs on topics like distracted driving and mental health.

Through BSEP, she also developed partnerships with organizations like Gardening in the Community and the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, and helped develop a community health worker certificate program at Holyoke Community College.

Now Lamas is shifting gears — again, both literally and figuratively — by leading Baystate’s mobile health unit. TD Bank awarded Baystate Health a $1 million grant to fund, outfit, and operate a mobile health clinic that will improve access to preventive care in underserved urban and rural communities.

“Transportation is the biggest barrier to healthcare for people, whether they live in urban or rural areas. So we started thinking about meeting communities where they are,” she said.

The unit will provide prevention, education, and screening services while offering on-the-ground training for hundreds of nurses, medical students, pharmacists, and other health professionals every year. Many individuals are not currently receiving these needed services because of financial and transportation barriers or a lack of providers in their neighborhoods.

“This is all about meeting people where they are,” said Lamas, who was also recently elected to the Ludlow Board of Health. “We’re changing the way education is delivered, too. The students, who will eventually be doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, are working together and communicating in teams to deliver the best care. They’re seeing the vital role each member of the team brings and moving the needle toward healthier outcomes.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Academic Matters Coordinator, Graduate and Professional Programs, Isenberg School of Management, UMass Amherst; Age 32

As a student in UMass Amherst’s sport management program, Matt Kushi harbored dreams of being an athletic director at a small college or high school. Such dreams never came to pass, but Kushi has forged an intriguing and rewarding career nonetheless.

Actually … two of them.

By day, he’s Academic Matters coordinator for the graduate and professional programs at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. And by … well, day and night, actually, he operates Kushi Farm and North Hadley Chili Pepper Co., LLC, which, as that name suggests, specializes in hot peppers and hot-pepper products, including jelly.

Both pursuits came about as he was trying to figure out what to do with his life after graduation from UMass in 2010 into a down economy where jobs, especially those in sport management, were scarce.

At Isenberg, Kushi serves as a liaison between his office and faculty and staff for several graduate and professional programs. He also coordinates academic matters such as scheduling courses, classroom technology needs, and course evaluations.

As for the peppers … well, that’s a continuation of a family tradition, and family business, that goes back a century or so, one that Kushi, who also majored in history, discovered while doing some research for Hadley’s 350th birthday. Indeed, his great-grandfather grew tobacco and asparagus (the crop for which Hadley is famous) on land Kushi now tills (and lives on) today.

“I found that very interesting, that I had farming in my blood,” he said, noting that he started dabbling in growing vegetables and giving them to people in 2010. “The next year, I took a 20-by-20 plot in the family garden and started growing a few things like peppers and cucumbers and started selling them to people, and found I could make a few dollars.”

Today, he sells his peppers, which he describes as “middle-hot” jalapenos and hot red cherry peppers, wholesale, mostly to regional distributor Pioneer Valley Growers. It’s a business that’s taken root (pun intended), but is only one of many passions competing for his time.

Kushi is also chair of Amherst’s Agricultural Commission, a member of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, coordinator of Hadley’s holiday tree-lighting ceremony, and owner and president of the MDK Initiative, which operates a special-projects entity with a focus on disability, diversity, and inclusion, and educational resources for families of individuals with disabilities.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

Founding Executive Director, Teach Western Mass; Age 39

When two local school districts faced a severe teacher shortage, they called in Pema Latshang.

She began her career as a middle-school teacher in the Bronx and worked her way up as an education administrator. After nearly 10 years, Latshang, a Western Mass. native, returned to the area to live closer to her family and raise her two children where she grew up.

In 2015, she was hired as director of Professional Learning and Educator Leadership for Holyoke’s public schools. “In that role, I worked on professional development with teachers and figuring out how to provide more resources to support educators in Holyoke,” she explained.

In 2016, Springfield and Holyoke schools were both facing huge teacher shortages. Between the two cities, nearly 300 vacancies were emerging every year. On top of that, many of the shortages were in licensed areas such as special education, English as a second language, math, and science.

“Think about what it takes to find that many teachers,” Latshang said. “It was a huge issue that was putting a real strain on the schools.”

Administrators from the two cities formed a collaborative called Teach Western Mass (TWM), but they did not have anyone to run it, so they approached Latshang to be the founding executive director of the organization.

“We founded it with an objective of quantity, quality, and diversity,” she said. “So our aim is for highly capable teachers who represent diverse populations in our cities.”

In addition to recruiting, TWM has a residency program that provides training and licensing in specific areas of teaching. In its first year, the residency program placed 20 new teachers, then followed with 30 the following year and 40 last year.

“We hope to place more than 50 teachers this year from the residency,” she said. “That’s on top of our general recruiting, which can also be up to 50 teachers.”

Latshang knows that schools and communities have the potential to be inclusive places that accept and empower everyone to be their best. In her role with TWM, she works hard to make that potential a reality.

“I believe in seeing the good in people and building on their strengths,” she said. “Everyone is doing their best, so how can we help them achieve their goals?”

 

—Mark Morris

Class of 2021

Operations Manager, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Springfield Technical Community College; Age 39

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

That’s a framed quotation in Vonetta Lightfoot’s office at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Spoken by the Lorax, a Dr. Seuss character, it’s a guiding principle in her life.

“I keep that quote in my mind to make sure I do my part to inspire people, engage students, and help them be global citizens,” she said.

Last year, as the world reacted to the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matters protests gained momentum, Lightfoot wondered aloud to her husband, “how does it feel to be a man of color in the country right now?”

She processed that thought further, discussed it with colleagues, and eventually turned the idea into “Heart of a Man,” a discussion series designed to explore issues that affect men of color.

Lightfoot has expertise in organizing events and bringing people together, but COVID-19 restrictions forced her to quickly learn Zoom and reimagine the series as a virtual discussion.

“The sessions are centered on a main topic with three or four men and a moderator, then we open it to the audience for questions,” she explained. Topics have ranged from healthy masculinity and being a father to police violence.

“Heart of a Man” has received a great response on campus and with community partners. By recording and posting each discussion on YouTube, the series has been viewed more than 4,200 times. Its success has led to a second season of discussions, presentations at other local colleges, and a focus group on campus.

The virtual format turned out more positive — and impactful — than Lightfoot could have imagined. “It’s easier to participate virtually than coming to campus, and with YouTube, we reach more people than we could have with an in-person event.”

An initiative like this is just one reason Lightfoot loves her job at STCC, because it gives her the chance to “dream things up and then make them happen.” After creating “Heart of a Man” in that spirit, she almost echoed the Lorax as she explained why she pursued the idea.

“I feel like, if I don’t care, how will things get done? How is it going to get better?”

 

—Mark Morris

Class of 2021

Author; Associate News Editor for Digital Content, UMass Amherst; Age 32

When Crystal Maldonado was a child, she dreamed of someday writing a book.

“As I got older, I didn’t know if that was possible,” she said. But, even as she began a journalism career, she never let go of that dream. Then, around 2016, “I had this idea for a story that was loosely based on how my husband and I met when we were in high school.”

That idea became her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, a coming-of-age story — and a heavily fictionalized version of her own teen years — published earlier this year by Holiday House Publishing.

“I had never read a story for young adults that featured a fat, Puerto Rican character,” she said. “I wanted, selfishly, to make someone who looks like me the heroine of the story. And I’m really glad I did.”

Recalling her own youth, Maldonado said she faced criticism, shame, and ridicule from her peers and in the media and constantly struggled with her self-image. Over time, however, she learned to come to terms with who she was and to celebrate what makes her … well, her.

“I wrote this story for teens who don’t often see themselves reflected in a lot of media — not just books, but TV and movies, too,” she said. “I want to keep writing stories that often get overlooked by mainstream media, to create stories for teens that are truly relatable and highlight their experience in a way they don’t often see. That’s my big goal — to make people feel seen and heard.”

Meanwhile, in her day job at UMass Amherst, Maldonado manages and executes content, including photography and video, for university accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Spotify, Giphy, and more, dramatically increasing engagement with the university on these channels. She also mentors students, helping them develop their own portfolios and offering guidance on jobs, writing, and photography.

“Honestly, it’s great fun — I get to be really creative, and I love having the chance to talk to the students,” she said. “They’re so intriguing — they all have incredible stories about how they ended up at UMass. And they’re so busy; they’re launching businesses, doing this and that — they do so much more than I did when I was a student. It’s incredible.”

Young people with big goals — Maldonado can relate to that.

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Partner, Alekman DiTusa; Age 32

Laura Mangini is a huge fan of true crime.

Her podcast list is dominated by shows within that genre, and her bookshelves boast several selections from that broad category.

This has been pretty much a lifelong passion, or obsession, she told BusinessWest, adding that she entered Westfield State University’s criminal justice program with the intention of one day joining the FBI as a profiler.

Her career path changed when one of those CJ classes gave her an introduction to, and an appreciation for, the judiciary system. She attended law school at UConn and, upon graduation, soon joined the Springfield-based firm Alekman DiTusa, becoming a partner this past January.

She specializes in personal injury, and also representing victims of crime, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, as well as those taken advantage of by insurance companies. In one recent high-profile case, she obtained a $2.5 million verdict on behalf of a 28-year-old man from the Berkshires who was sexually abused by his mother’s live-in boyfriend as a child.

“I love litigating and the adrenaline that comes along with that,” she said. “But what’s rewarding is doing the work for the clients; especially in the crime-victims area, many of your clients are people who have been pushed aside, or no one has taken them seriously, or no one has stood up for them. The most rewarding part for me is to be that person who stood up for them.”

Mangini is active with a number of professional associations. She is currently co-chair of the Western Mass. Committee of the Women’s Bar Assoc., and has served on the board of the Hampden County Bar Assoc. since 2015. She is also a member of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, the National Crime Victims Bar Assoc., and the American Assoc. of Justice.

In the community, she volunteers her time with both the District Court and Housing Court Lawyer for a Day programs, and frequently participates in the Lawyer on the Line program, in which lawyers volunteer to provide free legal advice via a phone bank set up by the bar association. She is also active in her firm’s community-outreach efforts, volunteering for Revitalize Community Development Corp.’s annual GreenNFit Neighborhood Rebuild day each year.

When not working, she enjoys the outdoors, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and hanging out with her chocolate lab.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

CEO, Secure Energy Solutions; Age 39

A fire wasn’t going to keep Kevin Mattson down.

Not even an electrical fire that destroyed the East Longmeadow headquarters of his company, Secure Energy Solutions, in 2016.

While neighboring Cartamundi offered temporary space, Mattson went to work finding a new home, and eventually bought the former Biolitec building just down the street. But he didn’t just rebuild larger; he decked it out with a veranda for lunches and cookouts, a gourmet kitchen, a free fitness center, and other amenities.

After all, he said, if employees are going to spend 40 or more hours in a place, why not create an environment that keeps them satisfied and focused?

“When team members are happy, they want to do better not only for the company, but for their own success and personal satisfaction,” he said, adding that he encourages employees to think of their jobs not as work, but as training, an opportunity to learn and grow.

There’s plenty to learn in the field of energy management. Since its inception in 2006, Secure Energy Solutions has helped commercial and industrial clients navigate the volatile energy markets and come up with strategies for electricity and natural-gas procurement, solar development, efficiency projects, sustainability planning, and more.

Mattson — who also co-founded a second company, Custom Homes Development, in 2012 — has grown Secure Energy Solutions to more than 50 employees in East Longmeadow and a second office in New Jersey, but says the sky is the limit. “We’re expanding every year, but I feel we haven’t really accomplished anything yet.”

Meanwhile, he quietly helps the community in different ways, such as financing new sod and soil for local ballfields — and rolling up his sleeves to help repair them. “I don’t have a tremendous amount of time, but any time I do have, I like helping kids. They’re our future.”

Mattson got a real scare — and a dose of unlikely inspiration — when his parents survived the B-17 plane crash at Bradley International Airport in 2019 that killed seven of the 13 people on board.

“Both of them survived by jumping out the window; for me, that was the most inspiring thing in the world,” he said. “I try to teach my kids, and the people I work with, that you’ve got to be resilient; you’ve got to be prepared for absolutely everything that might get thrown your way.”

Again, this isn’t someone who backs down from a fire.

 

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2021

Deputy Chief of Staff for State Sen. Eric Lesser; Chicopee City Councilor; Age 29

Joel McAuliffe can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in public service. Well … he can, but he has to go back to his high-school days, and even then, he was involved in politics and looking for ways to become more so.

He first ran for a seat on the Chicopee School Committee when he was 18 and tried again when he was 20. Neither run was successful, but he was eventually hired as the Communications director for Mayor Richard Kos in 2014, a stint that lasted three years and only served to whet his appetite for public service.

Indeed, he ran for City Council in 2017 against a long-time incumbent. He remembers hearing from supporters that he should “wait for his turn.” But he decided this was his turn, and he triumphed in a hard-fought race. He’s still on the Council, working hard for the residents of Ward 1, near Westover Air Reserve Base, and, overall, to “keep the city affordable.”

Meanwhile, he also serves as deputy chief of staff for State Sen. Eric Lesser, himself a member of the Forty Under 40 class of 2015. That role is the latest McAuliffe has held in a seven-year stint with Lesser, calling himself a “jack of all trades.”

Both jobs keep him quite busy, but he has many other things on his plate as well. He got engaged last August and is currently planning a wedding and house hunting in the city that isn’t just a home, but a passion. He’s currently involved with a project to bring the city’s residents municipal broadband service, one of the many initiatives aimed at improving quality of life in Chicopee and positioning it for growth and vibrancy in the years and decades to come.

“Chicopee is at a crossroads,” McAuliffe said. “We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us … we’re primed for success in a post-COVID world that will be filled with people working remotely and relying on technology.”

When asked about his ultimate ambition when it comes to public service, he gave an answer that speaks volumes about what he’s done already — and what might come next.

“Whatever is it that I do, politically, civically, professional work-wise … I want to be doing something that, in my opinion, gives back to the community and elevates the people who don’t have a voice.”

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2021

President and CEO, DopaFit Parkinson’s Movement Center; Age 36

When someone who is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease meets Chad Moir, he asks if there is any activity they did before their diagnosis that they wish they could do again.

Moir uses exercise programs to help people stop or slow down the progression of Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder that increasingly robs the body of dopamine, which is released during exercise. Moir chose DopaFit as the name of his company to suggest improving a person’s dopamine fitness.

“Parkinson’s wants to make a person small — crunch down and take small steps,” he said. To counteract that, exercises for his clients are overexaggerated, featuring big body movements. “Applied to someone’s daily life, the exercises we work on in class will correlate to them having a normal walking pattern.”

Moir became involved in the Parkinson’s community when his mother became afflicted with the disorder and eventually died due to complications from the disease. “The love she gave me for many years is the same love I have instituted into DopaFit in helping people with Parkinson’s disease,” he said.

Because high-intensity exercise works so well for Parkinson’s patients, boxing is a centerpiece of the activities at DopaFit.

“Boxing elevates your heart to a rate almost equal to running around the block, without putting the stress on your knees and joints that you would get from running,” Moir said, adding that, in addition to the physical benefits, there are big mental-health payoffs, too. “It’s so cool for our clients to say they’re going to boxing class instead of they’re going to therapy. It really lifts their spirits.”

The most satisfying part of his work is when people can return to activities they enjoyed before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. For example, one client went skiing for the first time in three years. “Another client who used to be a pilot hadn’t flown in 10 years because of Parkinson’s. We recently got him in the cockpit for the first time, and he was able to fly again.”

Moir — who was also recently honored as one of BusinessWest’s 2021 Difference Makers — said he’s happiest when he is helping others, taking inspiration from the Muhammad Ali quote, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

In other words, he added, “I just want to leave the earth a little better than when I got here.”

 

—Mark Morris

Class of 2021

Client Relationship Manager, Traffic Manager, Market Mentors, LLC; Age 27

Sarah Murphy went to college just outside Boston — at Lasell University in Auburndale — and was thinking about a summer internship in the Hub between her junior and senior years. But the city is expensive, and she quickly determined it was too expensive, so she opted to come back home to Agawam for summer break.

With some guidance from a friend, Bob Greeley, owner of R.J. Greeley Co., she readjusted her sights for an internship and started by talking with Michelle Abdow, owner of Market Mentors. That talk led — eventually — to the start of a career in the marketing business, and an intriguing job with many moving parts.

That’s eventually, because Murphy later interned in Boston for a large marketing firm and had to make the decision about which side of the state to work in. She chose Springfield, and Market Mentors, and has never looked back.

“In Boston, it felt like I would have been a little fish in a big pond,” she explained. “In coming here, I feel like I’m making more of an impact being with a smaller agency — and that spoke volumes to me.”

That impact, as she called, it, can be seen both in the agency and within the community.

Indeed, Murphy is now relationship manager and ‘traffic manager,’ a new position in which she handles a number of responsibilities and builds on experience gained while working her way up the ladder.

“I’m the liaison between the account executives and the other departments at the agency — I’m the middle person between our AEs and our copy and design, digital, and web departments,” she explained. “And I manage the deadlines for all of our projects. You might say I’m the hub for the agency; all the workflow goes through me.”

As noted, she is also quite active in the community, continuing a pattern that started in college, when she traveled to Uganda for two months with the Shoulder to Shoulder program and assisted seventh-grade school children by teaching science. Today, she’s an involved board member for the Foundation for TJO Animals, which supports the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center.

With TJO, she helps lead many of its fundraising and outreach events, such as the Ride Like an Animal Motorcycle Run and Car Show. She also volunteers additional time at the adoption center, providing companionship to the shelter’s numerous animals.

 

—George O’Brien