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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 138: November 28, 2022

George Interviews Bob Bolduc, founder of Pride Stations and Stores

It’s called the Hope for Youth & Families Foundation. That’s the next chapter in the life and career of entrepreneur and philanthropist Bob Bolduc, founder of Pride Stations and Stores. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Bolduc about his new foundation and its broad goal of helping individuals and families achieve sustainability. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local 413 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 135: November 7, 2022

George Interviews Mark Paglia, COO of Mira Vista Behavioral Health Center

Mark Paglia, COO of Mira Vista Behavioral Health Center — and a Healthcare Hero for 2022 — is the guest on BusinessTalk this week, and there was a lot to discuss with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien. Topics include the opening of Mira Vista in the middle of a pandemic, the behavioral health crisis that accompanied COVID, the ongoing, and  now often overlooked, opioid addiction problem in this country, and much more. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

Also Available On

Cover Story Women of Impact 2022

This Year’s Class to Be Celebrated on Dec. 8

BusinessWest has long recognized the contributions of women within the business community and created the Women of Impact awards four years ago to further honor women who have the authority and power to move the needle in their business, are respected for accomplishments within their industries, give back to the community, and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within their field of influence.

See the 2022 Women of Impact Digital section HERE

The eight 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, and, most importantly, inspirations to all those around them. The class of 2022 features:

Come celebrate them on Thursday, Dec. 8, at a gala at the Springfield Sheraton. The Women of Impact program and event are sponsored this year by Country Bank and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors) and Comcast Business and Granite State Development Corp. (supporting sponsors).

Fast Facts

WHAT: The fifth annual Women of Impact Gala
WHEN: Thursday, December 8, 2022
WHERE: Sheraton Springfield, One Monarch Place
TICKETS: $85 per person (tables of 10 available)

Go HERE to order your tickets!

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go HERE or call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Presenting Sponsors

Partner Sponsors

Women of Impact 2022

Principal, Kuhn Riddle Architects

She’s Created a Blueprint for Being an Effective Leader

Aelan Tierney

Aelan Tierney was recalling her search for an internship opportunity while in high school.

This was before the internet, so she used something quite foreign to people of that age today — the phone book. Starting in the A’s, she came to ‘Advertising,’ thought about it for a minute or two, and then continued turning pages until arriving at ‘Architecture,’ and decided that this was a profession she needed to explore.

When asked why she moved down the book from advertising, she said simply, “it was interesting, but it wasn’t three-dimensional.”

Architecture is, and that’s just one of the many things she likes about what eventually became her chosen field.

“Architecture impacts every aspect of our life, whether it’s your home, school, or place of work,” she told BusinessWest. “The experiences you have are shaped by the spaces that you’re in; if you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.”

As it turns out, that high-school internship spawned more than an interest in architecture. It started Tierney down a truly impactful career path, as an employer (she’s president of the Amherst-based firm Kuhn Riddle), as someone active her in profession and trying to diversify its ranks (much more on that later), and as someone active in her community, as a member of the board of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, for example, and also as chair of the Northampton Central Business Architecture Committee.

“Architecture impacts every aspect of our life, whether it’s your home, school, or place of work. The experiences you have are shaped by the spaces that you’re in; if you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.”

One internship didn’t inspire all that, obviously. What has is an ongoing desire to get involved (she’s a former Peace Corps volunteer), inspire and mentor others, and, yes, impact everyday lives through her work in architecture.

In all aspects of her life, Tierney would be considered a leader, and to her, that means someone who possesses many skills, but excels at listening and responding to what is heard. This is true when it comes to the relationship between an architect and a client, in the workplace, and in life in general.

“Listening and hearing what people are saying is really important,” she said. “We all come from very different life experiences that shape who we are and how we see and understand the world. Strong leaders try to best understand the goals and aspirations of the people they are leading.

“I think strong leaders also know how to bring the best people to them and then bring out the best in them,” she went on. “They learn the strengths of the people on their team, and they cultivate and support the growth of those strengths while also figuring out how to help them strengthen their weaknesses.”

Aelan Tierney says the past few years brought challenges
Aelan Tierney says the past few years brought challenges the industry hadn’t seen before, but Kuhn Riddle was able to ride out the storm.

Tierney certainly fits these descriptions, and her strong leadership skills and ability to change the landscape, in all kinds of ways, makes her a Woman of Impact.

New Dimensions of Leadership

Architecture is one of those fields that is most impacted by the ups and downs in the economy, especially those downs.

And those in this profession feel the impact usually before most others.

Indeed, as the economy starts to decline, or even before that as storm clouds start to gather, building projects large and small are often put on hold or scrapped altogether. Tierney has seen the phone stop ringing, or ringing as often, several times in her career, especially during the Great Recession of 2009, when most building ground to a halt.

Still, the pandemic that started in March 2020, was something altogether different, unlike anything she or anyone else in this profession had seen before.

“Listening and hearing what people are saying is really important. We all come from very different life experiences that shape who we are and how we see and understand the world. Strong leaders try to best understand the goals and aspirations of the people they are leading.”

“It was scary,” she recalled, noting that many of the public institutions Kuhn Riddle has worked for, and it’s a long list, simply shut down and shelved most all construction and renovation work. “We actually started talking about … ‘well, what happens if we have to close the firm?’”

The firm didn’t close, obviously, and it was Tierney’s work with her partners and others at the company to diversify its portfolio — as well as those leadership skills she described earlier — that enabled it to ride out this and other storms.

“During the pandemic, I learned that leaders have to think quickly on their feet; they have to gather as much information as possible about things they never thought they would be dealing with,” she said. “They need to communicate clearly and frequently in an ever-changing and rapidly changing crisis. They need to make tough decisions, and hopefully keep the business and all of the staff afloat.”

Tierney said everything she experienced prior to the pandemic helped prepare her for that moment — as much as anyone could have been prepared. And to understand, we need to go back to that internship. Actually, our story goes back further, to Tierney’s childhood, when she spent considerable time in her father’s woodworking school for fine furniture and watching him craft pieces to meet a client’s specific needs. It was through such experiences that she developed an interest in architecture.

“I thought it was fascinating to take something from paper and transform it into an object,” she said, adding that this interest eventually led her to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she majored in architecture and minored in architecture history.

She graduated during one of those aforementioned downturns in the economy, the lengthy recession of the early ’90s. Unable to find work, she joined the Peace Corps as a community-development volunteer and was assigned to work in Guinea in West Africa — a learning experience on many levels, and one in which she put her education to good use.

“I was a health and community-development volunteer, and I renovated an old warehouse building into a workshop for a women’s cooperative,” she recalled. “It was amazing job to have to have as young woman in a developing country.”

She started her career in architecture at Dietz & Co. Architects in Springfield, led by Kerry Dietz, a member of BusinessWest’s inaugural class of Women of Impact, whom Tierney described as a great mentor. She then joined Kuhn Riddle in 2005 and became president and majority owner in 2016.

As an architect, she works on projects across a broad spectrum, including residential, commercial, education, and nonprofits. Her portfolio includes a number of intriguing projects, including the renovation of Easthampton’s historic Town Hall, the Gaylord Mansion historic renovation at Elms College, the new Girls Inc. of the Valley headquarters and program center in Holyoke, the Olympia Oaks affordable-housing project in Amherst, the Kringle Candle Farm Table restaurant in Bernardston, and many others. While the projects vary in size and scope, a common thread is the partnership between the client, architect, and builder that makes a dream become reality.

The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke
The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke
The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke is one of many projects in the diverse portfolio compiled by Kuhn Riddle and its president, Aelan Tierney.

“As an architect, I strive to listen to my clients to learn about what types of spaces would make their lives better, and then, hopefully, we create those spaces together,” she said. “My greatest satisfaction is facilitating the collaboration between the client, design professionals, and builders to realize a client’s vision.”

In her current role, she balances her design work with her leadership responsibilities, which include setting a tone, leading by example, and creating an effective culture for the firm.

“As president of Kuhn Riddle, I strive to make our work environment as supportive as possible for our staff,” she explained. “We love what we do, but we also have lives and families outside of work, and it is important to me that everyone here has a work/life balance. I believe that people will give their best when they feel that they are being given the best possible support and appreciation.”

For Tierney, balance means time with family, but also for giving back to the community. She has been a member of the Amherst Area Chamber board for several years now, and is currently a member of its diversity task force. Formerly, she served on the board of the Enchanted Circle Theatre.

As noted earlier, she is chair of the Northampton Central Business Architecture Committee, and also vice chair of the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Architects, as well as a member of the diversity committee of the National Council of Architecture Registration Boards.

“ It was an anti-beauty pageant, because it wasn’t about looks. It was all about owning who you are, being who you are, doing some community service, sharing whatever talent you have … they didn’t have to show up and look a certain way.”

In recent years, bringing diversity to the profession, one historically dominated by white males, has become one of her priorities. She noted that, while there are more non-whites, and many more women, in architecture schools than when she was at Carnegie Mellon, they are not becoming licensed architects at the same rates.

“Diversity is important to me, not only as a woman, but as the mother of a biracial child,” she explained. “I recognize that this profession is lacking diversity, and I believe that architecture is better when all the voices are represented in the design process.”

To create a more diverse mix of voices, Kuhn Riddle now funds a scholarship for UMass Amherst’s Summer Design Academy for high-school students, specifically targeting women and people of color.

“If you get kids interested in high school, maybe they’ll go to college,” she explained, adding that several area firms now contribute to that scholarship, one of many steps she believes will eventually change the face of the profession, literally and figuratively.

Progress — by Design

As she talked with BusinessWest about her life and career, Tierney presented a small card, a marketing piece used by the firm.

On one side is a brief history of Kuhn Riddle, a quick summation of its specialties and client base, and even mention of its own headquarters, an open-design studio with no private offices to promote communication and “cross-fertilization of ideas.”

On the other side, in gray, is a map of Amherst, with properties designed by Kuhn Riddle (either new construction or renovations) in yellow.

“That’s a lot of yellow,” said Tierney as she referenced the card, noting projects in every corner of the community.

Indeed, the firm has certainly changed the landscape in Amherst over the past 32 years, enhancing, improving, supporting, and in some cases changing lives through ‘good architecture.’

Tierney has been changing lives herself, going all the way back to her Peace Corps days, as an architect, an activist, and, most of all, a leader. All of that makes her a true Woman of Impact.

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

Women of Impact 2022

President, O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun

She’s Engineering Opportunities for Many in a Dynamic Field

Ashley Sullivan
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

When asked about being a leader and role model in her company and in her industry, Ashley Sullivan sums it up simply: “I like to help people, and a lot of people have helped me.”

And she knows the value of helping and encouraging others. During her college days and into her long engineering career at O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun (OTO) — after 20 years with the firm, she was named president at the start of 2020 — she sometimes questioned whether she knew enough, whether she measured up to her responsibilities, and to her peers.

It’s why events like a recent after-work gathering between OTO and Fuss & O’Neill, another civil-engineering firm headquartered in downtown Springfield, are valuable, she said, in that they help young engineers, and especially young women, not only network, but recognize their place in the field.

“I was intimidated to be in a room with a lot of people who had 20-plus years of experience on me. I always thought I had more to learn; I always thought I didn’t have as much experience as I needed,” she recalled. “But if you put me in a room with my peers, I would have been like, ‘oh, I can do this; I want to get them in situations where they see they’re good.”

“The big thing I stressed was, we all have value, and we’re all part of a team, and we need to be rowing the same way.”

Joining a small, newish engineering firm in 2000, Sullivan didn’t network much outside the company, but she sees the value in it now. “I didn’t know my path, and that’s something that’s true with a lot of people. But once they see you out there and you see yourself in that role, it just happens.”

The passion for inspiring younger engineers is what also drives Sullivan to be a mentor, not only by teaching a civil-engineering capstone design course at Western New England University, where she guides graduating students through a mock building project, but by encouraging OTO’s team members to seek any professional-development opportunities that will help them learn and advance, like she did.

“I think we should be mentors. I think it’s very important to give back to the industry,” she said. “We want to hire, and sometimes you hear complaints that there’s nobody great to hire, but is anyone helping them succeed? I think it’s our responsibility to do it.

Ashley Sullivan discusses a project at One Ferry Street in Easthampton
Ashley Sullivan discusses a project at One Ferry Street in Easthampton with OTO field engineer Dustin Humphrey and client Mike Michon.

“If you give people a lot of opportunity and the skills to help them move up, I feel that benefits the company itself,” she added. “The company needs to support the development of those skills.”

And hiring and recruitment are definitely a challenge now, Sullivan said, adding that the firm saw some turnover during the pandemic but has hired seven employees since January. “We’ve been able to navigate it so far. That’s why I also think it’s important to be a mentor and reach out to students and to have the kind of culture that appeals to them.”

Sullivan has certainly navigated some transitions over the past few years, from taking the reins at OTO to almost immediately having to steer it through a pandemic. For successfully leading in what is still a male-dominated field, and for being a mentor, role model, and inspiration to the next generation of civil engineers, Sullivan is certainly a Woman of Impact.

Ninth Time’s the Charm

Engineering runs in Sullivan’s family — sort of. She said her grandmother always had a lot of respect for engineers, and her father is one of eight siblings who tried engineering but didn’t stick with it. “My grandmother really wanted one, so I said I’ll try it.”

The truth is, Sullivan had already cultivated an interest in chemistry in high school and was considering studying environmental engineering at UMass Amherst — a place where, again, her insecurity nagged at her.

“I want to set us up to the next transition, and that means giving people the skills to manage and lead — not just engineering skills, but all those other things that have to happen. Communication is a big thing we work on, and so is trust.”

“I did very well in high school, but I was nervous about going to a challenging school, or a school where there were others who would do really well too. That plays into why I like to give people confidence and why I do what I do. On the outside, I did well and came across like I had a lot of confidence. But inside, I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea.’”

She had a positive experience at UMass, though she shifted gears toward civil engineering, “mainly because I found that chemical engineering students ended up in a dark lab, and civil engineering students were outside in the quad, and that just looked a lot more enjoyable to me.”

When she graduated in 1998, a lot of the jobs being offered at the time were at the Big Dig in Boston, and she wasn’t interested in heavy construction, so she stayed in graduate school, where she gained the experience she would put to use at OTO two years later.

“I was working for a Mass Highway project where we were installing wells, doing groundwater sampling, modeling groundwater flow, looking at contamination, and two years later I had my master’s in environmental engineering,” she said. “I interviewed at OTO because they were local, in Springfield, and halfway through the interview with Jim Okun and Mike Talbot, I thought I’d like to work there. It was a small firm, everybody seemed very nice, and it seemed to suit my personality.”

OTO’s services over the years have included testing commercial properties for hazardous materials and overseeing cleanup, asbestos management in schools and offices, brownfield redevelopment, indoor air-quality assessments, and geotechnical engineering, a broad term encompassing everything from helping developers assess how much force and weight the ground under a proposed structure can stand to determining the strength of a building’s foundation and surrounding topography.

“I enjoyed working for a small company, working directly with the principals,” Sullivan said, the third being Kevin O’Reilly. “I learned a lot. I also enjoyed working in my own community. It’s been fun over the years driving around the neighborhoods, whether I go to Baystate for a doctor’s appointment or a library, or take my kids to a park, and see projects that I worked on. Rather than working on a high-profile job in another city, I really liked that the jobs were near where I work.”

The other positive experience — one that would later color the kind of president she would be —was being allowed a flexible schedule when she started a family in 2005.

“That was not industry-wide; it’s just not something that was offered,” she explained. “I went down to 24 hours with my first daughter, and I stayed there until they were both in school, then went to 32 hours. But I was still allowed to progress in management.”

That was the key, she said — being able to have work-life balance without sacrificing future opportunities.

“It’s a two-way street. I got some flexibility, but there was accountability and good communication, and I would try to be available when I absolutely needed to; my kids went to some job sites. That was something you couldn’t easily find at other engineering firms. And I also kept progressing; I was allowed to manage projects and manage staff that way. So that kept me going here, to the point where we transitioned.”

Ashley Sullivan performs a phase-1 dam inspection.
Ashley Sullivan performs a phase-1 dam inspection.

In fact, when the three founders started talking about the next generation of leadership, they discussed selling OTO to an outsider, but they preferred an internal transition, and felt they had the right individual in Sullivan.

“We had a good business, we had a good foundation, and I just said, ‘I want to be part of it … I like what I do, I like the people I work with, we have a good company, let’s just try to make this work.’”

Sullivan has taken lessons from her own experience and saw how offering flexibility in different ways to employees could benefit both them and the company, although COVID, admittedly, helped that process along. “I wanted to make sure people, whether managers or other individuals, had the skills and knew the expectations to make that kind of work more widespread.”

She has led her team, she noted, according to the company’s core values, three of which are transparency, respect, and togetherness.

“The big thing I stressed was, we all have value, and we’re all part of a team, and we need to be rowing the same way,” she told BusinessWest. “That was really important, and it was something I learned here but I saw fall away a little bit when we were going through the transition, because when times get hard, it becomes very individual: ‘what does this mean for me? Is this going to be good or bad? I’ve got to fight for my own.’ We needed to come back together.”

So she conducted sessions where she asked employees what kind of culture they want and what keeps them at OTO. “I asked, ‘what are some of the great things we can build upon? What can we do better?’ I think that was important. I like to hear what others want, and then see if I can help make that happen. So, really, one of the big things I wanted to do was to hear from more voices.

“And there was a good foundation,” she added. “My experience here was something I thought I could build upon and then bring to the next level.”

Reaching New Heights

The mission statement posted in the conference room attests that “we will elevate our industry to create and deliver the best solutions for natural and built environments.”

And to elevate an industry, Sullivan believes she must first elevate her people. “I want to set us up to the next transition, and that means giving people the skills to manage and lead — not just engineering skills, but all those other things that have to happen. Communication is a big thing we work on, and so is trust.”

When she talks to young people about a career in civil engineering, she’s quick to explain how much variety and opportunity they will encounter. “You can go into transportation or structural or geotech or environmental. You can do public work at the state or municipal level, or even the federal level. You can work in private consulting or go into technical sales. You can go into a testing lab. You can work for a contractor. That allows for some flexibility because you don’t always know when you’re right out of school and you have to make all these decisions.”

At the same time, “going into a field like civil engineering, you’re going to be needed forever. We do important projects for people. It’s important for people to have that job security and know there are so many different things you can do with that.”

The message is rersonating, especially with young women. A few weeks ago, Sullivan attended a geotechnical conference in Connecticut and was “blown away” by the number of women she saw, compared to, say, five years ago. And on a heavy construction site on Boston Road recently, she walked the grounds alongside a female field engineer and a female quality-control engineer, all from different firms.

“That was something that I hadn’t seen, to see three women working together on a project with a big rig installing ground improvement. It was really neat. Sometimes I think, ‘wow, this is happening.’

It’s happening because of the impact of women like Sullivan, who knows the value of being helped and inspired, and wants to do the same for others.

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

Women of Impact 2022

Executive Director, Nuestras Raíces

This Leader Helps Others Achieve a Sense of Belonging

Hilda Roqué

Hilda Roqué was 14 when she and other members of her family arrived in Holyoke from her native Puerto Rico.

It was February, she recalled, noting that the extreme climate change from the tropical Caribbean provided a constant reminder that she was a long — as in long — way from home.

And, unfortunately, weather was far from the only such painful reminder. Language was a considerable barrier, she said, and there were myriad cultural differences as well. Overall, she did not feel included.

“I had no sense of belonging when I came here; when you come from a different country, it’s always difficult, especially when you’re trying to find your own identity,” she told BusinessWest, adding quickly that she worked hard to overcome what would be considered stern challenges to lead the Spanish newspaper at Holyoke High School and become the first recipient of its Latino Leadership honor, a poignant sign of what was come.

Indeed, fast-forwarding to today — we’ll go back and fill in some gaps later — Roqué has become a leader in this community on many levels.

She is the executive director of Nuestras Raíces, a Holyoke-based nonprofit with a broad mission that involves connecting people with the land through agriculture programs, empowering communities, and advocating for food justice.

While doing all that through a process of growth, evolution, and essentially breaking agriculture into two words — agri and culture — the team at Nuestras Raíces, and especially Roqué, have made it part of the mission to make sure that current and future generations of people coming to Holyoke from Puerto Rico and elsewhere don’t have to feel as far away from home as she did all those years ago.

“I had no sense of belonging when I came here; when you come from a different country, it’s always difficult, especially when you’re trying to find your own identity.”

Indeed, they strive to make them feel at home in as many ways as they can.

“It was always my dream to make it easier to transition,” she said. “I went through a lot of bullying and a lot of racism … there were so many barriers, including language, that I didn’t want people to feel like I felt when I came here.

“That’s why I fought so much, and why I’m still fighting, for that to happen,” she went on. “Equality — that’s something that this organization stands for. We are all worthy of eating healthy, we should all be eating healthy, there shouldn’t be so much discrimination when it comes to food; we all have the same rights. This is something that is also my passion; we should live in better places, and we should aim for the stars like everyone else.”

Roqué, who first came to Nuestras Raíces as a volunteer more than 30 years ago and took on several different roles before being named executive director in 2011, is a Woman of Impact for many reasons, starting with what she has done with this nonprofit.

Working with others, she has taken the mission in many different directions, from incubating new businesses to providing an education in financial literacy, to taking an annual harvest festival to new heights as a tradition and celebration of many different cultures.

Nuestras Raíces
Nuestras Raíces translates as ‘our roots,’ and the agency, led by Hilda Roqué, connects people with their roots in many different ways.

“People from Puerto Rico thought they were in Puerto Rico; people from Colombia thought they were in Colombia; people from the Dominican Republic thought they were in the Dominican Republic,” she said of that event. “That’s what we celebrate when we separate the word ‘agriculture’ — because it is a great part of what this organization wants to pass on to the next generation, not only safe and sustainable practices in agriculture, but also the love for their culture.”

For Roqué, this is not a job, but a passion, and she sees the agency’s programs as a powerful force for change and empowerment within the community.

“It’s very rewarding when you see that we’re trying to help the environment, that we’re providing socioeconomic opportunities for people in this community so they can live a dignified life, when we can actually have people in the community graduate from our programs and they become business owners,” she said, adding that, while she has seen a great deal of progress made, there is still much work to be done.

But she is also being honored for her mentoring of young people and especially girls, her commitment to improving quality of life for those she touches, and for her various efforts to make all those in Holyoke, but especially those who come from other countries, as she did, feel included, not excluded.

All this clearly explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Food for Thought

Nuestras Raíces translates neatly into ‘Our Roots.’

It’s a fitting name, and a play on words, obviously. Those two short words hit on both sides of the organization’s mission succinctly and effectively. The agency encourages people to put roots in the ground, both literally and figuratively, while connecting them with their roots.

The agency was born in 1992 by a group of community members in South Holyoke who had the goal, the dream, of developing a greenhouse in downtown Holyoke. The founding members were migrating farmers from Puerto Rico with a strong agricultural background who found themselves in a city with no opportunities to practice what they knew.

“I love teaching kids that there’s a future and that the future holds something good if you actually grasp opportunities and grow as a community.”

Eventually, these community leaders located an abandoned lot in South Holyoke, one full of trash, needles, and criminal activity, and came together to clean the lot, which would become the first community garden, sparking the growth of urban agriculture in Holyoke under the umbrella of Nuestras Raíces.

Today, the agency coordinates and maintains a network of 14 community gardens, including the gardens of the Holyoke Educational System and community partners, and also operates a 30-acre farm, called La Finca, that focuses on urban agriculture, economic development, and creating change in food systems.

Those gardens, and the farm, grow a wide range of crops native to Puerto to Rico, from several different types of peppers to lettuce; from garlic to peas. These are just some of the items made available at a mobile farmers market — a refurbished school bus — created as a grassroots response to address health issues and food access by providing access to produce grown at local farms in neighborhoods across the city, many of which would be considered food deserts.

“To see the foods that we used to grow in our backyards in Puerto Rico be actually grown here … there are no words to really explain the feeling that you get when you get reconnected to your roots,” Roqué told BusinessWest. “And that’s why I feel so passionate and I love this organization so much.”

She joined it as an office manager and developed into a program developer and program manager, and eventually worked her way up to executive director. It’s a broad role with a number of responsibilities, both within the offices on Main Street and across the community, that she summed up this way:

“I don’t sit behind my desk — I go out there,” she said. “I hear; I listen to people. Nuestras Raíces provides programming that is a response to the needs that we hear from constituents. We ask and respond in ways that reflect our mission, which is to connect the agriculture and the socioeconomics and the food-justice piece of it and tie it together in ways that bring opportunities to this community.”

Indeed, over the years, the mission at Nuestras Raíces has been broadened into the realms of education and economic development.

For example, the agency has created what it calls the Holyoke Food and Agriculture Innovation Center (HFAIC), which serves as a food hub for Holyoke in the form of a center of food production, innovation, and education. The agency boasts two industrial kitchens and leases those spaces to community food entrepreneurs.

It also hosts a seven-week educational program focused on providing financial and business-management assistance to community entrepreneurs based in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, and other area communities. It offers bilingual lessons covering a wide range of topics including business and property insurance, permitting, bookkeeping, investing, marketing, business planning, and many others.

Beyond these offerings, Roqué and her team strive to help others understand the opportunities and open doors that are available to them through hard work, education, and perseverance.

“I love teaching kids that there’s a future and that the future holds something good if you actually grasp opportunities and grow as a community,” she explained. “If you hold each other’s hand — and that’s what we do here with our businesses and our program participants; we hold their hand — you can help them navigate their way and feel included.”

As the leader of Nuestras Raíces, as a leader in the community, and as a mentor to young people, Roqué says she tries to “teach by example,” as she put it, especially when it comes to treating all people with the respect and dignity they deserve.

“I don’t do unto others as was done unto me,” she said. “I see everyone, and when I see them, I don’t see color or race — I see people as human beings, and I try to instill that in the younger generations; I tell them to pass on the love, not the hate, and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

“I try to be an example to others, especially women, who feel that maybe they didn’t have value or are not being heard,” she went on. “That’s what I’m trying to do with my voice; I’m trying to be someone in this community who is respectable and who respects, and who likes to be heard.”

When asked to assess what has changed and improved since she arrived and the work still to be done, Roqué said there has been considerable progress, and she points to City Hall as just one example. There, Joshua Garcia, the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor, sits in the corner office.

“For a lot of years, Holyoke did not reflect the community that lives here,” she said. “Things have been getting progressively better, but there is still a lot more to do when it comes to navigating through systemic challenges. There’s still work to be done and a lot of effort needed to come together as one community.”

Bottom Line

Roqué will certainly be putting in that effort.

As she has said, and others have said of her, the work she does at Nuestras Raíces is not really work. It is, indeed a passion.

Specifically, a passion to serve, to educate, to inspire, to create opportunities, and to change lives. She does all of that, and that’s why she’s always been a leader and a Woman of Impact.

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

Women of Impact 2022

President, J.L. Raymaakers & Sons Inc.

She’s Spent a Lifetime Paving the Way for Others

Laurie Raymaakers
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

The company was called SealMaster.

That name was chosen because it specialized in seal-coating driveways and crack filling, said Laurie Raymaakers, who started it with her husband, John, after work they were doing in property management dried up amid the banking crisis and deep recession of the late ’80s and they needed to find something — anything — to generate revenue and help provide for a growing family.

She joked — only it wasn’t really a joke — that they should have called it ‘We Can Do That,’ because while they seal-coated a lot of driveways across Western Mass., they quickly picked up other skills and took on other assignments related to driveways, landscaping, and small-scale construction.

In many ways, ‘we can do that’ describes not only the company the Raymaakers partners created, but the mindset that has driven them, and especially Laurie, over the past 40 years or so. It sums up her approach to business and life itself — always learning, always evolving, always doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, first and foremost, but also create opportunities and grow a company.

“That was the attitude that I had, that John had, and we’ve instilled it in everyone around us,” she explained. “It’s ‘I can do that’ — you can always learn, you can research, you can read … you can evolve and adjust and do what it takes.”

And she has. Over the course of those four decades, she’s worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time — everything from shifts as a police dispatcher to plowing snow to working at the local Boys & Girls Club — to help support the family and enable their Westfield-based business, now known as J.L. Raymaakers & Sons Inc., to gain a foothold and eventually thrive.

This is a story of perseverance, determination, imagination, and, well … ‘we can do that.’

Laurie Raymaakers and her husband, John
Laurie Raymaakers and her husband, John, have persevered through a number of challenges to lead their company to continued growth.

Laurie Raymaakers is a Woman of Impact for many reasons, but especially the manner in which she has become a role model and mentor to others, especially women in the construction trades and other male-dominated sectors.

She can remember the early days, showing up with her sister-in-law to seal-coat driveways and finding homeowners, men and women, being indifferent about women showing up to do the work. In more recent years, she can remember being the only woman in construction-management meetings and having the others look at her as if she was there to take minutes or pour coffee. Through the course of her career, she’s been asked more times than she could remember if she worked for her husband, not with him in a leadership role.

One can only overcome such actions and sentiments by proving they are good at what they do, exhibiting large amounts of confidence, and believing in themselves, she said.

And she has always been that person.

Today, the company she leads as president is handling projects with budgets in the millions of dollars. It specializes in excavation and site work, water- and sewer-line installation, snow removal, and more.

Meanwhile, she has been involved in her community in quiet ways, be it lifelong support of the Boys & Girls Club or encouraging those in local trade schools, especially Westfield Technical Academy, that there are real opportunities in the trades, and that they should not be overlooked as one considers career options.

All along the way, Raymaakers has been convincing others that there is nothing beyond their reach if they are willing to work hard for it, make the needed sacrifices, and, as Bill Belichick might put it — ‘do your job.’

She knows, because she’s been there and done that. The sum of her life and work, as well as that ‘we can do that’ attitude and her ability to instill it in others, explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Sealing the Deal

As she talked about the early days of SealMaster, Raymaakers got up from her desk and retrieved a photo. Actually, it was one of those wooden frames, partitioned off to hold several different photos of various sizes and shapes.

Some of the larger images were of a huge house in Longmeadow, the owner of which commissioned the biggest project the company had taken on to that time, a long, curving driveway. But there were other shots of her moving five-gallon buckets of sealer into position.

“That was the attitude that I had, that John had, and we’ve instilled it in everyone around us. It’s ‘I can do that’ — you can always learn, you can research, you can read … you can evolve and adjust and do what it takes.”

Raymaakers has kept those photos all these years because they serve to remind her of where and how things started — and of how far she and John, and now their two sons, have come since. It’s an inspiring story in many ways, and it serves as a reminder — not that anyone who has ever started and grown a business needs one — that nothing about having your name over the door (literally or figuratively) is easy, and that success only comes to those who have what it takes to ride out the hard days and find ways to create better days.

Our story really begins with Raymaakers, soon after relocating to Westfield from Hardwick when she was 24, taking a job with the Westfield Boys & Girls Club in the early ’80s.

“I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference somehow,” she recalled, adding that she started working at the club part-time, and later, after some grant funding was secured for the facility, was assigned to be program director at a satellite office in a large apartment complex called Powdermill Village.

“It was a great experience … I met some wonderful kids that have turned into great adults,” she told BusinessWest. “And what we did was needed. The kids that lived there needed a place to go after school to empower them, tell them they could make a difference, and just let them be themselves. It was a really good program, and I was there for six years.”

Looking back, she said her work went beyond the day-to-day programming and into the realm of mentoring and helping those young people overcome a difficult childhood.

“I can remember saying to them, ‘you can do it, you can do it — you can do anything you want to do,’” she recalled, adding that she stayed in touch with many of them, standing up for one at her wedding and becoming a godmother to one of her children.

Laurie Raymaakers has become a role model
Laurie Raymaakers has become a role model to others, especially women in the construction trades and other male-dominated sectors.

Her time at Powdermill was life-changing in many other respects. It was there she met John Raymaakers, who worked in maintenance at the facility, and “fell in love, got married, and all that goofy stuff.”

‘Goofy stuff,’ in this case, is decades of working together to forge some dreams and make them come true.

After a brief and unfulfilling time in Oklahoma, where John took a job, they returned to Westfield and started working for a property-management company, handling apartment complexes in several area communities, and later opened their own company. As noted earlier, with the sharp downturn in the economy, their portfolio diminished in dramatic fashion.

“We lost 70% of our business in six months,” she said, adding that they soon began looking for something else to do, settled on sealing driveways, and started SealMaster with some grit and an old Chevy pickup.

“I had to put a quart of oil in it every day to drive it down the road,” she said with a hearty laugh, noting that, while there were many tough times, especially when John was severely burned while on a job and out of action for a lengthy period of recovery, the company persevered.

She remembers preparing for the annual home show and sitting at the kitchen table with her children folding marketing pieces that she would load into the family station wagon and put in newspaper boxes across the region.

But John’s accident came at a time when the couple had allowed their health insurance to expire. It was a scary time, and one that convinced her that she needed to take a job that offered health insurance.

“This was a case of ‘when one door closes, another opens,’” she said, adding that the former director of the Westfield Boys & Girls Club, whom she worked with and for, had taken the same position in Springfield, and he hired her to manage three satellite offices — and provide more mentoring and counseling to young people.

“These were rough neighborhoods; there were a lot of gangs,” she recalled. “And I tried to convince them that they didn’t have to do it this way, with the street life, the gangs — I said, ‘you have opportunities out there. You don’t have to be a follower; you can be a leader.’”

She worked at the club from 2 to 10, which gave her the opportunity to work at SealMaster before that, she said, adding that, over the years, she would work several different jobs to help make ends meet.

In 1998, she and John started J.L. Raymaakers, specializing in paving and site work, crack-filling at places like the Holyoke Mall, snowplowing, and more, a venture that has grown over the years to now boast 41 employees. The ‘& Sons’ part of the title came later, as sons John and Joshua, who first started helping out when they were 12, officially joined the company.

While the company has enjoyed steady growth over the years, success has not come easily, and Raymaakers remembers many years when she — and John — would work at least two jobs.

“I worked at the Westfield Police Department for five years, 4 to midnight, as a police dispatcher,” she recalled. “It was exhausting; I’d get up at 6 in the morning and get the kids off to school, and then I’d do company work, and then I’d have to go to work again.

“At night, the boys used to plow,” she went on. “And then they’d come to the police station at night and switch vehicles with me; I would go out and plow all night, and they’d take my car home.”

When asked what she does day in and day out at J.L. Raymaakers, she laughed, as if to indicate that there is little she doesn’t do. The list includes project management, estimating, marketing, and many other assignments.

Summing up what it’s been like for her — and for all business owners, for that matter — she put things in perspective in poignant fashion.

“It’s been a challenge … it’s been a struggle … it’s been rewarding … it’s been frightening,” she said. “But there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Growth doesn’t come easy — it comes at a cost; you have to be willing to pay that cost.”

Concrete Example

Raymaakers recalls a time she visited a job site about eight years ago, with the intention of getting her hands dirty — literally.

“I went to pick up a wheelbarrow of asphalt to patch, just ’cause I wanted to, and I couldn’t pick it up,” she said with exasperation in her voice all these years later. “I was so ticked off … I’m like, ‘I’m out of shape!’”

It was one of the few times over the past four decades when she couldn’t say ‘I can do that.’

Because she was able to say it all those other times, she’s been not only a force in the workplace — whatever that might be — but a force in the lives of those around her, a true Woman of Impact.

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

Women of Impact 2022

Director, Rachel’s Table

She’s Choreographed a Broader, More Holistic Mission at This Critical Nonprofit

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Jodi Falk knows what it’s like to be like food-insecure.

For a brief time, she received assistance from the program known as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). It’s not something she can easily talk about — and, in fact, it was something she couldn’t talk about until very recently, mostly because of the stigma attached to being in the program.

She recalled that time for BusinessWest, however, because, by doing so, she believes she’s helping to address that stigma, while also putting into perspective the feelings of those that she and the organization she leads, Rachel’s Table, serve day in and day out.

“Those were the days when it wasn’t a card you can give to a cashier or put in a machine, but checks to hand to a person who made sure that what you purchased was on their list — and this could take a while, which was embarrassing,” she recalled. “I used to look around the store to see if I knew anyone, and if I did, I would wait until I was sure they had left the store before going to the register.”

Elaborating, she said she is still embarrassed to talk about those experiences, but admits that they made her aware, and understanding, of what others may be going through when they are on government assistance. And she believes her story has given her some perspective that each individual needs to be treated with “dignity and care.”

In short, those experiences have helped in her role as director of Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, and they are not the only chapter from her past that she says has earned that distinction.

Indeed, Falk spent many years professionally as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, both here and abroad. And while her work administering Rachel’s Table might seem worlds removed from those vocations, the skill sets, and her many experiences in those roles, dovetail nicely with her current assignment. In many ways, they inspired it.

“For several of those years, besides working in the professional arts world, I also taught and choreographed in the community dance and arts world, where I worked with various populations, such as young teen moms or young women who were incarcerated and in treatment centers, elders in nursing homes, people in recovery, families in foster-care communities, and more,” she explained.

“I focused on art making as a means of making voices heard and bodies seen that aren’t always heard and seen. I became more interested in the lives of those with whom I was dancing, in their nourishment, and when Rachel’s Table had an opening for a director, I felt that I could serve more people with nourishment from a literal as well as figurative perspective.”

“We live in a world where we sometimes we don’t see the ‘other,’ if you will. How do we learn to live to live together in a much bigger society, a much broader world? We don’t know each other’s story until we really know each other’s story.”

With that, she referenced not only why she took on this new career challenge, but how dance and choreography have made her a better administrator and problem solver. And, in some ways, they help explain why she is a Woman of Impact.

To gain more perspective on why Falk has earned this honor, we need to look at all that she has accomplished since taking the helm at Rachel’s Table in 2019. In short, she has taken the agency “to a new level of food rescue for our very needy community,” said Judy Yaffe, vice president of the advisory board for Rachel’s Table, in nominating Falk as a Woman of Impact.

And she has done this through many new initiatives, including:

• A broadening of the agency’s reach; in the past, it has served only Hampden County, but has expanded into Hampshire and Franklin counties;

• A new program called Growing Gardens, an offshoot of the agency’s gleaning program, whereby constituents focus on growing and harvesting their own food;

• A new partnership with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to pick up food from Big Y stores and other large donors;

• A new, fully refrigerated van that will enable the agency to deliver larger quantities of food throughout the year;

• Steps that have enabled Rachel’s Table to rescue 50% more healthy produce, meat, milk, and prepared foods for the more than 50 agencies it serves;

• Upgrades to the volunteer-management program; and

• A significant increase in the number of grants received by the agency, and in the amounts of those grants, as well as a surge in the number of donors to the program.

In short, Falk has been instrumental in essentially expanding the mission and taking it in new directions, while also modernizing the agency, making it more efficient, and, yes, guiding it through a pandemic that brought challenges that could not have been imagined.

As we examine all this in greater detail, it will become abundantly clear why she’s been named a Woman of Impact for 2022.

Growing Passion

As noted earlier, Falk brings a diverse résumé to the table.

She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown and master of fine arts and Ph.D. degrees from Temple University, and she has put them to work in several different capacities.

Most recently, she served as founding director of the dance program at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley, where she created nationally recognized dance programs for more than 400 students, produced more than 15 original and critically acclaimed concerts, and oversaw a national touring company. Prior to that, she was program director of the Trinity Lasban Conseratoire of Music and Dance in London. There, she directed and developed a program in choreography and community-engaged arts-education outreach for the institution, among a host of other duties.

Earlier, Falk served as chair of SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Councils for the Greenfield Public School District and Franklin County Region), a family-advocacy organization that provides resources, support, and advice on policy for families of children with special needs. Before that, the was coordinator of Community Engagement for the Five College Consortium in Amherst.

As she mentioned, these various assignments, which provided in experience in everything from teaching and mentoring to grant writing and new program creation, helped prepare her for, and in many ways inspire her interest in, the position at Rachel’s Table. It also provided perspective on the need to fully understand the plight and the challenges of others in order to effectively serve them.

“We live in a world where we sometimes we don’t see the ‘other,’ if you will,” she explained. “How do we learn to live to live together in a much bigger society, a much broader world? We don’t know each other’s story until we really know each other’s story.”

As she goes about her work, she doesn’t talk much about her experiences with WIC, for many reasons. Stigma is one of them, but a bigger reason is that she received assistance for only a short time and moved on from her food insecurity. Her story, she said, doesn’t really reflect the true hardships of those in need.

A gleaning program is one of many new initiatives launched by Jodi Falk
A gleaning program is one of many new initiatives launched by Jodi Falk since she took the helm at Rachel’s Table in 2019.

It is those individuals’ stories that should be told, she said, and their needs that should be addressed.

And this is what she’s been doing since she took the helm at Rachel’s Table, an organization now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Over that time, and especially in recent years, it has evolved and become much more of a holistic agency while still “nourishing people with dignity,” as Falk likes to say.

It carries out its broad mission of battling food insecurity and not only distributing food but first rescuing much of it from restaurants, supermarkets, and other venues in a number of ways and through several different initiatives, including:

• A gleaning program, known as Bea’s Harvest, that works with young people and school groups to engage them in the service of collecting excess produce and donating it to agencies that serve the hungry and homeless in Western Mass.;

• Growing Gardens, which provides the Pioneer Valley with direct access to healthy foods by helping local organizations build gardens to grow culturally appropriate food;

• Bountiful Bowls, a gala staged every two years to raise funds for the agency;

• Outrun Hunger, a biennial 5K run/walk and one-mile fun walk that raises funds to “fill the bowls of those in need”;

• A Hunger Awareness Arts Fest, at which issues of local hunger were highlighted by music and dance performances and art exhibits; and

• A Teen Board, which, partially sponsored by a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, aims to alleviate childhood hunger and educate their peers about local hunger and poverty issues, and then involve them in being part of the solution.

While overseeing all of this, Falk guided the agency through the pandemic while also blueprinting the agency’s response to it, a response that included raising more than $95,000 for food in the agency’s Healthy Community Emergency Fund; purchasing and delivering more than 5,000 pounds of meat and potatoes, 3,000 pounds of fluid milk, and much more; participating with a network of partners in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, delivering, at times, more than 140,000 pounds of food a month to families in need; and creating and funding a program to give lunches to first responders in all three counties.

Falk brings to all her work that perspective from being on WIC for a short time, but, far more importantly, decades of experience in leadership, inspiring those she works with to be creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative, and forging the partnerships that are critical to a nonprofit being able to not only carry out its mission, but take it in new and different directions, as Rachel’s Table has.

And she brings even greater emphasis to keeping in mind, always, the ideas, thoughts, and feelings of those most affected by food insecurity.

“This model, which we’ve had for 30 years, helps the planet — food doesn’t go into a landfill; it gets delivered to agencies that support people who are in need,” she explained. “And at the same time, I wanted to make sure that we address, more directly, some of the problems that cause food insecurity.”

She’s done that through initiatives such as the Growing Gardens program, which helps any of those agencies that want to grow their own food in collaboration with those they serve.

“Young kids from Christina’s House are getting their hands dirty in the garden, and they’re making their own salads,” she said, citing the example of the Springfield-based nonprofit that provides services to women and their children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness (and whose leader, Shannon Mumblo, was named a Woman of Impact in 2021).

“To me, that’s a bigger story than how many thousands of pounds of food we can deliver,” Falk said, “because it means there is a dignified approach to food choice, a dignified approach to having a choice about what you want to plant and grow, and we’re helping to teach people — or learn with people, because I think we all teach each other — how to make our own food and not wait for a handout.”

Food for Thought

‘Learning with people.’ That’s something that Falk has been doing throughout her career — and, really, her whole life.

It’s a pattern that has continued at Rachel’s Table, an model that has enabled the agency to expand, evolve, rescue more food, deliver more food, grow food, and, in sum, be much more responsive to agencies serving those in need.

It has enabled Rachel’s Table to do something else as well — to hear those it serves and understand their story and their needs.

That’s what Falk has brought to Rachel’s Table. And her accomplishments, not only there but at other institutions where she has enabled voices to be heard, certainly make her a Woman of Impact.

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

Opinion

Editorial

 

The Latino Economic Development Council (LEDC) opened to considerable fanfare last month. And with good reason.

It wasn’t just the new digs in the old Massachusetts Lottery facility on Fort Street that has people excited. It’s the broad and laudable mission, as well as the unique model, that is turning heads, while also providing promise for changing the local business landscape — in all kinds of ways.

The mission — the unofficial mission, anyway — as stated by several of the speakers in attendance at the grand opening, is to transform employees into employers, consumers of products into producers of products, people who work for others into people who work for themselves.

And the model for doing that is indeed quite unique. The agency, which will award microgrants and provides space for meetings and co-working, has, at its core, a team of more two coaches that will provide a wide range of counseling and training that holds the promise of helping people grow their businesses and take them to the next level.

These coaches offer expertise in subjects ranging from finance to human resources; marketing to mental wellness; personal finance to accounting. It is this expertise that can help fledgling businesses create opportunities and avoid some of the problems that turn business ventures into casualties.

As we said, the model is unique. Many of the agencies within the region’s large and growing entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as Valley Venture Mentors and EforAll, provide mentoring and education in specific subjects. But there isn’t a deep bench of people who are in business and can pass on what they know to small-business owners who can benefit from their knowledge and experience.

One of the coaches, Giulberto Amador, president of the Mass 2 Miami Consultant Group and professional-development coach for the LEDC, perfectly summed up the work of the LEDC and why he became a coach when he told BusinessWest, “I want to be able to give back when it comes to development of business and entrepreneurship, teaching those basics, and helping people fine-tune their plans and the steps they need to take to become viable businesses in the community.”

Giving back is a critical component of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and it’s one of the principles that has enabled this region to make great strides when it comes to encouraging entrepreneurship, getting new businesses off the ground, and, as Amador said, enabling them to remain viable.

While helping individual businesses is the stated goal of the LEDC, its broader ambition, as many speakers stated at the grand opening, is to change the landscape, both figuratively and also quite literally, when it comes to new businesses on Main Street and many other streets in cities and towns across the region, especially new Latino businesses.

After all, this is the fastest-growing segment of the region’s business community, and it possesses enormous growth potential for the years and decades to come, said Andrew Melendez, director of Operations for the agency, noting that what many in that community need is a “leg up,” which can come in many different forms, from capital to that expertise provided by the coaches.

Speaking for just about everyone in the room that night, and everyone involved with the LEDC, Amador told BusinessWest, “if there’s a McDonald’s in the North End of Springfield, I want to see a Latino owner of that McDonald’s. I don’t want to hear people say, ‘let’s go to McDonald’s’ — I want to hear them say, ‘I want to own a McDonald’s.’”

This ambitious agency and its unique model of doing business holds great promise for making those sentiments become reality.

Opinion

Opinion

By Mark Adams

 

When it comes to dress codes and attire, companies for years have developed policy standards rooted in conveying a clean, conservative, and/or professional look. In so doing, employees had to conform to a singular vision or appearance. Whether defined expressly or otherwise, hairstyles have been a part of such stereotypes and visions, which has consequently left many minority applicants and/or employees on the sidelines when it came to being hired or promoted into certain positions despite being otherwise qualified to perform those roles.

Enter the CROWN Act legislation. CROWN is short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair and is designed to break down some of the stereotypical barriers that certain minority groups were facing when being considered for employment.

To date, 17 states have adopted CROWN Act legislation, with Massachusetts being the latest to sign such measures into law. Other states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Federally, Congress has contemplated a CROWN Act measure; this measure has been referred to the Senate for further consideration.

What is its significance? For states that have adopted these measures, it makes it unlawful to discriminate based on “natural or protective hairstyles.” Examples of these hairstyles include hair that is tightly coiled or curled, or worn in locks, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots, or afros.

For employers that are operating in a state that has enacted CROWN Act legislation, what should you do?

First, review your company policies to see if there is any express language prohibiting such hairstyles in the workplace. Policies that I have seen in handbooks that I have reviewed where the topic of hairstyles has been addressed have included such policies as dress code, hygiene, personal appearance, and professionalism.

If you are a multi-state employer that operates in states where CROWN Act legislation both has and has not been adopted, be careful with your handbook policy and structure. If your handbook is distributed across all your locations, it may be easier administratively to adjust your policy across the board to ensure compliance. (While, conceivably, another path could be to carve out your dress code or other policies and treat them as state-specific addenda or supplements that coincide with the different state requirements, such a practice may prove to be more cumbersome to sustain over time.)

Then there is the subject of managerial and supervisory actions and practices. For instance, have managers and supervisors chosen not to hire an applicant in the past over concerns about hairstyles? Passed over an employee for a promotion? Is it a topic of conversation addressed in interviews? Has the topic been broached in performance reviews or in disciplinary writeups? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then further discussion with management is advised to change practices (whether attributable to express or unconscious bias) moving forward.

As CROWN Act legislation continues to get adopted nationwide, companies may need to change their ways and let their hair down. Choosing otherwise could lead to discriminatory consequences and litigation down the road.

 

Mark Adams is director of Compliance at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

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 very 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.
They are leaders. In some cases innovators or collaborators. In all cases, inspirations — people and organizations that have devoted their lives 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 2022 are (click on the names to read their stories):

See the BusinessWest 2022 Healthcare Heroes Special Section HERE.

We’re excited to celebrate our Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets cost $85 each, and tables of 10 or 12 are available.

The Healthcare Heroes program is being sponsored by presenting sponsors Elms College and Baystate Health/Health New England, and partner sponsors Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center, American International College, and MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.

Presenting Sponsors

Partner Sponsor

Healthcare Heroes

Here, Shared Research by Nurses and Engineers Will Benefit Patients Everywhere

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano. Leah Martin Photography

Intravenous (IV) infusion pump systems are among the most recognized technologies in healthcare, used by about 90% of hospital patients.

They’re also hopelessly out of date, Karen Giuliano said.

“The design has been around a long time, and hospitals don’t buy one; they buy an entire fleet. They have to invest in training, service contracts, and IT infrastructure. To install a platform is a huge investment and effort.”

And that has led to stagnation, she added. “Over 80% of pumps are really old platforms and don’t do the job they need to do. They’re not developed for today’s standards.”

Enter the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation at UMass Amherst, which has made improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps one of its first major projects. The team has been exploring flow-rate accuracy in a variety of settings and use cases, with the goal of developing pumps that eliminate inaccuracy, inconvenience, and resulting medical errors through new technology and simplified design.

The work is gaining widespread attention, as Giuliano, co-director of the center and associate professor of Nursing, and postdoctoral research fellow Jeannine Blake were recently recognized by the Assoc. for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) for the Best Research Paper in 2021.

Their paper, “Nurse and Pharmacist Knowledge of Intravenous Smart Pump System Setup Requirements,” explored knowledge of intravenous smart-pump system setup requirements among nurses and pharmacists. The results were published in Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, AAMI’s peer-reviewed journal.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse.”

“We don’t want to build a new pump; we want to build a set of requirements for manufacturers that have been sitting idle for too long without being forced to innovate for the safety of patients and the workflow of the nurses,” Giuliano told BusinessWest.

The effort demonstrates the types of innovation she and Frank Sup, associate professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the other co-director of the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, intended when they launched the center in early 2021. It also reflects the cross-educational opportunities for people like Blake, the first nursing doctoral student to enter an engineering postdoctoral fellowship at UMass.

“Students have come out of here with a siloed education, nurses and engineers. There’s not a natural inkling to work together; they might not even know the importance of collaborating in that way,” Giuliano said. “What we want is to have students graduate that already have that in common, to reach across the aisle. The healthcare environment should not be a silo.”

Under Sup’s leadership, the center has also begun research on the use of robotics in healthcare. It teams doctoral students from both engineering and nursing, as well as an undergraduate nursing honors student, to identify challenges and develop robotic solutions to improve healthcare delivery for patients and providers.

The incorporation of robotic technology into the healthcare system is ongoing and already includes innovations like fully autonomous disinfecting systems and invasive surgical devices, and Sup feels it’s essential that these new technologies are integrated into the field of nursing at multiple levels, including hospital administration, the clinical workplace, and university education. And students need to interact with robots to better understand and utilize this technology in a controlled setting before patient care is involved.

“What are robotics, what can they do, what are they good for, and how can we start to train nurses and engineers in robotics? What day-to-day situations might nurses face in the hospital, clinic, and home, and what might be the best use cases for these robotics systems?” he asked. “That’s where this program started. Nurses are not typically trained in robotics, so we actually start to expose them to these things.”

That may seem like a scary thought to some, or imply that robots could replace nurses, but that’s far from the case, Sup added.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse, potentially doing things when they’re not there, like monitoring and lower levels of service.”

By bringing nurses and engineers together at the earliest stages of product innovation, the Elaine Marieb Center promises a raft of such breakthroughs that will result in better technology and, more important, better patient care.

 

Come Together

This is how Giuliano and Sup described the center’s mission at its opening last year:

“Today, healthcare technologies are too often made without the insights and understanding that clinicians bring to the table. Nurses are end users, facing healthcare challenges on the frontlines of patient care. Engineers have the expertise and skills to envision and create medical devices and can work with nurses who bring the real-world healthcare experience needed to design the best possible products and solutions.

“This transformation depends heavily on collaborative research and development work among nursing, engineering, and other disciplines,” they went on. “The ability to quickly and effectively develop and test innovations requires both nursing and engineering skillsets. The power of the nurse-engineer approach is derived from the mutual collaboration between the two, where the nurse identifies the problem, and the engineer facilitates potential solutions.”

One problem in the past, both of them explained to BusinessWest, was that products too often wound up in the hands of nurses too far along in the design and development process to change very much.

“I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Giuliano, with more than 25 years of experience in critical-care nursing, medical product development and innovation, and patient-centered clinical outcomes research, should know. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, she spent many years working on medical product development from an industry perspective, including 12 years with Philips Healthcare.

Early in her career, she said, “I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Now, at the center, “we have the ability to prototype things and test them in nursing simulation labs and test them in actual hospitals,” she added, the latter through a collaboration with Baystate Health.

Meanwhile, Sup was also a natural choice to co-direct the new center. As director of UMass Amherst’s Mechatronics and Robotics Research Lab, his research has long focused on developing human-centered mechatronic technologies for augmenting human performance and exploring how to enable robots to fluently interact physically with humans. To that end, he brought teams of nursing and engineering students together to work on senior capstone design projects.

The model was formalized as the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation with the help of two major gifts: $1 million in seed funding from alumni Michael and Theresa Hluchyj, longtime supporters of both the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing; and $21.5 million from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation to the College of Nursing, with a significant portion designated to support the new center.

“Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines,” Michael Hluchyj said when announcing the first gift. “The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”

And nurses need to have a seat at the innovation table early, Giuliano said.

“Nurses use more products and are part of more services than any other healthcare provicer,” she told BusinessWest. “If they’re not at the table, you’re not going to have the right products. They’re not going to be usable, and if they’re not usable, then they don’t do the job. And from an economic standpoint, they don’t generate the revenue that the company wants. So it’s a lose-lose, which we can turn into a win-win.

“We want to be a usability testing center,” she went on. “So if a company has a product at a certain point in development, has an idea what’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to work and what its value is, we literally bring it into a sim lab.”

The usability test involves two people, a nurse and a volunteer patient, and both evaluate it, as test administrators watch how it’s used. “If the same mistake is made over and over, it’s a design flaw; it’s not a user error,” Giuliano explained. Then all those results and perceptions go back to manufacturer, who has the opportunity to make improvements early in the process.

To that end, the emerging product prototyping laboratory on the Amherst campus will enable students to design and prototype new products, while a proposed usability laboratory on the Mount Ida campus will allow for product and service testing by frontline clinical end users.

“Having a better understanding of frontline clinician knowledge is a fundamental part of our overall program of research on improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps,” Blake said when she and Giuliano received the AAMI’s award for their research earlier this year. “We are very excited to receive this award, which supports our continued efforts in this important area of research.”

 

Promising Outcomes

Better research resulting in better patient care is the goal, whether it’s IV pumps, robotics at the hospital bedside, or any number of other ongoing projects at the center, from cloud-based home-healthcare monitoring to wearable sensors that record body movement to assess chronic pain.

Part of the center’s raison d’être is that nurses and engineers are both trained problem solvers who rely on innovation to find solutions, but their paths rarely cross, and the timeframes required for them to find solutions are dramatically different.

Giuliano got her PhD while at Phillips Healthcare because “I really wanted to be a better researcher so I could test products in a meaningful way.” Later, she added, “I realized I liked academia — I was a better student as a 40-year-old than as a 20-year-old — and I knew I wanted to go into academia and try to recreate the nurse-engineer pairing in the academic environment.”

By teaming up with Sup, who was already pursuing those connections, and with the help of some generous gifts from supporters who saw potential in this model, a center was created that is not only generating some impressive outcomes, but is paving a new way for diverse minds to collaborate and improve the patient experience across the globe.

“The whole idea of this center is for academic clinicians, students, nurses, and doctors to bring in industry partners,” Sup said. “It’s going to be innovative, and it’s going to make a difference.”

And it clearly lives up to the title of Healthcare Hero in the category of Innovation.

“This work that’s being done will make its way to safety standards everywhere,” Giuliano said. “Nobody else is doing that. It’s huge.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

This Critical Team Provides Hope — and a Roadmap to Recovery

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center, from left: Eddie Rodriguez, John Martinez, Lauren Carpenter, Maria Quinn, Kelly Jean Deming, Em Moulton, and Jose Ramos.

 

Patrick Hamel remained calm and collected as he chronicled his quarter-century-long battle against addiction.

In telling that story, he recalled more relapses than he could count; how he lost jobs, alienated family and friends, and had run-ins with the law (including some B&Es to support his drug and alcohol use); getting thrown out of the house by his wife on a few occasions; the awkwardness of having his daughter visit him in a halfway house; and even that night a little more than two years ago when he decided that enough was enough and tried to end his life.

He didn’t become emotional — though he did have to stop and collect himself a few times — until he started talking about the Addiction Consult Service (ACS), or the Recovery Support Team, as members call it, at Holyoke Medical Center’s Comprehensive Care Center (CCC) and, especially, Maria Quinn, the charismatic psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner and leader of that unit.

That’s because Quinn, those who work with her, and those to whom she has referred Hamel have enabled him to move beyond all that has happened to him and now lead a much better life.

“She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.”

“She is so amazing; she’s like my knight in shining armor,” said Hamel, who would then concisely and effectively sum up what Quinn and other members of this team do. “She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.

“Mind you, I’ve been in other types of medical treatment facilities and other programs,” he went on. “And I always felt like I was a number, or I was there to meet a quota; it was just a job. You can see with Maria that it’s not just a job; it’s something she’s passionate about.”

Patrick Hamel

Patrick Hamel says those at the Addiction Consult Service listened and helped him come up with a game plan for recovery.

Hamel didn’t nominate the ACS for the Healthcare Heroes award, but his words, and the emotion attached to them, help explain why this special unit is being honored this year in the Community Health category.

In short, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who would say the same things if they were asked — about not just what the ACS does, but how it goes about its difficult and critically important work.

“We’re essentially ever-present — we like to make jokes that we stalk our patients while they’re here, even if we’re not fully involved,” she explained, adding that this is her way of saying that Recovery Support Team members make sure that those patients with addiction issues, either from the Emergency Department or inpatient units at the hospital — many of whom don’t have anyone to visit them while they are in the hospital, for many of the reasons Hamel listed above — have someone to talk to. And, far more importantly, someone to listen, someone who can help them determine what comes next for them, whatever that might be, including ongoing support at the CCC.

“That connection needs to happen so that people can stay and continue to get the treatment that they need,” said Quinn, adding that one of the goals of the program is to build trust among those touched by the ACS, because such trust has often been missing, and it is a key ingredient in their success.

“Historically, people with addiction haven’t been treated well in the healthcare system, so there’s a lot of mistrust, and we see that,” she noted. “We talk about it often and sense that the wall may be coming down and people are starting to bloom because we see our patients become a little more trusting.”

“One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Lauren Carpenter, a certified addictions nurse, agreed. When asked how she got into this specific line of work and what she likes about her work with this constituency, she said simply, “being able to help and care for people who aren’t used to being helped and cared for — building that connection and that rapport and making sure they know there is someone there who cares.”

The ACS is comprised of a nurse practitioner, a certified addictions nurse, a recovery-support coordinator, and recovery coaches. And, as noted, it is a collaborative effort, involving partners such as Tapestry Health, the Gándara Center (which employs the recovery coaches), River Valley Counseling Center, Hope for Holyoke, and the Holyoke Health Center. Together, these agencies are working to reduce opioid overdoses and help people like Hamel find a path to a better life.

The positive results of their efforts can be seen — and heard — with people like Patrick Hamel and countless others like him.

 

The Power of Hope

John Martinez’s battle against addiction was and is very similar to Hamel’s.

He described several stints of incarceration, homelessness, and, by his count, four suicide attempts.

He’s been sober now for 13 years and has spent the last several as a certified recovery coach, helping others find the strength and conviction to change their lives, as well as needed referrals and direction. The process starts simply with providing hope that life can get better, he said, adding that this isn’t all that coaches provide, but it may well be the most important thing.

“I remember being hopeless — I know what that’s like,” he recalled. “One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Recovery coach John Martinez

Recovery coach John Martinez says that, among other things, he provides those he counsels with the hope that life can get better.

As noted, recovery coaches are part of the team at the Comprehensive Care Center, and part of a broad, collaborative effort that has come together at a critical time for the Greater Holyoke area.

Indeed, while much of the focus the past few years has been on the pandemic, and understandably so, addiction has only become a bigger, more dangerous, and more deadly problem for the region.

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths increased 9% in Massachusetts in 2021 over 2020. Meanwhile, there are significant disparities in overdose rates, particularly among Black and Latino individuals in Massachusetts; from 2019 to 2020, there was a 70% increase in overdose deaths among Black/non-Hispanic individuals and a 10% increase in Hispanic/Latinx individuals. From 2020 to 2021, there was a 6% decrease in Black/non-Hispanic deaths and an increase of more than 7% for Hispanic/Latinx individuals, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Steadily rising numbers over the past several years prompted the HEALing Communities Study, whereby scientists from the nation’s leading health agencies and four major academic institutions are partnering with communities in four states, including Massachusetts, to test a set of interventions designed to reduce overdose deaths by 40% over three years in participating communities.

Through a grant awarded to Boston Medical Center, a collaborative was created involving several agencies in Greater Holyoke, with Quinn taking the lead as the appointed addiction expert for the Holyoke community. The goal is to address opioid use, with a specific focus on overdoses, she said, adding that the linchpin of the initiative was creation of the ACS and the CCC.

“Prior to that, it was just me trying to do it all — start people on medication, get referrals out, try to make appointments, trying to get people to stay here [the hospital] — and it was challenging.”

“Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

With the grant funds, Quinn was able to hire Carpenter as well as a recovery-support coordinator and other team members.

Together, they have put together a system to “find patients,” said Quinn, noting that, before creation of the ACS, many would essentially fall through the cracks.

“Lauren became really good at figuring out which patients we should look at, and we started finding our patients and going to them, often intervening even before a consult was sent,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s important because people would be leaving the hospital; if you were using opioids or were addicted to opioids, in particular, and didn’t get that, you would feel really, really sick, and if your withdrawal wasn’t being treated, you would probably be leaving.

“So we’d introduce ourselves and let people know why were there,” she went on, adding that, by and large, patients were not used to such a “proactive and impactive” approach to their care, and would have questions about what they could do for them.

What they can do is listen and begin a discussion about what happens next, said Carpenter, who walked through what might be a typical case.

“Someone will come into the ED, and I’ll get notified that this person is there and that they are in withdrawal,” she explained. “At that point, I will meet with the person, gather a history, assess their withdrawal, and then I’ll get Maria involved. I’ll talk with the ED provider, Maria, the addiction consult … Maria will meet with the patient, give recommendations, and order appropriate medications to treat their withdrawal. And when someone is actually on the med floor, we’d start the discussion of ‘what do you want to do from here?’”

As Quinn noted, the course varies with the patient. Often, those at the ACS will connect them to opioid-treatment programs, including two in Holyoke, if they are not already in a program, or connect them with a recovery coach while they are in the hospital.

“Not everyone’s goal is abstinence,” she said. “Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

When asked how those at the ACS measure success, Quinn said it depends on what how the patient would define that term.

“For some people, having air in their lungs is successful,” she told BusinessWest. “Anyone who leaves here feeling that they’ve been treated well … that’s a big success for me.”

 

Impact Statement

As he talked about Quinn and those she works beside at the CCC, Hamel stressed the present tense.

He is still working with these individuals at the CCC, and they are still making a huge impact on his recovery. He’s not sure they, and especially Quinn, understand just how much of an impact. So, he made it clear.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” he said, adding that these individuals are more than healthcare providers, but are, in many respects, friends and even family.

“They want to make a difference — it’s not just about an f-ing paycheck,” he said in conclusion. “That’s where I get a little passionate and emotional; two years ago, I wanted to kill myself, and now…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but didn’t really have to. The pause explained not only the journey from where he was to where he is now, but why the Addiction Consult Service is truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

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

Healthcare Heroes

Chief and Physician, Baystate Noble Hospital Emergency Department

He Has Devoted His Career to Improving the Community’s ‘Safety Net’ Net’

Leah Martin Photography

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, or ‘Sunny,’ as most everyone calls him, has always felt at home in the emergency room, and he has never really wanted to work anywhere else.

There is a fast pace and decidedly unpredictable nature to the work, he told BusinessWest, noting that each day, and each hour, are different from the one before and the one after. But there are many more reasons why he has chosen to spend his career in this setting, the most important being the ER’s important role, both to the hospital in question and to the community it serves.

“The emergency room is the safety net for all patients,” Shukla explained. “Many patients do not have access to healthcare; we feel that the ER can provide care to anyone who walks through the door, regardless of whether you have insurance, regardless of your background; we’ll see anyone who walks through our doors, and I’m proud to say that.”

But Shukla has done more than work in the ER. Indeed, throughout his career he has devoted time and energy to bringing new efficiencies, better ways of serving patients, and, yes, better ways of doing business to the ER, especially in his current role as chief of the Emergency Department at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield.

And he brings what would be considered a somewhat unique background to this assignment. In addition to his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri and his medical degree from Manpial University in Karnatka, India, Shukla also earned an MBA, with an emphasis in medical management, from UMass Amherst in 2017.

He has used all these degrees, as well as his hands-on experience in the ER, to help improve service, efficiency, and quality, and reduce wait times and what are known as ‘walkouts’ — people who come to the ER but leave before being seen, for whatever reason.

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain. Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.”

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain,” he told BusnessWest. “Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.

“At Baystate Noble, we do small thinks like put a greeter in the waiting room so when patients come in there’s someone they can talk to, someone they ask questions to; they round, they give patients blankets or small things just to make them feel appreciated,” he went on. “We also strive to push our nurses and docs to really bring patients in when they come into the ER; they don’t sit very long in the waiting room.”

As a result of such initiatives, Noble’s ER has made great strides during Shukla’s tenure. The unit has dramatically increased patient-satisfaction scores, for example, while also gaining certification as a geriatric ED, well-suited to serve the needs of older patients in the community.

The sum of these efforts has earned Shukla the Healthcare Heroes award in the highly competitive category known as Emerging Leader. And he is worthy of that designation, not only for his work in the ER, but also at Baystate Health (he is on the system’s board of directors), in the community (he sits on the nonprofit People’s Institute and also coaches youth soccer and baseball), and even on the ice.

Indeed, Shukla is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, and was with the team through its exciting run to the Calder Cup finals last season.

He described that work as fun and rewarding — adjectives he would apply to every aspect of his work in medicine and administration.

 

Degrees of Improvement

Shukla was born in England and came to this country with his family in 1980. Early on, he said, his father, a professor of Pharmacology at the University of Missouri, and mother, a school teacher, impressed upon him the importance of not only education, but service to the community.

He achieved both while serving as a volunteer at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics while in junior high school, work he described as a learning experience on many levels.

“During the summer, I went there every Tuesday and Wednesday and spent eight hours each day volunteering in different parts of the hospital,” he recalled. “It was then that I realized that this was my true calling because I really wanted to help people and really wanted to make a difference.”

After graduating from medical school, he became a resident at Baystate Medical Center with a focus initially on general surgery. But at the advice of some friends who implored him to consider emergency medicine because he seemed a natural for that kind of work, his career outlook began to shift.

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven, is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, one of the many ways he is involved in the community.

“I did some shadowing, I did some shifts in the ER, and eventually I went through the process of applying to be an ER resident,” he said, adding that he quickly fell in love with that setting — again, not just because of the fast pace and each-day-is-different aspect of the work.

“Not everyone has access to healthcare, and I’m a big proponent of health equity because I feel everyone should have the same access to healthcare as your next-door neighbor,” said Shukla, who, before coming to Noble, served as associate medical director in the Emergency Department at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “When patients some come to my ER, I treat them with respect, I treat them exactly how I’d want to treat my family members, and I try to everything I can to make sure their health is better when they leave the ER.”

Elaborating, he said many people are coming to the ER on the worst day of their life, whether they’re having a stroke, a heart attack, or other medical problem, and it is the job of the ER doctor to “step up and help those patients.”

“It’s our goal to help lift them up and help them feel better,” he went on. “And in terms of mindset, you have to be able to function on the go and multi-task many different things, because there so many problems that are detail-oriented: the lab or CT scan, whether you have to stitch someone up, give different medications … there are all these processes you have to follow, and with every visit, there’s quality involved, and you have to meet certain metrics.”

Despite the fast pace and the constant flow of new patients, Shukla said he makes it a priority to truly connect with his patients.

“I always try to make a connection with my patients because, if I’m able to make that connection, whether it’s with a sports team that they like or a restaurant that they enjoy or some type of hobby they like, I feel like we can relate much better, and they can trust me. They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

“They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

Shukla currently works at all the hospitals in the Baystate system — Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Wing, and Baystate Noble — and became chief of the ER at Noble in March 2020, just as the pandemic was reaching Western Mass.

In each setting, and especially at Noble, he has been consumed with not only treating patients and making those important connections, but improving the overall experience.

“We try to look at the entire process — from when a patient walks into the waiting room all the way to when they go home,” he explained, adding that little things, such as having a greeter in the ER and having nurses, doctors, and other care providers working collaboratively so that patients don’t have to repeat their history and answer the same questions over and over again, often add up to big improvements in service, patient-satisfaction ratings, and statistics such as those concerning walkouts.

“The most dreaded word that most people see in emergency medicine is walkouts, which is basically a person who registered but wasn’t actually seen,” Shukla said. “That’s a problem throughout the United States, so we work really hard in the Baystate Health system to bring those numbers down. Even one patient walking out troubles us.”

Meanwhile, throughout his career, and even more so during COVID, he has put considerable emphasis on outreach and educating the community, with the goal of helping people make better, smarter choices about their health and well-being.

Indeed, he’s a frequent guest on area radio stations and has penned articles for several media outlets, all with the goal of creating a better-informed community.

“If people are educated, they can take care if their health better,” he said, adding that such efforts took on greater importance during the height of the pandemic, when the public had more questions — and needed more answers — and trust was a huge factor.

“We had a lot of COVID issues to contend with, but we also had to build up trust in the community,” he said, “because a lot of people were concerned about the ways people were contracting COVID, how they would protect themselves, the vaccines … there were many thongs we had to educate people on, and we did a lot of outreach for that.”

 

ERing on the Side of Caution

Overall, Shukla, as chief of the ER, assumes a role that blends medicine with administration, and, with his background and MBA training, he can bring a unique perspective to the table.

“Not many physicians go back and get a degree like an MBA; most of us go to school for a very long time as physicians, so not a lot of us go back,” he explained, adding that he enjoys both sides of the equation — business and especially medicine.

“It’s important for me to be well-rounded and understand how things are run,” he said, adding that he took a marketing class in 10th grade and since then has always been fascinated by business and management. “I really enjoy business, and so there’s the budget/financial aspect that I really like in administration, because I feel I can look at spreadsheets and Excel sheets in a different way than I did a few years ago before I earned my MBA.

“I understand the budget and the finances a lot more than I used to,” he went on, “and also how I can cut costs and improve efficiency in the ER, whether it’s flow in the ER or how I can reduce the cost of staffing or increase staffing to help show a return on investment.”

Going all the way back to when he was volunteering at the University of Missouri Hospital as a junior-high student, Sunny Shulka has known that he was destined to be in a profession — and a place — where he could help people.

That profession turned out to be healthcare, and the place is the ER, or the safety net, as he called it, which is now more his home.

For his efforts to continually improve that safety net, make it stronger, more welcoming, more comfortable, and better able to serve all those who come through its doors, Shukla is certainly an emerging leader, and truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

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

Healthcare Heroes

Chief Operating Officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

This COO Empowers Team Members and Leads by Example

Leah Martin Photography

 

Mark Paglia was a wrestler at Cathedral High School and later at American International College.

He said the great thing about wrestling is there is “no one-size-fits-all method that leads to success.” But there are several qualities, traits, and habits that wrestlers possess. “They trust themselves and count on their teams to train together to get better. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They are disciplined, grateful, focused, detailed-oriented, and able to adjust.”

These are qualities, Paglia told BusinessWest, that positioned him well for his current role as chief operating officer at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and the myriad challenges that have come with that assignment.

While working for Mercy Medical Center and its parent company, Trinity Health Of New England, Paglia served in several different roles, including executive director of Behavioral Health. He would sum up his tenure this way:

“I became the ‘project guy,’ the ‘turn-around guy,’ where I would be asked to go into departments or services that were really struggling both from a regulatory side or the financial side and turn them around,’” he said.

He was given a number of difficult assignments in that vein, such as leading efforts which led to the successful redesign of the methadone maintenance treatment program, resulting in two-year licensure with the Department of Public Health; leading efforts to open the new Clinical Stabilization Services unit; stabilizing redesign throughput for behavioral-health patients in Mercy’s emergency room; and leading the Outpatient department from a state of uncertainty to being fully licensed and financially viable. Ultimately, he was charged with winding down behavioral-health services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital when Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close them in 2020.

As noted, these experiences, including his wrestling prowess, helped steel him for what has been his most stern career challenge, but also the most rewarding one: opening a new behavioral-health hospital, MiraVista, at the Providence Hospital site in April 2021 — in very little time, in the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of a nationwide nursing shortage and general workforce crisis, and at a time when the need for behavioral-health services was soaring due to COVID and the many ways it impacted people of all ages.

“I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

But his efforts to open MiraVista’s doors under such difficult circumstances and then put it on a path to accreditation and expansion of both inpatient and outpatient services only partly explains why Paglia has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Health/Wellness Administrator category.

Another key consideration is the manner in which he manages — and has managed throughout his career.

He calls it ‘invitational leadership,’ which, as that name suggests, aims to ‘invite’ employees and all other stakeholders to succeed. It involves sending positive messages to people, making them feel valued, able, responsible, and worthwhile.

“I identify goals for the organization and goals for the various departments, and then invite the individuals responsible for that work to participate and own the work,” he said while explaining what this practice means to him. “Through that, I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

Summarizing thoughts expressed by team members at MiraVista, Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer and herself a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2017, wrote in her nomination of Paglia:

“His impact is garnered through his compassionate and inclusive leadership of clinical and operations teams; we find Mark, more often than not, behind the scenes working with the team and individual staff members to make them as effective and productive as they can be. Universally, team members remarked that Mark inspires them to do their best work for patients and for each other because he makes them feel their contribution is valued and an essential part of the process. Simply put, he listens. He engages people and integrates ideas, and this is what distinguishes him as a hero; his impact has longevity and grows exponentially through others.”

Such sentiments explain why Paglia will be taking the stage at the Log Cabin on Oct. 27 to be recognized as a Healthcare Hero. More importantly, they explain why he has emerged as a true leader within this region’s healthcare sector.

 

Taking the Lead

Paglia took what would be considered a non-traditional path to his current post with MiraVista.

Indeed, after earning a degree in business management at AIC, he went to work for a flat-glass manufacturing company. Along the way, he was asked to coach wrestling at Minnechaug High School, a role that made him realize how much he liked working with young people and helping them develop.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

That experience inspired him to go back to school to earn a teaching degree. He would eventually land a job in Connecticut working in a day-treatment program for youth with behavioral-health issues.

“I was really drawn to the kids, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with them in the school setting,” he told BusinessWest, adding that these sentiments led to another rather sharp turn on the career path, this one taking him to a job as director of the Adolescent and Family Services Department at the Gándara Center’s main office in Springfield.

“I think that’s where I found my passion for caring for those who are in need,” he explained. “And that’s where I started to understand business management and performance management, and that’s where I learned the invitational model of empowering people; that was the foundation for my career.”

Fast-forwarding somewhat, Paglia said he spent nine years at Gándara before becoming program director for the Brightside Treatment Center, part of the Sisters of Providence Health System, in 2009, and later became director of Outpatient Services – Behavioral Health at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, and then executive director of Behavioral Health for Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates, including Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, Brightside, and behavioral-health services on the Mercy campus.

“I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

While he was in that role, Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in early 2021, leaving a huge void in services available to the public.

Seeking to fill that void, Health Partners of New England acquired the property with GFI Partners with the intention of bringing back inpatient psychiatric services and a compliment of substance-use programming. And it turned to Paglia to get that difficult job done.

Recalling those days and, ultimately, the reopening of that facility, Paglia said the sum of his previous experiences certainly helped him overcome a number of hurdles, adding that he was essentially starting up a new business, starting with the hiring of staff.

The first priority was the methadone clinic, which served 600 patients and needed to remain open, and did, with the transition from Trinity Health Of New England to MiraVista, sister facility to TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens, taking place at midnight on April 20. What followed was a ramping up to open an adult inpatient psychiatric unit, he went on, adding that this was achieved 10 days after the acquisition, with a second unit added in June, followed by a detox unit and then an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit, a clinical stabilization service unit, and other substance-use addiction services.

From left, Mark Paglia with Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer; Erica Trudell, director of Nursing for Inpatient Behavioral Health Services & Education; and Alicia Morel, Talent Acquisition specialist.

Overall, MiraVista has expanded inpatient bed capacity from 36 at opening to 101 today. This includes 50 acute-care psychiatric beds in separate units for adults and adolescents, 30 detoxification beds in its acute-treatment unit for substance-use disorders, and 21 beds in post-detoxification for individuals transitioning to outpatient care. And it is staffing up for the opening of another unit, a substance-use program. Meanwhile, planning and preparation continue for the opening of what Paglia called the most challenging unit — a child psychiatric facility — with an anticipated opening date of February 2023.

Overall, MiraVista has gone from one employee, Paglia, to roughly 350 team members in just over 16 months — again, in the middle of a pandemic and a workforce crisis. In a word, he described this as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, adding that “we are midway through our journey to hire the very best staff to reach an expected 650 employees.”

Equally impressive, he said, is the number of visits from the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation that the facility and its team have endured on its way to accreditation.

“Typically, an organization has one visit every three years for their accreditation,” he explained. “Because we had different lines in different units open at different times, we had four surprise Joint Commission visits where they did a complete audit and survey, and I’m incredibly proud that we passed all four with deeemed status, which gives us the opportunity to qualify for our CMS-contracted services with Medicare and Medicaid, which is a difficult achievement. To do all that in one year is pretty extraordinary.”

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful.”

He credits all that MiraVista has achieved to date to the team of leaders he has assembled.

“I attribute a lot of it to the leaders that we were able to bring in to create the foundation for this organization,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

 

Shared Mindset

One of the goals of invitational management is to make all members of a team feel the same way, Paglia explained, adding that he strives to accomplish such sentiment through active listening, getting employees involved, inspiring them to assume a sense of ownership in the operation, and making sure those in every position know they have an active role in the success of the company.

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center is appropriately lit up for September, which is Recovery Month.

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful,” he said, adding that one of the goals for him and other leaders is to match this passion with career opportunities that will enable those individuals — and the company — to grow.

While doing all that, he also likes to bring fun into the equation. In fact, it’s a big part of the success formula.

“We plan for fun,” he said, adding that an ‘engagement committee’ he established has launched several initiatives that team members can take part in together, from a Halloween party to a recent barbecue and cornhole tournament; from an ice-cream social to fitness challenges.

The cornhole event and ‘mismatch day,’ where employees wear outfits that do not match, don’t explain why Paglia is an effective leader — or a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Administrator category.

But they are part of the explanation.

There are, in fact, many parts to this equation, but the result is an engaging administrator who has taken the lead at MiraVista — in every sense of that phrase.

 

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

Healthcare Heroes

Director of Medical Oncology, Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, Mercy Medical Center

This Physician Provides a Needed Blend of Science and Humanity

Leah Martin Photography

 

On one wall of Dr. Philip Glynn’s office at the Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, sharing space with some diplomas and a few other photographs, is a framed, signed picture of Glynn standing beside Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Glynn was instrumental in bringing Mukherjee to Springfield several years ago for a talk at CityStage, and prevailed upon the author, and fellow oncologist, for a photo that would become a treasured keepsake.

As he talked with BusinessWest about his career and being chosen as the Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider category, Glynn gestured toward the photo — but really Mukherjee and his widely acclaimed book — on several occasions.

He did so to indicate everything from his great fondness for the book and general agreement its author on the progress made to date to the promise of great advancements in the future, to the fact that cancer, treating patients diagnosed with it, and providing them and their families with an all-important support system has in many ways defined his life and career.

Indeed, for more than 35 years now, Glynn has been at the forefront of cancer treatment in this region, touching the lives of several generations of area residents, and in many different ways — but mostly by providing quality of life, however it is to be defined by each patient, a subject we’ll return to later.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side. We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.”

While he is being honored as a Healthcare Hero in the Provider category, Glynn could be a recipient in almost every one of the others, with the notable exception of Emerging Leader, which would have been an apt description a few decades ago.

He has been an effective administrator and leader, having been instrumental in creating a comprehensive oncology program at Mercy that rivals anything that can be found in much larger cities such as Boston and New York.

Meanwhile, he has been innovative on many fronts, from the telehealth program he piloted in 2017 that allows Mercy cancer patients to get a second opinion on treatment from physicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, to his leadership role in creation of a new palliative-care unit that at Mercy that take the name of one of Glynn’s patients, the late restaurateur and serial entrepreneur Andy Yee.

He would certainly draw consideration in the Community Health and Collaboration categories for his work in this region to not only treat cancer but work in concert with others to diagnose and prevent it. And the sum of his many accomplishments would make him worthy of the Lifetime Achievement honor.

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard (left) and Stephanie Palange, RN, has spent his career guiding patients and their families through their cancer ‘journeys.’

But he is being honored in the Provider category because this is what Glynn, who is certified in medical oncology, palliative care and hospice, and internal medicine is perhaps most noted for — being a provider, of not only direct care, but also information, guidance, and, on many occasions, inspiration to fight the most difficult fight of one’s life.

He is described as a fierce advocate for his patients and a great listener who enables patients and their family members to be heard. Glynn said that what begins when individuals hear that they have cancer is a journey, one that often tests them in ways they could not have foreseen or imagined, and he is there with them for every step of that journey.

Overall, he described oncology as an intricate, all-important blend of science and humanity.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side,” he said. “We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope. You give treatment to help people live longer and better.”

“And that’s where the greatest satisfaction comes in,” he continued. “When you sit down with someone and say, ‘here’s what we’ve got, here’s the science that will take care of this disease, here’s the limits of the science for this disease’ — that communication with the patient, with the family, brings you to the point where they’re comfortable with the plan of action.”

Making patients and families comfortable, in every sense of that term, is why Glynn is certainly worthy to be called a Healthcare Hero.

 

A Compelling Story

As he offered BusinessWest a tour of the Caritas Center, Glynn talked with recognizable pride in his voice about what has been accomplished at that facility.

Formerly a provider of radiation treatment, it is now a true cancer center, he said, noting that it now includes a large treatment space with more than 30 infusion bays, an oncology pharmacy, laboratory space, and other facilities. Overall, the center provides care that may include cancer surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials that provide patients with access to new treatments.

In many respects, the expansion and evolution of the cancer center is the culmination of a career spent in oncology, one that was inspired by many factors and several role models.

Early on, however, Glynn wasn’t sure if he was a good enough student or if he would work hard enough to pursue a career a health career.

Two summers working as an orderly at an Appalachian hospital in West Virginia while he was attending Boston College eventually convinced him that he did.

“The second summer I was there, I was hooked. I said, ‘this is what I want to do,’” he recalled. “It was a great experience; it all become something that I wanted to be part of.”

Glynn earned a degree in psychology at BC, attended Columbia University for pre-med, and earned his medical degree in Italy after failing to gain admission to schools in this country (and learning Italian). After residency at St. Raphael Hospital in New Haven, he completed a medical oncology fellowship at Baystate Medical Center.

Initially, he had visions of becoming a primary-care physician in a rural setting, but during residency, several role models in oncology steered him toward that specialty. He went into private practice, first in Agawam and then Springfield, while also serving as director of Medical Oncology at Noble Hospital and the Noble VNA and Hospice Service.

In 2012, he joined Mercy Medical Center and the Sister Caritas Cancer Center as director of Medical Oncology. In that role, he wears many hats and is responsible for all aspects of the program, including cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, state-of-the-art treatment and services, counseling, and rehabilitation. He also assists with the implementation of new initiatives, such as cancer survivorship, navigation, community outreach, and clinical research and clinical-trial participation.

He is also a provider, seeing 20 patients a day on average and guiding them through their own individual journey that generally begins with three basic questions regarding their cancer: ‘what is it?’ ‘how much is there?’ and ‘what are you going to do about it?’”

Obviously, the answer to that last question has changed most profoundly over the course of his career.

“I couldn’t have imagined it when I started; it’s changed that much,” Glynn said, gesturing toward the picture on the wall and how Mukherjee had carefully and effectively chronicled the advancements. “Seventy years ago, we did gruesome surgery, and then we had gruesome surgery with radiation, and then you added in chemotherapy. But now we’ve learned about cell biology and what drives cancer cells, so we look at genes, potential immunotherapy, a host of options; it’s absolutely exceptional.”

His ultimate goal is to bring to each patient an improved quality of life, which, as noted, varies with each case.

“If you come in, an oncologist sits down, describes to you what you have, and says, ‘this is not a curable disease; this is lung cancer that has spread to the bone,’ or ‘this is colorectal cancer that has gone to multiple different organs; you do not have a curable disease. Then, what becomes critically important is to give a treatment that is going to ideally shrink the tumor and help someone live longer and better,” he explained. “You need to avoid treatments that are going to make the treatment worse than the disease. Someone may come in with bad disease, but they’re not terribly symptomatic with it … you don’t want to give them a treatment that’s going to be terribly debilitating if you can’t give them some kind of promise that they’re going to live longer from it.

“On the other hand, if you take the other end of the spectrum, the 22-year-old kid with an advanced testicular cancer … that kind can be cured,” he went on. “You have the conversation with him and say, ‘look, the next several months are going to be hell, but you’re going to get through it, and you’re walking away. That quality of life is a quality of life you’re giving a promise to — ‘you’re going to be OK,’ as opposed to the quality of life of ‘this isn’t curable, but we’re going to make sure you’re as comfortable as you possibly can be.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope,” Glynn continued. “You give treatment to help people live longer and better.” All this brings him back to that integration of humanity and science that he spoke of earlier, a balance, he said, which is at the very heart of effective oncology care.

There are many aspects to this equation, he added, with one of the most important, and sometimes the challenging, being communication and providing information.

“And there are times when it gets really hard,” he explained. “We live in a world that’s packed with information. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s not so good. Patients come in with very unrealistic expectations, and that becomes a very challenging conversation.”

For that reason, he brings patients to his office, positions them in front of his computer, and directs them to websites he considers reliable, with much of the rest he described as ‘storytelling.’

He said patients — and, often, family members — want and need to know about everything from prognosis to the toxicity of treatments; from their therapeutic options to recovery time and what recovery will be like.

“But it’s also important to let them know that we’re going to have a support system there for them,” he explained. “There is going to be a doctor available 24/7.”

Throughout his career, Glynn has been that doctor, there for early-morning and late-night phone calls to make sure patients are heard, and staying with them often well beyond the end of treatment, regardless of outcome.

 

The Plot Thickens

Returning once again to the photo on wall, Glynn said he believes the best message of that book is the promise of the future.

“He [Mukherjee] says that we probably won’t cure cancer, and I find that sensible,” Glynn noted. “After all, we don’t cure diabetes, we don’t cure heart disease, and we won’t cure cancer.”

But there will be new advancements, new and better ways of screening, preventing, and treating the emperor of all maladies, he said, adding that, while his career is winding toward its conclusion, the oncologists who follow him will have new, previously unimagined tools with which to carry on the fight.

And they can certainly draw inspiration from him.

Glynn may not have written the definitive biography of cancer, but he has authored a remarkable career, one marked by treating patients with respect and dignity, handling the heavy burden of their care with grace and humility, and providing that critical blend of science and humanity.

And that makes him more of than worthy of the title Healthcare Hero.

 

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

Healthcare Heroes

ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic and Its Partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst

Helping People with Brain Injuries Maintain Function Is a Unique
Group Effort

Leah Martin Photography

Ellen Werner has been helping people with acquired brain injuries for decades.

But since she arrived at ServiceNet a decade ago, she’s learned how powerful collaboration can be in serving this population that often falls through the cracks in today’s healthcare system.

Werner’s work with ABI patients began in Pennsylvania, at one of the first dedicated brain-injury rehabilitation programs in the country, Bryn Mawr Rehab. After moving to Massachusetts, she did homeless outreach through the Statewide Head Injury Program that was created in 1985. “I was trying to find people in shelters that had brain injuries and needed proper medical care and housing.”

When she was approached by the then-vice president of ServiceNet to help launch its Enrichment Center in 2013, she was intrigued; the center helps people with brain injuries to become more functional and engaged with others and their community.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them,” said Werner. “But I just didn’t know how we were going to afford therapies. The agency had already put in a lot of money just opening the program, so that’s when I started sending out messages. Springfield College was the first to respond to them.”

Today, the Enrichment Center and ServiceNet’s Strive Clinic in West Springfield — day programs for adults with brain injury caused by trauma or medical conditions — actively collaborate with two area academic institutions to provide outstanding rehabilitative care, while helping train the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them.”

This work began in 2014 when Werner, director of Operations at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, met with leaders of the Physical Therapy program at Springfield College to develop an innovative model of community-based care that would bring in graduate students, under the direction of their instructors and on-site clinical staff, to work with clients on a variety of PT modalities. The model proved so successful that this partnership expanded in 2017 to involve the Communications Disorders program at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health & Health Sciences in developing and providing speech-language pathology services at the Enrichment Center.

Since she facilitated those partnerships with Springfield College and UMass Amherst to better serve people with ABIs, the program has grown from a small group of students and instructors to a full-fledged clinical team.

Lisa Sommers, clinical director and clinical associate professor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst, said the partnership with the Enrichment Center is a natural offshoot of the clinical training program first-year graduate students have to complete.

Kathy Pappas

Kathy Pappas says the program wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Ellen Werner.

Kathleen Pappas, associate professor of Physical Therapy at Springfield College, agreed. “It really aligns with the mission of Springfield College to educate our students to become leaders in service.”

 

Specialized Care

The Enrichment Center is an adult day-care center that offers physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies as needed, but clients also have the ability to choose from an array of activities to help promote cognitive growth and social interaction, such as support groups, music and dance sessions, arts and crafts, and trips to museums, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

The Strive Clinic uses the Enrichment Center’s well-equipped gym, providing a safe space for limited-contact services by appointment only, which allows for more individual work for a client.

Clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic are typically adults with ABIs, many of whom suffered them years ago. Brain injuries can be inflicted by traumatic, external forces, such as car accidents, assaults, and other forms of violence, or from medical issues, such as strokes, aneurisms, and brain tumors. An ABI can cause changes in identity, mental health, relationships, family structure, the ability to work, and economic status.

Years past the big event that altered their life, people with ABIs sometimes fall off the radar in the healthcare system, but ServiceNet and its partners want to change that. Clients are able to go through the Acquired Brain Injury/Moving Forward Plan (ABI/MFP) waiver program.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu … that is developed between them.”

“With the waiver, there’s really no end to the amount of therapy that we could provide people,” Werner said. “Our clients have really benefited from it; it’s just wonderful. We’ve had people that have been in wheelchairs for years, and now Kathy is getting them up, standing and walking. And we have clients that didn’t have communication devices that really benefit from them and the sessions provided now. There are all sorts of things that we’re able to do that we wouldn’t be able to do if we had just traditional insurance.”

Maintaining the client’s level, or hopefully going beyond it, requires constant, consistent therapy, she noted, so the waiver program allows the center and clinic to be more flexible in accepting and keeping clients. At the same time, the State Licensing Board of Massachusetts requires the facilities to follow all the same regulations any other clinic would follow.

The main focus for both facilities is to help people who are living with a brain injury to become more functional and engaged with others. And because every brain injury is different, students get a more varied education than they might elsewhere.

“By having us, the instructors, available on site, providing the supervision, we know exactly where they are in the curriculum,” Pappas said. “We hold them accountable to applying the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom and measuring that as they prepare to become entry-level clinicians.”

Because there isn’t any prior conditioning, students are able to adapt to the center and provide the care clients need, she noted. In short, they come in with a learner attitude, so they’re more receptive to the clients and their habits.

Many people have a narrow idea of what therapy is and what it should look like, but the programs provided by the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic “really explode that,” said Michael Starr, clinical instructor and supervisor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst. He went on to explain the relationships this intense care creates in the center.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

“At the end of a recent spring semester, the student clinician got a beautiful thank-you note written by this client who has a really hard time expressing herself through writing. They had been working on it all semester. So she was able to do that and send it to the clinician, which was amazing and left everyone in tears.”

Sommers said the client and student spend the semester teaching and connecting with one another, and that connection leaves a lasting impact on both of them.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu, like Michael said, that is developed between them,” she added. “I think it teaches them how to provide services across the continuum of a person’s life who is living with a brain injury.”

But while students and faculty are impacted, Starr added, the program can be life-changing for the clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic.

“The clients really love it so much. Certain clients will park themselves outside of our offices and wait and sometimes demand a session,” he noted. “Or I’ll go to get someone and say, ‘hey, do you have 30 minutes for a session?’ and they really want it, but they say, “I have to go to PT first,” and they’re on their way to PT because they’re not going to miss their appointment for love or money. They’ll come back and see me after. They just really love our services.”

He went on to tell BusinessWest that, because of their injury and especially when living in small group homes, clients can be marginalized or cut off from what’s happening in the world around them. Sommers agreed.

“When people encounter the medical system, there is so much that is determined for the patient, particularly when the patient can’t communicate or has cognitive impairments,” she said. “They don’t get to participate in person-centered care, which we know has the best outcomes, but is not really the model used in our healthcare system. And there are so many barriers for people — just think of all the cognitive challenges that are in our healthcare system. I can’t even navigate my own health insurance half the time and struggle if something isn’t covered or denied.”

Historically, the healthcare system has been “a top-down, patriarchal model,” Sommers added, putting clients in a vulnerable position emotionally, financially, medically, and more. Through the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, that model is upended, allowing clients “to have agency, to have a voice, to be able to say what they want and be able to say.”

 

Striving for Tomorrow

In supporting the program’s Healthcare Heroes nomination, Amy Timmins, vice president of Community Relations at ServiceNet, noted that “the partnership between ServiceNet, Springfield College, and the University of Massachusetts exemplifies the vision and innovation so central to the Pioneer Valley — where academic and healthcare programs are each strengthened by the other, for the benefit of those they serve. In working together, they have created an environment where new goals and possibilities are free to take hold every day.”

That they have, which is why Sommers sees potential for other collaborations; in fact, the clinical educators she’s worked with have also articulated as much because of the opportunities collaboration brings to the community.

Their next goal: “world domination,” Werner said with a laugh. Actually, she wants to continue to create more opportunities for people living with ABIs.

“In healthcare, it’s all about collaborating with other professionals, and Ellen has brought that to the top and forefront of what’s best for these clients,” Pappas said. “Without her vision and enthusiasm and ability to really work within and out of the system to make things happen, none of us would be here. So I am eternally grateful to her for what she’s given our students as opportunities and what she’s given to the clients on a daily basis.”

For finding and fostering the connections that not only help people with acquired brain injury, but cultivating the next generation of therapists, ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, and its academic partners, are certainly worthy of being called Healthcare Heroes.

 

Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Division Chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health

He Convened a Broad, Effective, Street-level Response to a Pandemic

Leah Martin Photography

 

From his years working at a VA hospital in Rhode Island to his more recent community-health role overseeing Baystate Health’s medical practices in Springfield, Dr. Paul Pirraglia has always seen himself as a problem solver.

“It’s gratifying to take care of a patient and get a problem solved, or at least controlled for them — when you can address a concern that is having an impact, not just around a health issue, but in a broader sort of way,” he said. “Take a patient who has diabetes. You can get their diabetes under control, but because food is such a huge part of diabetes, if you can actually get them access to good, nutritious foods, then it’s not just about the diabetes; it’s a life changer in a way.

“As medical professionals, we really want to make a difference in people’s lives,” he went on. “So it’s gratifying to be able to serve when there’s a substantive need.”

COVID-19 would certainly qualify.

Which is why Dr. Andrew Artenstein, Baystate’s chief physician executive, who spearheaded pandemic response throughout the system when COVID arrived early in 2020, asked Pirraglia and Dr. Jackie Spain, co-chief medical officer of Baystate’s BeHealthy ACO, to convene a workgroup to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the most vulnerable patients in the community, particularly those with significant social needs.

“It was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic.”

The workgroup included representatives from Baystate Health and its four community health centers, Caring Health Center, the BeHealthy Partnership (a Medicaid accountable-care organization, or ACO, that includes Health New England as the insurer and Baystate Health and Caring Health Center as care sites), the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, and University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School – Baystate.

The group looked at factors that could contribute to risk, such as low-income housing, where COVID cases were occurring, where ACO members lived, medical conditions were associated with worse COVID outcomes, as well as solutions such as access to pharmacies that home-deliver, food delivery, and transportation.

“On a personal level, I’m drawn to research: here’s a vexing problem; how do we solve it?” Pirraglia said, which is one reason this strategy resonated with him. “When Dr. Artenstein said we needed to do something, it was very, very early on, but it was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic. He said, ‘do what you need to do; I’ve got your back.’ So what Jackie and I did was convene a group which was not limited to just Baystate; we got all the leaders we needed.”

That included professionals from a wide range of offices at Baystate and beyond, from infection control to diagnostics and laboratory; from diversity, equity, and inclusion to community relations.

“We were able to pull together a multi-disciplinary group of folks who saw the importance of convening and doing this work,” Pirraglia said. “Despite the jobs they had and their schedules, we met on a weekly basis for many, many months in a row; attendance was phenomenal. That’s because people saw the need to do this.”

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event was organized by the COVID mitigation team.

The goal was to figure out the needs of the Springfield population and communicate with them in a way that was meaningful, and the work progressed rapidly.

Initially, the workgroup explored ways to protect people who were at risk, trying to catch people who had not been infected and keep them from getting infected, while identifying who was infected and making sure those around them had protection. To aid in this effort, a grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts enabled community health workers (CHWs) to supply materials such as facemasks, portable pulse oximeters to measure blood-oxygen levels, and room dividers and air mattresses so families could quarantine within their own living spaces.

“We really broke into two groups, one group more patient-facing and another group more community-facing, and then continued to meet and engage and make sure there was good crosstalk back and forth between us,” Pirraglia told BusinessWest, while stressing the importance of communication early on.

“The communication was with the community and within all the different groups that were participating in this workgroup. But we were also communicating with our community health workers, the on-the-ground folks, the ones gathering the patient needs and delivering on those needs. And the communication, I have to say, was pretty robust, in large part because people were committed to making this happen.”

The group performed geographic analysis to determine where to focus its efforts, gathering information about patient conditions in various areas so they could inform the CHWs on the ground about which areas were riskiest and who needed help, he explained.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work. We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen.”

“We had to prioritize what we were doing, so communication was paramount. At our Tuesday meetings every week, we’d say, ‘this is what the maps are showing, this is what we now about pharmacy deliveries, this is what we know about food deliveries, this is what we know about the ability to reach out to people.’ We needed to make sure all the different arms knew what the others were doing so we were able to work in concert.”

 

Mission Accepted

In nominating him for the Healthcare Heroes award in the Collaboration category, Michael Knapik, Baystate’s vice president of Government and Community Relations, noted that Pirraglia — an attending physician who sees some of the city’s most vulnerable patients at Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center and also a professor of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School – Baystate who teaches residents at Baystate High Street Health Center and Baystate Brightwood Health Center — has always been mission-driven.

“This became especially important as the COVID pandemic snapped into sharp focus the inequities that have been occurring in healthcare,” Knapik said. “People who were already suffering due to inequities related to their vulnerabilities — socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and identification factors as well as medical comorbidity all contributing — were now at highest risk from COVID-19 in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and death.”

But Pirraglia himself stressed multiple times during his interview with BusinessWest that he’s not the Healthcare Hero here, not really.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work,” he said. “We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen. Based on priority lists that we made for them, they were able to reach out to patients and find out what their needs were. We created a needs assessment, and then the CHWs were the ones who came up with a contact-free delivery system. COVID mitigation isn’t their primary work, but they jumped in with both feet: ‘what do you need us to do?’ If you ask me, they’re the heroes.”

As the initial surge eased and vaccines became available early in 2021, the workgroup pivoted to that effort, as vaccination delivery to traditionally underserved groups has been a challenge in a state where early allocations from the federal government were deemed insufficient to supply both mass-vaccination sites and smaller providers, Knapik noted. The rollout through a state registration site put those without access to the internet, as well as transportation to such sites, at a disadvantage.

To address this, Baystate started to vaccinate patients age 75 and older from its community health centers in lockstep with the state’s phased rollout, with staff calling patients and inviting them to get vaccinated. In all, they were able to vaccinate 650 people over the course of six weeks, many of them individuals who would have had difficulty getting to any of the state sites. Meanwhile, the workgroup used a series of webinars and other outreach programs to communicate the importance and safety of vaccines.

Pirraglia and his team prepared a lengthy article for the International Journal for Equity in Health last year called “COVID-19 Mitigation for High-risk Populations in Springfield,” detailing the workgroup’s efforts. It concluded, “our highly intentional and methodical approach to patient and community outreach with a strong geographic component has led to fruitful efforts in COVID-19 mitigation. Our patient-level outreach engages our health centers’ clinical teams, particularly community health workers, and is providing the direct benefit of material and service resources for our at-risk patients and their families. Our community efforts leveraged existing relationships and created new partnerships that continue to inform us — healthcare entities, healthcare employees, and clinical teams — so that we can grow and learn in order to authentically build trust and engagement.”

That’s not to say the group couldn’t have done some things differently, Pirraglia said. “It’s difficult because we’re not in a setting where these entities would necessarily be meeting and collaborating. So there was probably more we could have done that was broader and more in concert.

“But I feel confident that, if another crisis came, we could convene another group, or at least use the methodology we used,” he continued. “Certainly, the community outreach and patient-oriented piece of it worked really well, and we’d probably carry that forward if we had another crisis. It really was, in my mind, highly effective.”

 

Mission Accomplished

As noted earlier, Pirraglia has always taken a mission-based approach to care.

“What I mean by that is we take care of a traditionally underserved population with a lot of social challenges in their life,” he told BusinessWest. “These are patients who have difficulty with travel, with food, with shelter, with a lot of other issues in their lives. So just being able to deliver care is more challenging because the patients oftentimes have these other contexts to deal with. Our work has been to try to deliver the best care we can to our patients despite some of the challenges they face.”

Throw in a pandemic, and … well, you can see why we consider the effort heroic, even though Pirraglia doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“It was a really gratifying experience to have people totally on point, using their expertise in trying to figure out this really scary problem,” he said. “We learned that you can be nimble, you can be collaborative, you can tackle a really complex problem. And when you’re working on a group like this and the communication is good, the sense of mission is good, and there’s clarity about where we’re going with it, great things can happen.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Health and Human Services Commissioner, City of Springfield

Public Health Has Become Her Life’s Work

Leah Martin Photography

When then-Mayor Michael Albano invited her to take on the considerable challenge of directing Springfield’s Health Department and Human Services Department as one entity and oversee that consolidation effort, Helen Caulton-Harris was caught somewhat off guard.

She didn’t know Albano, was not active in his campaign for the corner office, and was not expecting any invitations to join his administration.

So when the request came, she had to think about it for a while, but eventually said ‘yes.’ But certainly not with the expectation that 26 years and two mayors (including the current office holder, Domenic Sarno, who has had the job for 14 years) later, she would still have that title on her business card.

“I certainly didn’t see this as something that I would be doing two and half decades later,” she said, adding that she has stayed in this post for several reasons, but especially because she loves not only the work, but also her ability to make a real difference in the community, and also because there is still considerable work to do.

And there are always new and different challenges to meet, not the least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has tested Caulton-Harris and her department in every way imaginable. It has also been a learning experience on many different levels, as we’ll see, and one that has provided some valuable lessons on how things can be done better and more efficiently.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together,” she told BusinessWest. “We understood that we had to collaborate and coordinate, and that we must share information. We’re no longer working exclusively in silos; we are working across the public-health venue.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together.”

“Every two weeks, we have a session with all of our partners to talk about our outreach, lessons learned, and best practices,” she went on. “So those things are part of what has happened as far as COVID-19 is concerned — our communication strategies have become more concrete.”

Caulton-Harris is the 2022 Healthcare Hero in the prestigious Lifetime Achievement category, and she has truly accomplished quite a bit in her career, especially this current chapter.

Overall, she has been an advocate, a true believer in the power of information — she preaches education — and a leader who has taken problems head on and achieved notable progress in areas ranging from teen pregnancy to infant mortality; from care for the homeless population to policies limiting smoking in public places; from substance-use disorders to violence prevention.

There are always new challenges, she said, adding that, today, there are many that she and her department are addressing as the landscape continues to change and evolve.

“Today, we’re dealing with the legalization of marijuana; cannabis is legal, but we still need to educate people about it,” she noted. “Also, gaming and problem gambling. We also have an opioid crisis, which is different than other substance-abuse matters because of fentanyl and the cheap way in which individuals are getting their products and how it escalates and has such an impact on our young people and our communities as well.”

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues over the years, from teen pregnancy and infant mortality to violence, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. Leah Martin Photography

While there have been many accomplishments during her lengthy career, she considers the biggest to be the merger of the Health and Human Services departments into one entity.

“They should not be seen as separate — they flow together,” she said with clear conviction in her voice. “I describe public health as a social-justice movement rooted in science. And Human Services really is about social justice.”

For all that she has accomplished during her life and career, and for the manner in which she has worked to improve the health and well-being of all those living, working, and doing business in the City of Homes, Caulton-Harris is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

A Life’s Work

When asked if she misses the regular weekly press briefings that came to symbolize the early months of the pandemic, Caulton-Harris flashed a wide smile and said simply, “not really.”

Those briefings, which also featured Sarno; Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health; and Dr. Robert Roose, chief administrative officer at Mercy Medical Center, were conducted to keep city residents informed about was happening and what to possibly expect next, and provide up-to-date statistics concerning cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and more.

She doesn’t miss them because they came to symbolize the very worst days of the pandemic in a city that was hit very hard by COVID. But also because, while Caulton-Harris, as noted, preaches the importance of information and education and still makes regular appearances on TV, she prefers not to be in front of the camera. Instead, she would rather be working behind the scenes, advocating of behalf of area residents and providing a voice for those who struggle to make to make their voice heard.

It has been that way since her early days in the broad realm of healthcare, working with women on the issue of reproductive health, a subject which has, to a large degree, come full circle with the recent Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (more on that later).

“I would talk to them about the choices as far as pregnancy, whether that was to continue the pregnancy, terminate, or adopt,” she said. “So very early on in my career, I became an advocate.”

Later, while working at what is now the Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center, she was influenced by several role models, especially African-American nurses, who showed her that there were career paths for young people like her.

“I got an opportunity to see what the possibilities were for my own career,” she said. “There were individuals from my community who were making a difference in the lives of others.”

“I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

In 1994, Caulton-Harris would become executive director of the Area Health Education Center at Springfield Technical Community College, one of six such facilities in the Commonwealth, a role that enabled her to work with young people who were interested in careers in healthcare.

“I got to mentor and nurture them in a way that was very special to me,” she said, adding that, while she was in that post, she was approached by Albano about being the first commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Recalling that conversation she had with the mayor about this opportunity that doubled as a stern challenge, she said it focused on why the departments should be merged and how that should be undertaken, but also how such a merger could help address the emerging health issues of that day.

And there were many of them, she recalled, citing a sky-high teen-pregnancy rate, an equally alarming infant-mortality rate, HIV/AIDS, violence, and drugs, among others.

And it was that conversation that prompted her to leave what was a good position and step into one that would be challenging on many levels but also one that would enable her to impact lives and make a difference in the community.

“I was not quite clear on the politics of the position,” she admitted. “For me, I filtered it with the fact that I really can make a difference in the city by putting policies in place that would stay as a foundation moving forward.”

And that is exactly what she has done.

 

Learning Experiences

While tackling the many challenges that impact health, Caulton-Harris and other city leaders were confronted by the pandemic, which in some ways defines her career, but also sums up her straight-on approach to issues affecting the public.

“The pandemic was something that I was not prepared for and could not have foreseen as something that I would have to deal with,” she told BusinessWest. “I don’t think anyone thought we’d be dealing with a pandemic like we did in 1918, but here we are, 100 years later, dealing with a global pandemic that was devastating the world.

“Very early on, it was clear that this was devastating — our hospitals were overrun with COVID patients; our community was devastated. The Black and Brown communities in the city of Springfield probably got hit the hardest in terms of livelihood and being able to work, so we knew that staying home from some jobs simply wasn’t an option for some people. So it was all-consuming; I lived COVID-19 education every day, and I continue to do that.”

The seriousness of the virus was one issue, Caulton-Harris went on, adding that the degree of difficulty in coping with the situation was compounded by information from state and federal agencies that was often lacking, inconsistent, and at times quite confusing.

“In the early part of the pandemic, we were told that masks were not necessary, and then we were told we needed to mask up,” she recalled. “We did not have vaccines, so education and working with the public became critical. It was my lived public-health experience that enabled me to take on the pandemic. I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

As she noted, the COVID experience, if you will, has generated improvement in how those involved in matters of public health communicate, collaborate, and work together to serve the community.

As an example, she cited the work of a collective that came to be known as the ‘VAX FORCE.’

“This was a combination of physicians, community members, researchers … there were 15 individuals who were appointed by Mayor Sarno to be part of this VAX FORCE,” she recalled. “We met to put strategies in place to be able to work with the public, and that manifested itself in vaccination clinics that we had in the North End, the South End, Mason Square, Indian Orchard, and other neighborhoods. We were very intentional about the fact that we had to meet people where they were, and we used all of the expertise of the individuals on the VAX FORCE to come up with a strategy to market and make sure we were hitting all the various communities that we needed to hit.

“That, to me, was a very important strategy, and one that we put together in a way that was different than what we would have done had we not experienced the pandemic,” she went on, adding that this will be the blueprint for how to do things moving forward.

 

The Next Chapter

When asked what might come next for her as she nears retirement age, Caulton-Harris opted to borrow some words used recently by tennis star Serena Williams, who eschewed the term ‘retirement,’ and instead said that she will be ‘transitioning,’ or ‘evolving.’

Caulton-Harris said she will likely be doing some of the same, noting she is working on a book, a personal history of sorts, that she started maybe a decade ago.

“It’s going to be about the journey that I’ve had, from the public-health perspective, but also the personal side,” she said. “I think it’s important to be able to talk about the experiences and let people know the human side of who we are.”

Some would say she’s already written the book, the one about how to be a true leader in public health and make a difference in the community. The one about how to be a Healthcare Hero.

 

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

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 129: September 12, 2022

George Interviews Katie Allan Zobel, outgoing president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Katie Allan Zobel, outgoing president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The two talk about Zobel’s eventful tenure at the community foundation, the many new programs introduced in recent years, and the evolution of the institution into what she calls a “catalyst for change.” It’s all must listening, so join us for 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 128: September 5, 2022

George Interviews Mark Rivers, event producer for Hooplandia, the giant 3-on-3 basketball tournament coming to the region next summer

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Mark Rivers, event producer for Hooplandia, the giant 3-on-3 basketball tournament coming to the region next summer. The two talk about how this concept came together, how it survived three years of cancellations and delays due to COVID, and why this tournament, a production, led by the Big E and the Basketball Hall of Fame, has the potential to become a legacy event. It’s all must listening, so join us for 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 127: August 29, 2022

George Interviews Jeff Daley, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp.

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Jeff Daley, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp. about the agency’s most ambitious, project to date, redevelopment of the massive Ludlow Mills complex. Daley recounts the latest developments and talks about how the project has turned a critical corner. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Guide to Senior Planning Special Coverage Special Publications

Preparing for Life After 65

When people think about strategizing for their senior years, they often see it as a downbeat task, one marked by growing incapacity, financial stress, and, well, dying.

That’s not what this guide is about, although it definitely contains plenty of information about what to do before that day comes. But the goal isn’t planning to die; it’s making sure you get all your plans in order — from where you or your loved ones will live to how finances will be distributed — so you don’t have to worry about it. You can, instead, enjoy life.

 

And that planning is an increasingly important task. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans age 65 and older rose from 35 million in 2000 — 12% of the population — to 56.1 million, or 17%. By 2030, the bureau estimates, more than 21% of U.S. residents, about 73.1 million, will have passed their 65th birthdays.

That’s a lot of people. And a lot of planning. And a lot of living left to enjoy.

Achieving your goals — and your desires for your loved ones — requires careful thought, and that’s where our annual Senior Planning Guide comes in. So let’s sort through some of the confusion and get those conversations — and the rest of your life — started.

 

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 120: July 11, 2022

George talks with Peter Picknelly, chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines and president of OPAL Development

Peter Picknelly says fuel prices affect more than the transportation sector he works in

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Peter Picknelly, chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines and president of OPAL Development. The two discuss everything from the price of diesel fuel to the housing project taking shape in Court Square. But mostly, they focus on Picknelly’s recently revealed, very ambitious plans for a new courthouse in Springfield, a project he believes will reshape the riverfront in Springfield. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

 

 

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Daily News

HOLYOKE — BusinessWest will celebrate its 40 Under Forty Class of 2022 tonight at its annual gala at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. The event will also feature the announcement of the Alumni Achievement Award winner for 2022.

The sold-out event begins with a VIP hour at 4 p.m. for invited guests, honorees, and sponsors only. The doors for general admission open at 5:30, and the program begins at 6:30.

Attendees are encouraged to carpool. In addition to parking at the Log Cabin, there will be parking at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 34 Jarvis Ave., with shuttle service — complete with beer and wine — to the Log Cabin. The shuttle service ends at 11 p.m.

For those who cannot attend in person, the event will be livestreamed. To watch, visit: https://businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40underforty/

The event is sponsored by presenting sponsor PeoplesBank, with supporting sponsors Comcast Business, Live Nation, Mercedes Benz of Springfield, The Mill District, UMass Isenberg School of Management, and Stand Out Truck. The Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield is an event partner. The Alumni Achievement Award is sponsored by Health New England.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 114: May 30, 2022

George O’Brien talks with Charlie Epstein, senior vice president of HUB International and Epstein Financial

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Charlie Epstein, senior vice president of HUB International and Epstein Financial. The two discuss his upcoming show at Holyoke Community College — Yield of Dreams — and how it brings together his twin passions — acting and educating people about not just saving for retirement, but realizing their dreams. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 113: May 23, 2022

George O’Brien talks with Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group

Carla Cosenzi

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group. A winner of several of BusinessWest’s awards, including Difference Maker, 40 Under Forty, and the Alumni Achievement Award, all presented to those who combine excellence in their chosen field with work within the community, she talks about how those in business can achieve such balance and find ways to give back.  It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

 

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40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Food Service, Chicopee Public Schools; Age 39

It’s called the ‘Curbside Cafeteria.’ That’s the name now attached to an intriguing concept cooked up by Melanie Wilk and her team at Chicopee Public Schools.

Wilk is the Food Service director at CPS, and she’s constantly looking for new and impactful ways to improve the nutrition and overall health of not only students but all those in this community. Which brings us to the Curbside Cafeteria.

“A lot of families in Chicopee don’t have transportation to get to meal sites — we saw a big need,” said Wilk, who, with her team, was able to purchase a food truck with a Food Security Infrastructure Grant awarded by the state. Starting this summer, it will provide mobile meals to students on their way to school, during after-school activities, or at parks during the summer months — free of charge.

This intersection of nutrition and community is where Wilk’s passion lies. The Chicopee native wasn’t always interested in nutrition, but that changed after relocating to the Big Apple.

“I moved to New York for seven years, and I think that’s where my interest in nutrition kind of sparked,” she explained. “It was a little bit more trendy in New York to know about healthy foods.”

After returning home, Wilk pursued a degree in nutrition at UMass Amherst, although she never dreamed she would end up working for a public school system.

“Nobody intends to end up in food service,” she admitted, but while doing her food-service rotation at Chicopee Public Schools, she realized it was much different than she thought.

“We have a very large farm-to-school program, so we partner with several local farms and distributors in the area to do fresh fruits and veggies,” she recalled. “And that was so interesting to me and so different … that they were trying to provide such fresh and local foods on kids’ trays.”

Shortly after Wilk graduated, she stepped into her what became her dream job. About one year later, the pandemic struck. She mobilized her staff to use a safe drive-up method of serving meals; from March 2020 through June 2021, she and her team served more than 1.5 million free meals to Chicopee families.

Just three years since starting with CPS, Wilk couldn’t imagine herself anywhere else. She is working hard to ensure that hers is not just a food-service program, but a community program with a mission of combating food insecurity and helping children create healthy relationships with food.

 

— Elizabeth Sears

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Sales Operations, Webber & Grinnell Insurance; Age 35

In college, Reynolds Whalen said, his dual passions were acting and travel. So, in 2011, he founded a company, called Performing Arts Abroad, that offered international experiences to travelers in music, dance, theater, and film.

He focused especially on collaborating with marginalized communities around the world, using the arts for education, development, and social change, growing the Northampton-based company to more than 160 participants in 2019.

And then the pandemic struck.

“It started as an arts-for-social-change program in Kenya, a country I’ve been involved with for many years,” Whalen recalled. “It grew quickly, and we had a lot of success, but COVID just wiped everything out; performing arts and travel both stopped in their tracks.”

His next role, at Webber & Grinnell Insurance, might not seem like an obvious progression, but he was intrigued by being able to tackle a culture-building role at the agency, while creating a more data-driven model and empowering the team to do their best work as efficiently as possible.

Outside of work, Whalen is active in the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield, serving on the governing board, directing the youth group, and founding a digital ministry during the pandemic; he also serves on the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. In addition, he’s a member of Eggtooth Productions in Greenfield and is a teaching artist for public-school program that uses an immersive theater framework to boost literacy for first- and second-graders.

His heart for the international community still gets a workout, too, serving as board clerk and a member of the finance committee at the International Language Institute in Northampton. He also supports several Afghan refugee families through a Circle of Care group, doing things like taking them to their local survival centers to get registered, showing them how to navigate the bus system, and helping them enroll in free English classes.

“My passion for a long time has been creating understanding amongst people of different cultures and ways of living in the world; the most important thing for our country at this moment in time is access to information about other people and other cultures, and understanding the value that immigrants bring to our community,” Whalen said. “Our community is made stronger by people who are visitors or settling here from other places. Those aspects of the community are particularly important to me.”

 

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Community Development Director, Town of West Springfield; Age 25

Stephanie Welch has her own working definition of the phrase that now appears on her business card (or one of them, anyway): community development.

“To me, it means removing equity barriers for those around you,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she goes about this assignment in a number of ways through her role with the town of West Springfield, everything from help administering a down-payment assistance program to those looking to buy a home to work assisting the local food pantry in securing a much-needed new home.

And this same basic goal also defines her work outside of her day job as a consultant and as a controller for a local manufacturer.

“Everyone I work with is tied to the same goal,” she said. “All the organizations, from West Springfield to the private companies I work with — they’re trying to remove equity barriers for people.”

Prior to the pandemic, Welch was working as a project manager for a large consulting firm that specialized in work with small- to medium-sized businesses when she decided she wanted to make a career shift. She saw the position of community developer in West Springfield as a natural fit and a logical move.
“A lot of it is administering grant funding, but it’s also basic accounting and budgeting and doing strategic planning,” she explained. “And I thought, ‘I can do this.’” City officials thought the same thing, and she started just after the pandemic hit.

Since arriving, she’s been involved in the multi-phase renovation of the West Springfield Boys & Girls Club, which she calls her “pride and joy,” as well as a number of paving projects, job-training initiatives for non-English-speaking residents (there are many in this community), and that aforementioned down-payment assistance project, administered in conjunction with Way Finders, which is helping many city residents become homeowners.

“Many people will say, ‘I can afford the mortgage, but I can just never get caught up to make the down payment,” she explained, adding that the program provides $5,000 to those who quality to get them over that hump.

That’s just one example of barrier removal, she said, reiterating that her work outside of Town Hall usually takes a similar course. Indeed, she serves as controller to the Coating House, a manufacturer working to bring more women into that industry.

Outside of her many kinds of work, Welch skis, hikes, and hangs out with her rescue dog, Whiskey.

 

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Marketing & Recruiting Manager, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; Age 38

Choreography is the art of planning and arranging movements, as in a ballet or musical, so they come together in a cohesive and powerful way.

Sarah Rose Stack handles choreography in what would be considered the traditional sense — leading recent productions for the Opera House Players in Enfield and Little Theater of Manchester that include Shrek, Something Rotten, Legally Blonde: the Musical, and her latest, In the Heights.

But her multi-faceted work as marketing manager for the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, her day job, would also be considered choreography. There, she handles the firm’s marketing, digital presence, community outreach, public relations, business development, and communications, and brings all that together in many powerful ways that are yielding results on several different levels.

These include everything from a new, responsive website that has spawned a more than 200% increase in active users to a social-media strategy that has generated a nearly 900% increase in impressions and a 530% increase in engagements, to new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She also co-leads and champions the firm’s community-outreach program, coordinating drives, awareness campaigns, and service for a wide range of organizations.

Looking at the many sides of her life, Stack said they complement one another and ultimately make her better at each one.

“My formal training in music and dance has made me really good at my job in communications because music and dance is the ultimate expression of feeling,” she said. “And I really believe my career landed where it is because of that training … it’s the weird secret sauce in my background.”

Perhaps the most difficult assignment for Stack when it comes to choreography is her own schedule. Indeed, the retired professional dancer for the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse currently teaches multiple styles of dance at Nutmegs Dance and Theatre Company (while also managing the studio’s website). She’s also a seasonal choreographer for the Opera House Players; marketing co-chair for the Massachusetts Society of CPAs; contributing writer for publications ranging from BusinessWest to UFO Magazine; frequent public speaker on topics ranging from business development to marketing; active volunteer for several nonprofits, including Boston Children’s Hospital and the Boston Cannons Foundation; and devoted mother of two boys.

On top of all that, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in communications online at Johns Hopkins University.

Asked where she finds the time, she said she makes it, because all of those aspects of her life are important to her and contribute to who she is.

 

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Founder, MOVE Athletics; Age 32

Roger St. Onge is no stranger to physical challenges. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he served two deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While in the Marines, he developed a passion for helping others with their fitness.

“I was helping the Marines that weren’t passing their physical-fitness test or meeting the height and weight standard to be able to pass those standards and meet the requirements,” he explained, adding that this passion stayed with him after his service was over.

Indeed, while working toward his doctoral degree in physical therapy at American International College, he taught fitness classes in Springfield and competed in both CrossFit at the regional level and Olympic weightlifting.

It was during this time that St. Onge noticed there were many athletes and active adults who were having athletic aches and pains, or getting injuries that were preventing them from exercising — and they weren’t getting any help.

So he made it his mission to get them that help.

“I felt like it was my responsibility to figure out a way to provide that service to the community because there was nowhere for people to get that help,” he said, adding that this mindset compelled him to pursue his doctorate. What he realized was that the standard route of physical therapy wasn’t necessarily the best route.

“Most of the care given in the insurance-driven world is not designed to help people get better,” he said. “It’s designed to help overworked, burnt-out, underpaid therapists manage their time.”

St. Onge founded MOVE Athletics as an out-of-network practice that would operate in a manner best for the client.

“We have a whole mini-gym in here so we can do literally anything that anybody needs to do to get back to fitness and an active lifestyle without being limited by insurance,” he said.

Outside of work, he lives an active lifestyle and loves spending time with his two children.

“We’re either going on hikes or paddleboarding, or in the winter we’ll go snowboarding,” he said. “I’ll shoot hoops in the driveway with my son or take the dog for a 20-minute walk with my daughter … just being outside with the kids and enjoying nature.”

It is clear that, whether inside or outside of work, St. Onge is passionate about playing an active role in his community.

 

— Elizabeth Sears

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Assistant District Attorney, Northwestern District Attorney’s Office; Age 34

Veronice Santana keeps a busy schedule.

As an assistant district attorney in the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, she’s handling a full load of cases. She’s also an adjunct professor at both Bay Path University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and Western New England University School of Law, where she earned her juris doctor. She’s also active in the community, as we’ll see.

But she makes sure to reserve time to mentor those involved with Girls Inc. of the Valley and provide support to high-school girls preparing for college, especially those thinking about careers in law. This mentoring takes many forms and includes simply being a role model and showing them that no career, including the path she took, is beyond their reach if they work hard.

“I’m one of very few women of color in my profession, and so one of the things I enjoy doing is being a representative of the legal field and showing young women, young people of color, that this is something they can also achieve,” she said. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

What those girls see when Santana is in the room is a rising star in the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, one who was the first in her family to attend college, and someone who was firm of the belief that she would become a defense attorney until her last semester in law school, when a judge told her she could become more of a change agent, and impact more lives, as a prosecutor, especially in the Northwestern DA’s office.

She has come to believe those words, and in her role as assistant DA, she stresses that not all crimes need to be prosecuted and not all offenders need to be incarcerated.

“There are a lot of reasons why people commit crimes,” she told BusinessWest. Sometimes, they just need substance-abuse or mental-health treatment. I very quickly learned that this office is focused on alternatives to incarceration, restorative justice, rehabilitation, and treatment. And this is what I believe in.”

As noted, Santana, who recently rescued a dog which is now the “light of her life,” is active in the community. In addition to her work with Girls Inc., she’s a member of Zonta International and also serves as a member of Bay Path University’s paralegal advisory committee and as a board member of the WNE Law Alumni Assoc. She’s also on the Puerto Rican Parade committee.

 

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Behavioral Health, Trinity Health Of New England; Age 36

Dr. Edna Rodriguez says there are few, if any, silver linings attached to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to healthcare and those who provide it.

But if there is one, she believes it is the way the pandemic has brought much-needed attention to the broad subject of behavioral health, attention that may bring some positive results in the years and decades to come.

“The past 24 months have shone a bright spotlight on a problem that was already there,” she explained. “We already had issues with access to care; we already had issues with people contemplating whether to seek behavioral-health services because of stigma and fears of how the system can play out for them.

“COVID has given a different level of importance to behavioral health,” she went on. “I’m hearing more senators, more legislators talking about behavioral health and budgeting for behavioral health … in a way, this crisis has humanized behavioral health.”

Rodriguez should know. She’s spent her professional career working in behavioral health, starting at the Gandara Center in 2013, after earning her doctorate in clinical psychology in Puerto Rico. There, she worked with the Latinx population in Springfield’s North End. She joined the staff of the former Providence Hospital (then an affiliate of Mercy Medical Center) in 2016, and was named to several leadership positions, serving as clinical supervisor of the Clinical Stabilization Unit, director of Clinical Programming and Social Work, and director of the Clinical Assessment Center and Ambulatory programs. She was named to her current position, in which she also directs Brightside for Families and Children, in 2021.

In that position, she oversees collaborations with Behavioral Health Network for crisis management in Mercy’s Emergency Department, manages psychiatric and addiction consultation teams, and ensures that resources are utilized effectively to treat patients and help them transfer to appropriate levels of care.

She also manages grants received by Mercy to help improve and expand access to care for those struggling with a substance-abuse disorder, and also oversees the overall operations of Brightside for Families and Children, an outpatient service offering counseling and family-support programs.

Rodriguez, a mother of two, is also active in the community, serving as a member of the Western Mass. Area Board for the Department of Mental Health; as a parent member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for East Longmeadow Public Schools; and as a leadership member of the Hampden County Addiction Taskforce.

 

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Vice President of Marketing, Country Bank; Age 32

For Justin Roberts, being vice president of Marketing at Country Bank is all about giving back to the community.

“It all goes back to my interest that I’ve always had in giving back and making sure that individuals and organizations continue to succeed, especially the ones that have important missions that support the communities and the individuals that live in them and that need help,” he told BusinessWest.

Roberts’ desire to support individuals who need help was the driving force behind Suit Up Springfield, a nonprofit he founded eight years ago that provides professional attire in the form of suits, shirts, and ties to individuals graduating from high school or college, and individuals being released from incarceration who need assistance with their professional development. The program has provided attire to thousands of young men in the Greater Springfield area.

Additionally, Roberts has developed a partnership with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, providing professional attire to all inmates in the post-incarceration program. He’s even an honorary Hampden County deputy sheriff.

Beyond Suit Up Springfield, Roberts’ role at Country Bank has allowed him to be active with countless organizations.

“We do so much good and give back so much time, talent, and treasure to the community, which has always really been such an important part of my mission, my personal mission statement,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to both personally and professionally give back in so many ways, whether it’s sitting and serving on some boards or volunteering for some organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Square One, or my board involvement at AIC, where I did my undergrad and MBA work. It just all ties back to the opportunities that I have to continue to give back and support the communities and the individuals that make them up.”

Currently, Roberts is vice president of the Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity board. He’s been involved with building 10 homes in the past five years for families in need of good, affordable housing in Western Mass. He was instrumental in raising more than $150,000 to build Tommy’s House, a house built in memory of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, who died as a result of an act of domestic terrorism at the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Tennessee in 2015.

Outside of his work and volunteering, Roberts loves to spend time with his family, his partner, Heather, and their two daughters, Maxie and Charlie. He loves playing golf, cooking, and eating good food.

 

— Elizabeth Sears

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Owner, N. Riley Construction; Age 39

Nick Riley knows construction changes lives — both those of his clients, when they step into a new home or undergo a dramatic renovation, and in his own life, in which a bet on himself paid off at a young age.

Age 24, to be exact. Riley had been working as a laborer for another construction business for a couple of years, and decided he loved the work, and how the results of his labor made people happy.

“I decided I was going to start my own business,” he recalled. “So I got into small remodeling, and gradually got into homebuilding pretty quickly.”

That was 2007, an interesting time to strike out on his own, with the global financial crisis and the Great Recession just around the corner. Riley credits his participation in an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build in Springfield in 2011 with bringing attention to N. Riley Construction and taking the firm to the next level.

“That definitely helped me,” he said. “Since then, we’ve been at it non-stop, growing by leaps and bounds every year. We’re doing 10-plus houses a year, large commercial buildings … I’ve got a good group of guys working for me, and that helps.”

It’s tough for contractors to keep and grow their crews these days, but Riley has been addressing that issue at the source, by cultivating the next generation of workers through an initiative called Student Builders.

“I’m the president, and I work with a couple other local people on that board,” he said. “What we do is purchase property in Chicopee — usually either dilapidated homes that need to be ripped down or pieces of land that need to be developed — and we set it up so kids in vocational programs, like carpentry, electrical, or landscaping, can build an entry-level house. It’s good, hands-on experience, and they can see if that’s something they want to do. It’s a good way to reach out to kids and get them into the workforce.”

The hope is that many will find the career as gratifying as he does.

“I love transforming people’s houses, working with customers and creating something for them that they’re excited about, that they’ll cherish for years,” Riley said. “It’s a very satisfying job. When I drive down the street and look around and say, ‘yeah, we did that house,’ or ‘we did that project,’ it’s nice. We take a lot of pride in our work.”

 

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Business & Community Liaison, Work-based Learning Coordinator, Westover Job Corps; Age: 34

Students at Westover Job Corps (WJC) receive technical training to pursue successful careers. Thanks to the efforts of staff members like Walter Rice, the students also learn how to have a successful life.

In his role with WJC, Rice builds relationships with employers in the community to create internship opportunities for students, so when they graduate with industry-certified training in welding, plumbing, electrical, and other skills, they have a path to employment.

That represents only part of the training, as Rice works with students to learn interviewing and interpersonal skills.

“We make sure students work on what they need to succeed on the job and to make sure they are empowered with independent living skills to maximize their personal lives,” he noted.

While sometimes called “soft skills,” he contends interpersonal skills are life skills that help a person represent their brand, and when combined with technical skills, the result is a truly successful person.

Rice is involved in about a dozen different community efforts in Western Mass. to make life better for young people. One notable recognition came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Excellence in Community Outreach and Prevention.

“We had a speaker series called ‘You Can Be Who You Want to Be,’ where WJC graduates shared stories of how they were able to succeed in their careers and encouraged young people they could do the same,” he noted.

Rice lives by a philosophy of always doing his best and living in the moment.

“The most defining moment we can have is right now,” he said. “No matter what is going on, I have to give 100% of myself and try to make a difference right now.”

At the same time, he can see the bigger picture.

“All of us who work in the community have many people standing behind us and many who came before us,” he said. “Because of the work we’ve done collectively, our community is stronger.”

Proud of all his accomplishments at WJC, Rice recently joined the United Way in a similar role as a liaison for business and community organizations.

“I enjoy working in Western Mass. because we can really have an impact and help others,” he said. “It’s just an honor to serve our community.”

 

— Mark Morris

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Placemaking, W.D. Cowls Inc.; Age 39

Not everyone knows what placemaking is. But, to hear Hannah Rechtschaffen talk about it, maybe everyone should.

“Placemaking, to me, is really looking at the arts and culture and history and current residents of a place and really paying attention to how that place is developing and changing,” she explained. “Because all places are changing in some way.”

At W.D. Cowls Inc., specifically at the Mill District in North Amherst, a burgeoning center for living, shopping, dining, and lifestyle experiences, Rechtschaffen plans and executes events, convenes stakeholders in better leveraging the neighborhood’s assets, oversees the direction of the complex’s Local Art Gallery, guides internal team building and company growth, and interfaces with potential commercial tenants and developers.

“We want to create a great place to live and work and visit, by constantly paying attention to what’s here and what could be here and what we want here, and then stewarding that.”

The art gallery has been a particular passion; Rechtschaffen says the arts have been a lifelong passion, and her focus on economic development and how an ecosystem develops came after that.

“But I think the arts are very underrepresented; people don’t always imagine the extent to which the arts can be included,” she noted. On the other hand, “when we look at economic development, the arts are always at the core because artists are in the world to see things clearly and bring awareness and a voice to people, groups, or ideas that are not being seen.”

As a board member of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, she sits on multiple committees, including government affairs, marketing, the equity and inclusion task force (which she helped launch in 2021), and the first responders’ annual picnic. In Greenfield, where she lives, she chairs the town’s Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee, which is focused on tracking the use and communication of the town’s master plan.

“I live in Greenfield, and everything I get to effect in Amherst, I want that to happen in Greenfield as well,” she said. “It’s hard for me not to join in; I can’t expect other people to do it.”

Whatever her role, Rechtschaffen added that “my work is much more focused on equity and inclusivity than it used to be. That’s been a real gift of this time of COVID, a silver lining, as it were — I feel like I’ve always paid attention, but I’m putting more effort into paying attention to who a place is for and how a community is for everyone.”

 

— Joseph Bednar

 

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Director of Marketing & Communications, Caring Health Center; Age 38

Aundrea Paulk likes to cut through the noise and deliver messages that resonate with her community. She is a natural born creator who loves the idea of trying to create new and exciting experiences for other people.

“What made me get into marketing was the fact that you were able to do these kinds of things in that field, whether it was for nonprofit, for-profit, in any kind of sector,” she explained. “If you’re in the marketing field, you’re able to be creative, but you’re also able to create experiences.”

As director of Marketing & Communications at Caring Health Center, a healthcare facility serving residents of the Greater Springfield area, Paulk is responsible for leading its marketing, digital-strategy, and brand-management efforts. She also handles analytics, communications, and public relations.

One aspect of the job she particularly loves is special events. “We create so many opportunities to connect with the community; it’s my joy,” she said.

During the pandemic, Paulk was a driving force behind the center’s multi-faceted campaign to inform and educate the public.

“I was involved with the communication strategies, such as creating various culturally and linguistically tailored videos for our community in several languages to first help them understand what COVID is, but secondly to make sure that they know how to stay safe during these times,” she explained. “I had them translated so that they were more easily digestible and that one could relate with the information that was there.”

Outside of her position at Caring Health Center, Paulk has her own company, Soiree Mi. It’s a local event-planning and design business that offers creative and personalized services for both private and corporate clients.

Paulk is committed to giving back to the community by organizing female-empowerment events while simultaneously raising awareness for causes that support women and families in Springfield. Soiree Mi’s events have raised money for such causes as Square One, the Endometriosis Foundation of America, and the YWCA of Western Massachusetts.

Paulk’s civic contributions don’t stop with Soiree Mi. She is currently a board member for the Springfield Boys and Girls Club and has also volunteered her marketing services for Strategic Alliances at Bay Path University’s annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

Outside of her many roles in the community, Paulk loves spending time with her family. She’s also a fan of art — she enjoys visiting museums and even does some painting herself.

 

— Elizabeth Sears

40 Under 40 Class of 2022

Senior Vice President, Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley; Age 36

When John Pappas helps clients put together financial plans, he starts by asking what is important to them. Their answer is often family, a sentiment shared by Pappas himself.

As a third-generation financial advisor in the Pappas Group at Morgan Stanley, Pappas also values family. His main priority involves continuing the legacies of his grandfather — who started the practice — and, more recently, his father.

“It’s not often you have three generations in the same line of work,” he said. “It’s important for me to build on the great reputation my grandfather and father have established.”

Pappas finds the most satisfaction helping families organize their finances and form a plan that works for them and the generations that follow. This approach has made him a top producer in the Springfield Morgan Stanley office and has brought national recognition.

Forbes magazine included him on its most recent list of America’s Top Next-Gen Advisors. While he appreciates the honor, he credits it to the people around him.

“This is not a one-man show,” he said. “I received the honor thanks to a whole team of people dedicated to continuous improvement.”

Early in his career while working in Boston, Pappas became a Big Brother to a young man and saw for himself that positive mentoring works.

“There are no bad kids, just kids brought up in tough circumstances,” he said. “Positive mentoring can change someone’s life. Again, it’s about family and taking care of the next generation.”

Now treasurer and board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County, Pappas has continued his connection with the organization. “I like the idea of helping children find a path to success because it makes them and their family proud.”

This fall, he will be the next board president for the Children’s Study Home, following a proud family tradition. Both grandmothers have served on the board, with his grandmother on his mother’s side a past president. His father is also a past president.

“This is another third-generation opportunity afforded me because many years ago, my family recognized the important work Children’s Study Home does in our community,” he said.

In short, Pappas lives by the credo to always help others.

“If you can lend a hand to help someone achieve their goals, then you should do it. That’s how I live and what I would like to be known for.”

 

— Mark Morris

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