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Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials, Mayor Richard Kos (center) is flanked by, from left, state Rep. Joseph Wagner, City Council President John Vieu, Elms College President Harry Dumay, and D. Scott Durham, Airlift Wing commander at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Mayor Richard Kos is fond of pointing out that Chicopee is alone among Western Mass. communities in having two exits off the Mass Pike — and now it has a third ‘beacon’ of sorts, as he calls it, with the new Mercedes-Benz dealership lighting the night as it overlooks the Pike at exit 6.

“One of the benefits of Chicopee is its convenience, as well as being a great place to do business,” Kos told BusinessWest. “That’s why Mercedes chose to build in that location. Having two exits on the turnpike is unique in Western Mass., let alone being close to four interstates — 90, 91, 291, and 391. As time goes by, society changes, especially in terms of technology, but being able to get places quickly is always a priority.”

In that vein, the mayor is gratified by a number of businesses choosing to locate or expand in Chicopee, as well as a raft of municipal projects and public-private partnerships that continue to raise the quality of life in this multi-faceted community of more than 55,000 people.

“Last year’s announcements have become this year’s ribbon cuttings, and Mercedes is one of them,” he said. “They’re a beacon advertising quality and prestige for everyone who enters the city off the turnpike or 291. That’s a major investment in the city — $12 million for acquisition, demolition, and construction. And Tru is another $15 million investment in our community.”

That would be Tru by Hilton, another major project, this one bordering the Mass Pike at exit 5. The owners of a Days Inn demolished the outdated hotel on Memorial Drive to make way for the new structure, and the property will include a fast-foot restaurant, a gas station, a coffee shop, and a sit-down restaurant.

“For people coming to Western Mass. from the eastern part of the state, these projects send a nice message,” Kos said — that message being that things are happening in Chicopee. “We’re a community that has always been responsive to businesses, with the conveniences we afford, while still being a very competitive community in terms of electric rates, taxes, and fees.”

Chicopee
at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,298
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.31
Commercial Tax Rate: $34.65
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; City of Chicopee; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; MicroTek
* Latest information available

Other success stories involve long-time businesses like Callaway Golf, which sits on the Meadow Street property synonymous with Spalding for many decades.

“Callaway not only chose to remain here and expand here, but with their Chrome Soft ball and all their other high-end balls, they’re running a 24-hour, seven-day operation to keep up with demand,” the mayor said. “That’s one of the fastest-growing balls in use on the tour, and we’re proud that it’s made in Chicopee.”

One key, he went on, whether dealing with new businesses or existing ones that want to expand and invest, is streamlining the permitting process.

“We’re trying to be responsive to business needs and timing,” Kos said. “A lot of times, government has a pace that leaves a little bit to be desired, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in our city. Chicopee has a history of being extremely business-friendly and responsive. You come in and meet all the boards at once — fire, electric, building, water, all the various departments you need — to have your ideas vetted and see what issues might arise, and to make sure your project goes smoothly. Time is money.”

Downtown Rise Up

At the same time, money is an investment — at least, that’s the way municipal leaders see it as they continue to raise the profile of Chicopee’s downtown. Those investments range from a $2.6 million MassWorks grant to improve water and sewer infrastructure to Mount Holyoke Development’s housing project at Lyman Mills, set to open this spring with 110 market-rate units — specifically, loft-style work/live spaces designed to appeal to young entrepreneurs.

Kos hopes that development and others like it — such as Valley Opportunity Council’s renovation of the former Kendall House into 41 affordable studio apartments — spur further restaurant, bar, and retail development and create a more walkable, active downtown. Community events, such as the city’s holiday tree lighting, Halloween spectacular, and the late-summer Downtown Get Down, just add to that effort.

“We want foot traffic and to get more people down there, which is why we’re investing time and effort to get people to live down there, and make it safer, too,” he added, noting that the City Council recently approved $300,000 to add more cameras downtown and throughout the city to fight and, more importantly, deter crime.

“Our cooperation with the City Council has been remarkable. And the city leaders and the state delegation have worked together to solve problems, come to a consensus, and move forward.”

Meanwhile, at the former Facemate site, David Spada from Lawrence is building a $21 million, 92-room assisted-living facility on a West Main Street parcel across from the Chicopee Falls Post Office, situated off a new road which leads to the RiverMills Senior Center. Ground will be broken this spring.

“So we’re providing opportunities for Millennials to live and work in lofts on one end of the city,” Kos said, “and assisted living on the other.”

Other innovative reuse of property includes a three-megawatt solar farm on a 26-acre site off of Outer Drive and Goodwin Street, near Westover Air Reserve Base. In 2016, the city razed 100 units of military housing units on the site, which had sat unused for two decades and become problematic.

Once a solar farm was approved by neighbors and city leaders, Chicopee was awarded a $1 million MassDevelopment grant to remediate the property, and with money came from the state’s grant program to support the Clean Energy Assessment & Strategic Plan for Massachusetts Military Installations, the housing was finally torn down. Finally, a lease agreement was signed with Chicopee Solar LLC, a subsidiary of ConEdison Development, to build a solar farm.

The city’s investment will be recouped in 10 years through tax revenue and income from the lease agreement, and the government will also benefit because Westover will receive a 5% discount each year on electricity, amounting to $100,000 in annual savings.

“Those properties were deteriorating and vagrant,” Kos told BusinessWest. “This was a win-win for the neighborhood as well as the city.”

Hometown Appeal

Other recent quality-of-life developments in the city include a $225,000 investment in Sarah Jane Park, a grant to the Valley Opportunity Council to support a culinary-arts program and expand nutrition programs in Willimansett, and grants to Porchlight, the Boys & Girls Club, and Head Start to improve infrastructure and programming. For the latter, the city helped leverage more than $600,000 in building improvements to the former Chicopee Falls branch library so Head Start can expand programs for hundreds of children in that neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the city’s public-safety complex recently saw $9 million in improvements, including a new training facility, central dispatch, and locker rooms. “Both chiefs agree that facility will last multiple generations in terms of the improvements made there,” Kos said, adding that other additions include a new ladder truck and an expansion of the police K9 program.

Not all these developments have the splash of a well-lit Mercedes-Benz dealership making a dramatic impression on Mass Pike motorists, but they are all beacons in their own way, testifying to a city on the move, and also a community with plenty of hometown pride.

“We’re the third-largest city west of 495,” the mayor concluded, “but it’s the old Cheers bar mentality — everyone seems to know your name.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections

By Any Measure

By Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch says emotional campaigns ultimately outperform rational campaigns. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Craig Photography.

Likes and leads.

Most marketing professionals love to be able to show these statistics as proof of their effectiveness, and most business owners love to receive news that they have gone up. But marketers’ preoccupation with these short-term indicators is counter to what will drive the long-term effectiveness and return on a marketing campaign.

The Institute of the Practitioners of Advertising, a London-based trade association dedicated to marketing effectiveness, has analyzed the results of almost 1,000 long-term case studies, and finds that marketing campaigns with emotional appeal have a much stronger effect on market share and profitability than the more standard ‘features and benefits’ advertising.

The study found that rational, lead-generation advertising provided a short-term sales uplift, but provided no long-term increase in sales and no reduction in price sensitivity. The effects of emotional branding campaigns grew stronger over time, leading to volume increases and decreased price sensitivity at double the rate of rational campaigns when used for three years or more.

Emotional campaigns ultimately outperformed rational campaigns on a number of critical business measures: sales, market share, profit, penetration, loyalty, and price sensitivity. While social-media likes and leads might be feel-good statistics to read in a report, these other measures are of more bottom-line importance to CEOs and boardrooms.

In a way, these findings are more predictable than it might appear at first. Research, such as the work of Francesco Gino at Harvard Business School, shows that human decision making is largely affected by our emotions, even when we believe it is rational. Examples of these effects range from positive uplifts in the global stock markets on sunny days to video clips affecting people’s ability to properly weigh advice they were given.

Therefore, when customers have an emotional connection to a brand (positive or negative), it follows that this ‘emotional priming’ will affect the way that they respond when presented with a rational decision to make about that brand, i.e. whether to purchase or not. The prospective customer will be predisposed either to respond favorably to the sales pitch or to ignore it. Emotion centers of the brain are also critical for imprinting memories, leading to longer-lasting recall — a critical success factor for branding and marketing effectiveness.

It is important to note that the IPA findings do not recommend a total abandonment of lead-generation campaigns, but to a ratio that favors an emotional branding campaign, with the ideal mix being 60% brand campaign and 40% lead generation. Over time (a span of three years or more), this mix has been shown to provide the highest level of effectiveness.

The study found that rational, lead-generation advertising provided a short-term sales uplift, but provided no long-term increase in sales and no reduction in price sensitivity. The effects of emotional branding campaigns grew stronger over time, leading to volume increases and decreased price sensitivity at double the rate of rational campaigns when used for three years or more.”

Running multiple large-brand campaigns in conjunction with lead-generation activity has been shown to reduce price sensitivity among customers and prospects by 11 times the rate of companies who do not run significant branding campaigns. This integration has also been shown to double the efficiency of marketing budgets, again with three years being the critical threshold for that return.

Applying this philosophy means a drastic shift not only in the minds of marketers and agencies, but also in the demands of CEOs. For many businesses that feel the pressures of day-to-day cash flow or a sales team demanding leads to feed their pipeline, a long-term approach can sound like a cop-out, especially when the short-term effects of emotional brand advertising are particularly difficult to measure. At the same time, most businesses bemoan the intense pressure to compete on price, and see it as a huge impediment to business success and growth in the long term.

The idea that this effect of emotional priming and an emphasis on strongly emotional branding might be an antidote for customer and prospect price sensitivity should be one that causes CEOs to seriously reconsider what reports they are requesting from their marketing departments or agencies. Brand-loyalty and market-share metrics are more directly correlated to profitability than standard success measures such as impressions, social interactions, and even brand awareness.

“A lot of clients, especially in the U.S., are schooled in the rational USP [unique selling proposition] — finding a product difference and then using advertising to convey a message rather than building a relationship. They don’t understand the power of emotions,” said Les Binet, co-author of the IPA report, in an interview with Ad Age.

Treating emotional marketing as an essential component of the marketing mix can give businesses owners a true advantage in an increasingly crowded and competitive environment.


Meghan Lynch is president and CEO of Springfield-based Six-Point Creative; (413) 746-0016.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) will host the inaugural Public Health Nursing Clinical Conference in Western Mass. on Friday, Dec. 1. The conference, developed by the Massachusetts Assoc. of Public Health Nurses (MAPHN) – Western MA Chapter, is designed to give nursing students a realistic view of the role of a public-health nurse and provide first-hand experience.

The keynote speaker, Colleen LaBelle, is program director of the Office Based Addiction Treatment (OBAT), program which serves more than 450 patients in the Boston Medical Center (BMC) outpatient General Medicine practice. OBAT provides consultation and services to BMC’s Family Medicine, Infectious Disease, Psychiatry, Homeless, and Obstetrics departments. In addition, OBAT provides training and technical support to 14 community health centers in the Commonwealth. LaBelle also serves as the executive director of the International Nurses Society on Addiction, Boston Medical Center.

The morning session will be devoted to educational seminars geared toward public-health nursing, infectious diseases, and the opioid epidemic. A mock Hepatitis A vaccination clinic will take place during the afternoon session to simulate an actual infectious-disease outbreak in the community. The clinic will be followed by a panel discussion.

According to Cesarina Thompson, dean of AIC’s School of Health Sciences, “public-health nurses comprise the largest segment of the professional public-health workforce and play a critical role in promoting the health of communities and populations. We are honored to host this inaugural conference that will provide our future nurses and health professionals with the ability to participate in important discussions regarding contemporary population-health issues.”

AIC provided oversight on the development of the program and is the first of the regional nursing schools to make the conference available to its students. It will be held at the AIC Edgewood Campus, Hall of Fame Room, in the Butova Gymnasium, 125 Cortland St., Springfield, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Approximately 100 people will be in attendance, including 60 senior AIC nursing students, RN to BSN students from Bay Path University, Western Mass. public-health nurses, and members of the Western Massachusetts Nursing Collaborative.

Health Care Sections

A Matter of Compliance

The team at River Valley Counseling Center

The team at River Valley Counseling Center and local dignitaries cut the ribbon recently on the facility’s new in-house pharmacy.

It’s an easy concept to understand, Rosemarie Ansel said: medicine is useless if it’s not taken.

And prescription non-compliance is a common problem in the behavioral-health realm, said the executive director of River Valley Counseling Center. That can lead to rehospitalization in many cases, or worse.

“Whether it’s outpatient mental health or day treatment or services in schools, the idea is to provide support for people and help them manage their medical diagnosis so they remain in the community setting and not be hospitalized,” Ansel said. “Behavioral-health patients are a big part of who visits emergency departments. We try to provide services so it doesn’t get escalated to that level.”

That’s why she’s excited about River Valley’s new partnership with Genoa, the largest provider of pharmacy, telepsychiatry, and medication-management services for the behavioral-health and addiction-treatment communities. The company recently opened a pharmacy inside River Valley’s main clinic in Holyoke, Genoa’s fourth such location in Massachusetts and the first in the Greater Springfield region.

Genoa’s 380 pharmacies, all set in behavioral-health clinics across the country, serve than 550,000 individuals annually in 45 states, filling more than 13 million prescriptions annually.

“The focus is on behavioral-health medications, although they provide all medications for any of of our clients, their families, my staff, and my staff’s families,” Ansel said. “River Valley isn’t going to make any money on this; just a little bit of rent for the square footage in the building. It’s a partnership, in that the goal was to have the clients be more medication-compliant.”

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy showed that integrated care models that feature on-site pharmacies produce higher medication adherence rates than community pharmacies, as well as lower rates of hospitalization and emergency-department utilization. In fact, Genoa’s consumers average more than a 90% medication-adherence rate.

And that’s the key, Ansel said. While there’s no guarantee patients will take their prescribed medications, compliance rates rise significantly once they have a prescription filled — which is much easier with a dedicated pharmacy on the clinic site than it is when they must visit a pharmacy off-site.

“One of the things we know in behavioral health is that clients pick up scripts and never fill them, or they don’t adhere to the recommended instructions, and they’re back in the hospital, and the cycle continues,” Ansel said. “We have a pharmacist who really understands the importance of being compliant and following their treatment plans to stay healthy.”

In addition, a pharmacist who specializes in the behavioral-health field, and who can easily communicate with a patient’s doctor if there are questions, makes it much easier to quickly answer questions, reducing confusion and further promoting compliance, she added.

For this issue’s focus on behavioral health, BusinessWest  spoke with Ansel about this new pharmacy partnership and how it’s just one part of a multi-faceted effort to increase access to behavioral healthcare for clients across the region.

Straight Talk

Ansel said River Valley had two ‘asks’ before taking Genoa on as a partner. One was that the pharmacist had to be bilingual in English and Spanish, as are about 75% of the practice’s 165 employees. “That’s a really important feature for us,” she said, considering the demographics of Holyoke. The pharmacist assigned to River Valley, Angel Marrero, fits the bill.

The second was that Marrero would be an active advocate with insurance companies, which often try to block certain medications, forcing practitioners to spend valuable patient time fighting with them.

“It’s time-consuming, it’s cumbersome, you’re on hold for a half-hour before talking to someone,” she explained. “This will free up our prescribers to see more clients. It’s a win-win for them.”

Rosemarie Ansel

Rosemarie Ansel says keeping clients compliant with medication instructions starts with making sure they actually fill the prescriptions.

After agreeing to both caveats, Genoa went to work over the winter in converting former waiting-area space into a pharmacy at the front of the clinic. After a soft opening in June, the pharmacy became the only one of its type in Western Mass.

River Valley’s clients — who receive outpatient care clinics in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Easthampton, as well as school-based sites in those three communities, as well as Granby and Springfield — run the gamut of age, demographics, and medical needs, Ansel explained.

For instance, the practice provides therapy in primary-care doctors’ offices, with licensed therapists assigned to the practice. The reason is that front-line providers are often the first to diagnosis a mental-health concern, and for many clients, their doctor’s office is the most comfortable environment for them to receive services.

In the elder-care realm, River Valley has contracts with both WestMass Elder Care and LifePath (in Franklin County) to provide mental-health services to the elderly, including in their homes.

For the younger set, school-based clinics in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Easthampton, as well as a few in Granby and Springfield, bring therapy services to students during the school day.

“Parents are overwhelmed, and the thought of taking the kid out of school and bringing them to therapy, then bringing the kids back — many times, that’s not going to happen. They’re working; they’ve got their own schedules. And transportation can be a huge issue. Even if the kid wants to go to therapy, he may not be able to get there. We go to the schools, which are considered satellites of our main clinic. Kids get taken out of non-core classes to see a therapist right at the school.”

Besides the therapeutic program, these school-based clinics provide a range of general health services, such as immunizations, physicals, dental screenings, and referral services to primary or specialty care. A similar program is offered at Springfield Technical Community College, again, so students can access therapeutic services without having to travel off campus.

Meanwhile, an employee-assistance program allows companies to access therapy services for their workers. “For example, an employee might be having a hard time at work, in their personal life, with finances, with their kids, and they need someone to reach out to. It could be financial problem, dealing with gambling problem, or it could be something that happened at a job site. If there’s a long-term therapy issue, they can link up with those services.”

The common thread with all these models of care? “We go to the clients in an effort to support them in the environment where they feel the most comfortable,” Ansel said. And comfort level is a bigger deal in the mental-health world than it is in other areas of healthcare.

“There’s a stigma around behavioral health. You need to make yourself as available as possible because, if there’s any kind of barrier, they don’t come. When we get just a little bit of snow, the cancellation rate skyrockets. Therapy is work. You’re not just chatting; you’re working on an issue, and that can be hard to face. If you can have it in an environment that’s more conducive, that causes less stress in your life, it makes it easier.”

Broad Reach

River Valley Counseling Center, which is part of Valley Health Systems and an affiliate of Holyoke Medical Center, has broadened its reach in other ways as well, such as with a day treatment program launched in Chicopee a few years ago.

“That’s for more chronically mentally ill clients, providing services during the work week with the goal of helping them become more independent and less dependent on such a structured program, so maybe they can get a job or start volunteering someplace and move on. People stay there anywhere from a couple months to a couple years, depending on their level of need.”

The practice also offers an HIV/AIDS support and treatment program, headquartered in Springfield, which provides assessment and referral services, case management, support groups, housing services, and other resources.

Considering all the ways River Valley strives to bring services to clients where they are, Ansel said, the partnership with Genoa, aimed at making medication compliance much easier, just makes sense.

“Everything is customer-friendly,” she said, right down to the bubble packaging Genoa uses to sort and clearly label medications by the dose and time.

“They really have a good, positive energy about their work,” she added. “They do things like send thank-you notes to all patients, hand-signed by the technician and pharmacist. Clients very much appreciate that personal touch. I just love this company.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On Wednesday, Nov. 29, Springfield Technical Community College will offer Health Careers Exploration Night, an opportunity for anyone interested in becoming a healthcare professional to learn more about STCC’s programs.

Open to the public, the free event will take place from 4 and 6 p.m. While no registration is required, visitors should check in with organizers in the first-floor lobby of Building 20, on the Pearl Street side of the campus.

The night will feature tours of STCC’s SIMS Medical Center, a nationally recognized patient-simulation facility, and tours of departments. Visitors can meet faculty and current students and observe demonstrations and hands-on activities. The event is ideal for anyone thinking about changing careers or becoming a medical professional, to find out if the healthcare field is a good fit.

“This event is a wonderful opportunity for prospective students to explore health careers and meet faculty, staff, and current students. Attendees will be able to ask questions and experience hands-on opportunities that will allow them immersive experiences in each of the healthcare professions offered at STCC,” said Christopher Scott, dean of the School of Health and Patient Simulation.

STCC offers more than a dozen programs to get started on the path to a health career, including cosmetology, dental assistant, dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, health information technology, medical assistant, medical coding and billing specialist, medical laboratory technician, medical office administrative assistant, nursing, occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant, radiologic technology, respiratory care, sterile processing technician (a new program), and surgical technology.

Anyone needing accommodations to fully participate in this event should contact the Office of Disability Services at (413) 755-4785. For more information, contact the School of Health & Patient Simulation at [email protected] or (413) 755-4510.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Denise Menard

Denise Menard says low taxes, streamlined permitting, and quality of life are all factors in making East Longmeadow an attractive landing spot.

When East Longmeadow switched from a town-meeting style of government to a Town Council and town manager, Denise Menard said the change wasn’t meant to be simply cosmetic.

Rather, noted Menard — who came on board as interim town manager in 2016 before shedding the ‘interim’ title earlier this year — creating her position and replacing the three-member Board of Selectmen with a seven-member, elected Town Council provided the momentum to launch several new municipal departments aimed squarely at improving quality of life.

That included East Longmeadow’s first-ever Human Resources department; a new director of Finance and director of Planning and Community Development; and a three-member Board of Health overseen by a full-time director.

That latter division has launched two successful vaccination clinics — to prevent flu, shingles, tetanus, and other maladies — while the town has also boosted recycling efforts, launched an innovative 911 database that collects resident information to be used by first-responders, and is looking to begin town ambulance service.

“We don’t sell widgets; we only provide services,” Menard told BusinessWest. “So we try to provide the best service we can. That’s really paramount in my eyes. I’ve had people come in and say they’re very happy with the way things are going.”

The health, emergency, and recycling services all target healthier or greener lifestyles for residents, she added, and the town’s new charter has given municipal leaders a strong foundation from which to further expand programs to benefit citizens.

East Longmeadow at a glance:

Year Incorporated: 1894
Population: 15,720 (2010)
Area: 13.0 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $20.77
Commercial Tax Rate: $20.77
Median Household Income: $62,680 (2010)
Median Family Income: $70,571 (2010)
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: Cartamundi; Lenox Tools; Redstone Rehab and Nursing Center

“I think we’ll see more great things in the years moving forward,” she said. “People need to know they’re valued and that their tax dollars are going to good things.”

There’s a strategy to those quality-of-life efforts that do more than make residents happy, however. A town’s amenities and services speak directly to its ability to attract new business, and so does how many barriers a town throws into their path.

“People coming into the community have a much more streamlined process now,” said Don Anderson, one of the Town Council members and a business owner in East Longmeadow for 28 years with the Cruise Store.

“We have a full-time town manager in office as opposed to a part-time board of selectmen with a town administrator who has no real power,” he went on. “Also, in terms of permitting, we now have a Building Department and Planning Department and Zoning Department under one umbrella.”

At the same time, he added, the town was wise to keep certain things intact, like taxing businesses and residents at the same rate. “That policy did not change, so that’s also a welcoming sign to outside businesses wanting to come into East Longmeadow.”

From the Ground Up

As for companies setting up shop and expanding, a few big projects have given a shot of energy to the town’s economic-development landscape.

Last year, L.E. Belcher broke ground on a 6,500-square-foot convenience store on a lot at 227 Shaker Road that was empty for many years. That project stalled when Atlantis Management Group bought out the property, but after a second round of permitting and approvals — the proposed hours will shift from 24/7 to 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. each day — “they seem very anxious to get started,” Menard said.

Also underway is an 18,000-square-foot medical office building at 250 North Main St. being constructed by Associated Builders for Baystate Dental Group, which will have 90 parking spaces. The dental office will occupy the first floor, and the second floor will be rented as medical or office space.

Another, more complex project in the health realm is a joint venture with the town of Longmeadow — a medical complex that will add to East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center at 305 Maple St., cross town lines, and provide benefits to both communities.

The project includes four structures on a 20-acre site: a 50,000-square-foot medical office building in Longmeadow that would be occupied by Baystate Health; a two-story, 25,000-square-foot office building in East Longmeadow; and an assisted-living facility and expansion of an existing skilled-nursing facility run by Berkshire Health.

One of the most exciting current projects, to hear Menard tell it, is the Planning Board’s discussion of an overlay zone for the former Package Machinery building at 330 Chestnut St.

“The building is in pretty poor shape, and the planning proposal is to create a mixed-use site which would have commercial, retail, and possibly small offices in the front part of the building, and above will be some residential apartments or condos,” she explained.

We don’t sell widgets; we only provide services. So we try to provide the best service we can. That’s really paramount in my eyes. I’ve had people come in and say they’re very happy with the way things are going.”

With sensitivity to the environment, the proposal includes preserving green space around the property and creating walking trails to encourage outdoor activity, she added. “There will be a real New England feel to it, and it’s going to be be a pretty upscale development. It’s shaping up to be a good project.”

Anderson noted that East Longmeadow has been home to a number of retail and restaurant ‘firsts’ in Greater Springfield, including the region’s first Boston Chicken franchise, its first Homegoods store, and its first 99 Restaurant.

“If they’re picking East Longmeadow, that says East Longmeadow has the economic range to support businesses,” he told BusinessWest. “People like the fact that the tax basis goes beyond just housing, that we can generate taxes through business as well. There’s a good balance there. When they look at a community that gives a clear message of supporting business, then businesses feel welcome. Personally, I haven’t been disappointed.”

Menard hopes others feel the same way. “People are coming to live and work and develop businesses here. We strive to be business-friendly, and I think we’re getting there.”

Spreading the Word

Change has been positive in East Longmeadow, Anderson went on, but it takes more work than just changing the charter and streamlining processes. One challenge has involved the various town departments and the Town Council learning how to work together. “People coming in fresh don’t always realize how matters before the Planning Board affect the council. Something the Board of Health might be doing may impact the Town Council as well, and we have to be aware of that.”

Another challenge has been spreading the word about how the municipal changes and new services benefit people, as local media haven’t always been diligent about covering the town’s day-to-day business.

“There has been a lack of interest in the government by the media,” Anderson said, “I saw that was happening, so I’m chairing a new commission on media relations. We’re working on strategies to find more organized ways of getting messages out to people, such as through social-media methods. We need to find modern ways to get the message out when the media is not covering us the way they used to.”

And East Longmeadow does have news to share, he went on. “Things are happening. You can drive through and see the construction going on, see properties that have been vacant for a number of years come to life, how the old Vanguard Bank on North Main Street is going to be a dentist’s office, or the interest in the old Package Machinery area. Obviously, people are attracted to this community.”

It’s a civic-minded community as well, he noted, evidenced by the 32 people who ran for the first Town Council seats last year.

“We have beautiful housing, some of the best schools around, some beautiful parks, and we have a healthy mix of commercial and residential,” Menard added. “It’s a well-rounded town with a reasonable tax rate, and people just seem to be amenable to coming here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss

Market Shift

jane-albert-7-of-8From her early days in marketing, Jane Albert had a goal — to work in the field of healthcare, and specifically for Baystate Health, the region’s largest health system. To achieve that goal, and eventually be part of the organization’s senior leadership, she was willing to take risks, welcome new opportunities as they arose, and continually make connections — all the while never losing sight of who her customers are and how to most effectively meet their needs.

When she was 8 years old, Jane Albert was the only one of her friends allowed to ride her bike from her Springfield neighborhood all the way to City Line Pharmacy in East Longmeadow. She immediately saw the money-making possibilities.

“I would buy candy there and set up a table on my front lawn to sell candy to all the kids in my neighborhood, and I’d mark the candy up,” she said. “I evaluated the demand for certain types of candy; at first, I bought what I liked, but then I saw what they were buying.”

When someone would complain about the prices, she’d note they could easily ride to the pharmacy and buy their own. Except that they couldn’t.

What she didn’t realize at the time, she said, was that she was exercising the four ‘Ps’ of marketing that students of the subject learn in college: product, price, place, and promotion. “The candy was the price, and the price was the markup based on the demand. The place was local — my front yard — and promotion was word of mouth; kids rode their bikes around and said, ‘Jane’s selling candy.’”

While Albert didn’t know at the time that marketing and business development would become her career and driving passion, it’s easy now to look back and recognize an early aptitude for it — and the connecting threads between candy and healthcare as she settles into her latest role at Baystate Health, as senior vice president of Marketing, Communications & External Relations.

“It all goes back to that entrepreneurial spirit — even in healthcare, what do people want, and how do we deliver that and make them happy? And how do you determine what people want, or give them something they can’t get somewhere else?”

Her marketing career started in the 1990s with a moment of ‘bartering’ with Braman Chemical owner Jerry Lazarus, who was in her home on a pest-control call. “I shared ideas with him on how he could improve his marketing outreach. He was so taken with the ideas, he didn’t charge me. I thought, ‘oh, this is really valuable. I have good things to offer that I could package.’”

With a baby at the time, and a part-time teaching gig at what was then known as Western New England College, she launched a solo venture as a marketing consultant — something she could do with her skills and still be home with her family at night.

During that time, Albert developed a footprint across the Northeast and partnered with marketing and research firms and ad agencies to increase the value of what they brought clients. Some were more receptive that others — one client didn’t think she brought as much value working from home than someone with a “fancy office.”

“I said he was getting me 24/7 and wasn’t paying for overhead — just paying for brainpower,” she recalled. He challenged her by calling her at 6:45 one evening, when he figured she’d be cooking dinner. She took the call with one hand while stirring food on the stovetop with the other.

I’m always looking to the future and what’s next — I’m a visionary planner. And I knew my next step was not going to be a college president. So I asked, what’s next for me?”

Meanwhile, she was proving her value in other ways as well. While teaching at WNEC, she developed a plan to create a marketing department. Later, “the president called and said, ‘we like what you did. Will you be our first director of marketing?” She took that job, and when current President Anthony Caprio came on board, he promoted Albert to vice president of Advancement and Marketing.

She liked that job, though she missed the classroom culture, that moment of seeing the lights go on for a student who made a connection between the textbook and real life. “But I was able to promote a good school, and that was gratifying as well.”

But it would not be her final career stop. Far from it.

“I’m always looking to the future and what’s next — I’m a visionary planner,” she told BusinessWest. “And I knew my next step was not going to be a college president. So I asked, what’s next for me?”

The answer, she decided, was in healthcare.

“I was born at Baystate and raised in Springfield, and I wasn’t going to relocate anywhere,” Albert said. “I had heard a lot about Baystate’s leadership under [then-President] Mike Daly, and that’s where I had my sights set. You can have so much impact on people in healthcare, and I saw the impact Baystate had on so many people, so I wanted to work there and get involved in healthcare.”

But no opportunities in her field of marketing were available right away, so, as a stepping stone, she went to work for Veritech, a 25-person multi-media company that specialized in healthcare, heading up its business-development arm — a move that baffled friends and family who wondered why she would shed the prestige of being a college’s vice president for something seemingly much less glamorous.

But she had a plan.

“The core of their business was healthcare education,” she explained. “The founder was really a man ahead of his time. He created digital patient-education programs online, but it was too soon; there was no payment model for it. But I loved his company. My thought was that I’d take over his company when he retired, or use that as a launchpad to get to Baystate.”

Two years later, she got a call from the head of Baystate’s Marketing department — a job opportunity had opened up, with the health system looking to install a manager of Medical Practices Marketing. Again, friends wondered whether it had been worth leaving her vice presidency at WNEC to wind up in a managerial role in a massive health system.

“I did it because, looking at the long term, I wanted to be here at Baystate,” she said. “It was a significantly different job, obviously, compared to Western New England, but I said, ‘I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m going to go for it and do the best I can.’”

Fifteen years later, she’s sure that was the right decision.

Up the Ladder

When preparing to take a photo for this article, Albert joked that BusinessWest should take one of all her Baystate business cards. Indeed, it’s an impressive collection.

For instance, Baystate’s physician practices, the focus of her first stop, is an important part of the network, today boasting more than 80 primary- and specialty-care doctors. “My job was to promote the physicians and the practices to the general community, so they would know what we had to offer.”

During her time in that role, Albert presented the first marketing plan to integrate two legacy medical groups to become one organization, known today as Baystate Medical Practices.

But much of the day-to-day work was about building bridges between the doctors and their patients, and between the practices and their communities, she added. “That’s the most important piece, the relationships. That’s what it’s all about. When doctors have good relationships with patients, the patients share that with others. When the doctors have good relationships with other doctors, they refer to one another.”

She was later appointed manager of Corporate Marketing, overseeing Baystate Health’s marketing efforts, loyalty programs, and events, followed by a stint as director of Public Affairs & Internal Communications. She then returned to Baystate Medical Practices, successfully launching the organization’s first physician-referral office, working under the leadership of Mark Keroack, who later became president of Baystate Health.

“That office was really about developing relationships between Baystate doctors and community physicians, and paving a pathway for better access to each other, and for patients to get appointments,” she explained. “I knew so much about Baystate that moving into this operations role was really exciting. It was a place I could grow and have an impact.”

But not long after, a search committee embarked on a nine-month search for a key dual role in the system: vice president of Philanthropy for Baystate Health and executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation. They failed to identify the ideal candidate, however, and turned inward, to someone with a deep understanding of the system’s needs and some experience in fund-raising. That’s right — it was time for Albert to order a new set of business cards.

Among her accomplishments in that role, she led a transformation of the foundation to align philanthropic support with a new strategic plan, and oversaw the completion of a $5 million capital campaign for the new surgical center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.

Four years later, though, it was time for another move, this time into the health system’s senior leadership team. As a member of Keroack’s cabinet, she now oversees the functions of marketing and digital strategy, government and public relations, community relations and public health, communications, and philanthropy.

That’s … quite a long list.

And it’s not a job performed in the quiet of her office; with a wry smile, she held up that day’s schedule, an uninterrupted block of meetings with different departments — squeezing in BusinessWest among them — and made it clear most days are like that. But she relishes her raft of new responsibilities.

“There’s been a lot of change over the last few years,” Albert said, referring to both her role and the evolving shape of healthcare as well. “But change brings opportunity. Healthcare is changing every single day, and so is our environment, so we have to be able to change, to meet the needs of our patients, families, donors, and legislators.”

The biggest challenge in healthcare is government changes and reimbursements. You’re dealing with an industry where more than half the revenues are provided by the government. There’s continual change, and that makes it difficult.”

Indeed, that latter group is often the most demanding.

“The biggest challenge in healthcare is government changes and reimbursements. You’re dealing with an industry where more than half the revenues are provided by the government. There’s continual change, and that makes it difficult.”

In addition, Baystate serves a population with high levels of poverty, and Medicaid reimburses only 75% of costs, on average. “We’re losing 25 cents on the dollar for every Medicaid patient. And when you have a charitable mission to take care of everybody — no one gets turned away — it becomes challenging to afford all that we need to do.”

Improving the Prognosis

‘All that’ extends well beyond everyday care, of course, including attracting top talent, investing in innovative technology, providing the teaching resources of an academic medical center, and, now, partnering with UMass Medical School on a Springfield branch.

“That’s why philanthropy is so important,” she added, particularly at a time when hospitals are expected to keep communities healthy, improve the patient experience, and reduce costs — the so-called ‘triple aim.’

“Healthcare used to be based on, the more you did, the more you got paid,” she said. “You’d send a patient for six tests, an X-ray, and three specialists. Now, healthcare is reimbursed based on how healthy you keep patients.”

And preferably not in hospitals. Take asthma, for instance, a particularly pervasive issue in the Pioneer Valley. If a child’s asthma is not controlled and he or she winds up in the hospital, it results in poor school performance, missed work for the parents, and higher costs for the health system — a vicious cycle. The better option? Preventive efforts to keep the child healthy at home.

“Where do you find a business that tries to keep you away from that business, and that’s a success?” Albert asked. “But that’s where we are. Our goal is population health and doing all we can do to keep people healthy. We look at social determinants of health — access to food, incidence of diabetes and obesity, which can lead to heart disease … all those things drive the cost of health way up. It’s a much better picture when people are healthy, and that’s what we want.”

Achieving that goal requires everyone in the health system to align behind a single mission, and that requires a culture change, she explained, from the doctors performing cutting-edge surgery to maintenance staff raking leaves and improving the aesthetic appeal of a building that few customers are really happy about entering.

“There aren’t a lot of businesses where people don’t want to come to your business, so we want to make it as pleasant an experience as possible,” she said. “That is our focus. The world is changing, so we need to understand what the patient wants and how we can best deliver it.”

The bottom line, Albert said, is trying to make a difference and make the world a better place, as cliché as that might sound.

“I’m excited about where I am in this role,” she said, reflecting simultaneously on all the stops along the way. “People can see you can go from a manager up the line. An organization of this size provides those opportunities.”

It’s certainly a long way — figuratively, anyway — from just over the border in East Longmeadow, where an 8-year-old with a knack for marketing first began figuring out what her customers wanted and how to deliver the goods.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Features

Star Power

 

Lenny Recor attends to the second floor at the TD Bank building, a position he secured with the help of Sunshine Village.

Lenny Recor attends to the second floor at the TD Bank building, a position he secured with the help of Sunshine Village.

Back in the mid-’60s, a group of parents, advised by friends, family members, and attorneys alike to put their developmentally disabled children into an institution, collectively rejected that idea and, far more importantly, came up with a much better one. The result of their innovative, forward-thinking outlook was Sunshine Village, which, 50 years later, remains an immensely powerful source of light, warmth, hope, and lives fulfilled.

 

Lenny Recor was in a good mood — or as good a mood as you might expect someone to be in on a Monday morning.

Actually, the day of the week doesn’t seem to matter much to Recor, who appears to wear a smile on an almost permanent basis. And such was the case as he went about his work vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and cleaning bathrooms at 1441 Main St. in Springfield, a.k.a. the TD Bank Building.

“I like to work … it’s meaningful, and I get to meet people and say hello,” said the 39-year-old. “Besides, it’s good to have money in your pocket — really good.”

The ability to work and put money in one’s pocket is something that many people might take for granted, but not Recor.

He has managed to secure several such opportunities thanks to Sunshine Village, the Chicopee-based nonprofit that this year is celebrating a half-century of doing what it does best — creating ‘great days’ for hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities and help them lead rich, meaningful (there’s that word again) lives.

And these great days come in many forms, said Gina Kos, long-time executive director at Sunshine Village, noting that, for some, it means a day of working and earning. For others, it might mean volunteering at one of a number of area nonprofits. For still others, it might mean using a computer or practicing yoga. And for some, a great day may involve learning to shake hands or hold a spoon.

“A great day is a collection of small, proud moments,” she told BusinessWest, noting that this simple definition covers a significant amount of ground, to be sure. “What goes into ‘great’ depends on the individual.”

Elaborating, she said the agency’s mission, and its mindset, are neatly summed up with a collection of words — a summary, if you will, of what the agency provides for its participants — now filling one wall inside the agency’s administration building:

“Warm welcomes, new skills, shared laughs, many choices, caring staff, friendships, creativity, new experiences, safe travels, big smiles, helping hands, happy people, kind words, unique opportunities, lifelong learning, fun times, teamwork, dedication, shining moments, celebrations, personal accomplishments, sunshine, great days,” it reads … with those last two words in bold red letters.

Over a half-century, Gina Kos says, Sunshine Village has evolved, but has always remained true to its core mission.

Over a half-century, Gina Kos says, Sunshine Village has evolved, but has always remained true to its core mission.

But it’s not what’s on the wall that defines Sunshine Village, but what goes on inside the walls — and, in Recor’s case and many others, well outside them.

At the hangars and administration buildings at nearby Westover Air Reserve Base, for example, where participants at Sunshine Village have been employed for more than 40 years, handling various cleaning duties. Or at a host of nonprofit agencies such as the Cancer House of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and many others. Or at area businesses and office buildings ranging from the Trading Post, a large convenience store just down the street from the agency’s headquarters on Litwin Drive in Chicopee, to the TD Bank building.

And while on the subject of great days, Kos said Sunshine Village strives to provide them for both its participants and the team of employees who serve them.

“We work very hard to be a provider of choice and an employer of choice,” she noted, adding that these are the broad organizational goals outlined in a three-year strategic plan for the agency, one due to be updated in the near future. “And in the third year of our plan, we’ve realized outcomes with both of those goals that have really exceeded our initial expectations.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Village as it marks a key milestone, and at how, as it looks forward to its next half-century of creating great days, it will continue its evolutionary process.

Bright Ideas

When asked about the circumstances that brought her to the corner office at Sunshine Village, Kos quickly flashed back more than 25 years to the agency’s first annual fund-raising golf tournament at Tekoa Country Club in Westfield.

“I was a volunteer — I drove the beer cart,” she recalled, adding that she had such a good time, and was so impressed with the agency’s mission and how it was met, that she volunteered again the next year.

And through those experiences, Kos, who was, at the time, working in the banking sector, decided she wanted to get involved at a much higher level.

Indeed, she joined Sunshine Village in a marketing position, and a few years later rose to director. She told BusinessWest that, early on, her focus was on putting the agency on a stronger financial footing and enabling it to operate more like a business, or a nonprofit business, to be precise.

Kori Cox, a participant in Sunshine Village’s community-based day services, describes herself as an ambassador committed to generating positive thinking.

Kori Cox, a participant in Sunshine Village’s community-based day services, describes herself as an ambassador committed to generating positive thinking.

“When I came here, people in the human-services world didn’t talk about money,” she noted. “But I said, ‘you need to talk about money.’ And today, I think a lot of organizations follow Sunshine Village’s path of talking about money and acting like a business; in order to achieve your mission, you need to have a solid financial base.”

And while that work continues, she said the primary assignment for the team at Sunshine Village has been to continue a 50-year process of evolution and refinement in order to better meet the needs of those the agency serves and create more of those great days.

This is a broad constituency, individuals 22 and over, for the most part, who have one of many types of development disabilities, including, and increasingly, those on the autism spectrum.

To fully understand this evolutionary process, it’s best to start at the beginning, when a small group of parents of children with developmental disabilities set on a course that would change lives for decades to come.

“These parents were told by their physicians, their lawyers, their families, and friends that they needed to put their children into an institution — either Belchertown State School or the Monson Developmental Center,” she said, adding that they had a different, considerably better idea.

“These families were pretty radical at that time — this was the mid-’60s — and they said, ‘no, institutions are not for us; we’re going to keep our children at home with us,’” she went on. “But they also realized that the resources to help them raise their children weren’t there; they couldn’t go through the school system, and just bringing their kids to nursery schools and the local playground didn’t feel right 50 years ago.”

So this group of parents, under the leadership of Joseph Casey, owner of Casey Chevrolet, who had a young daughter with a developmental disability, started a group called Friends of the Retarded Children and set about creating an organization that would become what Sunshine Village is today.

On land donated by the city and local sportsmen’s club, and with money raised through an involved grassroots effort, a playground and the first building (eventually named after Casey) were built and opened in the spring of 1967.

In its early years, the agency served children, said Kos, noting that it had a nursery school and recreational facilities that reflected playgrounds of that era. As those original participants grew older, the roster of programs evolved accordingly, including the addition of employment services as well as a skills center for those who wanted to work, but needed the skills to do so.

It Takes a Village

Today, Sunshine Village, which has a $13 million annual operating budget, serves roughly 450 adults with developmental disabilities across Western Mass. Many stay with the agency for years or decades, and one participant in its programs recently turned 86.

In addition to its facility in Chicopee, there are other locations in Springfield, Three Rivers, and Westfield, added over the years to bring participants closer to the services being offered.

Day programs provided by the agency cover a broad spectrum. They include:

• Community Engagement Services, also known as community-based day services, or CBDS, which offer individuals activities promoting wellness, recreation, community engagement, technology, self-advocacy, and personal development;

• Contemporary Life Engagement Services, a highly structured program specifically designed to support individuals on the autism spectrum. This is a medically based day ‘habilitation’ program with services augmented with clinical supports as necessary, including speech and language, physical, and occupational therapies, and access to a board-certified behavior analyst;

• Traditional Life Engagement Services, a medically based day habilitation program focused on building functional life skills, including social, communication, personal wellness, and independent living; and

• Employment Services, which support participants in obtaining a job or working as a member of a supervised team. It does this through placement services, and also through Village Works, an agency-owned business located just off exit 6 of the Turnpike, as well as Westover Maintenance Systems, a commercial cleaning company operated by Sunshine Village, which, as noted, provides maintenance services for all the buildings and hangars at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Over the years, and on an ongoing basis, the programming at the Village evolves to meet changing needs within society and area school departments and their special-education divisions, said Kos.

“Over the years, we’ve offered different kinds of services — residential services, shared-living services, different kinds of day and employment services — but we’ve always remained true to our mission,” she told BusinessWest. “And that is to serve people with disabilities and to serve them regardless of the level of disability; we’ve served people that other organizations can’t and won’t serve.”

As one example of this evolutionary process, she noted additions and changes undertaken to meet the dramatic rise in the number of individuals on the autism spectrum.

“There are a lot more people graduating from area high schools who are on the autism spectrum,” she explained, adding that the reasons for this are not fully known. “And on the autism spectrum, 40% of the individuals also have an intellectual disability, meaning their IQ is less than 71.

“And one of the things we’re doing at Sunshine Village is redefining and redesigning our services so that we’re able to meet the needs and support people on the autism spectrum who do not have intellectual disabilities,” she went on, “because that is a growing need in the community.”

Denise Simpkins and Bill Denard have been working at Westover Air Reserve Base for several years now through Sunshine Village’s employment-services arm.

Denise Simpkins and Bill Denard have been working at Westover Air Reserve Base for several years now through Sunshine Village’s employment-services arm.

It’s also an example of how the agency is constantly listening to the constituencies it serves when they’re asked about needs and concerns — and responding to what it hears.

These traits have certainly benefited the agency as it works toward that goal of being a provider of choice, said Kos, adding that the same is true when it comes to being an employer of choice.

Elaborating, she said the competition for talent in the nonprofit sector is considerable, and Sunshine Village looks to stand out in this regard by working hard to enable employees to shine as well as those they serve.

“We see our employees as our best asset, and we invest a lot of money in training, recognizing, and thanking them,” she said of her team of more than 250.

Shining Examples

Kos said the official 50th anniversary date for the agency was in April of this year, and in many respects it has been a year-long celebration.

There was a dinner for employees last spring, several outreach events, and a community celebration in September, called, appropriately enough, the ‘Great Days Gala,’ that was attended by more than 250 people.

But in most all ways, Sunshine Village has been celebrating 50 years by doing more of what it’s been doing for 50 years — enabling people with developmental disabilities to shine.

And as BusinessWest talked with some of the clients served by the agency, it became clear that there are many ways for that verb to manifest itself.

For Jonathon Scytkowski, a participant in the CBDS programs who came to Sunshine Village in 2015, there are several components to his great days. He works at the Trading Post, cleaning floors, taking out the recyclables, and other duties. Meanwhile, he also volunteers at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and other nonprofits, and takes visits to the libraries in Chicopee and South Hadley and area malls.

Add it all up, and he’s busy, active, and, most importantly, involved.

“I like volunteering — at the Food Bank I do a lot of volunteering putting food in boxes for those who need it,” he told BusinessWest, noting, like Recor did, that working is important on many levels, from making money to having a sense of purpose.

Those sentiments were echoed by Denise Simpkins and Bill Debord, who have both worked at Westover, through Sunshine Village, for several years.

In fact, for Debord, it’s been almost 30 years, long enough to see a number of personnel come and go, but also long enough to feel like he’s part of that important operation.

“I really like working there — you feel like you’re part of the family,” he said, adding that he knows people by name, and vice versa.

As for Simpkins, who has been doing it for 12 years, she likes the work, the pay, and especially the perks — like the special occasions where she gets to see the planes close up and take some pictures.

“It’s good to have a job because you get to pay you bills and manage your money,” she told BusinessWest.

Meanwhile, for Kori Cox, another participant in the CBDS program, shining, if you will, takes a different form.

Indeed, as part of initiative called Positive Behavior Supports (PBS), she said she has an important role she described this way. “I do a lot of stuff to try to prevent the Village from being negative.”

Elaborating, she said she made a sign that reads “Positive Attitude, Positive Life,” and she works to encourage others, inside and outside Sunshine Village, to not only read the sign, but live by those words. Specifically, she works diligently to prompt people to stop using the ‘R’ word.

“We remind people that’s not nice to use that word — ever,” she said, adding that her efforts in this regard dovetail nicely with her broader mission.

“I love positivity — it really helps life; there’s no negativity,” said Cox, 24, who described herself as an ambassador, advocate, and peer leader.

As for Recor, well, let’s just say he seems to embody the words on Cox’s sign.

A World of Difference

Sunshine Village still stages a golf tournament every year. In fact, it’s the agency’s most successful fund-raising effort.

Its new, permanent home is Chicopee Country Club — only a drive and a wedge away from the Litwin Drive campus — and Kos no longer drives the beer cart, obviously.

Her role has evolved and grown — as has the agency’s.

But the basic goals are still the same — to create great days and enable those with developmental disabilities to shine, however those words are defined.

Half a century later, Sunshine Village is delivering on those promises.

Just ask Lenny Recor. He’s the guy with a smile on his face — on a Monday morning no less.

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

Daily News

HOLYOKE — As construction nears completion on Holyoke Community College’s new Culinary Arts and Hospitality center in downtown Holyoke, two major building projects on the college’s Homestead Avenue campus have just begun.

Construction has started on the new HCC Center for Life Sciences, which will occupy about 7,500 square feet on the first floor of the Marieb Building. The $4.5 million project, funded in part by a $3.8 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, involves the creation of two state-of-the-art labs dedicated to biotechnology, genetics, and microbiology, as well as lab-prep areas, storage, and classroom space.

A key feature of the Center for Life Sciences will be the addition of an instructional ‘clean room’ to train students to conduct experiments and research in sterile environments, the first of its kind in Western Mass. The Center for Life Sciences is expected to be open by summer 2018 and ready for the fall 2018 semester.

In addition, HCC is already seeking funding from a variety of public and private sources to expand the Center for Life Sciences to encompass the entire three-story Marieb Building. The new center would provide updated facilities for biology, zoology, botany, veterinary technology and animal science, anatomy and physiology, forensic science, environmental science, and sustainability studies. “We’ve been encouraged to think big,” said Bill Fogarty, vice president of Administration and Finance.

Meanwhile, next door, construction fences have been up around the perimeter of the Holyoke Community College Campus Center since before the start of the fall semester. Tannery Brook, the stream that runs along the east side of the building and flows through campus on its way to the Connecticut River, has been channeled underground through six-foot metal pipes and covered with tons of fill and dirt strong enough to support the heavy machines required to renovate the building during the two-year, $43.5 million project.

Demolition on the interior and exterior surfaces is under way. Work crews from Walsh Brothers Construction have been busy chipping, scraping, peeling, stripping, and hauling away tons of concrete and other material. Eventually, the building’s sloping surfaces will be squared off and the concrete façade covered with metal cladding to fix water leaks that have plagued the building since it opened in 1980.

“The main impetus is to get the building watertight,” Fogarty said, “but we also want to improve the operation of the building and bring together programs and departments that complement each other to make the Campus Center a real hub of student engagement.”

A descending exterior stairwell leading to the cafeteria entrance has been excavated, making space for what will eventually become an enclosed, two-story atrium off the HCC courtyard. In the front of the building, exterior walkways on the second floor will be enclosed, adding a total of about 9,000 square feet to the 58,727 square-foot building.

Eventually, Tannery Brook will be returned to its natural state, and the streambed planted with native vegetation.

When it’s all done, a dedicated visitors parking lot will direct prospective students and their families over a new bridge crossing the brook and leading to a first-floor Welcome Center, where they will find a new Admissions, Advising, and Testing suite. The second floor will feature updated and expanded dining facilities, a new Campus Store, lounge areas with charging stations, and a new Student Activities office. On the third flood, the Media Arts Center, home to HCC’s Electronic Media and Photography programs, is being updated with new ductwork, lighting, and ceilings. The Campus Center is expected to reopen for the fall 2019 semester.

Construction on the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, on the corner of Race and Appleton streets, is expected to be completed next month.

Briefcase Departments

Eastern States Exposition Breaks Attendance Record

WEST SPRINGFIELD — A record number of visitors attended the Big E this year, breaking the fair’s all-time high attendance figure, with a final tally of 1,525,553. The previous record of 1,498,605 was set in 2014. Oct. 1 attendance was 137,208, also a new record for the final Sunday of the 17-day fair. During the fair’s run, the all-time-highest single-day attendance record was also broken when 171,897 visitors attended Saturday, Sept. 23. Three additional daily attendance records were set: Sept. 21, 85,019; Sept. 28, 89,905; and Sept. 29, 109,871. “I am humbled to see the incredible support of Eastern States Exposition by our loyal fair patrons,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Exposition. “The 2017, 101st edition of the Big E broke records again, recording for the first time in history over 1.5 million guests. Patrons of New England’s Great State Fair braved days of punishing temperatures that pushed the heat index to above 100 degrees, they endured a 55-degree drop in temperature accompanied by rain, and yet they came in great numbers to participate in, enjoy, and support this organization and all it stands for.”

Employer Confidence Rebounds in September

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index broke a two-month slide in September, rising 1.2 points to 62.4. The reading equaled its high for 2017 and was 6.5 points better than a year ago. Employer confidence has moved in a narrow range so far in 2017, as employers appear bullish about the growth prospects of their companies. The September uptick was driven in part by a 5.7-point surge in the Sales Index, which is often a leading indicator of increased business activity. “The Index was also taken prior to the announcement of an effort by Congressional Republicans and the White House to significantly reduce corporate taxes, a move that enjoys broad support among employers,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The prospect of tax reform and tax simplification is likely to buoy employer sentiment through the end of the year.” The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were generally higher during September. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, rose 2.2 points to 65.4, a reading that was 8.4 points higher than in September 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions dropped 0.4 points to 59.8 after surging more than 10 points during the previous 12 months. September marked the 90th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 1.6 points to 62.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.7 points to 61.9. The Future Index ended the month 5.9 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 1.4 points to 62.3. Finally, the Employment Index fell 2.2 points to 55.8, continuing an up-and-down pattern within the mid-50s on the 100-point scale. “The Massachusetts economy continues to maintain a steady recovery, with employers adding 10,800 jobs during August and the state jobless rate declining to 4.2%,” said Elmore Alexander, dean of Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University, and a BEA member. “The surge in the AIM Sales and Future indices suggests that business activity may actually accelerate in coming months, so the primary challenge for employers will remain hiring and retaining skilled workers in a tight labor market.” AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers generally support federal initiatives to reduce business taxes, but also remain concerned about the potential effect those reductions might have on the deficit. It is ironic, Lord added, that the proposed Republican tax plan would lower levies for subchapter-S corporations and other small pass-through businesses, while Massachusetts voters may be voting on a surtax next year on those same companies. “Subchapter-S corporations and other companies that pay taxes on the individual level are generally small to medium-sized enterprises that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy,” he noted. “What a shame it would be if the federal government were to help these companies while Massachusetts penalizes them.”

MGM’s 95% Document Submittal Consistent with HCA Commitments

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, announced that the MGM 95% construction-design submittals are consistent with the commitments outlined within the city’s host-community agreement (HCA). “As we move closer to the completion and grand opening of this unique urban development, I am pleased to be able to announce another milestone as the city accepts the 95% construction-design submittals,” said Sarno. “Through this continued collaborative effort between the city of Springfield and MGM, the designs submitted remain consistent with what has been outlined within the host-community agreement.” This determination of compliance is based on a detailed review of the submittal documents by a number of city departments, including the Office of Planning & Economic Development, the Law Department, the Building Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Casino Liaison Office. A full review of the 95% construction-design documents was also completed by Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., an urban-planning consultant that has been used extensively by the city of Springfield throughout the casino design-review process. “Based on a thorough review and engaged process over the past few months, we believe that MGM’s 95% construction documents continue to illustrate a high-quality, attractive, and innovative design,” said Kim Goluska of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc. “MGM’s cooperation with the city and its positive enhancements and completion of the key design components has resulted in a project that not only conforms to the HCA intent and requirements, but also creates a new, truly innovative precedent for urban casino developments.” Added Kennedy, “with MGM Springfield nearing completion and the numerous other economic-development efforts underway throughout the city, including the recent grand opening of Union Station, we are really starting to see the new Springfield take shape. Our focus will continue to be on capitalizing on these larger transformative developments to help attract other private investment and jobs to the city of Springfield.”

New England Unemployment Holds Steady in August

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released New England and state unemployment numbers for August 2017. These data are supplied by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, which produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor-force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities. The New England unemployment rate was little changed at 4.0% in August. One year ago, the New England jobless rate was 3.9%. The U.S. jobless rate was little changed from July at 4.4%. No New England state had a significant over-the-year jobless rate change.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In order to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer, all Big Y Supermarkets will be donating proceeds from various departments throughout the store to 31 local breast cancer support groups throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Since 2007, the chain has raised more than $1.7 million dollars for this cause. The program, “Partners of Hope” reflects the partnership, commitment and support of breast cancer awareness and research that is so vital for many. Last year, Big Y raised $234,885.

During the entire month of October, Big Y will donate a portion of the proceeds from both the floral and produce Departments. Additionally, Big Y will donate 5 cents for each Big Y, Top Care, Full Circle, Simply Done, Paws Happy Life, Pure Harmony, @Ease, Tippy Toes and Culinary Tours brand products (excluding random weight items) purchased between Oct. 5 and 11. The Big Y Butcher Shop will donate 10 cents from every pound of All Natural Angus Beef® and Big Y Smart Chicken® to breast cancer research during the entire month of October. Big Y Pharmacy & Wellness Center will also donate $5 for every flu shot given.

Big Y’s pink reusable, earth-friendly shopping bag highlighting the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign will also be available and every store will be promoting Partners of Hope pink ribbons for $1 from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31 as a way of generating additional proceeds for local breast cancer organizations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Big Y’s dietitian team, Carrie Taylor and Andrea Luttrell, will devote a portion of their fall newsletter to cancer prevention. Look for the “Living Well Eating Smart” displays throughout the stores.

According to Big Y CEO, Donald D’Amour, “Breast cancer affects thousands of women and many men each year. We hope that this initiative will not only promote breast cancer awareness but also save lives through early detection and care.”

 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Kevin Kennedy, the City’s Chief Development Officer, announced that the MGM 95% Construction Design submittals are consistent with the commitments outlined within the city’s Host Community Agreement (HCA).

“As we move closer to the completion and grand opening of this unique urban development, I am pleased to be able to announce another milestone as the city accepts the 95% Construction Design submittals,” said Sarno. “Through this continued collaborative effort between the city of Springfield and MGM, the designs submitted remain consistent with what has been outlined within the Host Community Agreement.”

This determination of compliance is based on a detailed review of the submittal documents by a number of city departments, including the Office of Planning & Economic Development, Law Department, Building Department, Department of Public Works and the Casino Liaison Office. A full review of the 95% Construction Design documents was also completed by The Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., an urban planning consultant that has been used extensively by the City of Springfield throughout the casino design/review process.

“Based on a thorough review and engaged process over the past few months, we believe that MGM’s 95% Construction Documents continue to illustrate a high quality, attractive, and innovative design,” said Kim Goluska of the Chicago Consultants Studios Inc. “MGM’s cooperation with the city and its positive enhancements and completion of the key design components has resulted in a project that not only conforms to the HCA intent and requirements but also creates a new, truly innovative precedent for urban casino developments.”

As with the 50% Construction Design Submittals, one of the key aspects reviewed was the calculations of both retail and food and beverage floor areas. As noted in the summary report, the current program floor area calculations, as depicted in the plans, are consistent with the use commitments of the HCA. Other areas of review included building materials, program elements, landscaping, exterior lighting, signage, as well as other areas of design.

“With MGM Springfield nearing completion and the numerous other economic development efforts underway throughout the city, including the recent grand opening of Union Station, we are really starting to see the new Springfield take shape,” said Kennedy. “Our focus will continue to be on capitalizing on these larger transformative developments to help attract other private investment and jobs to the city of Springfield.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) announced its second-largest freshman class since 2007 with a total enrollment of 504 new students.

“The demographics in New England are declining and are projected to drop for the foreseeable future. This geographic area is dense with colleges in a highly competitive landscape. With those considerations in mind, we are very pleased to have reached and surpassed our enrollment goal,” said Jonathan Scully, dean of Undergraduate Admissions. “This is also one of the most academically competitive classes we have accepted in the last five years. Incoming students are from richly diverse backgrounds, and many are first-generation, which has long been central to the AIC mission.”

AIC offers new students 26 majors to choose from as they progress through their college career, including traditional, blended, and online degree programs such as RN to BSN, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and Evenings at AIC. The College’s Center for Academic Success, dedicated entirely to the advancement of the individual student, offers assistance with courses through support structures that include peer tutoring and writing help. The federally-funded AIC Core Education program, operated specifically for first-generation college students, facilitates in navigating the new world of higher education and provides tools designed to foster achievement now and help plan for continued success after graduation.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome such a robust class of freshmen,” AIC President Vince Maniaci said. “Considerable credit goes to the dedicated Undergraduate Admissions team who go the extra mile to assist students. Staff members will drive to some students’ homes over the summer to help with paperwork or simply reinforce the message that they have made the right choice by coming to college. Collaboration across campus additionally contributes to this success: AIC’s program offerings provide a foundation on which students can build to reach their full potential and are taught by faculty who strive to provide a student-centered learning environment that fosters intellectual growth and personal development.”

Meanwhile, he added, “AIC athletics’ staff and coaches work diligently to recruit students both nationally and internationally while fostering the ‘student’ in student-athlete, and Student Affairs is committed to helping students learn about living through organizations, clubs, leadership programs on campus, and a commitment to community involvement off campus. Our administrative departments, such as Marketing and Communications, assist in outreach and are instrumental to our collective success.”

Company Notebook Departments

Old Chapel at UMass Earns LEED Gold Certification

AMHERST — The renovation of the historic Old Chapel at UMass Amherst earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED rating system is the foremost program for buildings, homes, and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained, and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. Built in 1885, the Old Chapel is the most iconic and significant historic building on the UMass Amherst campus. Designed by Steven Earle in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, the building originally housed a library, auditorium, natural-history collections, and classrooms. It was later used as a drill hall, departmental offices, and finally as home to the Minuteman Marching Band in the 1960s, before officially closing its doors in 1999 due to structural deterioration. The Old Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, and work began on a $21 million renovation, addition, and preservation effort to restore the building to its original glory. The revitalized Old Chapel now serves students, faculty, and alumni as a campus resource. The first floor provides a flexible layout for student study, gallery exhibitions, and community events, while the Great Hall on the top floor provides a large, open space for performances, lectures, receptions, and weddings. UMass Amherst and the UMass Building Authority hired Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to design the restoration and demonstrate how aspects of historic preservation and sustainability can work together. The firm deployed an array of sustainability strategies to maintain the integrity of the original design and materials, while adapting the building’s structure and interior to modern use, access, and building-code requirements. The Old Chapel’s original structure consists of local timber and stone such as Pelham granite and Longmeadow sandstone. The design reused 83% of structural masonry, wood columns, beams, trusses, and wainscoting trim, and 82% of new wood products were either locally sourced or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The addition of a contemporary glass entry pavilion at the south façade is integrated into a landscaped terrace that provides full accessibility while also incorporating water-efficient landscaping and rainwater management that improves site ecology. Meeting modern indoor environment and energy-efficiency requirements within the original exterior wall assembly was a challenge; the design team used energy modeling to find the correct balance of masonry-wall insulation, energy-efficient glazing, and stained-glass restoration so that sustainability goals were in concert with historic restoration efforts. The building is designed to exceed code energy performance by 21% and to reduce potable water use by 34%, and it will follow a rigorous measurement and verification process that ensures those savings are realized post-occupancy.

The Hub Studio Announces Grand-opening Celebration

FLORENCE — Tracy Roth, who launched the Hub Studio, a fitness studio located at the Nonotuck Mill in Florence, will host a grand opening at the studio on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The studio will offer spinning, TRX resistance training, mat Pilates, scientifically backed nutrition-coaching programs, outdoor cycling instruction, workshops, special events, and more. The grand opening will include refreshments and snacks from local cafés and restaurants, live music from kid-friendly DJ Quintessential, free chair massage, a raffle, and more. The raffle prizes include classes and a three-month membership at the Hub Studio, as well as other exclusive items from area businesses. The event is free, and the public is welcome. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz will attend to assist with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Located in Suite 202 at the Nonotuck Mill, 296-C Nonotuck St., Florence, the studio will be open full-time starting Monday, Oct. 2 and will include group fitness classes for all levels during the morning, afternoon, and evening hours. The studio will also have classes, workshops, and special events on Saturdays and Sundays. For class descriptions, schedule, a blog, and more, visit www.yourhubstudio.com.

BCC Launches New Job-search Website

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Community College (BCC) announced that its Career Development Center has launched new career-management software with College Central Network (CCN) at www.collegecentral.com/berkshirecc. BCC students past, present, and future now have access to the latest resources and job opportunities at the regional and national level. Additionally, this tool will enhance communication among various departments within the college that routinely collaborate with employers in the community. The new website offers exclusive job postings targeting the BCC student and alumni population as well as access to hundreds of career articles, podcasts, and career-advice resources. Students and any community members can upload or build a résumé on the site as well as register for career-related events around the area and receive alerts for their ideal job. BCC recently sent out registration notifications to local employers, inviting them to create an account. Once confirmed, they may begin uploading job opportunities that they would like to post. BCC’s job-search site is meant to assist local employers and the community in making it easier to post and find jobs. It also helps ensure a smooth transition for BCC students to find local employment with support from the software and the college’s Career Development Center team.

JA of Western Massachusetts Announces Grant Awards

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts announced that it received a $10,000 grant from the United Bank Foundation to bring financial-literacy programs to students in East Longmeadow, Westfield, West Springfield, and Springfield. The programs will teach students concepts related to budgeting, saving, and money management with the intent of promoting the development of good financial habits. The partnership includes the involvement of volunteers from United Bank to help deliver the programs to students. Meanwhile, JA of Western Massachusetts also received a $7,200 grant from the UPS Foundation to implement JA “Be Entrepreneurial” classes. The curriculum introduces high-school students to the essential elements of a practical business plan and challenges them to start an entrepreneurial venture while still in high school. Students learn about advertising, competitive advantages, financing, marketing, and product development, all of which are key to being an informed entrepreneur. The program includes seven 45-minute sessions taught by a community or corporate volunteer. Volunteers bring in their own experiences and life lessons to the classroom to enhance the JA program. Schools and organizations participating in “Be Entrepreneurial” include Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, the JA BEE Summer Program, the Center for Human Development, St. Mary’s High School, and East Longmeadow High School.

Tighe & Bond Among Top New England Design Firms

WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond, a Northeast leader in engineering and environmental consulting, has been ranked ninth in the Engineering News Record’s (ENR) New England Top Design Firms edition. In addition, the firm was named among the Top 200 Environmental Firms by ENR, and appeared for the first time as a Top 60 Engineering Firm nationwide by Building Design + Construction. Other recent rankings for Tighe & Bond include number 154 on ENR’s list of Top 200 Environmental Firms, based on environmental-specific revenue from 2016; number 260 on ENR’s Top 500 Design Firms, based on design-specific revenue from 2016; and sixth on Hartford Business Journal’s list of Largest Engineering Firms in Greater Hartford.

Hogan Technology Receives Cybersecurity Certification

EASTHAMPTON — Hogan Technology, a provider of unified communications, announced that the company is certified to provide cybersecurity solutions to SMBs (small to mid-sized businesses) to protect them from the barrage of cyberattacks that occur every day. Cybercrimes are a serious threat, and most businesses cannot afford to become the victim of malware, ransomware, phishing, password attacks, denial-of-service attacks, or malvertising of any sort for a prolonged period of time, said Sean Hogan, president of Hogan Technology. Recent advancements in preventive technology have helped SMBs safeguard themselves from unnecessary attacks, network vulnerabilities, and company downtime that can often result from such disruptions. Hogan Technology invests heavily in its staff of IT professionals to ensure that everyone is well-trained, certified, and fully equipped to protect customers from cyberattacks.

Bay Path Master’s Degree in Applied Data Science Ranked 12th Nationally

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University’s master’s of science degree in applied data science was ranked 12th in a list of the top 50 data-science programs nationwide by www.onlinecoursereport.com. Rankings were based on a combination of affordability, flexibility, and student support services. The article highlights the low student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to 1 at Bay Path. It also makes reference to the university’s WiSH (Women in STEM Honors) program, which offers a four-year curriculum consisting of integrated and advanced study and research for women at the undergraduate level dedicated to becoming scientists. The university is also home to the Center of Excellence for Women in STEM, providing professional development, networking, and mentorship opportunities for students and professional women in STEM fields. The program is fully online and open to both women and men. The 36-credit program teaches the fundamental principles, platforms, and toolsets of the data-science profession in an accelerated format that can be completed in as little as one year. This rapidly growing career field is well suited to professionals with backgrounds in mathematics, statistics, and business analysis, with graduates achieving such career outcomes as data scientist, data engineer, and more.

Departments Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]


Chilling Out for a Causesp-icebucket-15

Chilling Out for a Cause Fort Street in Springfield played host on Aug. 29 to the Springfield Student Prince ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Event organizers raised $21,000 for the Massachusetts ALS Foundation and specifically to help people in the community who have been stricken with the disease. “When Governor Baker recently filed legislation making the first week in August each year the Ice Bucket Challenge Week, we took it as a special challenge to us here in Springfield, now, to help before the month of August ended. We did not want to wait until next year to begin this tradition,” said event organizer Bill Sampson. Event sponsors included BID Springfield, the Massachusetts Lottery, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Rondeau Ice, Snap Chef, the Springfield Thunderbirds, A.L. Cignoli Co., and the Student Prince and Fort. In addition, Rocky’s Ace Hardware donated 300 buckets.

Fort Street in Springfield played host on Aug. 29 to the Springfield Student Prince ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Event organizers raised $21,000 for the Massachusetts ALS Foundation and specifically to help people in the community who have been stricken with the disease. “When Governor Baker recently filed legislation making the first week in August each year the Ice Bucket Challenge Week, we took it as a special challenge to us here in Springfield, now, to help before the month of August ended. We did not want to wait until next year to begin this tradition,” said event organizer Bill Sampson. Event sponsors included BID Springfield, the Massachusetts Lottery, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Rondeau Ice, Snap Chef, the Springfield Thunderbirds, A.L. Cignoli Co., and the Student Prince and Fort. In addition, Rocky’s Ace Hardware donated 300 buckets.




Family Fun in Amherst

Local improv company Happier Valley Comedy has moved its interactive Happier FAMILY Comedy Show to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The move places the family-friendly comedy show in a prime location packed full of kid-centric creativity and imagination. The Happier FAMILY Comedy Show is held the third Saturday of every month.

Local improv company Happier Valley Comedy has moved its interactive Happier FAMILY Comedy Show to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. The move places the family-friendly comedy show in a prime location packed full of kid-centric creativity and imagination. The Happier FAMILY Comedy Show is held the third Saturday of every month.




Banking on Growth

Florence Bank hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 14 at its new Hampden County Banking Center in West Springfield, the bank’s first office in Hampden County. All Florence Bank services will be offered through the new center, including deposits and loan products, mobile services to provide 24-hour access to accounts, mortgage-application services, debit-card issuance, commercial-loan capacity, and investment services. The center, which will also offer a drive-up ATM and night depository, will be staffed by eight employees. The bank occupies about 3,000 square feet of a new plaza, developed by the Colvest Group, at the intersection of Union Street and Memorial Avenue, where St. Ann Roman Catholic Church was once located.

Florence Bank hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 14 at its new Hampden County Banking Center in West Springfield, the bank’s first office in Hampden County. All Florence Bank services will be offered through the new center, including deposits and loan products, mobile services to provide 24-hour access to accounts, mortgage-application services, debit-card issuance, commercial-loan capacity, and investment services. The center, which will also offer a drive-up ATM and night depository, will be staffed by eight employees. The bank occupies about 3,000 square feet of a new plaza, developed by the Colvest Group, at the intersection of Union Street and Memorial Avenue, where St. Ann Roman Catholic Church was once located.




Staging Ground

 The Springfield College departments of Physical Therapy and Visual and Performing Arts recently hosted a cross-disciplinary collaboration that focused on effective communication skills that help build and maintain strong relationships between physical therapists and their patients and clients. Led by Department of Visual and Performing Arts Chair Martin Shell (pictured, right) and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Salome Brooks, the one-day workshop helped more than 40 physical therapy students feel more comfortable in their settings by focusing on interpersonal rapport, non-verbal communication, and fundamental presence with others. Shell’s experiential methods, developed for acting classes from the traditions of theater technique, allow for fun and illuminating communication exercises for physical therapy students. “I’ve never had any doubt that the techniques we actors use for observation and training, in preparation to creatively express the complexities of human relationships in collaboration with others, are very useful in many areas of life and work,” he said.

The Springfield College departments of Physical Therapy and Visual and Performing Arts recently hosted a cross-disciplinary collaboration that focused on effective communication skills that help build and maintain strong relationships between physical therapists and their patients and clients. Led by Department of Visual and Performing Arts Chair Martin Shell (pictured, right) and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Salome Brooks, the one-day workshop helped more than 40 physical therapy students feel more comfortable in their settings by focusing on interpersonal rapport, non-verbal communication, and fundamental presence with others. Shell’s experiential methods, developed for acting classes from the traditions of theater technique, allow for fun and illuminating communication exercises for physical therapy students. “I’ve never had any doubt that the techniques we actors use for observation and training, in preparation to creatively express the complexities of human relationships in collaboration with others, are very useful in many areas of life and work,” he said.

Daily News

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Community College (BCC) announced that its Career Development Center has launched new career-management software with College Central Network (CCN) at www.collegecentral.com/berkshirecc.

BCC students past, present, and future now have access to the latest resources and job opportunities at the regional and national level. Additionally, this tool will enhance communication among various departments within the college that routinely collaborate with employers in the community.

The new website offers exclusive job postings targeting the BCC student and alumni population as well as access to hundreds of career articles, podcasts, and career-advice resources. Students and any community members can upload or build a résumé on the site as well as register for career-related events around the area and receive alerts for their ideal job.

BCC recently sent out registration notifications to local employers, inviting them to create an account. Once confirmed, they may begin uploading job opportunities that they would like to post.

BCC’s job-search site is meant to assist local employers and the community in making it easier to post and find jobs. It also helps ensure a smooth transition for BCC students to find local employment with support from the software and the college’s Career Development Center team.

Healthcare Heroes

Partnership Brightens the Picture in a Springfield Neighborhood

The Healthy Hill Initiative

The Healthy Hill Initiative
Dani Fine Photography

Helen Caulton-Harris described Donna Blake as a pioneer of sorts.

Indeed, she was one of the first African-American women to take an administrative role with the city of Springfield. But beyond that, she was extremely active within the community, working at the Urban League for decades, serving as a parks commissioner, and always advocating on behalf of children and their well-being.

“She was a staple in the community,” said Caulton-Harris, commissioner of the Division of Health and Human Services in Springfield. “Everyone in the city went to Donna Blake for advice and guidance.”

So it’s only fitting, then, that the small park named in her honor has become a symbol of sorts for turnaround efforts in the Old Hill Neighborhood of the city, and one of the focal points of a multi-faceted initiative called Healthy Hill.

Not long ago, Donna Blake Park was a place to avoid — unless you were looking for drugs or trouble, which you could find easily and in large quantities. As a result, parents didn’t want their kids playing there. The park became a flash point, a symbol of everything that was wrong with that neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city — and the state.

Today, though, the park is, well, what it was created to be — a resource, a gathering spot, a place to exercise, a haven within the neighborhood, especially for its young people.

And it became all this largely because of the Healthy Hill Initiative, or HHI, as it’s known, an endeavor that epitomizes the term ‘collaboration,’ and was the clear winner in that specific Healthcare Heroes category.

HHI is one of 18 sites funded by the BUILD (Bold, Upstream, Integrated, Local, and Data-driven initiatives) Health Challenge, a national grant program created to improve health and well-being in low-income communities. With $2.5 million awarded over five years to the coalition, as well as matching grants, the Healthy Hill Initiative has been working to change the health landscape in Old Hill by focusing on what Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health and Community Relations at Baystate Health and one of the initiative’s architects, called “the dynamic intersection of two social determinants of health — public safety and access to physical activity.”

It does this through a number of initiatives, from indoor fitness activities for seniors through a collaboration with the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the Springfield Housing Authority, to C3 police efforts designed to build trust and supportive relationships, to a hugely successful program called Let’s Play that has involved more than 65 young people who participate in physical-fitness activities at Donna Blake Park at least two Saturdays a month.

“Let’s Play has been really exciting,” said Sarah Page, senior vice president of Community Building & Engagement for Way Finders, one of the collaborating entities. “Lots of kids come out and play, and the police often come and play with them. And the police feel they’re building wonderful relationships with those young people, which can really make a difference.“

“Years ago, you felt that you were pretty much safer if you just stayed home. But over the years, things have changed, and the neighborhood is transforming itself.”

HHI is a large, very involved collaborative effort, with more than a dozen players. In addition to Way Finders (formerly HAPHousing), which took a lead role in the initiative, as did Partners for a Healthy Community, participating entities include Mercy Medical Center, Baystate Health, Revitalize CDC, the Old Hill Neighborhood Council, and six city departments, including Health and Human Services and the Police Department.

These agencies were all working toward improving Old Hill before HHI was launched, said Caulton-Harris and others we spoke with. But this endeavor took them out of their respective silos and brought them into the same room — literally — and the same fight for better outcomes.

Bur rather than talk about how it all came together and why, those involved were clearly more interested in discussing the many forms of progress it has yielded.

Awilda Sanchez, vice president of the Old Hill Neighborhood Council and a 25-year resident of that area, said the changes are palpable.

“Years ago, you felt that you were pretty much safer if you just stayed home,” she recalled. “I didn’t go out at night, and my children did not play in the public parks. But over the years, things have changed, and the neighborhood is transforming itself.”

Certainly one of the more poignant measures of improvement is the relationship between young people and the police, as related by Beatrice Dewberry, manager of Way Finders.

“Initially, when the police first began to interact with some of the kids who live in a public housing unit on Pendleton Avenue, a boy walked up to the sergeant and said, ‘I don’t like police; you guys arrested a family member and put him in jail for a long time, so I don’t like you guys,’” she recalled. “Now, each week, when we play, the same kid says to the police, ‘when are you guys coming?’ He can’t wait to connect and engage with the officers.”

Defining Moments

Webster defines collaboration as a willingness to “work jointly with others, especially in an intellectual endeavor.”

Those last few words take on new meaning in an age when the health- and wellness-related problems in society are large in scale, complex in nature, and require collaborative efforts if they are to be effectively addressed.

So much so that, as BusinessWest talked with a large and distinguished panel of advisors as it was bringing the Healthcare Heroes program to reality, those individuals made it clear that a category devoted to collaborative efforts should be established.

One was, and it drew a large and diverse mix of projects, all of which drive home the point that, when groups with common goals and ample amounts of energy, imagination, and persistence come together, powerful things can happen.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood, a once-proud (it’s getting back there) enclave of roughly 4,300 residents.

Like many of Springfield’s neighborhoods, Old Hill, largely populated by Hispanics and African-Americans, has experienced years of disinvestment and complex challenges ranging from higher rates of poverty, lower graduation rates, an active drug trade, gang activity, higher rates of violent crime, and increased incidences of chronic disease and obesity, said Robinson. These matters were further complicated by the fact that the June 1, 2011 tornado tore across parts of Old Hill, causing considerable damage.

With an eye toward addressing health- and wellness-related issues in Old Hill, a host of local agencies and city departments came together behind a common vision, he went on, adding that, in many ways, Peter Gagliardi, president and CEO of Way Finders, was the catalyst by bringing attention to the direct correlation between housing and health and essentially inspiring a call for action.

Sarah Page

Sarah Page says the Let’s Play initiative has brought children — and adults — back to Donna Blake Park, which for decades had been a place to avoid.

“He pulled together 40 to 50 people in his office to talk about this connection,” said Caulton-Harris. “There was a recognition of the need to address this intersection of health and housing.

“There was work going on in that neighborhood involving housing and health,” she went on. “But they were separate initiatives; this effort brought them together.”

The effort she referred to took the form of a proposal for the BUILD Health Challenge that was worthy of all those adjectives that make up that acronym (again, they’re ‘bold,’ ‘upstream,’ ‘integrated,’ ‘local,’ and ‘data-driven’).

By way of clarification, those with the BUILD Health Challenge define ‘upstream’ this way: “partnerships that focus on the social, environmental, and economic factors that have the greatest influence on the health of a community, rather than on access or care delivery.”

And the Healthy Hill Initiative certainly fits that description, said Page, noting that the HHI was clearly focused on those social factors, including everything from housing to public safety to neighborhood infrastructure and facilities — or the lack thereof.

And the application efforts were certainly helped by the fact that there were already initiatives in place to help revitalize Old Hill, including a five-year strategic plan created after the tornado as well as Revitalize CDC’s plan to revitalize 10 blocks of the neighborhood over a 10-year period, an endeavor launched in 2012.

The initiative is also data-driven, said Jessica Collins, executive director of Partners for a Healthier Community, adding that her agency and others involved could look at maps of Old Hill and identify blocks where there were high incidences of asthma, obesity, and other problems.

“It was exciting for us to be able to look at that granular level of health data,” she explained, noting that it was necessary to apply for the grant. “We had never done that before.

“We had an amazing team working on data; information came from health clinics, the school system, and other sources, and then put through GIS,” she went on, adding that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Baystate Health both worked to crunch the numbers.

And they revealed that considerable work needed to be done, Dewberry said, adding that the accumulated data was used, along with considerable feedback from the community, to develop specific strategic initiatives, especially in the realms of physical activity and getting young people back out in the parks.

Exercise in Collaboration

But for that to happen, residents had to be convinced that the park was safe, and this took some doing, said Sanchez, adding the park was known as a place for gang recruitment and a host of illegal activities.

Parental approval was required to get children to the park, she went on, adding that people went door to door to secure this approval.

The resurgence of the park has had a transformative effect on the rest of the neighborhood, said all those we spoke with, adding that the return of children playing, the interaction between young people and police, and other positive developments have helped convince Old Hill residents that change is in the air — and they should be out in that air.

“The playing, the physical activity, the public-safety piece, having a safe environment for children … those pieces are critical,” said Caulton-Harris. “And when people see activity in the neighborhood, it definitely makes residents feel it’s safe to come out of their houses, particularly the elderly.”

Dewberry agreed, and told BusinessWest that, beyond a greater overall feeling of safety, the various components of HHI have contributed to creating a neighborhood that is in many ways better connected, something it has certainly not been historically.

“We talk about social cohesion and building this unified, connected neighborhood,” she explained. “And a lot of what we’re doing with the Healthy Hill Initiative is working toward that end.

“Let’s Play is a great example of that,” she went on. “For example, an elderly couple that has custody of their grandkids, they didn’t let the kids come out, but now they do, and they come out as well, to engage with us and engage with the other kids. We have parents and guardians coming, as well as resident health advocates, who also come. We’re developing community and building that social cohesion that has proven to be effective in deterring crime and reporting crime.”

Meanwhile, Healthy Hill Initiative has become a leading-edge example of how healthcare providers, moving beyond a fee-for-service model and into an accountable-care model, are taking on new responsibilities with regard to the health of the communities, and embracing that role, said Doreen Fadus, executive director of Community Health and Well-being at Trinity Health of New England and Mercy Medical Center.

“From a hospital perspective, this initiative and others have changed the culture, especially of the leadership of the hospital,” she explained. “Instead of thinking that these are nice things that the hospital does, these are things we have a responsibility to do to make the neighborhood healthier.

“As we move away from fee for service and just treating people when they’re sick, the leadership is more focused on the social determinants of health. This is our mission; these are the things we should be doing in the community.”

As Sanchez surveys Old Hill today, she sees less blight, she told BusinessWest, a direct result of many of the initiatives taking place in that neighborhood to rebuild properties and clear vacant lots once used as dumping grounds.

But she also sees more green — in the form of flowers, new trees, and vegetable gardens — and, most importantly, more people, who obviously feel safe enough to walk, exercise, and get some fresh air.

And with all that, she’s seeing a lot of what she left behind when she moved here from Puerto Rico decades ago.

“In Puerto Rico, communities are people knowing each other on the block, helping each other … the kids are being cared for by everyone,” she explained. “That’s what I wanted to see in Old Hill, and we’re starting to see that. I can see the difference.”

It came about because of determination, imagination, and, most importantly, collaboration.

Developing Story

Returning to that story she told about the young boy living in the public housing project who once hated police but soon couldn’t wait to engage with them in the park, Dewberry said her agency has tons of pictures of police and young people playing together.

Perhaps more than anything else, these images tell the story of how Old Hill is experiencing change and progress. Not so long ago, this neighborhood, and the park that has been at the forefront of so much that has happened, were the picture of disinvestment, the picture of a neighborhood in crisis.

HHI has brought better times, and better health, into focus.

And Donna Blake would certainly be proud.

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

Employment Sections

The Process Begins with an Important Shift in Focus

By Brian Braudis

Senior leadership at the corporate headquarters of a large retail chain was entertaining succession planning. What started out as an exercise turned into a sweeping new protocol for transitioning managers into leaders.

For the organization, it’s vitally important to get this right. Managers sometimes trip on their way up. Senior leaders can mitigate stumbling with an aggressive strategy.

Managers are typically promoted into leadership roles with the thought that their effectiveness will continue, but rather than assume, senior leaders are wise to put into place a two-pronged approach. The first prong is to place the right candidate. The old cliché applies: “hire for attitude and train for ability.”

The second prong is to cultivate the well-selected candidate. This involves extensive training opportunities and environments that promote growth.

Transitioning managers into leaders should ideally start long before the switch is flipped. Early on, candidates should be ‘groomed’ through extensive training, cross-program experiences, and leadership development. Preferably the training, experience, and development will culminate by equipping the candidate-leader with a view and an understanding of the ‘leadership landscape.’

Placing an incumbent leader in a productive environment is less precise.

The context of leadership can be polarizing, ambiguous, volatile, and complex, so, out of necessity, strong support systems must be in place. A network of colleagues to model the way and offer reassurance along with mentors, coaches, and careful monitoring will serve as the classic challenge/support system to promote a productive transition while cultivating new leaders.

The biggest difference to grasp for new leaders is the change in role that entails a focused shift in five broad areas:

1. Production to Outcomes

The immediate challenge for managers is to shift their thinking and operating from a ‘making widgets’ mindset to an ‘influencing outcomes’ mindset. It is inherent in the leadership process that the leader influences the outcome. As the new leader begins working with department heads and stakeholders, they need to be operating from a new perspective, a long-term view with idea of short-term, stepping-stone implementation. The role of the leader is to influence the long term with organizational strategy in mind.

Rather than making and counting widgets, a new leader must have both eyes toward efficiencies now and necessary adaptations toward the future.

2. Specialist to Visionary

Managers thrive as specialists. They know their department, their people, and their function. That’s not enough for a leader. Leaders must know the language of all departments. They must be able to translate information, patterns, and trends from departments into the language of efficiencies, profit, and direction. The vision of the organization is up to the leadership. No one else will take the reins here. Leaders must harness what is known now with the trends they see in the telescope and provide direction.  Vision can be complex and multi-faceted, but nothing can beat everyone pulling in the same direction. This is one big advantage that is difficult for competitors to duplicate.

3. One to All

Managers have the responsibility to manage the day-to-day on the floor. They are embedded with the staff. Leaders don’t manage things as much as they lead direction. Whereas a manager focuses on employee engagement, a leader has a focus of workforce engagement.

A new leader may have lingering departmental biases that show up as baggage that slows meetings and other processes down. The classic mistake is for new leaders to over-manage and under-lead, especially their previous function. Colleagues need to give the new leader their patience while he or she cultivates an open-minded shift from managing one department to serving all departments in the organization.

4. Solving Problems to Predicting Problems

Strictly speaking, managers and leaders are keen problem solvers. But one of the finer points of leadership — and where leaders earn their keep — is seeing problems before they happen. If a leader can identify slowed growth or a decline in earnings early on and proactively put things in place to avoid the dreaded ‘workforce planning,’ this ‘seeing’ can save everyone.

5. Worker to Learner

Leadership is not about knowing — it’s about learning. New leaders typify the shift from a working manager to a learning leader. As they work to cultivate an open mind and flexibility, they must also demonstrate a commitment to relentless self-improvement — that means applying continuous learning toward competency, excellence, and greatness.

Bottom Line

When new, developing leaders are hand-selected, cultivated, and afforded the organizational backing necessary for success, it’s more than an exercise in succession. It’s a testament to a leadership strategy and the state-of-the-art demonstration of a leadership culture. Over time, the effort builds into the ultimate competitive advantage.

Brian Braudis is a human-potential expert, certified coach, speaker, and author of High Impact Leadership: 10 Action Strategies for Your Ascent. He has also authored several audio programs from executive leadership development to stress management; www.thebraudisgroup.com   

Daily News

GLASTONBURY, Conn. — CMIC, a leading member-owned medical professional-liability insurance company, announced that Stephen Gallant of Glastonbury, Conn. has joined the CMIC Group team as the new chief operating officer.

Gallant has more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry. Most recently, he served as senior vice president of MMG Insurance Co., a property and casualty carrier headquartered in Maine. Additionally, he worked for MMG Insurance Co. as the vice president of Marketing and assistant vice president of Accounting. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and his master’s degree in business from Husson College in Maine. He also completed executive-development programs at Dartmouth College, Tuck Business School in New Hampshire.

“Stephen brings a long, successful history of managing a variety of departments to CMIC Group,” said CEO Denise Funk. “His proven track record of growth and expansion will prove to be an asset to the company as we continue to enhance our services to our current membership and expand our services to cover new regions and policyholders.”

Sections Summer Safety

Heat of the Moment

hcncover0717The rising temperatures are a great reason to have fun outdoors. But those summer activities pose myriad dangers, from sunstroke to tick-borne illnesses to drowning. Fortunately, most of these risks can be reduced and even eliminated through proper planning and common sense.

It’s not exactly news that kids spend too much time indoors, sedentary, in thrall to their electronic devices. The warm weather of summer should be an antidote, providing plenty of opportunity for exercise and recreation that doesn’t involve a screen.

On the other hand, the outdoors poses other types of hazards.

“Any time there are extremes in temperature, we start seeing things, and during the summer, there’s a big increase in minor stuff as well as some major stuff,” said Dr. Louis Durkin, director of the Emergency Department at Mercy Medical Center. “That’s the reality. So while it’s good to get the kids out of the house, where they’re not playing video games and watching TV, you take the danger with the benefits.”

Many issues, as he noted, are indeed relatively minor, from sunburns and poison ivy to overexertion injuries to weekend warriors who spent the cold months indoors and then overdo it with sports or home projects once the weather warms up.

However, Durkin continued, “on the bigger, more tragic side, we see an increase in drownings, people diving into the shallow end of pools and sustaining neck fractures, even violence. Usually, on the first hot days, when people get outdoors and have more exposure to each other, we see an increase in violence.”

The good news, he said, is that most summertime health and safety hazards, from heatstroke to trampoline injuries, are preventable. For this issue’s focus on summer safety, BusinessWest examines several common summer dangers — and strategies for reducing the risk of each.

It’s Getting Hot Out Here

Simply put, said Dr. Heba Wassif, “hot weather can be deadly.”

Wassif, who practices with the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center, noted that extreme heat — considered the number-one weather-related killer in the U.S. — affects people in different ways, and those at greatest risk include adults with existing heart and other chronic diseases, the elderly, and children.

“Sweating is the body’s defense mechanism to cool down, but at the same time, it results in the loss of more fluid than usual from your body,” she said. “This can cause your blood pressure to drop and your heart rate to increase to compensate for your fluid loss, so you may feel palpitations as your heart beats faster.”

Warning signs of an oncoming heat-related illness, she explained, could include excessive sweating, leg cramps, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, headache, and rapid pulse. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should get indoors or into shade and drink liquids, and, if they don’t better soon, should call a doctor or visit the ER.

In fact, Wassif went on, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability, including damage to the brain and other vital organs, and requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Warning signs of heat stroke can vary, but may include body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, dizziness, throbbing headache, nausea, confusion, rapid pulse, and, in critical cases, unconsciousness.

Dr. Louis Durkin says emergency departments see an uptick of heat-, water-, and even violence-related incidents when summer arrives.

Dr. Louis Durkin says emergency departments see an uptick of heat-, water-, and even violence-related incidents when summer arrives.

“The best advice I can give to anyone in the extreme heat, whether healthy or predisposed to any health conditions, especially cardiac disease, is to take it slow and easy and not exert yourself,” she said. “Try to stay out of the heat during the hottest part of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and sugar-free drinks while avoiding alcohol or caffeinated beverages.”

Dr. Joseph Schmidt, Baystate’s vice chair and chief of Emergency Medicine, noted that hot weather can affect certain medications as well.

“If you are taking certain medications, whether prescription or over the counter, sunlight may not be the best for you,” he said. “Certain drugs can impair your ability to deal with the heat and increase your sensitivity to sunlight, called drug-induced photosensitivity. As a result, your skin can burn at a much quicker rate than usual, even with a lower intensity of sunlight.”

Then there’s the issue of closed, overheated cars in the summer — a moment of carelessness that too-often kills children and pets, Durkin said. “Obviously, every year you hear about these tragedies, people forgetting about infants or pets in cars.”

Even many parents who would never leave their child alone in a hot car don’t have qualms about leaving their dogs there. But while humans cool themselves by relying on a system of sweat glands and evaporation, animals have a harder time staying cool, leaving them extremely vulnerable to heatstroke, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

For example, on a day when it’s 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car with all the windows closed can approach 90 degrees in just 10 minutes, according to the American Veterinary Medical Assoc. On a particularly hot day, the temperature inside a closed car can shoot as high as 114 degrees in the same amount of time.

For that reason, it is legal in Massachusetts to break an animal out of a car, under certain circumstances. Specifically, after making reasonable efforts to locate the vehicle’s owner and notifying law enforcement or calling 911 before entering the vehicle, someone who believes entry into the vehicle is necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal, and plans to stay with the animal nearby afterward, may force their way into the vehicle to remove the animal, free from criminal or civil liability.

Dr. Michael Klatte

Dr. Michael Klatte

Children are especially at risk for acquiring RWIs since they usually play in the water for longer periods of time and swallow more water than adults typically do..”

Water, Water Everywhere

The other major summer killer after the heat itself is one of the ways people beat the heat: the water.

“Water safety is simple stuff,” Durkin said. “If you can’t swim, or if you’re out boating, wear a flotation device. Swim only in designated areas, and never swim alone. And if you have small children, put an alarm on the pool; those save lives.”

The American Red Cross lists several tips for enjoying the water safely, including:

• Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards, and always swim with a companion.

• Ensure that everyone in the family learns to swim well by enrolling in age-appropriate water-orientation and swimming courses.

• Never leave a young child unattended near water, and do not trust a child’s life to another child. Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejackets around water, but do not rely on lifejackets alone.

• Set limits based on each person’s ability, do not let anyone play around drains and suction fittings, and do not allow swimmers to hyperventilate before swimming underwater or have breath-holding contests.

• Even if you do not plan on swimming, be cautious around natural bodies of water, including ocean shorelines, rivers, and lakes. Cold temperatures, currents, and underwater hazards can make a fall into these bodies of water dangerous.

• Install and use barriers around a home pool or hot tub. Safety covers and pool alarms should be added as additional layers of protection.

Drowning isn’t the only water hazard, however. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) can pop up in both treated and untreated waters — from pools, hot tubs, and water parks to freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and even the ocean, said Dr. Michael Klatte, who works in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

RWIs are caused by germs and chemicals found in these waters, which can result in gastrointestinal, skin, and ear diseases, chemical irritations of the eyes and lungs, and, sometimes, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea, frequently caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium and E. coli. Otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, is another common RWI. Those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are at greater risk for more severe water-borne illnesses.

“Children are especially at risk for acquiring RWIs since they usually play in the water for longer periods of time and swallow more water than adults typically do,” Klatte said. He advises swimmers not to swallow water, to stay out of the water if they have diarrhea or an open wound, to shower before swimming, and to check diapers and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area — not waterside.

Clear Your Head

No matter what the activity, Durkin said, alcohol will invariably increase the risk of harm or death, so people need to monitor their intake. Alcohol impairs judgment and coordination, affects swimming and driving skills, and affects the body’s ability to regulate heat.

But having fun while sober is just one of many common-sense ways to enjoy the summer safely. Shriners Hospitals for Children recently got into the act with a program called Superheroes of Summer Safety, which offers tips to reduce the risk of injuries during the summer months.

“As a father and Shriner, I know that, within seconds, a fun-filled day can take a turn when an unexpected accident occurs,” said NASCAR driver David Ragan, the program’s spokesperson. “Shriners Hospitals and I want to provide families with simple ways to reduce the risk of childhood injuries so that kids can enjoy a safe summer.”

With the help of the National Assoc. of School Nurses, the national health system printed 125,000 safety materials to be distributed to kids and families. Advice includes playground tips like sliding feet first and swinging while sitting down; keeping children inside when lawnmowers are in use; keeping several feet away from firepits, campfires, or grills; and the usual warnings about sun protection and swimming with a lifejacket and a companion.

“At the very least, we can decrease the chances of bad things happening, if not outright prevent them. Most of this is common sense,” Durkin said. “Being active is good, but being active and smart is better.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Fun in the Sun

summertimedpartSummertime is a great time to get away, but in Western Mass., it’s also a great time to stick around and enjoy the many events on the calendar. Whether you’re craving fair food or craft beer, live music or arts and crafts, historical experiences or small-town pride, the region boasts plenty of ways to celebrate the summer months. Here are 35 ideas to get you started, in a region that’s home to many more.

July

Pioneer Valley Beer & Wine Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.lookpark.org
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door
July 1: Hungry — or thirsty — for something to do as the summer months take hold? Look Park presents its second annual Beer & Wine Festival at the Pines Theater from noon to 5 p.m. Attendees will get to sample local beer and wine from the Pioneer Valley, live music, and a host of local food vendors. Non-drinkers (designated drivers and under 21) may purchase tickets for $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
July 1-3, Aug. 17-20: Ski Butternut may be best-known for … well, skiing, of course. But the property also plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 16th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 200 artists and designers, inclouding more than 40 exhibiting for the first time.1berkshiresartsfestival

Fireworks Shows
Various Locations
July 1-4: The days surrounding Independence Day are brimming with nighttime pageantry throughout the Pioneer Valley. Holyoke Community College kicks things off on June 30. July 1 brings a display at Beacon Field in Greenfield and Szot Park in Chicopee, while on July 3, Michael Smith Middle School in South Hadley and East Longmeadow High School get into the act. July 4 will bring the spectacle to Riverfront Park in Springfield, McGuirk Stadium at UMass Amherst, and Six Flags New England in Agawam.

Old Sturbridge Village Independence Weekend Celebration
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 1-4: At this celebration of America, visitors can take part in a citizens’ parade, play 19th-century-style ‘base ball,’ march with the militia, make a tri-cornered hat, and sign a giant copy of the Declaration of Independence. Children and families will enjoy the friendly competition of the Farm Yard Games, and a reproduction cannon will be fired. On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.

2monsonsummerfestMonson Summerfest
Main Street, Monson
www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community, The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, along with booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year.

Dog Shows
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.thebige.com
Admission: Free
July 5-9, Aug. 24-27: The Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds certainly haven’t gone to the dogs, but it will seem that way for five days in July, when Yankee Classic Cluster Dog Shows shows take over the Better Living Center. On tap are dog shows from the Kenilworth, Holyoke, Farmington, and Naugatuck Kennel Clubs. Then, in August, the fairgrounds will host dog shows from the Newtown, Ox Ridge, and Elm City Kennel Clubs.

Made in Massachusetts Festival
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.madeinmassfest.com
Admission: $20 general admission, $35 for admission plus tasting combo ticket
July 8-9: The Eastern States Exposition will host this festival featuring craft vendors and products unique to Massachusetts. The event will showcase the state’s top breweries, wineries, local food, live entertainment, specialty crafts, and much more. In addition, kids will enjoy a mobile arcade full of games, a laser-tag arena, huge obstacle courses, bounce houses, an inflated soccer ball arena, face painting, and more.

Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show
Route 20, Brimfield
www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free
July 11-16, Sept. 5-10: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 13-16: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2017: The Festival of New Yiddish Music brings the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College. The sixth annual event offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

Post #351 Catfish Derby
50 Kolbe Dr., Holyoke
www.post351catfishderby.com
Admission: $10 entry fee
July 14: The American Legion Post #351 touts its 37th annual Catfish Derby as the biggest catfish tournament in the Northeast. Fishing is open to the Connecticut River and all its tributaries. The derby headquarters and weigh-in station are located at Post #351. A total of $1,425 in prize money is being offered, with a first prize of $300. Three trophies are available in the junior division (age 14 and younger).

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $119.99; Friday, $34.99; Saturday, $64.99; Sunday, $64.99
July 14-16: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with four hot-air-balloon launches and a spectacular Saturday-night ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 40 bands slated to perform.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$16, free for children under 6
July 15: Staged at Look Park, this 23nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries.

Positively Holyoke Summer Concerts
221 Appleton St., Holyoke
www.holyokerotary.com
Admission: Free
July 19, July 26, Aug. 2, Aug. 9: The Holyoke Rotary Club  will present a series of four Wednesday night concerts at Holyoke Heritage State Park, featuring, in order, Darik & the Funbags, Out of the Blue, Union Jack, and Trailer Trash. The concerts begin at 6 p.m., but a beer garden and grill will open at 5:30. Parking is free, and the rain date for each concert is the following day.

Franklin County Beer Fest
66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont
www.berkshireeast.com
Admission: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
July 22: Join fellow brew enthusiasts for an afternoon of food, music, and drink. The second annual Franklin County Beer Fest will be held at Berkshire East Mountain Resort and will feature beer from several local breweries, local ciders, and local mead and libations. ID required. Online ticket buyers before July will receive a souvenir glass.

3oldsturbridgecraftbeerOld Sturbridge Village Craft Beer & Roots Music Festival
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 23: OSV’s craft beer festival is back, with more brews, bands, and bites than ever before. More than 30 craft breweries from across New England will offer an opportunity to sample and purchase some of the region’s top beers, ciders, and ales, while local chefs prepare farm-to-table fare. At five indoor and outdoor stages, more than a dozen musical artists will bring the sounds of Americana, bluegrass, country, folk, and roots music.

Hampden County 4-H Fair
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: Free
July 29: More than 200 young people from Hampden County, and 4-H members from Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Worcester counties, will showcase projects they have made, grown, or raised during the past year. Events include a horse show and other animal exhibitions, a fun run, a talent show, a fashion revue, a lead line and wool competition, and more.

August

West Side Taste of the Valley
Town Common, West Springfield
www.westsidetaste.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 10-13: This community event annually draws over 30,000 people from all over the Pioneer Valley to sample various dishes from a diverse mix of restaurants. The weekend is also highlighted by family-friendly entertainment, live musical acts, a midway of rides and games for kids and teens, animal rides, a petting zoo, and Saturday’s class car cruise, a display of classic, antique, and special-interest cars owned by local residents.

Middlefield Fair
7 Bell Road, Middlefield
www.middlefieldfair.org
Admission: TBA
Aug. 11-13: The Highland Agricultural Society was established in 1856 for the purpose of holding the agricultural fair in Middlefield. In those days, it was known as the Cattle Show, and the grounds were filled with local farmers’ prized cattle. Although the fair has changed in its 150-plus years, it retains that tradition, adding food, a truck pull, a petting zoo, animal exhibits, rides, games, and live including Ray Guillemette Jr.’s Elvis tribute, “A-Ray of Elvis.”

4springfieldjazzrootsSpringfield Jazz and Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 12: The fourth annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend and enjoy featured performers including Lizz Wright, Miles Mosley, Rebirth Brass Band, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Christian Scott, Zaccai Curtis & Insight, Natalie Fernandez, and Community Grooves.

5westfieldairshowWestfield International Airshow
175 Falcon Dr., Westfield
www.westfieldairshow.org
Admission: Free; upgraded paid seating available
Aug. 12-13: The first airshow at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in seven years will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a team of F-16 fighter jets that fly in close proximity. Other displays include the Geico Skytypers, a team of six pilots who create aerial smoke messages in the sky, as well as the Third Strike wingwalking act, the the Black Daggers U.S. Army Parachute Team, and a host of others.

Westfield Fair
137 Russellville Road, Westfield
www.thewestfieldfair.com
Admission: $6-$8, free for children under 12
Aug. 18-20: One of the earlier late-summer agricultural fairs that proliferate across Western Mass., the 90th edition of the Westfield Fair promises traditional fare like livestock shows, an antique tractor pull, live music, rides and games, an animal auction, a craft barn, a petting zoo, midway rides, and, of course, lots of food.

Cummington Fair
97 Fairgrounds Road, Cummington
www.cummingtonfair.com
Admission: $5-$12, free for children under 10
Aug. 24-27: The Cummington Fair was initiated in 1883 as the Hillside Agricultural Society. Today, it lives on as a showcase for agriculture and livestock in the region, in addition to a robust schedule of entertainment, featuring live music, magic, a demolition derby, a lumberjack show, the Kenya Acrobats, a square dance, crafts, games, food, and much more.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 25-26: Now in its third year, Chicopee’s downtown block party, which drew 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall last year, will feature live music from nine bands, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and, for the first time, a 5K race.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 25-27: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus, drawing an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people downtown over the course of the weekend. This year’s festival will include live musical performances, food and beverages from local restaurants, activities for children, and goods from local artists and makers.

September

Stone Soul Festival
1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield
www.ssfestival.weebly.com
Admission: Free
Sept. 1-3: New England’s largest African-American festival offers family-oriented activities, entertainment, and cultural enrichment, and is a vehicle for minority-owned businesses to display their wares and crafts. Entertainment at Blunt Park includes gospel, jazz, R&B, and dance. Sunday’s free picnic includes ribs and chicken cooked by talented pitmasters, backed by live gospel music performed by local and regional choirs.

Three County Fair
41 Fair St., Northampton
www.threecountyfair.com
Admission: $8-$10
Sept. 1-4: For almost 200 years, the Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden Agricultural Society has promoted agriculture, agricultural education, and agricultural science in the Commonwealth. The purpose remains the umbrella under which the Three County Fair is presented to the public. But the fair also includes carnival rides and games, thoroughbred horse racing, crafts, and, of course, plenty of food.

Blandford Fair
10 North St., Blandford
www.theblandfordfair.com
Admission: $5-$10, free for children under 6
Sept. 1-4:
Not much has changed in almost 150 years of the Blandford Fair, but that’s what makes it so charming. Fairgoers can witness the classic rituals of the giant pumpkin display, the pony draw, and the horseshoe tournament, plus more modern additions, like the fantastically loud chainsaw-carving demonstration and the windshield-smashing demolition derby.

Franklin County Fair
89 Wisdom Way, Greenfield
www.fcas.com
Admission: $7-$10, free for children under 9
Sept. 7-10: Named one of the “10 Great New England Fairs” in 2015 by Globe magazine, the 169th edition of the Franklin County Fair will roll into the Franklin County Fairgrounds with every type of fair food imaginable, midway rides, and entertainment ranging from bands and roaming clowns to a ventriloquist, demotion derby, livestock shows, horse draws, a truck pull, and much more.

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
Sept. 8-10: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Hilltown Brewfest
837 Daniel Shays Highway, New Salem
www.hilltownbrewfest.com
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door
Sept. 9: The ninth annual Hilltown Brewfest is a fund-raiser for local fire departments. The event at Cooleyville Junction promises a relaxing afternoon featuring some 30 brands and 100 brews of beer, wine, cider, and Berkshire Distillery products. Selections include products by both local craft brewers, winemakers, and distillers in the Quabbin and Pioneer Valley regions as well as similar craft producers across New England.

8mattoonstreetMattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon Street, Springfield
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 9-10: Now in its 45th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $48-$110 for three-day pass
Sept. 15-17: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing more than 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Brandi Carlile, Railroad Earth, the Del McCoury Band with David Grisman, Shovels & Rope, Del & Dawg, Bill Frisell, and many more.

9bigeThe Big E
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: $8-$12; 17-day pass $20-$40
Sept. 15 to Oct. 1: It’s still the big one, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses or the parades, the local vendors and crafters or the live music — this year featuring Cole Swindell, the Village People, Martin Sexton, Sheila E., the Sugarhill Gang, Fastball, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and many more.

Belchertown Fair
Main Street, Belchertown
www.belchertownfair.com
Admission: Free
Sept. 22-24: This community fair, which draws more than 30,000 visitors every year, celebrates the town’s agricultural roots as well as its active growing community. The weekend features a wide variety of family-friendly activities, from an exhibit hall and animal exhibitions to a parade, plenty of live music, pumpkin decorating for kids, a balloon twister, and an old-time beautiful baby show.

Old Deerfield Craft Fair
10 Memorial St., Deerfield
www.deerfield-craft.org
Admission: $7, free for children under 12
Sep. 23-24: This award-winning show has been recognized for its traditional crafts and fine-arts categories and offers a great variety of items, from furniture to pottery. And while in town, check out all of Historic Deerfield, featuring restored, 18th-century museum houses with period furnishings, demonstrations of Colonial-era trades, and a collection of Early American crafts, ceramics, furniture, textiles, and metalwork.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Moe Belliveau

Moe Belliveau

Moe Belliveau says it’s certainly not the most important part of her job. But it just might be the most meaningful.

She was talking about the ribbon cuttings that mark the openings of new businesses and expansions of existing ventures. As executive director of the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, Belliveau, like her colleagues at chambers across the region, has taken part in more of these than she can count. In fact, after borrowing a pair of large ceremonial scissors for her first such celebration nearly three years ago, she ordered her own pair.

But despite some sameness, these ceremonies never get old, she said, because they’re not about her — or the various elected officials who might turn out for the ceremonies. No, they’re for the business owner or owners in question, and for many, it’s one of the biggest days of their lives.

“This is an important day for them — people put their lives into these businesses,” she explained. “And it’s important that these moments are celebrated.”

There have been many ribbon cuttings in Easthampton in recent years, said Belliveau, who took the helm at the chamber three years ago, noting that this former mill town continues to make great strides in the effort to reinvent itself as a center for the arts, retail, hospitality, and, in a word, vibrancy.

The most recent involved Corsello Butcheria, a Roman-style butcher shop opened by Vincent and Kasey Corsello on Cottage Street in April.

By Roman-style, Vincent means a butcher shop modeled on the one they frequented while living in Rome, an open-air facility where shoppers would stop and pick up something fresh for that night’s dinner.

A software project manager by trade — actually, he’s worked in various capacities — Corsello said he returned from Italy determined to become an entrepreneur and intent on starting his own butcheria. And he says Easthampton is the perfect landing spot.

In fact, his commentary sums up the thoughts of many now doing business there or supporting the business community in various ways.

“This is a truly authentic community with all the moving parts,” he told BusinessWest. “Twenty years ago, people would have said Easthampton’s best days are behind it; now, I think, and most people think, its best days are ahead of it.”

Meanwhile, the next ribbon cutting will likely come on June 10 at a venture known as Valley Paddler, which will bring paddle boats to Nashawannuck Pond in the center of the community.

There have been many others in recent years, involving restaurants, breweries (there are three of them now), arts-focused establishments, tech companies, and much more.

Together, they speak to Easthampton’s revival and vibrancy, or its “renaissance,” the word chosen by Mayor Karen Cadieux, who believes it fits.

She’s had what amounts to a front-row seat for this transformation as it has unfolded over the past quarter-century or so. Indeed, she served as an assistant to the selectmen and then the town administrator before Easthampton officially became a city in 1996, and then served in that same capacity to the community’s first mayor, Michael Tautznik.


Karen Cadieux

Karen Cadieux

What happens … is you have new owners who take abandoned buildings, and they bring new ideas to the table. And it becomes growth, and it becomes catchy.”


When Tautznik decided not to seek re-election after eight terms in office, he encouraged her to seek the corner office, which she did, triumphing in the 2013 election.

With all that experience at both desks in the mayor’s office, she spoke with some authority when she said “this is a working mayor’s position,” noting that those two people do it all, but they also work in partnership with a host of other individuals and agencies, including the chamber.

And much of that work, she said, involves making the city more business-friendly and a true destination for a host of constituents, including artists, tourists, craft-beer lovers, and, yes, those looking for a good place to set up shop.

As an example of these efforts in the name of business friendliness, she cited what have come to be known as ‘roundtable meetings.’ These are gatherings involving a prospective new business owner and a number of city officials, where questions are asked and answered and a road map of sorts is laid out for getting to another one of those ribbon cuttings.

“A meeting is scheduled with my office, and anyone who would be involved in the permitting process — the city planner, the building inspector, the fire chief, the DPW director, and others — all of them are there,” she explained. “They can ask anything they want, they bring in their plans, tell us their idea … and in that way, they’re prepared for when they go to the Planning Board.

“It has streamlined the process, and in the meantime, they know we’re willing to work them,” she went on, adding that these roundtables have met with a very positive response.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Easthampton, a city that continues to add new chapters to a compelling storyline of economic revival.

Lager Than Life

It might sound like a line from Casablanca, but in this case, no one who utters it has been misinformed.

People really do come to Easthampton for the water. In 2015, the city won the gold medal for the best-tasting water in the U.S. at the National Water Assoc. Rally in Washington, D.C.
Cadieux has a ceremonial coffee mug to prove it, although she and the city have much more substantial proof of that honor in the form of three craft-beer breweries that now call the city home.

“You need good, clean water, and lots of it, to brew beer,” said Belliveau, adding that Fort Hill, Abandoned Building, and New City Brewery are now helping to … wait for it … create a buzz in this community.

But while water is one of the main ingredients in the city’s revival, both literally and figuratively, there are many others. That list includes an abundance of old mill buildings with large expanses ready for imaginative reuse, public/private partnerships that have made such reuses feasible, a thriving arts community, with many of its members taking up space in those mills, and a city government looking for new and different ways to streamline the process of doing business here.

And now, another critical ingredient is a more active, more responsive chamber of commerce, one that Belliveau came to after a stint with the Westfield Business Improvement District before it was dissolved. She said she was drawn by the energy in the community and a desire to be part of the story that was being written there.

“I was between jobs and in a position to start a new adventure,” she told BusinessWest. “I could feel the buzz starting to rise and the excitement in Easthampton. And the city had an interesting combination — there’s an urban feel, but the city hasn’t lost its suburban charm; there’s an interesting intersection of all that here.”

Since arriving, Belliveau said she has been focused on taking the focus off of merely staging events — for fund-raising, networking, and other purposes — and bringing more value to members.

And that value has come in many forms, from so-called ‘listening sessions,’ where input is sought from businesses across different sectors of the economy, to a universal gift card redeemable at dozens of area businesses that are also chamber members.

“I did a lot of listening; I talked with everyone I could — members, non-members, former members — to try understand who we are and where we wanted to go,” she explained. “When I arrived, the board was very ready for some new energy, some new animation, and moving out into the world.

“We were event planners at that time — that’s what the chamber was,” she went on. “And we decided to do something new and different, and the board has embraced the idea of evolution.”

That specific tone of this evolution has been set as a result of reaching out to various constituencies — members and non-members among them — and responding to the feedback, she said, adding that she initiated something she called “listening lunches.”

One of the first was with restaurateurs and other hospitality-related business owners, she said, adding that this sector was not well-represented on the chamber at the time.

“We started at noon, and I figured people would be on their way by 1; instead, we were still talking at 2,” Belliveau recalled. “There were many takeaways, and one of them was their perception that we weren’t marketing this area as well as we should.”

The universal gift card was part of the response to that feedback, she said, adding that the chamber does essentially all of the heavy lifting — it markets and sells the cards. The original goal when things got started early last fall was to have 25 to 30 participating members on board, a target that was easily reached, and today there are more than 40 participants, and the number continues to rise.

The cards have been popular with the public as well, she said, adding that they sold well in the run-up to the holidays, and have been in demand recently, with graduations, Mother’s Day, and other events on the calendar.

There have been other initiatives within this evolutionary process, she went on, including collaborative efforts with other neighboring chambers, including Holyoke, Northampton, and Westfield, and new, more value-laden events, including a women’s leadership conference to be presented in conjunction with the Holyoke chamber, slated for Sept. 22. “The Art of Risk” will be the broad theme for the day-long conference, which will feature keynote speaker Angela Lussier, founder of the Speaker Sisterhood, a business devoted to helping women find their voice.

High-steaks Venture

As she talked about how Easthampton has evolved over the past quarter-century or so, Mayor Cadieux talked repeatedly about partnerships — on many levels.

They have involved private business and city government, the city and state, and among a host of agencies working within the broad realm of economic development, she said, adding that these efforts have succeeded in making Easthampton a welcoming city when it comes to both business and tourism.

As just one example, she cited the case of an entrepreneur looking to buy a commercial property (a former theater) on Cottage Street.

“The owner wouldn’t sell the property without the adjacent parking lot,” she explained. “But the new buyer didn’t have money for the parking lot, so what we did was obtain a grant for the parking lot, and it became a partnership.”

That was maybe 15 years ago, she went on, adding that there have been countless examples of such partnerships since, and these efforts by public agencies to help private business owners have created an environment conducive to continued growth and vibrancy.

“What happens in such instances is you have new owners who take abandoned buildings, and they bring new ideas to the table,” she went on. “And it becomes growth, and it becomes catchy.”

To sustain this momentum, the city has been diligent about finding ways to continue a dialogue with the business community and continuously improve and streamline the process of helping new businesses plant roots in the city.

The chamber’s listening sessions are one example of this, said the mayor, adding that another involved her successful efforts to attain a technical grant to gauge just how competitive the city is with its permitting process.

“From that, we started the roundtable meetings,” she said, adding that the response to such sessions has been overwhelmingly positive.

“All of our departments are communicating with a prospective new business,” she explained. “You don’t have to go from this department to that department to this department — we’re all right there. It’s another example of partnership, and I think it sends a really good message.”

That message was received by Vincent and Kasey Corsello, who cut the ceremonial ribbon in mid-April and are enjoying early success with a fairly unique venture that offers locally sourced food.

“We cut food to order — if you want a pound of ground beef, we’ll grind it right in front of you,” he noted. “If you want a steak, we’ll cut it right there so it will be just the thickness you want.”

Slicing steaks is a long way from software-development work, but after living and working in Italy for years and seeing how the butcheria was not just a source of fresh meat but also a gathering spot in the community, he decided he wanted to create one of his own.

His family settled in Easthampton, and the Corsellos quickly determined that this community was the right place at the right time for their venture.

“The town looks somewhat unassuming from the outside,” he told BusinessWest. “But has all those moving parts … it has its own truly local economy. I’m thrilled with it; there’s no place I’d rather be at this point.”

A Cut Above

Those ceremonial scissors Belliveau ordered have turned out to be a good investment. In other words, they’ve seen quite a bit of use over the past few years alone.

That’s a reflection of many positive things in the community, from its growing cultural community to the paddleboats soon to arrive on Nashawannuck Pond; from the universal gift card to those craft breweries; from the roundtable meetings to the Roman-style butcheria in the heart of downtown.

They all provide solid evidence of a renaissance, an evolution from an old mill town to a new and exciting destination city.

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

 

Easthampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1809
Population: 16,036
Area: 13.6 square miles

County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.59
Median Household Income: $57,134
median family Income: $78,281
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Berry Plastics; Williston Northampton School; National Nonwovens Co.; October Co.
* Latest information available

Education Sections

Down to a Science Center

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

John McDonald hit the pause button ever so briefly in his conversation with BusinessWest and went to the window.

He then scanned the parking lot for his pick-up truck, found it, and gestured toward it. “There … that was our other lab space — my truck,” said McDonald, an assistant professor in the Environmental Science Department at Westfield State University. “Occasionally, we’d have field labs, such as animal necropsies, and we’d have to do those on the back of the truck, parked next to Route 20. We had zero functional lab space.”

The window he pointed from is one of many in the spacious classroom/lab area dedicated to Environmental Science at the Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center at WSU, which opened last fall and was officially dedicated earlier this month.

The space represents everything this department didn’t have before — especially ample room and modern facilities such as a wet lab complete with drains in the floor. And while this department represents perhaps the most dramatic ‘before-and-after,’ ‘night-and-day’ scenario when it comes to the new building, there are many such stories to be told here.

Like the one the Department of Nursing and Allied Health can tell.

Marcia Scanlon, chair of that department, said that, prior to the opening of the new center, the Nursing Department made do with some classroom space on campus and, for hands-on skills work, a room with three hospital beds and two simulators in what amounted to rented space at Baystate Noble Hospital, about a mile from the campus.

Now, Nursing has a spacious suite of facilities in the 54,000-square-foot facility, including three simulation rooms, an eight-bed health-assessment room, an eight-bed nursing-skills lab, two control rooms, four high-fidelity mannequins, and 12 additional low- and mid-fidelity mannequins representing adults, children, infants, and newborns.

All this represents quite an upgrade, not just in space and convenience (students no longer have to make their way to Baystate Noble), but in overall learning opportunities, said Scanlon.

“By having all this on campus in this center, that gives students better access,” Scanlon explained. “It gives them better visibility, better access, and more opportunities to come for extra help if they need it.”

Jennifer Hanselman, professor and chair of the Biology Department, and Christopher Masi, chair of the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, told somewhat similar stories.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

They, like Scanlon and McDonald, said a tremendous amount of research and input gathering, including visits to many other health and science centers in this region, were undertaken before the architects and construction crews went to work.

“We affiliated very closely with Springfield Technical Community College, which is a renowned simulation center for its Nursing and Allied Health,” said Scanlon, as she discussed just one example of this process. “We went and toured there to look at their technology and their equipment, and how they integrate it  — how often do they bring students to use it, and how do they use it? We made several trips there, and they actually came here, put hard hats on, and walked through our space to give us advice.”

Those exercises have yielded a facility that takes WSU to a new, much higher level in terms of its facilities, learning opportunities, and ability to recruit top students.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest went inside the new science center to get a feel for what it means to those departments now housed there, and the university itself.

Grade Expectations

As WSU cut the ribbon on the new center on May 5, a good amount of time was spent explaining just who Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens was. And such a discourse was needed, because most in attendance — not to mention the students now doing work in the facility — don’t know the story.

And they should.

Stevens completed four years of coursework at what was known then as the Westfield Normal School in only two years. In 1905, she published a series of papers in which she demonstrated that the sex of an offspring is determined by the chromosomes it inherits from its parents. Her discovery had an immeasurable impact on science and society; however, despite the significance of her work, Stevens’ notoriety went unheralded even as her male colleagues received recognition.

It is fitting, then, that the school named the center after her, said speakers at the ribbon cutting, especially in light of the role the facility will play in advancing a statewide strategy in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, especially with women.

At WSU, women comprise 51% of the student population, said a spokesperson for the university, and within the school’s STEM majors, there has been 69% growth in male majors and an impressive 109% increase in female majors over the past 10 years. (Nationally, only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female.)

The new science and innovation center should only help improve upon those numbers, said the educators who spoke with BusinessWest, noting that the facility features state-of-the-art facilities and interactive classrooms, with an emphasis on collaborative learning.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Translation: the Environmental Science Department has come a very long way from the back of John McDonald’s pickup truck. And the same can be said for the other departments that now call the center home.

Elaborating, McDonald said his department had a small classroom in Wilson Hall, where most science programs were housed, some counter space and cabinets, and “a hood that didn’t work and a walk-in freezer that didn’t work, and no workspace other than a collecting hallway to another classroom that was about 10 feet long.

“It was pretty meager,” he went on, adding that environmental science is a relatively new major, one that now has considerable space in which to grow.

“Getting this room, and the adjacent workroom and storeroom with a working walk-in freezer, has been a huge boon to what we’re able to do with our students,” he said of the large space now occupied by his department. “The space doubles as a teaching classroom, but we can get it as dirty as we want with soil samples, water samples, or wildlife samples.”

Meanwhile, the Nursing Department has undergone a similarly dramatic transformation through its new facilities.

Indeed, as she offered a tour of the suite, Scanlon showed off a host of amenities that were just not available to students at Baystate Noble.

These include the wide array of simulators, representing everything from newborns to a pregnant women to a senior citizen, complete with a hearing aid. These simulators can take the role of either gender — “they all come with wigs and interchangeable parts; I can make them ‘Bob,’ and I can make them ‘Dorothy,’” said Scanlon — and present students with myriad medical conditions and problems, from high blood pressure to a skin rash to heart palpitations.

There were also the control rooms guiding work with those simulators (at Noble, an educator would work from behind a curtain), as well as a ‘medication-simulation room,’ which, as that name suggests, allows students practice with retrieving and dispensing medication.

And then, there are the large, eight-bed health-assessment room and nursing-skills lab. Designed to replicate conditions in a hospital, where nurses would obviously be caring for multiple patients at a time, these facilities provide learning opportunities simply not available at Noble.

“I think this is the beginning of something big,” she said while describing what the new facility means in terms of education opportunities, using a phrase that everyone we spoke with would echo. “We’re just trying to learn the technology and see how to implement it. But in the future, this will be transforming; we’ll have inter-professional education, and we’ll be able to do things using this technology that we weren’t able to do before. And it will provide a higher degree of safety because we have the actual equipment the hospitals have.”

Masi used similar language as he talked about the facilities dedicated to the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, noting, as others did, that the Science and Innovation Center represents a significant upgrade.

“Our new facilities provide us with a safer space to work in,” he explained. “We can now deal with more students at a given time, and we can work with them in a safer environment.”

Elaborating, he said there were 144 students enrolled in the General Chemistry classes in the new facility and roughly 80 in Organic Chemistry, both sizable increases.

“By moving from one building to the next, we can get more students in, which is important, because other majors are requiring Organic Chemistry,” he explained, adding that, beyond sheer capacity, the new space creates a more collaborative learning environment. “We’re excited to have the space and to be able to get to some of the things we’ve been slowly working on in the past.”

Hanselman, meanwhile, said the new space brings similar improvements and new opportunities for the Biology Department, which currently has roughly 230 students enrolled in that major.

“The modernized lab facilities offer us the opportunity to certainly work and prepare our students more effectively,” she explained. “We have a goal of working with our students in the scientific process; we emphasize research experience, and we planned this space accordingly.”

As examples, she pointed to two dedicated labs and a tissue-culture facility.

“Those lab spaces are never scheduled for classes; they’re used only for student research,” she explained. “This is giving us a chance to really work with students and develop their skills.

“These labs are designed in a way to promote inquiry-based instruction for those 100- and 200-level lab courses,” she went on, adding that they provide an environment conducive to problem solving and critical thinking.

Class Acts

As noted earlier, Scanlon was speaking for everyone when she said the first year of activity at the new Science and Innovation Center was merely the beginning of something big.

Something much bigger than McDonald’s pickup truck. Something that, as many of those we spoke with said, will be transforming.

Something to which Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens would be proud to lend her name.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno (left) and Police Commissioner John Barbieri

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno (left) and Police Commissioner John Barbieri say community-policing efforts are changing perceptions — and reality — about crime in the city.

Most people are familiar with the major projects underway in Springfield: the $950 million MGM casino, the $90 million renovation of Union Station, and the $95 million CRRC MA rail-car factory being built at the former Westinghouse site.

But a highly successful, multi-pronged program to improve public safety that was created by Mayor Domenic Sarno and the Springfield Police Department has gone on mostly behind the scenes and yielded remarkable results.

“We have had a 20% drop in crime since 2015,” said Police Commissioner John Barbieri.

Officials attribute the dramatic reduction to a number of factors. They include an increase in police officers (48 were added from the last academy, and in about a month another 50 will be sworn in), a highly effective C3 (community policing) program, an ongoing strategic analysis of crime by a division in the police department that has been dramatically increased, leadership classes for police officers, a new computer program on laptops in cruisers that pinpoint where recent crimes have occurred and allows police officers to read reports about them, and other measures that have made a decided difference.

Officials are proud of the recorded success, but know that changing public perception remains an ongoing challenge.

“Perception and attitude equal reality, and we are continuing to battle the negative perceptions people have toward crime and urban cities by enhancing public safety and providing increased police visibility,” Sarno said, noting that, in the past, businesses interested in moving to Springfield typically asked about public safety, but that conversation rarely occurs today.

downtown police presence

The downtown police presence will be boosted by a number of well-lit kiosks and substations.

Barbieri agreed. “The goal for the future is to create a high degree of police visibility downtown which reflects modern-day standards,” he said. “Whenever people travel to a metro area, they worry about crime, but an increase in police presence combats their fear.”

He added that public safety and economic development complement each other, and the entire police department has been reorganized.

“We’ve a made a commitment to the community in terms of accountability and responsiveness,” Barbieri noted, explaining that the department’s approach has differed from most large cities, where attempts to suppress crime are not typically linked to accountability. For example, some police departments might increase arrests or tickets for offenses such as littering, but since 99% of people are law-abiding, those tactics don’t generate cooperation or lead to an increase in information from residents about problems that haven’t yet surfaced.

“Our officers will never know the neighborhoods they work in as well as the people who live there, no matter how long they are assigned to an area,” Barbieri said, as he spoke about the difference community policing has made in establishing respect and rapport between Springfield police officers and residents.

“Crime is complex, and it takes a unified approach by nonprofits, businesses, schools, and local, state, and federal partners to deal with the issues that cause it,” he continued. “Reducing crime is not just about making arrests; it’s about arresting the right people who will not reform or seek help, as well as resolving neighborhood problems.”

They can include derelict properties, and to that end, Sarno created a Quality of Life/Ordinance Flex Squad in 2008 to deal with properties that are neglected or affect the quality of life of nearby residents. Members include the police department, building and code enforcement, the city’s law department, and the mayor’s office. The fire department and housing department also offer assistance when needed, and the collaborative approach has proven effective.

Sarno noted, as an example of success, a project that involved multiple entities to deal with the old River Inn at the corner of State and Thompson streets. It had been a troubled location for two decades before it was condemned in 2011, then purchased by DevelopSpringfield at a foreclosure auction and demolished. There are other examples of success related to the vision of creating a vibrant downtown where people feel safe and can enjoy and appreciate the Innovation District, Union Station, the Quadrangle, the MGM casino, and the businesses and eateries that already exist as well as those that will grow around them.

“But no matter how much money is spent on marketing, word of mouth is key,” Sarno said, adding that highly successful events, such as the Jazz & Roots Festival in August that attracted more than 12,000 people from all over New England and New York, are making a difference in perception and reality, which is critical because Union Station will be used by 4 million people each year and the MGM casino will bring in at least 10,000 guests on a daily basis when it opens.

For this issue, BusinessWest focuses on measures that officials in Springfield and its police department have taken to improve public safety and the overall perception of the City of Homes.

Ongoing Work

When Sarno was elected mayor in 2008, the city had significant problems and was being managed by a state Finance Control Board due to a $41 million budget deficit. But that board was dissolved in 2009, and in addition to addressing the city’s finances, Sarno took steps to improve public safety and quality of life in all of Springfield’s neighborhoods.

New lighting was installed downtown, the police presence was strengthened in the former entertainment district, which had been attracting large numbers of undesirable people, and the size of the police force was increased.

In addition, MGM made a commitment to spend $1.5 million annually for 15 years to create and maintain a public-safety district downtown due to the traffic it will bring to the city. The district runs from the south end of Mill Street to Union Station, to Riverfront Park, which is being renovated, and up to the Quadrangle.

But perhaps one of the most important changes was the establishment of C3 policing in vulnerable neighborhoods where high levels of poverty, truancy, and healthcare problems exist. Special police units have been created and put in place in four areas: Mason Square, the South End, the North End, and lower Forest Park.

MGM will be an important piece of Springfield’s resurgence

MGM will be an important piece of Springfield’s resurgence, Mayor Domenic Sarno says, but it’s only one piece.

Police officers in these units have formed strong bonds with families and children through a number of measures. They have walked thousands of students to school via a program called the Walking School Bus, attend school sports events and cheer students to success, participate in community events, and recently collaborated with neighborhood agencies to hold an Easter-egg hunt.

Every police academy recruit receives C3 policing and de-escalation training and volunteers on a regular basis in the community, where they mix and mingle and take part in a wide variety of activities.

Weekly meetings are held in each neighborhood that are attended by representatives from 60 agencies, including churches, local businesses, and nonprofits such as the YMCA, YWCA, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. The number of residents who attend the meetings is growing, and many provide information about issues that need to be addressed.

“The philosophy of C3 policing is carried over into our entire uniformed division,” Barbieri said, noting that all concerns expressed by residents are taken seriously.

The mayor said the city’s C-3 policing program (which was named a Difference Maker by BusinessWest in 2013) has been so successful, it is being used as a model across the country, and Barbieri has spoken about it before many audiences.

In addition, the police commissioner established a Crime Analysis Unit in 2014 that allows the police department to determine trends and patterns.

“We look at trends from the previous year and hold weekly meetings with all of our commanding officers and supervisors to go over crime that has occurred,” Barbieri said, explaining that they discuss problem properties, prolific offenders, and strategies that will be used to resolve issues. “There is a high level of accountability.”

Sarno works closely with Barbieri and gave a green light to the idea of installing a Crime View program on the laptops in every police cruiser. The technology gives officers detailed information about incidents that have taken place over the previous seven days in the area they are assigned to patrol.

“It pinpoints where the crime occurred and allows officers to read reports related to each incident, including the time of day and day of the week it took place, so they can self-deploy into the areas where they are needed the most,” Barbieri said, noting that residents can also text tips or reports anonymously about problems or concerns.

Although a police presence is not always visible in some neighborhoods, that happens for a reason, as it doesn’t make sense for officers to be limited to a very small area. For example, if a rash of housebreaks are occurring in a neighborhood, an appropriate contingent can move into that area.

However, in the near future, the police presence downtown will increase and be highly visible. Plans are in place to build a number of well-lit police kiosks and substations in the public safety district, and Union Station will have its own police office.

Call-for-service kiosks will also be installed throughout the area, containing cameras that videotape action on the street, and the C3 squads will be expanded.

“People will see blue wherever they go,” Barbieri said, noting that additional police officers assigned to the area will be hand-picked and will adopt a customer-service approach.

In addition, programs in the schools and community centers are yielding positive results: the truancy rate has been cut in half, and young people are forming relationships with police due to their participation in community events and the Walking School Bus program.

The entire police department is making strides, and is the only one in the country that provides peer-to-peer anti-corruption training without being mandated to do so by a federal consent decree. In addition, the strategic crime unit will eventually become a 24/7 operation and will provide information to officers in real time as crime is occurring.

Sarno believes that, as Springfield adds more attractions and confidence rises, there will be an increase in demand for housing downtown, and Baby Boomers who left years ago may want to return.

The $6 million renovation of the former Morgan Square complex at 15 Taylor St., located a block from Union Station, serves as a cornerstone of new residential redevelopment and potential for growth in the future. The complex has been named SilverBrick Lofts Springfield, and 25 of its one- to three-bedroom apartments, with rents ranging from $795 to $1,235, have been reserved for teachers.

Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, said another example of progress is the $40 million renovation of the Chestnut Towers complex by Related Beal. When the towers were built 40 years ago, the property was known for its luxury apartments, but the state foreclosed on the complex in 1996, and after that occurred, it became a hotspot for drugs, violence, and other crimes.

But that is another site where progress is occurring. “Related Beal plans to spend about $100,000 on each of the 489 apartment units,” said Kennedy. “A key component of its plan involves working with the police department to get rid of negative tenants and provide reassurance to the good families who live there.”

He noted that there has been a change in management, the developer is working with police to hire a new security director, and it has partnered with the city to provide better housing and improve the quality of life for new and existing residents.

In addition, Pynchon Plaza will be updated and renovated. It was built in 1976 as a gateway between downtown and the Springfield Museums and Quadrangle, and the city is going out to bid for designer services for a plan to improve it in phases.

New Chapter

Sarno believes confidence in public safety will grow alongside new entertainment venues and spur more investment.

“MGM put Springfield on the map, and the new CRRC MA plant and Union Station revitalization has led to meetings every week with businesses and developers who want to come to Springfield,” he said, noting that the City of Homes has an AA+ rating from Standard & Poor’s, and the last two city budgets were not only balanced, but contained reserves.

Crime — as well as the perception of it — is being reduced, and officials are proud of the work being done by the police department. “When Springfield police officers were asked to stand up to prepare the city for growth, they stood tall and embraced the community,” Barbieri said.

Sarno calls Springfield police officers “sentinels of peace” and says they are making a positive difference 24 hours a day.

“In the next five years, there will be dramatic changes in Springfield,” he said, “and we are working hand in glove with the police department to keep our city safe.”

 

Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1852
Population: 156,000 (2016)
Area: 33.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.66
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.07
Median Household Income: $38,398 (2015)
median family Income: $43,289 (2015)
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Medical Center; MassMutual Financial Group; Big Y; Center for Human Development; American Outdoor Brands Corp.
* Latest information available

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Hampden County Health Coalition, Partners for a Healthier Community, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission invites the public to join them for the release and presentation of the Hampden County community-wide Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) on Friday, March 31 beginning at 10 a.m. at the Municipal Office Building of West Springfield.

Hampden County has ranked last among Massachusetts’ 14 counties with respect to health outcomes for the last six years, according to the County Health Rankings and Road Map report produced each year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with state public-health officials.

In response to this, stakeholders convened and produced the CHIP, which is a collaborative, long-term, systematic effort to address public health problems on the basis of the results of community health-needs assessments recently completed by hospitals, as well as the County Health Rankings and Road Map report.

Hampden County public-health departments, area hospitals, legislative representatives, and community nonprofits have been collaborating since 2014 to develop the CHIP and are looking forward to implement the county-wide plan in a much more strategic and unified way. This plan will be used to help stakeholders set priorities, coordinate, and target resources in order to enhance health outcomes for the more than 467,000 people living in the county’s 23 cities and towns.

Additional information and agenda can be found at www.pvpc.org/events/chip-release-presentation.

Employment Sections

Value Proposition

From left, Phil Michaud, Alisa Feliberty, and Robert Raynor

From left, Phil Michaud, Alisa Feliberty, and Robert Raynor say PeoplesBank’s efforts to keep young professionals engaged with the company’s values and connected to the community are among the qualities their generation values in an employer.

It’s difficult to pigeonhole the Millennial generation — though many have tried — in terms of what they want in a job and a workplace.

But one recurring theme is a sense of purpose and meaning, one that goes beyond their list of duties. And on this front, employers are largely falling short.

In fact, according to a recent Gallup study, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” only about one-third of young professionals strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. And just 40% feel strongly connected to their company’s mission. This is a problem, the study notes, that leaders need to take seriously because Millennials currently make up 38% of the U.S. workforce, and that percentage will continue to rise.

They might do well to listen to three Millennials whose employer, PeoplesBank, seems to understand what makes them tick.

“As an employee, I feel appreciated, I feel heard, like my opinion actually matters,” said Alisa Feliberty, call center manager. “That’s a big thing for me, knowing I’m not just a body here, but a person considered for her thoughts and beliefs.”

Phil Michaud, a loan service associate, recalled being part of a meeting in which top bank officials candidly outlined their growth strategy for the next decade. “Having that kind of access to the direction the company is looking to grow, getting into the nitty gritty of all that, says they value you, and you’re worth telling.”

Then there’s Robert Raynor, who stumbled into banking after studying business management in college.

“I’d say the biggest thing for me is connection to the community,” said Raynor, now assistant vice president of Compliance. “To be able to work for a company that reaches out to the community, that makes a positive impact in the community and makes a difference, you know you’re working to help out the less fortunate in your area, not just coming in and making a widget and making a profit.”

These opinions aren’t happy accidents, said Janice Mazzallo, the bank’s chief Human Resources officer, but part of an overall strategy to create a culture that draws and retains top talent by making sure they feel connected.

“Values is something we get right in the organization,” she said. “Attracting Millennials isn’t just about having the right employee benefits, though we do that. We also recognize that Millennials — and all employees, for that matter — want to connect; when they go to work, they want to feel engaged, that what they do matters.”


List of area Employment Agencies


These efforts have drawn the attention of the Boston Globe, which has named PeoplesBank among its Top Places to Work five years running — in fact, the only company based in Western Mass. to be named to the most recent list.

“We put a lot of energy into that effort, and we don’t take it for granted,” Mazzallo said. “But it’s also not something that HR does in a vacuum.”

Rather, creating a workplace culture that keeps employees engaged and committed to the brand is an effort that requires buy-in across the organization. For this issue’s focus on employment, BusinessWest explores why PeoplesBank’s leaders feel the effort is worth it.

Making Connections

The benefits of engaging Millennials extends far beyond accolades in a magazine. In the coming years, employers must learn what makes this large, diverse group tick if they want to retain top talent.

The Gallup survey found that 67% of Millennials are engaged at work when they strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important. In contrast, just 14% are engaged when they strongly disagree with this statement. Because engagement leads to increased retention, fostering a connection to purpose can help companies fight Millennials’ propensity for job-hopping.

“When a company’s purpose is evident through its culture and brand, Millennials are better able to connect it to their role,” write Brandon Rigoni, associate director for Selection and Development at Gallup, and Bailey Nelson, a writer and editor at the polling company. “Leaders should strategically align the company’s purpose, brand, and culture to create an environment in which mission is something employees experience daily. By integrating purpose company-wide, leaders give employees the opportunity to own the company’s mission and transform it into enhanced performance.”

The values PeoplesBank tries to espouse, Mazzallo said, range from an extensive volunteerism culture to environmental awareness (which takes the form of an active committee that seeks out ways to make the bank and the surrounding community ‘greener’); from technological innovation to an emphasis on work-life balance.

Janice Mazzallo

Janice Mazzallo says creating a culture that has earned multiple ‘Top Places to Work’ accolades starts at the top but includes input across the organization.

“I think the fact that we’re an employer that cares about our community and gives employees opportunities to get involved in the community — whether it’s volunteerism or board involvement or the social aspect — that’s certainly important to them,” she went on. “We have a lot of opportunities here to get involved.”

The bank’s employee-driven committees tackle everything from wellness and the environment to organizing social events, such as bowling outings and trivia nights. A popular annual event called Employee Fest is another opportunity to make workers feel connected and appreciated.

“Everyone looks forward to Employee Fest; it’s a week where the company kind of caters to you, but you also realize how everyone contributes to our success,” Felberty said.

Michaud agreed, noting that various departments compete in contests, and it’s good to see people, especially those in far-flung branches, he doesn’t talk to on a regular basis. “At face value, it looks like we’re playing games, but I think about the connections we’re making and what that does for everyone in the bank. It’s more about building community and building relationships in this place where we spend the majority of our time.”

None of these efforts — the events or the committees — would happen if they didn’t have support at the top, Mazzallo stressed. “We have a senior management team that believes strongly that this is important, and support the idea that people want to feel engaged, and without that engagement, the high performance doesn’t come. We know that; we’ve seen it. Our financial performance over the last five years has been phenomenal, and that’s no coincidence — we have highly engaged employees.”

Getting Ahead

The three young professionals we spoke with also praised the company’s advancement efforts, from its management-development program to its support of continuing education and a willingness to move people around if they desire a new challenge.

“Management here supports us and allows us to take time to develop our skills,” Michaud said. “I started off as a less-than-part-time teller, and in a short period of time, I made this position. The opportunities are definitely there. You see people moving up in departments and transferring between them. If you find it’s not a great fit or you’re interested in something else, they’ll move you to another department.”

Feliberty agreed. “They’re interested in making sure you’re happy and successful. It’s important for them to retain you as an employee, and they’d rather move you from one department to another than keep you stagnant in one position.”

That flexibility is married, they added, to encouragement by bank leaders to communicate their goals and ambitions.

“I’m always surprised at the open doors to communication,” Raynor said. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the then-CFO — now president — and talk about my career path, and what my interests are. With that busy schedule, to take time to sit down and talk about my thoughts and plans is pretty amazing to me. You don’t hear about that taking place that often.”

Michaud agreed, citing coffee events held with senior officials, who share their own paths to success. “The feeling is, they’re looking for you to ask questions and discover your own path to success, and then give you the tools to do that. They’re incredible at that. They’re giving you confidence that they’re here for you — you’re not on your own here.”

Added Raynor, “it’s not a canned message. It’s, ‘this is my story, this is what happened — the obstacles I faced, what happened in my personal life that helped me make this decision or that decision.’ It’s incredibly helpful.”

It’s also not the way most companies operate. According to the Gallup survey, only 26% of millennials say that, in the past seven days, they have heard someone talk about how their daily work connects with their organization’s mission and purpose. And just 34% of millennials report that they have heard a story in the past 30 days about how their company impacted a customer to improve their business or life.

PeoplesBank’s openness, Raynor added, breeds pride in the company and one’s place within it, which suppresses the natural urge to believe the grass is greener somewhere else. “Being at a place like Peoplesbank and having those conversations, I know where the grass is greener, and that’s a pretty good feeling.”

Just a Little Respect

Mazzallo called on one more word to describe the workplace culture at PeoplesBank: Respect.

“I’ve worked for a lot of organizations in my life, and there’s something about this bank that, I think, leads with respect. When you have that in place, there are so many lessons that can be learned,” she told BusinessWest. “When we have strategic initiatives, we want to hear from every level of the organization … I think there’s a healthy respect for the people who are directly involved in day-to-day projects.”

Feliberty said young employees definitely want to be heard. “It’s important to feel we’re included, that we matter, that what we think is considered when making decisions.”

There’s also a healthy regard for trying new ideas that arise from those discussions, Mazzallo said, whether it’s a new product or a new technological innovation.

“It’s OK to make mistakes,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of employers will say that. But if you want to have an innovative organization, you have to take risks — smart risks. I think people feel they can be creative and take risks, and, as a result, some very, very innovative ideas have been created.”

Like the brainstorm, cultivated over time, that clearly communicating the company’s values — and making employees feel connected to those values — will not only keep them around, but motivate them to new heights.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Webber & Grinnell Insurance can trace its local origins all the way back to 1849, when the town was minting $5 coins from California gold-rush gold. This year, it was the Mass General Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital that was celebrating a bit of a gold rush. Bill Grinnell, the company’s president and current torch-bearer for the historically family-owned business, stopped by CDH last Friday to receive the center’s thanks for a $10,000 donation the agency made in December.

Grinnell met with Cooley Dickinson President and CEO Joanne Marqusee and Chief Development Officer Diane Dukette to receive an official thank-you on behalf of the agency, and to take a brief tour of the new facility.

“Instinct,” said Grinnell when asked why he made the pledge. “I was born at Cooley Dickinson, and I know people with cancer who have been treated here.” Grinnell went on to add that he “believes in supporting the community,” and was “excited to support a local institution where individuals can get the care they need, where they need it.”

The gift was one of the very last ones to come in that helped the Development team at Cooley Dickinson Health Care successfully close the campaign for the cancer center, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary of being open to the public in October 2016. In that time, the center treated 876 new patients in its medical oncology space and employed 55 staff in its radiation, infusion (chemotherapy), and medical oncology departments.

The Cancer Center also shares its new space with several other complementary disciplines, including palliative care, nutrition, genetics counseling, physical and occupational therapy, and social work, and hosts a monthly Liver Transplant Evaluation Clinic where patients can book consultations with specialists from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Boston-based Transplant Center. Recently, the center added access to new integrative therapies, including Reiki and massage therapy.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By Kathleen Mitchell

Mayor Linda Tyer

Mayor Linda Tyer says Pittsfield has made great strides in re-inventing itself and moving beyond its industrial past, dominated by General Electric.

Mayor Linda Tyer is a strong believer in the power of collaboration.

Several weeks ago, she gave the first State of the City address in Pittsfield’s history and outlined a myriad of multi-faceted projects that have come to fruition in the last year as a result of collaborative efforts.

Tyer told BusinessWest that investments designed to revitalize the city have taken root and change is occurring on a daily basis, which is good, because it’s needed as the city continues the process of reinventing itself.

“Pittsfield has a long history as an industrial town primarily because of GE’s large manufacturing facility,” she explained, referring to the massive complex that once employed more than 13,000 people. “The city relied on it for decades as its economic driver for real-estate taxes, employment, and community engagement.”

GE closed in the ’80s, which was a devastating blow and led to what Tyer refers to as a “grieving period that created self-doubt for the people who live here.”

Although a period of disinvestment followed, change began in 2000 when city officials decided to redefine Pittsfield’s identity.

Tyer was on the City Council at that time and recalled the city realized a robust cultural economy existed in the towns around them, but Pittsfield, which is the geographic and commercial hub of the area, was not participating in it.

Investments began downtown, and thanks to a collaborative effort by partners that included city officials, the community, state and federal legislators, and investors, today Pittsfield’s downtown boasts a thriving district that includes the Barrington and Colonial theaters, an independently owned movie theater, popular restaurants, and market-rate housing that followed as thousands of visitors flocked to the area.

“People want to live in our downtown, which is proof that the investments paid off,” Tyer said.

City officials have also helped local businesses, and the mayor said the belief that there are no jobs in Pittsfield is a myth. Indeed, numbers are rising: last January, the unemployment rate was 6.6%, which dropped to 3.3% by November.

“We strengthened workforce relationships last year and developed innovative training programs,” Tyer said, explaining that the workforce system generated $1.8 million that was used to train 1,250 people in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, STEM careers, finance, and customer service, and 70% of them found employment.

The city has also worked to retain local companies. Last July, after Covanta announced that it planned to close its Pittsfield facility, the City Council granted the waste-burning plant $562,000 to help with capital repairs and keep it open. The move saved 25 jobs and prevented a huge increase in trash-disposal costs, as a shutdown would have forced Pittsfield to have its trash and recyclables hauled away at an estimated annual cost of $462,000, in addition to losing $960,000 in property taxes, water and sewer user fees, and host-community fees over a four-year period.

Fiscal challenges lie ahead. But many steps will be taken to stabilize the issue, including cost containment, debt management, new revenue, and strategic investments that will prepare Pittsfield to not only survive, but thrive well into the future.”

The Hubbard Avenue facility incinerates 85,000 tons of waste per year and turns it into steam energy, which is then sold to Crane & Co. and Neenah Technical Materials. Republic Services hauls the city’s curbside collection to the site, including recyclables that are stored and later shipped in bulk to the Springfield Massachusetts Materials Recycling Facility.

The financial package Covanta received included state energy-tax credits, extended its contract with the city until 2020, and allowed the company to continue to sell steam energy to Crane and Neenah.

“But Covanta wasn’t the only company on our radar,” Tyer said, adding that five additional businesses were provided with assistance from a variety of incentive programs.

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at revitalization efforts in Pittsfield and what is being done to make it a place where Millennials want to live, which is one of the mayor’s goals. She noted they typically choose that place first, then look for a job, which is markedly different than past generations who moved to areas where they found employment.

“Millennials have a very different way of planning their lives,” said Tyer. “But we plan to capitalize on our growing art, culture, and entertainment economy; maximize our spectacular natural environment by updating our recreation and open space; invest in our housing stock; safeguard our educational institutions; and support small and mid-sized businesses and their aspirations for growth in new markets for the people who live here now as well as future generations that will call Pittsfield home.”

Neighborhood Focus

Over the past year, the Tyler Street business corridor has been the focus of combined energy, effort, and investment. The area is adjacent to North Street, Pittsfield’s downtown thoroughfare, and is bookended by Berkshire Health Systems, the city’s largest employer, and the William Stanley Business Park.

In December 2014, Pittsfield’s Community Development Department, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, and the Tyler Street Business Group applied to have the neighborhood become a state-designated Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) district.

The application was accepted, and the agencies have formed a core partnership in this program, administered by MassDevelopment, that leverages public dollars to stimulate private investment in selected neighborhoods in gateway cities.

“We are very privileged to have MassDevelopment as a partner,” the mayor said. “This will allow Pittsfield to receive enhanced technical assistance, real-estate services, and equity investments to support our vision for redevelopment. We’re learning what the citizens want, as well as working to understand the needs of small businesses there, and will develop a plan to help Tyler Street become a unique, thriving, working, residential neighborhood where typical day-to-day needs can be met within walking distance.”

Amewusika “Sika” Sedzro is the TDI fellow for Pittsfield, and she noted that MassDevelopment hired a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of the area and come up with recommendations for an action plan.

Two meetings were held to get public input, and a forum was staged for developers to find out what is needed to spur interest in structures that have been vacant for long periods of time.

The final report was due when BusinessWest went to press, but Sedzro said it quickly became clear that developers want easy access to data about available parcels, information about incentive programs, and a streamlined process to help bring submitted plans to fruition.

“There is a lot of property of this size available in the Tyler Street District, and we’re working with businesses and developers to understand the barriers to entry given current market conditions,” Sedzro noted, adding that she is available to talk about properties and incentives available from the city and MassDevelopment that include low-interest loans, access to capital, and technical assistance.

The Tyler Street neighborhood has a growing Latino and Asian population, and a number of new businesses have been opened by entrepreneurial immigrants.

“It’s a really positive indicator, especially since Berkshire Health, Sabic Innovative Plastics, and the William Stanley Business Park are in close proximity to the neighborhood,” Sedzro said, explaining that Pittsfield TDI plans to coordinate measures that could lead to an even more diverse economy.

The city is also working to expand the Housing Development Incentive Program into the Tyler Street District, which could benefit a developer who hopes to purchase the St. Mary’s Church campus and convert three of its buildings into market-rate housing. The campus has been vacant for more than two decades and contains the church, a school, a convent, and a rectory.

The developer is in negotiations with the Diocese of Springfield, and the city and state are working to provide incentives to move forward.

The Tyler Street TDI is part of the Morningside neighborhood, and last June that area received a $75,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation.

“It’s a grass-roots effort that includes efforts aimed at the arts, pride of place, and increasing food options and availability,” Sedzro said.

The money will be used to create a soup kitchen in the Berkshire Dream Center, an urban working farm in Springside Park, and an augmentation of community gardens that would allow their produce to be used by local businesses.

Continued Improvements

The cultural and entertainment district in Pittsfield’s downtown continues to grow as infrastructure improvements add to its attractiveness.

A four-phase streetscape project was recently completed, and North Street has a new look that includes street resurfacing, sidewalk improvements, decorative street lighting, increased seating, medians with plantings, and high-visibility crosswalks compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

New, solar-powered parking kiosks were installed last month as part of the city’s parking-management plan, and are equipped with a parking app that provides a simplified way to manage parking needs.

“Pittsfield’s parking is still friendly; the first 30 minutes are free, and so are nights and weekends,” Tyer said, noting that parking is also free for people with handicap placards.

A grass-roots movement led voters to approve the adoption of the Community Preservation Act in November, which will provide funds that can be used for public and private projects including historic preservation, recreation, open space, and housing.

“The next step is to establish a community-preservation committee that will develop a plan and identify priorities so projects can be funded early in 2018,” Tyer said.

She outlined other collaborations in her State of the City Address that include the revitalization of Willard and Rosemary Durant Park in the Westside.

Neighborhood volunteers installed a new playground and swingset paid for by Community Development Block Grant funds, and Greylock Credit Union has made a commitment to build a permanent pavilion there.

Other collective efforts aimed at youth include a free Sticks for Kids golf program and Dig This Volleyball initiative that have helped children learn new skills. In addition, donations from local businesses have led to innovative art and education programs, and grant money will pay for a strategic plan to provide high-quality education to more preschool children.

The city is also getting help with municipal finances due to a community compact that was formed with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s office and gives officials access to financial expertise from UMass Collins Center.

Tyer said they hope to meet two goals as a result of the collaboration. The first is to create a comprehensive, five-year financial forecast that will serve as a guide in establishing budget priorities and matching them against projected revenues and funding obligations such as pensions, health insurance, and debt service.

The second is the development of a comprehensive budget document that will allow the City Council and residents to understand the mission of different city departments and the spending plan for the upcoming year.

“Fiscal challenges lie ahead. But many steps will be taken to stabilize the issue, including cost containment, debt management, new revenue, and strategic investments that will prepare Pittsfield to not only survive, but thrive well into the future,” Tyer said.

She added that the city is also addressing blight. Last summer, four vacant residential properties were demolished, and six additional properties were scheduled for demolition last month.

Bright Future

All of the economic-development efforts planned or underway have involved a collaborative effort between stakeholders that include community organizations, businesses, residents, and city, state, and federal officials.

“My administration respects and values cross-collaborations internally and seeks partnerships outside of city government that will help Pittsfield to thrive; we have turned the corner in terms of designing our future, and the city is on its way to becoming the vibrant, dynamic place it deserves to be,” the mayor said, noting that many well-attended events were held last year, including the municipal airport’s first air show, the 10th Third Thursday street festival, and the fifth Upstreet Arts Festival, which attracted more than 10,000 people.

Indeed, this former industrial city is on an upward trajectory. Its future is brighter than it has been for decades, and the positive forecast should continue as Pittsfield redefines its image and alerts developers and businesses to opportunities in its diverse neighborhoods.

 

Pittsfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 44,737 (2016)
Area: 42.5 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $39.78
Commercial Tax Rate: $19.63
Median Household Income: $50,765 (2015)
median family Income: $65,297 (2015)
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Berkshire Health Systems; General Dynamics; Petricca Industries Inc.; SABIC Innovative Plastics
* Latest information available

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Hits 12-Year High

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit its highest level in 12 years during December amid the prospect of growth initiatives from the new administration in Washington and a continued strong state economy. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.3 points to 60.4 last month, a full 5.1 points higher than its level in December 2015 and the highest reading since December 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in sentiment among employers in the Commonwealth, where the unemployment rate recently fell to 2.9%. The November and December BCI readings mirror the post-election rally in U.S. financial markets, which have risen 5% as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to work with a Republican Congress on business-friendly issues such as tax reductions, regulatory reform, and infrastructure spending. The AIM survey showed a 5.5-point jump in confidence in the national economy last month, leaving that indicator at its highest level since 2007. “Massachusetts employers are taking the president-elect at his word that he will prioritize economic growth at the national level, especially if he is able to work with Congressional Democrats on a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “But employer enthusiasm is also based upon a solid economic expansion during 2016 that most analysts believe will continue in a methodical manner though the first half of 2017.” The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 2 points to 61.8, leaving it 5.5 points ahead of the same time last year. The increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions put that figure 7.5 points higher than its level of a year ago, but still short of the Massachusetts index. It marked the 80th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.2 points to 59.1, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.5 points to 61.7. The future outlook was 5.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015. The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 60.9, while the Sales Index increased 3.2 points to 61.4. The Employment Index was the only indicator to lose ground, falling 0.2 points to 57.2. The AIM survey found that nearly 38% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% planning to hire and only 10% downsizing. “One of the most positive results of the December survey is that business confidence is strengthening uniformly across almost every sector of the economy,” said Elliot Winer, chief economist at Winer Economic Consulting and a BEA member. “Employers both large and small, manufacturers and non-manufacturers, from the Pioneer Valley to Greater Boston, are more optimistic about their prospects than at any time since prior to the Great Recession.” The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 0.6 points during the month and 2.6 points for the year. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 63.3 compared to 56.7 for manufacturing companies. Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 61.4 than those in the western part of the state at 57.6. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be encouraged by the prospect that Trump and a Republican Congress will be able to pass their tax and regulatory agenda. At the same time, Lord said, there remains uncertainty about a possible repeal of federal healthcare reform and the future of international trade agreements that are critical to Massachusetts companies. “The only certainty appears to be uncertainty for the next six months,” Lord said. “The key will be to ensure that any tax reductions and regulatory reforms made on the national level are not obviated by state measures intended to make Massachusetts a progressive model for the rest of the country.”

Advertising Club Calls for Scholarship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts announced that its 2017 scholarship applications are now available online at adclubwm.org. Applications will also be available through guidance departments at high schools in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, or by contacting the Ad Club at (413) 736-2582. Western Mass. seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or technical school in the fall of 2017 to study advertising, communications, marketing, or graphics arts are encouraged to apply. The scholarship must be applied against tuition and fees at the school. Candidates will be judged on academic performance; extracurricular activities; community service and/or work experience; a demonstrated interest in advertising, communications, marketing, or graphic design; personal recommendations; and a letter of introduction outlining future plans. In 2017, one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded. Completed scholarship applications and all support materials must be submitted to the Ad Club and postmarked by Friday, Feb. 24. Scholarship decisions are made by the scholarship committee of Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and are considered final. The scholarship will be awarded at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show in May.

Grinspoon Foundation, Big Y AnnounceLocal Farmer Awards

AGAWAM — In partnership with Big Y, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF) announced the third year of the Local Farmer Awards, a program to support local farmers with projects that will help them compete in the marketplace. The awards are for equipment and physical farm improvements. “Big Y has been partnering with and supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” President and Chief Operating Officer Charles D’Amour said. “Through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” In an effort to have the widest impact, individual award recipients  a total of over $110,000 in awards. Realizing the importance of local farms in our region, Grinspoon launched these awards in 2015. The 2016 awards were distributed to 47 of the 128 applicants. The two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), will continue to provide insight and assistance. Philip Korman, executive director of CISA, noted that “we are so pleased to continue to work with everyone involved in this unique farm awards program to support the vital role family farms play in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts to strengthen their farm businesses. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The deadline for applying is Tuesday, Jan. 31. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit www.farmerawards.org for more information.

Greater Springfield Named 13th-least-dangerous Metro Area for Pedestrians

SPRINGFIELD — In light of Smart Growth America naming Greater Springfield the 13th-least dangerous metro area in the country for pedestrians, as well as Massachusetts ranking in the top 10 least-dangerous states for pedestrians, as part of its 2016 edition of “Dangerous by Design,” the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) is highlighting some of its collaborative efforts to make the streets of the Pioneer Valley safer for automobiles, bikers, and pedestrians. “While we are obviously happy to see Greater Springfield named the 13th-least-dangerous metro area in the United States [for pedestrians], there is clearly much more work to be done, especially on behalf of older residents, residents of color, and low-income families, who are disproportionately vulnerable as pedestrians, according to this recent report,” said Gary Roux, PVPC principal transportation planner and traffic manager. “Our regional efforts to implement complete street design into our communities will ensure our future roadways will be safe for all forms of travel.” In the pursuit of safer roadways in the Pioneer Valley, the PVPC has been actively working in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, WalkBoston, and the state Department of Public Health on Vision Zero Planning, an approach to transportation safety planning that sets a target of eliminating all serious injuries and deaths due to road traffic crashes; collaborating with member communities to apply Complete Streets design into local roads, implementing the state Department of Transportation Complete Streets funding program that promotes roadway planning that considers the safety of drivers, bikers, and pedestrians; contributing $2 million in planning and public-engagement efforts for Live Well Springfield, a community movement to support healthy and active living; and partnering with the communities of Holyoke, Springfield, Northampton, and South Hadley on bike-pedestrian visioning and planning efforts. Additionally, the PVPC has released a draft update report of the “Top 100 High-crash Intersections in the Pioneer Valley,” to help the region’s urban communities target their roadway safety-improvement efforts. A community-by-community listing of dangerous intersections is also currently being prepared to allow all 43 PVPC member communities to address their most pressing transportation-design needs.

Springfield Leadership Institute to Begin Session

SPRINGFIELD — The 2017 Springfield Leadership Institute will emphasize strategies and techniques designed to create high-energy and high-involvement leadership for middle and upper mangers who have potential to make an impact on their organization and the community, and who serve in key roles in volunteer organizations. The Institute, which begins on Feb. 9 and runs for seven consecutive Thursdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., is directed by Robert Kleine III, dean of the Western New England University College of Business, and Jack Greeley, executive-in-residence at the university. Greeley has a strong background in management, strategic planning, and consulting to a variety of organizations. Sessions will focus on problem solving, learning to ask the right questions, and implementing creative and innovative solutions for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Participants will actively explore best practices of leaders; analyze their own leadership, learning, and problem solving styles; and experience the synergies that result from high-performing teams. The emphasis will be on experiential activities that provide opportunities to identify, develop, and refine skill sets for effective leadership. All sessions will be held at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Upon successful completion of Leadership 2017, participants will be eligible to enroll in a free graduate course offered through the College of Business at Western New England University (subject to certain requirements). Applications must be received by Wednesday, Feb. 1. Tuition is $885 per participant. For questions about the program or the application process, e-mail Jessica Hill at [email protected]

Community Foundation Gives $1,306,600 to Nonprofits

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is awarding $1,306,600 to 78 local nonprofit organizations in the Pioneer Valley, with awards ranging from $3,700 to $30,000. The Community Foundation awards competitive grants each year, with funds targeting projects addressing community needs in arts and culture, education, the environment, health, housing, and human services for residents of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Over 40 of the projects funded were supported by trusts administered by Bank of America. The Community Foundation receives and reviews grant applications on behalf of Bank of America for four charitable trusts for which the bank serves as a trustee. One award was made as part of the Community Foundation’s Challenge Program to support capital campaigns taking place in the Pioneer Valley region. The $30,000 award requires a one-to-one match. Berkshire Hills Music Academy is the 2017 Challenge Grant recipient. Other grants include $20,000 to the Center for New Americans to support the training of staff and volunteers who work annually with immigrants living in the Pioneer Valley on immigration legal issues; $25,000 to Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society Inc. for masonry repairs to the exterior of the organization’s Springfield location; $25,000 to Community Music School of Springfield Inc. for its children’s chorus music program; and $25,000 to Baystate Health Foundation Inc. for its new surgical center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “These grants are a tremendous investment in our community and in the nonprofits that under take this important work. We are fortunate to have generous donors and committed volunteers to make this investment possible,” said Community Foundation Senior Program Officer Sheila Toto. Grant funding comes from distributions from 38 funds established by various individuals and groups committed to supporting local nonprofits. These donors rely on the Community Foundation’s volunteers and staff to focus their funds for effective use by nonprofit agencies in the Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin county communities. Thirteen volunteer members of the Community Foundation’s Distribution Committee and 12 project reviewers carefully evaluated 109 applications for funding requests totaling more than $2.1 million.

Federal Funding Helps Area Farms Save Energy

NORTHAMPTON — Farms and rural small businesses in Massachusetts seeking to reduce energy costs or install clean energy technologies have long relied on the state Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) Mass. Farm Energy Program (MFEP) for funding and technical assistance. New funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) will support the work of the MFEP. The USDA has awarded a $33,000 Rural Business Development Grant to the Center for EcoTechnology (CET), a nonprofit based in Northampton, which manages MFEP. CET will use the grant to provide timely information, funding request assistance, and technical assistance to rural farms that wish to improve their energy efficiency and reduce operating costs. MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux will join Massachusetts elected officials, USDA RD Southern New England Director Scott Soares, and Lorenzo Macaluso of CET on Friday, Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. at Smith’s Farmstead, 20 Otter River Road, Winchendon. Attendees will have the opportunity to tour the farm’s renewable and efficiency projects. USDA funding adds to funding sources the MFEP draws on to provide help to farms, including funding from public utilities, the USDA, MDAR, municipal utilities, the Mass. Clean Energy Center, and a variety of energy-efficiency and clean-energy rebates.

State Earns Top Ranking for Public-health Preparedness

BOSTON — The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) has recognized Massachusetts as first in the nation when it comes to preventing, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, bioterrorism, and natural and man-made disasters. The findings were published in TFAH’s annual “Ready or Not?” report, which ranks all 50 states on a set of key preparedness indicators. “Our top ranking in the Trust for America’s Health report is a testament to the collaborative efforts of public-health and emergency-management agencies, hospitals, health centers, healthcare providers, community-based organizations, and residents to make Massachusetts as prepared and resilient as possible, no matter what,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. The TFAH report ranks each state on 10 indicators, including public-health funding commitment, National Health Security Preparedness Index, public-health accreditation, flu-vaccination rate, climate-change readiness, food safety, reducing healthcare-associated infections, public-health laboratories (biosafety training), public-health laboratories (biosafety professional on staff), and emergency healthcare access. Massachusetts was the only state in the nation to receive credit for all 10 indicators.

Report Details STEM Employment in State

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on occupational employment and wages for scienc, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations in Massachusetts’ metropolitan areas and divisions for May 2015. These data are supplied by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, which produces employment and wage estimates for the U.S., by state, and by metropolitan area for more than 800 occupations. Among selected metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua New England City and Town Area (Boston NECTA) had wages that were significantly higher than the respective national averages for three STEM occupations — computer-user support specialists ($63,840), applications-software developers ($109,540), and systems-software developers ($115,180). Leominster ($58,940) also had above-average wages for computer-user support specialists, while Pittsfield ($40,790) had wages that were significantly lower than the U.S. average for this occupation. Wages for applications software developers in the Lawrence NECTA division ($112,050) were significantly higher than the national average of $102,160. Conversely, Springfield ($94,610) had wages that were significantly below the national average for this occupation. The Boston NECTA had a combined employment of 69,990 for the three selected STEM occupations, with 49,230 of these jobs in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton NECTA division. Among the other selected areas, Worcester and Springfield had a combined employment of 2,630 and 2,450, respectively, for the three occupations.

PVPC Releases New Edition of Hiking and Biking Guide

SPRINGFIELD — Recognizing both the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities and natural beauty within the region, as well as its unique involvement in the creation and protection of much of it, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) has released its second edition of “Pioneer Valley Trails: A Hiking and Biking Guide.” Self-published using revenue from the sale of the guide’s first edition, which has sold over 2,200 copies since 2011, the PVPC is hoping this comprehensive map of Hampden and Hampshire County’s recreational opportunities remains a popular item within the region’s many outdoor outfitters. In preparing the guide, the PVPC reached out to many cooperating entities for data and map information, including all 43 PVPC member municipalities, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as nonprofit partners such as the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon. The guide includes many of the Pioneer Valley’s most popular trails, including the New England National Scenic Trail and the Robert Frost Trail for hiking, as well as the Manhan Rail Trail and Norwottuck – Mass Central Rail Trail for biking. It also includes many smaller trails spread out across the region’s cities and towns, allowing visitors and residents alike to discover new opportunities to enjoy nature. Since 1962, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has been the designated regional planning body for the Pioneer Valley region, which encompasses 43 cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire counties. PVPC is the primary agency responsible for increasing communication, cooperation, and coordination among all levels of government as well as the private business and civic sectors in order to benefit the Pioneer Valley region and to improve its residents’ quality of life.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts announced that its 2017 scholarship applications are now available online at adclubwm.org. Applications will also be available through guidance departments at high schools in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, or by contacting the Ad Club at (413) 736-2582.

Western Mass. seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or technical school in the fall of 2017 to study advertising, communications, marketing, or graphics arts are encouraged to apply. The scholarship must be applied against tuition and fees at the school. Candidates will be judged on academic performance; extracurricular activities; community service and/or work experience; a demonstrated interest in advertising, communications, marketing, or graphic design; personal recommendations; and a letter of introduction outlining future plans.

In 2017, one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded. Completed scholarship applications and all support materials must be submitted to the Ad Club and postmarked by Friday, Feb. 24. Scholarship decisions are made by the scholarship committee of Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and are considered final. The scholarship will be awarded at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show in May.

Sections Technology

Data Delivery

Pioneer Training President Don Lesser

Pioneer Training President Don Lesser

Don Lesser wasn’t planning on a career in computers, but the field found him through a series of opportunities that arose during the 1980s. Those became the basis for Pioneer Training, which, for more than a quarter-century, has helped companies in myriad fields navigate the ever-changing world of technology and make their operations more efficient.

The computer field was an accidental career for many people back in the 1980s, Don Lesser says, because it was so new. He counts himself as one of those who stumbled into it, and he’s grateful he did.

In 1977, Lesser earned a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing. While in the MFA course, he learned word processing, which was a boon to novel writers, who would previously edit their work and then spend two weeks retyping it. An interest in computing soon followed.

In the 1980s, he started doing corporate training and technical writing as part of the Pioneer Valley PC User Group, which he chaired for several years. As part of the group, he started teaching classes on how to use DOS word processors and other equipment. That led him to Valley Data, then a large tech company in the region, which asked him to teach computer classes.

That led to even broader opportunities, which he recognized, creating the company known today as Pioneer Training.

“Other companies weren’t happy about sending people to Valley Data for training, so we broke off and became a separate company,” Lesser said. “Everyone needed training back in those days; it was new to everyone. People didn’t even know not to press ‘enter’ at the end of every line.”

“Throughout the ’80s,” he went on, “I was using word processing, but I also got interested in programming. I asked the fateful question, ‘how does this all work?’ The answer was ‘zeroes and ones.’ But I needed to know more than that.”

In 1990, Lesser forged a partnership with two others and started offering computer classes in the Hampshire Mall in Hadley. In 1995, with a need to expand, the business moved to a suite of offices on Bobala Road in Holyoke. During these years, the company grew to seven employees and 20 consultants, and the outfit was conducting 12 to 16 classes a week.

“Once you do training for somebody, they tend to trust you,” he said, and companies began approaching Pioneer for other services, including database programming and automation. In fact, those areas of the business began to grow until, around 2003, they were outpacing the training aspect of the company. “By 2006, training had really fallen off, and programming had taken off. So we followed the market.”

The company no longer needed the large classroom space in Holyoke, so in 2008, Lesser and a smaller, core group of team members moved to their current, smaller space in Northampton, where they still conduct classes in Microsoft Access, Excel, Google Apps, PowerPoint, Windows 10, Word, and other software — but focus mainly on other services to clients.


List of Computer Network/IT Services in Western Mass.


These days, training is 30% of the business, and the rest is programming, he explained. “To be honest, most public classes don’t run frequently. But we do private classes; for example, a law firm will call us and say, ‘we need some training,’ and either we’ll go down there and set up computers in their conference room, or they’ll send people here.”

Today, Lesser, as company president works with three others — Mannie White, director of training; Graham Ridley, consultant and director of programming; and Deb Napier, consultant and programmer — to meet the ever-changing computer needs of a loyal client base. Although training is still in the name, the company does much more than that.

Breaking It Down

Take programming, for instance. “A lot of programming consists of automating tasks for departments … turning a two-day process into a 20-minute process, most of which is watching the computer work,” Lesser told BusinessWest.

“We’re smaller now, so we don’t need a lot of companies to keep going,” he said. “New clients come in, we figure out what they need, provide it, and add them to the fold. Most of our new opportunities are smaller companies in this area. And a lot of small companies are quite behind what the MassMutuals are doing. We’re bringing them up to speed; that’s where our bread and butter is.”

Some need more help than others, he added — even if they don’t think so. “A couple of companies are still in Word Perfect, and they prefer not to leave Word Perfect, and we have to accommodate them.”

Many small and medium-size companies, he explained, start out by tracking company data on Excel spreadsheets. As they grow and their operations become more complex, working with a web of spreadsheets can become unwieldy and time-consuming. So Pioneer Training helps clients move to Microsoft Access, which is a more robust data-management tool that also saves employees time.

Other services Pioneer provides might include designing a database from scratch that meets a company’s current needs; automating complicated tasks so they can be performed by non-technical users; creating custom forms for inputting data; creating standardized, yet flexible, custom reports for the most effective data display; updating an existing database to meet a company’s changing needs; creating processes for regular data imports and exports; and consolidating data for better data mining.

Clients include companies from a wide range of industries. Pioneer’s database projects, for example, include developing a process-router database for a national metals testing and finishing company, which tracks and organizes processing steps required for complex metal-plating work; and work for a local transport firm to consolidate several processes that manage its day-to-day operations into one Access database.

Meanwhile, examples of Pioneer’s office-automation clients include a regional bank in Western Mass., for which it automated the creation and printing of a certified letter form for bank letters; developed a set of macros to automate printing of letters from the bank to customers; and created a set of 42 separate charts to track loan categories. Meanwhile, for an international bioscience and lab reporting firm, Pioneer developed an automated process to extract data from lab reports, create charts based on the extracted data, and insert charts and data into a Word template for use in court proceedings. It also simplified the company’s billing by analyzing data and producing a number of reports summarizing data in various categories.

The team at Pioneer Training

The team at Pioneer Training, from left: Don Lesser, Deb Napier, Mannie White, and Graham Ridley.

As for its training arm, Pioneer maintains many repeat clients in a number of fields, from colleges to law firms to nonprofits. As one example, Western New England University wanted to offer staff the opportunity to upgrade their Word, Excel, and Outlook skills beyond the basics, so Lesser and his team designed a training program to meet the university’s goals, running a well-attended series of classes in all three applications.

On a national scale, Pioneer also developed online training courses for Pearson Education and reviewed the manuals for Microsoft Office 2000 and 2003, which involved testing every step in the book and flagging errors. “I feel like I’m one of four people in America who has written a formula for every function built into Excel,” Lesser said.

Lesser feels there’s more opportunity out there — “people still need training,” he said, “but fewer companies want to pay for it” — but the volume of work coming in keeps the four team members plenty busy, and he’s happy with the size of the business and the level of trust he has in White, Ridley, and Napier.

“We’ll tell you what works best for your company,” he said. “If people don’t feel like you’re holding them hostage, they’ll call when they need you, and they’ll be happy.”

Looking Back

Lately, Lesser has been producing training materials for Sanderson MacLeod, a brush manufacturer in Palmer.

“I started out doing corporate training, and now it’s coming full circle,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s technical, teaching someone how to use the machines to create the brushes. It’s not computers, not Microsoft Office-based, but they still need the training. I like to think of what I do as a spectrum, with pure training on one end and pure consulting on the other end, and I’m really happy to be anywhere along that line.”

Of the 50 people in that MFA program he took back in 1977, he said, maybe 20 are still writing fiction. Most of the others, like Lesser, wound up in far different fields, although he has continued to write, including a stint as a food columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“That was the beauty of the computer industry in the ’80s. You didn’t set out to be a computer person,” he said. “I think a lot of artists — musicians, writers — fell into it. There was a lot of overlap. I’ve noticed that programming is a lot like writing. The output is different, but it comes from the same place inside me. I’ll see a problem and envision the solution fully developed. The work is getting the pieces down to make sure they work.”

When they do, that’s his personal reward.

“I think of it as moral work, in that we’re doing good for people, and we’re making their lives easier and better. I don’t want to put down any other occupation, but it’s not a matter of figuring out how to get money from someone who doesn’t want to give it to you; it’s a matter of figuring out how to solve somebody’s problem. It’s satisfying.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Company Notebook Departments

HCC Campus Center Begins $43.5 Million Renovation

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is about to embark on a two-year, $43.5 million renovation project that will transform the look, feel, and organization of the campus. The HCC Campus Center is scheduled to close Feb. 3, 2017, and construction will begin soon after. When it reopens in 2019, college officials say, the building will be a place that truly lives up to its name. Originally known as G Building, the sloping, three-story concrete structure sits in the middle of the campus between an intermittent stream choked with invasive plants and the HCC Courtyard. Since it opened in 1980, the Campus Center has been plagued by water leaks. Projects that would have waterproofed the building have been delayed since at least 2008. “The main impetus for this is to get the building watertight,” said interim HCC President Bill Fogarty. “Then we also wanted to do things that will improve the operation of the building and make it a real campus center.” The state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance is in charge of the project. Walsh Brothers Construction of Boston has been hired as the general contractor. The state has already allocated $8 million for the current fiscal year to begin the project, with the remainder of the funding to follow, Fogarty said. The key features of the project include squaring off the building’s sloping façade and giving the entire building given a new exterior shell that will make it both weathertight and energy-efficient. The squaring off and the addition of large windows on its eastern side will give the building a look that complements the adjacent Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development, which opened in 2003. About 9,000 square feet of space will be added to the current 58,727. A glass atrium will be added to the west side of the building, covering a set of double stairs that descend from the lower courtyard into an area known as the ‘pit’ that now serves as the main entrance to the food court and cafeteria. On the east side of the building, the open balcony on the second floor will be enclosed, adding extra interior space to the student dining area. The first floor of the Campus Center, on the side facing Homestead Avenue, will become the new ‘front door’ to the campus, accessed by a bridge to be built over a restored Tannery Brook. HCC Admissions, Assessment Services (college placement testing), and the ACT Center (Advising, Career and Transfer Affairs) — now in the Frost Building — will relocate to a new Welcome Center. Admissions will have a dedicated parking lot, and a separate, college-funded project will reconfigure traffic flow, creating a new bus drop in the front of the campus. The Campus Store (formerly the College Bookstore) will move from the first floor to the second floor, on the same level as the food court and cafeteria. The second floor will include programs and departments focused on student engagement, including Student Activities, Student Clubs, and Multicultural Academic Services (MAS), which are being relocated to the building from other parts of the campus.

AIC Awarded Grant from Davis Educational Foundation

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) has been awarded $186,400 over three years in support of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship. The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Stanton Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. In an effort to strengthen and bring together student support services in one accessible location on campus, AIC created the Center for Academic Success (CAS) in 2008 with support from Davis Educational Foundation and others. CAS offers a number of student-support programs, including mentoring and advising, a writing program, tutoring, and support for first-generation college students. The AIC Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CETLS) is designed to complement the efforts of CAS by enhancing a vibrant academic culture at AIC. The mission of CETLS is to provide all faculty members with opportunities to achieve and be recognized for teaching excellence, be supported in scholarship, and grow through collaboration and community. When CETLS was created in 2014, a regular schedule of workshops and grants for travel to conferences on teaching and learning were offered to AIC faculty for the first time. CETLS now offers a variety of opportunities for faculty development.

Berkshire Medical Group Joins Berkshire Health Systems

PITTSFIELD — In a move that will help to ensure continued and expanded access to primary care and infectious disease services in the Berkshires, the Berkshire Medical Group has joined the Berkshire Health Systems Physician Practice organization. Berkshire Medical Group, an Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease practice, includes Paula Aucoin, MD, Rebecca Caine, MD, Prakash Darji, MD, Jason Kittler, MD, Michael McInerney, MD, Sharon Rawlings, MD, Amy Cassotta, ANP-BC, Helen Majchrowski, FNP/C, and Wanda Torres, ANP-BC. The practice has been renamed Berkshire Internists of BMC, and will remain at its existing location in the BMC Medical Arts Complex in Pittsfield, with few if any noticeable changes for patients. This partnership helps to stabilize the physician practice and ensure continued and expanded access to critical primary care and infectious disease services. Growing changes in healthcare policy and in the health insurance reimbursement system have challenged the viability of private physician practices. Healthcare systems like BHS are increasingly relied upon to ensure current and future access to critical services for the community by investing in physician practices and ensuring they have the necessary support systems and financial stability and investment to succeed in the long-term. By becoming part of the BHS physician practice group, Berkshire Medical Group can not only continue to serve its patients, but has the enhanced ability to expand through the support of Berkshire Health Systems’ comprehensive physician recruitment program, which has successfully expanded critical patient access to primary care and specialties across the Berkshires.

JGS Lifecare Opens Michael’s Café

LONGMEADOW — JGS Lifecare opened Michael’s Café at the Sosin Center for Rehabilitation on Dec. 12, the first day residents moved into the new rehab center. The kosher café offers classics like grab-and-go sandwiches on rye bread, bagels, baked goods, salads, and soup, as well as specialty items like ‘Converse Street potatoes,’ shakshuka, and slow-simmered corned beef, which will be available on Wednesdays. “We hope it will be a community gathering space for residents, guests, and families to meet, enjoy a meal, and gather with friends,” said Alexis Girhiny, director of Food Services at JGS Lifecare. The kosher café is dedicated to the memory of the late Michael Frankel, who was an outspoken advocate for Project Transformation, an initiative of reimagining and improving how care is delivered across the JGS Lifecare family of services. “Naming the café in his honor is a permanent tribute not only to Frankel’s extraordinary commitment to the care of our elders at the highest standards, but also his vision for JGS Lifecare for generations to come,” said Susan Kimball Halpern, vice president of Philanthropy for JGS Lifecare. The work of several local artists is displayed in the café and throughout the Sosin Center. Artists include Lewis Bryden, Diana Cote, Heidi Coutu, Laura Eden, Peiliang Jin, Cindy Lutz Kornet, Laura Radwell, and Jim Rosenthal.

STCC Honored for Reducing Greenhouse-gas Emissions

SPRINGFIELD — The state named Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) a 2016 Leading by Example Award Winner in the higher-education category for its efforts to advance energy efficiency and sustainability on campus. Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito recently recognized STCC and other state agencies, public colleges, municipalities, and public-sector individuals for their leadership in promoting clean energy and environmental initiatives with the 10th annual Leading by Example Awards. The Leading by Example program — a division of the Department of Energy Resources — coordinates clean energy and environmental opportunities at facilities owned and operated by the Commonwealth. “As a member of the Greater Springfield community, we believe it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and promote the use of clean energy and sustainable practices,” said Joseph DaSilva, STCC’s vice president of Administration and chief financial officer. “We are proud of the accomplishments we have made so far. We continue to develop and implement new initiatives regularly. All of our initiatives are not only environmentally necessary, but also save us a great deal of money operationally.” According the Department of Energy Resources, STCC was recognized for its progress and creative approach to reducing its carbon footprint. STCC has reduced greenhouse-gas emissions more than 40% percent since 2011. The college is implementing several sustainability efforts, including energy efficiency, waste reduction, recycling, and a green building renovation. Highlights of STCC’s clean-energy efforts include upgrading the heating system in fiscal year 2014, saving an estimated $200,000 a year; adding insulation, upgraded windows, and installed LED lights across campus to address efficiency challenges in historic buildings; connecting the curriculum of the Architecture and Building Technology Program to the historic building-renovation project targeting LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver certification; switching to single-stream recycling in 2015, and upgrading containers and signage; reducing use of disposable water bottles with six bottle-filling stations on campus; implementing a double-sided printing requirement, reducing paper waste and saving an estimated $14,000 a year in printing costs; and streamlining the campus shuttle route to save fuel and reduce emissions.

WNEU College of Pharmacy Hosts Chinese Pharmacists

SPRINGFIELD — The Western New England University (WNEU) College of Pharmacy recently welcomed six Chinese pharmacists to the university as part of the Pharmacy Education and Clinical Pharmacy Practice Training Program, a partnership with Yale New-Haven Hospital and the Chinese Pharmacological Society – Division of Therapeutic Drug Monitoring Research (CPS-TDM). The program allows international pharmacists to spend one month at the WNEU College of Pharmacy to learn about doctor of pharmacy education, and five months at Yale New-Haven Hospital to learn about the practice of pharmacy in the U.S. The program represents a new opportunity for international collaboration at Western New England University, and is managed by Dr. Shusen Sun, director of International Pharmacy Programs and board member of CPS-TDM. The Chinese pharmacists attend College of Pharmacy didactic lectures, case discussions, interactions with students on clinical rotations, and faculty-development seminars. A variety of lectures and topics of discussions are offered, including pharmacy admissions process, accreditation standards and outcome assessment, curricular design, mission and vision development, experiential education, pharmacists as educators, and leadership development in pharmacy practice. The visiting pharmacists also have opportunities to interact with faculty to discuss research and clinical practice.

WNEU School of Law Sweeps ABA Competition

SPRINGFIELD — Western New England University (WNEU) School of Law entered the American Bar Assoc. (ABA) Region 1 Negotiation Competition with three two-person teams this fall. A total of 16 law-school teams from throughout New England and New York competed at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford. After two days of intense competition, the three WNEU teams finished in first, second, and third place, sweeping the competition. The teams included law students Thomas Holman and Joseph Masse in first place, Kimberly Roche and Matthew Minniefield in second place, and Rachna Khanna and Egzon Beha in third place. “I learned the importance of creative problem solving in negotiations,” Roche said. “Sometimes you have to go beyond typical solutions and find a creative, alternative solution that both clients will accept.” The university teams that placed first and second in the ABA Region 1 competition will go on to compete nationally in Chicago in February. Assisting Professor René Reich-Graefe in coaching the teams were law alumni Sandra San Emeterio, Mark Borenstein, Cara Hale, and Chris Rousseau. “I’m so very proud of all the Western New England students,” San Emeterio said. “My fondest memory of law school is the time I spent on the negotiation team. Best of luck in Chicago, and I hope to get the opportunity to work with you again.” In the 2015 ABA competition, the School of Law team of Rousseau and Emily Dubuc went on to compete in the finals in San Diego.

Reap Talks Leadership with Young Professionals

CHICOPEE — Elms College hosted a leadership luncheon for the Young Professional Society (YPS) of Greater Springfield on Dec. 7. The keynote speaker at the event was the college’s president, Mary Reap. In her lecture, Reap discussed the importance of recognizing opportunities, even unexpected or perhaps at-first unwelcome ones, and taking advantage of them to further one’s career goals. She also talked about developing diplomacy and perseverance, banishing self-doubt, and learning from mistakes. YPS is a group of young professionals who work and live in Western Mass., particularly around the Greater Springfield area, bringing them together to exchange ideas, share common interests, and become the Pioneer Valley’s leaders of tomorrow. The group aims to represent the region’s corporate, nonprofit, and cultural interests by engaging a younger demographic in several distinct areas, including business and career development, networking, cultural and community involvement, educational opportunities, volunteerism, and recreational and social activities. The lunch series, formerly called the CEO Luncheon Series, is meant to highlight prominent local business owners who are successfully working in the city.

HCC Offers Free Culinary-hospitality Training to the Unemployed

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is using a $190,000 grant from the state’s Workforce Competitive Trust Fund to train unemployed and underemployed people for new jobs in the culinary and hospitality industry. The program is free to participants, who must commit to attend classes every day for nine weeks, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The course teaches them fundamental culinary skills and exposes them to a wide variety of careers in hospitality, including hotel operations. “It’s a hands-on opportunity to try out a lot of things and find out what their interests and aptitudes are,” said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC’s assistant vice president of Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development. “Another key part of the program is that, when it ends, they have to let us help them find a job.” The Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced the grant earlier this year. Commonwealth Corp., a quasi-public state agency that fosters partnerships between industry, education, and workforce organizations, administers the Workforce Competitive Trust Fund. Students graduate from the program with four key credentials: ServSafe and OSHA-10 certifications, which show they have been trained in safe food handling and workplace safety; TIPS certification, which allows them to serve alcohol; and a National Career Readiness certification, which demonstrates they possess fundamental workplace skills. The first cohort of students started in October and will celebrate their graduation today, Dec. 15, as they prepare and serve a noontime meal for family and friends at Food 101 Bar & Bistro in South Hadley. The restaurant is owned by chef Alan Anischik, who serves as the main instructor for the program. Most of the classes meet at Dean Technical High School in Holyoke. Last week, in preparation for the graduation celebration, the class met at Food 101. In addition to cooking techniques, the program offers lessons in customer-service etiquette, workplace communication, conflict resolution, product purchasing and receiving, and food and wine pairing. During the course, students had the opportunity to attend a job seminar with representatives from MGM Resorts to learn about future employment opportunities at the casino now under construction in Springfield. They also participated in speed interviews with local employers from the restaurant and hotel industry. The next program cohort begins March 23. Anyone interested should contact Milissa Daniels at (413) 552-2042.

Manufacturing Sections

Turn of the Screw

Sam Everett and Almeiro Serena say managers walk through the OMG plant

Sam Everett and Almeiro Serena say managers walk through the OMG plant several times a day to talk to employees and ensure there are no problems.

Hubert McGovern says people might wonder why a company would choose to manufacture screws in Agawam when they could be made far more inexpensively overseas.

“Twenty years ago, someone asked our board of directors why we hadn’t moved to China,” McGovern, president of OMG Roofing Products, told BusinessWest. “Many manufacturers have moved jobs overseas, and it’s no different in the screw business. But that’s not our story.”

Indeed, this story is a unique and a distinctive saga of success. OMG Inc. has created a line of specialty systems and products that have set it apart from its competitors, established a global presence, and recorded sales that totaled $275 million in the past year. Its products include screws for commercial roofing, hidden-fastening systems for residential decking and trim, hot-melt adhesive systems, log home fasteners, and insulation adhesives and related products used in the commercial and residential construction business.

“We’ve had a more than 10% annual compound growth rate since 1995,” McGovern said, adding that the company is a subsidiary of Handy & Harman Ltd., which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ Capital Market under the symbol HNH. “We make more than one billion screws per year, process approximately 150 pounds of steel every day, and consume 36 million pounds of carbon steel wire every year.”

The company’s growth and culture has been painstakingly crafted. Although safety is its top priority, the company is well-aware that its employees have played an enormous role in its success, and a great deal of time and energy are focused on ensuring they have opportunities to grow personally, financially, and professionally.

“People are the most important part of our company; we want our employees to be successful,” said McGovern. “We believe if they succeed and get ahead financially, they will feel good about working here, which will help the company do well and move forward. We know that our employees are behind all of our efforts.”

He added that, since stress can hinder performance at work, OMG has put programs in place to alleviate it that address wellness, physical health, and financial matters.

These include free exercise classes conducted in a large conference room or at a local gym during lunchtime and at the end of the day, periodic fitness and wellness challenges with awards, and a plethora of program offerings that range from swimming to yoga to TRX classes to accommodate people of different fitness levels.

Each year, the company also stages an ongoing series of events ranging from holiday lunches to raffles for highly sought-after sports-related tickets. including Patriots games and even the World Series.

“We go above and beyond to give people experiences they wouldn’t normally get,” McGovern said, before borrowing the well-known phrase “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Employees at OMG Roofing Products

Employees at OMG Roofing Products show off medals they won at a recent company fitness challenge.

OMG also offers Dave Ramsey’s Smart Dollar financial-wellness program free to its employees. It consists of 17 videos focused on personal finance that can be viewed online. Each one is about a half-hour in length, and topics range from budgeting to investing.

“Several people have been able to reduce their debt because of this program,” McGovern noted.

Professional development is ongoing, takes place on site and off, and is another important element of the company’s success. “We encourage people to push themselves, learn new skills, and take their own personal development to the next level by building on their strengths,” said Director of Communications Sam Everett, adding that the company also offers tuition reimbursement.

An employee of the month is also recognized; people can nominate themselves or their peers, and the winner (sometimes there are several a month) receives a jacket and monetary award.

Open dialogue and communication at all levels of the organization are an important part of the company’s culture; there are daily gemba walks through the factory to keep managers abreast of what is taking place at the manufacturing level.

“We’re always looking for ways to help people achieve their personal goals,” said Sarah Corrigan, director of Human Resources.

For this edition and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest looks at other measures that have helped OMG become a leader in the roofing and fastener industry, as well as what it has done to sustain that success.

Through the Roof

OMG was started in 1981 by Art and Esther Jacobsen, who named their business Olympic Fasteners Inc. They bought and sold screws for the commercial roofing industry, and in 1984, after experiencing great success, they moved the firm to Agawam and began manufacturing their own line of fasteners.

In 2000, the company name was changed to OMG Inc., and since that time, it has continued to grow by expanding the product line as well as its geographic footprint.

Today, the company employs more than 500 people, operates four manufacturing plants — in Agawam; Addison, Ill.; Arden, N.C.; and Rockford, Minn. — and has warehousing and distribution centers in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Illinois, Nevada, Canada, China, and Europe. It also has a team of nearly 60 field-sales representative across the country and in China and Western Europe.

However, the majority of employees work at the company’s headquarters in five buildings that contain 445,000 square feet, including 20,000 square feet of office and warehouse space in different areas of Agawam Industrial Park.

Since its beginnings, the business has been split into two divisions. The first is roofing products; that division specializes in insulation and membrane-fastening systems, roof-insulation adhesives, retrofit roof drains, pipe supports, as well as engineered edge-metal systems, and innovative productivity tools for low-slope commercial roofing applications.

Its second division is called FastenMaster, which makes a wide range of fastening systems and tools for residential applications.

Much of the firm’s ability to continue to compete in a global market is due to its product-development teams, which have created unique offerings.

They include RhinoBond, an advanced insulation and membrane attachment system based on induction technology that uses the same fastener and plate to secure both the insulation and waterproofing cover to a roof without penetrating the roofing material.

“We took induction technology and turned it into a tool to install commercial roofs,” Everett said, explaining that screws and washer plates are used to hold down insulation on roofs. The roofing material is placed on top of the insulation, then an induction tool is used to heat up the plates, bonding them to the membrane cover layer and holding the roof in place.

“Historically, insulation had to be screwed in place through the roof membrane or the waterproofing layer. But this product eliminates the need to poke holes in the roof, and because the attachment points are spread evenly across it, each fastener has to do less work to keep it in place when the wind blows,” Everett said, noting that the system is gaining popularity, and demand for it is growing.

Another product created by the FastenMaster division is its Cortex Hidden Deck Fastening System, which is used for PVC trim and on decks made of composite materials, such as Trex, to hide fastener heads so they are virtually invisible.

“We developed a screw called Trap-Ease with an integrated bit system that sets the screw depth and allows each screw to be covered with a plug stamped out of the exact material as the decking or trim,” McGovern said. “The product is gaining a very high market share and can also be used to secure trim on a house and the corners of moulding.”

He told BusinessWest that OMG practices lean manufacturing, which is a method of continuous improvement to eliminate waste and improve processes.
“It relies on participation by the entire organization,” he explained. To that end, small groups of employees are pulled from different departments on an ongoing basis to address problems and figure out how a process can be improved, which sets OMG apart from its competitors.

“The philosophy behind lean manufacturing has to be driven over several years to see results; it’s a journey that never ends,” McGovern added, noting that company officials also meet with employees in groups of 40 or 50 several times a year to communicate goals and performance initiatives.

The company is actively recruiting for 30 positions and plans to add an additional 20 jobs over the next several months; new positions will open in part due to a $15 million expansion underway in Agawam that will allow OMG to heat-treat its products in house instead of outsourcing the work.

A building that was used for warehousing is being converted into an area where the heat-treating can take place. Everett said the warehouse has been moved into space the company rented in the industrial park.

On Top of Things

OMG owes its success to its culture and efforts to set the company apart from competitors. And it has done well; it is the largest roofing-fastener supplier for commercial roofs in the country, and more than 65% of all commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings in the U.S. have one or more of its products on their roof.

“We’re a U.S. manufacturer, which is a pretty rare entity, so we have had to do something substantially different than just making screws and selling them,” McGovern noted. “We’ve focused on innovation, operational excellence, marketing, and creating a strong sales culture.”

And, of course, developing the people behind the scenes who are, after all, the driving force that has helped OMG secure its business in a rapidly changing world, and stay on top of things, as they say in the roofing business.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is about to embark on a two-year, $43.5 million renovation project that will transform the look, feel, and organization of the campus.

The HCC Campus Center is scheduled to close Feb. 3, 2017, and construction will begin soon after. When it reopens in 2019, college officials say, the building will be a place that truly lives up to its name.

Originally known as G Building, the sloping, three-story concrete structure sits in the middle of the campus between an intermittent stream choked with invasive plants and the HCC Courtyard. Since it opened in 1980, the Campus Center has been plagued by water leaks. Projects that would have waterproofed the building have been delayed since at least 2008.

“The main impetus for this is to get the building watertight,” said interim HCC President Bill Fogarty. “Then we also wanted to do things that will improve the operation of the building and make it a real campus center.”

The state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance is in charge of the project. Walsh Brothers Construction of Boston has been hired as the general contractor. The state has already allocated $8 million for the current fiscal year to begin the project, with the remainder of the funding to follow, Fogarty said.

The key features of the project include squaring off the building’s sloping façade and giving the entire building given a new exterior shell that will make it both weathertight and energy-efficient.

The squaring off and the addition of large windows on its eastern side will give the building a look that complements the adjacent Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development, which opened in 2003. About 9,000 square feet of space will be added to the current 58,727.

A glass atrium will be added to the west side of the building, covering a set of double stairs that descend from the lower courtyard into an area known as the ‘pit’ that now serves as the main entrance to the food court and cafeteria. On the east side of the building, the open balcony on the second floor will be enclosed, adding extra interior space to the student dining area.

The first floor of the Campus Center, on the side facing Homestead Avenue, will become the new ‘front door’ to the campus, accessed by a bridge to be built over a restored Tannery Brook. HCC Admissions, Assessment Services (college placement testing), and the ACT Center (Advising, Career and Transfer Affairs) — now in the Frost Building — will relocate to a new Welcome Center. Admissions will have a dedicated parking lot, and a separate, college-funded project will reconfigure traffic flow, creating a new bus drop in the front of the campus.

The Campus Store (formerly the College Bookstore) will move from the first floor to the second floor, on the same level as the food court and cafeteria. The second floor will include programs and departments focused on student engagement, including Student Activities, Student Clubs, and Multicultural Academic Services (MAS), which are being relocated from other parts of the campus.

“The whole idea of bringing the Campus Store up to the second floor, so that it’s on the same level as dining services and Student Activities, really makes sense in terms of foot traffic,” said Fogarty. “They all complement each other. It will give it a real feel of a campus center.”

Academic classrooms at the north end of the second floor will be opened up to make more room for student-engagement areas. The layout, both on the first and second floor, will be more open and airy, with glass walls and doors separating offices and community spaces.

“It’s going to look different, much more open and inviting, not so much offices and chunked-up spaces like we have now,” said Michelle Snizek, director of Retention and Student Success. “The idea is to create engaging and alluring spaces — we’re calling them pods — where students can come and charge up their cell phones and do their work.”

The third floor will remain the Media Arts Center. In preparation for the renovation, the Electronic Media Program is already operating in its temporary home on the first floor of the Donahue Building.

The HCC Campus Store will temporarily relocate to the Donahue Building, with a focus on retail merchandise and school supplies. Textbook sales are now being handled by HCC’s online partner, MSB Direct.

The HCC cafeteria will remain open in its present location for the first two weeks of the spring semester. The Subway franchise now in the food court is being moved to the second floor of the Frost Building. Food service will be handled by increased offerings at the POD concession area on the first floor of Donahue, and the Forum Café on the second floor of the Fine & Performing Arts Building, and by the addition of high-end vending machines in the Kittredge Center and Bartley Center. When not in use for special events, the Picknelly Dining Room in the Frost Building will be open for students who want to sit and eat.

After the Culinary Arts program moves off campus into the new hospitality and culinary-arts center in downtown Holyoke, HCC Dining Services will be serving a larger menu of freshly cooked food for purchase in the dining room. In the renovated Campus Center, the food court and cafeteria will return to their present locations with a new look and configuration.

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Dr. Marlene Belfort, distinguished professor in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Sciences, UAlbany, SUNY, will give a free and open-to-the-public presentation describing her STEM research journey over three continents while raising three sons. Work-life Balance for Women in STEM will take place on Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m., at Bay Path University in Mills Theatre at Carr Hall on the Longmeadow campus.

Belfort’s presentation will discuss the challenges, rewards, sacrifices, and satisfactions of weaving together the two intense activities of research and parenting. An internationally-renown researcher, Belfort will give equal time to some of the major discoveries she has achieved in her career in the field of molecular genetics of mobile elements (introns and inteins) in microbes.

After graduating with a B.S. degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Belfort received her Ph.D. degree in molecular biology at the University of California at Irvine, and performed post-doctoral work at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel and at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Dr. Belfort’s research interests are in splicing, mobility and evolution of self-splicing introns and inteins, and their application to biotechnology and medicine. In addition, a goal of hers is to promote the careers of women in science, on which she has written, and for which she was recognized by the American Society for Microbiology with the Alice Evans Award for her contributions toward fostering the advancement of women.

Belfort’s presentation is sponsored by Bay Path’s Center of Excellence for Women in STEM (CEWS), created in response to the overwhelming need for education, advanced training and continued support for women who are beginning or advancing careers in STEM. Registration is strongly recommended and available at http://www.baypath.edu/womeninstem.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — This winter, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is finding new ways to help Square One children stay warm — by donating brand new, USA-made coats to local children in need.

This initiative is part of a new partnership that Columbia Gas has forged with Firefighters for Operation Warm. For every free home energy assessment requested by a customer during the month of October, the company is donating one new coat in cooperation with the Firefighters for Operation Warm, a non-profit organization that provides new, USA-made coats to children in need. Local firefighters will match the coat donations, doubling the number of children who will receive a new winter coat.

“We were ecstatic to get the call from Columbia Gas to let us know that Square One would be receiving 143 winter coats for our children,” says Kristine Allard, Vice President of Development for Square One. “This time of year presents a great struggle for many of our families, who are not in a position to pay for the winter gear their children need to remain healthy and warm.”

The new coats were due to be presented to Square One today at 10 a.m. at 255 King Street in Springfield. Volunteers from Columbia Gas and the Firefighters for Operation Warm delivered the coats via firetruck.

“Partnering with Operation Warm is a wonderful way to support our customers and our communities,” said Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “We have a long history of collaborating with our local fire departments. Joining together to help needy children stay warm is a wonderful continuation of that partnership — and in a new way — support the communities we serve.”

“We’re thrilled to partner with Operation Warm and Columbia Gas to provide new USA-made coats to area children,” said Jay Colbert, president, Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. “Our 219 locals are committed to this mission because we’ve seen how something as simple as a warm coat can help a child stay warm, healthy, safe and excel in all they do.”

Operation Warm was founded in Kennett Square, Pa. in 1998 by local businessman Dick Sanford. While driving one cold December morning, he saw a group of coatless children huddled at a bus stop. The sight prompted him to drive to a local department store and purchase every coat in stock. With the help of his local Rotary Club, those 58 coats were given directly to kids in need, and Operation Warm was born. Since then, the organization has distributed over 2 million coats to children in need.

In 2012, Operation Warm partnered with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) to extend support to more local communities. Currently, more than 200 fire locals across the country have partnered with Operation Warm, donating coats to more than 140,000 children nationwide.

Autos Sections

Waiting to Leave

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi says her newest dealership was designed to give the customer a positive experience and not waste their time.

There’s no one way to design an auto dealership, but increasingly — driven by both manufacturer requirements and an ever-more-demanding clientele — newer stores boast a number of specific features, from spacious, drive-in service departments to comfortable, well-stocked lounges; from energy-efficient touches to an emphasis on openness and transparency in the showroom. At a time of fierce competition for business, dealers say these elements are necessary to attract buyers — and keep them coming back.

Gary Rome summed up the experience of most of his customers succinctly and bluntly.

“When people are waiting for a car, they’re waiting to leave,” said the president of Gary Rome Hyundai. And that goes for both people in the market for a vehicle purchase and those bringing their rides in for service — in either case, no one wants to spend any more time at a car dealership than they have to.

On the other hand, sometimes it takes a while to, well, leave. Which is why so many aspects of his new facility on Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke, which opened last month, are designed to keep customers occupied and … let’s just say in less of a hurry to go home.

“One of the most important things to customers is time,” Rome told BusinessWest. “If you value their time and make it easy to purchase a car or have their car serviced, you’ll get loyal, repeat customers. So I want to make the process as enjoyable as possible by offering all the amenities I think are reasonable for our customers.”

Gary Rome car dealer

Gary Rome says energy-efficient touches throughout his new dealership are aimed squarely at reducing his carbon footprint.

To that end, the customer lounges — there’s one for watching TV, another for quietly doing business, and a play area for kids — border a coffee bar with free coffee, fruit, and muffins, as well as vending machines loaded with healthy snacks. Beside the TV is a screen detailing the status of every repair job currently underway, and the lounges overlook the service department so people can watch their cars being worked on.

Northampton Volkswagen and Country Hyundai, two neighboring stores in TommyCar Auto Group, opened their doors in 2014 with a similar focus on the customer experience. People bringing their cars in for service are met with high-speed doors followed by a porter who shows the way to a waiting room decked out with a TV, wi-fi, business workstations, smartphone jacks, free drinks and snacks, and even complimentary bicycles outside in case customers would rather take to the nearby bike trails instead of waiting indoors.

“We designed everything for the comfort and convenience of the customer,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar. “We’re doing everything with the customer in mind.”

To that end, the facility has improved the employee experience as well, incorporating air conditioning, high ceilings, large windows, and LED lights in the service department — a far cry from the hot, cramped workspaces of old. Productivity has soared under those conditions, she said, which means, yes, less waiting for customers.

“They’re set up for efficiency, so they can be more productive and make the best use of customers’ time while they’re here. That’s where the majority of our focus was while building this.”


See: Area Auto Dealers in Western Mass.


Damon Cartelli agreed that efficiency, as it impacts the customer experience, is paramount — and a major design trend in the auto industry. His company, Fathers & Sons, opens its new, connected Audi and Volkswagen dealerships this week on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield, which boast the same type of high-speed doors — which trap air inside, keeping the space cool during warm days and warm during cold ones — that Cozensi spoke of. The driver then parks, gets out of the car, and walks directly into the shop, where a lounge with a TV area and workstations awaits.

“That’s now standard across the industry,” said Cartelli, the company’s president. “New dealerships have an area that’s comfortable and quiet so you’re able to work or sit in a lounge and have coffee and watch TV.”

While comfortable lounges and drive-in service bays may be among the more obvious hallmarks of the modern auto dealership, other trends — from a focus on transparency in the sales area to environmentally friendly features — are surging as well. For this issue’s focus on auto sales, BusinessWest explores three dealerships, two of them brand new, to talk about what dealers are doing to move customers out quickly — and get them to return, time and again.

No Secrets

Cartelli noted that many features of a new dealership — particularly Volkswagen, which demands uniformity in new dealerships with their nameplate — are blueprinted by the manufacturer, and many of the touches, including the high-speed doors, the finished service driveway (as opposed to a concrete look), the high-tech customer lounges, and display areas where customers can buy clothing, branded items, and vehicle accessories are required elements.

Damon Cartelli car dealer

Damon Cartelli says the prominent use of glass inside and outside his Volkswagen and Audi dealerships promote transparency, in both design and customer dealings.

So is the transparency. To look around the showroom is to see office walls of glass, so sales associates and managers are never hiding from customers. Cartelli said the look reflects his own philosophy of doing business in a transparent way.

“We have a transparent pricing model. We’re transparent with everything we do, with how you buy a car. We don’t want customers asking, ‘what is he doing back there?’ You can see what he’s doing. We have nothing to hide. That’s part and parcel with how we do business, which is nice.”

Cosenzi had to deal with the same demands from VW, although Hyundai was more flexible in its requirements. But she agreed with Cartelli that openness is a positive for customers.

“Sales managers are no longer in big podium stations; they’re approachable, in the middle of the showroom, and all the salespeople work in an open environment at their desks,” she said. “As you walk through the dealership, you see the open sales stations, the glass. When you’re in the finance office, you constantly see and follow what’s happening with paperwork and flow.

“We worked really hard to make the customer experience great,” she went on. “You see a lot of light when you walk in, and you’re immediately greeted by a warm, friendly body at the greeter station. We made sure all the customer parking was up front, made it really easy for them. We want customers to feel like they’re getting the VIP treatment all the way around.”

Cartelli said the best way to make customers feel important, quite simply, is to not waste their time. “If you can increase efficiency in how you do business, that’s important — the speed with which business gets done is second only to price. People want a fantastic customer experience, and they want to know how quickly you’ll get it done.”

Rome incorporated elements of transparency in his new dealership as well. “It’s important for me that customers come inside the building and are able to watch their cars being worked on,” he said, pointing out the line of sight between customer lounge areas and the spacious service department. “Some dealerships take the car around back to some black hole, and you don’t know what thery’re doing or when it will be ready. This is a much better experience.”

In this day and age, customers expect this treatment. If you don’t have it, there are other dealerships out there that do, and you’ll be missing out.”

But Rome also wanted a dealership that’s cutting-edge in environmental ways as well, incorporating a number of green elements aimed squarely at reducing the store’s carbon footprint, from energy-efficient LED lights to insulated windows to a car wash that reclaims and recycles water. All the oil collected during oil changes isn’t discarded, but rather stored in drums and pumped back into the heating system and used to heat the service department, while oversized fans circulate air in that area and control temperature. He even installed electric car-charging stations on the premises that anyone — not just customers — can stop by and use.

“Simple things like automatic faucets and toilets, motion-sensing lighting in the offices, reduces our carbon footprint,” he said. “In addition to that, we’re putting a 650-megawatt solar array on the back of the property. We’ll be generating energy.”

Lots of Options

There’s one other feature the new dealerships share: more space.

“The main feature is being able to display every model Hyundai makes,” Rome said, noting that the new showroom holds 15 cars, an outdoor canopy houses eight more, and the vast property contains hundreds more vehicles than could have been displayed at the former location on Main Street.

Cartelli’s new property is designed to handle 200% growth. “We’re in growth mode, and we have the ability to grow into it,” he said. “We’ve overbuilt for today’s business, so we can overserve the customer.”

That service begins right away when a driver enters the wide indoor bay and a device instantly tests the vehicle for alignment — a feature at the other new dealerships as well. Once out of the car, customers notice the tiled floors, which are slip-resistant and easier on the feet than cement.

In short, everything is geared to giving customers an enjoyable experience while they wait to leave. At Gary Rome, people leaving with a new car are able to fill out their paperwork in a glass-walled business office looking out over a covered area where their new car sits beside a red carpet. From the moment they walk in, he said — his rule is that associates greet any customer within 10 feet of them on the showroom floor — to that roll outside on the red carpet, everything is designed with the customer in mind.

Cosenzi said such touches are more important now than ever.

“In this day and age, customers expect this treatment,” she told BusinessWest. “If you don’t have it, there are other dealerships out there that do, and you’ll be missing out.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Health Care Sections

Joint Concerns

PotEdible

By all accounts, the medical-marijuana industry in Massachusetts is booming, and now voters must decide whether to take the next step, and legalize the drug for recreational use. While the measure — appearing as a ballot question on Election Day — applies to users age 21 and up, doctors worry that easy access for adults will trickle down to teenagers, while candy-like marijuana ‘edibles’ could find their way into the hands of kids. Meanwhile, they wonder whether the state, already in the grips of an opioid-addiction crisis, is walking into an entirely new set of public-health problems.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin makes no secret of his stance on marijuana. He’s long promoted legalization of the drug for recreational purposes, as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have done and other states, including Massachusetts, are considering, and he’s spoken and written at length about why pot possession shouldn’t be a crime, but an open, regulated activity.

In short, he’s as pro-marijuana as a governor can be.

Yet, he thinks Massachusetts has a terrible ballot question on its hands.

The marijuana-legalization bill up for referendum on Question 4 of Massachusetts’ Election Day ballot, Shumlin argues on his blog, “would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home-delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont’s bill allows none of that. If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays, the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing.”

If a pro-pot governor has such harsh words for the Massachusetts bill, it’s not hard to imagine what medical professionals think.

“We’re concerned for a number of reasons — about recreational marijuana in general and this particular ballot question,” Dr. James Gessner, president of the Mass. Medical Society (MMS), told BusinessWest. He noted that the human brain is still developing throughout one’s 20s, and among the late-developing areas of the brain are those governing judgment issues.

Dr. JameS Gessner

Dr. JameS Gessner

“Marijuana is the single most commonly used drug among adolescents and has significant effects on the developing brain, impairs memory and judgment, and, with early, prolonged use, can have a distinct, negative effect on intellectual development,” he went on. “My concern is really with the unexpected consequences on youth and adolescents. At a time of risk taking in their lives, this drug really blunts judgment.”

If that’s true, then what the Massachusetts bill does, opponents argue, is make it far easier for adults — and children — to get their hands on a harmful substance they might have avoided before simply due to fear of legal consequences. The bill would also lend a veneer of respectability to marijuana, said Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer, Addiction Services, for the Sisters of Providence Health System.

“The main concern is providing access to psychoactive substances that have negative consequences for some individuals, and sending a message that marijuana products are safe and beneficial, when there’s really not strong evidence to suggest either of those things may be true,” Roose told BusinessWest.

Some of the state’s top leaders echo this view. In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe earlier this year, Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh argued that marijuana is not safe — citing risks like impaired brain development, disinterest in school, and motor-vehicle accidents — and increasing access to it makes little sense at a time when the state is already grappling with a well-documented opioid-addiction epidemic.

“There are serious and immediate implications for public safety,” they wrote. “In the year after the drug was legalized in Colorado, marijuana-related emergency-room visits increased nearly 30%, as did traffic deaths involving marijuana. Edible marijuana products — often in the form of brownies, candy, or soda — pose a particular threat for children, who may mistake them for regular treats.”

They cited a report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which found that marijuana use has decreased among minors nationwide in recent years, but Colorado youths are 20% more likely to have used the drug regularly since it became legal for adults two years ago. “Many believe that, since the drug is legal for adults, it must be safe to use.”

That trickle-down impact on young people is one key driver — though far from the only one — in a growing movement in the medical community to convince voters to defeat the marijuana-legalization measure in November. Time will tell whether those efforts will bear fruit.

Opposition Mounts

Earlier this year, the MMS joined the Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts, a coalition of health and community leaders established to oppose the ballot question allowing commercial sale of marijuana for recreational use. Other members include the Mass. Hospital Assoc., the Assoc. for Behavioral Healthcare, the Massachusetts Assoc. of Superintendents, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, all Massachusetts district attorneys, and an array of state leaders including Baker, Walsh, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

While a vote four years ago to legalize medical marijuana hasn’t been without controversy — doctors still worry about prescribing a product that’s still illegal under federal law — recreational pot presents a completely different set of issues.

“There’s a lot of data about kids that use marijuana heavily and face school failure, failure to graduate, difficulty keeping a job,” Gessner said. “Plus, it’s smoked. We’ve spent 50 years talking about the dangers of smoking. This is simply another form of lung attack.”

Gessner also raises the potency issue, arguing that the active ingredient in marijuana — known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — typically comprised about 5% of marijuana in the 1970s, while the current potency can approach 30%, though it varies from batch to batch. In Colorado, the average THC percentage has been around 17%.

Dr. Robert Roose

Dr. Robert Roose says it makes little sense to legalize marijuana while the state combats an ongoing opioid crisis.

But even recreational-marijuana supporters, like Vermont’s governor, find the bill currently up for referendum in the Bay State to be a deeply flawed one, favoring potential pot producers and sellers but including no provision for education, counseling, or treatment for users. It also allows a wide range of marijuana products — not just the smoked variety, but waxes, resins, and ‘edibles,’ often indistinguishable from common candy. The latter concerns 120 state legislators who recently voiced their opposition to the ballot question.

They note that edibles account for 50% of marijuana sales in Colorado, and the number of children under age 10 who suffered from marijuana exposure has increased by 150% in Colorado since the state legalized commercial marijuana, including edibles.

“This a bill for producers that allows for one of the most dangerous exposures in edibles,” Gessner said. “These are manufactured products branded to look exactly like legitimate food products. If edibles are available, they will wind up in the hands of the least suspecting groups: babies, infants, children. I can see a fourth-grader eating a brownie laced with marijuana, then riding a bicycle, or an eighth-grade girl eating a candy bar, and who knows what happens?”

The Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts recently won a victory in the state Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the ballot question amended to make clear that edibles, not just smoked marijuana, would be legalized.

“We are pleased the SJC has recognized that this ballot question would usher in an entirely new marijuana-edibles market and that voters must be informed of that fact,” coalition spokesman Corey Welford said in a press statement. “Under this proposal, the marijuana industry would be allowed to promote and sell these highly potent products, in the form of gummy bears and other candies, that are a particular risk for accidental use by kids.”

Since becoming the first state to legalize marijuana for adults, the coalition notes, Colorado has also become the number-one state in the nation for teen marijuana use. Use by teens aged 12-17 jumped by more than 12% in the two years since legalization, even as that rate declined nationally. In Washington, the group notes, the number of fatal car crashes involving marijuana doubled in the one year since legalization.

“When we think about addiction — whether to alcohol, cannabis, or opiates like heroin — it’s appropriately described as a chronic disease of the brain,” Roose noted, “and we know very well, with many years of evidence, that the more accessible a substance with a psychoactive component is, the more likely it is to be used.”

Shumlin — again, an enthusiastic supporter of recreational marijuana — laments the fact that the Massachusetts bill will allow edibles that have caused problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of pot, while a bill he is promoting in Vermont allows none of that.

“If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays,” he wrote, “the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing.”

Reversal of Fortune

For doctors like Roose who have been on the front lines of the state’s battle against rampant opioid addiction, opening the doors wide to recreational marijuana would be a blow against the progress being made against drug abuse and its often-tragic effects.

“The earlier you have someone hooked or identified as a user of your product, the greater market share you can expect down the line,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s the converse of what we’re trying to do in public health; we want to delay the start of something that can affect their brain.”

In their opinion piece, Baker, Healey, and Walsh noted that emergency departments and drug-treatment centers are beyond capacity, and first responders are stretched to their limits.

“We should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources,” they wrote, arguing that any tax revenues from marijuana sales would be vastly insufficient to cover the added public-health costs legalized pot would bring, and that almost all the financial benefits would go directly to pot producers and their investors.

Roose isn’t as concerned with the financial costs as the human ones, so he comes back repeatedly to the question, what does substance abuse of any kind do to a society in terms of illness and premature death?

“When we look at alcohol, nicotine, all drugs, we should take an approach that effectively mitigates those risks. That’s what treatment providers in the medical community should be looking at,” he said. “The brain can develop into the 30s, and when we delay the onset of someone experimenting with these substances, we’re looking at benefits to society from less recurrence of mental illness, improved educational attainment, and lowered rates of addiction — very approachable goals for the medical community.”

Conversely, he went on, the more accessible a state makes those substances, and the less the risks to young people are recognized, the more problems arise. It’s similar, he said, to the past cultural belief, long disproved, that prescription medications are somehow safer than street drugs, leading to lax oversight and the addiction problems ravaging the Commonwealth today.

Of course, the effects of legalized marijuana won’t be an issue if voters defeat Question 4. A Boston Globe survey in July found 51% of respondents opposed to the measure, 41% in favor, and the remainder unsure.

Gessner worries that a burgeoning market for marijuana in all its forms would find the most purchase in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and wonders why provisions for addiction counseling and treatment weren’t included in the bill’s language, as they were when casino gambling was legalized in Massachusetts. “Those things are completely missing. The bill doesn’t recognize the unintended consequences, especially for youth.”

Roose stressed that he doesn’t support further criminalizing pot possession and creating new punishments for users. “That’s not shown to have a positive outcome. We would rather intervene with education and provide comprehensive treatment for those substance-use disorders.”

That job will certainly become more difficult if marijuana sales are allowed to emerge from the shadows, easily accessible to adults — and, most likely, young people, too.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move

Robinson Donovan, P.C., a full-service law firm based in Springfield, announced that seven attorneys were honored by The Best Lawyers in America© for 2017. They are:

• Attorney Jeffrey Roberts, Managing Partner at the firm, in the practice area of corporate law and trust and estates. Roberts graduated from Colgate University (Bachelor of Arts, 1968) and Georgetown University (Juris Doctor, 1974).

• Attorney Jeffrey L. McCormick, a Partner at the firm, in the practice areas of personal injury litigation — defendants and personal injury litigation — plaintiffs. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts (Bachelor of Arts, 1970 and Master of Education, 1971) and Seton Hall University (Juris Doctor, 1975).

• Attorney James F. Martin, a Partner at the firm, in the practice areas of franchise law and real estate law. Martin attended Georgetown University (Bachelor of Arts, 1975 and Juris Doctor, 1978).

• Attorney Nancy Frankel Pelletier, a Partner at the firm, in the practice area of personal injury litigation — defendants. Notably, she was named a 2017 Best Lawyers in America© Lawyer of the Year, for her practice of personal injury litigation in Springfield. Pelletier is a graduate of Boston College (Bachelor of Arts, 1981) and George Washington University (Juris Doctor, 1984).

• Attorney Patricia M. Rapinchuk, a Partner at the firm, for her practice in employment law and management in Springfield. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College (Bachelor of Arts, 1979) and the University of Connecticut (Juris Doctor, 1989).

• Attorney Carla W. Newton, a Partner at the firm, in the practice area of family law. Newton is a graduate of Lesley College (Bachelor of Arts, 1972), Suffolk University (Juris Doctor, 1980) and Boston University (Master of Laws, 1990).

• Attorney Richard M. Gaberman, of Counsel for Robinson Donovan, P.C., in the practice areas of corporate law, real estate law, tax law and trusts and estates. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts (Bachelor of Business Administration, 1960), Boston College (Bachelor of Laws, 1963) and Boston University (Master of Laws in Taxation, 1968).

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers is based on an exhaustive peer-review survey. Over 79,000 leading attorneys are eligible to vote and more than 12 million votes have been received to date on the legal abilities of lawyers in their practice areas. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore, inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

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The Gaudreau Group Insurance and Financial Services Agency announced that Judy Davis has joined its Employee Benefits team. Davis has more than 25 years of experience in the corporate employee benefits industry, with a focus on designing and implementing benefits plans and services for organizations large and small.

She joins The Gaudreau Group after having spent 11 years as Vice President of Sales in the Employee Benefits Division at Insurance Center of New England in Agawam.  Prior to her time at Insurance Center, Davis was Vice President of Employee Benefits at Banknorth (now USI) Insurance Agency in Springfield.

“I’m very proud to have joined an organization that exemplifies the same high standards of exceptional customer service and integrity that I have provided my clients for over 25 years,” says Davis.

Jules Gaudreau, President of The Gaudreau Group added, “Judy is a great addition to our industry-leading Employee Benefits division. With the largest staff in the region, robust compliance programs, and high-tech employer and employee software solutions on her side, Judy will deliver real, impactful results to our clients.”

Davis is the recipient of several accolades and awards, including the 2013-2014 Top Woman in Insurance in the “Top 25 Women to Watch” in Western Mass., as well as the 2015 “Friend of Stavros” award from Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst, MA.  She has served on several Chamber of Commerce boards and committees in the Western Mass. area.

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Spherion Staffing Services, a local recruiting, staffing, and workforce-solutions provider, recently honored West Springfield franchise owner Brian Houle with the company’s 2016 Excellence in Safety Award. The annual award recognizes the Spherion owner who maintains the lowest workplace-injury rate among placed employees during the previous year and consistently demonstrates a safety-first mentality. Through an emphasis on safety protocols and a commitment to ensuring employees understand and adhere to workplace regulations, Houle and his team improved their year-over-year injury frequency rate by nearly 20%. Houle frequently participates in panels and calls to relay new safety-improvement best practices, and implements new strategies to ensure compliance with changing legislative regulations. “Ensuring the safety of our employees is of paramount importance to Spherion, and Brian Houle epitomizes our commitment to providing a secure a comfortable work environment,” said Sandy Mazur, division president of Spherion. “Brian and his team go above and beyond to identify opportunities to drive even greater workplace efficiency through safety. We are thrilled to honor their accomplishments and willingness to lead by example in achieving exceptional customer service.” Houle joined Spherion in 2013, and has since grown the West Springfield branch to include a team of four dedicated staffing and recruiting experts.

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Jeffrey Lomma

Jeffrey Lomma

The Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce announced that Jeffrey Lomma has joined the chamber team as member services director. He will be responsible for ensuring the continuous and steady growth of the chamber’s membership by building and maintaining a comprehensive and aggressive membership recruitment, retention, and service program. He will also develop and manage programs and services that grow member businesses, service member needs, and increase the overall value offered to members. Lomma comes to the chamber with nearly 10 years of experience in sales, business development, and customer service. As a former Springfield Regional Chamber ambassador and past treasurer for the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, he is well-versed in chamber management and member services. Lomma has been with Westfield Bank since 2007, most recently serving as a branch manager. Among his many client relationship responsibilities, he worked with local community members and nonprofits to support community-reinvestment initiatives and played a pivotal role in growing the location’s portfolio. Lomma also served as a business specialist for the bank, where he helped lead the small-business sales-training program, managed customer relationships, and assisted in opening a banking center in a new market in Enfield, Conn. A former board member with the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. and the Springfield Hockey Heritage Society, and committee member with the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield, Lomma currently serves as a member of the board of directors for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts and on the Greater Springfield Senior Services Money Management Program Advisory Council. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western New England University.

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Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., a labor and employment law firm serving employers in the greater Springfield area, today announced that four attorneys were honored by The Best Lawyers in America© for 2017:

• Ralph F. Abbott Jr. was listed in Best Lawyers in the categories of Arbitration, Employment Law — Management, Labor Law — Management, and Mediation. A partner since 1975, Abbott is known throughout the legal community for his work representing management in labor relations and employment-related matters, providing employment-related advice to employers, assisting clients in remaining union-free, and representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Abbott also has numerous credits as an author, editor, and teacher, and a record of civic and community involvement. He has been selected by his peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers consecutively, since 1989.

• Jay Presser, was listed in Best Lawyers in the categories of Employment Law — Management, Labor Law — Management, and Litigation — Labor and Employment law. Presser has more than 35 years of experience litigating employment cases. He has successfully defended employers in civil actions and jury trials and handled cases in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, wage hour, FMLA, ERISA and defamation. He has won appeals before the Supreme Judicial Court and the First and Second Circuit Courts of Appeals and represented employers in hundreds of arbitration cases arising under collective bargaining agreements. He has been selected by his peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers every year since 1991.

• John Glenn was listed in Best Lawyers in the categories of Arbitration, Employment Law — Management, and Labor Law — Management. He has been a partner of the firm since 1979 and spent his career representing management in labor relations and employment-related matters. In addition to providing employment-related advice to employers, he assists clients in remaining union-free and represents employers before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He has extensive experience negotiating collective bargaining agreements, representing employers at arbitration hearings and before state and federal agencies. Prior to joining Skoler, Abbott & Presser, Glenn was employed by the National Labor Relations Board in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has served as an adjunct professor of labor law at Western New England University School of Law and is a member of the American Academy of Hospital Attorneys. He has been selected by his peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers repeatedly, since 1995.

• Timothy Murphy was listed in Best Lawyers in the categories of Employment Law — Management, Labor Law — Management, and Litigation — Labor and Employment. A partner in the firm, Murphy joined Skoler, Abbott & Presser after serving as general counsel to an area labor union and serving as an assistant district attorney for the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office. His practice includes labor relations and employment litigation, as well as employment counseling. A native of the Springfield area, Murphy is a graduate of the Western New England University School of Law. He is a frequent contributor to business and human resource publications and a contributing author to the Massachusetts Employment Law Letter. He has been selected by his peers and listed by Best Lawyers every year since 2013, and was named the Best Lawyers 2015 labor and employment law “Lawyer of the Year” in Springfield.

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Two Sullivan Hayes & Quinn, LLC attorneys have been named Lawyer of the Year for 2017 by The Best Lawyers In America. Selection, which is based on professional evaluations by other attorneys, honors only one attorney in each professional practice area and community. Meghan Sullivan is Lawyer of the Year for Labor Law – Management, the fifth year in the past six years that she has been selected for that honor. Gordon Quinn was honored for Litigation – Labor and Employment. Additionally, Sullivan’s accomplishments for clients resulted in her being named to The Best Lawyers in America for Employment Law – Management and Labor Law – Management and Litigation – Labor and Employment. Quinn was selected by The Best Lawyers in America for his work in Employment Law – Management and Labor Law – Management, and Litigation – Labor and Employment. Again named to The Best Lawyers In America was Fred Sullivan, who has now been included for more than 20 consecutive years.  He was named for his work in Employment Law – Management and for Labor Law – Management. Sullivan Hayes & Quinn represents employers in a variety of Western Mass. industries and throughout the Northeast in employment- and labor-law issues.

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Stephan Chase, president of Fuel Services Inc. in South Hadley, was recently re-elected to serve a second two-year term as Massachusetts state director of the National Propane Gas Assoc. (NPGA) board. Chase has been President of Fuel Services for more than 25 years. The company has evolved over the years, adding additional service areas and new fuels to the mix. His commitment to the propane industry extends to educating consumers on the benefits of this type of energy. He is also an active board member and the incoming secretary for the New England Propane Gas Assoc., a board member of the BBB of Central and Western MA, and a Navy veteran, having served on the USS Little Rock. “As the leader in the fuel industry in Western Massachusetts, I am honored to be re-elected as the Massachusetts state director for the NPGA. It is a position I accept with great pride,” Chase said. Richard Roldan, president and CEO of NPGA, addeed that Chase’s re-election is evidence of his support and desire to continue to actively participate in the work of the NPGA. “His service to the association is greatly appreciated,” Roldan said. The National Propane Gas Assoc. is the national trade association representing the U.S. propane industry. Its memberships include small businesses and large corporations engaged in retail marketing of propane gas and appliances. Currently, the NPGA consists of approximately 2,800 memberships from companies in all 50 states.

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Fourteen lawyers from area law firm Bulkley Richardson were recently selected by their peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2017.

Bulkley Richardson had the most honorees of any law firm in Springfield, with 12 of its 14 selected lawyers based in its Springfield office.

Three of the firm’s honorees were also named Springfield “Lawyer of the Year” in specific practice areas:

• William Hart was named the Best Lawyers® 2017 Springfield Trusts and Estates “Lawyer of the Year”;

• John Pucci was named the Best Lawyers® 2017 Springfield Criminal Defense (White-Collar) “Lawyer of the Year.” Pucci was also recognized in the area of Criminal Defense (General Practice); and

• Ellen Randle was named the Best Lawyers® 2017 Springfield Family Law “Lawyer of the Year.”

The following Bulkley Richardson lawyers were also selected for the 2017 edition of Best Lawyers®:

• Peter Barry — Construction Law;

• Michael Burke — Medical Malpractice Law (Defendants); Personal Injury Litigation (Defendants);

• Mark Cress — Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law; Corporate Law;

• Francis Dibble Jr. — Bet-the-Company Litigation; Commercial Litigation; Criminal Defense (White-Collar); Litigation (Antitrust, Labor and Employment, Securities);

• Daniel Finnegan — Administrative/Regulatory Law; Litigation (Construction);

• Robert Gelinas — Personal Injury Litigation (Defendants);

• Kevin Maynard — Commercial Litigation; Litigation (Banking and Finance, Construction);

• David Parke — Corporate Law;

• Melinda Phelps — Medical Malpractice Law (Defendants); Personal Injury Litigation (Defendants);

• Donn Randall — Commercial Litigation;

• Ronald Weiss — Corporate Law; Mergers and Acquisitions Law; Tax Law

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Keith Minoff was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in the 2017 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the areas of commercial litigation and corporate law. Minoff represents businesses and individuals throughout Western Massachusetts in the areas of business litigation and employment law.

He received his law degree with honors from George Washington University in 1983 and has been a practicing attorney for more than 30 years. Minoff maintains a law office in downtown Springfield.

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Bacon Wilson announced that four partners have been selected by their peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2017.

Michael Katz was selected for bankruptcy and reorganization, Paul Rothschild for plaintiff’s litigation, Jeffrey Fialky for commercial and finance, and Stephen Krevalin received the honor for family law for the fifth consecutive year.

Founded in 1895, Bacon Wilson, P.C. is one of the largest firms in the Pioneer Valley, with 42 lawyers, and approximately 60 paralegals, administrative assistants, and support staff. The firm’s offices are located in Springfield, Amherst, Northampton, and Westfield.

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The board of directors of the Professional Women‘s Chamber (PWC), a division of the Springfield Regional Chamber, has elected its officers to lead the division: Laurie Cassidy as President; Tracy Sicbaldi as Acting Vice President; Caron LaCour as Treasurer; Jeannie Filomeno as Assistant Treasurer; and Liz Rappaport as secretary. Janet Casey serves as Past President.

Cassidy is the executive director of the West Springfield Council on Aging/Senior Center and has served in that position since 2010. Prior, she served with the Greater Springfield Senior Services as its area agency on aging director and its regional ombudsman director. She has extensive volunteer experience, currently serving as a member of the Sisters of Providence Health System Board of Trustees, Mary’s Meadow Board of Trustees, West Springfield commission on Disabilities, and West Springfield Garden Club. She is also the secretary and treasurer of the West Springfield Emergency Planning Committee and Medical Reserve Corps and associate member of the West Springfield Veterans Council. She has been a member of the PWC since 2011.

Sicbaldi is an accountant with Overland Solutions Inc. and has more than 30 years of banking experience and six years as a municipal treasurer. She joined the PWC in 2006 and has served as its treasurer, vice president, and president.

LaCour is a Certified Public Accountant working with Burkhart Pizzanelli P.C. She focuses on taxation of individuals, businesses and nonprofit corporations. This is LaCour’s first term on the PWC board and is active on its scholarship, woman of the year and program committees. She is also actively involved with Rays of Hope and the Red Thread Network.

Filomeno is the human resource manager at Marcotte Ford Sales, Inc., her family business where she has worked since graduating college. She has served on the PWC board for three terms, served as the co-chair of its mentoring program and is a member of its scholarship committee.

Rappaport is a third-generation property manager at Century Investment Company.  Prior to joining the family business, she served in a marketing and brand management role at WF Young.  In addition to the PWC, Rappaport is actively involved with the Jimmy Fund taking a leadership role in several fund-raising activities each year.

Casey, principal and founder of Marketing Doctor, served as the PWC president for the past two years.

Board members Jacquelyn Bangs, senior account manager for EMC; Marikate Murren, director, training and workforce development for MGM Springfield; and Gillian Palmer, business development and group sales coordinator for the Eastern States Exposition, will round out the executive committee.

The PWC supports the female professional through networking opportunities, provides scholarships for nontraditional students returning to the workforce and mentors students through a partnership with Springfield Technical Community College.

•••••

VertitechIT, a nationally known healthcare leader in the design and implementation of hyper-converged network architecture, has promoted Gerry Gosselin to the position of Vice President, Engineering. Having formerly served as the company’s Director of Technical Operations, Gosselin brings with him more than eighteen years of programming and network engineering experience.

“Gerry’s wealth of early experience as a programmer shines through in his infrastructure design skills,” said VertitechIT Chief Operations Officer Gregory Pellerin.  “As health system IT departments across the country adopt a software-defined approach to networking and storage, we’re confident that Gerry will further our leadership position in the industry.”

Gosselin will oversee VertitechIT’s team of senior engineers and architects in determining technology, scope, and level of effort for all company projects. He joined the company in 2013 and has developed high-level IT experience in network engineering, monitoring and management, virtualization, system administration, and systems integration.

•••••

Link to Libraries Inc. announced the addition of new members to its executive board:

• Gail Baquis is a graduate of the University of Maine with a degree in journalism. She has been a volunteer with Link to Libraries since its inception in 2008 and has been the project director for the LTL Read Aloud programs and the RAP – Reading Any Place for Homeless Youth program.

• Tammy Trudeau is a graduate of University of Massachusetts.  She has been involved with numerous fund raising events for Link to Libraries and other local organizations.

• Kelly Dawson, CPA, Audit Manager for Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P. C. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts. Her professional affiliations include the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.

• Amy Scott is the Founder of the marketing firm Wild Apple Design Group in Wilbraham and is best know for website design success in non-profit, education and for profit sectors. She is a BusinessWest Forty Under 40 Alum.

• Laura McCarthy, Attorney is an associate at Bacon Wilson, P. C. where she practices bankruptcy, corporate law, commercial and residential real estate and other transactional matters. She is a graduate of Boston University School of Law.

• Dr. Jennifer Stratton has been teaching students from the kindergarten to graduate level for more than 15 years. She is certified as a reading specialist and holds a doctoral degree from AIC in education. In addition to teaching, Jen hosts a blog (JenStratton.com) where she shares the sports stories of athletes who play adaptive sports and authors children’s books about Paralympians.

Back to School Sections

Life Lessons

Jean Pao Wilson

Jean Pao Wilson homeschooled her son Dillan for six years until he chose to enter public school, and still homeschools her 13-year-old daughter Amelia.

Jean Pao Wilson will never forget the moment she decided to homeschool her children.

“I can still see the picture in my head; my children were sitting on my husband’s knees on the riding mower as the sun set behind them,” the Easthampton mother said, adding that she had returned home from running errands, and although it was past their bedtime, her son and daughter ran and jumped into their father’s lap as soon as they saw him.

“It was a deciding moment; my son was in kindergarten and I had been thinking about the idea, but that did it,” Pao Wilson said, explaining that her husband worked six days a week, her children were in bed every night when he got home, and she knew homeschooling would allow them to spend more time together.

Other local parents who homeschool may not have experienced a similar epiphany, but those who have chosen this route say the benefits outweigh the challenges, and they and their children have no regrets.

Indeed, 16-year-old Dillan Wilson, who made the decision to switch to a brick-and-mortar school in seventh grade after years of homeschooling, found his experiences with learning very different than many of his peers.

“I saw so many kids who were just trying to get a (grade of) 60 to pass a test, rather than really wanting to understand the material,” he explained. “If I hadn’t been homeschooled for so many years, I might have been one of them.

“Homeschooling was a good experience,” he continued. “It wasn’t over-structured and I always wanted to learn more because there was never any pressure or testing.”

Statistician Sarah Grady from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics said the organization’s most recent study on homeschooling has yet to be released. But there was a 74% increase in homeschooling from 1999 to 2003, a 36% increase over the next nine years, and by 2012, 3.4% of students in the U.S. were homeschooled, including 31,000 to 41,000 children in Massachusetts.

Grady said the majority of parents cited concern about the environment in schools as the primary reason they decided to homeschool. However, the numbers reflect a limited population; 83% are white, and the income for most households is $50,000 to $100,000.

But local parents say the benefits are numerous: Homeschooling can be tailored to meet each child’s need; each child has a one-on-one-tutor; they can learn at their own pace without being labeled, which is especially important if they are ahead or behind in a subject area; they learn to think more independently than their peers; they are not bored by subjects they lack interest in or have already mastered; the environment is safe and devoid of bullying; and unusually close family relationships are forged due to a lifestyle that incorporates learning at every level.

Which is not to say that parents never have doubts.

David Iacobucci of East Longmeadow is a middle-school vice principal, and when his wife Adriana told him she wanted to homeschool their children he was apprehensive because he lacked a true understanding of the possibilities.

But over the years, a series of small and consistent successes that began when he watched Adriana teach his children to read built a belief in homeschooling that exceeded anything he could have imagined.

It has involved a lot of lot of hard work; the couple has studied Massachusetts and Connecticut state standards, and David has provided Adriana with many resources gleaned from his own career. But ultimately, he discovered that what was taking place in his home was the ideal set for public schools: Student-centered learning with an unlimited opportunity for socialization through a full schedule of diverse activities.

But he admits he continued to have some reservations, although they diminished over time, until his oldest daughter, Lena, got her first report card in a brick-and-mortar high school.

Today, Lena is a senior and president of the National Honor Society in East Longmeadow High School; her younger sister Sofia, who entered public school in 7th grade, has also earned honors, including the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence in eighth grade; and 11-year-old Eliza and 8-year-old Luca are being homeschooled by Adriana.

For this edition and its focus on education, BusinessWest takes a look at homeschooling through the eyes of several local families who shared their fears, hopes, and dreams, and the challenges and rewards of this form of alternative education.

Unlimited Resources

Miranda Shannon of Amherst started homeschooling 16 years ago. Today, one of her children is in graduate school, two are in college, her 18-year-old just finished his high school homeschooling program, and her 14-year-old son is still being homeschooled.

“Homeschooling is a viable way to educate children that can be done successfully because it allows parents to take their children’s personalities and learning styles into account; the ultimate goal is to produce an educated, self-confident young person,” Shannon told BusinessWest, noting that it’s more accepted today than when she started more than a decade ago.

Shannon is the moderator for the Pioneer Valley Homeschoolers Group, an inclusive, eclectic, online support group started in 2000 by a handful of families in a playgroup who shared the same goals.

It’s a place where people can find resources, ask questions, get advice and support, and post events, classes, and other activities. The group also offers help on tasks that include how to turn in paperwork required by local school departments as well as other practical information.

“There are things that every family must do, but when it comes to actual teaching we all do things very differently,” Shannon said, noting that PVHG provides support at all stages of schooling, from preschool/kindergarten through high school, which is important; veteran homeschoolers, who schooled their teens through high school give advice to families who wish to do the same.

The help ranges from information about existing options to advice on how to create high school transcripts, and personal experiences with the college application process.

Adrianna Iacobucci

Adrianna Iacobucci helps 11-year-old Eliza and 8-year-old Luca with their studies.

Indeed, so many groups exist in which homeschoolers and parents collaborate that it’s not difficult for parents to find one with like-minded people; they include cooperatives where group learning and projects are the primary focus; clubs formed by parents; support groups; and a growing number of field trips, classes, and educational sessions.

Sophia Sayigh is on the board of directors for Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts; the statewide nonprofit is based in the Boston area and designed to educate and support parents in the Commonwealth who want to homeschool their children.

She says each town or city is responsible for overseeing residents who are homeschooled, and parents must submit an annual plan for each child. However, there is considerable room for flexibility because homeschoolers are not required to take standardized tests, although they can take an exam similar to the GED if they want a traditional diploma.

But experts say that is not necessary for entrance to college, especially at private schools, and an article in the Journal of College Admission notes that homeschoolers’ ACT and SAT scores are higher than those of public school students, and home-educated college students perform as well as or better than traditionally educated students.

Although some parents use curriculums they purchase to help guide their daily lessons, many create their own based on state standards. The Internet also provides an unlimited trove of resources: Lena Iacobucci took a free college course in psychology when she was in 8th grade, and her sister Sofia took a college course in International Law while she in 6th grade, thanks to offerings on the website www.coursera.org.

Sayigh tells parents to consider their child’s interests and how they learn best and include that in their education plan, and notes that being able to cater to their individual needs is one of the benefits of homeschooling.

“Everything is interdisciplinary,” she said, explaining that although schools divide their day into periods with designated times for different subjects, taking a child who is fascinated by marine biology to an aquarium can lead to extensive reading, research, writing, and math exercises that the child finds interesting. And since children learn best when they are enthusiastic about a subject, it can result in advanced learning.

In fact, homeschooling is an experience far removed from what most people imagine.

“You do not have to recreate school at home; there is no school bus to catch, and if something isn’t working, you change it,” Sayigh said. “Plus, your child doesn’t ever have to struggle because their learning is not dictated by an outside institution.

“Although you need to be able show progress, they don’t have to be at grade level in every subject,” she continued, citing the example of learning to read; there is a continuum of normal, and if parents read to their children every day and take other measures that hold their interest, they attain competence in their own timeframe.

Shattering Misconceptions

Homeschooling parents agree that although it can be a lifesaver for some children, it is definitely not for everyone, and is unlikely to be successful if the parent’s and children’s personalities do not mesh well, or for those unwilling to make the effort required to ensure their children have a multitude of opportunities to interact socially with their peers.

“If the parent is on the quiet or shy side, it may be hard to provide enough socialization for their children,” said Pao-Wilson, a licensed clinical psychologist. “It takes energy and time to network and establish and build the relationships and support that you and your children need.”

Local homeschooling parents say they don’t sit at the kitchen table for six hours a day, and their schedules are much different than one would find in a traditional school setting. Most tackle academic subjects such as math and language arts in the morning, because children learn best when they are not tired.

But their afternoons vary; children meet and do projects or learn lessons with co-op groups, take field trips, do volunteer work, research, read, take part in organized sports, and participate in the many programs that have sprung up in recent years at local museums, nature centers, and other facilities offering programs expressly for home-schooled students.

Gary Pao Wilson and his son Dillan

Gary Pao Wilson and his son Dillan share a close relationship and many interests, which was the intent behind Jean Pao Wilson’s decision to homeschool their children.

For example, Springfield College started a free physical education program last year for homeschoolers that divides them by age and meets on Friday mornings.

“All aspects of the program are directly supervised by Springfield College faculty members,” said Springfield College PEHE Chairman Stephen C. Coulon. “The physical education instruction is offered in a supportive environment with the emphasis on achievement and enjoyment.”

Parents also start their own groups. Pao Wilson and another homeschooling mother received a STEM grant from 4-H to start a Science Club, and was helped by two friends; a molecular cellular biologist and a friend with a degree in astrophysics.

“I know it’s incumbent on me to find programs that will interest my children, and if something doesn’t exist, I need to create it or find resources that will help me,” she said.

Most children’s schedules are filled with activities and trips to places that interest them, and they also belong to Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, local sports teams, and more.

Social skills are formed as they work on projects in homeschool cooperatives and through the many group activities they take part in. In fact, parents and children say that being in a classroom doesn’t mean you will make friends with the people around you, and that it’s easy for them to form friendships in a homeschooling environment.

“You don’t need to be with 30 kids a day to develop as a normal, happy person, and homeschooled children are often more comfortable with adults because they don’t view them as someone who is trying to keep them in order,” Sayigh noted, adding that she successfully homeschooled her two children.

Different Styles

Pao Wilson does not think of homeschooling as simply another way to master academics; instead she views it as a place to learn lessons about life; develop critical thinking skills; and share her personal values.

And since most homeschoolers engage in a wide variety of activities related to their schooling, that’s exactly what has occurred with her children.

Her daughter Amelia, has earned ribbons for science-related projects in 4-H; taken photography classes, and pursued other things that interest her.

And although Dillan chose to leave homeschooling for a traditional education, 13-year-old Amelia tried an English class, then decided she wants to continue learning at home.

“I can do things at my own pace at home. It’s easier than having a schedule,” she said, adding that she likes the flexibility of being able to take a break when she gets tired.

Her outside activities include horseback riding, but she says she is very self-motivated when it comes to schoolwork.

“My mom is always there if I have questions, and I don’t have to wait for an e-mail or a phone call to get the answer,” she continued, citing the benefits. “Some of my friends wish they were homeschooled.”

Pao Wilson and other parents say they were initially apprehensive about their ability to teach their children, but when doubt arises, she recognizes it’s something she has to make peace with.

But it quickly became clear that she had to spend time on her relationship with her children and their relationships with each other; they had to learn to negotiate and resolve conflicts with each other, express their emotions, and get along.

“I had to change my style of parenting, and by the time they were 10 and 8, I was talking to them like they were teenagers,” she said. “But they were able to develop their own thoughts about things without worrying about conforming to the norm or being subjected to the pressure of how others perceive them.”

Adriana Iacobucci, who has homeschooled for 13 years, said she and her husband David gave their children choices from the time they were toddlers, and the decision to homeschool evolved after their oldest daughter Lena returned from preschool and announced she could learn the same things at home.

“We wanted them to be self-directed learners,” she said, adding that homeschooling families learn quickly to respect and support one another even if their teaching styles are very different.

Like other parents, she has moments of doubt, but she also views it as a challenge that must be overcome. But she has been part of many co-op groups, and continues to make a concerted effort to involve her children in as many activities as possible.

“They have been in many situations with diverse families, so they’re open minded about other people and really accept them,” she noted. “Our children are also extremely independent; making decisions about their own academic studies has spilled over into how they spend their time and who they spend it with.”

She has enjoyed watching them learn, and says it’s a luxury to allow them the time and space they need to master subjects they find challenging.

Eliza is still at home, and the 11-year-old enjoys her lifestyle. “I like being homeschooled, although I definitely do want to go to high school,” she said.

Her 8-year-old brother Luca also likes being homeschooled. “You don’t have to be in class as long,” he said, reciting subjects he enjoys, including science and math.

Difficult Lessons

Pao Wilson says homeschooling requires parents to learn how to learn themselves, have a desire to examine their beliefs, and be willing to change.

It also requires personal and financial sacrifices, because one parent is home instead of working. “But whether you’re home or making money in the workforce depends on your values and whether your definition of success is measured in dollars,” she noted.

Her initial goal of giving her children more time to spend with their father has been met, and today they all enjoy close relationships.

“Any endeavor worth pursuing will have its share of challenges, and there will be good days and bad days,” she explained. “But in the end, even with the kids squabbling, the uncertainty and worry about whether I’m doing the right thing or if I’m doing enough; and the sacrifices in health, time, energy, money, and sometimes my sanity … I still believe that homeschooling is worth the sacrifice.”

Teen Sofia Iacobucci agrees. “I left homeschooling because I wanted to try something new, and a lot of homeschool friends were going to public school,” she said. “But it was a big change. I liked the freedom we had at home. We had a say in what we wanted to learn instead of being told what we had to do and it allowed me to take my education into my own hands and become independent.”

Which is indeed the goal of every parent; to raise a well-rounded, happy and independent child.