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SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest, the Business Journal of Western Mass., recently unveiled its 40 Under Forty class of 2024, the 18th compilation of rising stars in the regional business community.

The class of 2024, its diversity, and its individual and collective accomplishments will be celebrated at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala on Thursday, June 20 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Also during the program, the winner of the annual Alumni Achievement Award, created in 2015 to recognize the 40 Under Forty honoree who has most impressively built upon his or her track record of success in business and in service to the community, will be announced.

About 110 unique nominations were received for this year’s class, with entries scored by a panel of five judges who weighed everything from career accomplishments to involvement in the community. Those with the 40 highest scores made the list.

Members of the class of 2024 represent virtually every sector of the economy. While many are professionals working for area companies large and small, several members of this class are true entrepreneurs, launching their own business or nonprofit agency.

Profiles of each winner can be read in the April 29 issue or at businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40underforty. The members of the 40 Under Forty class of 2024 are:

  • Shirley Arriaga, State Representative, 8th Hampden District
  • Lev BenEzra, Executive Director, Amherst Survival Center
  • Kara Bombard, Marketing Manager, Performance Foodservice
  • Dalila Cardona, Chief Operating Officer, YWCA of Western Massachusetts
  • Sean Dolan, General Manager, MassMutual Center
  • Nikai Fondon, Founder and Host, She Did That! Podcast
  • Chris Freeman, Executive Director, the Parlor Room Collective
  • Shannon Glenn, Academic Coordinator, Gateway to College at Holyoke Community College
  • Scott Gomes-Ganhao, Vice President, Regional Manager, PeoplesBank
  • Chrismery Gonzalez, Head of the Office of Health and Racial Equity, City of Springfield
  • Joesiah Gonzalez, Chief Philanthropy & Communications Officer, Home City Development
  • Stephen Holstrom, Partner, Bulkley Richardson
  • Nicole Kerrigan, Vice President, V&F Auto Inc.
  • Mariah Kurtz, Owner, Kurtz Consulting
  • Juan Latorre III, Principal Radio Frequency Engineer, Verizon
  • Joe Lepper, Senior Community Responsibility Consultant, MassMutual
  • Joshua Lively, President, Lively Builders Inc.
  • Kenny Lumpkin, Owner, Dewey’s Jazz Lounge and All American Bar, Grill & Patio
  • Tiffany Cutting Madru, Founder, Analytics Labs
  • Tim McCarthy, Executive Director, Craig’s Doors
  • Chelsea McGrath, Director of Operations and Finance, Revitalize Community Development Corp.
  • Jennifer McGrath, Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement, MGM Springfield
  • Natalie Mercado, CEO, Sweetera & Co.
  • Ally Montemagni, Social Media Manager, Baystate Health
  • Payton North, Executive Editor, Reminder Publishing
  • Kate O’Brien-Scott, Chief of Staff and General Counsel, Town of West Springfield
  • Yhidda Ocasio, Director of Youth, Violence Prevention, and Court Support Programs, YWCA of Western Massachusetts
  • Paulette Piñero, CEO, Unstoppable Latina LLC
  • Shavon Prophet, Founder and Principal, BroadLeaf Advisors
  • Jenna Rahkonen, President, Iron-Lift LLC
  • Mischa Roy, Owner, Spill the Tea Sis
  • Tiffany Rufino, Youth Mental Health Coalition Manager, Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts
  • Media Sehatzadeh, Chief Dam Safety Engineer, FirstLight
  • Jennifer Sharrow, Associate Attorney, Bacon Wilson, P.C.
  • Laura Shaw, Tax Collector, City of Holyoke
  • Kayla Sheridan, Marketing Director, TommyCar Auto Group
  • Stephanie Slysz, Human Resources Manager, RepresentUs
  • Jordana Starr, President, Western Mass Rabbit Rescue
  • Vilenti Tulloch, CEO, Academic Leadership Assoc.
  • Jen Walts, Owner, Wind & Water Doula Care

 

40 Under Forty is presented by PeoplesBank and sponsored by Live Nation, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, Mercy Medical Center/Trinity Health, and Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. The Alumni Achievement Award is presented by Health New England.

The 40 Under Forty Gala, on June 20 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, will begin at 5 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. There will be entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a plated dinner, and more networking opportunities.

Tickets to this sellout event cost $125 each, with reserved tables of 10 available. For more event details and to reserve tickets, visit businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40underforty.

40 Under 40 Class of 2024 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 that 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 it makes the job of five independent judges a challenging one — but also a gratifying one.

“That was fun!” one judge emailed along with her scores. “What an amazing way to get to know so many people, and so many better. This was an enjoyable process.” Another wrote, “what an amazing group of individuals! I was amazed to see such talent in Western Mass.”

We agree; in fact, we thought all 40 of this year’s cohort are deserving for many reasons — and so many different reasons — and also felt for the many worthy individuals who barely missed the cut. But there’s always next year, and nominations are welcome all year long.

As usual, this year’s winners hail from a host of different industries, from law to banking; from retail to healthcare; from restaurants to nonprofits, just to name a few. Many are advancing the work of long-established businesses, while others, with an entrepreneurial bent, created their own opportunities instead of waiting for them to emerge.

Almost all would be justified in saying their careers leave them no time for volunteer service. Yet, almost all are doing what they can for their communities and local nonprofits.

They’re all success stories — just 40 among so many more we haven’t gotten around to telling yet.

We’ll also unveil the 10th annual Alumni Achievement Award winner on June 20, given to the former 40 Under Forty winner who has impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. Nominations for that award will be accepted through May 10. Click HERE to nominate.

This year’s 40 Under Forty sponsors include presenting sponsor PeoplesBank and partner sponsors the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Live Nation Premium, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, and Mercy Medical Center/Trinity Health. The presenting sponsor of the Alumni Achievement Award is Health New England.

2024 Presenting Sponsor

2024 Partner Sponsors

Meet Our Judges

Ryan BarryRyan Barry is a partner at Bulkley Richardson in Springfield, where he focuses on representing colleges and universities, healthcare organizations, nonprofits, and small businesses. Barry’s volunteer work includes serving on the board of directors of the Center for Human Development. He was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2020.

Chrissy KiddyChrissy Kiddy, vice president of Corporate Responsibility and Social Media Management at PeoplesBank, is dedicated to fostering positive change, championing inclusion, and celebrating community spirit. She serves on the board of the Care Center of Holyoke and Revitalize Community Development Corporation, while also acting as an ambassador for the Bushnell Theater.

Andrew MelendezAndrew Melendez, as founder and director of the Latino Economic Development Corp., has played an instrumental role over the past year in assisting more 300 businesses. A 40 Under Forty honoree in 2015, he also previously served as the Western Massachusetts director for Associated Industries of Massachusetts and executive director of YMCA of Agawam.

Hannah RechtschaffenHannah Rechtschaffen, director of the Greenfield Business Assoc., has an extensive background in business development and creative placemaking, including four years as director of Placemaking for W.D. Cowls, growing the Mill District project in North Amherst. A member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2022, she also chairs the Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee.

Erica SwallowErica Swallow is the co-founder and team co-lead of the Turnberg & Swallow Team at Coldwell Banker Realty, Western Massachusetts. Her real-estate team has helped more than 1,000 clients, with sales production totaling more than $300 million over 43 collective years. Also an award-winning children’s book author, Swallow was the highest-scoring honoree in the 40 Under Forty class of 2023.

Alumni Achievement Award

2024 Presenting Sponsor Alumni Achievement Award

Class of 2024

Owner, Wind & Water Doula Care: Age 35

For a decade, Jen Walts was a high-school teacher. And she’s still an educator today — in a much different way.

“I experienced an empowering birth and realized one of the main reasons why that experience was so positive for me was that I was well-educated and had a support team that I could turn to for more wisdom and resources,” she recalled.

It was so empowering, in fact, that Walts decided she wanted to bring that experience to other women — and Wind & Water Doula Care was born.

“I knew I wanted to shift into the world of birthing, but with education at its core, empowering families to soak in as much knowledge as they can in such a transformative time.”

Offering holistic prenatal support to support families through labor, birth, and early postpartum, Walts believes in bodily autonomy and informed consent through the birth process, empowering families to identify core values that shape their birth preferences, including, in some cases, the affirming, relaxation-inducing method of breathing techniques known as hypnobirthing.

“It’s an intense understanding of the physiology of labor and birth, so they feel less anxious about the process,” she explained. “It’s not happening to them; instead, they can move through it with some valuable coping tools. I call it preparing your mind to trust your body.”

Walts has attended or supported more than 75 births and taught childbirth education to more than 100 families.

“Jen is an active listener to parents, and she offered us generous and detailed strategies from pain management to postpartum planning,” one client testified. Added another, “she exudes a reassuring and calm presence that felt so helpful throughout the shifting dynamics of birth.”

Walts said too many families fall victim to “information overload” from social media. “That can be helpful to some extent, but it can also be overwhelming and can really disconnect you from your intuition and what you want for your family. I’m working on the outside of any medical system; I want to get into what values they have, what values they want to show up in their birthing.”

Walts was recently appointed program co-coordinator for a grant-funded program that will increase access to doula care for families birthing at Seven Sisters Midwifery and Community Birth Center in Northampton, which could help fill a persistent need for doulas locally.

A big question for women, she said, is “how do I advocate for myself in a system that’s built for efficiency? We’re taking back autonomy and voice in the healthcare system.”

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2024

President, Western Mass Rabbit Rescue: Age 39

Four years ago, Jordana Starr found a rabbit. Then she decided to find some more.

“It started in 2020 when a friend of mine, a rabbit owner like me, saw a posting about a loose rabbit. So we decided to try to capture this domestic rabbit who couldn’t survive outdoors,” she recalled. “It was a success — we captured the rabbit, got him neutered, and found him a home.”

Soon after, they launched a Northampton-based nonprofit dedicated to doing that work on a larger scale, then procured space for a shelter after a large rescue of 45 rabbits. While Starr’s original partner eventually left the organization, she still leans on a group of committed volunteers who help with day-to-day operations, fostering rabbits, transportation, and more.

“There’s a nationwide crisis of people trying to surrender pets,” she said. “So we have to triage; we can’t take every pet, or we’d be handling thousands of pets. We can handle maybe 50 in the whole rescue at a time — maybe a dozen requests every week.”

For instance, “if someone is bored with their rabbit, but they’re safe, warm, and well-fed, we’ll probably turn those away. If a rabbit has been abandoned and neglected, or is very sick, we’re more likely to act in those scenarios. We get them spayed, neutered, and take care of all their medical needs — and some have high medical needs.”

The team will try to bond rabbits if someone wants more than one, and they make sure families spend time with the animals they’ll be adopting.

“When you first see them make that connection and bond — you see them falling in love — you know you’re completing a family in an important way. We know the work we’re doing is really paying off from the phone calls and letters from people thanking us. We’re not only making a difference for the rabbits, we’re making a difference for humans.”

It’s quite different work from Beerology, the home-brew shop Starr and her husband, Mike Schilling, have co-owned in Northampton since 2016. Meanwhile, in her spare time, Starr loves international travel, ballroom dancing, and performing in theater. In fact, she landed her first professional role last summer with Faultline Ensemble, playing a rookie EMT in a play called Counting Pebbles; the group is hoping to win a grant to tour the show in six cities.

“It’s about trauma and resiliency,” Starr said — both of which she’s had to navigate plenty for some furry friends looking for a better life.

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Human Resources Manager, RepresentUs: Age 31

Stephanie Slysz has long been interested in politics. In college and early in her career, she interned in the Massachusetts governor’s office and the U.S. State Department, worked at a U.S. embassy, and volunteered on a mayoral campaign.

While working as an office assistant at WHMP, she learned about RepresentUs because its executive director at the time, Josh Silver, was a regular on the station’s Bill Newman Show.

“We were nerding out about ranked-choice voting one night,” she recalled. “They were hiring for his assistant, he recommended I apply, and the rest is history.”

Slysz sees her current role as “an opportunity to grow HR for an organization that I strongly believe in, and I very much appreciate supporting the folks doing the work on the ground.”

RepresentUs describes itself as America’s leading non-partisan anti-corruption organization, fighting to fix “our broken and ineffective government.” Among its current campaigns are efforts in numerous states to implement ranked-choice voting, fight campaign corruption, and defend democracy and voter access.

Similar to how same-sex marriage, cannabis legalization, and other ideas found traction on the state level first, she explained, “the idea is to create enough momentum in these cities and states so Congress has to act on it eventually.”

As opposed to working on the ground in campaigns, where it’s easy to get emotionally invested and burnt out, Slysz feels energized to support the priorities of RepresentUs on a broader scale.

“I will always need to dedicate my time to mission-based things, whether it’s where I work or volunteering in my community,” she said, before expressing enthusiasm about the RepresentUs mission. “If you can fix the problem of money in politics, if you can make government work for more than special interests, you can fix all these other things. That is the root problem.”

Speaking of community, Slysz also chairs the Hatfield Planning Board, through which she sits on a multi-town committee organized by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to address farmland-protection policies, represents the board on the Hatfield 2040 Comprehensive Plan Committee, and more.

“I am involved locally, and that is also not partisan; I feel like it’s the way you can have the most impact on your community,” she said. “Nationally, nothing is really moving, so taking it local is the way to go. A lot of young people don’t know about their small town and their local government, but it’s not a huge lift to sit on a board or committee, build your skills, and be more connected to your town.”

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2024

Tax Collector, City of Holyoke: Age 39

Laura Shaw acknowledged that few people, if any, would list ‘tax collector’ as a career objective.

And she certainly didn’t.

Indeed, growing up, she studied criminology and law and aspired to join the FBI, before working in airline security and later as budget director for the Hampden County Registry of Deeds.

When she saw a posting for tax collector in Holyoke, she thought it would be something she’d be good at, and perhaps even enjoy. And why not? After all, it’s in her blood; her grandfather, William Burns, held this same position through much of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

And from what her parents, her many aunts and uncles, and a colleague hired by her grandfather tell her, Shaw brings many of the same attributes to the job that her grandfather did.

These include patience, diligence, being direct but fair with those who owe the city taxes, and even having a sense of a humor about the job and its responsibilities. Indeed, she described a tax collector as “an accountant who gets yelled at,” and wondered out loud, while marching in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, if she should wear the sash with ‘Tax Collector’ written on it and risk being booed — or worse.

Jokes aside, tax collecting is serious business, she said, adding that property and excise taxes and other assessments are the lifeblood for any community, especially one like Holyoke.

“I like going to work every day, even if a lot of it is dealing with unhappy people,” she said, adding that many of the harder questions she gets are for the assessor, and she is essentially the “bearer of bad news.”

In addition to her work at City Hall, Shaw is very involved in her community, especially with its pride and joy, the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. She serves on the board for the landmark attraction and chairs its fundraising committee, spearheading, among other initiatives, a golf tournament that raised $20,000.

She also serves as a member of the city’s patriotic events committee, assisting in efforts to honor veterans; she started a push-up challenge at the 2023 Memorial Day celebration and has facilitated art contests for Girls Inc. of the Valley and the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club in which young people depict what Veterans Day and Memorial Day mean to them.

For Shaw, serving the city and its people is a passion, something she takes as seriously as collecting taxes — and serving faithfully as that accountant who gets yelled at.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Marketing Director, TommyCar Auto Group: Age 37

While acknowledging that it sounds somewhat cliché, Kayla Sheridan said the broad scope of her work with TommyCar Auto Group constitutes not a job, but a passion.

“It’s important to me because it allows me to combine my love for marketing with my desire to make a positive impact in the community,” she said of her role in marketing and public relations, which also involves being the driving force behind virtually every aspect of the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament staged by the company each year. “Every campaign, event, or initiative is an opportunity for me to connect with people, inspire change, and drive success.”

A graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in communication sciences and business administration, Sheridan said she knew little about the auto industry when she joined TommyCar as social-media coordinator a decade ago. But she quickly immersed herself in it to better understand how to get the TommyCar message across and help position the company for continued growth.

“I’ve grown to love the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the automobile industry,” said Sheridan, who gradually took on more responsibilities and, eventually, the title of marketing director. “And one of the challenges in this industry is the need to adapt to changing trends and technologies; digital marketing, in particular, has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, and my role has been to navigate these changes and incorporate new strategies into our marketing campaigns.”

Today, she handles everything from media buying to managing the websites for the dealerships; from coordinating events and sponsorships to helping set a tone for the auto group’s philanthropic giving.

While doing that, she has become a force in the Driving for the Cure event, which has now raised more than $1.5 million for cancer research, handling everything from the securing of sponsorships to decorations in the hall; from the menu to organizing on-course activities.

“It’s been an honor to play such a pivotal role in an event that supports such a worthy cause,” she said, adding that giving back the community is one of her core values, and she does so in many ways, from participating in the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage to spearheading the Sip and Shop Galentine’s Day event at the TommyCar dealerships to showcase and support women-owned businesses.

The mother of two young children, Sheridan is very active in their lives, especially their many sports, including motorsports, where she can once again use that phrase ‘driving force.’

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Chief Dam Safety Engineer, FirstLight: Age 39

Media SehatzadehMedia Sehatzadeh has worked on four continents and several different countries, from Norway to Malawi. She’s thrived in all those settings, she said, because she speaks a common language she encounters everywhere: engineering.

“The engineers are the same, and they speak the same language,” she told BusinessWest. “The language of the countries may be different, but the mathematical language and the way that you approach a problem and the way you design something and make improvements … it’s heartwarming for me to see how similar it is and how much we have in common.”

Her latest work with this common language is taking place in the Northeast, as chief dam safety engineer for FirstLight, a clean-energy power producer, developer, and energy-storage company serving North America. Sehatzadeh is responsible for overseeing critical infrastructure that serves communities across Western Mass., ensuring their safety and functionality.

Her responsibilities extend to managing the overall safety program for all dams at the company’s hydroelectric facilities across New England, including the Northfield Mountain Pumped Hydro Storage Station, the largest pumped-storage asset in New England, capable of storing 8,700 megawatt-hours of electricity, sufficient to power more than 1 million homes.

Sehatzadeh said she always wanted to be a civil engineer, and after earning a bachelor’s degree in that realm in Iran, she completed a master’s program in environmental geology, hydrology, and geohazards at the University of Oslo in Norway.

“Hydrology is something within the overlap of civil engineering and geosciences,” she explained, adding that dam safety became her specific area of focus.

She started her career in Norway, but would later work on projects in different corners of the globe, including the detailed design and construction of the Kamuzu Barrage on the Shire River in Malawi in East Africa. She came to the U.S. in 2018 and eventually became a U.S. citizen.

Since arriving, she’s been part of several projects locally, including the ‘dewatering’ of the Northfield Mountain reservoir and subsequent inspection and monitoring to ensure the safety of the mountain’s dam and dikes — critical structures that “generally don’t see the light of day,” as she put it.

While proud of her work, Sehatzadeh is equally gratified by her mentorship role through Women in Hydropower and her work to encourage women to enter STEM fields.

And when not working, she enjoys art, hiking, snorkeling, and pretty much anything else that will get her outdoors.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Youth Mental Health Coalition Manager, Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts: Age 39

Tiffany RufinoIt’s called “I Am More Than My Mood.”

That public awareness campaign, seen on billboards, buses, and digital ads since its unveiling in early 2023, aims to destigmatize the subject of mental health and empower young people to talk about it — and, hopefully, take steps toward self-care.

It’s just one element of Tiffany Rufino’s impactful work as Youth Mental Health Coalition manager at the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts.

“The coalition is all about preventive methods for youth mental health, how we convene and bring together different professionals and residents across different sectors: behavioral-health professionals, private clinicians, and residents who are interested in youth mental health and want to impact change in their communities,” she explained.

Many ideas in the campaign came a youth advisory board called Beat the Odds, Forget the Statistics.

“They get together weekly and talk about topics around mental health and work to bring information to the community and build awareness,” Rufino explained. “They’re comfortable talking about mental health and encourage their peers to do the same.”

She’s learned that today’s teens are a little more open to talking about mental health than, say, their parents.

“It really becomes an opportunity to share some challenges they’re going through and recognize that other young people are experiencing the same,” she went on. “With the coalition, we’re focusing on parents and guardians, getting them up to speed on where their youth are and helping them realize that talking about stress doesn’t make you weak or inferior in any way; it’s just the reality of life.”

Rufino has worked in community and youth development for a long time, building relationships with local schools and colleges with Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts and addressing root causes of poor reading levels in schools with Parent Villages, to name two previous roles.

“I really have a passion for creating opportunities for young people, especially my community in Springfield, and making sure they have opportunities and pathways for success,” she said, adding that, through the coalition she has assembled at the Public Health Institute, she’s able to address issues ranging from stress, anxiety, and depression to the ways intergenerational trauma impacts parenting today.

“The youth are so critical because they can impact change now and in the future,” Rufino said. “It’s a really great feeling to be able to spearhead this work and see tangible results coming from young people, and even parents and guardians. It gives me goosebumps every time.”

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2024

Owner, Spill the Tea Sis: Age 38

Mischa RoyMischa Roy has long been connected with the arts in Western Mass.; two decades ago, at age 18, she was one of the youngest exhibitors at the Paradise City Arts Festival, among other high-profile events. She eventually opened retail spaces for her handmade wares and, in 2014, launched a wholesale brand called Spill the Tea Sis, selling to more than 6,000 stores across the country.

Roy moved to Florida for a while, but during the pandemic, she decided to come home and operate the wholesale business from Western Mass., but she was struck by the impact COVID was having on Northampton’s downtown.

“I was walking around Main Street and saying, ‘man, that little storefront could probably use some life,’” she recalled, so she opened a Spill the Tea Sis location there, selling unique home and gift items, in July 2022. Since then, the store has been named best gift shop by Valley Advocate readers two years running. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind of crazy growth since then. Now, it’s a million-dollar-a-year business, and we run events.”

Roy said all the candles, jewelry, and many other items sold at Spill the Tea Sis are made in-house, and she’s been able to support other local artisans as well. The store also features an active herb wall and its own tea line, and many of her offerings have a metaphysical bent.

“A lot of stores around here have similar products to each other. When somebody walks in our door, I want them to find the thing they can’t find anywhere else,” she said. “I want them to find something they love, that speaks to them.”

Last year, Roy launched a monthly block party from May to October, giving local vendors who may not have a brick-and-mortar presence, farmers, and other stores on Main Street the chance to set up tents and connect with visitors, and she’s looking forward to repeating the experience in 2024. She also brought a successful pop-up to the Big E in 2023 and plans to return this fall.

She has also spearheaded a slate of free artistic and cultural programming on Main Street and hosted events for community members to participate in, contributing to downtown vibrancy and drawing more visitors to town.

“People bring friends to town, and when they come here, they know they’re going to have an experience,” she said. “The reality is, people need more reasons to come back post-pandemic. I really enjoy making connections with our community and our customers.”

—Joseph Bednar

Class of 2024

Associate Attorney, Bacon Wilson, P.C.: Age 39

Jennifer SharrowJennifer Sharrow can’t remember the name of the book she read back in middle school. But she does recall it was about a judge, that it made a deep impact on her, and that it inspired her to want to be a judge herself.

She would later adjust that career goal slightly — with a focus on becoming a lawyer — while maintaining a strong desire to enter the legal profession because she saw it as way to help people and positively impact lives.

And she’s essentially proven herself right during a wide-ranging career to date, one that started at the height of the Great Recession — when most law firms stopped hiring — with a job at AmeriCorps, a semi-volunteer position doing organizational development for a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Manchester, N.H.

She then went on to be a civil-rights investigator with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commuting from New Hampshire to Boston on Amtrak, and then something she described as “more holistic that got me more involved in the community” — a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then the Small Business Administration in the broad realm of community development, assisting small businesses with everything from loans to recovery after natural disasters.

Sharrow continues to work with small businesses in her current role as an associate attorney with Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, handling everything from initial business formation to employment agreements; from leasing of commercial properties to sales of business assets.

She is her department’s authority on women-owned businesses, helping clients work with the state Supplier Diversity Office to give marginalized business owners access to additional opportunities. And recently, she spearheaded Bacon Wilson’s response to the new federal requirements for businesses under the Corporate Transparency Act.

“I like working with the business owners,” she said. “It’s the variety of businesses I enjoy, even when they’re starting out. Entrepreneurs amaze me; their spirit and enthusiasm in starting these businesses is inspiring. And it’s the same with the people who have been working in these businesses, building them up and putting in their time and sweat and stress. I’m just so impressed by them.”

Active in the community, Sharrow is chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals in Belchertown and a member of Springfield Women with a Purpose, the Hampden County Bar Assoc., and the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Assoc. An avid runner, she participates in many area 5Ks, especially those supporting shelter animals.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

President, Iron-Lift LLC: Age 39

Jenna RahkonenJenna Rahkonen said she developed a unique set of skills during her career in manufacturing and construction — and used them to launch a business last year.

Rewinding a couple decades, she joined her family’s business, Alden Manufacturing, right out of college and eventually became director of Operations there.

“I learned a lot being involved in projects from start to finish and being in the factory when things were made,” she recalled. “I fell in love with the job, which was shocking to everyone, including myself.”

After her family sold the business, Rahkonen moved into the construction world, working in the Finance department at Northern Construction in Palmer, and later helping her husband, Alex, start his own crane-rental company, Northern Crane LLC, in the same town. There, while maintaining her financial role at Northern, she aided in the completion of 10 wind-turbine projects across the U.S. But she craved the challenge of running a business of her own.

“That’s how Iron-Lift LLC was born,” she said, explaining that the steel-erection company, which specializes in bridge construction, operates two branches out of its Monson headquarters: one that works on the state level with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Fish and Game, and other agencies; and a federal branch that has secured significant contracts, including a major current project performing lock and dam repairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s been interesting every single day, waking up and learning something new, overcoming a new challenge,” she said. “And I have an incredible team behind me.”

Active in the community, Rahkonen also volunteers with HomeFront Strong, a nonprofit organization that works to build resilience in veterans and military families. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a Korean War and World War II veteran, she wanted to give back to those who have served this county.

Specifically, she’s HomeFront Strong’s treasurer and auditor; coordinates the food-distribution program, which delivers boxes of food to homebound veterans in the Palmer and Ware area; and serves on the board of directors, where she’s involved in the annual golf-tournament fundraiser, the annual Veterans Day breakfast, and fundraising for Suicide Awareness Month every September.

“It really puts a focus on family members of veterans as well, because they all go through similar things,” Rahkonen said. “We also do storytelling, where veterans and surviving family members tell their stories to volunteers during an interview. We’re trained in PTSD and mental health, and it’s therapeutic for them to tell their story.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Founder and Principal, BroadLeaf Advisors: Age 36

Shavon ProphetShavon Prophet is a big believer in employee ownership of businesses.

“It’s a way that we can ensure that legacy businesses can continue on into the future and create more wealth for more people,” she said. “In the studies of employee-owned businesses, they have performed better on every outcome — recruitment and retention, employee engagement, and the stark contrast when it comes to how much wealth people have been able to build when they have an ownership stake in where they work.”

Long story short, she has made employee ownership a big part of her life’s work, the latest manifestation of which was the founding of BroadLeaf Advisors to help more businesses become owned by their employees.

Prophet has taken an intriguing path to this place in her life and career.

“I’ve always been really motivated by social impact — doing good for the world — ever since I was a child,” she explained, adding that her undergraduate degree was in environmental studies, and she started her career at green building firms.

But she ultimately felt pigeonholed by such work and eventually earned a social impact MBA and learned about social enterprise and designing businesses that were not only successful for their owners, but lasting in the community. And she would eventually focus on “democratizing the workplace,” as she put it.

As an advocate and educator of employee ownership, Prophet — a proud Filipino-American, hence the flag in her photo — has presented at several national conferences and led educational sessions for business owners and economic-development professionals across the Northeast. She has helped hundreds of business owners explore succession planning and employee-led buyouts, with a special focus on worker cooperatives and democratic business models.

In 2023, she was appointed by Gov. Maura Healey to serve on the MassCEO advisory board for a four-year term following passage of the act that enabled the organization. That same year, she was appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Women & Enterprise for the Western Mass. region. A strong supporter of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Prophet has also mentored entrepreneurs through local business accelerators, such as EforAll Pioneer Valley and Valley Venture Mentors.

And as a social entrepreneur herself, she co-founded All Good Cooperative, a multi-stakeholder cooperative made up of farmers, healers, and artisans in Western Mass. that won first place last year at the EforAll Pioneer Valley pitch contest and sold produce and goods from nine small businesses at local farmers markets.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

CEO, Academic Leadership Assoc.: Age 36

Vilenti TullochIt’s difficult enough to start a new business or nonprofit at any time and under any circumstances. But to do so at the height of a pandemic … well, that’s another story.

But that’s what Vilenti Tulloch did with the Academic Leadership Assoc. (ALA), a program with a mission to empower young people to make positive changes within themselves and in the community through mentoring literacy and self-advocacy while addressing their social and emotional needs. ALA has also developed a professional-development component called Equity in Action.

It was a step Tulloch thought he needed to take at that time in his career and with that much need within the community, and he has never looked back, capitalizing on an ability to relate to young people and, even more importantly, inspire them to set goals and then reach them.

As he explains how he started, Tulloch — who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Westfield State University and then a master’s degree in educational psychology at American International College — flashed back to when he was a teacher at an elementary school in Southbridge. “One of the administrators came to me and said, “the kids really like you; they gravitate toward you. I think it would be great if you started a mentoring program.’

“That wasn’t even on my radar back then — I was just trying to learn how to be a teacher,” he said, adding that his mentoring efforts turned into something called the Young Gentlemen’s Club. The students had to wear ties once a week, and there both check-ins and follow-ups that helped keep young people on the right path.

Tulloch would later become an adjustment counselor and then an administrator at the school before deciding to also launch his own initiative. He credits his wife, Yeselie, with coming up with the name, while he finalized a mission and a strategy for fulfilling it.

In his role, Tulloch trains mentors, leads school-based mentoring, and provides professional-development programs to nearly a dozen schools in four districts across Western Mass., including Springfield, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, and Holyoke.

“We’re growing, and we’re building systems that are really having an impact on the students and staff in the schools we’re working with,” he said, noting that, in 2021, he decided to devote all his time to the ALA.

Tulloch has earned several awards and accolades over the years, from a Game Changer award from the Springfield Thunderbirds to an NAACP award for community service. And now, he has another one: Forty Under 40.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Director of Youth, Violence Prevention, and Court Support Programs, YWCA of Western Massachusetts: Age 38

Yhidda OcasioYhidda Ocasio knows struggle. So she knows how to connect with those who are struggling.

She arrived in the U.S. as a young girl, after her family decided to escape the rampant crime and crushing poverty of Colombia to pursue the American dream. As a young teen, she sought employment at a McDonald’s because she could bring extra food home after her shifts, and her family didn’t have to go to bed hungry.

So, in her 17 years working at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts in Springfield, she’s been able to bring deep empathy to three roles — a young-parent support counselor and case manager, assistant program director of the domestic-violence shelter, and, currently, director of Youth, Violence Prevention, and Court Support Programs. She has also worked part-time as a Human Rights officer at the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

“The YWCA has been a rewarding opportunity for me to give back to the community, and I’ve been able to apply the challenges I went through, not just in Colombia, but the barriers here as an immigrant,” Ocasio told BusinessWest. “My mom became a single mom several years after I arrived here, and she was working two to three jobs. Seeing my mom go through that struggle changed the outlook I had in regard to other women — single moms who were struggling.”

Over the years, Ocasio has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Westfield State University and Northcentral University, respectively, earning induction into the National Society of Leadership and Success at the latter — all this with English as her second language.

But that’s to be expected from someone who lives by the words in Matthew 19:26: “with God, all things are possible.” And she’s quick to express gratitude for everyone who has supported her along the way, from her mother and brother to her husband, Juan Ocasio; from the leaders at DDS to YWCA CEO Elizabeth Dineen “for her relentless mentorship.”

Ocasio has spoken at statewide trainings for nonprofits on topics like sexual assault, domestic violence, and healthy relationships, as well as addressing community events on immigration issues and refugee challenges. When she became a U.S. citizen in 2019, her colleagues threw her a huge party.

“It was a great day at the YWCA and a wonderful day to be an American,” Dineen said. “This is still the land of opportunity, and as a country, we are most fortunate to have humans like Yhidda Ocasio want to become a citizen.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Chief of Staff and General Counsel, Town of West Springfield: Age 39

Kate O’Brien-Scott says she got into the legal profession “on a whim.”

Indeed, she majored in sports management at UMass Amherst, but after getting some experience in that field during an internship with the NHL’s Nashville Predators, she decided, “I don’t want to be doing ticket sales my whole life.”

Not knowing what else to do, she took the Law School Admission Test, applied to Western New England University School of Law, got accepted, and earned a scholarship. The rest is history that’s still being written.

Indeed, after working for five years in the private sector with the Springfield-based firm Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn, O’Brien-Scott accepted West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt’s bid to essentially succeed him as head of the city’s Law department. And now, she follows him as a Forty Under 40 honoree.

“After he got elected mayor, we went out to lunch, and he said, ‘do you want to come work for me?’ I said, ‘absolutely,’” she recalled. “I was ready for a change of pace, and having grown up here and lived my whole life here, I thought that working for the town was something where I can make a difference in a different way.”

There are two titles on her business card — general counsel and chief of staff — with the latter emerging as she became increasingly involved in project-based work, everything from personnel issues to collective bargaining; from the town’s fiber project (in conjunction with two other department heads) to developing a downtown revitalization plan.

It’s a broad job description, one she’s enjoying.

“I like that every day is different,” she said. “When I started here in 2016, I never thought I’d be involved in all the things I’ve gotten involved in. Seeing all the behind-the-scenes things, and how they come together, and taking a project that starts as an idea to the end and then seeing the fruits of our labor is very rewarding.”

O’Brien-Scott, who recently added ‘mom’ to her personal profile — her son, Callan, was born last November — is also active in the community. She has served on the board of the West Springfield Boys & Girls Club; is a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Assoc.; and currently serves on the West Springfield Police Station Siting Committee, Cannabis Steering Committee, and Sister City Committee, as well as leading the Blight Task Force.

In addition, she volunteers with the West Springfield Lions Club and supports other nonprofits, while also spending time with family and playing golf and softball.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

CEO, Unstoppable Latina LLC: Age 37

Paulette Piñero remembers the hours before she slipped into a coma.

It was March 2020, and she was one of the very first COVID cases in Massachusetts. “My legs were purple; they thought they might have to cut them off. I lost 40% of my lung capacity by the end of the first week. A social worker brought me an iPad so I could say goodbye to my family.”

Two years before that, she’d started writing a business plan, one that would help clients with business strategy and creativity. “But I continued to second-guess myself: ‘this is not for me,’ or ‘maybe I’ll do it at some point when I retire.’ I just felt like the dream was out of reach.”

But in February 2020, a month before she fell ill, Piñero started working with a SCORE mentor and developed a real launch plan. And when she woke from her coma, she knew she didn’t want to waste any more time.

“I promised myself, if I left that hospital, I would never put my dreams on the back burner — and, miraculously, I left the hospital. I had physical therapy for more than two years, and I was diagnosed that summer with long COVID. But I still launched my business; it was the first thing I did when I got out of the hospital.”

Before creating Unstoppable Latina, Piñero spent her career — in both Puerto Rico and then Massachusetts — in the social-impact space, working on strategy, programming, and marketing programs for nonprofits and impactful companies.

Now, she empowers women entrepreneurs by cultivating their confidence and brand positioning to embrace personal narratives, address human needs creatively, and lead industries with inventive ventures.

“The way I measure impact is, do you feel like the CEO of your business? Do you have a strategy and the tools that will move you from a side hustle and overwhelmed to stepping up as the CEO of your business and making decisions? And then, can you disconnect and be present with your family?”

That last part is especially important, said Piñero, who is also the co-author of the 2021 book Extraordinary Latinas: Powerful Voices of Resilience, Courage & Empowerment.

“This experience has allowed me to see business success as something that serves both your clients and yourself. That, to me, is more successful than just the revenue. My business is not just for helping the local economy, but helping Latinas be confident in their business and be present for their families and community.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Executive Editor, Reminder Publishing: Age 28

Payton North didn’t remember aspiring to being a reporter and editor when she was growing up. But her mother found proof that this was, indeed, a long-standing career goal.

“She found a paper I wrote when I was a sophomore in high school where I talked about how I wanted to be an editor,” said North, who recalls having some interest in broadcast journalism, but eventually desired to make an impact that “would not be limited to a minute or two of soundbites.”

To say North has made that dream come true would be an understatement. She is now executive editor for Reminder Publications, leading efforts to produce eight weekly newspapers, one daily, two monthly magazines, and several specialty publications. She now oversees 20 employees as well as more than a dozen freelance writers and photographers.

She still does some writing, which she enjoys, but acknowledged that much of her time is now devoted to planning, managing, setting a tone for these publications, and mentoring younger staff members.

She acknowledged these are certainly challenging times for print publications, which have lost both readers and advertisers to the internet, but she said the need for local news remains, and such content is perhaps more important than ever.

This is the message she hammers home to young reporters, who often wonder out loud just how important it is to cover that local planning board or school committee meeting. North will answer for them.

“Accountability in our communities is so important,” she explained. “If we don’t have reporters’ boots on the ground covering our select board meetings, our town council meetings, our school board meetings — the local government that is affecting people’s taxes and their children’s school — something very important is lost. Those are the stories that really hit people in their homes, and I’m glad people come to us for that because they can’t get it anywhere else.”

While busy managing publications — and people — North is also active in the community. She volunteers with Valley Eye Radio, a nonprofit that reads and records newspapers and broadcasts in senior centers and hospitals for those who are visually impaired, and also gives of her time at Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding Center in East Longmeadow.

All of this material could go into a short item for the Reminder’s publications — one announcing that North is a deserving member of the Forty Under 40 class of 2024.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Social Media Manager, Baystate Health: Age 34

Ally MontemagniAlly Montemagni sees herself as both a storyteller and an educator — and believes both roles are critical.

“Storytelling is my favorite part of the job. It’s just an honor to share someone’s story in healthcare,” she said, noting that she oversees all things social media — from content creation and video monitoring to analytics and reporting — across the entire Baystate Health network, from hospitals to specialty centers to primary care. “Usually it’s some real challenge, and we can put words and visuals to a patient’s story and bring it to life. It’s uplifting and validating for both the community and our team members.”

As for education, “we have an important role in providing a trusted source of information,” she explained. “That spiked during COVID; just keeping up with all the changes was a wild ride. In an age when people can put out anything on social media, to put out information that’s reliable, trusted, and comes from our experts, that’s an important role, and it’s a great way to interact with our community.”

But Montemagni’s favorite part of her job is spending time with patients and families, making sure they’re comfortable sharing their lives, and then doing so with sensitivity, as she does during the annual WMAS Radiothon for Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“That’s my favorite two days — interacting with the families and making fun content for the purpose of raising money for children in our community. I’ve cried with people. It’s all about the interaction with people and being a voice for their stories.”

Outside of work, Montemagni is a board member of Jenna’s Blessing Bags, which, for the past six years in Western Mass. and Northern Conn., has partnered with churches, community organizations, homeless shelters, police departments, and others to provide backpacks filled with life essentials to the homeless.

The charity was actually launched in Pennsylvania by her cousin, Jenna Burleigh, who became a victim of homicide in 2017. When her family decided to continue the work in her name, Montemagni brought the project to this region.

She also started a website, blog, and Instagram page called High Tide Healing, where she relates her own struggles and healing methods for grief. In addition, she has provided free photography services for worthy causes — including, recently, Rick’s Place, which provides grief support for children, teens, and families.

“It’s very, very close to my heart,” Montemagni said of Jenna’s Blessing Bags. “It’s our way of giving, turning some of that grief into purpose for us.”

And that’s a story worth telling.

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Director of Operations and Finance, Revitalize Community Development Corp.: Age 36

Chelsea McGrathChelsea McGrath knows what kind of impact home improvement can make.

“I never saw the impact until I started working here — how mold affects health, and how leaks, dirty carpets, dust, duct and vent cleaning, things that are really simple in nature can have such a big ripple effect. Poorly controlled asthma means kids are missing school and falling behind, which means the parents are missing work.

“So to come in and do a relatively simple intervention — pull up the carpet, get rid of the mold and leaks — now the kids can go to school, the parents can go to work … and it’s something that’s so easy to fix.”

That only begins to describe the broad community impact of Revitalize CDC. Meanwhile, the organization’s president and CEO, Colleen Shanley-Loveless, described McGrath’s impact since she came on board in 2021.

“Since joining us, Chelsea has hired staff, created new agency departments, and established policies and procedures to help us work more efficiently,” she noted. “Because of her commitment, dedication, and professionalism, Revitalize CDC has been able to add programs and hire and promote the right individuals.”

That includes increasing the budget from $1.3 million in 2021 to almost $5 million today, and purchasing a new facility to house the programs and growing staff. In 2020, Revitalize served 163 low-income families, impacting 657 people. In 2023, it served 650 families, impacting 2,521 individuals, Shanley-Loveless noted. “We couldn’t do what we do without her.”

Among the programs McGrath launched since her arrival is a nutrition program conducted, like the asthma program, in partnership with Baystate Health’s BeHealthy Partnership.

“We’re providing healthy food for people with diabetes or childhood obesity, and we’re able to educate people about proper food and make sure they have recipes and the supplies they need to cook food,” she said. “I’ve seen some dramatic changes — fewer trips to the emergency room, and some of the A1C scores have dropped.”

That’s real impact, and explains why McGrath tied for the highest judge scores among the 40 Under Forty class of 2024. So does her copious volunteer work with organizations like the WillPower Foundation, Rick’s Place, Yappy Tails dog rescue, and the Garden, a program at Cooley Dickinson Hospital for young people dealing with grief.

“If you’re in a position to help people, you have an obligation to do so,” McGrath said. “But I get so much out of it, too. It makes me happy. It makes me feel worthwhile. It’s not ‘why would I do that?’ but ‘why wouldn’t I?’”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

CEO, Sweetera & Co.: Age 37

Natalie MercadoNatalie Mercado always knew she wanted to work in the food space. After high school, she enrolled in New England Culinary Institute and earned an associate’s degree in culinary arts and restaurant management, then slowly rose up the ladder, eventually becoming a sous chef.

“My goal was always to open my own restaurant,” she recalled. “I did catering jobs on the side, but I never took the initiative to open up a business.”

In the meantime, she went to work for MassMutual as an underwriter consultant, a job she still has. But in 2021, she started pursuing her dream again, getting entrepreneurial help from EforAll Holyoke.

“I applied with the intention of starting a restaurant. This was all during COVID, and I was advised to rethink my business plan because so many storefronts were closing down.”

So, Mercado pivoted and launched a food trailer called Sweetera & Co., specializing in “milkshakes and over-the-top desserts.” She posts on her website and social media to let people know where the truck will be each week, and she also started catering. The enterprise was an immediate success, and still is three years later.

“I really didn’t expect it to take off the way that it did. It was a great surprise, honestly, because I had endured so many setbacks with building the trailer,” she said. “It was during COVID, so supplies were back-ordered, and trying to find reliable contractors was hard. So it took longer than anticipated. I had to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.”

But Mercado isn’t done challenging herself, with plans to launch a second trailer in Florida by next year and a storefront by 2026.

“Everyone’s like, ‘you’ve come so far, and you should be proud of yourself.’ And I am proud of myself, but I’m also hard on myself,” she told BusinessWest. “I know where I want to be, and I know I’m not there yet. But I need to give myself more credit than I do.”

She still enjoys her work at MassMutual, approving life-insurance applications and helping clients secure their future. But she sees a bigger future for herself in Sweetera & Co.

“I love the creativity,” she said. “The best part of it is seeing the customers’ reactions when they get their bubble waffle sundae or their milkshake — their eyes get really big like, ‘oh, wow.’ The feeling I get is incomparable. It really makes all the hard work and all the setbacks worth it.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement, MGM Springfield: Age 38

Jennifer McGrathJennifer McGrath is fond of saying there are … well, two sides to Jennifer McGrath.

The first is the professional side. For more than a dozen years, it played out at Six Flags New England, and for the past seven months, it’s been at another regional institution focused on fun — MGM Springfield.

The other side involves a commitment to health and wellness — her own, but especially helping others find it. This commitment involves everything from teaching Zumba and trampoline to her own fitness platform.

To say that she is passionate about both sides would be an understatement, and this passion certainly explains why she is a member of the Forty Under 40 class of 2024, and why — to quote Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication at Square One, who nominated her — “Jennifer McGrath is a force in Western Mass.”

As we explain why, we’ll start with that professional side. At MGM, she handles everything from coordinating community events to supporting nonprofits, such as Square One and the Mayflower Marathon; from developing relationships with government officials and the business community to managing all philanthropic requests and coordinating charitable sponsorships.

“My biggest part of my role is impact,” she said. “How can we volunteer? How can we provide our monetary donations? How can we create impact for the city, its students, its residents, and the region as well?”

She took on similar responsibilities, and others, including the training of more than 30,000 employees, at Six Flags, and said of her career to date, “it’s all about fun, entertainment, and allowing people to escape and celebrate the fun times in life. It’s no secret my entire career’s been built around that.”

As for the other side, McGrath sums it up by saying she’s focused on “health for everybody and every body.”

She’s an instructor at Fitness First and an experienced Zumba and JumpSport instructor. “I’m all about body heath and body positivity,” she told BusinessWest. My mission is all about wellness, and that means mind, body, and spirit.

Elaborating, she said she battled eating disorders earlier in her life, and her struggles and eventual triumph led to a passion to helping others find health and wellness, especially through her fitness platform.

“Almost 300 people come together daily, and we promote body wellness,” she said. “We post body inclusion, we champion positivity, and we talk about ways we can remain healthy through mind, body, and spirit.”

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Executive Director, Craig’s Doors: Age 35

When he was chosen as a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2024, Tim McCarthy was hesitant to talk about himself, firmly believing this is a team honor. “This is such a remarkable team,” he said. “It’s truly the best team in the country doing this work.”

That work is serving unhoused residents in Western Mass. at three sites. During McCarthy’s time as director, he has expanded programming to add new shelter locations, increase bed availability, and expand case-management support to residents of the region.

Currently a graduate student in mental health counseling and a member of the BEAHR Lab at UMass Boston, he has also worked to make Craig’s Doors (which was established in 2011 and named in memory of Craig Lorraine, a veteran and well-known street musician in Northampton and Amherst) a trauma-informed operation that practices what McCarthy calls “radical compassion.” It’s also the only homeless shelter in the country that provides free transportation to guests, thanks to a state-funded partnership with the PVTA.

“I just fell in love with this work and this population, and I had a vision for how it could intersect more deeply with concepts surrounding mental health,” he explained, adding that he also employs a number of former clients. “We’ve got a lot of folks with lived experience who existed in the margins. I’m a firm believer in providing opportunities for folks; a lot of people have overwhelming competence that might not be reflected in their résumé, so we try to build internally.”

McCarthy not only wants to raise people out of homelessness, he wants to close opportunity gaps he feels are far too prevalent today. “The outcomes we’re striving for are not built into the nature or ethos of this country right now. But we bring a level of competition to compassion. We’re out here trying to be the best at this work; we’re always trying to be better than we were the day before.”

Recognizing that homelessness is “the most glaring manifestation of wealth and equality,” he noted, Craig’s Doors has closed the compensation gap on its team, where everyone, no matter their role, starts at $20 per hour or more.

“That has allowed us to retain an incredible team and develop our roster. It also helps us to attract top talent within the space,” McCarthy said.

“We’re really practicing what we preach about humility and self-reflection,” he added. “We’re bringing a competitive work ethic promoted by capitalist ideals, but instead of applying it to individual wealth, we’re applying it to our principles.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Founder, Analytics Labs: Age 39

Tiffany Cutting MadruTiffany Cutting Madru says entrepreneurship runs in her family.

Her uncle was a veterinarian, her grandfather an architect, and her parents have long owned and operated C&D Electronics, and electronic component distribution and logistics company serving the defense, aerospace, and commercial markets. And she was working with her parents, in sales and development, when she conceived her own entrepreneurial venture.

As she tells the story, she and her family became part of then-Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s efforts to roll out the welcome mat for players in the cannabis industry, which started to take root following a 2017 referendum vote.

“When some of these companies came into the area to look at where they were going to have their cultivation spaces and production spaces, we were utilized to show people around Holyoke and talk about the city and what it had to offer,” she explained, adding that, in the course of offering these tours, she asked the question, “what other parts of the supply chain are missing?”

The most commonly offered answer was ‘testing labs,’ she went on, adding that she and her husband, Ted, stepped forward to meet that need with Analytics Labs, which currently analyzes cannabis samples from more than 80 operators across the Commonwealth to ensure they meet the state’s safety standards.

The company, launched in 2019, has grown to 40 employees and is expanding into Connecticut as that state develops its own cannabis industry.

For Madru, who earned a bachelor’s degree and then an MBA in entrepreneurial thinking & innovative practices at Bay Path University, this has been a long journey and a deep learning experience in an industry that is growing, evolving, and finding its level.

“Massachusetts is maturing, and we’re starting to see more guidance from the state on the testing side,” she explained. “We do see the struggle of our clients that are coming and going, and we’re hoping that some of the market will become more consistent. There were a lot of licenses that came online for cultivation and manufacturing, and there’s been a bit of fallout; we’ll see who maintains and who survives this.”

A winner of the James McGill ’35 Carpe Diem Award at Bay Path, Madru has remained active with the university. She emceed its Women’s Leadership Conference in 2019, and that same year, she and Ted co-chaired the Bay Path University Gala. She has also been a member of the school’s Business Leadership Council, providing guidance and mentorship to the university and its students.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Owner, Dewey’s Jazz Lounge and All American Bar, Grill & Patio: Age 28

Like most people, Kenny Lumpkin found the pandemic to be a time of reflection and figuring out what’s really important.

And while doing that, he concluded that being a consultant for Big Pharma just wasn’t working for him, and he needed something else. After some research — and soul searching — he determined this something else should be a return to his roots in Springfield accompanied by an entrepreneurial gambit, an effort to replicate the kind of jazz establishment he found, and came to love, while living in the Boston area — Wally’s Café Jazz Club.

And he did, with Dewey’s Jazz Lounge on Worthington Street, an establishment he opened in 2021, when there were still many COVID after-effects and other challenges to overcome.

Three years later, Dewey’s has become a downtown staple, attracting visitors from Springfield, across the 413, and beyond. And in 2023, Lumpkin doubled down on his dream, opening a second venue — All American Bar, Grill & Patio, a sports bar on Dwight Street. The two sites complement each other well and have attracted different audiences.

“My biggest worry about opening two restaurants a block from each other is that they would cannibalize each other,” he said. “But we haven’t seen that; we’ve been able to hit both sides of the market. We have an older, more mature crowd at Dewey’s that will come to see live music, and we get a younger crowd at All-American that will get down with a DJ.”

Lumpkin, who is also active in the community, with a turkey drive at Thanksgiving and a Christmas clothing and toy drive, said being an entrepreneur is essentially what he thought he would be, a roller-coaster ride replete with challenges and rewards.

“Every day is a learning experience, and every day is something new,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s what I love about it.”

His philosophy, about life and business and their myriad challenges, is best summed up with a tattoo he wears proudly, reading ‘Find the Sun.’

“It means to find the bright side of things,” he explained. “I try to remain optimistic and see what good is coming from all the hard work you put in. And it’s amazing when people pull you aside and say, ‘you’re an inspiration to this community,’ or offer a simple ‘thank you’ for bringing this concept to Springfield.”

He’s heard a lot of that since that COVID-inspired reflection of four years ago, which helps explain why he’s a member of the Forty Under 40.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Senior Community Responsibility Consultant, MassMutual: Age 35

Joe LepperAs a freshman at Longmeadow High School, Joe Lepper was not feeling very good about how things were going in his life. There was some bullying and a distinct lack of direction.

And then … he found the school’s Key Club, a program of Kiwanis, a service organization with chapters around the world, designed for young people. And it changed his life. Dramatically.

“I found a community of people that just cared about others,” he explained. “It didn’t matter who you hung out with … if you were passionate and you cared about helping other people, you could be a great Key Club member; you could make a difference.”

The club certainly made a difference in his life, instilling a strong sense of community involvement and helping others that in many ways defines not only his life, but his current work as senior Community Responsibility consultant for MassMutual.

“Kiwanis is the reason I have the career that I have,” Lepper said, adding that, with the help of the Springfield Kiwanis Club, he was able to attend an international Key Club conference, at which he became riveted by a speech from the international president — and inspired to take that same title someday.

“I came home, and I changed my email signature from ‘club treasurer’ to ‘international president’ just to see what it would feel like, he said, adding that he later ran for New England district governor as a sophomore, got elected, then ran for international president as a junior — and, yes, got elected.

He missed 50 days of school his senior year because he was on the road giving speeches and running workshops, but said the learning experience was incredible.

Fast-forwarding, Lepper, a graduate of Western New England University, has kept Kiwanis in his life, joining the Springfield club when he was just 21 and eventually becoming its president. And the sense of community involvement instilled in him remains ever-present in his work at MassMutual, where he leads the community-responsibility strategy for the MassMutual Financial Advisors national sales force, work that includes oversight of community-impact, education, volunteer-engagement, and recognition programs.

In addition to that role, he has designed and led several programs, including the firm’s Community Service Awards recognition program and Community Responsibility Business Partner strategic consultative program.

An avid golfer, Lepper has a Scotty Cameron collection that he’s quite proud of. But he’s much more proud of his work at MassMutual, and of all that he has done with and for Kiwanis — and what Kiwanis has done for him.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

President, Lively Builders Inc.: Age 38

Joshua LivelyTired of working in the weatherization industry, Joshua Lively took the class and test to attain his construction supervisor’s license, but it got sent to the wrong state.

So … he waited.

In the meantime, “I was sick of my job, and my boss was sick of me,” he recalled. “One day, I got back from vacation and decided I’d had it, so I walked in and quit. When I got home, my construction supervisor’s license was in the mailbox, so that seemed like destiny.”

It was also a risk, with a 2-year-old daughter and his wife eight months pregnant with another child. But he immediately went to work framing and building with some friends in the Springfield area, learning from other carpenters and performing a range of different jobs, from installing above-ground pools to putting up walls for new house builds.

For the next two years, they got more and more calls — an experience Lively called “an eye-opening finishing school” and the final step to what came next: launching his own business, Lively Builders, in Montague.

“I started with a Dodge Dakota pickup truck and some cheap tools. Now I’ve got a 3,000-square-foot garage and multiple trailers and trucks. It’s grown tremendously over the past 12 years,” he told BusinessWest, adding that some of his work involves blighted properties and improvements to solve health and safety issues for homeowners. He’s also been named Franklin County’s favorite building and roofing contractor two years in a row in a Greenfield Recorder poll.

Lively volunteers his time to local government; he chairs the Montague Zoning Board, is a Montague Town Meeting member, and spent several years chairing the Montague Capital Improvements Committee.

“I like supporting the community in a nuts-and-bolts way — ‘oh, the DPW needs to repair this infrastructure.’ That’s unseen stuff that nobody wants to get into. Now I’m able to affect how the town is going to look in the future,” he explained. “I enjoy it, and I think it’s important to model this behavior for my kids and for other people in the community — to unite the rest of the silent majority who would otherwise keep quiet until someone steps up and does something.”

Lively also volunteers on the board of the Franklin County Youth Football League, even calling games in the announcer’s booth for the Franklin County Bulldogs. He also recently purchased a plane and sits on the Turners Falls Municipal Airport Commission — yet another sign that his career has, indeed, taken off.

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Principal Radio Frequency Engineer, Verizon: Age 38

Juan Lattore IIIJuan “Jay” Latorre is not an elected official. Yet.

But he certainly knows his way around City Hall — or city halls, in the plural. And town halls as well.

Indeed, as principal radio frequency engineer for Verizon, Latorre spends a great deal of his time before elected and appointed officials across New England to locate cell towers and antenna installations. He’s worked on more than 300 such assignments during his career, often developing unique solutions for site-specific permitting, working in collaboration with municipal, state, and federal officials to secure what everyone wants and needs in this age — reliable cellular service.

Despite that need, placing these towers isn’t easy. Doing so takes understanding, patience, and, most importantly, a willingness to work collaboratively with officials and other constituencies, he said.

“And that’s great, because this work has exposed me to so many different and interesting professions, like the law, construction, real-estate development, environmental policy — all of those things give me a broader perspective on how to make a community grow.

“I’m a boots-on-the-ground kind of person; I enjoy getting to better understand the pulse of our community by meeting with people,” he went on, adding that he made it a goal to put himself in rooms full of people he doesn’t know, something that has helped him become a better person and better community leader.

While helping to ensure that calls get through, Latorre is also a leader in the community. He’s run for City Council in Springfield twice, only to come up just short. He expects there will be more such bids in the future.

Meanwhile, he currently serves as vice president of the Sixteen Acres Civic Assoc. and has been active with the Boy Scouts. An Eagle Scout himself, he’s a troop leader in Springfield for disadvantaged youths in the Latino community and has been a board member of the Western Massachusetts Council of Boy Scouts of America for many years, and is currently on its executive committee.

Latorre is also involved with the Engineering department at UMass Amherst, helping to recruit students of color to that field. He was a member of the young professionals subcommittee of Springfield City Council when it was active, and during that time, he created Restaurant Week, which has become a fixture in the city.

Add all that up, and it’s easy to see why his schedule is full — and why he doesn’t need GPS to find any city hall.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Owner, Kurtz Consulting: Age 30

Mariah Kurtz understands the importance of municipal government, especially in a very small town — and especially at a time of great challenge.

Over the past five years, she found herself in both, first as assistant town planner, then town planner, in Erving, population 1,665.

“I really jumped into municipal government on the hard mode. I was still getting to know the town when COVID hit,” she recalled. “I had to pivot … I guess I learned flexibility.”

Her role in such a small community was expansive. “It turns out, in a rural town, it’s not just reading and approving permits all day; there just aren’t that many permits to approve. So you end up doing a lot of other things. Like, this culvert needs to be replaced. How does that work? Who do we work with? How do we pay for it? Or, we want to plan an event to get people to come to the park, so we work with the Recreation Department to do that.

“The work was really exciting to me, talking to residents and learning what their needs were and what their desires were for their small town to flourish,” she added. “That was magical.”

Growing up in a family construction business — Westfield-based Kurtz Inc. is a notable name in Western Mass. — taught her the complexities of building and development on a small scale, and majoring in sustainable community development at UMass Amherst gave her a broader, more holistic perspective. “Instead of, ‘where do we pour the concrete?’ it’s ‘why do we do that, and how do we take into account the landscape?’”

That perspective guided Kurtz in Erving, and even more so now, a few months after launching her own grant-writing and consulting business, based in Greenfield and serving small businesses, nonprofits, farmers, and, yes, small towns.

“This way, towns don’t have to employ a full-time grant writer or planner, with the salary and benefits that go with that,” she explained, adding, “I actually never wanted to work in municipal government. For a lot of my peers at UMass, that was the traditional track, being a town planner in a local municipality. But I didn’t see that for myself.”

She is gratified, however, at effecting positive change in the region.

“With some projects, you see progress right away. I’ve done some public art projects, and there it is — you see it. But other projects take 20 years to see the difference in the environment,” she explained. “I’m most excited about helping people make those projects happen — and make their dreams happen.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Vice President, V&F Auto Inc.: Age 34

Nicole KerriganGrowing up in a family auto-repair and maintenance business, Nicole Kerrigan was certainly interested in making it her career, but she wanted to keep her options open.

She first majored in management at Western New England University, then switched to accounting, “mainly because, if I got into the business and it wasn’t what I thought it would be, I had a plan. Also, I’m very close to my family. If the business created a conflict, I didn’t want to sacrifice my family relationships.”

It turns out she needn’t have worried.

“As a third-generation leader of V&F Auto, she has brilliantly carried forward her family’s legacy while injecting a fresh and innovative approach into the business,” wrote Michael Bennett, executive coach with the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), one of myriad people who nominated Kerrigan for 40 Under Forty. “Under her leadership, V&F Auto has maintained its exemplary reputation and is experiencing substantial growth and evolution.”

Kerrigan calls ATI a vitally important factor in her growth and education, and today, she takes on numerous roles at V&F, from leading day-to-day operations overseeing the company’s social media and marketing; from communicating with customers to interviewing and hiring — and much more, including, yes, some accounting.

“I love creating relationships, overcoming challenges, and creating solutions, so my team can do their job better,” she said. “My role is to create opportunities for my team and give them the resources they need to grow and lead — to have a livelihood they are happy with and have a place they are proud to work for.”

Her colleagues say she’s acing that test. “Nicole has taken the reins in a field dominated by her male counterparts and propelled the business at V&F Auto Inc. to new heights,” Sales Manager James Dowd said.

Kerrigan is active in the West Springfield community, volunteering for a number of nonprofit and municipal organizations and events, even winning a leadership and team-development award from the Parks & Recreation department. And she’s especially proud of her role as a cheerleading coach for West Springfield High School for the past 15 years, first for the JV squad, then at the varsity level.

“I love the sport in general — it gives me great joy,” she said. “And I like the competitive aspect of cheerleading — not necessarily the sideline cheering, but being able to create routines and compete and watch the kids thrive each year, watch their skills get better and better and help them grow.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Partner, Bulkley Richardson: Age 38

Stephen HolstromWhile most lawyers say they’re in the business of helping others, some people may not put litigators in the ‘helpful’ category — at least, not at first thought.

But in representing doctors, small businesses, and others in various court actions, Stephen Holstrom said his life is, indeed, dedicated to helping people.

“Western Mass. is a small-business community, and I’m a litigator for small-business owners,” he explained. “When a business owner is involved in litigation, that impacts their whole life. When people go to court, it’s routine for me, but it’s not for them; it’s a very harrowing, stressful experience.”

As a general-practice litigator, Holstrom has handled complex tort actions, insurance cases, and complex class actions, as well as matters in connection with schools, the cannabis industry, and commercial litigation, including disputes between shareholders and land-use issues. Meanwhile, he represents hospitals, physicians, and other medical providers in medical-malpractice cases and other issues related to health law.

“I like having a varied practice,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s one of the reasons I came to Bulkley. There are needs all over the community, and I want to serve as many parts of the community as possible. That’s why I do general practice.”

And he’s doing it at a time when specialization is much more common in law firms.

“I’m a unicorn; it is fairly unique,” he said. “But you can’t reach every corner if you’re specializing in something. That’s why I’m proud to be a general litigator.”

Recognized by both Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers, Holstrom has also brought energy to his interests outside the firm, chairing Wilbraham’s By-Law Study Committee and serving as vice president of the board of directors of the Gray House in Springfield, which helps North End residents meet immediate and transitional needs like food, clothing, and educational services.

“The Gray House is a phenomenal organization,” he said. “It really helps people out of poverty, gives them the supports they need, and helps them get a leg up. It has a generational impact. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

As he does on the job. “I like the thrill of litigation,” he said. “It’s a constantly moving challenge. Frankly, the day is usually a blur; there’s so much going on, and new challenges always pop up during the course of the day. If you talk honestly to litigators, a lot of them complain that it’s never-ending, but I think that’s reinforcing. That’s what we’re here to do — to deal with emerging issues.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Chief Philanthropy & Communications Officer, Home City Development: Age 26

Joesiah GonzalezJoesiah Gonzalez was just 23 when he first ran — successfully — for the Springfield School Committee in 2021. He was the youngest member at the time, and he still is, presenting a challenge of sorts.

“I think that sometimes, there’s a prejudice, or hesitance, toward folks who are young in any organization or institution, and that’s something I’ve had to overcome,” said Gonzalez, who has certainly done that, taking a leadership position (he’s now the vice chair) and pushing for meaningful change on many fronts, including a policy on critical-incident drills that focuses on the safety of the city’s students.

This work on the school board is just one example of how Gonzalez has long been committed to community — and also to the nonprofits that serve it. He’s currently the chief Philanthropy and Communications officer for Home City Development, a nonprofit real-estate developer with a special focus on mixed-income housing in Western Mass., but also a provider of resident-engagement programs ranging from after-school teen initiatives to early-childhood literacy programs.

He started working with nonprofits when he was just 20, joining the New North Citizens Council (NNCC) and overseeing the after-school youth programs at Gerena School and effectively expanding them to serve more young people. He would eventually secure more than $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a Youth Build program within the NNCC, and under his leadership, that program became a department, one that would grow to 30 employees and a $2 million budget.

In his current role, he handles fundraising and communications strategies for Home City, with a primary focus, on the philanthropy side, of raising funds to support resident-service programs that assist the more than 400 families housed in Home City’s multiple affordable-housing sites, work he finds very rewarding.

“Being at the table and also at the helm of certain initiatives, especially around resident engagement, allows me to drive impact in a way that’s meaningful, especially being from the city and living in the city,” Gonzalez said, adding that he gets involved at a truly grass-roots level. “There are a lot of folks doing a lot of social-impact programs, but if we don’t check the pulse on what’s happening in our community and our neighborhoods, there can sometimes be a disconnect between well-intended efforts and true impact.”

Because he has the pulse of his community, Gonzalez’s own well-intended efforts are certainly making an impact.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Head of the Office of Health and Racial Equity, City of Springfield: Age 33

Chrismery GonzalezChismery Gonzalez says she’s always been interested in promoting equity, especially in regard to leveling the playing field for traditionally marginalized people.

And in her current role as head of the Office of Health and Racial Equity in Springfield, she’s doing just that. It’s a wide-ranging job she assumed in late 2020, one that continues to evolve and add new responsibilities, while recording progress on some fronts.

“What’s most important to realize about this work is that it’s not just one individual that’s leading this work and making strides,” she said, adding that her work has involved many different realms, from vaccination efforts during COVID to youth substance abuse to overdose prevention.

Gonzalez started working in Springfield’s Department of Health and Human Services as an intern in 2018, eventually becoming head of its Office of Problem Gambling and Prevention, before stepping into her current role around the time Springfield — and many other cities — declared racism a public-health crisis in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The city was also coping with the pandemic, a time when many public-health and wellness inequities came into the spotlight and were in some ways magnified.

Since assuming that role, Gonzalez has a number of achievements to her credit, including:

• Creating a strategic plan to address systemic racism in the city, prioritizing departments, agencies, and organizations and including key strategies to achieve a healthier Springfield;

• Coordinating with local providers and community-based organizations to develop a cohesive network of health-equity and racial-justice programs and resources in the city;

• Conducting research on current and culturally appropriate, evidenced-based practices to advance health equity and racial justice; and

• Collaborating with the Office of Health Equity at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the chief Diversity, Equity & and Inclusion officer in Springfield to develop health-equity and racial-justice training initiatives for residents.

Gonzalez, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UMass Amherst and is working toward a doctorate in Public Health at SUNY Albany, said her current work is very rewarding, especially in the way she is able work collaboratively with others — in the 413 and across the state — to address deep-rooted problems and concerns.

Active in the community, she currently serves on the Duggan Academy advisory board, the Stop Access Coalition steering committee, the Massachusetts Public Health Assoc. board (chairing its racial equity and health committee), the Massachusetts Municipal DEI Coalition, the Gándara board of directors, and other groups.

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Vice President, Regional Manager, PeoplesBank: Age 35

Scott Gomes-GanhaoGrowing up, Scott Gomes-Ganhao wanted to be a pilot. But banking “kind of ran in the blood,” he said.

“My godmother was a banker for many, many years, so I had some kind of banking intuition. I worked part-time in banking all through college, so I fell into it and never left. Banking has that way of holding onto you.”

Not only has Gomes-Ganhao stuck with banking, he has excelled at PeoplesBank, consistently leading a top-ranked sales team and recently being promoted to his current position as vice president, regional manager.

That recognition “is a testament to Scott’s exceptional sales acumen,” said Lisa Wegiel, banking center assistant manager, in nominating him for the 40 Under Forty class of 2024. “His strategic approach and results-driven mindset have significantly contributed to the success of our banking operations.”

After an earlier promotion to assistant vice president, Gomes-Ganhao was selected to participate in the bank’s Leadership Challenge, demonstrating his leadership ability among his peers. He has also volunteered with an internal associate-engagement team, serving with other leaders on cross-functional strategic initiatives and being a mentor to junior associates, which has led to the advancement of several employees.

“It’s important for me to see people around me elevate with me,” he said. “I’ve been making sure the team is the main focus, that they also develop along the way. I enjoy the interactions with customers, helping them find solutions. But I also enjoy the development of the team and helping them reach their career goals.”

Gomes-Ganhao has excelled in other ways, taking leadership roles in and around his hometown of Ludlow, from serving as development chair of the Ludlow Boys & Girls Club (which honored him with its Darlene Rae Helping Hand Award in 2021) to serving as president of the high-profile Our Lady of Fatima Festa, a multi-million-dollar fair.

In fact, with almost 300 volunteer hours in the past year alone, Gomes-Ganhao has been recognized by PeoplesBank as Top Volunteer two years in a row — a remarkable achievement at an institution famously committed to employee volunteerism.

“I’m proud to be part of a bank that gives you so many opportunities,” he said. “One of the big factors when I moved to Peoples was making sure I was moving to an organization that embraced giving back. At PeoplesBank, we live and breathe that every day, not only financially, but by the hours that we contribute to the community.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Academic Coordinator, Gateway to College at Holyoke Community College: Age 39

“Students trust Shannon. They lean in her doorway to say ‘good morning.’ They often disappear into her office, sometimes talking through some issues and sometimes just resting in a safe spot.

“Gateway students have left the traditional educational system for myriad issues, and each student needs to be seen and nurtured and valued individually. Shannon knows their triggers, their dreams, their classes, their vulnerabilities, their friends, and even their favorite snack.

“She is warm, welcoming, respectful, calm, and wise. You can feel her goodwill and compassion. She has created a culture where students feel seen and respected, where they can regain their confidence and hope and lean into their future.”

These observations, from Vivian Ostrowski, director of the Gateway to College program at Holyoke Community College (HCC), and offered in the form of a Forty Under 40 nomination, explain why Shannon Glenn is extremely good at her job — academic coordinator in the Gateway program.

In short, she has the needed qualities to help these students get where they want to go. And there’s something else: she can relate to everything they are going through.

“In high school, I was one of those students who people thought wouldn’t have graduated were it not for my mentor,” she said. “So I grew up and decided to be that for someone else.”

In her role at HCC, Glenn helps students who are at risk of dropping out, for any of many reasons, stay in school and then graduate, as evidenced by a success rate of nearly 80%. She said success comes, as Ostrowski also noted, from helping students regain both confidence and hope.

It’s an extremely rewarding job, she said.

“This is my life’s work. Taking the students that most think are not going to graduate from high school and having them be extremely successful in high school as well as college … it feels like giving the underdog an opportunity to thrive.”

Glenn has certainly thrived in her role. She came to it after working as an elementary-school teacher; leaving education to raise her son, Kasen, now 10; working in real estate; and then searching for something in higher education that would be rewarding and meet a real need.

She’s found that something at HCC, where she is also a founding member of the Black Leadership Council, an advisor to HCC Black Student Alliance, and a member of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.

 

—George O’Brien

Class of 2024

Executive Director, the Parlor Room Collective: Age 39

During his 12 years playing guitar and banjo in a band called Parsonsfield, Chris Freeman recalled the outfit playing the third-ever show at the Parlor Room in Northampton and putting out a few records on Signature Sounds, the label associated with that venue.

After the band dissolved in the COVID years, Freeman took a job with the Parlor Room, booking shows and gradually moving into a leadership role there, before evolving the operation into a nonprofit model called the Parlor Room Collective.

“It always had a mission-based vibe to it, so the transition to nonprofit was pretty easy,” he said. “It’s a really special place, and I was so excited to continue its legacy.”

He also had a vision concerning another music club just a few hundred feet away — the Iron Horse Music Hall — after that venerable room was shuttered during the pandemic. “I knew it should come back, and the energy was clearly there. I started talking to different people, and there was definitely a lot of support.”

So the Parlor Room Collective purchased the Iron Horse and has raised close to $500,000 to renovate it, maintaining its intimate feel but improving facets that definitely needed improving, like its famously inadequate green room and restrooms, while expanding into adjoining space for a dedicated bar and community events. While more than $250,000 remains to be raised, the venue will reopen on May 15 with a robust lineup of concerts to follow.

“The community has been rallying around us from the start. They care about live music,” Freeman said. “We still have hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise, to pay off all the construction bills. But now we’re going to have shows on sale, people buying tickets, and the bands are coming back.”

It’s all part of an effort to re-establish Northampton as a small town that has long punched above its weight class, as Freeman put it, when one compares its population to the caliber of acts that have played here — and soon will again.

“This place has always been, in some ways, rough around the edges, but it pulls you in and makes you feel at home, and it’s been built up by the arts,” he said. “I live here, and part of the reason Northampton has become a great food scene and a great downtown culture is the arts. I’ve made it my life’s mission to make sure that never goes away, and we can bring back the glory days of such a legendary venue.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Founder and Host, She Did That! Podcast: Age 28

They call it the Dream Maker Award.

It’s presented by Girls Inc. of the Valley to individuals who make a commitment to working with young women in the community to help make their dreams become reality.

And it’s just one of many awards and accolades that Nikai Fondon has earned over the past few years. Others include everything from first place in a pitch contest for a podcast that she conceived called “She Did That!” which highlights young professional women of color locally and across the country, to a BEST Award from the National Assoc. of Multi-ethnicity in Communications.

Because of these and many other accomplishments, she’ll soon have another award — a Forty Under 40 plaque. It’s been earned partly for her current work at Berkshire Bank, but mostly for a host of accomplishments and initiatives within and for the community, including, but certainly not limited to:

• Serving Girls Inc. as a board member, clerk, and, now, vice chair;

• Starting the first-ever DEI committee for the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield;

• Creating the region’s first virtual co-working space for young professional women of color during the pandemic;

• Facilitating leadership workshops through the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Maine Community Foundation, Bay Path University, UMass Amherst, and other entities starting at age 16;

• Teaching classes at Westfield State University and the YWCA of Greater Springfield;

• Speaking before more than a dozen youth groups across the region about entrepreneurship, leadership, and personal branding; and

• Facilitating the Springfield partnership between the Young Women’s Initiative and the Women’s Fund.

Until recently, Fondon, a graduate of UMass Amherst with a degree in business and marketing, was Financial Inclusion & Entrepreneurship community liaison at Berkshire Bank, where her work included building programs for financial literacy, workshops, and “opportunities to build trust in the community and provide educational opportunities within the community on financial matters.

“We want to make sure that the underbanked find a home at a bank in general, but, hopefully, our bank because of the work we do in the community,” she added, noting that Berkshire supports many nonprofit groups and initiatives across the region, and she has been involved with many of those efforts.

On the entrepreneurship side, she was also involved with a Berkshire Bank loan program called the Futures Fund, which has lower barriers to entry than typical loans and provides easier access to capital.

All this explains why Forty Under 40 isn’t the first award that she’s earned, and it almost certainly won’t be the last.

— George O’Brien

Class of 2024

General Manager, MassMutual Center: Age 32

Sean Dolan had June 20 circled weeks before the other 39 honorees in the Forty Under 40 class of 2024.

That’s because he won’t just be among those going to the stage to receive their plaques. Dolan will be, well, hosting this annual event. Sort of.

As general manager of the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, he leads the team that puts on all events at the facility, including, for the first time in 2024, the Forty Under 40 Gala.

He told BusinessWest he’ll be talking that night off from work, which is OK, because he works quite a few nights, weekends, and a few holidays as well.

That’s all part of a position that comes with a broad job description that comes down to making the venue as successful as possible in the many ways success is measured, especially the yardstick Dolan calls ‘economic impact,’ which equated to $56.6 million in fiscal year 2023, and also nearly 600 jobs and more than $4.5 million in state and local tax revenues.

“The main goal every day is developing and implementing the overall strategic plan for the MassMutual Center,” said Dolan, who partners with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and MGM Springfield to develop a vision for the venue. “Our number-one goal every day and with everything we do is how we can drive that economic impact for the city and Western Mass.”

Managing large event venues runs in the Dolan family; his brother manages an arena in Bridgeport, Conn. Sean majored in sports and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina and cut his teeth with Spectra Venue Management, including as assistant general manager and director of Operations at the Mullins Center at UMass Amherst.

He arrived at the MassMutual Center in 2018, and over the ensuring years, he has helped bring several world-class acts to the venue, from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to Bruno Mars; from Disney on Ice to Red Sox Winter Weekend. Recently, he played a lead role in bringing a men’s NCAA Division 1 hockey regional to Springfield.

Dolan balances work with family — his wife Kristie and son Jack — and also involvement in the community; he’s on the board of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau and volunteers for the Springfield Boys & Girls Club, the Mayflower Marathon, Habitat for Humanity, and Friends of the Homeless.

There will be many events at the MassMutual Center in 2024, but for Dolan, the one on June 20 will be different. That’s when he’ll be among those taking center stage.

—George O’Brien

 

Class of 2024

Chief Operating Officer, YWCA of Western Massachusetts: Age 34

Dalila Cardona has seen a lot during her time at the YWCA.

She started there in 2018 as a child and family clinician, providing therapy to children who had either experienced or witnessed physical or sexual violence. The following year, as director of Parent and Youth Support Programs, she supervised a team of 20 employees and oversaw five community-based programs.

In late 2020, once she became a licensed clinical social worker, Cardona was promoted to clinical director. In that capacity, she worked closely with the former chief operating officer to ensure that every YWCA employee provides trauma-informed care to the Springfield-based nonprofit’s residential and community-based clients.

Her goal was to educate staff to help women and children — many of whom had experienced human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking — “transform from a victim to a survivor,” as YWCA CEO Elizabeth Dineen put it.

Since being promoted to COO a year ago, Cardona has worked closely with Dineen and the chief financial officer to oversee an almost $9 million operating budget, which supports, as noted, some truly critical services for women in need. In recognition of that work, she was named Employee of the Year for 2023.

It’s a far cry from her original career goal of being a probation officer, though both are impactful roles, in different ways.

“Criminal justice piqued my interest, but I decided I wanted to make a different kind of an impact,” she said. “There are bad days sometimes — dealing with a sexual assault, and seeing that it’s a kid, 10 years old … those are hard cases, but they really push us to keep serving them. It’s exhausting sometimes, but I get as much support as I need from Liz and my staff. It’s a really special place to work.”

Active in the community, Cardona is a board member with the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts, a Springfield Puerto Rican Parade committee member, and a public speaker around Western Mass. on issues such as trauma-informed care, human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, and trauma-focused, cognitive behavioral care for women and children.

They’re important conversations to have, she said.

“I think people don’t like talking about trauma. It hits the heartstrings. But more people have experienced trauma than haven’t; everyone’s been through something,” she said. “Getting those stories out about the kids and families we serve within the community is another way we can make change.”

—Joseph Bednar

 

Class of 2024

Marketing Manager, Performance Foodservice: Age 38

Kara BombardThe restaurant life is a tough one. Kara Bombard wants to make it a little easier.

“It’s a very hard industry,” said Bombard, marketing manager at the Springfield location of Performance Foodservice, a national company that supplies products, technology, and custom solutions to culinary businesses. “The life of a restaurateur is a busy one. If you’re not working on the line, you’re in the back doing paperwork or orders, making sure everything is running. Anything we can do to take anything off their plate is considered a wonderful thing for them.”

Among Bombard’s many roles, she executes a strategic partner program across more than 400 local and national food suppliers, and also manages biannual food shows that bring more than 1,800 attendees to the Greater Springfield area.

“We take over places like the MassMutual Center or the Better Living Center, with ceiling-to-floor food,” she explained. “You can come in and eat lunch as we showcase everything from the highest-end cuts of meat to oysters to chicken tenders and fries. You can sample anything.”

In addition, Bombard has developed a communication and content strategy to provide culinary inspiration on trends and new product ideas to local and regional restaurateurs, collaborating with a team of culinary specialists to develop new ideas for menus, providing tools to help restaurants improve their profitability and food costing, waste management, server training, and overall operations.

She also supports her company’s diversity, inclusion, and belonging business strategy by serving as chair of communications on the Women of PFG Associate Resource Group.

Meanwhile, Bombard has found another way to connect with the business community: as president of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (YPS).

“That has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “It’s been great to put down my roots and expand my relationships and get to know a lot of people in different industries.”

As YPS marks 15 years, Bombard has been impressed with its evolution and the resilience of its members through challenges from the Great Recession to the pandemic, and gratified to see its collaborations and networking events grow.

“If you’re a professional starting out, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to so many people and so many industries represented within our group,” she added. “If I could go back to my 20s and talk to myself, I would tell myself to get involved in something like this much earlier in my career. It’s allowed me to make relationships with so many leaders in the area, and it’s been a blessing to build those relationships.”

—Joseph Bednar