When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in the spring of 2007, there were many goals attached to that initiative.
First and foremost, we wanted to introduce 40 rising stars to the business community here in Western Mass. Second, we wanted to tell some really inspiring stories about people doing incredible things — both at their jobs and in their community. Also — and this was not an official goal, to be sure — we wanted to assure the sometimes cynical members of the older generations that there were strong leaders in place for this region for the years and decades to come.
As we introduce the class of 2021, all these goals come to the forefront. This is a tremendous class of young leaders, one that speaks volumes about our region. Indeed, Western Mass. is diverse, and its business community is also diverse, with a strong mix of ventures across all sectors, from technology to healthcare; hospitality to agriculture. Its up-and-coming leaders have chosen a number of different paths; some are entrepreneurs, others lead nonprofits, still others are professionals in fields ranging from law to accounting; marketing to financial services. Some are professionals who are also entrepreneurs.
The class of 2021 reflects all this. It reflects something else, as well — the willingness of these young leaders to step forward, serve their community, and address the many issues confronting our region, including homelessness, poverty, illiteracy, access to healthcare, and more.
The 40 remarkable stories starting on page 25 illuminate all this. They tell of young people excelling in their chosen field, and people who are making it their business to give back.
People like Dr. Jessica Bossie, the highest scorer among the nearly 200 nominees, who serves as the primary-care doctor for a program called Health Services for the Homeless and brings medical care and large doses of compassion to that population.
Or Claudia Quintero, who turned her passion for social justice — and her gratitude for U.S. citizenship — into a legal career advocating for the rights and well-being of migrant farmworkers.
Or Crystal Maldonado, who never gave up on her dream of writing a book, and, in doing so, shared her own life and perspective with teenage readers who don’t often see themselves reflected in mainstream media.
Or Matthew Kushi, an administrator at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst who also grows hot peppers and chairs Hadley’s Agriculture Commission.
Or Julissa Colón, who struggled to finish college after having her first child and now helps others achieve their dreams through Holyoke Community College’s Gateway to College program.
Or Brendon Holland, who brought a cutting-edge skillset to regional public-access television and helped keep a city and its residents connected during the critical months of the pandemic.
Or Chris Thibault, the first-ever posthumous winner of this award, who will be remembered for using his camera to help others tell their stories, but especially for how he shared his own — a courageous battle with cancer.
There are nearly three dozen more stories of this nature involving the class of 2021, a class that showcases all that is good about this region — and all that is good about the young leaders now making their mark.