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In 2018, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program, one what would recognize the outstanding accomplishments of women across this region and tell stories that might otherwise go untold.

This new program, this new honor, needed a name. After many options were considered, ‘Woman of Impact’ was chosen because, while success in business is certainly a consideration, there are many other ways to make a difference in this community, and we wanted to show that.

Over the first four years of this program, we have done that just, and this pattern continues with the class of 2022 — a very diverse group of eight women who have given back, and changed lives, in many different ways: by taking their business or nonprofit to new levels of success; by serving as a role model to others, but especially women and girls; by mentoring others and helping them find direction and purpose in their lives; by persevering through adversity; by doing, well … all of the above.

As the stories will show, these are indeed, Women of Impact. They are:

Latoya Bosworth, who, through her work with MassHumanities, her coaching of professionals, her mentoring of young people, her efforts to promote breast health and the importance of mammograms, and much, much more, helps others “transcend limits and transform lives,” as she likes to say;

• Sister Mary Caritas, the 99-year-old leader and inspiration to generations of residents of this region. She has led hospitals, served on countless boards, and even led the effort to end the odor problems at Bondi’s Island. But mostly, she has shown others the value of getting involved and the power of perseverance;

• Jodi Falk, who has been on public assistance for a short time in her life and knows what food insecurity is all about. And that’s one of many chapters in her life that has enabled her to take the reins of the nonprofit Rachel’s Table, broaden its mission, create new programs, and meet the needs of more people in Western Mass. She is an innovator, a motivator, and a true leader;

Anika Lopes, an internationally recognized milliner (or hat maker) who returned to her ancestral home of Amherst three years ago and set about bringing its neglected history — particularly the history of the Black and indigenous people who shaped it — into the light, and lauched a foundation to help provide today’s BIPOC communities with opportunities for success;

Laurie Raymaakers, who knows that success in business does not come easy, but through hard work, sacrifice, and finding ways to make it through the difficult days that inevitably come. Her story brings all this home in a compelling way while also showing that there are many ways to touch people’s lives and impact the community we call home;

• Hilda Roqué, who came to Holyoke from Puerto Rico at age 14, far from home and with no sense of belonging. Her role as executive director of Nuestras Raíces comes with many responsibilities, including its mission to connect people to their roots through agriculture. But beyond that, she is committed to seeing that those arriving today, and in the years to come, are not made to feel as she was;

• Ashley Sullivan, who, even as she succeeded in college and in her early career in engineering, often felt inadequate for the task. Her achievements, capped by earning the presidency of her firm after two decades, has instilled in her a desire to inspire and support young engineers, especially young women, with not just opportunity, but confidence; and

• Aelan Tierney, who told BusinessWest that “architecture impacts every aspect of our life. If you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.” She has indeed made an impact with more than her architecture. She’s also a leader in her business and in the community, and she’s a true role model.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 100: February 14, 2022

George Interviews Beth Ward, director of Community Affairs at MGM Springfield

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively, wide-ranging discussion with  Beth Ward, director of Community Affairs at MGM Springfield. The two talk everything from the Valentine’s Day menu (5-pound lobster), to the prospects for sports gambling, to MGM Springfield’s steady climb back to something approaching normalcy after two years of pandemic. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.




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40 Under 40 Class of 2020

Owner, Ja’Duke Inc.; Age 36; Education: Fitchburg University (BS)

Williams started Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts as a part-time dance studio when she was a junior in college. Hoping for 30 to 40 students at first to cover the rent of her basement space, she had 125 enroll the first year. The studio eventually moved to an 8,000-square-foot space, where almost 400 singing, acting, and dance students now perform in up top 10 shows per year — in a state-of-the-art theater completed last fall. These days, Williams oversees several different branches of the Ja’Duke business — Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts, Ja’Duke Preschool, Ja’Duke Theater, Ja’Duke Driving School, and Ja’Duke Backdrops.

Kimberly Williams

Kimberly Williams   Photo by Kortney Fernette at Sugarloaf Studios

What’s been your biggest professional accomplishment so far in your career? I own Ja’Duke Inc. with my father, who is an incredible entrepreneur and businessman. For as long as I can remember, he has wanted to build a theater. This was something I never thought would be possible, but this past year, we took a risk and built a 540-seat theater. This was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. It is incredible to know we did something that very few people have done or will ever do, and we did it through so much hard work, dedication, persistence, and patience.

What goal do you set for yourself at the star of each day? Be grateful! I have so many blessings, and I want to make sure I appreciate them every day over and over again.

What three words best describe you? Patient, energetic, crazy.

What are you passionate about? People!

What’s your favorite hangout or activity in Western Mass., and why? I love Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley. We take our kids there for ice cream and to see the animals. They love it, and the ice cream is delicious!

How do you relieve stress? Every day, I work out at F45 Training in Hadley. This is an incredible de-stresser for me and allows me to do one thing for me each day. The workouts are planned, and they have trainers on site, so it is the one time each day someone else is telling me what to do.

What will your work colleagues say at your funeral? She never stopped until the day she died — but the one thing I do know is she loved me.