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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is now accepting applications for enrollment in the LEAP class of 2023, a regional leadership-development program. This year’s class is expected to have a fully in-person experience. Applicants are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The LEAP program engages the Pioneer Valley’s most promising emerging leaders through learning, exploration, and connecting. Participants are trained in applied leadership skills by experts. They also explore critical community issues by connecting with local leaders and visiting businesses and local towns across the region. The upcoming program runs from September through May.

In its 12th year, more than 350 individuals representing more than 125 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated. The program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region. Fifty-three percent of alumni have a new leadership role at work, 64% have joined a new board of directors, and 99% made new, meaningful connections.

LPV is seeking applicants from all over the Pioneer Valley, including Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, representing different employment sectors. The program is made for those in nonprofits, businesses, and government who are eager to increase their leadership skills and take action to better the region.

Applicants are considered in a competitive application process that prioritizes diversity by employment sector, geography, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley should consider applying. The deadline for LPV class of 2023 applications is July 1. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Lora Wondolowski, the founding executive director of Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV), and the organization’s leader since 2011, will leave her post on April 1. Her leadership has been integral to all aspects of LPV’s operations, with notable successes including the growth of the core LEAP program, the Leaders on Board initiative, building strategic partnerships, and improving and stabilizing operations and organizational processes. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first graduating class.

“When I accepted this role, I was hoping to build my network locally and find new ways to give back to the community. With more than 325 alumni, 125 employer partners, and many community partners, I am proud to have worked with so many to make LPV a reality and see so many go on to do great things for our region,” Wondolowski said.

Upon her departure, the board plans to appoint an interim executive director until finding a permanent executive director. Wondolowski and the LPV board of directors are working with staff and stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition for LEAP participants, partners, and supporters.

“Lora leaves LPV in a very strong position for continued growth, and we sincerely thank her for her contribution and leadership in building the organization,” said Annamarie Golden, board chair and LPV alumna. “The board wishes her the best of luck in her next endeavor.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) announced new campaign co-chairs for the LEAP 2023 Campaign, Jason Randall and Ayanna Crawford.  Both are alumni of the Class of 2013.

They will be leading the effort to connect with businesses and potential applicants about the benefits of LPV’s LEAP Program. LPV will begin accepting applications in April with an application deadline of July 1st for the region’s premier community leadership program.

“I am thrilled to give back to a program that made a huge difference in my professional and personal life. Building community starts at work and we want to equip future leaders,” said Crawford.

Randall is director of Human Resources at MGM Springfield and a current LPV Board Member. He is involved with Springfield Works and Springfield Business Leaders for Education. Crawford is the AC Consulting and Media Services president and specializes in communications workshops in the New England area. She currently leads an afterschool program for girls and positions herself as an educator in the Springfield Public Schools and works for State Rep. Orlando Ramos.

In its 11 years running, more than 300 individuals representing more than 100 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated in LEAP. The program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region.

 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley will offer programming starting in January focused on leadership and board development for regional nonprofits through its Leaders OnBoard program.

On Wednesday, Jan. 26, Leaders OnBoard will kick off its year of board-development events with “Board Basics,” a free, two-hour training led by Eric Phelps from Rainmaker Consulting that covers topics like what it means to sit on a board, roles and responsibilities, and how to be effective as a board member. To register, e-mail Samantha Rudd at [email protected]. The next “Board Basics” will be offered in March.

Leaders OnBoard will provide several training sessions and events focused on nonprofit board leadership and development throughout the Pioneer Valley this year, including workshops focused on fundraising, diversity, strategic planning, and board matching.

Leaders OnBoard is an ideal way for nonprofits to enhance the knowledge base and skills of their board members, while also offering people who are looking for a way to get involved in their community some training and personal support so they feel confident serving a nonprofit they feel passionate about.

A12-month membership is available for Leaders OnBoard, with a sliding fee scale based on the organization’s budget. Membership includes free tickets and unlimited participation in all program workshops and training sessions, including Peer2Peer Conversations and board-matching opportunities. For full benefits and fees, visit leadershippv.org.

Women in Businesss

Taking a Leadership Role

Lora Wondolowski says leadership is constantly changing and evolving

Lora Wondolowski says leadership is constantly changing and evolving, and that’s one of the many intangibles that has kept her at the helm of LPV.

 

When Lora Wondolowski became founding executive director of Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV), it certainly wasn’t with the expectation that she would one day be hard at work planning 10-year anniversary celebrations.

Indeed, Wondolowski said it was more her style, her pattern, to launch organizations and programs, stabilize and build them, and then move onto something else, probably in four or five years, as she did with her previous assignment, as founding director of the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters and the Environmental Voters Education Fund in Boston.

“I’m someone who gets restless — who has trouble staying,” she said in reference to the many lines in the ‘work history’ section of her résumé. “My last two organizations, this one and the last one, were startups, and if I look at the trajectory of my career, a lot of the work I’ve done over the years is starting new programs or new organizations. I didn’t see myself able to sustain within an organization; I thought I’d get bored.”

Suffice it to say that, in this job, she hasn’t.

When asked why, she said there are several reasons, starting with the inspiration she gets from the graduates of LPV’s LEAP program and their success stories (a list that includes exactly half of BusinessWest’s eight Women of Impact for 2021 — more on that later).

But there is more to Wondolowski’s lengthy stay with LPV. Much more, as she explained.

“The work we do keeps changing and growing, and that’s because leadership is ever-changing; our curriculum is ever-changing,” she explained. There is a lot to keep me engaged and energized as I look for new opportunities for our organization.”

Over the past decade, Wondolowski has become a leader in her own right. She is currently serving on several boards, including those for the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, and the Connecticut River Conservancy. Meanwhile, at LPV itself, she has managed and grown the organization, expanding its original mission in several different ways that have collectively made it an important addition to the region and its business community.

And, like those at the helm of virtually every business and nonprofit in the region, she has seen her leadership skills tested during COVID-19, a time of extreme challenge for LPV.

“There’s a difference between leadership in crisis, which it was in the beginning — you had to make quick decisions in a certain way — and then this sort of adaptive leadership, which we are now in, which is a lot about resilience and how to get people through change and things that are uncomfortable, because no one wants to do things differently.”

In the spring of 2020, the pandemic forced the agency to offer its programming remotely, make difficult but necessary staff cuts — Wondolowski was a one-person show (and on reduced time) for several months —and eventually take its graduation to a drive-through format similar to what was seen with area high schools.

In 2021, staffing is back to something approaching normal thanks in part to two rounds of PPP, programming has returned to the in-person format, and another class is working its way toward commencement next spring. But some companies are struggling to enroll employees in the program due to staffing constraints and other challenges, and ‘normal,’ as in what existed prior to COVID, is very much a moving target.

Meanwhile, COVID has also made its way into the curriculum. Sort of. Indeed, the pandemic and its side effects have put new emphasis on decision making, conflict resolution, and other matters that have prompted changes to some of the programs, Wondolowski said.

“There’s a difference between leadership in crisis, which it was in the beginning — you had to make quick decisions in a certain way — and then this sort of adaptive leadership, which we are now in, which is a lot about resilience and how to get people through change and things that are uncomfortable, because no one wants to do things differently,” she explained, adding that LPV changed up one of its sessions, from a hard focus on negotiation skills to one recalibrated to center on collaboration and conflict management — out of necessity and the times we’re in.

“I’m seeing more conflict,” she said. “I think some of it is dealing with people remotely, and the communication skills you need are different, and how people are approaching it is different.”

The graduation ceremonies for the LPV class of 2020

The graduation ceremonies for the LPV class of 2020 were drive-through in nature, one of the many challenges to contend with during the pandemic.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we talked with Wondolowski about LPV as it turns 10, but also about her own leadership role in the region and that notion that leadership is ever-changing and how this still relatively new addition to the local business landscape is helping its participants navigate these changes.

 

Following the Leader

On one wall of her office on the ninth floor of Harrison Place — space LPV is now sharing with Tech Foundry — Wondolowski has put photos of the agency’s graduating classes. A few of the most recent classes are missing, and there are Post-it notes where those images should be — gentle reminders to fill in that space on the wall.

Wondolowski has had a number of other matters on her mind besides those photos lately. Indeed, she has been steering the agency through the whitewater churned up by COVID while also planning for the long term for an agency created to meet a recognized need cited by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Plan for Progress: to create more programming to give people the skills and confidence they need to become leaders in the community.

Overall, there are now 327 alumni of the LEAP program, a number that is a source of pride in and of itself. But the accomplishments of those graduates and their continued upward movement in terms of success in business and involvement in the community are much bigger sources.

Among those alums are a number of elected officials, including Holyoke’s first Hispanic mayor, Joshua Garcia, class of 2016, who won that office just a month ago, as well as state Sen. Adam Gomez (class of 2018) and a number of city and town councilors and school-committee members across the region.

“There’s still so much more work to do. And that’s the thing I really appreciate about this organization; it allows me to be entrepreneurial and to try new things. Some things work and some things don’t, so we take small risks. Overall, the need for leadership keeps expanding.”

“We’ve had close to two dozen of our graduates run for office since 2017,” Wondolowski noted. “There are several on the City Council in Springfield and school-committee members up and down the Valley.”

There are also a number of business leaders and, therefore, individuals who have graced the pages of BusinessWest — especially, those issues announcing winners of its various awards. Indeed, a number of the 600 individuals possessing 40 Under Forty plaques are LPV alums, with some going through the program before they were honored by BusinessWest, and some after.

Meanwhile, as noted, four of this year’s Women of Impact — Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts; Charlene Elvers, director of the Center for Service and Leadership at Springfield College; Madeline Landrau, Program Engagement manager at MassMutual; and Tracye Whitfield, Springfield city councilor and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer in West Springfield — are also alums.

The most important statistic is that 97% of the alums are still living and working in the Pioneer Valley, Wondolowski said, adding that keeping talent in the region — by getting people engaged in individual cities and towns and the 413 as a whole — was one of the motivating factors for creating LPV.

And the business plan for the organization is simple: to keep growing those numbers and inspiring more people to become leaders and get involved. It does this through a program that, at its core, connects its participants with the community to identify needs and, through the formation of ‘leadership learning lab groups,’ address those needs. In conjunction with local nonprofit partners, Wondolowski explained, teams have developed projects related to children, youth, community and economic development, arts and culture, anti-racism, and much more.

The experience creates a progress of self-discovery and growth, she went on, adding that LEAP participants return to their organizations with stronger relational and leadership skills that they also apply to the communities in which they live and work.

As for her, the decade she has spent at the helm of the agency has likewise been a process of self-discovery and growth.

“There’s still so much more work to do,” she said of LPV and its mission. “And that’s the thing I really appreciate about this organization; it allows me to be entrepreneurial and to try new things. Some things work and some things don’t, so we take small risks. Overall, the need for leadership keeps expanding.”

This need to be entrepreneurial and take small risks was exacerbated by — and in all ways impacted by — guiding LPV through COVID.

Wondolowski said the past 22 months have been a learning experience on all kinds of levels, but especially when it comes to decision making and confronting change on a massive scale.

“It’s been a real a roller coaster,” she said. “In the beginning, it was, ‘OK, we just have to do this,’ and we pulled our board together to make some tough decisions. In the early months, we were meeting very regularly, and in some ways it was hard … but it was in different ways than it is now because there was a sense of purpose, and knowing we were all coming together helped a lot.

“As it dragged on, and it waxes and wanes, there are some days when it can just be really overwhelming and hard,” she went on. “You get decision fatigue.”

These are the same challenges confronted by all business and nonprofit leaders over the past 22 months, she said, adding that COVID and its many side effects have brought changes to how and where work is done, and thus profound changes to the dynamic of the workplace.

And many of these changes are long-term, if not permanent.

“We’re not going to go back to fully in-person workplaces for a long time,” Wondolowski said, adding that many workers have been very productive at home, and many see little, if any, reason to return to the office. And a number of companies large and small see the logic in allowing remote work to continue.

But with this seismic shift comes changes in how people communicate — and how they must lead.

“There are all these questions about work culture and how you create a culture when people aren’t not all in the same place,” she said, adding that this represents just one of new frontiers, if you will, when it comes to managing in these compelling times.

“For our last class, we actually had a session on executive presence and focused a lot on how you communicate effectively virtually, and all the things about body language and how you frame yourself on the camera,” she told BusinessWest. “These are things you would never have thought about, and now you do.”

 

Bottom Line

That’s just one example of how leadership is, as Wondolowski said earlier, ever-changing. And that’s one of many factors that has not only kept her in this job longer than she ever thought she would be in it, but kept her engaged and energized.

As she plans that 10th-anniversary commencement for next spring, she is also thinking about the many springs to follow and the future classes of LPV and what they will need to be impactful leaders in the community and in business.

Filling in those blanks, especially in the era of COVID and the profound changes it has brought to the landscape, is not easy. But if anything, Wondolowski has demonstrated that she not only grooms leaders — she has become one herself.

 

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) recently welcomed LaTonia Naylor of Springfield College and Gregory Thomas of UMass Amherst to its board of directors.

Naylor is a dedicated Springfield native and LPV class of 2016 alumna who has been serving the region for years through her work at nonprofit organizations and the Springfield School Committee, where she serves as an elected member. Thomas, director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship Management at UMass, has demonstrated exceptional leadership in positions across corporate America in both advising and coaching leaders and entrepreneurs.

“LaTonia and Gregory bring great skill sets to our board as we envision our future as an organization. Their perspectives as an alumna and entrepreneurial advisor are invaluable to the organization,” said Lora Wondolowski, executive director of LPV.

The board also elected its officers, including Annamarie Golden of Baystate Health as chair, Tony Maroulis of W.D. Cowls as vice chair, Calvin Hill of Springfield College as clerk, Callie Niezgoda of Common Capital as treasurer, and Russell Peotter, retired from WGBY, as immediate past chair.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is now accepting applications for enrollment in its LEAP class of 2021. This year’s class will be a little different under COVID-19 protocols. LPV has condensed the curriculum to six months and will mainly operate remotely.

LEAP, LPV’s regional leadership-development program, engages the Pioneer Valley’s most promising emerging leaders through learning and exploration. Participants are trained in applied leadership skills by experts. They also explore critical community issues by connecting with local leaders and visiting businesses and towns across the region. This year’s program runs from January through June.

In its nine years running, more than 300 individuals representing more than 100 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated. The program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region. Fifty-three percent of alumni have a new leadership role at work, 64% have joined a new board of directors, and 99% made new meaningful connections.

“This year will be a little different,” said Lora Wondolowski, executive director of LPV. “We are using best practices from other programs around the country to adapt our curriculum to meet our current challenges.”

LPV is seeking applicants from all over the Pioneer Valley, including Hampden County, Hampshire County, and Franklin County, in different sectors. The program is designed for those in nonprofits, businesses, and government who are eager to increase their leadership skills and take action to better the region.

Applicants are considered in a competitive application process that prioritizes diversity by employment sector, geography, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley should consider applying. The deadline for class of 2021 applications is Nov. 20. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Last month, Leadership Pioneer Valley’s (LPV) board of directors approved a plan for the next six months. The plan creates new leadership-development options aimed at addressing the needs of the wider community.

Because leadership in a pandemic necessitates both a statewide and national perspective, LPV will continue to collaborate with programs across the Commonwealth and participate in the National Leadership Alumni Network — a first of its kind. It will also continue offering sessions exploring creating more equitable workplaces and communities. These programs and others in the works are designed to address the needs of LPV alumni and the wider community.

LPV’s signature LEAP program, a nine-month regional leadership-development program for emerging leaders, will be pushed back to January 2021, and will be a hybrid of virtual and in-person programming that prioritizes safety while building engaging connections. This fall, LPV will offer a number of new opportunities including small Leadership Luncheons, a Leader Roundtable series, and a new Adaptive Leadership series. All sessions will begin virtually and transition to in-person when feasible.

“Like almost every organization and family, the pandemic and its consequences have required that LPV reconsider how we fulfill our mission and continue to serve our region,” said Russell Peotter, board chair of Leadership Pioneer Valley. “The board and executive director have had numerous conversations with our supporters, employers, alumni, and each other to create this path forward, which we feel will do just that.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) recently welcomed Lidya Rivera-Early of Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) to its board of directors. Rivera-Early has a demonstrated history of serving on various boards and committees within the community. As an LPV LEAP alumna, she also brings a passion for both the mission of the organization and the continued success of the Pioneer Valley.

“We are delighted to have Lidya join us,” said Lora Wondolowski, Leadership Pioneer Valley executive director. “Lidya understands firsthand the value of LPV. She will bring her voice, skills, and experiences to the board and will help LPV to fulfill its mission of building and connecting more diverse, committed, and effective leadership for the Pioneer Valley.”

The Board also announced that Russell Peotter and Annamarie Golden will continue for an additional year in their current roles as chair and vice chair, respectively. Francia Wisnewski will continue as clerk, and Callie Niezgoda as treasurer.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) hosted a graduation ceremony for its nine-month regional leadership-development program, called LEAP, a little differently this year. This year’s group of 33 professionals from area businesses, nonprofits, and the public sector lined up in a parking lot at Holyoke Community College to hear video congratulations from employers and elected officials before receiving certificates. The program was also livestreamed on Facebook.

“This class has risen to new challenges that weren’t anticipated by anyone and gotten closer as a result,” said Lora Wondolowski, executive director of LPV. “As a result, they have applied crisis-leadership techniques in real time and are well-positioned to lead their teams and communities.”

Participants are trained in leadership skills by experts in a classroom setting. They also attend in-depth field experiences across the region, where they met with local leaders to explore the region’s economy, arts, and key issues. The program conducted the final three months virtually.

“Leadership Pioneer Valley is intentional is its efforts, inviting diverse participants to self-reflect personally and professionally,” said Taniesha Burton of Baystate Health, class of 2020 speaker. “It provided the opportunity to obtain invaluable concepts through observations and experiences, using insightful materials to explore the process. It helped me uncover areas to improve, while challenging me to press into strengths, honing them for the better.”

Leadership Pioneer Valley LEAP graduates worked in teams during the program with area nonprofits. Projects included creating a business plan for Greenfield Community College’s Food Pantry, organizing a signature fundraiser for Each Moment We Are Alive, organizing public support for an affordable-housing unit with One Holyoke, creating planning and promotion tools for the Springfield Central Cultural District, and diversifying the constituencies and offerings of MassAudubon’s Arcadia Sanctuary. The projects are designed to be in-depth, hands-on experiences that put the LPV curriculum into action for the benefit of communities in the Pioneer Valley. The majority of teams changed their projects to meet the changing needs of organizations in light of COVID-19.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) announced a virtual discussion with local leaders from different sectors about how they are leading during COVID-19, what is needed, and what we can expect. The event will be held on Tuesday, May 5 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom.

Speakers for “Letting Leadership Shine” include Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts; Justin Hurst, Springfield city councilor; Joanne Marqusee, president of Cooley Dickinson Hospital; Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College; and Katie Allan Zobel, executive director of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Other speakers will be announced.

“These unprecedented times are putting a real strain on everyone, but especially leaders,” said Lora Wondolowski, Leadership Pioneer Valley’s executive director. “We are excited to hear from local leaders on how they are leading and their forecasts for their sectors.”

To register or for more information on sessions, visit www.leadershippv.org.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) announced a new collaboration with LEAD Boston and Leadership South Coast to offer a series of free leadership webinars for their respective alumni over the next few weeks. The first training, “Well-being: Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask While Leading Others,” is being led by Carol Roby, David Garten, and Paul Sherman, authors of Ask What Matters?!

“These unprecedented times are putting a real strain on everyone, but especially leaders. We are excited to join with several other Massachusetts-based community leadership programs to provide practical tools for leaders in the Valley,” said Lora Wondolowski, Leadership Pioneer Valley’s executive director.

Future sessions will draw upon LPV’s Positive Leadership curriculum to provide adaptive approaches to leading under crisis. For more information on sessions, visit www.leadershippv.org.

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