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HOLYOKE — Girls Inc. of the Valley has named nine recipients of its first-ever Dream Maker Award ahead of the agency’s Spirit of Girls event on May 5.  

During the past two years, several members of the community have stepped up to provide high-quality learning opportunities for youth, advocate for funding for Girls Inc. programs, and volunteer their time, talents, and treasure to benefit 

Girls Inc. of the Valley. Girls Inc. is awarding the following people the Dream Maker Award. 


  • Mary Kay Brown is director of Partnerships at John J. Duggan Academy, a Social Justice Magnet School, Kennedy Middle School, and the Academy at Kiley. She has been the liaison to get Girls Inc. programming in Springfield schools and has advocated for funding from the district for Girls Inc.’s healthy sexuality curriculum;


  • Angelina Cicerchia graduated from UMass Amherst in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree and currently works at Mass General Hospital. She has been a champion for youth, which includes her dedication as a mentor in Girls Inc.’s College Access Now (CAN) Mentor Program;


  • Cady Coleman is a former NASA Astronaut and Air Force colonel with more than 180 days in space, accumulated during two space shuttle missions and a six-month expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), where she acted as the Lead Robotics and Lead Science officer. Coleman is a vocal advocate for inclusion in STEM fields. She has hosted workshops to energize youth about space and science careers, and inspired girls to dream bigger and pursue a career as an astronaut;


  • Rep. Patricia Duffy represents the state’s Fifth Hampden District, which consists of Holyoke and is expanding to include Chicopee Ward 3B in January 2023. She continues to advocate for state funding for Girls Inc. and hosted the press event at Girls Inc.’s new home at 480 Hampden Street. Rep. Duffy’s weekly resource meetings for organizations during the height of the pandemic were also impactful;


  • Sarah Etelman has been a part of the Girls Inc. family for more than 12 years (which includes nearly a year as a consultant before a full-time position opened up). During that time, she’s been witness to the many transformations that Girls Inc. inspires. During the pandemic, she helped keep girls creatively engaged with felting workshops, and outfitted Girls Inc. staff with handmade masks.


  • Nikai Fondon is a recent graduate of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and now works at a woman-owned marketing agency. She hosts her own podcast called She Did That!, dedicated to highlighting women of color leaders in our community. She has lent her voice to the Girls and Racism Town Hall, and worked with Girls Inc. teens to develop their own Zine


  • Jean Mendoza currently serves as the director of Marketing & Communications for Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst, where she facilitates and leads high- level marketing projects and strategic plans for the campus community and beyond. A Springfield native, her commitment to enrich, empower, and engage her local community has been a priority throughout her career. She has shown up for youth in many ways, most recently as a mentor in the CAN Mentor Program.


  • Senator John C. Velis represents the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire district in the Massachusetts State Senate, which includes the City of Holyoke and 10 other cities and towns in Western Massachusetts. He has been a champion of the Eureka! Program, secured a $50,000 earmark for Girls Inc.’s new building on 480 Hampden St., and continues to advocate for state funding.
  • WWLP-22News, an NBC affiliate, is the area’s multimedia leader and the most watched television station in the market. The station and its reporters have participated in important conversations that center and elevate girls’ voices in the community, like Project Red to bring awareness to the inaccessibility of period products during the pandemic, and Project TEAL, to shine a light on the hyper-sexualization of girls and women of color.