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Almost from the first puck drop back in the fall of 2017, we have been writing about the importance of the Springfield Thunderbirds — not just to the general psyche of the region (it’s good to have a pro sports team to root for) and to the vitality of Springfield’s downtown, but also to the local economy.

We’ve said many times that the team is a powerful force not just for filling bars and restaurants, and the casino on Main Street, but for job creation and supporting jobs elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley.

And now, we can quantify this broad impact.

Indeed, a recently released report details a study undertaken by the UMass Donahue Institute showing that the team’s operations have generated $126 million for the local economy since 2017.

The study included an analysis of team operations data, MassMutual Center concessions figures, a survey of more than 2,000 T-Birds patrons, and interviews with local business owners and other local stakeholders. Among its most critical findings, the study shows that the T-Birds created $76 million in cumulative personal income throughout the region and contributed $10 million to state and local taxes.

Meanwhile, the report shows that the team has doubled the number of jobs created from 112 in 2017 to 236 in 2023, and estimates that income per job created by the T-Birds is approximately $76,000, and that each job created by the Thunderbirds creates or supports 3.3 other jobs elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley.

Overall, the study concludes that the franchise, which has enjoyed success both off the ice and on it, including a run to the Calder Cup finals in 2022, is having a true ripple effect that extends beyond the walls of the MassMutual Center. Indeed, the study found that 78% of T-Birds fans spend money on something other than hockey when they go to a game, including nearly 70% who patronize a bar or restaurant or MGM Springfield. It also found that median spending by fans outside the arena is $40 per person on game nights and that every dollar of T-Birds revenue is estimated to yield $4.09 of additional economic activity in the Pioneer Valley.

We’re not sure, but it’s unlikely that even those business owners who came together to 2016 to save professional hockey in Springfield could have imagined this kind of impact. The numbers clearly show that they did more than bring a franchise here; they put together a team, led by President Nate Costa, that has put a quality product on the ice, marketed it in ways that are the envy of the American Hockey League, and turned that product into an economic engine.

Over the years, Costa and the team’s ownership group have won a number of awards from BusinessWest, everything from a Forty Under 40 plaque and a Difference Makers award for Costa to the Top Entrepreneur recognition for the team’s owners and managers.

Together, those awards speak volumes about what a success story this has been, not just for hockey fans, but for the entire region. But the Donahue Institute report speaks even louder. It puts numbers behind the words and quantifies what can only be called an unqualified success.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 184: October 23, 2023

Joe talks with Jody Hagemann, senior director of Sales Engineering for Comcast Business

Everyone has heard of cybersecurity, but not every business knows exactly what it takes to keep them protected. The most effective defenses not only incorporate the latest technology, but emphasize employee education, training, and plain old common sense to reduce the chances of human error — which is a factor in far too many breaches. On the next episode of BusinessTalk, Jody Hagemann, senior director of Sales Engineering for Comcast Business, talks with BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar about the multi-pronged strategy Comcast relates to its clients, why more companies are taking data threats seriously — and why they should. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.


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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 183: October 16, 2023

George O’Brien talks with Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Way Finders

The housing crisis gripping Western Massachusetts and most of the Bay State has deep roots and a broad impact, affecting everything from homelessness in area communities to the region’s ability to effectively compete with other states and regions for talent and jobs. On the next episode of BusinessTalk, Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Way Finders, talks with writer George O’Brien about how we got here, how the crisis has impacted area communities, and how the region recovers from decades of underinvestment in new housing in nearly all categories. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Cover Story Women of Impact 2023

Women of Impact to Be Celebrated on Dec. 7

BusinessWest has long recognized the contributions of women within the business community, and created the Women of Impact program in 2018 to further honor women who have the drive and ability to move the needle in their own business, are respected for accomplishments within their industries, give back to the community, and are sought as respected advisors and mentors within their field of influence.

The nine stories below demonstrate that idea many times over. They detail not only what these women do for a living, but what they’ve done with their lives — specifically, how they’ve become innovators in their fields, leaders within the community, advocates for people in need, and, most importantly, inspirations to all those around them. The class of 2023 features:

BusinessWest will honor its sixth annual Women of Impact on Thursday, Dec. 7 at Sheraton Springfield. Tickets cost $95 per person, and tables of 10 are available.

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Women of Impact 2023

President, TommyCar Auto Group

She’s a Driving Force in Business and Efforts to Promote Gender Equity

Carla Cosenzi


By now, Carla Cosenzi says, the automobile-sales industry should be … well, more welcoming to women, more accepting of women, more … inviting to women.

But, in most respects, and she would certainly know about this, it isn’t.

Overall, this is still a man’s world, said Cosenzi, who notes that, when attending regional or national conferences or dealer meetings, she is the among the few women in the room, and the expectation is for her not to be the owner. Indeed, many of those who don’t know her believe she is the spokesperson for TommyCar Auto Group, or that she works for her father or her husband.

“I get that all the time … people think my husband is involved,” she told BusinessWest, adding that he isn’t, and never has been. (Her husband, Nick Zayac, owns a construction company.)

“It’s still really a difficult industry for a female, especially in this type of position or role,” she went on, adding that this extends to her own company — although certainly not for long after someone joins the team. “Many still don’t fully understand how involved I am in the business and how much I know and how much I have worked through all the different departments here, and how hands-on I am. And there’s always a different dynamic between a male and female in business, versus a male and a male.”

Cosenzi not only perseveres in this man’s world, she works hard to bring women into the business, mentor them, and inspire and empower them to advance. TommyCar Auto boasts many women in roles traditionally held by men — everything from mechanic to parts manager. Overall, roughly one-third of the company’s 150 employees are women, far exceeding what Cosenzi believes is the industry average.

“It’s still really a difficult industry for a female, especially in this type of position or role.”

“I’m obviously proud to have so many women working under the TommyCar umbrella,” she said, “but what I’m most proud of is that so many of those women are working in non-traditional roles, such as service advisor, service manager, technician, body-shop technician, or general sales manager; we have at least one woman in a manager or leadership role at every one of our dealerships.”

This strong desire to inspire, mentor, and empower women to succeed, in their lives and careers — a recurring theme among this year’s Women of Impact honorees — is just one of the reasons why Cosenzi is a member of the class of 2023.

Carla Cosenzi and her bother, Tom, present a check for more than $150,000

Carla Cosenzi and her bother, Tom, present a check for more than $150,000 — proceeds from the 2022 Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament — to Dr. Patrick Wen of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Her success in business is another. She has greatly expanded the family enterprise started by her grandfather to now include Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Genesis, Volvo, a collision center, and a towing business. And she is constantly looking for opportunities to expand the portfolio.

She is also credited with creating and nurturing a culture of giving back, a continuation of a strong family tradition. Indeed, with Cosenzi taking the lead, the company is now involved with organizations and philanthropic programs ranging from Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Junior Achievement to Christina’s House and Safe Passage’s annual Hot Chocolate Run.

Then there’s the Tom Cosenzi Drive for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament. Named for Cosenzi’s father, and mentor, who lost his battle to brain cancer in 2009, the tournament has raised more than $1.4 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This impressive résumé of business success, community involvement, philanthropy, and efforts to promote gender equity in the workplace — in the auto industry and well beyond — has earned Cosenzi many awards and accolades over the years, including a handful from BusinessWest. Judges have chosen her to be a 40 Under Forty honoree, an Alumni Achievement Award winner (given to the 40 Under Forty winner who has most impressively built upon their record of accomplishment), and a Difference Maker.

And now, she needs to make room for one more plaque — one that reads ‘Woman of Impact.’


To a Higher Gear

As she talked with BusinessWest at the Nissan store on Route 9 in Hadley, Cosenzi referenced upcoming renovations to the dealership, a project that has been several years in the making, with considerable back-and-forth between the company, the town, and the manufacturer, with firm plans now in place.

They call for redoing the façade, the service lounge, the showroom setup, and more, she said, adding that “we’re way overdue — for our employees, our customers, and the brand.”

Orchestrating this renovation project, as well as the building of a new home for Volvo Cars Pioneer Valley in Northampton, an endeavor still in the planning stage, are among the myriad matters Cosenzi is contending with at any given time.

At this particular moment, she was also attending to specific details of the 2023 edition of the golf tournament, HR matters, hiring (she said she’s “constantly interviewing” for high-level positions), the still-challenging used-car market … and making it home in time for dinner with the family.

“I’m obviously proud to have so many women working under the TommyCar umbrella, but what I’m most proud of is that so many of those women are working in non-traditional roles.”

Most of this was not in Cosenzi’s long-term plans when she was focusing on clinical psychology while earning degrees at Northeastern University and Columbia; while she took odd jobs at her father’s dealership growing up, she had no intention of making it her life’s work.

But her career path took what would have to be called some unexpected turns. Indeed, Cosenzi, as most know by now, started working at the family business after college, not thinking this would be anything but temporary. But she fell in love with the business and everything about it. She attended Dealer Academy (where, again, she was one of the few women enrolled), and immersed herself in every aspect of the business.

Christina’s House is one of many area nonprofits supported by Carla Cosenzi

Christina’s House is one of many area nonprofits
supported by Carla Cosenzi and the growing team at TommyCar Auto Group.

With her father’s illness and subsequent passing, in 2009, leadership of the company transitioned to Cosenzi and her brother, Tom.

In her role as president of the dealer group, Cosenzi is involved with all aspects of the business, as well its philanthropic initiatives and work within the community. And with each, the approach is decidedly hands-on, with a hard focus on “one-on-ones,” as she called them, and giving managers and employees at all levels the tools they need to succeed.

Meanwhile, she’s also focused on long-term strategic planning. The immediate goals are to complete plans to renovate the Nissan store and build a new Volvo dealership — and by that time, the Hyundai store will need renovating, and a separate home will be needed for Genesis — and then focus on adding to the portfolio.

“We’re not desperate to acquire more brands,” she said. “But if the right opportunity came up, we would take it; we’re not just looking to buy to grow our portfolio.”


A Road Less-traveled

Cosenzi joked that, unlike many dealership owners, general managers, and even salespeople, she doesn’t take many of the newer models for weeks or months at a time, as much as she would like to — especially some of the new Genesis offerings.

“I’d love to switch cars, but the problem is … I spend a lot of time in my car, between the dealerships and picking up my kids,” she explained, noting that she’s been driving a Volvo XC90 hybrid SUV for some time now. “If I get in a car that’s a new model, and someone wants to buy it, they have to track me down, get me out of it, and get it ready for the customer. So I try to make sure that if I’m taking a new model, I take it for the short term and don’t move into it.”

What she has moved into are leadership roles — in her own business, within the community, and in the broad fight for gender equality in the workplace. Focusing mostly on her own sector, Cosenzi, as noted earlier, has made it her mission to be a role model and mentor, and also bring more women into the auto sales and service industry and capitalize on opportunities they may have thought were restricted to men.

“If you’re good in business, if you’re a good leader, you’re always trying to better yourself, and you’re always trying to learn, and I’m always trying to learn from other people,” she explained. “So I try to be that same sort of resource that I look for, especially to the women who come into this business.

“I want to be a good mentor to anyone who comes into our company, but especially to women who want to be successful in our industry and just need someone to guide them and give them a path on how to do that,” she went on. “That’s really important to me.”

Equally important is that many of the women now employed at TommyCar are focused on careers in this industry, not jobs, she said, adding that her dealer group is ahead of the curve, if you will, in this realm.

“If you’re good in business, if you’re a good leader, you’re always trying to better yourself, and you’re always trying to learn, and I’m always trying to learn from other people.”

“I believe that, overall, you’re seeing more women getting into the industry, but not to the extent that you see here,” she continued. “We work really hard to attract women here and to support women’s success here; we make it a great place for women to work, and we’re a great support system for all the women working together.”

When asked what makes this or any other business a great place for women to work, Cosenzi said it comes to supporting them, mentoring them, providing opportunities to learn and grow (such as group attendance at Bay Path University’s Women’s Leadership Conference and similar programs), and, perhaps most importantly, recognizing them and their accomplishments.

“We do a lot to support women and to make them feel empowered here,” she said in conclusion. “And I think it’s immediately empowering when you work for a company that has a woman leader; I think it makes a huge difference because immediately, the perception of the company is different.”


The Ride Stuff

Getting back to her thoughts on the auto-sales business and how and why it’s still a man’s world, despite her best efforts, Cosenzi said there has been some progress — just not as much as she would have expected to see in 2023.

“It takes time, it takes conditioning, and it takes more women being involved,” she told BusinessWest. “The more women that we put in powerful roles in an industry, the more conditioned people get to seeing women in those roles.”

Suffice it to say she doing all she can — as an employer, as a role model, as a mentor, and as a leader within the community.

And that’s just one of the reasons why she’s added Woman of Impact to her list of awards and achievements. It’s a designation that drives home all she has done and continues to do — literally and figuratively.

Women of Impact 2023

CEO, Moms in Power

She Helps Women Break the Stigma of Postpartum Depression and Find Peace

Arlyana Dalce-Bowie

Arlyana Dalce-Bowie

Like many new moms, Arlyana Dalce-Bowie’s struggle with postpartum depression was twofold.

First, she fought to get to a place where she could be a caring, loving, and present mother. Then she had to rediscover herself.

The latter was, frankly, a lengthy process, but also a powerful one. And by not only working through the dark times, but sharing that experience with the world through an online community called Moms in Power, she’s making a real impact for women who might otherwise suffer in silence, or think something is wrong with them.

“This is something a lot of women go through, which is why I created Moms in Power,” she told BusinessWest. “Although we’re moms, people need to understand that we’re still women too. Not that motherhood is easy, but it was easier to nurture my baby and to love her and to make sure she’s protected — I just couldn’t do all that for myself. And Moms in Power literally speaks to the woman you’re becoming in motherhood.”

She was able to take six months away from her job at the Department of Children and Families, which allowed her to focus on her mental health — and navigate parenthood — while waiting a frustratingly long time during the pandemic to access therapy for her own healing (more on that later).

“That’s really where Moms in Power was birthed. It was me trying to do the work until I was able to get counseling. And then, of course, with the counselor, finding different ways that I can still navigate my postpartum.”

A licensed social worker and nutritional coach who now works for Springfield Public Schools as a City Connects coordinator, she’s in a much better place — largely because she’s grown through her own difficult experience while helping other women manage theirs.

“It is because of her resiliency, drive, and unselfish commitment to community that I strongly believe that Arlyana Dalce-Bowie is a Woman of Impact,” wrote Arlela Bethel, owner of the Movement LAB, who nominated her for the award. “When a woman is able to share her story with others in a meaningful way to begin to impart change, that is recognizable and commendable.”

Bethel added that “Arlyana’s passion for supporting the healing and recovery process of mothers who have or are dealing with postpartum depression diagnosis is a true testament to her ability to show vulnerability within her own personal struggle and, out of that struggle, create resourceful ways to help others. Moms In Power was born out of hardship and pain, but this amazing resource was designed to give other women the opportunity to feel empowered, to heal, restore, and to find purpose and strength within themselves not only as mothers, but as women.”

Rough Year

Dalce-Bowie’s pregnancy began at a difficult time for everyone, near the start of COVID-19; she gave birth in February 2021, when the pandemic was still raging.

“That was hard to navigate in and of itself. We didn’t know what was going on. And because I was a single parent, I couldn’t have my support system go to my prenatal appointments and things like that. Life was still very uncertain,” she recalled. “So I was kind of separated from my support system, and I was coming to terms with the fact that I was a single parent. And, of course, that just took a toll on my mental and emotional health.”

Even during her pregnancy, Dalce-Bowie was experiencing some depression and anxiety, so it was no surprise when she was diagnosed with postpartum depression six weeks after her daughter was born.

“When a woman is able to share her story with others in a meaningful way to begin to impart change, that is recognizable and commendable.”

“I didn’t see a therapist until she was almost 1; that’s how long the waitlist was. It took a really, really long time to get into counseling, to get the support that I actually needed.”

So, during that year, she started journaling because she felt she needed an outlet to process her emotions and experience some kind of release “so I wasn’t just in my head,” she explained, adding that “journaling has been something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, so I kind of reverted back to it.”

The prompts she has used in her own journaling and then with others, through Moms in Power, include “dismantling me,” which deals with the words women place on ourselves.

“When you have PPD or any other diagnosis, you kind of label yourself that way, saying that ‘I have this diagnosis, and that defines me,’” she said. “‘Dismantling me’ is an activity where we literally dismantle things that we feel about ourselves or that society has put on us or that our support systems have put on us.”

Another writing prompt is “a letter to myself,” she added. “I want you to write a letter, knowing what you know now, to your past self, encouraging yourself for the journey ahead. That’s probably my favorite one.

“Those two are probably our biggest prompts,” Dalce-Bowie noted. “They provoke a lot of tears. But it opens us up and gives us a place to come out of ourselves. I think a lot of us have our own guilt and our own shame, and we don’t like to talk about it openly.”

The writing prompts and the words and emotions that flow from them are intended to bring women to a place of understanding themselves — and realizing that what they’re going through isn’t shameful at all.

Arlyana Dalce-Bowie says the Mommy Moment workshops bring healing

Arlyana Dalce-Bowie says the Mommy Moment workshops bring healing because women are connecting over a shared struggle they may not have talked about.

“So many people have this idea that, when you have a mental-health diagnosis, it kind of disqualifies you from some things, or you’re not as great of a parent,” Dalce-Bowie said. “And I know, being a Black and Brown woman, we don’t seek therapy and counseling enough. It’s still kind of taboo in our culture.”

Before she started reaching out to others online, she found herself having to explain her needs to her family and others in her support system — in itself a necessary step in breaking the stigma of mental health.

“I said, ‘this is how I need support. I have a serious diagnosis.’ Because postpartum depression looks very different for many women, and for me, it was very severe. So I had to kind of coach them: ‘this is what I need, and how I need it, in order to get me into a better mental space.’”

The journal was a major part of getting to that better place, and so was aromatherapy, which she came upon while looking for other mental-health resources. “There are so many healing properties with candles; it creates a safe space, a calming space, and it just helps me cope in different ways.”

From there, Dalce-Bowie started sharing her story on her personal website — and found a like-minded community.

“There were so many women who were like, ‘we’re going through the same thing’ — especially those of us with pandemic babies, who didn’t have direct access to services right away,” she noted. “A lot of people were on the waitlist, so we just started reaching out to each other and having these group text messages and Facebook groups.”

On her social-media pages, she shared elements of her journey — “the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between” — and developed a business page for Moms in Power, on which she shares journaling prompts, sells aromatherapy products, and directs women to other resources.

“Journaling has been something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, so I kind of reverted back to it.”

Like the virtual Mommy Moment workshops, which came about because Dalce-Bowie and the moms she was connecting with needed a deeper, more personal outlet.

“We literally come together and have moments as moms. We talk about our postpartum depression; we talk about other diagnoses — because there are a few women that have been here with other diagnoses. We talk about married life and parenting, for those who are married. We talk about the single life and parenting and what that looks like for us.

“And there’s so much healing that comes from it because you’re relating to other women that may not have talked about it out loud, but we’re still going through the same struggle,” she continued. “The outreach part literally came from me sharing my personal journey and women saying, ‘we need more of this.’”

Strong Bonds

Dalce-Bowie said the moms she connects with tend to keep in touch even beyond the workshops, to check in with each other and see how they’re doing; she’ll often help members access therapists when needed.

The connections — and impact — she’s made have been heartening, she said.

“I can’t even put it into words. At the end of every workshop, we’re all so emotionally charged. I know my specific journey, but hearing other women reminds us all we’re not in this alone. So many times in this journey, you feel like you’re alone. So knowing that I’m helping to motivate them — in a way that I felt like I needed to be pushed and motivated at a certain point — is extremely gratifying.

“The fact that we get to come together and we don’t ever have to feel so isolated again is the best part for me,” she went on. “The stories that I hear literally bring me to tears because sometimes the journey feels extremely hopeless, so when you’re in a place where you realize, ‘I helped another woman realize their worth, and I helped another woman understand there is purpose after pain, and I see other women regaining their confidence and finding themselves again and starting their dreams again’ … there really are no words to describe that.”

Tears are not uncommon, she added. “We cry a lot because we’re reaching milestones together. It’s more than fulfilling. It’s really a blessing. It’s awesome to see.”

In a society that seems to demand that women must be great at everything, all the time — at being a mother, but a great woman too — Moms in Power helps redefine who they are as women in motherhood, Dalce-Bowie explained.

“I had to get over my trauma. I had to heal from a lot of things. I had to be present for my daughter. But once I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got the mom thing under control,’ it became, ‘let me start working on myself. Let me start working on my self-esteem again. Let me start working on my own dreams and goals.’ Because they were kind of pushed to the side to take care of my baby girl. So it was important to get back to a place where I’m confident in who I am as a woman.”

For not only succeeding in that journey, but helping other mothers achieve confidence and self-worth during what can be a crushingly lonely time, Dalce-Bowie is truly a Woman of Impact.

Women of Impact 2023

President, Bay Path University

She Helps Empower Women for the ‘Long and Winding Road’

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran

As she talked about the transition in her professional life — from being a lawyer to serving as an administrator in higher education — Sandra Doran summed it up simply and quite effectively by saying, “careers are not a straight line.”

“You don’t enter a profession or a job now and just do it for 50 years; it’s a long and winding road,” she went on, using her own story as just one example, before quickly noting that, for today’s college graduates, the road will be even more winding, and probably longer as well.

“I think that’s what our students are experiencing now — and our alums, frankly,” she went on. “Many of the people who are graduating from college today will have seven careers. So how are we, as educators, preparing them for this, giving them the skill sets, giving them the growth mindset that says, ‘I can do this, I can learn this, I’m prepared for this — I have the skill set to learn?’”

Preparing and empowering individuals, and especially women, to navigate this winding road and have the confidence and competence to take on, and succeed in, seven or more careers might be an effective job description for Doran, the sixth president of Bay Path University.

Or at least part of that job description. There are many elements to that document, obviously, and she has embodied all of them with a lengthy list of accomplishments during her career, and especially since coming to Bay Path.

At the Longmeadow campus, where she arrived just a few months after the pandemic did, she has brought about change and progress on several fronts, from health education, where she spearheaded a transformation of the school’s master’s in public health program, to cybersecurity — the school’s program is now ranked third nationally by Forbes magazine; from the creation of new programs, such as a master of science in nursing degree, to investments in infrastructure, including new science laboratories; from the establishment of a food pantry to combat food insecurity to a firm commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Meanwhile, she has been a strong supporter of, and advocate for, mentorship, forging a collaborative at Bay Path with the Mentor Collective, a platform that structures mentorships and connects students — those in traditional, on-campus programs as well as online students enrolled in the American Women’s College — with a vast network of alums who can serve as mentors.

She has also, over those three years, become heavily involved in the community, serving on the board of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, as chair of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council’s education subcommittee, and as a corporate ambassador at Glenmeadow, where she engages with and supports a life-plan community designed for older adults.

“Dr. Doran’s journey to the helm of Bay Path University is marked by a profound dedication to women’s education,” wrote Crystal Neuhauser, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Bay Path, as she nominated Doran for the Woman of Impact honor. “She is a tireless advocate for empowering women to emerge as catalysts for change.”

This advocacy, and this work to empower women, are among the many reasons why Doran can add another accomplishment to her long track record of success — being named a Woman of Impact for 2023.

Course of Action

When BusinessWest first talked with Doran, it was at a small table with a few chairs arranged around it (six feet apart) on the lawn behind Deepwood Hall, the main administration building on the Bay Path campus.

“Many of the people who are graduating from college today will have seven careers. So how are we, as educators, preparing them for this, giving them the skill sets, giving them the growth mindset that says, ‘I can do this, I can learn this, I’m prepared for this — I have the skill set to learn?’”

This was the only way to do an in-person interview in June 2020, the very height of COVID, and the scene was symbolic of the extreme challenge and duress that marked the start of her tenure at the university. It was symbolic of something else as well — her strong leadership during that time of turmoil.

Indeed, Doran was one of very few people on campus those days, with Zoom being the preferred method to meet and collaborate. And she made sure those she met with online saw her in her office, specifically in front of a painting on loan from the Springfield Museums, created by Rosa Ibarra, chosen to reflect her commitment to diversity.

Sandy Doran, center, seen here with Bay Path students

Sandy Doran, center, seen here with Bay Path students, faculty, and staff, has become a mentor to many young women.

“It was important for me to be in my office so people could see me,” she recalled, adding that she started staging, via Zoom, what she called “Conversations with the President,” so people — in the college community and beyond — would get the opportunity to know her and she could get to know them.

These are conversations she continues to this day, she went on, because they provide invaluable information and input on what those in the community are thinking about, what opportunities exist for the university and all those it serves, and much more — feedback that has directly shaped some of the leadership initiatives undertaken at the school.

It was, indeed, a long and winding road that Doran took to Bay Path, that interview at the table under the tree outside Deepwood Hall, and those online community conversations. It began, as noted earlier, in roles where Doran put to work the juris doctorate she earned at Syracuse University College of Law.

Going back further, she said she was perhaps destined for a career in both the law and education — what she called the “intersection of things I love.” Her great-grandfather founded a one-room schoolhouse in Colorado, her grandfather was the superintendent of a school system, and her mother was a music teacher.

She can find many common threads among the two professions.

“It was a very natural transition from being a lawyer to being an educator because being a lawyer, if you’re a good one, is a lot about educating clients.”

“Being a lawyer is a lot like being an educator,” she told BusinessWest. “Law is about helping clients understand what their options are and educating them about the law. So for me, it was a very natural transition from being a lawyer to being an educator because being a lawyer, if you’re a good one, is a lot about educating clients.”

After serving as vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. and then as senior counsel at Holland & Knight LLP in Boston, then the fifth-largest law firm in the country, Doran’s transition to higher education began at Lesley University in Cambridge, where she served as chief of staff, vice president, and general counsel from 2004 to 2011.

It continued at the American College of Education in Indianapolis and then Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. and, most recently, Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she served as president before arriving at Bay Path to step into the rather large shoes of longtime president — and now fellow Woman of Impact — Carol Leary.

Leading by Example

Getting back to her thoughts on how a career is most definitely not a straight line, Doran said the primary focus of higher education, and one of the “foundational aspects” at Bay Path, is preparing students to learn — in every way possible.

“Whether it’s online, on the ground, from each other, from faculty and staff, from mentors, from alums — that is one of our core aspirations here,” she said, adding that this has been the primary thrust of her leadership efforts at the school.

Sandy Doran, left, with student speaker Diane Almonte Arias

Sandy Doran, left, with student speaker Diane Almonte Arias at Bay Path’s 2023 commencement ceremonies.

Put another way, she said the school works to “build confidence through competence,” and that both are attained in the classroom, as well as outside it, in all the ways students can learn.

And this brings her back to the broad subject of mentorship, which is a key component of a program at Bay Path called WELL (We Empower Learners and Leaders), as well as the school’s curriculum as a whole, and the heart of Doran’s philosophy about how people (and especially women) learn, lead, and prepare for that long, winding road.

“I have benefited from a tremendous number of mentors — not just family members, who are great mentors, but in every position and every role I’ve been in,” she went on. “I’ve had the benefit of working with great mentors, not just on how to be successful in terms of the work, but in how you build relationships and how you think about that network that’s going to be so important to being successful, because, as we all know, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

“And the data bears this out,” she continued. “Students who have mentors are more likely to be successful in the workplace, so students who have mentors in college are more likely to be successful in the workforce, particularly first-generation students who might not have that social capital and understand, the way more experienced people do, the real value of that network.”

Elaborating, she said mentorships have become a huge part of the landscape and the operating philosophy at Bay Path, with students enjoying mentoring relationships with alums, employers, faculty, and staff.

Many of these mentoring relationships, not to mention potential career opportunities, take root during internships, Doran noted, adding that these have become another huge point of emphasis at Bay Path.

“A great internship also includes a great mentoring experience,” she said. “And one of the things we know about internships is that, if a student has at least one internship during their undergraduate experience, they are more likely to secure a position, and a higher-paying position, than if they had not had that internship experience. So for us, it’s really fundamental to the education that we offer here.”

And while she still relies on others to mentor her — “there’s always someone who sees things through a different lens or different perspective” — she also mentors many of those around her, whether they are students, staff members, or other members of the community.

And when asked what her best piece of advice is to those who seek her counsel, she said simply, “to ask for advice.”

“That’s because we cannot know all the answers ourselves,” she told BusinessWest. “So getting multiple perpectives, whether it’s on life goals or even weekly goals … that’s important.”


Bottom Line

It’s also important to remember, as her own story makes clear, that careers are not a straight line. There are curves, and many of them.

Handling these curves requires not simply college degrees, although they’re essential in most cases, but the ability to learn, not just in the classroom, but from experiences and from fellow travelers along the journey.

This couldn’t be clearer to both Doran the lawyer and Doran the college president. Helping others understand, and then empowering them to make it happen, is what makes her a Woman of Impact.

Women of Impact 2023

Founder, Faces of Medicine and Intentional Health, LLC

She’s Determined to Boost Diversity in Healthcare — and Improve Outcomes

Dr. Khama Ennis

Dr. Khama Ennis loves the ER. She should, having been chief of Emergency Medicine at Cooley Dickinson Hospital for several years.

“I love the puzzle of it, and I love the immediacy of it,” she said. “The typical thing that comes to mind when people think about emergency medicine is adrenaline and chaos, but it’s never been that for me.”

Instead, “what I loved was the immediate connection, creating a safe space for somebody. You have to forge this immediate bond and ask really invasive, personal questions on what’s probably the worst day of their year, if not their life, and get them to share the things that are relevant so you get the information you need to get them the care they need. I really like that.”

But for most of her time there, Ennis was one of only two Black doctors in the hospital.

“There’s plenty of data that reflects the negative impact of inadequate diversity in teams,” she told BusinessWest. And in the latest chapter of her intriguing career, Ennis is doing something about that.

These days, she practices integrative medicine at a private office in Amherst called Intentional Health. But she also co-founded a nonprofit organization called Diversify Medicine in order to provide support for people from underrepresented backgrounds to gain access to careers in medicine.

She also founded Faces of Medicine, a narrative health-equity project centered on the journeys of Black female physicians — centered around a documentary series and a collection of mini-memoirs — with the goal of inspiring more women of color to enter the field of medicine and diversify the healthcare industry, with the idea that diversity in healthcare teams leads to a measurable and meaningful improvement in outcomes.

“Right now, black women are 2.8% of the physicians in the U.S., which is a little more than a third of what we represent in the population as a whole, so it’s clearly inadequate,” she said, noting that Black men, Latinx people, and Indigenous Americans face similar disparities. “Some groups are just underrepresented in these spaces, and outcomes suffer as a result.”

For her ongoing efforts, Ennis was honored this year by the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) with its Woman Physician Leadership Award, recognizing outstanding leadership and contributions to patients and the medical profession by a woman physician.

Ennis, the society noted, is viewed by her colleagues and the community as a leader in addressing structural racism in healthcare and social determinants of health. In addition to her work with Faces of Medicine, she penned several opinion pieces addressing race in medicine for the Washington Post and created a presentation for the Hampshire and Franklin County districts of the MMS that was selected by the Board of Registration in Medicine as one of three that meets the new licensure requirement for implicit bias education.

“I have continued to be impressed not just by how compassionate and professional a physician she is, but she’s also a tremendous role model for women physicians and for women of color,” said Dr. Kate Atkinson, a primary-care physician in Northampton and Amherst, when the award was presented. “Dr. Khama Ennis has been speaking out constructively and gently to educate and empower us all to do better.”

For that work, Ennis is not only a Woman of Impact, but someone whose impact on healthcare promises to bear fruit for decades to come.


Shifting Gears

Ennis was born in Jamaica; her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a toddler, and she grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

She graduated from Brown University with a focus in medical anthropology and earned her medical degree at NYU School of Medicine and her master of public health degree at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She practiced at Cooley Dickinson Hospital for a decade and a half, starting in 2006, and eventually rose to chief of Emergency Medicine from 2015 to 2020 and medical staff president from 2022 to 2022.

But as early as 2018, she was looking for a change, for a number of reasons.

“Right now, black women are 2.8% of the physicians in the U.S., which is a little more than a third of what we represent in the population as a whole, so it’s clearly inadequate.”

“What I had come to do was done: the department was stabilized, the wait times were down, and we’d had some real achievements,” she recalled. She had also gotten divorced and found the 24/7 on-call nature of an ER schedule to be incompatible with effective co-parenting.

So Ennis switched gears and went into integrative medicine, opening Intentional Health in downtown Amherst earlier in 2023.

“My training is more allopathic, traditional, conventional Western medicine. But I provide and have received acupuncture, therapeutic massage is incredibly important, physical therapy is important, chiropractic is important. There are different ways to bring all of these different players in to optimize people’s health.”

Even elements like nutrition education is critical to her work. “I like being able to suggest … ‘if you eat that instead of that, you’ll still be full, but your blood sugar will come down.’ If people have a bit more understanding, they can have more control over their own health,” she explained.

Dr. Lynnette Watkins

Dr. Lynnette Watkins, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Health Care, is one of the four physicians profiled in the first episode of the Faces of Medicine documentary series.

“I’m not a primary-care doctor, and I think what’s terrible about our overall healthcare system is that it doesn’t allow primary-care doctors to get to a lot of this,” she added. “It’s structural; they’re given 15 minutes to see a person, and it’s really hard to get into depth in 15 minutes with anybody.”

So, in addition to her acupuncture certification, “I have studied lifestyle medicine, which looks at nutrition and activity, sleep, restorative practices, community, all those things that play huge roles in individual and community health.”

At the same time, Ennis has been hard at work over the past two years on Faces of Medicine, a memoir and documentary project that will have its first public screening on Monday, Oct. 16 at Amherst Cinema, with the first episode telling the stories of four Black women who are making an impact on healthcare locally: Dr. Lynnette Watkins, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Health Care; Dr. Thea James, associate Chief Medical Officer and executive director of the Health Equity Accelerator at Boston Medical Center; Dr. Valerie Stone, director of Health Equity Initiatives in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Dr. Rose Cesar, a gastroenterologist at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

“We’re also going to be telling the story of Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black woman to ever earn an MD in the U.S.; that happened in 1864,” Ennis noted.

She plans on interviewing at least 30 physicians for the series, and has conducted 16 interviews so far.

“I reached out to different Black female physicians across the country. Some of them I knew; a lot of them were a friend of a friend or some other connection,” she explained. “But the first episode is all Massachusetts stories. They will be telling their own stories, pulled together from the interviews they’ve done over the last year and a half.”

Faces of Medicine will also arrange virtual screenings for two days after the Oct. 16 event for anyone who can’t make the premiere.

Crafting a documentary, for someone whose training is in a much different realm, was a challenge, she said, but a gratifying one. Her team includes Seth Lepore, who handles day-to-day operations; and Executive Producer Jenahye Johnson of Brooklyn-based Homebase Studios, a production studio and crew-sourcing agency that touts “storytelling through community.”

“I needed a company, so I incorporated a company. And then you need fiscal sponsorships, so I got fiscal sponsorships,” Ennis said. “And then I started fundraising at the very end of 2021. Thus far, we’ve raised about $250,000, which is what’s funded all of the work so far.

Dr. Khama Ennis

Dr. Khama Ennis was also honored this year with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Woman Physician Leadership Award.

“Ideally, this can go in a couple different directions from here. I either continue grassroots fundraising to get the rest of the episodes funded and completed, or an executive producer with means says, ‘I love this project, and I want to help steward it across the finish line.’ That would be amazing. Or PBS or a streaming service says, ‘this is something that we’d really love to engage with.’”

The initial plan is to complete four episodes that span the breadth of the country, numerous specialties in medicine, and myriad stories and paths. The series could be a template for other underrepresented groups, too, from Latinx and Indigenous Americans to LGBTQ individuals, she said. “The whole goal is to have young people see themselves reflected in these stories and see possibilities they can grab onto.”


Worth the Effort

Faces of Medicine dovetails nicely with Ennis’s work on Diversify Medicine.

“The goal that I have there is to create a short-term database. There are lots of organizations doing great work to try to bring people into this space, but if you don’t know exactly what to search for, you’re not going to find a program that could support you.”

The database is intended to help underrepresented populations find resources to help them access medical careers, and she also plans to create a virtual mentorship network to amplify the voices of professionals of color already working in the space.

“We have concrete data that support the importance of diversity on teams for improving health outcomes,” Ennis noted. For example, one study came out that looked at the infant mortality rate in Florida, which was two to three times higher for black infants than for white infants — and that disparity was cut in half when the pediatrician was black.

“The data that I’ve found most specifically speaks to physicians, but I think it’s true of every player in the healthcare team. Doctors are useless without nurses, and nurses are useless without techs. We all need each other in order to do this work, so I truly believe that every level needs to reflect the population we’re serving.”

Meanwhile, Faces of Medicine holds the promise of inspiring young women of color to pursue the dream of a medical career from an early age.

“There are experiences in elementary, middle, and high school where people can either be encouraged or discouraged,” she said. “Somebody can express an interest in medicine, and somebody else can say, ‘oh, that’s really hard, are you sure?’ Or somebody can say, ‘that’s great; let’s figure out what the next step would be.’”

The women being profiled in Faces of Medicine all figured out that next step, and are able to clearly communicate how and why.

“Say you’re a smart kid, but you just don’t think it’s possible because you’ve experienced homelessness. We can show them somebody who had some real struggles in their family growing up, but they got here,” Ennis said. “I’m not Pollyanna; I don’t want to tell anybody that it’s easy. But I do want people to get that it’s worth it.”

Women of Impact 2023

President and CEO, Square One

Inspired by Others, She Displays the Awesome Power of One Woman

Dawn Forbes DiStefano

Dawn Forbes DiStefano never had to be told about how a single woman could be a life-changing force for someone and an influential role model.

She could see for herself starting at a very young age, with her maternal grandmother, Phyllis Arnold Pilbin, who saw her role change in profound ways when her daughter, Forbes DiStefano’s mother, was killed by a drunk driver when she was just 26 years old and Dawn, her first child, was only 3.

“My grandmother somehow had the resiliency and spirit to lend a hand to a very grieving father; she left her day job to care for my sister and me so that my father could work during the day — while she was still raising four other children,” said Forbes DiStefano, adding that she started working nights selling Stanley Home Products. “She changed her life to care for the two of us. As a woman growing up with a woman who persevered through losing her daughter and had the strength to then change her career so she could raise her two young granddaughters to get through this — that had a profound impact on me.”

But there have been plenty of other examples of the power and influence of a single woman, she said, citing the remarkable individual her father would marry several years after that tragedy, Patty, who would adopt Forbes DiStefano and her sister Heather, who is also on this list of life changers, as well as two sisters who would come later, Kelly and Megan. And her aunts as well.

There would be impactful women at the YWCA, where she first went to work as a receptionist and would stay for nearly three decades.

“I’ve always been sort of an impatient, unsettled learner — I’m always looking for something else to learn, something else to do, a problem to solve. And I’ve always had women who responded with ‘go ahead and try it … we’ve got your back; we’ll pick you up if you fall.’”

Then there’s Joan Kagan-Levine, her predecessor as president and CEO of the Springfield-based early-education provider Square One. Like others, Kagan-Levine encouraged her to reach higher, take on risks, and maybe try to do something she might not have thought she could do.

“I’ve been surrounded by women who encouraged me to try things,” Forbes DiStefano said. “I’ve always been sort of an impatient, unsettled learner — I’m always looking for something else to learn, something else to do, a problem to solve. And I’ve always had women who responded with ‘go ahead and try it … we’ve got your back; we’ll pick you up if you fall.’”

With all those powerful leads to follow, she has, in essence, devoted her life to having the backs of others, especially women — being there to pick them up if they fall and being that single woman who becomes a force in someone’s life.

That’s been the case whether it’s the many women in her own family; the 130 or so women, by her count, now working for Square One; or others in the community.

Indeed, she keeps with her what she calls a “secret notebook,” one in which she jots down notes, mostly on women she’s helping through issues and problems in their lives, be it with buying a house or how to move forward in their career.

Dawn Forbes DiStefano says her grandmother, Phyllis Arnold Pilbin

Dawn Forbes DiStefano says her grandmother, Phyllis Arnold Pilbin, is one of many who have shown her the “power of a single woman.”

But being a mentor and influence in the lives of others only partially explains why she is part of this Women of Impact class of 2023. She is also a dynamic leader, guiding Square One through an important and challenging time in its history — and, yes, there have been many of those.

Today, she is leading a project to build the agency a new headquarters in Springfield’s South End, its home since 1883, while playing a key role in efforts to secure adequate funding for the agency and erase the discrepancy between what the state pays to childcare facilities in the 617 (and other area codes in and around Boston) and what it pays to those in the 413.

As a manager, Forbes DiStefano said she tries to lead by example and do whatever needs to be done, a philosophy captured in comments by Kris Allard, Square One’s vice president of Development & Communication, who first met Forbes DiStefano while they were serving on the Dress for Success board of directors and nominated her to be a Woman of Impact.

“Dawn does not lead from behind her desk,” Allard wrote. “She can often be found sitting on the floor reading stories with a group of preschoolers, chatting with a young mother enrolling in a family-service program, delivering diapers and groceries to families in need of assistance, and even preparing lunch for hundreds of children when the kitchen staff needs an extra pair of hands.”

All that, and much more, explains why she is certainly a Woman of Impact.


It’s All Relative

Forbes DiStefano said her mother, Patty, who is only 13 years older than she is, has often been able to inspire and motivate her words and actions.

She has many examples, but one that stands out is from the days not long after she graduated from UMass Amherst with a teaching degree and landed in a terrible job market for teachers. She was spending a lot of time at the family’s pool and enjoying her summer until Patty pulled her aside one day on the deck.

“She said, ‘Dawn, you’re the oldest of four girls, you’re a college graduate, and I need your sisters to see a college graduate working — let’s go work,’” she recalled, adding that the YWCA was hiring for an office it was opening in Northampton; she knew people at the agency, so she went to work there as a receptionist.

So began an intriguing, and very much ongoing, story of involvement with nonprofit agencies, service to the community, and being a woman and a leader who would certainly make all the women who have ever had her back quite proud.

As a receptionist at the YWCA, she was soon inspired by one of those women to start writing grants, become the agency’s grants manager, and make this work more than a job.

“I immediately fell head over heels in love with the notion that I could make a career out of helping people, and most especially helping women,” she said.

In 2007, she became the YWCA’s director of Resource Development, and would stay in that role until 2015, when she decided it was time for a change. She had lunch with Kagan-Levine, who convinced her to become Square One’s chief Finance and Grants officer. Forbes DiStefano would become executive vice president in 2019, and would prevail in the nationwide search for a successor to the retiring Kagan-Levine in January 2021.

As she talked about her current work and the challenges facing her and the agency, she was quick to note they are far less in scope than those Square One faced in the preceding decade — the tornado that destroyed its old headquarters building on Main Street, the natural-gas explosion that rendered one of its facilities unusable, and the tortuous first nine months of the pandemic, which … well, no explanation needed.

Dawn Forbes DiStefano

Dawn Forbes DiStefano is leading Square One through a time of challenge and opportunity, including the building of a new headquarters in Springfield’s South End.

Still, there is plenty on her plate, including the work to build a new facility downtown, a $12 million project now moving through the design and fundraising stages, and ongoing efforts to close the discrepancy between what the state is paying for childcare to facilities on either end of the state.

Indeed, she was a definitive voice in a Boston Globe article earlier this year that drew attention not only to the discrepancy between the reimbursement rates, but the need at agencies like Square One to raise money to cover the difference between what is received for a subsidy and the cost of providing care.


The Compounding Effect

At Square One, more than 90% of employees are women, and Forbes DiStefano has committed herself to having their backs and providing the encouragement and inspiration that others have provided to her — all while also being a mother; a strong supporter of agencies that support adult women, such as Dress for Success; and the CEO of a nonprofit.

While doing so, she drives home not just the power of a single woman, but the even more powerful force that emerges when women work together toward common goals and solving problems.

“Someone smarter than me — I think it was in a Forbes article — talked about the power of women and the compounding effect,” she told BusinessWest. “Women, on an individual basis, have power, but the collective impact that women have when they make the conscious effort to support each other in the most inclusive way — it is an exponential change to the world around us.

“When you invest in an individual woman, because the tentacles from the single woman are so vast, whether she’s serving as a sister, a mother, a grandmother, an aunt … if you support her, the exponential improvement and the compounding value of that investment can’t be compared to anything else,” she went on, adding that she is committed to making such investments, whether it’s with her daughters or with her employees. “Invest in a woman; it’s one of the best investments you can make.”

That’s because, she continued, when women struggle and they can’t access what they need, that same compounding effect occurs, but in a negative way. “Her children suffer, and the people around her suffer.”

Which brings us back to that aforementioned secret notebook.

“It’s filled with all the women in my life, so that I can remember who’s buying a home, who’s struggling to care for their aging parents … I can’t remember it all by heart, so I have to write it all down,” she said. “I try to touch one a day; that is always my goal. I either do a handwritten note or a text or a phone call to another woman to let her know I’m thinking about her. I try to connect with women once a day, and in a personal way.”

Getting back to her grandmother, Forbes DiStefano said simply, “she taught me the power of one woman.”

There have been many others who have provided similarly impactful lessons along the way. Together, these individuals inspired her to make providing similar support and inspiration what she calls the “cornerstone of her life.”

So today, as a mother, daughter, employer, mentor, fellow board member, and nonprofit leader, she is the one displaying the awesome power of one woman.

Not just a woman, but a Woman of Impact.

Women of Impact 2023

CEO, The Jamrog Group

She Impacts Her Community, Her Industry, and the Lives of Her Clients

Amy Jamrog

Amy Jamrog likes to say that she wasn’t raised in Holyoke — she was raised by Holyoke.

By that, she meant the community’s people, businesses, business owners, institutions, traditions, and more certainly influenced her and shaped who she is today — much like a family would.

As an example, she noted her first job, which she took at age 14, at a business called the Party Store, a part of the former Quirk Paper Co., located in the city’s Flats section and owned by Jon and Helene Florio. This was a learning experience on more levels than she could count.

“I worked there all through high school,” Jamrog said. “And I met so many Holyoke residents who wanted to shop locally and support local businesses, and I really came to understand the DNA of Holyoke. I also learned customer service, what it meant to be a part of a community, and the importance of giving back, which they [the Florios] did so much of.

“So many of the things I learned growing up were about community, giving back, volunteering … and all of it happened here,” she went on. “It stayed with me.”

Suffice it to say that Jamrog — who has long had a Holyoke address for the Jamrog Group, the financial-advisory firm she founded and now serves as CEO — has spent a lifetime applying the lessons she learned while at the Party Store, as a candystriper at Providence Hospital, later while working at the Holyoke Mall, and while compiling a record that would earn her the rank of valedictorian at Holyoke Catholic High School.

“So many of the things I learned growing up were about community, giving back, volunteering … and all of it happened here. It stayed with me.”

Indeed, when she started as a financial advisor, she was focused on making a difference for her clients and their families. And while that focus remains, she has broadened and deepened her impact, committing herself to making a difference within her community, meaning the 413, and within her industry, especially with women in the profession or thinking about getting in.

She does this in many ways — through service as a board member to organizations like the Girl Scouts and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; as a mentor to countless young people in the industry, especially women, who face the same challenges as men and others that are unique to them; as an author, through two bestselling books, Life Savings Conversations and Confetti Moments: 52 Moments to Spark Conversation, Connect Deeply & Celebrate the Ordinary; and, most recently, though her election in June to the board of Finseca (Financial Security for All), a nonprofit organization advocating for the financial-security profession.

Amy Jamrog, seen here with her team at the Jamrog Group

Amy Jamrog, seen here with her team at the Jamrog Group, has helped many women enter the field and persevere through the difficult early years.

In 2020, she created a resource for financial advisors called Four Wings Consulting, with a dragonfly as its symbol. Four Wings was formed to help advisors cope with the many challenges they have been facing in recent years, from the pandemic and its many side effects to the wild swings in the stock market; from soaring interest rates to general uncertainty about the economy and what will happen next.

It’s just one of the ways in which Jamrog has become a true Woman of Impact.


Dollars and Sense

As she was cleaning out her office recently while preparing to relocate the Jamrog Group from its former home on Northampton Street in Holyoke, not far from where she grew up, to a small suite in the office tower at 330 Whitney Ave. in that same city, Jamrog came across a note she wrote to herself years ago, when the firm was in Northampton.

It took the form of a 10-year vision statement, something she updates every year, which included the goal to buy a building in Holyoke.

“I wanted to build an office that felt like an extension of home for people,” she recalled. “And I wrote in my 10-year vision that I wanted to own a building on Northampton Street, come back to my roots, be a taxpayer in the community that raised me, and build something permanent — which was the building I ultimately bought. And 10 years later, that actually happened.”

That note, and everything that has happened after she wrote it, speaks volumes about Jamrog and why she is a Woman of Impact — everything from her commitment to long-term planning and her ability to make plans reality to that strong attachment to the Holyoke community, to her understanding that ‘permanent’ is a relative term.

“For people who come into this business specifically wanting to make money, it can be very disappointing because it takes a long time, and you need grit and perseverance and a great work ethic to make it through the first five years. Most people don’t.”

Indeed, 10 years after she moved into the property on Northampton Street, the landscape had changed profoundly. Her team works remotely most days of the week now (everyone is in on Mondays), and clients see their advisors far more on Zoom than they do in the office. These are changes that negate the need for an office that feels like an extension of home.

The moral of this story, if it can be called that, is that planning is important, but revising the plan to meet a changing world is more important.

This is the basic advice Jamrog gives to her clients as a financial advisor, a profession she assumed after taking a somewhat winding career route.

After she graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, she entered the healthcare field, working first for Baystate Health and then for Hospice of Pioneer Valley, as a community liaison between hospice and the physicians in our community.

“My job was to meet with physicians and explain to them what hospice was really about so they could refer their patients earlier in their terminal diagnoses so families could take full advantage of hospice services,” she explained. “It was interesting work; I was 22, 23 years old … I was young, but I learned how to communicate effectively with physicians. Then I was recruited to being a financial advisor; it was a very natural transition.”

As for that recruitment effort, it was undertaken by Andy Skroback, then 62, who became her first mentor in this difficult business. And it was during her first few years under Skroback’s tutelage that she realized the profound impact she could have, as a female advisor, on families.

But over the course of her career, she has broadened her scope when it comes to impact, a pattern that continues today.

Amy Jamrog’s book, Confetti Moments

Amy Jamrog’s book, Confetti Moments, has made its way onto several bestseller lists.

“That word ‘impact’ has always been important to me,” Jamrog said. “I began my financial-services career really wanting to impact families and my clients, many of whom were physicians. Today, our clients are corporate executives, small-business owners, and nonprofit endowments, where we manage their portfolios. That’s where the shift to having a bigger impact on my community really started to matter. The work we did with nonprofits helping nonprofits manage their endowments really got us grounded in how important philanthropy and our nonprofits really are.”


Risk and Reward

After successfully building her business — there are now nine team members — and becoming actively involved in the community on a number of levels, especially with nonprofits devoted to “women and children as leaders,” such as Girls Inc., Girls on the Run, and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts — Jamrog added an additional point of emphasis: impacting her profession.

She does this in many ways and through many vehicles, including Four Wings Consulting. Her specific focus is women in the industry, she said, adding that she coaches more than 100 of them across the country.

“Making an impact on women in our business is very important to me,” she said. “The business itself is difficult, but to be female is really challenging. So if I can help shorten their trajectory and become successful sooner, and realize just how much impact and satisfaction this career can have — that’s some of my favorite work.”

Elaborating, she started by saying that financial-security work is much harder than it might look to those receiving such services. The hours are long, the work difficult, and the failure rate is quite high: close to 90%.

“For people who come into this business specifically wanting to make money, it can be very disappointing because it takes a long time, and you need grit and perseverance and a great work ethic to make it through the first five years. Most people don’t,” Jamrog said, adding that, while it’s certainly challenging for everyone, the attrition rate for women is even higher, for reasons she explained in detail.

“Without stereotyping too much, most of my male counterparts — their one job is to be a financial advisor,” she explained. “Most of my female counterparts … one of their jobs is to be a financial advisor; they also have spouse, mom, the prepper of the meals, the taker of kids to school, and all the other things that women tend to have on their plates.

“So I try to really help women figure out the integration of all of the responsibilities and goals that they have and how we manage all of them and be successful in each of them; that’s the ultimate challenge,” she went on. “I often hear women say, ‘if I’m successful as a financial advisor, I’m not being successful as a mom, and if I’m focused on being successful as a mom, I’m less successful as a financial advisor,’ and that, to me, is such a sad statement because it doesn’t have to be the case.”

Jamrog knows because she’s lived that life for 27 years. She says it’s a constant challenge to be successful in the multiple roles women accept, but it is “absolutely doable.” She has shown that one can successfully balance work at home, in the office, and in the community, and succeed in each realm.

And in another realm as well: as an author. Her second book, Confetti Moments: 52 Moments to Spark Conversation, Connect Deeply & Celebrate the Ordinary, a collection of Jamrog’s uplifting blog posts from the deepest months of the pandemic, sits on a number of bestseller lists, including the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and USA Today. It has become popular with CEOs, team managers, and even families as a way to motivate, accent the positive, and even build teamwork.


The Next Chapter

Jamrog is essentially done with her third book, which she described as her college thesis. “The paper copy has been sitting on a shelf for 30 years, and I’m in the process of editing it.”

This is a coming-of-age novel about 12-year-old girls, she told BusinessWest, adding that readers from this area will find that it sounds quite familiar; it’s about growing up in a small town in Western Mass., as she did.

Then again, she didn’t just grow up in Holyoke, she was raised by that remarkable city, and everything she learned growing up there has helped shape her into a Woman of Impact.

Women of Impact 2023

CEO, Berkshire Hills Music Academy

She Helps Young Adults with Disabilities Build a Lifetime of Ability

Michelle Theroux

Growing up in South Hadley, Michelle Theroux would ride by the old Skinner family residence on Route 116, just north of Mount Holyoke College, and have no clue what it was.

Or what it would become.

“Wistariahurst in Holyoke was the family’s winter home, and this was their summer home,” she told BusinessWest. “And when the last living Skinner passed away, this property went to Mount Holyoke. But it never had an identity within the campus, so around 1998, they were looking to divest several of their properties.”

Among the interested buyers were the founders of Berkshire Hills Music Academy, which will celebrate a quarter-century next year as a unique, college-like program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are looking to expand their social, vocational, and music skills in a decidedly music-infused environment.

Theroux came on board in 2013, providing some needed stability. As in much-needed.

“I was the eighth executive director in our 13-year history when I was hired,” she said. “When I spoke with the recruiter, I said, ‘you have to give me the backstory. Am I walking onto the Titanic? What’s going on here?’”

The answer, she decided, was ‘founder syndrome’; the institution had some strong founding families who had competing visions, so there wasn’t one consistent direction, which burned out each director quickly. In fact, when Theroux reached just 20 months on the job, she became the school’s longest-tenured leader ever.

“I was able to get some traction with staff and make changes, as well as with the board. I said, ‘if we’re going to do what we need to do, here’s how we’re going to do it. And you’ve got to let me do my job. I can’t be second-guessed at every turn. We’re going to have to change.’”


It helped that her music background — she began studying tap, jazz, and ballet dance at age 5; added dance instruction when she was just 16; and later toured nationally in a jazz-based children’s show — gave her some “street cred” with the staff.

“I knew what it’s like to be on a gig; things like that allowed me to be a bit more successful than some of the predecessors.”

That success, a decade into Theroux’s tenure, is measurable. The student body was 32 when she arrived, and is past 75 now. “That’s capacity,” she said. “So for us to grow, we would be taking on a new building, most likely off-site and in the community somewhere.”

Which may happen at some point, because the school’s success extends far beyond numbers. It’s all about the total impact on these young adults’ lives.

Berkshire Hills boasts a day program and a residential program. “If they’re residential, they’re most likely living for the first two years in our dorm, and then they can live in the community after that,” she explained. “Our two-year program really focuses on shoring up their life skills — everything from cooking to money management, which includes going to the bank and then going shopping and making sure you have a list of what you need versus what you want.”

The entire program, in fact, is built around preparing students to live independently and successfully in the community.

“We have a whole course on social skills with friends, social skills in the workplace. We teach what language to use and what’s an appropriate hand gesture when you meet somebody: you shake their hand; you don’t give them a hug. Because a lot of times, it’s the soft skills that individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities may struggle with and could lead to potential conflict, say, in the workplace.”

“When I spoke with the recruiter, I said, ‘you have to give me the backstory. Am I walking onto the Titanic? What’s going on here?’”

Speaking of which, students also explore vocational skills and strengths. “We do a lot of volunteer opportunities in the community: at the local food pantries, the Dakin animal shelter, and a few other places, like Share Coffee, to see what their skill sets are, what their interests are. And then, as they go through our program, they match those skills with potential employment later on.”

But what really sets Berkshire Hills Music Academy aside is right there in the name.

“We are known for individuals who have an intellectual or developmental disability, who are highly musical,” Theroux explained. “We’re one of the very few places in the country where they can get lessons and programming, but we also act as their agent, their manager, their accompaniment, their arranger.”

Michelle Theroux

Michelle Theroux says Berkshire Hills Music Academy is at capacity and may need to grow into another building in the community.

In fact, students are provided with opportunities to perform locally, both individually and in a number of different ensembles in different musical genres, and in settings ranging from local schools to Fenway Park, where students have sung the national anthem.

In short, these young adults are living full lives, enjoying and perfecting their music skills, and preparing to live independently after their enrollment at Berkshire Hills. And Theroux’s steady leadership has plenty to do with their success.


The Power of Music

Some gigs can be especially impactful for audiences.

“We have about 15 nursing homes or assisted-living facilities in a rotation that our bands will cycle through each year, and those facilities love having them,” Theroux said. “One reason is our students are super warm and embracing and fun. They’re also very talented.

“And there’s a connection between the aging brain and music,” she added. “For example, somebody with dementia or Alzheimer’s will have lapses in their memory, but they’ll hear a song, and it will bring them right back, and they’ll remember all the words to it. If it’s their wedding song or their prom song, whatever it is, they have a memory that gets triggered by the music. So we are a fan favorite in the local nursing homes.”

The school even has a dance ensemble that’s starting to pick up gigs as well, sometimes accompanied by a Berkshire Hills musician or ensemble, sometimes on their own.

Speaking of gigs, the young musicians earn money for appearances, with just a small percentage deducted to cover the school’s staffing costs, Theroux said. “They know there’s value to their work. Like you and I value our paychecks, so do they. So, yes, these are paid gigs.”

“We’ve really looked at the individual, and instead of just focusing on areas where they need support, because there’s a deficit there, we’ve looked at where their strengths are, where their passions are, where their gifts are, and really build on that.”

And when audiences hear them play, sing, and dance, they understand the value, too.

“When they hear our music, people are like, ‘wait, what? They have a disability?’ Because when you hear the music, you hear good music. You don’t hear a disability.”

That’s why these students have performed at other schools, too, funded by anti-bullying grants, to drive home the message of ability, not disability, Theroux said. “The message is, ‘if I have autism and can sing like this, you might have autism, so guess what? You, too, have skills; you, too, have talent; you, too, have strength.’ Our bands go into some schools, and they’re like rock stars.”

Berkshire Hills students don’t have to be highly musical to enroll, she added. “But if you are, there is a music track for folks where that can be their vocation. We have a secondary tier; we have several bands that gig in the community at a high level.”

These successes — in music and in life — are reflected in words of gratitude from families over the years, Theroux said.

“It’s everything from a parent telling us, ‘I never thought my child would shave his own face’ to becoming highly musical and standing up and performing in front of 200 people, to getting their own apartment,” she noted. “Our goal is to figure out how to make somebody as autonomous and independent as possible. Whatever level of staff support is needed, we will provide, but the goal is really to push the areas where they don’t need support.”

Michelle Theroux says the school’s culture of inclusivity

Michelle Theroux says the school’s culture of inclusivity extends to the way the staff treats students, families, and each other.

And when the result is someone who can live on their own, do their own laundry, cook their own meals, hold down a job, handle their banking … and also have outlets to express their musical talent, well, that’s the heart of the Berkshire Hills mission.

“We’ve really looked at the individual, and instead of just focusing on areas where they need support, because there’s a deficit there, we’ve looked at where their strengths are, where their passions are, where their gifts are, and really build on that,” she added. After all, “we all have deficits; we all have things we’re working on and trying to improve.”


Sign Her Up

Away from her day job, Theroux is an example of the mantra that, if you need something done, ask a busy person.

Among the boards she’s sat on and organizations she’s served are Mercy Medical Center and Trinity Health Of New England, the South Hadley/Granby Chamber of Commerce, the town of South Hadley, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, the Human Service Forum, and MicroTek, a Chicopee-based manufacturer that employs people with disabilities.

And she brought a wealth of nonprofit-management experience to Berkshire Hills when she came on board as executive director in 2013 (she took on the CEO role in 2021); those roles include executive director of Child & Family Service of Pioneer Valley, director of Special Projects at Clinical and Support Options, vice president of Clinical Services at the Center for Human Development, and director of Family Networks at the Key Program.

Even right out of graduate school, she found herself working in human services at the Gándara Center, running a behavioral-treatment residence for adolescent boys who had sexual reactive behaviors or fire-setting behaviors. “That’s an interesting population to cut your teeth on,” she said.

All this prepared her to lead Berkshire Hills, and lead she has; soon after arriving, she stabilized all facets of operations, created an operational budget surplus, doubled the operating budget over a two-year period, expanded contracts with the Department of Developmental Services, and exceeded the $3.3 million goal on a capital campaign. She also oversaw the construction of a new music building fully funded by that campaign.

“I’ve worked in several other human-service organizations, and this place has a very different flavor and feel when I walk in — not only the physical campus that we have, but the culture we try to promote around inclusivity, that’s strength-based and person-centered,” she said. “That extends to how we treat our colleagues and how we treat each other as staff. It’s one thing to be client-forward, but how do we make sure that’s all-encompassing in terms of who we are and what we do?”

For answering that question every day, and changing young lives for the better, Theroux is certainly a Woman of Impact.

Women of Impact 2023

Author, Speaker, and Child and Mental-health Advocate

By Sharing Her Story, She’s Turned Her Tragic Youth into an Impactful Life


Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Lisa Zarcone brought a book to her interview with BusinessWest, called The Unspoken Truth. It’s a memoir she wrote several years ago.

More importantly — and tragically — she also lived it. And it’s a rough read.

“The Unspoken Truth is my story, of the abuse I went through,” she said. “I was silent for years about it and never spoke of it, and it was so damaging to me. But as an adult, I was finally able to break free and share my story.”

“I tell anybody who reads my book, ‘be prepared.’ It’s a very raw, real look at what abuse is like through the eyes of a child,” she added. “When you read stories of other abuse survivors, they take the point of view of the adult looking back. But I took the child’s perspective, right in the moment. I wanted people to understand what the child really goes through.”

But Zarcone’s story since that childhood — in which she was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused for the better part of a decade — has been truly inspiring. It’s a story of coming to terms with a horrific past, of learning to trust others with that story, of surprising depths of empathy.

It’s a story of bravery and vulnerability. It’s the story of a Woman of Impact.

And it starts with her mother. In fact, Zarcone’s current advocacy work around mental health is rooted in her complicated relationship with her mother, who has struggled with mental illness her entire life.

“My mom never got the proper help and support that she needed,” said Zarcone. “And because of that, we both fell through the cracks. Again, the abuse was horrific. And it went on for years. It wasn’t like it just happened in a short period of time, and we were able to move forward from it. This went on for years.”

“I buried my past. I took it all and said, ‘I’m not going to speak of it, I’m not going to think of it.’ And I fought every single day of my life not to bring it up, not to focus on that pain. I was driven by that.”

When Zarcone was 6, her brother died of leukemia, and that’s when her mother’s world — and her own life — fell apart. “My mom never recovered. My dad said the day my brother died was the day she died, and on many levels, that’s the truth, because she couldn’t recover from it. And back then, in the ’70s, mental health was not talked about; it was frowned upon.”

As her mother deteriorated, “the stigma was horrendous. People treated my mother very poorly because she was sick. And nobody wanted to deal with her,” Zarcone recalled. “And because of that, I was left home alone with my mom. My dad buried himself in work and activities, and he was barely around.”

Her father eventually left, and her mother’s abuse, which started verbally, eventually became physical. Meanwhile, she started bringing unsafe people into their home.

“She loved to pick people up off the street, homeless people, hitchhikers — she’d bring them home and wanted it to be like a party at all times; she rode that roller coaster of the highs and lows and the mania.”

When she was only 12, a troubled older boy from the neighborhood claimed Zarcone as his girlfriend, and her mother encouraged the coercive, sexually abusive ‘relationship,’ which lasted a year and a half.

Lisa Zarcone

Lisa Zarcone says her book is raw, real, difficult … and a story she needed to tell. Photo by Leah Martin Photography

“Neighbors saw, family saw, the school saw, and nobody stepped in,” she said. “My mother did not hide her mental illness. We never knew what was going to happen next.”

At age 14 — after eight years of this hell — she was able to free herself from the abuse when her grandparents took her in. But there was alcoholism and general chaos in that home, and her mother remained a part of her life. Finally, she rebelled, in a purposeful, even positive sort of way.

“At age 15 or 16, I started thinking a little differently, and I wanted to figure out how to get out. So I engrossed myself in school, and I went from an F student to an A student because I decided I needed to do something to help myself. I worked three jobs while I was in high school. I did anything I could not to be home. And I did whatever I could to get out.”

Eventually, she did. “And I buried my past. I took it all and said, ‘I’m not going to speak of it, I’m not going to think of it.’ And I fought every single day of my life not to bring it up, not to focus on that pain. I was driven by that. I was driven to succeed. And I did.”

Since then, Zarcone has lived a life of purpose. She’s worked with disabled children and adults teaching life skills and writing, and served as a mentor to young women in a locked-down facility teaching journaling, poetry, and art therapy.

She has also done plenty of work advocating for suicide prevention and PTSD awareness, and she’s currently Massachusetts’ national ambassador for the National Assoc. of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, traveling all over to raise awareness and promote change in a system where too many children still fall through the cracks.


Moment of Truth

But she wouldn’t find full healing from her past, and the ability to help others overcome their own trauma, until she began talking about it — to the surprise of her loving, and completely blindsided, husband.

“Lisa has worked hard to overcome her past abuse and turned her pain into purpose,” John Zarcone said in nominating Lisa as a Woman of Impact. “I admire her immensely for stepping up and saving herself, our marriage, and family. We have raised three children together, and she is an incredible mother. It comes naturally for her, caring for others and making sure everyone is safe, loved, and thriving.”

That’s a remarkable quality, considering her youthful trauma — which she kept hidden away from John for more than a decade of marriage.

“After I had my third child, things changed,” she said. “I started having flashbacks and nightmares, and they were horrific. I was living in two worlds at once every single day, and I couldn’t do it anymore. So I went to therapy, and I finally shared what happened to me. At that point, I didn’t share absolutely everything. I couldn’t. But I was able to break the silence by saying I was sexually abused, and I started to work through those things.”

Then came the harder part — when she finally told her husband, too.

“He knew my mom had mental illness. He knew I went through a lot of things, but he didn’t know the depth of what happened to me, especially the sexual-abuse piece. And I blew his mind,” she said.

“I was able to find healing and forgiveness because I put myself in their shoes to understand the best I could.”

“He always knew that I was scarred. And he knew my mom was severely mentally ill; even as an adult, my mother was very damaging toward me. But when I shared my truth with him, he was blown away. Basically, he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ That was so hurtful to me … but I got it. I knew why he was saying that.”

But they overcame it — Lisa’s unearthed trauma and John’s shock — and eventually grew stronger as a family.

“John is my biggest fan, and he’s been my biggest supporter through this whole process and writing this book,” she said, noting that it took six years to write, and no publisher wanted to touch a memoir by a first-time author telling this extremely raw story in an unusual way. So Zarcone self-published and learned how to market it on her own.

The transition from writer to speaker came naturally, she said, after an author talk in her hometown of West Haven, Conn. after the book was released. About 60 people showed up, and she was nervous, but afterward, it felt … right.

Lisa Zarcone has “turned her pain into purpose.”

Through much hard work, her husband says, Lisa Zarcone has “turned her pain into purpose.”
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

“My husband and my daughter were like, ‘well, I guess a public speaker is born.’ And from that point forward, that’s what I decided,” she said. “I really wanted to get the word out there, to talk about these subjects that nobody wants to talk about.”

As part of her work in the mental-health realm, she became an advocate for her mother, who passed away in 2014. This month, she is releasing her second book, which tells her mother’s life story.

“I started looking through my parents’ eyes, looking at their journey, why they acted the way they did, why things happened the way they did,” she said. “I was able to find healing and forgiveness because I put myself in their shoes to understand the best I could.”

Zarcone understands this level of empathy surprises people.

“It took a long time to get there. For years, I hated my mother. And I feel bad when I say that now, because I didn’t truly hate her, but in that timeframe, I hated what she did to me, allowing these bad people to come into my world and hurt me the way they did.

“But as I grew older, I learned what mental illness really was, and I did a lot of studying and talking to people and understanding what mental illness does to somebody. Every time she would get locked up or every time something else would happen, it was painful to watch, because I did have love and empathy for my mother.”

And as she healed, she was able to separate her abuser from the once-loving mother crushed by mental illness.

“I always feel like a sense of loss because I lost my mother to mental illness,” she went on. “And she lost out, too. She lost out on being a wonderful mother, a wonderful wife, a wonderful grandmother. Those are the things she aspired to be. Family was everything to her. But when she was sick, you wouldn’t even know who she was. It was just mind-blowing to watch.”


The Story Continues

“Embrace the journey.”

That’s one of Zarcone’s personal mantras, and it’s a moving one, considering where that journey has taken her.

But across 37 years of marriage, and especially since she finally opened up to her husband — and the world — about her past, she has found healing by finding her voice: as a writer, a speaker, a blogger, a talk-radio host, and a national spokesperson for survivors of child abuse. In 2021, she received an award from the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women, and The Unspoken Truth won the Hope Pyx Global International Book Award in the category of child abuse.

The road has been long, and healing didn’t come all at once. But it began by telling a very difficult story.

“The healing process comes in stages,” Zarcone said. “People will say, ‘once you share your story, it’s better.’ No, no … that’s when the work really begins. You have to take it piece by piece, and when it gets too heavy, you put it down.

“And then you pick it back up.”




In 2018, BusinessWest created a new recognition program, one to recognize the contributions of women. We did this … well, because we needed to.

Indeed, while we have other programs that certainly recognize women — 40 Under Forty, Difference Makers, and Healthcare Heroes — a separate program focused exclusively on women and the many contributions they are making to quality of life in this region was clearly necessary.

The reason is that so many of the stories we’ve told since 2018 might not have been told otherwise, and some women worthy of recognition might not have been duly recognized.

We could have called this program ‘Women in Business’ — other business publications have done just that. But we believed this was too limiting. We wanted to recognize all the many ways women can excel and make an impact. Thus, the name Women of Impact was chosen.

And the program has lived up to that title. This tradition of honoring women from across a wide spectrum of professions, pathways, and methods for making an impact continues with the class of 2023.

This class includes business leaders, nonprofit managers, a healthcare provider, an author and public speaker, and even a flight instructor — who is also a business owner.

The stories are all different, but there are many common threads. These women are leaders, they are inspiring, they are mentors to others, and they give back in many different ways.

And there is something else as well. These women all recognize what one of our honorees, Dawn Forbes DiStefano, called the “power of one woman,” especially when it comes to influencing the lives and careers of other women.

And they demonstrate that power, in myriad ways.

Indeed, our honorees have all made it a priority to help empower women and enable them to rise higher, quite literally when it comes to flight instructor and flight-school owner Rika Ballard; or by helping them get into the still-male-dominated auto industry, in the case of Carla Cosenzi; or help them enter (and then persevere in) the financial-advisor industry, in the case of Amy Jamrog; or help them overcome postpartum depression or the trauma of child abuse, as Arlyana Dalce-Bowie and Lisa Zarcone, respectively, are doing; or, in the case of Michelle Theroux, help young people with disabilities thrive in music and in life.

In many ways, our Women of Impact program has become a vehicle for displaying the awesome power of a single woman. Since 2018, our honorees, including those in the class of 2023, have demonstrated the power to lead, inspire, and generate positive change in the lives of not only women, but all those they impact.

It’s a striking, impressive class, and we’re excited to share their stories with you.

Cover Story Healthcare Heroes

Since BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched the recognition program known as Healthcare Heroes in 2017, the initiative has more than succeeded in its quest to identify true leaders — not to mention inspiring stories — within this region’s large and vitally important healthcare sector.
The award was created to recognize those whose contributions to the health and well-being of this region, while known to some, needed to become known to all. And that is certainly true this year.
These nine individuals are leaders, and also innovators, collaborators, and, perhaps most important, inspirations. They have devoted their careers to improving the quality of individual lives and the health of entire communities. We find these stories to be compelling and inspirational, and we’re sure you will as well.

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the editors and management at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2023 are

(click on each name to read their story):

Lifetime Achievement:

Jody O’Brien,
Urology Group of
Western New England

Health Education:

Kristina Hallett,
Bay Path University

Emerging Leader:

Ashley LeBlanc,
Mercy Medical Center

Emerging Leader:

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw,
Baystate Medical Center

Patient Care Provider:

Julie Lefer Quick,
VA of Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System

Innovation in

Gabriel Mokwuah
and Joel Brito,
Holyoke Medical Center

Community Health:

Cindy Senk,

Movement for All

Tickets on Sale Now!

Healthcare Heroes Awards:

Thursday, October 26, 2023, 5:30 P.M.

Marriott Springfield Downtown,

2 Boland Way, Springfield MA 01115

Tickets $90 per person, reserved tables of 10 are available.

Presenting Sponsors

Partner Sponsors


They Help Define ‘Hero’


In 2015, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, established a new recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was created to bring much-needed recognition to individuals, groups, and organizations working within the large and vitally important healthcare sector in our region.

There was much discussion then, and it continues today, about just what makes one a ‘hero.’ Clearly, there is not one overriding definition of that word. If we had to try, we would say a hero is someone who inspires us with their actions and their words, compels others to excel, and makes a real difference in the lives of others.

And this year’s class of honorees certainly lives up that definition, as the stories that begin on Page H6 clearly show. Individually and collectively, they stand out for the way that they have dedicated their careers and their lives to helping others and setting an example that others should follow.

Let’s start with Jody O’Brien, a nurse with the Urology Group of Western New England. She’s 87 and still working two days a week and volunteering the other three. But her desire to work well past full retirement age only begins to explain why she is the hero in the Lifetime Achievement category. Through nearly 70 years in nursing, she has been a provider of care, hope, and especially inspiration.

Dr. Mark Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center, has been making a difference on many levels — in his ER, on the national stage by bringing to light the staggering cost of EpiPens and the need to do something about it, and, perhaps most importantly, in the lives of individual patients, by utilizing perhaps his best talent: listening.

Cindy Senk, personal trainer and owner of Movement for All, enables individuals to discover the many benefits of yoga. But more importantly, she inspires them to improve their mobility — and their quality of life while doing so. Her philosophy is to not only educate her clients, but empower them.

Gabriel Mokwuah and Joel Brito are patient safety associates (PSAs) at Holyoke Medical Center, and each one has been credited with saving a life in recent months through their quick actions. And while doing so, these heroes have turned a spotlight on the PSA position at HMC, one that takes the traditional ‘sitter’ or ‘patient observer’ position to new dimensions.

Ashley LeBlanc, practice manager of Thoracic Surgery and nursing director of the Lung Screening Program at Mercy Medical Center, is a nurse and administrator with a strong track record for getting things done, especially a program that now screens 250 people for lung cancer each month, and then setting more ambitious goals.

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw, pediatric emergency nurse at Baystate Medical Center, has brought her passions for behavioral healthcare and compassion for children and their families to her work in a busy ER, enhancing care delivery and inspiring others to look at problems as opportunities, not roadblocks.

Julie Lefer Quick, nurse manager of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, was looking for a career change and found one at the VA, where she devotes herself to the needs of veterans and finding new and innovative ways to care for them.

Finally, Kristina Hallett, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of Graduate Psychology at Bay Path University, has not only helped myriad clients overcome trauma, anxiety, and countless other challenges, but she’s inspiring and helping to cultivate the next generation of behavioral-health professionals.

They’re heroes, every one. We hope you enjoy their stories.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 175: August 14, 2023

Joe Interviews Dr. Andrew Lam, retinal surgeon with New England Retina Consultants

Dr. Andrew Lam has forged an intriguing dual career. The first is in medicine, as a retinal surgeon with New England Retina Consultants, an attending surgeon at Baystate Medical Center, and an assistant professor of Ophthalmology at UMass Medical School. But he’s also turned his lifelong passion for history into four acclaimed books: two in the realm of historical fiction, and two nonfiction works about the often-surprising lives behind modern medical advances. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, Dr. Lam talks with BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar about his latest work, The Masters of Medicine, and how he goes about bringing history to life on the page — when he’s not helping patients salvage and improve their sight, that is. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 170: July 10, 2023

Joe Bednar talks with Craig Della Penna, president of the Norwottuck Network Inc. board of directors and broker at the Murphys Realtors

Rail trails are much more than a recreational option for pedestrians and bicyclists. They also connect communities, promote both personal wellness and a healthy travel alternative to carbon-emitting vehicles, and are increasingly being seen as an economic driver, especially in and around gateway cities. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar talks with Craig Della Penna, president of the Norwottuck Network Inc. board of directors and broker at the Murphys Realtors, about his decades of work promoting progress around rail trails — most recently with efforts to complete the 104-mile Massachusetts Central Rail Trail between Northampton and Boston. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Joe Bednar, long-time senior writer at BusinessWest magazine, has been named editor of the publication, succeeding long-time Editor George O’Brien, who is retiring after nearly 30 years in that role.

Bednar, who joined BusinessWest 22 years ago, said he is looking forward to continuing its long history of being the region’s go-to source for business news and information and building on a solid foundation of excellence.

“BusinessWest has established itself as the clear leader when it comes to being a voice for the region’s business community and keeping it informed of the latest news, trends, challenges, and opportunities,” Bednar said. “I’m excited about the challenge of continuing this track record of excellence and building on everything we’ve accomplished since 1984.

“As the magazine prepares to celebrate 40 years of carrying out its important mission,” he went on, “I want to raise the bar higher and then clear that bar when it comes to the quality of what we do and how we meet the changing needs of the region’s business community.”

Bednar has been a journalist in the region for almost 30 years. A 1991 graduate of Evangel College in Springfield, Mo., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, he broke into the newspaper business with the Waterbury Republican-American in Connecticut, and later worked as a reporter for the Westfield Evening News.

He was recruited to BusinessWest in 2001 and used his writing and editing skills to help the magazine expand its coverage of area businesses, trends, and issues. He played key roles in the growth and development of BusinessWest’s sister publication, the Healthcare News, and the expansion of BusinessWest from a monthly to a twice-monthly publication in 2005.

Later, as BusinessWest expanded into events, such as Forty Under 40, Difference Makers, Healthcare Heroes, and Women of Impact, he became known for his poignant profiles of honorees and his work behind the microphone at events, especially as one of the emcees for Forty Under 40 each June.

“I grew up believing I’d one day write the great American novel, but eventually accepted that wasn’t in the cards,” Bednar said. “Instead, I’ve developed a passion for telling other people’s stories — several thousand of them, in fact, over the past three decades. I’m so grateful that so many people have taken the time to share their stories with me — how they got into business, their struggles and victories, how they contend with the challenges facing all businesses today.

“And I enjoy going beyond what they do for a living, writing about who they are, what they value, and what their passions are, both at work and outside of it,” he went on. “Their stories inspire me, and I’m beyond proud to keep bringing them to our readers in this new role.”

Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest, said that, given his vast experience with the publication, knowledge of the area and its business community, and commitment to taking BusinessWest to the next level, Bednar was the logical choice to become its next editor.

“Joe isn’t just a writer and editor — he’s a trusted source,” she said. “He’s a resource for this region and its business community.”

When he’s not working, Bednar enjoys live music, cryptic crosswords, and spending time with his wife, Jennifer, compliance director at Appleton Corp. in Holyoke; his college-bound son, Nathan; and their three dogs.

He added, “I want to thank George O’Brien, who has been a mentor, example, and constant support in my career for more than two decades. I appreciate him more than he knows. And I told him I’ll start wearing ties, but we’ll see.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 160: May 1, 2023

George Interviews Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tourism has become a huge part of not only the region’s fabric, but its economy, and on the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, about this critical sector and how things are shaping up for 2023. They discuss everything from the upcoming Hooplandia 3-on-3 basketball tournament to new rides at Six Flags to the prospects for bringing more conventions and meetings to the region. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Class of 2023 Cover Story

Introducing the Class of 2023

It is perhaps the best thing about a 40 Under Forty class. And also the most challenging thing for the judges who ultimately decide its makeup.

Each of the nominees has a different background, a different story, a unique set of challenges to overcome, a different path that brought them to where they are, a distinctive set of accomplishments.

This variety, this diversity, makes it difficult for judges, who are asked to weigh the merits of entrepreneurs, professionals, nonprofit managers, public servants, college administrators, and many more — and some who fall into several of these categories at the same time — and score them against one another.

It’s difficult for them, but for the rest of us … it’s what makes this program so special. It’s a salute to the rising stars in this region, and each year, the list of honorees is both a revelation and a celebration.

And the class of 2023 is no exception. It is diverse in every way imaginable.

Each story is, indeed, different, but there are, as always, some common denominators, including excellence within one’s profession, a commitment to giving back to the community, dedication to family and work/life balance, and a focus on how they can make this region better for all those who live and work here.

The judges for this year’s program — spotlighted below — reviewed more than 120 nominations, a number that speaks to the continued vibrancy of this program and the dedication of the region’s rising stars.

The class of 2023 will be celebrated on Thursday, June 15 at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. That gala will also feature the announcement of the winner of the ninth annual Alumni Achievement Award, a recognition program that salutes the past 40 Under Forty honoree who has most impressively added to their accomplishments in the workplace and within the community, as chosen by a panel of judges.

Tickets for this year’s 40 Under Forty event are sold out!

Go HERE to nominate a 40 Under Forty for next year.

2023 Presenting Sponsor

2023 Partner Sponsors

2023 Presenting Sponsor Alumni Achievement Award

Meet Our Judges

Raymond BerryRaymond Berry is founder and general manager of White Lion Brewing Company, the first craft beer company post-prohibition to recognize the city of Springfield as its home. Berry, a Forty Under 40 member, class of 2010, is currently a board member at Springfield College and Blues to Green, and an attorney general appointee to the Commonwealth’s Cannabis Regulatory Committee. He also sits on the Basketball Hall of Fame Finance Committee, Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the Mass. Brewers Guild, and Philanthropic Committee for the National Brewers Assoc. Berry earned his BS from American International College, MBA from Springfield College, and a graduate certificate from Tufts University. He was a graduate in the region’s inaugural Leadership Pioneer Valley LEAP class. He has received the Spirit Award from the local housing authority, the Affiliated Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Award, the Assoc. of Black Business & Professionals’ Business of the Year Award, and a Martin Luther King Social Justice Award. He has also been recognized as one of the region’s Top 100 Men of Color.

Latoya BosworthLatoya Bosworth is a life coach, author, and program officer for Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. She worked in Springfield Public Schools for 18 years, first as a special educator and then as a behavior specialist. When she is not facilitating workshops for nonprofit and corporate clients or inspiring others with her speeches and self-published books, she is giving back to her community with through mentoring and collaboration. She was a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2016, and one of BusinessWest’s Women of Impact for 2022.

Brian CaninaBrian Canina is executive vice president, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer at Holyoke-based PeoplesBank. He has more than 20 years of experience in the finance industry. He is a graduate of Bryant College and is a certified public accountant. He is also a graduate of the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking and is a recipient of the Wharton Leadership Certificate. He is president of the Finance and Accounting Society of New England. He serves on the board of directors for Helix Human Services.

Jessye DeaneJessye Deane is the executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Regional Tourism Council, and is the owner of two award-winning fitness studios, F45 Training Hampshire Meadows in Hadley and F45 Training Riverdale in West Springfield. She was a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2021, Franklin County Young Professional of the Year in 2020, and the 2019 Amherst Chamber MVP. She has serves on more than a dozen community-based committees, and is this year’s campaign co-chair for the United Way of Franklin & Hampshire Region. 

Aundrea PaulkAundrea Paulk is the Marketing and Communications director at Caring Health Center. She is also the founder and creative force behind Soiree Mi, LLC, an event-planning and design business. Soiree Mi offers creative and personalized services for private and corporate clients. She is a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2022. A graduate of Bay Path University, her areas of expertise include marketing, branding, communications, event planning, social media, and website content management.

Alumni Achievement Award

Read about past Alumni Achievers.

Please nominate for this year HERE

Alumni Achievement Award Judging Underway

When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region — individuals who were excelling in business and through involvement within the community — and celebrate their accomplishments. 

In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award. As the name suggests, it is presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. 

Past winners include: 2022: Anthony Gleason II, president and co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies (40 Under Forty class of 2010); 2021: Anthony Gulluni, Hampden County district attorney (class of 2015); 2020: Carla Cosenzi, president, TommyCar Auto Group (class of 2012), and Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health (class of 2015); 2019: Cinda Jones, president, W.D. Cowls Inc. (class of 2007); 2018: Samalid Hogan, regional director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013); 2017: Scott Foster, attorney, Bulkley Richardson (class of 2011), and Nicole Griffin, owner, ManeHire (class of 2014); 2016: Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president, Allergy & Immunology Associates of New England (class of 2008); and 2015: Delcie Bean, president, Paragus Strategic IT (class of 2008). 

This year’s program is presented by Health New England; nominees will be weighed by three independent judges, including last year’s honorees. They are: 

 Anthony Gleason IIAnthony Gleason II is the president and co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies, which provides commercial landscape and snow-removal services, property management, real-estate development, and leasing, as well as self-storage. Under Gleason’s leadership, the company has grown into one of the largest snow-removal contractors in the country. It now boasts a number of large contracts, including the city of Springfield (250 locations), UMass Amherst and its 157 parking lots, Western New England University, and many others. Gleason was part of the 40 under Forty class of 2010, and the 2022 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award. Gleason and his company are strong supporters of Spirit of Springfield and many other local community organizations. 

Ashley BogleAshley Bogle is assistant general counsel and director of Legal Services for Health New England. In these roles, she manages the day-to-day operations of HNE’s Legal Department which includes a wide range of duties, from reviewing contracts to providing regulatory guidance and maintaining licenses and accreditation. A 40 Under Forty honoree in 2021, she is a founding member of HNE’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Committee, which guides the organization toward its goals of embedding DEIB and health equity into its strategic plan, mission, operations, community outreach, and member community. She currently serves as president of Art For The Soul Gallery’s board of directors in addition to working on other community projects. A proud UConn Husky, she received both her juris doctor and her bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Connecticut.

Payton ShubrickPayton Shubrick is a Springfield native and graduate of Springfield Central High School, College of the Holy Cross, and Bay Path University. A member of the 40 Under 40 Class of 2019, she’s an entrepreneur, and started 6 Brick’s, a cannabis dispensary, with the help of her parents and sister. 6 Brick’s opened in September of 2022, and has already garnered ‘Best Massachusetts Recreational Dispensary’ honors at the New England Cannabis Community Awards. Shubrick she is an adjunct professor at American International College, teaching graduate cannabis courses, a coach in the CT Social Equity Accelerator Program, and was recently named Young Entrepreneur of the Year for her leadership and success in her industry. 

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer, Greenfield Northampton Cooperative Bank: Age 34


Adam BakerAs a commercial lender at Greenfield Northampton Cooperative Bank, Adam Baker led all team members in both number of loans originated and dollar amount closed. Not just one year, but in seven consecutive years, from 2016 to 2022.

Not bad for someone who found himself in an accidental career.

“I took a summer job as a teller and got promoted,” he said, a story that’s not uncommon in the banking world. As in many other cases, Baker found he not only had a knack for the work, but a passion for it, too.

“I’m a commercial lender, so I work with people buying investment properties. I get to help people follow their dreams, start businesses, reach their financial goals, or further their businesses,” he explained. “As a local bank, we know all our customers; they’re not just numbers, they’re people. We get to interact with them on a personal level and give them a higher level of service.”

As a leader of his institution who helped the bank achieve some of its strongest growth and profitability over the past six years, he also came through during challenging times, helping to lead the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic, and making sure hundreds of local businesses received a needed influx of cash so they could keep their teams employed.

Baker is also a managing member and owner of Alpal Properties LLC, which owns and manages more than $1 million in investment real estate.

Heavily involved in the community, he’s the treasurer and chair of the finance committee, as well as a member of the building committee and board of directors, for Lighthouse Personalized Education for Teens in Holyoke. He’s also on the board of directors for Empty Arms Bereavement Support in Florence and serves on its Syrup Stampede 5K fundraiser committee. He also devotes time to Horizons for Homeless Children in Springfield — volunteering more than 100 hours annually, in fact, with homeless children.

“These things are very important to me because I feel like I get to help these great organizations that do all the hard work,” Baker explained. “For example, Lighthouse is helping children, and I’ve always had a passion for helping kids in whatever way I can. My position as vice president of the bank allows me to be a treasurer at some of these places and make a difference; it’s one of the most gratifying things in my life.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Fitness Coach and Owner, BuildEmUp: Age 29

Emily Banerjee

Emily Banerjee

One of the many people who nominated Emily Banerjee for the 40 Under Forty class of 2023 called her “the living model of leading by example.”

That’s because Banerjee grew up in Springfield, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Elms College, then stayed in the area “to motivate and inspire folks of all demographics,” the nominator wrote.

She does so through BuildEmUp, her health and wellness business focused on personal training and group classes. With hundreds of clients, Banerjee’s reputation is growing as a coach and trainer, but also as a compassionate business owner who responds enthusiastically to community needs.

Like a project she spearheaded this past holiday season to collect $13,000 worth of clothes, toys, and necessities and donate them to women and children through the YWCA. She has also spearheaded projects that have resulted in large monetary donations to diabetes organizations, friends with cancer, and other recipients.

But Banerjee doesn’t have to look outside the walls of her fitness center to change lives; she’s doing that every week through a business she started thinking about while working for Baystate Health after graduation, gradually building up a clientele through social media and word of mouth.

“Our model is strong, not skinny,” she said, explaining a model that’s less about weight lost and more about strength — and quality of life — gained. “Being healthy is the bottom line; everyone can understand that.”

During the pandemic, Banerjee offered virtual training to her clients so they could continue living the healthiest life they could. After things started to open back up, she brought clients back to the gym but made sure it was a safe environment for everyone, with individual pods so that members could work out in the same room with confidence.

These days, her average demographic is ages 18 to 50, and most are minority women. She offers about 20 different class times a week, and is already thinking down the road to a possible move out of the ninth floor of 1350 Main St. in downtown Springfield to a larger, more accessible location for clients. After all, they’re what motivates her to be her best self.

“The best part about this is the people,” Banerjee said. “They come to us because they want to; it’s a choice to enter the gym with a positive attitude, and that’s good for me, too. Empowered women empowering women — that’s the goal.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Senior Clinician, Behavioral Health, Commonwealth Care Alliance: Age 38

Jennifer BellBy her own admission, Jennifer Bell was born to be a helper.

“While I picked social work as a career, I think it also picked me,” she said. “Even in my personal life, I always want to help people.”

From her high-school days, visiting her Noni, who was receiving care, Bell found herself also interacting with the other patients in the facility. These days, she leads a team at Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) on an innovative approach to provide medical and mental healthcare to people with non-traditional needs.

“Many of our patients haven’t always had the best experience with the health system in the past,” she said. “We’re here to show that we’re different.”

Using a wrap-around model of care, Bell and her team bring together a patient’s primary-care doctor and therapist to prevent any gaps in treatment. The CCA team is also involved in helping with a patient’s housing and food needs, as well as assisting with tasks such as filling out paperwork.

“My role is to help with the behavioral-health piece, breaking down the barriers that might prevent a person from connecting to mental-health and substance-use-disorder programs,” she said, adding that CCA’s professionals often make house calls for patients who can’t get out.

Trust is an essential part of caring for non-traditional patients, she added, and building that trust starts with showing up. “Sometimes, just having someone consistently show up makes a difference. So, I show up.”

Bell is proud that so many people are comfortable saying, “oh, I can call Jenn,” whether it’s on the job or in her voluntary work.

From serving as a mentor in the Sibling Connections program which reunites siblings placed apart in the foster-care system, to volunteering with her dog, Leila, in a program to help children build their reading skills and confidence by reading aloud to certified therapy dogs, Bell finds helping others to be rewarding work, even outside her day job.

“I have an ability to engage people who have a history of not wanting to be engaged. I feel it’s my main strength,” she said. “I bring a level of energy to the work because I enjoy meeting people from all different walks of life who are on many different paths. I let them know that I’m here for them.”

That’s why so many people know they can call Jenn.


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner, Madison Bull, LMHC: Age 36

Madison BullMadison Bull, as one of her several 40 Under Forty nominators noted, wears a number of hats.

She’s a psychotherapist who opened a private practice in October 2019. She’s also an adjunct psychology professor at Holyoke Community College (HCC); a trainer, speaker, and educator for Pathways for Parents, helping families access mental-health resources for children; and a wife and mother who’s active in her 6-year-old daughter’s life as an elementary-school PTO president and soccer coach.

Bull was working for small group practice before deciding to branch out on her own. She is a certified hypnotherapist and trained in perinatal mental health, but works with a wide range of clients.

“I see a variety of ages, but I mostly focus on girls and younger women. A lot of my focus is on anxiety and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder),” she said, noting that opening the practice when she did, just five months before COVID turned the world on its ear, was a challenge because of the restraints it put on seeing clients in person.

“I did a lot of Zoom sessions, did it virtually, but I like one-on-one, in-person interaction, when you can really get to know someone’s story. That was a little difficult,” she recalled. “But I found people still needed the services. Everyone was definitely thrown for such a loop.”

She said her mission for her practice is to be completely relatable, and to create a safe, comfortable setting for those who come in. “I want people to know who I am; I want that welcoming feeling and for people to know that I am human too.”

As an adjunct professor at HCC, she has taught there on an as-needed basis for a dozen years. She also volunteers in the community, with a special focus on animal welfare, donating time and resources over the years to animal shelters. “My family and I have always been animal people,” she said.

As for involvement in her daughter’s school, well, it’s important for Bull to make time for that, but it’s also a pleasure.

“There’s so much bad on the news and social media. Let’s find things in the community that get people excited, things that keep people hopeful,” she said, adding that, in the case of the PTO, “planning comes easy to me. It’s not super stressful. Somebody’s got to do it. So why not someone who likes it, who enjoys it, and is motivated?”


—Joseph Bednar


40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Lead Pastor, All Nations Church: Age 39

Robert CarterRobert Carter’s career in IT and robotics has taken him to a number of positions, ranging from 11 years at MassMutual, where he worked his way up to robotics process automation developer — tech lead, to CVS Health, where he currently leads a team of developers as a robotics process automation consultant.

As an immigrant from Jamaica 17 years ago, he’s gratified by all of that. “My life and journey is multi-faceted. I’m very proud of what I do in corporate America, being able to rise up to where I’m leading teams, leading projects that impact many people across the country. I’m proud of those accomplishments.”

But he also has a passion for ministry, and for lifting others up, through his work at All Nations Church, where he transitioned from a congregation member into leadership roles and eventually lead pastor. He oversaw the church’s move to a 20,000-square-foot facility on Leete Street in Springfield when it outgrew its previous, 5,000-square-foot site, while expanding ministry outreach programs.

Committed to life-long learning, Carter is currently working on a doctor of ministry degree at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, with a focus on leadership in a changing church culture. His wife, Rebekah, is All Nations Church’s minister of worship.

Carter has long been community-minded, from his volunteer work on the board of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, to his work advising, mentoring, and financially supporting young people and budding entrepreneurs. So it’s natural that his ministry leadership would be similarly outward-looking, not confined to within the church walls.

“I’ve recognized that the church has to be a bit more involved in the community — not to go out with a messiah complex, to save the community, but recognizing that we exist within a community and we should engage with the community and be part of that,” he said. “What, specifically, does the 01108 need?”

One issue in the Forest Park neighborhood is food insecurity, so the church has operated a food pantry for the past two decades, distributing close to 400,000 pounds of food. Carter envisions a time when All Nations might create its own nonprofit, a separate entity from the church, to tackle a host of community needs, from drug use to immigration issues to broken homes.

“It’s a low-income area; we don’t want to deal with just the symptoms of hunger, but why is there hunger in the neighborhood? What we’re aiming to do is strategically engage with the community and help them where they are.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Director of Athletics, American International College: Age 35

Jessica ChapinJessica Chapin was a decorated collegiate athlete. In 2010 alone, she was named the University Athletic Assoc. Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, the Brandeis University Female Athlete of the Year, and a State Farm Women’s Basketball All-American; in 2018, she became a New York State Section 5 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

And then she went to law school, aiming to be an attorney.

But while coaching basketball during that time, she had a realization: that her passion was really in athletics. So, she changed course, enrolled in Springfield College, where she earned a master’s degree in Athletic Administration, and eventually found herself running the Athletics Department at American International College (AIC).

There, Chapin provides leadership for a department of 25 intercollegiate and four club sports, overseeing nearly 45 full-time coaches and another 20 staff members and more than 650 student athletes. She’s responsible for the strategic direction, administration, and supervision of all phases of athletics, including budget management, alumni engagement, fundraising, marketing, enrollment management, personnel management, long-term vision and strategic planning, crisis management and discipline, Title IX and gender equity, facilities, and more.

“Athletics was something I missed, something that was the foundation of my life,” she said of her decision to leave law school, and she’s gratified when student-athletes at AIC make similar journeys of self-discovery. “I love seeing a light go off in the minds of young adults who often come to college not necessarily knowing what they want to do, being able to work with them, seeing the struggles, but then seeing them come out on the other side.”

Chapin also serves with the NCAA on its Division II Management Council, the highest appointment in the organization’s governance structure outside of the President’s Council. In that role, she’s an active participant in the division’s decision making.

She’s also a believer in the value of the athletic experience as a character-building exercise, saying student-athletes possess qualities many others do not, which can serve them well over a lifetime in whatever career they choose.

“It’s definitely gratifying to be a part of all this,” she said. “Sports generally teaches us things that we don’t get to experience otherwise: being on a team, the importance of teamwork, of collaboration, so many things. I feel like, when students are taught by coaches, they learn lessons they might not learn any other way.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice President and Building Services Business Line Leader, Tighe & Bond: Age 35

Jason Curtis

Jason Curtis

Jason Curtis said he’s always been fascinated with the built environment.

“In elementary school, when some kids were playing computer games, I was drawing floor plans on an architectural drafting program on my parents’ desktop computer,” he recalled. “And when I was in high school and college, I did carpentry work as a summer job and on school breaks, and I always found that work to be quite rewarding.”

But what really cemented his desire to be an engineer was his coursework at Union College, where he started to see engineering as a way to make a difference in the world through sustainability, energy efficiency, and high-performance buildings.

In his multi-faceted role at Tighe & Bond, Curtis develops strategic direction, oversees day-to-day operations, and tackles business-development efforts, and has led a wide variety of projects for schools and colleges, municipal buildings, industrial facilities, and multi-family residences.

“Every project is different. As consulting engineers, we say every project is a prototype. Everything is tailored to the particular needs and constraints of each project and client,” he said, with one common thread being energy and sustainability efforts. “With the various challenges of the world we live in today, we always try to bring those things to the forefront. Whether it’s efficiency or greenhouse gases or fossil-fuel reduction or cost effectiveness or resiliency, those are all things we’re constantly talking about and thinking about, and I try to be our client’s trusted advisor.”

Active in the community, Curtis serves on the town of Deerfield’s energy committee, and, as an advocate of mentorship, he has been part of the Hartford, Conn. chapter of the Architecture Construction Engineering (ACE) mentorship program, which assigns STEM-related projects to students. He’s also working with others at Tighe & Bond to revive the ACE mentorship program in Springfield schools.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the mentorship I received over the years. That is something that Tighe & Bond is very cognizant of,” he said, noting that his workforce-development efforts at the company extend to participation on the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee and leadership of the anti-racism subcommittee.

“The firm has been around more than 100 years. For a firm to have that kind of staying power, we know how to transition leadership,” he said. “We want to be around another 100 years, so everyone in a leadership role appreciates that, and everyone invests in developing the next group of leaders for the firm.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Program Chair, Early Childhood Education, Springfield Technical Community College: Age 39

Aimee Dalenta

Aimee Dalenta

Aimee Dalenta has dedicated her life’s work to enriching people through education.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College and a master’s from Western New England University, Dalenta taught fifth grade in Longmeadow. After marriage and having her first two children close together, she left the workforce for a short time. Her first re-entry was running a small childcare center in East Longmeadow. Shortly after that, Springfield College offered Dalenta an instructor’s position in its Education Department.

“So I went from working with little kids to big kids,” she said.

In her current role at Springfield Technical Community College, Dalenta’s students range from those just out of high school to older adults seeking a career change. “Students in the course can be in their 50s and 60s, and they will collaborate with a 21-year old,” she noted. “They learn from each other, and I’m learning from them. It’s a cool environment.”

Dalenta ranks her proudest professional moments as earning her doctorate and how well she has navigated through the starts and stops along the way.

“I will never regret leaving the workforce to become a mom, but it was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “Then, re-entering and navigating my way after not working for five years was terrifying.”

While she enjoyed her time at Springfield College as an instructor, she knew she would need a doctorate to remain in higher education. She enrolled at American International College for its doctoral program even though her youngest child was a toddler.

“It was four grueling years to earn the doctorate, but it was a labor of love,” she said, adding that she is grateful for all the support her family gave her.

She also found inspiration from Pat Summit, the late, legendary women’s basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, who coached her players: “left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat.”

“It’s a simple mantra that helped me get through my doctoral work,” Dalenta said. “I only need to do the thing in front of me. I still use it to center myself when things get difficult.”

While proud of her role as program chair and professor, Dalenta still considers herself a teacher. “I’m inspired by my students as they persevere through life’s challenges. Teaching has always been there to ground me and help me to grow as a professional and as a person.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

CEO, LaunchSpace Inc.: Age 39

Brianna Drohen

Brianna Drohen

When Brianna Drohen’s career path brought her back to Western Mass. in 2013, she met Jack Dunphy, owner of the Orange Innovation Center, and her passion for the region was rekindled.

After learning about Dunphy’s vision, Drohen got to work helping him develop resources, training, and support for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. In the next two years, she brought the building to 90% occupancy and hosted classes and workshops to educate the tenant businesses in specific areas. She also secured grants for a new parking lot and a water-filtration system.

“It’s incredibly gratifying,” said Drohen, who grew up in Wendell and earned degrees at Greenfield Community College and UMass Amherst. “This is a very community-centered place; I grew up with that backbone. When I moved back here, I fell into this work, and I love it.”

But Drohen’s role would soon expand in intriguing ways. In 2016, Dunphy was looking to bring a vacant portion of the building back to life. When Drohen toured a facility in Columbus, Ohio that had similar characteristics as the Orange Innovation Center, she had a ‘eureka!’ moment when she saw businesses, a maker space, and artisans thriving together, revitalizing the neighborhood.

So, in 2017, she and Alec MacLeod co-founded LaunchSpace, a nonprofit organization providing opportunities to upskill, collaborate, and develop new businesses in the local Orange economy. Drohen took over as CEO in 2021.

LaunchSpace also acquired the 24,000-square-foot Pleasant Street School in Athol, intending to drive the local economy by repurposing the kitchen into a working, shared-use commercial kitchen and the classrooms into business-incubation suites and retail outlets, as well as a childcare facility.

LaunchSpace plans to host and support on-site agriculture, value-added food businesses, training and incubation, and community wellness at the former school, providing opportunities to support food sustainability in the region, as well as continuing to develop talent and create jobs for the local economy.

In 2021, Drohen also led a partnership with Greenfield Community College to launch an entrepreneur program to support creative businesses. In 2022, LaunchSpace, GCC, and Greenspace CoWork received funding to pilot a six-month acceleration program focused on the underserved residents of Greater Franklin County.

“I’m driven,” she said. “Some people call me aggressive, but I’m definitely driven by this idea that we can not only reuse old buildings, but we can create micro-economies that support these Western Mass. communities. I would love to have the LaunchSpace model replicated in other communities as well.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Chief Operational Officer, Franklin First Federal Credit Union: Age 38

Sarah ErmanSarah Erman didn’t attend college to prepare for a financial-services career. In fact, her focus as an undergraduate at MCLA was photojournalism.

“I worked with some local newspapers, and I did some freelance with the Greenfield Recorder until I got my job here at the credit union,” she recalled. “My student loans were coming due, and I needed to actually have a job that supported me for the payment of those loans. And there was an opening at Franklin First.”

Starting as a teller, Erman moved into member services and eventually became operations manager and then chief operating officer.

“This was not where I initially saw myself,” she said. “But the more time I spent at the credit union, the more I saw my future there, helping to provide new experiences for our members and staff. The philosophy of the credit union is people helping people, and that’s what really got me to stick around. Once I understood the philosophy, I really fell in love with the credit-union world.”

Erman said she wears many hats, including day-to-day operations, facility management, compliance, and security, and she acts as the institution’s Bank Secrecy Act officer.

She also earned praise from President and CEO Michelle Dwyer for bringing Franklin First up to date with modern technological standards that helped it navigate the pandemic seamlessly. “Had these operational improvements not been made,” Dwyer said, “our credit union would not have been able to continue meeting the needs of our membership.”

Active in the community in numerous ways, Erman has served on the board of directors for Root to Rise, volunteers at the credit union’s financial-education events, and helps nonprofits that reach out to Franklin First for assistance with creating new events.

Notably, she’s heavily involved with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin, serving for the past four years on the fundraising committee that enables three large events each year: the Hope and Healing Breakfast, the Race to End Child Abuse, and the Chipping Away at Child Abuse golf tournament.

“It’s unfortunate those services have to be provided, but they’re such necessary services,” she said. “I feel like I’m able to give back to these kids and the community by helping these committees raise awareness and raise funds for such an important, deserving organization. Those community events are critical to the operations they provide for kids in the community.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Vice Chair of Clinical Operations for Emergency Medicine,
Baystate Medical Center: Age 37

Dr. Seth Gemme

Dr. Seth Gemme

It wasn’t until late in his undergraduate studies at Westfield State University that Dr. Seth Gemme even thought about having those two letters appear before his name.

In fact, his initial aspiration was to be a meteorologist — he had an internship with Adam Strzempko at WWLP while in high school. But he eventually became an EMT, which brought him into the ER at Baystate Noble, which eventually led to a job there, which eventually led him to develop a fondness for the ER and the desire to be a doctor in that setting … which led him to the University of Buffalo Medical School, where he graduated first in his class.

That led to a residency at Brown University, and — here we can fast-forward a little — eventually Gemme returned to this region and to Baystate Noble Hospital, and then chief of the ED at Baystate Wing Hospital, and now, vice chair of Clinical Operations in the ED at Baystate Medical Center.

It has a been a fast and quite impressive ascent for Gemme, whose job (more of a passion, really) involves a mix of clinical work and administrative duties. When he’s not tending to patients, he’s working to improve processes, reduce wait times, and improve capacity management.

Like most who choose the ER, he prefers to say it found him, and he notes that he likes everything about it, from the pace of the work to the fact that every day, every hour is different.

“I like helping people at their most vulnerable time, and hopefully being someone who can change a life,” he explained.

He described the pandemic years as difficult and exhausting, with a full range of emotions.

“Initially, we were heroes; it was the first time where people stopped yelling at us and brought us food,” he joked, adding that the COVID years provided learning experiences and opportunites to grow professionally on many levels.

While the ER is the focus of his workday, Gemme has many other priorities and pursuits, starting with his family — his wife Chelsie and daughters Harlow and Hanna. There’s also his music — he plays guitar and piano and sings, and appears both solo and in an indie folk trio, the Ship and the Shield. Meanwhile, he’s also one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds and a board member for Hilltown Ambulance.

Needless to say, he’s instrumental to the health and wellness of people of this region — in every sense of that word.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner and Clinic Director, Resilience Physical Therapy and Wellness: Age 28

Daniel GriffinAmid all the physical-therapy practices in the region, Daniel Griffin had a vision for a different approach.

“I wanted to bring a more innovative style to rehabilitation,” he said. “It’s important to look at a patient’s total health — how they eat, sleep, and how the rest of body moves — then tailor their rehab plan so they can return to the social activities they enjoy.”

He opened Resilience Physical Therapy and Wellness in 2019 after completing his doctoral work in physical therapy at Springfield College and immediately began using evidence-based approaches to physical therapy.

“Our youngest patient is age 6, and our oldest is in their mid-90s,” he said. “Having such a diverse age range is rewarding for us as clinicians.”

Part of his business includes providing physical-therapy services to first responders in several area communities. “Whether it’s police, firefighters, or military personnel, we understand what they do from a work standpoint, and we’re just glad to help when they get injured on the job,” he said.

Notably, Griffin and his staff run Resilience’s education program for healthcare students, encompassing students from high school through graduate level who are pursuing health careers. The program is designed to take students through the internship process and show them the day-to-day responsibilities of a physical therapist.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see our high-school students advance to physical therapy or pre-med programs and our undergrad students move into graduate-level training,” he said. “We hire many of our former students. In fact, most of our staff interned with us.”

Griffin said the program can really benefit high-school students by giving them exposure to a health-career pathway, as well as offering interactions for college and graduate students to better understand their experiences.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy to create this program,” he added. “We’re happy to see all our slots booked for the summer, and we look forward to a new group of students in the next school year.”

From the first Resilience location in Agawam, Griffin has expanded to Wilbraham and will open a third practice this summer in Suffield. He’s grateful to all those who have helped him along this successful path.

“In the beginning, I had great mentors who helped me get started,” he said. “We continue to grow because I’ve got a great team that works with me.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner, Excel Therapy & Conditioning: Age 38

Sara HulsebergSara Hulseberg tells a story that demonstrates the meaning of a loyal clientele.

When COVID forced her to find a new home for Excel Therapy & Conditioning, the practice she started in 2012, she found a run-down garage and eventually cleaned it up, built it out, and prepared to move the practice and everything in it, thinking moving would take three 12-hour days to complete.

Then the help started to show up — not only her team, but clients. In three hours, she was not only moved in, but totally set up.

The nominations supporting her 40 Under Forty selection explain that loyalty.

“As a patient of Sara’s, I’ve regularly witnessed her reach out to help people under extreme trauma and hardships,” one wrote, sharing her own experience with pain reduction and greater mobility under Hulseberg’s care. “She has been a friend to me, going above and beyond every time — and I’ve seen her do this with every person that comes to her.”

Others talked about her pro bono work, her insistence on not laying off anyone during the pandemic, her donations of time and resources to local charity events, her mentorship and internships for aspiring therapists … the list goes on.

Hulseberg, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Springfield College and her doctor of physical therapy degree at Northeastern University, said she became frustrated with how patients were being treated in other practices where she worked, and sought to create a different model. “I saw a lot of treatment based solely around what their insurance was or whatever their pain was, not what it stemmed from. It was disheartening.”

She said the immediate gratification she gets from helping people isn’t something one finds in every field of healthcare.

“Someone comes in with a lot of pain, and if you do your job, they leave with significantly less pain and more functionality over the weeks and months. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do that for somebody.”

Hulseberg said she was first inspired by the way her father, an ophthalmologist in Holyoke, treats his patients, and asked him, before she launched Excel, why she doesn’t experience the same kind of relationships where she worked.

“I said, ‘I must be in the wrong field,’” she recalled. “He said, it’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but you often have to plow your own way to get there.’”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

President, Marcotte Ford: Age 39

Mike MarcotteHe calls it the ‘Marcotte Ford campus,’ and that name certainly works.

Indeed, where there was once a Marcotte Ford dealership on Main Street in Holyoke, started by his grandfather, Al, and expanded by his father, Bryan, there are now several businesses, including a new, larger dealership, complete with a popular café inside; a commercial truck center; and even a car wash.

Mike Marcotte, the third-generation president of this family business, has been instrumental in its expansion, and in many ways, he is continuing family traditions — of entrepreneurship, success in business, and getting involved in the community.

Like most in family-owned auto dealerships and groups, Marcotte said he “grew up in the business,” learning all aspects of it, from parts to service, as he was being groomed to take a leadership role. His favorite, though, was sales.

Al Marcotte

Al Marcotte

Bryan Marcotte

Bryan Marcotte

“It’s a joy, an experience — a ‘wow’ moment,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people be really happy as they drive away with their new or pre-owned vehicle.”

There have been many ‘wow’ moments for the dealership as well, including those new facilities mentioned above. The café inside the new dealership, called LugNutz, has become a popular eatery in the city, and it has hosted a number of community events for local organizations.

Marcotte is continuing this series of expansion efforts by winning designation as a Model E Certified Elite store, making the dealership one of the first Ford stores in the area to sell electric Ford vehicles. The company will also be investing $1 million in charging infrastructure.

Meanwhile, and as mentioned earlier, Marcotte is continuing and building upon not only a tradition of entrepreneurship, but a tradition of involvement in the community.

That includes everything everything from work at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, where Marcotte established a program where the company mentors, trains, and hires technicians who work at the school, to Holyoke Medical Center, where he serves as vice chair of the board; from the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club — another family tradition; the basketball courts there were recently named in honor of his father, who was on the board for many years — to support of Providence Ministries and especially Kate’s Kitchen, which provides more than 200 meals a day to those in need.

“The city has been so good to us, and we try to be good to the city and give back in every way we can,” he said. “And it’s not just me, but the whole staff.”


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Program Officer, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts: Age 37

Jeffery Markham Jr.Jeffery Markham Jr. is no stranger to the nonprofit world, having worked with them in many capacities, from volunteer efforts to convening them in a major public-health research project. Now, the tables have turned — literally.

“After working with nonprofits, it feels good to be on the other side of the table, giving dollars away, as opposed to trying to find them,” he said of his latest new role, as a program officer for Community Impact and Partnerships at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, spearheading a grant process that will center on community participation in design and distribution of funds.

“We’re shifting our way of thinking toward giving away money in a more trust-based way,” he explained. “The whole school of thought around trust-based philanthropy is, instead of seeking to put some dollars toward a specific goal, the foundation deems it important to give to organizations in a way that puts them at the center of it and allows them to dictate how they want to spend their money.

“In that way, we’re looking to be in a relationship with organizations whose philosophy and overarching values are the same as ours and trust them to steward the money in a way they see fit, and that will have the most impact.”

Markham helps oversee distribution of resources from more than 60 funds at the foundation, delivering more than $3 million to organizations annually.

Before joining the Community Foundation, he was the research project manager for a $2.3 million National Institute of Health-funded research project in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst. The community participatory research project investigated the connection between stress and health outcomes in Black men in Springfield and its surroundings.

“It was a community-based resource project that involved community members in the development of the research,” he explained. “All too often, anchor institutions descend on communities, particularly communities of color and low-income communities, and extract information without bringing anything back or having them be a part of the process.”

Markham has also led projects at Caring Health Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, and has volunteered with Gardening the Community, Men of Color Health Awareness, Democracy Behind Bars, the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network, and many others.

“I hold dear my commitment to lifting up folks in our community, particularly the young people coming behind me,” he said. “That’s a really important piece of my life — to lift up issues in our community and try to find solutions.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Technology Assurance Manager, KPMG US: Age: 39

Stephanie O’LearyLongmeadow native and Bay Path University graduate Stephanie O’Leary observed that “I’ve completed all my schooling in a town that’s eight square miles.”

While that’s a fact, it’s also true that she’s really going places.

In her five years with KMPG US, a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax, and advisory services, O’Leary has earned three promotions and has been recognized for her dedication and leadership.

Technology-assurance positions tend to be male-dominated, but O’Leary noted that she was one of three women recently promoted in this area. “This was exciting to see because it shows KPMG’s commitment to advancing women and underrepresented groups.”

Since she joined the company five years ago, she has been involved in mentoring new hires and interns, and was selected as a national facilitator to help develop the next generation of KPMG employees.

“I enjoy helping new associates find their way,” she said. “At the same time, there are others in the company looking out for me.”

O’Leary stays involved with Bay Path, serving as president of the Alumni Assoc. Council and as the youngest member of the university’s board of trustees.

“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I believe everyone who wants an education should have access to it,” she said. “As a fairly recent graduate, I bring a fresh perspective to the board.”

O’Leary speaks regularly with prospective Bay Path students, helps others prepare for job interviews, and makes recommendations for internships. She also led a project to establish a campus food pantry. “It’s hard to get an education if you’re hungry,” she said.

At the Wildcat Pantry, students who may not have the means can get food and personal items to make it through their day and to graduation “If we can make a small difference in a student’s life on campus, I would like that to be part of my legacy as Alumni Association president.”

When a couple friends were diagnosed with cancer, O’Leary decided to train for the Boston Marathon, raising more than $14,000 for Dana-Farber cancer research.

“I thought I’d be a one-and-done marathoner, but they asked me back,” she said. This year, she had a patient partner, a 4-year old in remission from leukemia, and shattered her fundraising goal, collecting more than $15,000.

“When you run for a cause like this, it gives you a lot of perspective,” she said. “The people you meet are truly inspiring.”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Owner, Pandolfi Landscape Construction: Age 37

Nick PandolfiBy the summer of 2017, Nick Pandolfi was at a crossroads in his life and career.

He had a day job — working for the state as groundskeeper for the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam. But he had a side hustle, if you will, on nights and weekends, doing hardscape installation work such as patios, retaining walls, sidewalks, and more.

He was developing a solid reputation with the latter, and it was starting to take up more and more of his free time — to the point where, eventually, he had to decide between one or the other.

So he took the route of an entrepreneur and made Pandolfi Landscape Construction his sole focus — and his passion.

He started with a small crew, some old equipment, and determination to make sure his life decision was the right one.

“We just started getting out there, working hard … word of mouth traveled quickly,” Pandolfi recalled. “We found ourselves hiring more people very quickly and just growing from there.”

The company soon expanded its portfolio of work to a full range of backyard renovations, including firepits, outdoor kitchens, and plunge pools. And it was certainly helped by the pandemic, which canceled vacations and gave people the time, and inclination, to make investments in their homes and backyards.

“That whole outdoor living experience has really taken off,” he said, adding that, three years after the start of the pandemic, business continues to be robust, and these kinds of investments continue. “And seeing that look on people’s faces when a project is done, and making them happy at the end of the day — that’s very rewarding.”

When not working, Pandolfi is usually in his own backyard enjoying time with his family — his wife, Taryn, and children Brody, Luke, and Gwendolyn — and attending the many sporting events involving his children.

He’s also active in the community. He served for several years on the Planning Board in Agawam, and currently donates time, energy, and talent to New Day Church in Enfield, Conn., the West Springfield Police Club, and Shriners Children’s New England. He said giving back is important, and certainly did so when he learned that a local school’s playground toys had been vandalized. That same day, he ordered new equipment, then assembled and delivered it when it arrived.

He did that quietly, just as he’s grown his business into a thriving venture.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Co-owner, Serendipity Psych: Age 35

Dallas PileckiGrowing up, Dallas Pilecki said, “I always wanted to help people. I had a passion for that.”

Opening Serendipity Psych with his business partner, Ariana Avezzie, put that passion to the test, due to some unfortunate timing: three months after the counseling practice opened in Westfield in December 2019, COVID-19 shut the world down.

It was a challenge, for sure, but also an opportunity. Pilecki, a licensed mental-health counselor, used the time to create free workshops, programming, and resource handouts for the community, and built partnerships with local agencies to provide mental-health services to the elderly. Meanwhile, he started delivering services via telehealth, which has become a permanent option, all in the name of making clients feel comfortable.

“We ask people if they want telehealth, in-person, or a community visit,” he said. “We meet people where they are.”

In the years before opening Serendipity, Pilecki worked for other practices, including Baystate Noble Hospital, where he worked on an opioid task force and organized a large community event in 2019 to raise awareness and break stigma around addiction. He’s still passionate about the value of seeking help.

“Serendipity has grown from us wanting to do things our own way and taking time with people who are going through so much more than what’s diagnosed,” he said of the model he and Avezzie created, which draws on the ‘spirit, mind, and body’ emphasis of Springfield College, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“We’re fortunate to have done some pro bono work, and we work with local agencies on caregiver support; when someone is caring for someone with dementia or terminal illness, we offer help to the caregiver,” Pilecki said, adding that they see a wide range of clients, from children to older adults.

He compared his work to that of an “old-fashioned family doctor,” someone who takes the time to know a family’s whole story. “We want that rapport with clients. We want to know them, their jobs, what their stressors are, how they’re dealing with them. All those things matter to us.”

Getting back to that December 2019 opening, maybe ‘unfortunate’ is the wrong word for the timing. Maybe it’s the opposite of the right word.

“We were able to help people during a time when there was so much uncertainty. People didn’t know how to cope; they didn’t know what was coming next,” Pilecki recalled.

“It’s scary to trust somebody,” he added. “Maybe you’re telling us things you’ve never told anyone, but we’re here, and we’re grateful that people trust us.”


—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Interim Regional Manager, Families First; Holyoke City Councilor: Age 37

Israel RiveraHolyoke City Councilor Israel Rivera’s pursuit of a master’s degree in public administration from Westfield State University might not sound out of the ordinary, until he tells his backstory.

At age 19, Rivera was incarcerated for five years for drug-related charges. Upon his release, he gravitated to positive places in the community that he’d known since childhood. To get back on his feet, he sought out the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club and the Holyoke Housing Authority.

“I went back to my old roots with the intent on giving back to my community,” he explained.

After earning an associate degree from Holyoke Community College and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UMass Amherst, Rivera held positions in community engagement and workforce development, before Families First recruited him as interim regional manager. There, he oversees two programs that build stronger families by encouraging parents to connect and network with each other.

“As parents grow their network, they gain confidence,” he said. “If one person is having a problem, another parent will share what has worked for them with a similar problem. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Rivera is proud to be part of this effort to build stronger families in Western Mass. “As a father of three, these programs strengthen my knowledge as a parent and a community organizer.”

In 2021, Rivera was elected to Holyoke’s City Council and now chairs its public safety committee. “When I took office, I did not think the other councilors would appreciate my background,” he said. “But many have been supportive and want to hear my perspective.”

He hopes his life example will start to change societal attitudes about people who made mistakes in their youth but have matured into adults who are positive citizens. “If we allow formerly incarcerated people to be in society, we have to gradually allow them to fully take part in society.”

For example, after a person is incarcerated, they often face legal discrimination when trying to improve their lives, he noted. “I have friends who would like to apply for a liquor license to open a restaurant or apply for a lottery license to open a bodega, but they can’t because of their past.”

Rivera said he shares his own experience to educate and inspire others about what’s possible. “When I was incarcerated, I dreamed about where I am today. So when someone asks how I’m doing, I say, ‘I’m living the dream.’”


—Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2023

Manager/CPA, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; Age 29

Chelsea Russell“There’s never a dull moment.”

That’s not a phrase anyone not in accounting and auditing would probably use to describe that profession. But Chelsea Russell, who has chosen that field, means it when she says it.

“There’s a lot of variety, a lot of excitement — you can do the grind of the work, but you can also go out and meet people in the community and other business owners,” Russell said as she talked about the sum (that’s an industry term) of everything that goes into her career, especially the networking and relationship building, in addition to the number crunching.

Russell was trending toward business management while at Westfield State University, became inspired by one of her accounting professors to focus her career in that direction, and became further inspired by a talk delivered by Jim Krupienski, now a partner at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, on “a day in the life of an accountant.”

She pursued an internship at MBK, one that led — as these opportunities so often do — to a job at the firm. She currently serves as a manager in the Audit and Assurance Department, where she handles large audits in the not-for-profit, commercial, and employment-benefit-plan arenas.

She has become an emerging leader at the firm, serving as co-leader of the Not-for-profit Division, a member of the mission and vision committee, an internal trainer for the Audit and Assurance Department, a member of the Business Development team, and a mentor to audit and accounting associates.

But maybe her most noteworthy contribution at the firm, one she’s passionate about, is her work to develop its Community Outreach program, through which she has established monthly charitable opportunities for the firm to participate in. She has coordinated drives, awareness campaigns, and service for a wide range of organizations in Western Mass., including Square One, Dakin Humane Society, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity, the Opera House Players, Friends of the Homeless, Rachel’s Table, and many others.

“It’s become a staple of who we are,” she said of the program. “I always wanted something to make my work more meaningful. I love what I do, and I love my clients … but there was more that we could do with the resources that we have. We’re in Western Mass., and there’s so much need in the community.”

When not working or coordinating support for nonprofits, Russell is engaging in outdoor activities — camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and more — with her husband, Tyler, and 8-month-old lab, Copper.


—George O’Brien