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Cover Story Women of Impact 2019

Women of Impact to Be Saluted on Dec. 5

 

This is the second class of Women of Impact, a new recognition program created by BusinessWest to recognize individuals who are making a difference in this community and tell stories that need to be told.

This is a diverse class of winners, in every sense of that phrase, but especially when it comes to the manner in which they’re making an impact, whether it’s through public service, turning around a nonprofit, connecting individuals with opportunities to serve their communities, managing a school system, mentoring entrepreneurs, helping individuals and families find financial security, running a successful business, or donating time and talent to area nonprofits and institutions.

Join us as we celebrate them on Dec. 5 at the Sheraton Springfield. We invite you to come and applaud these truly impactful women.

Photos by Dani Fine Photography

The Women of Impact for 2019 are:

Tricia Canavan

President, United Personnel Services

Carol Moore Cutting

President, CEO, and general manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

Jean Deliso

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

Ellen Freyman

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin

Mary Hurley

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

Assistant superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Suzanne Parker

Executive director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Katherine Putnam

Managing director, Golden Seeds

Event Information

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Tickets: ON SALE NOW $65/person; $650/table of 10
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE 

Keynote Speaker

Lisa Tanzer, president of Life is Good, has over 25 years of consumer brand experience. Prior to becoming president, Lisa served as the company’s head of Marketing after spending over 20 years on the board of directors of the Life is Good Kids Foundation. She’s held executive positions in the entertainment, ecommerce, and education sectors. Earlier in her career, Lisa held marketing and strategy roles at Hasbro, Staples, The Gillette Company, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She received her BA from Tufts University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Co-emcee

Taylor Knight joined 22News in July of 2018 as a multimedia journalist. Currently, Taylor is the co-anchor of the 22News weekday morning newscasts and a reporter for the 22News I-Team.  Before arriving in Springfield, Taylor was a reporter for FiOS1 News in New Jersey. Taylor began her career as a multimedia journalist in Connecticut, covering news and sports in Fairfield County.  Taylor earned her B.A. in broadcast journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia. During college, she interned at WFSB in Connecticut and NBC Sports Philadelphia. In her free time, Taylor enjoys spending time with her dog, running, and watching the Philadelphia Eagles. She is excited to now be “Working for You!”

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Features

Time to ‘Level Up’

“To gain enough points in a computer game to enable a player or character to go up to a higher level.”

That’s one of the dictionary definitions of the term ‘level up,’ a verb that is becoming increasingly popular with Millennials and savvy employers in tune with what this generation is seeking in life and in a career.

Another definition is to “increase one’s stature in life.”

It is with both of those definitions in mind that BusinessWest chose “Level Up” as the title of a special publication it will be printing later this year, a publication devoted to informing young people across this region about job opportunities that exist in manufacturing and the trades — fields they may not be thinking about for various reasons but should be — and the skills one must possess to earn such a job.

This interactive publication and flipbook are being created in response to what is inarguably the most pressing economic-development issue in this region — creating a workforce that is large enough and skilled enough to meet the demands of employers in an economy that is increasingly driven by technology.

At present, employers in virtually every sector of the economy are facing a very stern challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are retiring in ever-greater numbers, exacerbating this challenge, especially for manufacturers and the trades.

“Companies of all sizes and across all sectors say they’re having trouble finding good help — it’s their biggest concern,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “And with good reason; when business owners and managers say their employees are their best asset, that’s not a cliché; that’s a fact.”

In manufacturing, and within the trades, the problem is compounded by a general lack of information — or misinformation — about these fields, Campiti went on, adding that the perception is that sectors are dying when, in fact, they are thriving.

“Many of the parents of young people today remember when manufacturing jobs started leaving this area and venerable employers closed or downsized,” said Campiti. “Many are not aware of the many thriving companies in this region doing very exciting things.”

“Level Up” is being produced to generate such awareness, she said, adding that the profiles printed in this special publication will essentially tell a company’s story — from its history to its product line to current job opportunities — and let young people (and their parents) understand how they can become part of that history.

The magazine will be distributed to trade and technical high schools, middle schools, guidance counselors, community colleges, state college career-counseling offices, regional workforce-development groups, area manufacturers, non-manufacturing employers, and BusinessWest subscribers.

The stories inside should provide ample inspiration for young people to learn about the opportunities now presenting themselves across the region, and to level up — as in gaining enough points to move up a level when it comes to the job market, or ‘increase one’s stature in life.’

For young people, the publication represents an opportunity to learn; for those in manufacturing and the trades, it’s an opportunity to build awareness and reach out to your workforce of tomorrow.

Companies interested in being profiled and thus put under a bright, regional spotlight can call (413) 781-8600.

Women of Impact 2019

President, CEO, and General Manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

This Radio Pioneer Has Overcome Obstacles to Better Her Community

“Success,” Booker T. Washington once said, “is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

By both standards, Carol Moore Cutting is certainly a woman of impact.

It’s a quote she has long loved, not only because she admires Washington — who established Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she earned a degree and met her husband — but because of the truth it reflects about her own life, and the lives of others with a passion or dream that encounters stress, hardship, and opposition.

“Booker was very much an entrepreneurial person who built Tuskegee from nothing,” said Cutting, who grew up in a rural, segregated area of Alabama and came to Massachusetts with some entrepreneurial dreams of her own.

It was her husband’s first job that led them to settle in Longmeadow; Dr. Gerald Cutting, now retired, is a Boston native who eventually opened his own veterinary practice in Chicopee. Carol was initially struck by how difficult it was to connect with places where communities of color gathered — in particular, how little community information was available on the radio at the dawn of the ’70s.

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?’ As naïve as I was — I was very young — I began to do research at the library.” That research, on what was required to launch a career in broadcasting, led to a license from the Federal Communications Commission in 1971.

But that’s just the start of the story that saw the birth, 28 years later, of WEIB 106.3 FM in 1999 — currently the only locally owned commercial FM radio station in the Greater Springfield market, the only female-owned FM radio station in Massachusetts, and the only station — AM or FM — in New England owned by a person of color, and now celebrating its 20th anniversary of eclectic programming, community awareness, and, yes, impact.

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress,” said Irene Thornton, who is both an on-air host and a member of the administrative, operations, and sales team at WEIB, in nominating Cutting for this award.

“In a world dominated by men, she has made bold decisions to command an on-air staff that is overwhelming female,” Thornton added. “She has broken the well-established industry stereotype that women are to be relegated as a second voice, a two-dimensional entity on the radio, and has placed women in her prime-time programing schedule. These women, most without formal training in radio communication, were mentored by Mrs. Cutting to become recognized and award-winning on-air hosts. These voices, with her support, are setting a standard for the next generation of female broadcasters who want to pursue the airways as themselves.”

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?”

That sort of pass-it-on influence is gratifying to Cutting, who has drawn inspiration from a strong role model in her mother and a series of pioneers who came before her.

“We had no resources, no money, and we were young,” she said of her idea to create the radio station. “Looking back, you might say, ‘the nerve of you, how did you think you could do that?’ Well, Booker T. Washington built Tuskegee University from nothing, so why not?”

Heading North

Cutting traces much of her ambition, in broadcasting and in life, to high expectations placed on her by her educational mentors, but more importantly her mother.

“I was told I didn’t have to let where I came from dictate where I was going in life — because where I came from, as I said, was this very segregated, southern environment,” she recalled. “But I also came from a family where my mom was an excellent role model in terms of pushing yourself and striving toward your goal.”

Her mother, a teacher, was a role model in several ways, she explained — as a kind, giving person who embraced people, but also a determined, hard-working woman who would teach all day, then drive from Livingston to Montgomery for night school — a 120-mile trek each way — then go back to school the next day to teach.

“That was the kind of environment I grew up in,” Cutting said. So, when she caught the itch to build a radio station, she drew on the same sort of determination her mother had displayed. “We just believed, ‘why not? It’s a long shot, but why not?’ Fortunately, I had a supportive husband.”

Others were less supportive. Cutting applied for a construction license to build the station in 1984, but she had a long fight ahead, particularly with a competitor who fought her in various courts for a decade and a half.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a tough 15 years. To be honest, it was a lot of prayer and being patient because it did not happen as quickly as one would think,” she recalled. “But even if you’re discouraged and people challenge you, that doesn’t mean you should just stop because you’re afraid of them. Knowing he had more resources and he was already in broadcasting made it even more difficult. But I prevailed at every level, all the way to the D.C. Court of Appeals.”

Carol Moore Cutting with T.J. Williams, who has been able to combine his twin passions for music and marketing at the station.

At least the long fight gave her time to hone her vision of what the station should offer. By the time the WEIB started broadcasting in 1999, she had been part of civic life in Greater Springfield for almost three decades, developing an understanding of what would draw in listeners and, crucially, advertisers.

“Because of my learned experiences and growing up the way I did, I’m more focused on the community, so I wanted to incorporate community things as well as broaden the scope of listening opportunities with programming that didn’t exist in this area,” she explained, adding that music that stirred her spiritually was one consideration.

“As much as I like gospel music, this is a commercial radio station, and even though it was a deep part of my faith and upbringing, I wanted something that brought everyone into the mix,” she went on. “So I decided on smooth, contemporary jazz, but I didn’t want to say ‘smooth jazz.’”

In the end, the mix that emerged is what WEIB calls “cool jazz, smooth sounds, and a touch of soul, with a cutting-edge blend.”

“But it took me a while to commit to that,” she added, with the process entailing copious research, attending broadcasting conferences, and plenty of soul searching. “I wanted something anyone can listen to.”

That mix has drawn a loyal core of advertisers who appreciate the station’s blend of a rich musical experience with community-focused information. Cutting’s mission, Thornton said, “is about getting a message out to her dedicated and loyal listeners, who she sees as family. In her eyes, it is vital that they are aware that there is someone right here in their own backyard who can support their needs. By tying this together, she effectively affirms the concept that we are one community, which promotes businesses and individuals growing together.”

And because she’s so rooted and invested in the Greater Springfield community, it’s important to stay here — and stay independent — at a time when most stations are owned by large conglomerates, Cutting said.

“It’s been difficult at times. It’s challenging because of the consolidation in the industry. Other stations have told advertisers, ‘well, we can cover everything, the entire market. You don’t have to deal with this little, independent radio station.’ But that isn’t true because our listeners are loyal, and [larger entities] don’t reach the audience we reach.”

That reach isn’t just local, she noted, but regional and even global through WEIB’s website, from which anyone can listen live.

“We get people writing us from all over the world saying, ‘we wish your terrestrial radio station could reach us,’” she told BusinessWest. “ So, we have listeners, but it’s something we’ve had to build. It hasn’t come easy.”

Voices Raised

Cutting’s commitment to the community includes the arts, as she has sponsored myriad cultural organizations and jazz festivals in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Meanwhile, the station’s “WEIB After Work Cool Down” program has offered a platform for up-and-coming musicians to showcase their talent.

The station has also supported non-arts-related nonprofits over the years through announcements and coverage, some with media sponsorships, but some of it under the radar. For example, Cutting was personally moved by TommyCar Auto Group’s annual Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament, which raises money for brain-cancer research, because she had a friend with the same condition.

“We didn’t approach them as a sponsor, but we promoted the event because of its impact. We ran commercials about how people could get involved and put in on the website because it was creating awareness of something important,” she explained. “You don’t always have to get a pat on the back to do what’s right and use the resources you have.”

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress.”

Of course, “we also do things in conjunction with organizations,” she was quick to add. “You can’t give away everything. I have to be careful because I have a soft heart and I empathize and I’m touched by so many needs in the community. If I was rich and had the resources, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. But we do have the radio station to get messages out.”

While striking that balance between lending community support and paying the bills, it helps that the station, unlike so many in America today, is locally owned.

“Because it’s local, we don’t have to go to corporate to decide what can we support. If we want to do something for breast-cancer awareness and there’s an event going on, or something for prostate cancer, we can do it. That’s what we strive for.”

Paying those bills is still a challenge, she said, because some potential advertisers will never see the value in partnering with a station with roots that are deeper than they are geographically broad. “They don’t get what we have to offer them, which is unique, and something they’re not going to find anywhere else in this market.”

The mother of two and grandmother of eight, Cutting has also taken on a caregiver role these days to her ailing husband — but says it’s a role she appreciates, cherishing the whole of their life together.

“My faith has seen me through some very challenging times, and I would say it continues. My strength doesn’t come from me,” she noted. “I tell people, ‘have faith and maintain and hang in there,’ and that’s what I’m doing with this radio station. It hasn’t always been the easiest time, to be honest with you, because of the fear of those who would minimize the impact we have the community.”

Twenty years of listeners, and organizations that have heard their voices amplified on the airwaves, would agree. So would the young African-American women who see Cutting as a role model and trailblazer.

They want to be inspired, she said — “and not just women of color, but any woman — and, I would venture to say, any person, because there’s no gender line, no racial line. People need to be encouraged.”

After all, you don’t need to be a national media giant to have an outsized influence.

“Don’t judge us by our size, but by the impact we have on this community,” she said. “We’re not corporately run — we are community-focused, yet with a broader regional and international flavor because we can be heard throughout the world.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

She Helps People — and the Community — Get Where They Need to Be

Jean Deliso likes to say she is part financial advisor, part therapist.

This description of her work as owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in Agawam sums up not only what she does, but how she does it. Indeed, while the primary objective of her job is to provide financial advice to her clients, she is also committed to forming a personal relationship with each individual who sits in front of her in order to better understand exactly where they are financially and where they want to be — and help them get there.

This is especially true with women, a rewarding niche, if one chooses to call it that, for Deliso, who has, over the course of her 25-year career in this field, become a specialist in empowering women and positioning them for a solid financial future, as well as during times of transition, such as divorce and widowhood.

“I spend a lot of time trying to speak to women because I want them to not be afraid and get educated so they understand that the decision they make, or the lack of the decision they’re making, is going to make a difference in their lives,” Deliso told BusinessWest. “We deserve equality, but we as women need to believe that we deserve equality.”

But helping women — and all her clients — chart a course for a lifetime of financial stability is only one of many reasons why Deliso has been chosen as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

She is also heavily involved in the community, especially with groups and causes that impact children and families. She currently serves as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation, and is immediate past chairman of the Community Music School, for example, and is also past chair of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield and past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

Meanwhile, as the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs (more on that later), and a successful one herself, she is also a mentor to young entrepreneurs, especially women, through work with Valley Venture Mentors.

Talking about the various aspects of her life — her work, her involvement in the community, and her family life — Deliso said they all connect and flow together.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not. We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

“Some people are different at work than they are at home, but I’m the same way throughout,” she said. “I’ve really identified that my effort in my business matches what I do in the community, and matches who I am. All three components are aligned.”

Together, they make her a true Woman of Impact, as noted by Scott Berg, vice president of Philanthropy at Baystate Health, executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation — and a client of Deliso Financial Services, one of her several people who nominated her.

“Jean is an outstanding person, both professionally and personally. She has built a successful business focused on helping people reach their financial goals,” he wrote. “I believe the key to Jean’s business success has been her unwavering dedication to the community; she is a person, both in business and in the community, who leads by example.”

On-the-money Advice

Deliso told BusinessWest that her strong work ethic, commitment to the community, desire to help others, and, yes, leadership by example are all what she calls family traits.

Indeed, she said she grew up in a family of entrepreneurs — her grandfather, Joseph Deliso Sr., founded HBA Cast Products, later run by her father — who made a point of donating time, energy, and talent to the community.

Her grandfather was one of the founders of Springfield Technical Community College, and his name is on one of the academic buildings on the historic campus.

Jean Deliso doesn’t have any buildings named after her — yet. But she is certainly following the lead of the generations before her when it comes to being an entrepreneur and giving back.

“My work at the YMCA, the Community Music School, and Baystate is all about helping children and helping those in this community who are not as fortunate as I was growing up,” she said. “I had wonderful parents, great role models, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family who were community-minded and taught me that hard work, dedication, giving back, and being kind to others was the way to live.”

With regard to entrepreneurship, Deliso said she knew early on that she wanted to work for herself, and she’s been doing that for 20 years now. After working in the family business in Florida, she relocated to Western Mass., where she consulted with small-business owners on financial operations and maximizing performance. She then segued into financial planning and has become a regional leader in that field.

Jean Deliso, seen here speaking with attendees at a Baystate Health Foundation event, has continued a family tradition of being active within the community.

She has been a New York Life agent since 1995, and is associated with the company’s Connecticut Valley General Office in Windsor, Conn. She is currently enjoying her seventh year as part of New York Life’s Chairman’s Council, ranking in the top 3% of the company’s sales force of more than 12,000 agents.

While such honors and accolades are rewarding, Deliso finds it more rewarding to assist individual clients, guide them through what can be a very difficult process at times, and help them make the right decisions to set them up for a financially stable future.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not,” she said. “We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

This is particularly true with women, she noted, adding that they often outlive their husbands and, too often, are not involved in the family’s financial planning.

“I like to educate women because I cringe when I hear the words, ‘oh, I’ll let my husband take care of that,’” Deliso said. “The value of a woman is so important, and I think we, as women, undervalue ourselves a lot.”

So, Deliso and her “small but mighty staff,” as she describes it, helps clients set goals and objectives, and then assists them with getting from point A (where they are) to point B (where they want to be, up to retirement and then through it).

“I will find the disconnects from where they are versus where they want to be, and I help them build this bridge to get them to where they want to be,” she said, adding that this sometimes includes asking difficult questions.

“She is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music.”

These include ‘have you thought of the what-ifs?’ and ‘are you prepared?’

All too often, the answers the answer to those questions is ‘no,’ she went on, adding that she has a passion for turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’

Balance Sheet

To get this point across, Deliso summoned a case from very early in her career — new clients who provided a critical lesson in being ready for one of those ‘what ifs.’

A young couple in their 30s had two young children and wanted to buy a house. Deliso sat down with them and talked about their goals and asked them those difficult questions mentioned above, especially the one about what would happen if something happened to one of them.

The couple decided they wanted college taken care of for their two children, and also wanted to take care of their mortgage. So, Deliso put them on a savings plan, bought them life insurance, and got them on track to start saving money.

Two years after she started working with this couple, she got a call from the husband: his wife passed away at the age of 32.

His first question, Deliso recalled, was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Her quick answer was that he could do it because of the plan she put in place for him.

“From that moment, those two children went to college because we put money aside for that college education,” she said. “We paid off most of the mortgage because I made sure that that family would be fine if one of those incomes went away, and that’s exactly what happened. This was so powerful that it cemented me in this career.”

Likewise, her family’s deep commitment to the community cemented in her the need to get involved and stay involved. And, as noted, this involvement often involves institutions and initiatives with missions focused on families and children.

Berg summed up this commitment in his nomination of Deliso.

“In addition to impacting the lives of her clients, she has influenced, both directly and indirectly, countless lives through her volunteer efforts at the Baystate Health Foundation, the YMCA, and the Community Music School,” he wrote. “As can be seen in the agencies with which she has given so much time, she is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music. This dedication to our youngest community members is truly an investment in the next generation of our community’s leaders.”

Elaborating, Berg noted that how Deliso serves the community is as important as where she trains those efforts, specifically with enthusiasm that is contagious and strong leadership.

“When Jean presents to the Baystate Health Foundation board of trustees, she strives to make her words resonate, to encourage introspection, and to promote enthusiasm,” he wrote. “Her passion is a reminder to all trustees why they have chosen to commit themselves to moving the foundation mission forward and the true impact it has on its beneficiaries. Jean is exactly what you would want in a leader.”

Her leadership skills were recognized, and applauded, by the Professional Women’s Chamber, which named her Woman of the Year in 2013.

Investments in the Community

As noted, there were several nominations for the Woman of Impact honor with Deliso’s name on them. Collectively, they do a fine job of explaining why she was chosen.

In hers, Judy Moore, director of Client Management at Deliso Financial, noted that working for Deliso has given her an inside look at all the hard work she invests in order to ensure her clients get the best service possible.

“Working for her for 11 years, I can attest to the fact that her high level of professionalism and ethics is astonishing, and her clients reap the benefits of that on a daily basis,” said Moore. “She never tires of giving back to the community and making lives better through her various work, both professionally and altruistically.”

Those sentiments effectively sum up both Deliso’s life’s work and her commitment to the community. In both realms, she always has one eye on today, and the other on tomorrow.

“What I do for a living makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “If I can make an impact on someone’s life, that’s a good day.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C.

She’s Made It Her Mission to Help Others Get Connected

‘Hi, Ellen. I hope all is well. I can’t wait to see you soon and hear all about your trip! My colleague Erica is very interested in getting even more deeply connected to the philanthropic life of the Greater Springfield area. Your name immediately came to mind, and I thought you both would have a lot to discuss.
Erica: Ellen is incredible! Please feel free to connect directly.’

Ellen Freyman doesn’t know how many e-mails like this one she’s received over the past few decades, but she does know it’s a big number. And she’s proud of each one.

The subject matter varies slightly (she’s obviously not recently back from a trip in all cases), but there are similar themes and like words and phrases used, and, yes, probably lots of smile emojis.

In short, this missive she agreed to share, sent by an executive at a large local employer, sums up perfectly why Freyman, an attorney with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, is a Woman of Impact and, well, what makes her tick, to summon a phrase from another time.

In short, Freyman’s name is the one that immediately comes to mind when people such as the executive who sent this note want to help others get more connected to the philanthropic life of this region.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating.”

That’s what Freyman does. It’s not all she does, as we’ll see. But that’s mostly what she does, and that’s what she believes is her biggest impact within the region.

She connects people with opportunities to get involved with their community, especially people new to this region and its business community, and also members of what would still be called the ‘minority community’ even though they’re not the minority anymore in Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she regularly gets e-mails like the one above asking her to make connections and introduce people to one another. “That’s what we need in this community — people working collaboratively — and that’s what I like to do.”

These sentiments explain why she founded an organization called OnBoard, which works to make some of those connections she spoke of and help organizations achieve not only diversity but cultural sensitivity by enlisting women, people of color, and other under-represented populations to their boards.

The nonprofit organization stages a biannual event at the Basketball Hall of Fame designed specifically to help organizations and people looking to get involved make much-needed introductions.

“I call it a cross between speed dating and a job fair,” said Freyman, noting that the event involves a host of area nonprofits with small tables arranged in a horseshoe. Attendees — those individuals looking to get involved — move from table to table looking for good fits.

The next event is slated for December (no specific date has been set), and Freyman is working hard to secure strong representation on both sides of the equation.

As she talked with BusinessWest for this story, Freyman brought along a cheat sheet of sorts — and she really needs one. It’s a running list of the boards and organizations she’s serving on or has served on in the past. There’s also a compilation of awards she’s won — and there have been many.

They range from BusinessWest’s Difference Makers Award (presented a decade ago) to the Pynchon Award; from Rotary International’s coveted Paul Harris Fellowship to Mass. Lawyers Weekly’s Top Women in Law Award.

The board-activity list is quite impressive as well, and includes everything from the Community Music School to Elms College to the World Affairs Council. Equally impressive, though, is her desire, as she put it, to replace herself on all those boards and get other people involved with those organizations and the community at large.

“I want all of these boards to have younger people on them — new blood,” she said as she ran her finger down the list. “And I want these boards to have memberships that look like the community today — not what it looked like years ago.”

She said this process of replacing herself will take place over the next few years and certainly by the time she retires — six years from now is the plan. In retirement, she might sit on a board or two, but her real ambition is to return to the classroom (that’s where she started her career) and teach adult basic education to refugees and others. But that’s another story.

This one’s about making connections and creating diversity, and those are the reasons why Freyman is a Woman of Impact.

Creating a Deeper Pool

Freyman said she’s made it a habit in recent years to stop for a minute at each event she attends — and there are several each week, and often a few each day, during the busy seasons in the spring and fall — and also at each board gathering, and do some counting.

Ellen Freyman says she launched OnBoard to help individuals get involved in their communities, and also assist area nonprofits and institutions with achieving diversity.

Specifically, she’s counting the Hispanics and African-Americans in whatever room she happens to be in, hoping that the number will represent something approximating the demographic profile of the Greater Springfield area.

Rarely, she said, does it meet that threshold.

“No one wants it to be that way — no one,” Freyman told BusinessWest, adding that there are reasons why boards and gatherings lack diversity. For starters, while there are some candidates, the number is not as high as it should be given this region’s demographic profile, she said, adding that many groups need introductions to the many fine candidates that are in the 413.

Creating a larger pool of candidates, and then making these connections, has become Freyman’s life’s work outside of her life’s work.

And that is a law practice focused on several specialties, but especially commercial transactions and commercial real estate.

She segued into law after stints in the classroom and as a commercial banker, and joined Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin in 1988. Even before that, though, she was getting involved in the community.

She started with Jewish Family Services (JFS) in 1984, not long after she relocated to this region and joined Third National Bank as an auditor training to be a loan officer — and also not long after she enrolled at Western New England University School of Law.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that.”

She recalls having lunch with Steve Dane, principal with the accounting firm Themistos & Dane, and asking how she could get involved. Dane was on the JFS board at the time and asked her if she wanted to join him.

She did, got very involved with the group’s efforts to assist Russian refugees, and soon added the board of the Springfield Museums to her schedule. And many others followed.

But her work in the community has involved much more than board sitting. Indeed, she has been very active in raising money for many of the groups she’s been involved with, and also with identifying, and in many cases mentoring, the next generation of leadership for those organizations.

Indeed, looking back to that lunch with Steve Dane, she said she’s doing for others what he did for her nearly 40 years ago — helping them get involved in their community.

Freyman said the initial impetus for OnBoard, which she created in the mid-’90s, was to get more women involved and on area boards.

“But immediately afterward, I realized that we’re not the only voice that’s missing,” she said. “We need to focus on all under-represented groups, and we have.”

In December, the nonprofit will stage its sixth board-matching event, she noted, adding that, to date, the initiative has had a good amount of success with connecting members of those under-represented groups to opportunities to get involved. But there is still work to be done when it comes to making boards, businesses, and, yes, those myriad events where Freyman takes a head count more diverse.

Overall, she wants other boards, commissions, and businesses to look like the Springfield Rotary Club, which is much smaller than it was years ago (all service clubs are), but more diverse, in large part because Freyman, who has been a member for nearly 30 years now, has recruited members of minority communities. And like the Springfield City Council, which is far more diverse than it was years ago because candidates from underserved constituencies have come forward and become candidates for those seats.

“The Springfield City Council looks like the city,” she said, putting a verbal exclamation point on that statement, adding that other groups need to take on that quality, not for the sake of numbers, but because boards and commissions are more effective, she believes, when their membership mirrors the community they’re serving.

How can boards become more diverse?

Well, Freyman, without exactly saying so, suggested this goal could be achieved if more people worked as she does to make connections and help others get involved.

This, as she said, is her most meaningful contribution locally, far more than her work on any specific board — or all the boards she’s served on over the past 35 years.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that,” she told BusinessWest. “What’s nice is that people do think of me as someone who can help them connected. People will say, ‘someone told me you’re the person I need to talk with if I want to get involved’ — I get those calls and e-mails all the time, and it makes me feel like I am helping to create progress.”

And these efforts extend to replacing herself on many of the boards she’s currently on.

“I want to open up my seat — I don’t want to take the spot of someone who should be there,” she said, using that phrase to reference younger people and those of color.

Overall, she believes progress is being made on this broad front — she noted that Springfield’s hiring of a diversity officer is a significant step in the right direction — but that much work still needs to be done.

Walking the Walk

The OnBoard website features a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that sums up not only its mission, but Freyman’s considerable impact in the community: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

Freyman has always done a lot for others, whether it’s donating time and imagination to a board, helping to raise money for a nonprofit, or assisting refugees as they try become part of the community.

But her biggest contribution has been prompting others to ask that question posed by Dr. King — and then answer it in a resounding, meaningful way.

And that’s why, as the e-mail writer noted, “Ellen is incredible.”

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Former Mayor Says Making an Impact Recharges Her Batteries

As she talked about her lengthy career in public service and her philosophy about such work, Mary Hurley summoned a 30-year-old memory that certainly speaks volumes about why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Then mayor of Springfield — the first (and still only) woman to sit in the corner office — she was eating dinner at the kitchen table with her husband, Michael (now deceased), when the phone rang.

Michael picked up the call and encountered a very frustrated man on the line complaining that his trash didn’t get picked up. After assuring the caller he would pass the message along to his wife, he looked at her and said, “if a Chrysler breaks down, do they call Lee Iacocca?”

Mary recalls telling him, and she’s paraphrasing, that maybe they don’t call the CEO of Chrysler when their car won’t start, but they do call the CEO of the city when their trash is still sitting on the curb.

“I told him it’s a 24/7 job,” Hurley recalled, adding that, throughout her long career, she’s made it a point to know not just the formal job description for the various positions she’s held, but everything that goes into each job, right down to making sure the trash gets picked up.

That goes for her stint as mayor, her lengthy career on the bench as a District Court judge, her time on the City Council before becoming mayor, her tenure in the city’s Law Department before running for City Council, and her current work on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, which she was elected to in 2017 after “coming out of retirement,” as she put it.

It was a short retirement, and not retirement as most know it — she left the bench in 2014 only to again practice law (she’s of counsel to the firm Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley) — because she decided she certainly wasn’t through serving people in the four western counties of Massachusetts and being a strong advocate for this region.

“It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people.”

Indeed, since being elected to the Governor’s Council for the Eighth District, she has worked tirelessly to not only fill vacancies on the bench — a problem she recognized while serving as a justice — but push for geographical equity in the Bay State concerning the appointment of judges and clerks. And she’s helped achieve progress in both areas.

“When I started in this judgeship, we had 28 judges out here in the District Court in this region, and when I left, we had 19; you try running a business when a third of your workforce is gone,” she said, adding that, since taking office, these numbers have improved considerably.

Looking back on her career, and ahead — she’s planning to seek re-election to the Governor’s Council — Hurley said she’s driven by a desire to help people, usually at a difficult time in their life, and use her knowledge and skills to make an impact. Succeeding in that quest has provided lasting rewards, as another story, this one from just a few years ago, makes clear.

“I was getting a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, and the girl who was waiting on me said, ‘you were my judge; you turned my life around,’” Hurley recalled. “It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people. It gives you a really long-lasting, good feeling. It’s like verification that you actually made a difference.”

There are a great many people who can say the same thing as that young woman in the coffee shop, people who can say that Hurley helped turn their lives around. And that’s why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Making Her Case

Looking back on her life and her career, Hurley said there were a few pivotal moments that positioned her to be able to make a difference in so many lives.

The first occurred at Elms College, where she was training to be a teacher, but, after some experience in the classroom practice teaching, she decided this wasn’t the route she was destined to take.

“I knew after practicing teaching that the one thing I didn’t want to do was teach school,” she said with a laugh, adding that, while she gives credit to all who do this extremely difficult job, it simply wasn’t for her.

Instead, she decided to enroll in law school with the goal of following in her father’s footsteps as a criminal lawyer. She got accepted into Boston College, but chose to go to Western New England University so she could take classes at night and work at her father’s office in Springfield during the day.

“That first year … I knew I loved it,” she said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

The second ‘moment,’ if you will, involved an internship she landed during law school in Springfield’s Law Department, an opportunity that put her on a path to a career in both the law and public service.

“My summer internship at the city Law Department was key to exposing me to the political side of things up close,” said Hurley, who would later serve as assistant city solicitor. “If I didn’t have that experience, my life would have been totally different.”

Mary Hurley has had many titles attached to her name over the years, including city councilor, mayor, and District Court judge.

Wanting to make an even deeper impact in the community, and with a little encouragement from former City Solicitor Frank Antonucci, Hurley ran for City Council. After coming up short in two bids, one to now-U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, she eventually served two terms on the council, an experience that only fueled her passion for serving the city she grew up in.

Indeed, when Neal, after becoming mayor, decided to run for Congress in 1988, Hurley triumphed in a special election to become the city’s first woman CEO.

But her mettle, and her ability to work with others to solve hard problems, was tested immediately, as she assumed the corner office during what became very difficult times for the city financially.

“I walked in the door, and [Massachusetts Gov. Michael] Dukakis was running for president,” she recalled, referring to the 1988 election eventually won by George H.W. Bush. “So all the financial problems in the state got swept under the rug. I had to lay off 850 people the first six weeks I was in office.”

The financial situation was so dire that Hurley convinced voters to override Proposition 2½ and raise their taxes by about $9.2 million — to this day, she is still the only mayor of a large metropolitan city to do this.

The override and the massive layoffs were just some of the steps Hurley took to lead the city back to financial stability, and, looking back, she counts this among her most significant — and rewarding — accomplishments.

“Springfield has always been my home,” she told BusinessWest. “I was proud to be able to get us through a serious financial crisis without having to close the schools, without having to go into bankruptcy, and coming up with some changes in the law that required a balanced budget and fiscal accountability.”

Court of Opinion

After serving two terms as mayor, Hurley decided to go back into private practice for a short time in 1991, becoming a principal of the firm Cooley Shrair, before she was encouraged to apply for a judgeship. She was sworn in as a District Court judge on Sept. 29, 1995 and served until July 4, 2014, when she ‘retired.’

But, as noted, it was not a typical retirement, and it didn’t last very long.

“My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

“For the first six months after I retired, I didn’t do anything,” she recalled. “There was a prohibition against me practicing law because I was a judge, so I bought a place in Florida. I was going to retire, play golf, and that was going to be it. But I just got caught up in the whole political scene again, and here I am.”

By that, she was referring to her decision to run for the Governor’s Council, a return to public service sparked by her concern about how understaffed the courts were with judges. She decided to run for the council in an effort to do something about it.

She recalls putting 30,000 miles on her car while campaigning hard in all four western counties during that 2016 election, introducing herself to people unfamiliar with her record in Springfield or on the bench. She eventually triumphed, earning 60% of the vote.

In her first year in office, she worked with the Baker administration to fill a number of vacancies: six new District Court judges, three Superior Court judges, three Probate Court judges, two Juvenile Court judges, and clerks in Orange and Chicopee. Of the new judges appointed, nine are women, a development she’s very proud of.

“I want to continue to keep the courts supplied with good personnel because I truly believe, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” she said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

She told BusinessWest that what’s important is not just filling vacancies, but filling them with the right people, which is a huge part of her work on the Governor’s Council.

She said the judicial nomination process is a lengthy one, with the council reviewing applications and interviewing candidates and ultimately making recommendations to the governor.

For each nominee, Hurley reads a 40-page application, interviews the candidates, and vets each person thoroughly to determine if they are right for the bench. And she uses her years of experience in public service to help guide her as she goes about such difficult and important work.

“I’m very interested and concerned about temperament, their character, what kind of involvement they’ve had in their local community, and who they have for references,” she said, adding that their experience, knowledge of the law, and what kind of judgeship the individual is seeking are all factors as well. “It’s also important to me to look at how they treat people in the courthouse. How do they treat the court officers? How do they treat their clients and the other lawyers that are on the other side of cases?”

Final Argument

Hurley said she plans to run for the Governor’s Council again in 2020 because, well, she’s a “glutton for punishment.”

That’s one way to describe nearly four decades of public service. She has many others, as well.

Indeed, she describes such work, as tedious as it can sometimes be, as immensely rewarding. For proof, she retells stories like the one involving the waitress in the coffee shop and her husband taking that phone call back when she was mayor.

Such seemingly small moments, she said, have a big impact and get her through the hardest of times. As a judge, it was a parent coming up to her and saying, ‘thank you for saving my child’s life.’ As mayor, it was someone thanking her for doing a great job.

“I could walk into an elevator frustrated as hell; there’s all kinds of stuff going on in the city, and you’re the mayor, and there’s a budget crisis, or it’s this or it’s that,” she said. “Then, someone walks into the elevator and says, ‘thanks for the job you’re doing.’ It gives you that little charge. It literally recharges my batteries.

“I never planned to do any of these things, but it just all fell into place,” she went on, adding that having family and friends by her side got her through the ups and the downs over the years. “You’re not here by yourself; your family, your friends, they all affect how you do things, what you’re able to do, and what motivates you to do the best you can.”

Hurley has been doing the best she can throughout her lengthy career, and success at each stop, in the many ways it can be measured, has certainly made her a Woman of Impact.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Assistant Superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

This Educator and Leader Strives to Position Students for Success

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez says she entered the education field somewhat by default.

As she tells the story, she was working first at American Airlines at its reservation desk in Hartford and then Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield doing similar work just to make ends meet.

And then … she took a job as a substitute teacher and, as she put it, “got the bug.”

Big time.

Nearly a quarter-century after entering that fifth-grade classroom at Samuel Bowles Elementary School as a sub, she is the assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (SPS). This is a position with a broad job description, as we’ll see, and one that ensures that each day is not like the one before it or the one after it.

She likes that aspect of it, certainly, but what she enjoys most is the challenge — and the opportunity — of positioning young people for success later in life, and this, when you get right down to it, is the basic job description for every one of the more than 4,000 people working for Springfield Public Schools.

It’s one of the many aspects of her work she is passionate about, as evidenced by these comments about the Working Cities Challenge — an initiative led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to create opportunities for low-income residents of smaller cities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — and Springfield’s involvement in it.

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally,” said Martinez-Alvarez, a core member of the team leading the city’s efforts within the program. “I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.

“That didn’t sit well with me,” she went on. “So when the opportunity came about to create a group to try to close that gap of unemployed and underemployed individuals, I jumped on it.”

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally. I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.”

She has jumped on a number of strategic initiatives to take what has long been one of Springfield’s weakest links — its school system — and make it an asset.

These efforts are still very much a work in progress, but there are encouraging signs.

Indeed, when Martinez-Alvarez and Superintendent Dan Warwick took their respective positions in 2012, the graduation rate in Springfield was 56.6%, and the dropout rate was 6.5%. Today, those numbers are 76.9% and 5.1%, respectively, rates of improvement that are among the most, if not the most, significant in the Commonwealth.

When asked what’s behind them, Martinez-Alvarez said there are many factors, but especially ongoing work to promote parental engagement and work vigorously to keep kids in school.

Summing it all up, she said it comes down to building relationships with those at every level of the equation — students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, and the community — and also creating more accountability.

While building these relationships, SPS works to develop plans for specific schools that will set goals for improvement, measure results, and keep the school in question on the desired track. And these are group efforts that involve many stakeholders.

Such efforts have generated improvement on many levels, including progress with taking a number of underperforming schools (formerly known as Level 4 schools) off that list (although many remain on it), and moving the needle in the right direction on graduation and dropout rates.

But the ultimate goal is to ensure that students can take those diplomas and use them to not only enter the workforce, but thrive within it.

And Martinez-Alvarez believes the system is making progress in this realm through initiatives ranging from internship and work programs to the new Conservatory of the Arts being created in the former Masonic Temple on State Street.

While playing a significant role is all these initiatives, Martinez-Alvarez, the first Hispanic to hold the assistant superintendent’s position in Springfield, has become a role model to all young women, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike, who aspire to careers in education.

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, left, seen here with Annamarie Golden, director of Community Relations at Baystate Medical Center at Baystate’s recent Adopt-a-Classroom Challenge, has been instrumental in helping Springfield’s schools get the tools they need to succeed.

That’s a role, like her one with the School Department, that she takes very seriously, and that’s one of many reasons why the judges have chosen her as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

Learning Curves

Martinez-Alvarez remembers a few intriguing, somewhat awkward, but ultimately “neat” moments when she became assistant principal of Chestnut Accelerated Middle School.

And perhaps with good reason.

After all, she attended the old Chestnut Middle decades earlier, and some of those who taught her were still at their jobs.

“All of a sudden, I became their boss, and that was interesting,” she recalled. “I would still call them … Miss Taylor, for example, and she would say, ‘no, Lydia, you don’t have to call me that.’ It was like I was still afraid of her, she was still my teacher; I couldn’t flip the relationship for some reason. But we did some really good things, and they were very supportive.”

Martinez-Alvarez has enjoyed a good deal of support during a 23-year career that has taken her from the classroom at Forest Park Middle School to the principal’s office at Chestnut to the administration offices of Springfield Public Schools.

Looking back on it, she said there has been a succession of opportunities made available to her, and she has taken advantage of each one — starting with that substitute teaching assignment.

After getting the ‘bug,’ as she put it, she knew she would need more than her degree in Business Management from Westfield State University to go any further in education. She consulted with David Cruise, then HR director of SPS (now director of MassHire Springfield) about charting a new career course. She earned her MAT (master’s degree in teaching) at Elms College, and while doing so took a job teaching Spanish part-time at Forest Park Middle School.

That job eventually led to a full-time teaching post at Forest Park Middle, during which Martinez-Alvarez said she was encouraged by her principal to get her administrators license. She did, taking part in both the Lead program within SPS and returning to Westfield State to earn her certificate of advanced graduate studies in education administration. She eventually became certified as a principal.

When asked about the shift from teaching to administration, Martinez-Alvarez said she started to take on administrative duties at Forest Park Middle — everything from the yearbook to creation of an annual talent show to MCAS tutoring — and enjoyed those assignments. With some encouragement, she decided to alter her career goals.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself,” she told BusinessWest, adding that this was the case with her principal at Forest Park Middle, Carol Fazio, who became a mentor in many respects.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

“She said, ‘I would love for you to become an assistant principal,’ Martinez-Alvarez recalled. “When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she said ‘absolutely,’ and that prompted me to go back to Westfield State and enter Project Lead.”

She interned at Forest Park Middle, and when Jesus Jara was named superintendent of the High School of Science and Technology in 2003, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as one of four assistant principals, a challenge she accepted.

“He gave me the 9th-graders,” she recalled, putting an exclamation point on that comment while acknowledging that was a logical move because she just came from a middle-school environment and knew many of the 9th-graders. “That’s a hard assignment for a newcomer like me, but it was fascinating; I really enjoyed the challenge.”

That has been a consistent theme throughout a career that saw her then take the helm at Chestnut Accelerated Middle School, which at the time, in 2004, had more than 1,200 students, an assignment that is in many ways a microcosm of her career and her commitment to help students succeed.

Grade Expectations

Like Sci Tech, as it’s called, Chestnut was facing a number of serious challenges when she arrived, including high absenteeism, a high suspension rate, test scores she described simply as “not so great,” and a relatively poor level of parental engagement.

She addressed those issues the same way she and the team at Sci Tech did, and the one the current administration does now.

“We really took a deep dive into what was happening through quantitative and qualitative data,” she explained. “We took a good look at who the teachers were, their strengths and weaknesses and attributes, and made some changes around the needs of the children.

“We had to look at everything, from the way the children were interacting in the halls to the PE schedule to the lunch schedule, and adjust according to the needs of the children,” she went on, stressing that word ‘we,’ and noting that this was a team effort.

And an effort focused on building those relationships she mentioned earlier, including one with the neighborhood, Plainfield, that surrounded the school.

“Many of our teachers at the time didn’t know the community, and they were afraid of it in many ways,” she explained. “Plainfield had a reputation which I didn’t agree with because I’d always lived in that part of town; I didn’t see what others saw. I saw a beautiful community filled with beautiful people. So we did a lot around the community so people would get to know it and people would get to know us.”

Martinez-Alvarez remained at Chestnut until 2008, when she became senior administrator for the Leadership Continuum and was named to the system’s senior leadership team.

Near the end of 2009, she became chief schools officer for Zone 3, meaning she supervised and led nine middle schools and high schools in the city. And when Warwick became superintendent in 2012, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as assistant superintendent.

As noted earlier, this position comes with a detailed job description and a host of responsibilities.

Running through them quickly, she’s involved in all school initiatives, but specifically oversees everything from IT to attendance; from college readiness to summer school; from student services to Springfield School Volunteers.

That list also includes athletics and, most recently, work to identify the latest members to be enshrined into the SPS Sports Hall of Fame and the naming of its class of 2019, to be honored on Nov. 23 at Central High School.

Slicing through everything within her job description, Martinez-Alvarez said she and all those in administration at SPS are charged with positioning teachers, schools, and students for success.

This brings her back to those aforementioned strategies developed for specific schools within the system in conjunction with the state — and the relationship-building efforts with the many stakeholders involved with these strategic initiatives. And also to something she called “learning walks,” which are taken after plans are created and put into place.

“We need to monitor things and make sure these plans are not dust collectors on the shelf — that they’re live plans that are being fulfilled,” she explained. “We do learning walks — we go through the classrooms and look for evidence that change is occurring and that we’re doing what we told the state we were going to do to in order to make progress and close the learning gap for our students.”

Such initiatives have succeeded in helping 10 city schools exit the list of underperforming facilities, she went on, adding that several are still in underperforming status.

Overall, she believes SPS has turned a corner of sorts over the past several years.

“There are many things we’ve been doing, and that I’ve become personally involved with, to change the dynamics of what’s happening not only in our schools, but in our city,” she told BusinessWest. “And I believe we’re making some real progress.”

That phrase extends to efforts to close that gap involving the unemployed and underemployed, she said, adding that, through a host of initiatives, students are more workforce-ready when they take their diploma on graduation day.

Class Act

When asked to look back at her career to date and identify what she’s most proud of, Martinez-Alvarez didn’t hesitate.

“It’s the work to ensure that our students have the best possible learning experiences before they leave us, and that there’s something for them to go to when they leave,” she said. “It’s not just taking them to the end of their time with us — it’s about where they’re going next and preparing them for that.”

As noted, significant progress has been made in this realm, and Martinez-Alvarez has been a real force in making it come about.

And that’s just one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Executive Director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Girls Inc. Leader Is an Innovator, Role Model, and Inspiration

The phone call came roughly 13 years ago, but Suzanne Parker remembers it like it was yesterday.

It came several days after she had agreed to become the new executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, but a few days before she officially took the helm. The caller was informing her that the nonprofit was not going to be able to make payroll that week — unless some action was taken.

“I said, ‘you have a line of credit — and you’re going to have to use it,’ she recalled, adding that this was an expensive but very necessary step for an organization that had relied heavily on a federal grant that was due to expire soon and essentially lacked a plan for sustainability.

As she recounted that phone call all these years later, Parker said she wasn’t entirely surprised by it — “I went into this with my eyes wide open,” she told BusinessWest, noting that she was well aware of the agency’s fiscal condition — and not at all fazed by it.

“I like a good challenge — I knew what I was getting into,” she said, adding that she was in many ways motivated by the situation she found herself in.

Indeed, within a year she had righted the financial ship at the agency through a series of cost-cutting and revenue-generating steps (more on those later) and recalls with a huge dose of pride that she has never again had to tap that aforementioned line of credit.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”

But Parker, who earned a law degree earlier in her career and has certainly put it to very good use in her position, has done much more than put Girls Inc. of Holyoke on solid financial footing. Since becoming executive director in late 2006, she has led the nonprofit on an ambitious course of expansion — geographically, programmatically, and in terms of its overall impact to the region as a whole and to the individual girls who walk through the door.

For starters, she has taken the organization beyond its original borders and into Springfield and Chicopee, territorial expansion that has prompted a name change to Girls Inc. of the Valley. She has also helped introduce new programs, including the hugely successful Eureka program, an innovative and intensive five-year program that Girls Inc. operates in partnership with UMass Amherst and which is developing a pipeline of girls into STEM majors and careers.

Overall, Parker has become deeply and energetically involved in every aspect of the program, from board recruitment to fundraising; from events management to marketing.

And the results have been stunning, with the local chapter of Girls Inc. winning recognition for its efforts regionally — the nonprofit was named one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2018, for example — and within the Girls Inc. network, especially for its innovative programming.

Melyssa Brown-Porter, chair of the Girls Inc. board, put Parker’s impact on the nonprofit, area girls, and the region in its proper perspective while nominating her to be a Woman of Impact.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold,” she wrote. “She is extremely passionate about the work that GI is doing for girls and the communities they live in. She is always looking out for the best interest of the girls and concentrates very hard on the results programming has on their lives. Her focus is to reach and serve more girls with impact on our community.

“Suzanne has been an innovator and leader throughout her career,” Brown-Porter went on. “In tune with workforce needs and changes in the economy, Suzanne was piloting state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering, and math programs for girls long before STEM became the focus that is today.”

Innovator. Leader. Inspiration. These are the words many people have used to describe Parker’s work not only at Girls Inc., but at Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start before that and other stops on a lengthy career working with and on behalf of young people.

Some of her best work, however, may be as a role model for the girls who come into the program.

Indeed, Parker, who became a mother at 41, has managed to effectively balance work, life at home, and deep involvement in the community, meaning that girls looking for proof that all that can be accomplished need only walk down a few doors at the Girls Inc. complex in Open Square.

And now, those looking for more descriptive terms that can be applied to Parker have three more — Woman of Impact. Although, truth be told, they’ve probably been using them all along.

Orchestrating Progress

Parker joked that, while she played the clarinet well in her youth growing up in Belchertown — and later in some impressive performance venues, like the Esplanade and Government Center in Boston — she didn’t play it well enough to get paid to do it.

But her love of music prompted her to get a degree in music education from UMass Amherst and eventually teach instrumental band music at Cohasset Middle School. And that’s a good place to begin our story, because it was there that Parker developed an interest in working with young people — and a passion for helping those less privileged.

Seen here with some members of Girls Inc. of the Valley, Suzanne Parker has become a mentor and role model for many members.

“Cohasset was a very affluent community, and, with my humble beginnings in Belchertown, it was a little bit of a culture shock for me,” she explained. “The students I connected with the most were those who were part of the METCO program, mostly students of color living in Dorchester.

“It was important to me to make sure they were included in the band,” she went on. “I also wanted to include kids of different abilities, something that wasn’t the case when I got there, thus creating an environment and atmosphere where there was a lot of inclusion. That’s what I was most proud of from my work there.”

These themes of inclusion and working to provide opportunities to those less fortunate would define her work throughout her career.

Fast-forwarding a little, Parker said she soon realized that she wanted and needed more than teaching, but didn’t know exactly what. She started by returning to Western Mass. and working in sales for a time. Her career path took a rather sharp turn, however, when she saw a sign on the roadside advertising for Head Start substitute teachers.

She knew was overqualified, but took the job anyway, with her first assignment at the Westover Air Reserve center for Head Start. She spent the next 16 years moving up the ladder, serving in a number of roles and eventually deputy director.

Along the way, she realized she needed another degree, and after considering several options, including a master’s in social work and a master’s in education — she settled on a law degree.

“A friend of mine who I grew up with decided to go to law school at Western New England University, and he passed,” she recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘I know that guy — I think I’m as smart as this guy; I think I can do it.’”

So she applied, received some needed financial aid, and went to law school part-time at night, commencing an arduous journey that ended in 2003 when she passed the bar.

“There were many days of tears because I was working tons of hours as a senior-level exec at Head Start,” she said in reference to the difficult task of balancing everything she was doing at the time. “But I did it.”

And now, her very unofficial job description at Girls Inc. is to not only show young girls that they, too, can do it — but to give them a road map for getting where they want to go and the tools to get on the right course and stay on it.

Degrees of Progress

As noted, she has put that law degree to good use, providing ample evidence that such an education isn’t just for those who want to work in the courtroom.

“I use it every day,” she told BusinessWest. “That law-school education helps you every day as an executive director. I use it with everything I’m involved with: contracts, employees, real estate, administrative law — we have federal and state funding — as well as writing skills — I was on the Law Review. It was a really great education, and it has really helped me.

Beyond serving as a great advertisement for law school, those comments hint at Parker’s broad job description at Girls Inc. Slicing through it all, though, her primary work early on involved turning the organization around, putting it on solid financial ground and a path to sustainability — and keeping it on that path.

“It’s all about the mission. It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.”

She’s done that through a variety of measures, including some restructuring, belt-tightening, and the establishment of several of reliable fundraisers, especially the annual Spirit of Girls breakfast, launched in 2007, which does a lot more than raise roughly $150,000 each year, although that is certainly significant.

Indeed, girls involved in the program are heavily involved with the event, and several take to the microphone — in front of an audience of more than 500 people — to talk about Girls Inc. and how it is impacting their lives.

“We keep the expenses incredibly low; it’s a light breakfast, and we don’t pay for speakers — the girls are the speakers,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s an empowering experience for the girls themselves — they take leadership roles in this event.”

The breakfast is just one of the ways the organization works to empower girls and put them on the path to becoming leaders — in their chosen fields and the community as well.

Looking ahead, Parker said the obvious goal is to broaden the regional impact of Girls Inc. and continue those efforts to give the nonprofit the same qualities it strives to give young girls — to be strong, smart, and bold.

Thus, the agency will look to continually extend its reach within Springfield and Chicopee, while keeping Holyoke as its home and base. Finding a new, permanent home is one of the assignments moving forward, said Parker, as is creating sustainability for the Eureka program, conducted in partnership with UMass Amherst and its College of Natural Sciences, Bay Path University, and several other area colleges, and scaling up that initiative. A capital campaign to pay for all this is also in its formative stage.

As for Parker, who has continually sought out new challenges throughout her career, she’s looking forward to being with Girls Inc. as it strives to get to the next level.

“It’s all about the mission,” she noted. “It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.

“Every year, we have the conversation — am I still helping this organization, and is it still a win-win, for me and Girls Inc.?” she went on. “As long as I can still feel challenged and that we’re growing and we’re changing, and that I have something to give and I’m making a difference, I’m in.”

Leading by Example

And there are a great many people who are happy she’s in.

Indeed, Parker has become a Woman of Impact not just because of what she’s done as the leader of a nonprofit clearly in need of strong leadership.

She’s also reached that status by being an effective role model for the girls who join her program — and girls across the region. Years ago, she set goals for herself, understood what was needed to reach those goals, and positioned herself to succeed.

That, in a nutshell, is what Girls Inc. is all about, and while its success doesn’t stem from the work of a single woman, Parker’s influence has greatly enhanced its ability to carry out that all-important mission.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Managing Director, Golden Seeds

This Investor and Mentor Is Making a Difference within the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

Katherine Putnam was a history major in college, and she certainly knows her stuff.

While she really likes European history, she knows all about this country — and this region — as well. She knows, for example, about the very rich tradition of entrepreneurship in Western Mass., and what it meant for the development of individual cities and towns.

“From the 1880s to the turn of the century, Holyoke had more millionaires per capita than any city in the country,” she said, referring to the dozens of mill owners living in the Paper City. “There are two McKim, Mead & White buildings in Holyoke; there was so much money, they were paying for world-renowned architects to come in and design their buildings. And it was the same in Springfield.

“When you read your history books, for 100 to 140 years, this region was a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity,” she went on. “But that hasn’t been true for 50 years.”

Putnam knows that a return to those glory days is certainly not likely, given how global the economy has become and the development of innovation and entrepreneurship hubs such as Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and the Research Triangle. But she firmly believes that the region can once again be a thriving center of new business ventures, and she’s playing an active part in such efforts as managing director of Golden Seeds — a national investment firm that focuses on early-stage businesses that have women in management and leadership roles — and in a host of other roles within this region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

As an investor and a mentor — the two primary roles she plays — she has a number of goals and missions. They include sparking levels of entrepreneurial activity reminiscent of those from generations ago, and also leveling what is currently a very uneven field when it comes to which demographic groups receive venture capital and mentoring, and which ones don’t.

“We have two main problems overall. We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

“We have two main problems overall,” she noted. “We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

Putnam brings an intriguing background, a wide variety of experience, and a host of skills sets to this mission and her various roles within the region’s growing entrepreneurship infrastructure.

Indeed, she started her career in the banking industry before shifting to corporate treasury work and then deciding she wanted to run her own company. In 1996, she put together a group of angel investors and purchased Package Machinery. Before selling it 20 years later, the company had become a technology leader in wrapping machinery for consumer-product manufacturers.

Today, while investing in some developing ventures, she spends most of her waking hours advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, especially women.

Meanwhile, she’s working diligently to create strategies for helping women and minorities crash through the many barriers facing them as entrepreneurs.

“Statistics tell us that 70% of angel money and about 95% of VC [venture capital] money go to teams that are all white males,” she told BusinessWest. “I love white males — I had one as a father, I have one as a son, and I have one as a husband — but that’s not equitable. What are the barriers that are keeping women and minorities — diverse teams — from getting more money?”

There’s no quick or easy answer to that question, she went on, adding that she and some colleagues are hard at work trying to not only find some answers, but develop strategies for somehow changing this equation.

Ali Usman, founder and president of PixelEdge and a fellow investor and mentor of entrepreneurs, summed up Putnam’s work in this region while nominating her for the Woman of Impact award.

“Kate should win this award for her consistent commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he wrote. “Kate is not just involved with one project or company at a time. She is constantly using her knowledge and expertise to help others day after day, week after week. Currently, she serves on three different boards, is a managing director of an angel-investment group, and, in her spare time, manages to mentor entrepreneurs through several different programs.”

Actually, mentoring is much more than a ‘spare-time’ pursuit. For Putnam, it’s her passion, and that’s one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Ventures and Adventures

When asked to summarize the best advice she gives to entrepreneurs at all levels, Putnam didn’t hesitate and recited the lines as if she’s uttered them hundreds of time, which she is undoubtedly has.

“Have lots of conversations with your customers and your prospective customers,” she said. “Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this.’ And then they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they’re solving that problem now.

Kate Putnam says it’s her mission to level the playing field when it comes it diverse groups and their efforts to gain capital and mentors.

“If you get out and make a lot of your widgets without figuring that out, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money,” she went on. “Whether it’s something really cool that you’ve developed in some esoteric lab at UMass at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences or you did it in your garage, you have to figure out who is feeling enough pain to change however they’re doing it now and adopt whatever it is that you’ve developed.

In short, she explained, people are more motivated by pain then they are by gain. “People will go a lot further to avoid losing $10 than they will to gain $10, and so I tend to ask people to think in terms of whether they’re solving someone’s pain and if people will be uncomfortable enough in their pain to switch.”

Steve Jobs was famous for not asking customers what they wanted and for actually saying that “customers don’t know what they want if they haven’t seen it before,” she noted, but he is certainly the exception to the rule with development of such products as the iPhone, and young entrepreneurs would be wise not to emulate that approach.

Passing on such advice has become a career of sorts for Putnam — or the latest career, to be more precise. Indeed, as noted earlier, she’s had several, which in sum have given her exposure to business and entrepreneurship from all angles.

That includes the finance, or funding, side, and also the entrepreneurial, risk-taking side with Package Machinery, which was struggling when she took it over, and she guided it back to prominence within that specific manufacturing niche, increasing machine sales by more than 300%.

In this, her latest career, she spends a good deal of time on the road — she’s put 40,000 miles on her car over the past 15 months by her reckoning — working in a variety of settings and with companies of all shapes and sizes.

Currently, she’s mentoring a few entrepreneurs involved in a program called I-Corps, a National Science Foundation initiative to increase the economic impact of research the agency funds.

“It uses the Lean LaunchPad model for getting people to identify a problem to solve,” she explained, adding that she’s mentoring teams behind ventures in Connecticut and Vermont. “You’re a scientist, and you’ve invented something cool; now you have to figure out if anybody wants it.”

She’s also involved with MIT and its Venture Mentoring Service, and also Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, which she has served in a number of capacities, including entrepreneur in residence for its most recent accelerator class, as well as Greentown Labs. She’s a founding member of Women Innovators & Trailblazers, which strives to make Western Mass. a more vibrant hub for women innovators and entrepreneurs, and also serves as an instructor with RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established small business owners created through a collaboration between the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business and Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

All this keeps her quite busy and her car’s odometer spinning, but it’s work she’s passionate about.

That’s especially true when it comes to mentoring women, leveling the playing field when it comes to capital and opportunities for women and minorities, and launching — and keeping — more businesses in the 413.

Capital Ideas

And the playing field is certainly not level, she told BusinessWest, citing those statistics concerning venture capital awarded to teams comprised of white men given to white men and noting that, by and large, the investing community has historically treated women differently than men, holding them to what amounts to higher standards.

When asked to elaborate and offer a tutorial, she talked about questions asked by potential investors and some of the categories they fall into, including ‘promotion’ and ‘prevention.’

“Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this. And then, they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they were solving that problem now.”

“A promotion question would be ‘how big would the market for your product possibly be globally?’” she explained. “And a prevention question would be ‘how are you going to reach your first $1 million in sales — how are you going to do that?’”

Prevention questions are associated with raising less money, she went on, adding that the more of these questions an individual or team gets, the less money they are likely to raise.

“We know that women get more prevention questions than promotion questions,” she went on, adding that she can’t get inside the heads of investors and come up with an answer to why this is the case, but she had some guesses.

“The sense of it is that the general theory is that women are less competent than men,” she said. “It’s also true that most of the people who are doing the investing are white men, and that they prefer to invest in and mentor people who look like them.”

Diversity refers to geography as well, she said, adding that there is less money flowing to people in more remote areas because, well, there is simply less money there, from the seed (friends and family) level on up to the VC rounds.

“If you’re in Wellesley and you want to raise seed money, it’s a lot easier there than if you’re in Holyoke,” she explained. “In Wellesley, you’ve got friends and family who are likely to have money, and in Holyoke, you’re less likely to have that.”

As she mentioned, changing this equation has become a mission, and she’s carrying it out in a number of ways, from creation of Golden Seeds to involvement with groups like VVM and SPARK EforAll Holyoke, to mentoring in places like Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities in this region.

These are cities, which, as she noted at the top, have a rich history of innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking that is, unfortunately, referred to mostly in the past tense.

“That kind of attitude toward building it, and taking the risk, and making that investment has been gone from this region for quite a while,” she noted. “And it’s tough to recreate it; it’s a real challenge.”

She acknowledged that the needle is moving in the right direction when it comes to entrepreneurial energy and startups taking flight, but not enough movement to suit her.

“I’m impatient — I want to see more activity, sooner, faster, all those things,” she said, adding that the two main ingredients needed are capital and mentoring. There is some of each, but there needs to be more if companies are going to get off the ground and then remain in the 413 rather than packing up and going to where the capital is, be it Cambridge, Boston, San Francisco, or somewhere else.

In Good Company

Reflecting on what has happened in recent years when it comes entrepreneurial activity in this region and efforts to level an uneven laying field when it comes to opportunities and capital for women and minorities, Putnam said there has indeed been change.

Just not enough of it.

As she said, it is her mission to create more of it. That’s the latest focal point of a career that has included success in business and a host of initiatives to help others enjoy some of that same success.

And it’s just another way in which she’s certainly a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

2019

It was early 1984, and 24-year-old entrepreneur John Gormally had an observation, then a question, and, eventually, the ultimate answer.

The observation was that most urban areas and regions had journals covering the local business community. The question was, in essence, ‘why doesn’t Western Massachusetts have one?’

The answer came in two parts — Gormally’s conclusion that the region certainly needed one, and the product he launched.

It’s now called BusinessWest, but only relative old-timers will recall that it was originally known as the Western Mass. Business Journal.

Then, as now, the publication was the most trusted, most comprehensive source of information on the local business community. Its pages were filled with articles on people, businesses, trends, developments.

It’s the same today, but BusinessWest and its sister publication, Healthcare News, launched in 2000, have gone well beyond the printed word in their efforts to inform, inspire, and even entertain its audience of local decision makers.

Indeed, over the past several years, the publications have added several recognition programs. These include 40 Under Forty, created to identify rising stars across the region; Difference Makers, a program with a name that says it all; Healthcare Heroes, a program devoted to that all-important sector of the economy; and Women of Impact, which recognizes the contributions of a still often-overlooked constituency.

There have been other additions, including the annual Resource Guide, an invaluable resource for the community; daily news blogs to provide more accessibility to important information; educational seminars, including the recent Future Tense series; special publications such as Cool Stuff, focused on employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector; and much more.

BusinessWest has come a long way in 35 years, but it has never wavered from its original mission and reason for being — to meet a critical need within the four counties of Western Mass.