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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For three years, BusinessWest has been celebrating outstanding women from all industries, from Helen Caulton-Harris, who is committed to a healthier community and social equity, to Carol Campbell, leading her manufacturing company to continued growth and success, to Denise Jordan, who has been a leading public servant in Springfield.

You certainly know some women who are actively leading and making a difference for their companies and their communites, and acting as role models and mentors for our region’s future leaders. Nominate them today for BusinessWest’s prestigious Women of Impact Award.

Nominations are due by end-of-day, Friday August 27. For nominating guidelines and to submit a nomination, click here. Event sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, call (413) 781-8600.

Nominees who score the highest in the eyes and minds of a panel of independent judges will be honored at a luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 9.

‘Women of Impact’ was chosen as the name for the program because, while nominees can be from the world of business, they can also be from other realms, such as the nonprofit community, healthcare, public service, law enforcement, education, social work, the mentorship community, or a combination of these — any inspirational women on any level.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For three years, BusinessWest has been celebrating outstanding women from all industries, from Helen Caulton-Harris, who is committed to a healthier community and social equity, to Carol Campbell, leading her manufacturing company to continued growth and success, to Denise Jordan, who has been a leading public servant in Springfield.

You certainly know some women who are actively leading and making a difference for their companies and their communites, and acting as role models and mentors for our region’s future leaders. Nominate them today for BusinessWest’s prestigious Women of Impact Award.

Nominations are due by end-of-day, Friday August 27. For nominating guidelines and to submit a nomination, click here. Event sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, call (413) 781-8600.

Nominees who score the highest in the eyes and minds of a panel of independent judges will be honored at a luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 9.

‘Women of Impact’ was chosen as the name for the program because, while nominees can be from the world of business, they can also be from other realms, such as the nonprofit community, healthcare, public service, law enforcement, education, social work, the mentorship community, or a combination of these — any inspirational women on any level.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest magazine is currently accepting nominations for its fourth annual Women of Impact, a recognition program launched in 2018 to honor a specific segment of the local population: women who are making an impact in and on this region. Nominees who score the highest in the eyes and minds of a panel of independent judges will be honored at a luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 9.

‘Women of Impact’ was chosen as the name for the program because, while nominees can be from the world of business, they can also be from other realms, such as the nonprofit community, healthcare, public service, law enforcement, education, social work, the mentorship community, or a combination of these — any inspirational women on any level.

Nominations are due by Friday, Aug. 27. For nominating guidelines and to submit a nomination, click here. Event sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, call (413) 781-8600.

Event Galleries Women of Impact Women of Impact 2020

Late last month, BusinessWest staged its annual celebration of the Women of Impact, a recognition program launched in 2018. This was a virtual celebration because of the pandemic, but the eight honorees were certainly celebrated in style, with live virtual networking, lively chat during the presentation, poignant introductions of the honorees, and inspiring remarks from the Women of Impact themselves. The virtual program featured videos of and welcoming remarks from presenting sponsors Country Bank, Health New England, and TommyCar Auto Group. Other sponsors and partners include Comcast Business, WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield, and Chikmedia.

The honorees for 2020 are :

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney; Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center; Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield; Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College; Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing; Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet; and Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors


Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney

Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney



Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center

Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center


Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield

Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield



Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College

Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College



Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing

Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing

Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet

Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet


Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts

Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts




Special Coverage Women of Impact

With so many individuals doing so much throughout our community, we want to add an additional award this year. We’re accepting nominations for our Young Woman of Impact to be named the night of the event.

**Nominations MUST be submitted by January 14, 2021 at 5:30pm**

Nomination Eligibility:

  • Young women who are:
    • Creating a positive impact through their strong, inspiring, and motivation driven actions to problem solve in their community.
    • Addressing issues that impact more than just themselves.
    • Aspiring to be a Woman of Impact.
  • Female residents of, in school, or employed in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire county.
  • Submitting duplicate identical nominations for a nominee does not increase the chances of the nominee being selected.
  • Nominations must be submitted through the online nomination form ONLY.

Notification & Recognition:

  • BusinessWest will announce the winners at the 2020 Women of Impact virtual event on January 28, 2021.

Judging Process:

  • Nominations can be submitted from January 7, 2021 to January 14, 2021.
  • After nominations have been compiled, five nominees that embody strength, intelligence, and courage will be announced on social media (Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter) on January 19th.
  • From January 19th through the 26th, we ask our community to select on social media, through likes and impressions, which nominee most ignites inspiration and passion within!

Presenting Sponsors

Supporting Sponsor

Media Sponsor

Social Media Sponsor

Women of Impact

RSVP Here!

We invite you to virtually celebrate these amazing and impactful 8 women on January 28, 2021 from 6:30pm-8:00pm.

The event will feature virtual networking, a presentation featuring our honorees & sponsors, as well as a new and exciting addition to the program!

RSVP’s must be submitted by January 25, 2021 at 5:30pm. 


Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Due to spikes in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and beyond, BusinessWest and the Healthcare News have decided it is in everyone’s best interest to reschedule and transition these annual celebrations from hybrid events to completely virtual events. As always, our main priority is to keep everyone safe, and we appreciate your patience while we navigate through these trying times.

This year’s Healthcare Heroes, all of whom are being recognized for their efforts to battle the pandemic in myriad ways, will be celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 14. They include Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health; Christopher Savino, Emeline Bean, and Lydia Brisson, clinical liaisons for Berkshire Healthcare Systems; Friends of the Homeless; the Nutrition Department at Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc.; the staff at Holyoke Medical Center; the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst; Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, director of Spiritual Life at JGS Lifecare; Maggie Eboso, Infection Control and Prevention coordinator at Mercy Medical Center; Jennifer Graham, home health aide at O’Connell Care at Home; and Helen Gobeil, staffing supervisor at Visiting Angels West Springfield.

The Healthcare Heroes program is sponsored by Elms College (presenting sponsor), Baystate Health and Health New England (presenting sponsor), and partner sponsors Bulkley Richardson, Comcast Business, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

This year’s Women of Impact will be celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 28. They include Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center; Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield; Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts; Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney; Toni Hendrix, director of Human Services at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing; Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College; and Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet.

The event is sponsored by Country Bank, Health New England, and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors), Comcast Business (supporting sponsor), and WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield (media sponsor).

Details about both events will be announced soon.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest will honor its third annual class of Women of Impact on Thursday, Dec. 10 at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel.

This year’s class, like those in 2018 and 2019, demonstrates the sheer diversity of the ways women leaders in our region are making an impact on the worlds of business, nonprofits, health, and the community, even — and perhaps especially — during this particularly challenging year. Profiled in the Nov. 9 issue of BusinessWest, they are:

• Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center, who has led by example, with a servant’s heart, in both her healthcare career and in her ministry;

• Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors, who is using her influence to help other women find — and use — their voice;

• Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield, whose vision of a healthier community includes social equity;

• Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts, who continues to be both a role model and advocate for women and girls;

• Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney, who set out to transform her region’s criminal-justice system and has done so, in myriad ways;

• Toni Hendrix, director of Human Services at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing, who has transformed organizations through empathy-based leadership;

• Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College, whose leadership has been tested and sharpened by the challenges wrought by a pandemic; and

• Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet, who has grown her agency dramatically by recognizing needs and welcoming innovative ideas to meet them.

The event is sponsored by Country Bank, Health New England, and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors), Comcast Business (supporting sponsor), and WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield (media sponsor). Tickets cost $90 per person. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100; e-mail [email protected]; or visit businesswest.com.

Women in Businesss

Scenes from the Dec. 5 Event

More than 450 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 5 for BusinessWest’s second annual Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and in giving back to the community. The keynote speaker was Lisa Tanzer, president of Life is Good. This year’s honorees are (pictured, left to right):

• Katherine Putnam, managing director of Golden Seeds;

• Carol Moore Cutting, president, CEO, and general manager of Cutting Edge Broadcasting;

• Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools;

• Mary Hurley, Massachusets Governor’s Councilor;

• Ellen Freyman, partner at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin;

• Tricia Canavan, president of United Personnel;

• Jean Deliso, principal with Deliso Financial Services; and

• Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of the Valley.

The Women of Impact program was sponsored by TommyCar Auto Group and Country Bank (presenting sponsors), Comcast Business and Granite State Development (supporting sponsors), New Valley Bank & Trust (speaker sponsor), and WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield (exclusive media sponsor).


‘Passion and Purpose’

Lisa Tanzer says it took her a while to find work she was truly passionate about. But it was well worth the wait and the effort.

“It took me a long while to get here, but I learned along the way that I need to be working every day on something I’m excited about and passionate about,” she said. “You need to do what you love every day and find a way to put passion into what you do.”

This, in a nutshell, is the message Tanzer, president of Life Is Good — a lifestyle brand that now generates more than $100 million in annual revenue and also operates the Life Is Good Kids Foundation — intends to leave with attendees at BusinessWest’s second annual Women of Impact luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Sheraton Springfield.

In a phone interview, Tanzer told BusinessWest that Life Is Good provides her passion and purpose not merely because of what it sells or how much it sells, but because of how it spreads the “power of optimism,” as she put it.

Elaborating, she said ‘Life Is Good,’ the slogan placed on a T-shirt along with a smiling face by brothers Bert and John Jacobs as a last-ditch effort to stay in business, has received a great reaction from the public.

“People from all sorts of demographics started resonating with the brand,” she explained. “In the early days, they started to get letters from people who were wearing ‘Life Is Good’ who were facing terrible adversity — illness or loss of a loved one.

“They connected with the positive message of Life Is Good and realized there was more depth to the brand than ‘hey, life is good, enjoy the beach, enjoy the outdoors,’” she went on. “People really needed optimism in their lives and started to understand the power of optimism. So the company became more mission-driven.”

Tanzer’s keynote address will be one of many highlights at the second annual Women of Impact Luncheon, which will honor eight women who are making an impact in different ways. They are:

• Tricia Canavan, president, United Personnel Services;

• Carol Moore Cutting, president, CEO, and general manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting;

• Jean Deliso, principal, Deliso Financial Services;

• Ellen Freyman, partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin;

• Mary Hurley, Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor;

• Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, assistant superintendent, Springfield Public Schools;

• Suzanne Parker, executive director, Girls Inc. of the Valley; and

• Katherine Putnam, managing director, Golden Seeds.

Tanzer, who speaks to a wide variety of audiences on many topics each year, will bring a broad range of corporate experience to the podium at the Women of Impact event. Indeed, she has more than 25 years of consumer brand experience, working for powerhouse brands such as Hasbro, Staples, Gillette, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Fast Facts

What: The Second Annual Women of Impact Gala
When: Dec. 5, 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Where: Sheraton Springfield, One Monarch Place
Keynote Speaker: Lisa Tanzer, president of Life Is Good
Tickets: $65 (tables of 10 available)
For More Information: Visit HERE or call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Starting very early in her career, though, she started working with nonprofits, especially one founded by a high-school classmate called Project Joy, which helped homeless children find purpose and connection through play.

The talk Tanzer will give at the Women of Impact Luncheon concerns how she determined long ago that she wanted to blend work in the corporate world with “making people happy and providing joy in people’s lives.” And while it was a rather circuitous route and there was a good deal of serendipity along the way, she found all of what she was looking for at Life Is Good.

To hear the full story, you’ll need to be at the Sheraton on Dec. 5. And you should be there to salute the eight outstanding honorees who make up the Women of Impact class of 2019.

The Women of Impact program is sponsored by Country Bank and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors), Comcast Business and Granite State Developing (supporting sponsors), New Valley Bank & Trust (speaker sponsor), and WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield (media sponsor).

For more information, or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600, or go HERE.

Cover Story Event Galleries Women of Impact 2019

Scenes from the Dec. 5th Luncheon


This is the second class of Women of Impact, a new recognition program created by BusinessWest to recognize individuals who are making a difference in this community and tell stories that need to be told.

This is a diverse class of winners, in every sense of that phrase, but especially when it comes to the manner in which they’re making an impact, whether it’s through public service, turning around a nonprofit, connecting individuals with opportunities to serve their communities, managing a school system, mentoring entrepreneurs, helping individuals and families find financial security, running a successful business, or donating time and talent to area nonprofits and institutions.

Join us as we celebrate them on Dec. 5 at the Sheraton Springfield. We invite you to come and applaud these truly impactful women.

Photos by Dani Fine Photography

The Women of Impact for 2019 are:

Tricia Canavan

President, United Personnel Services

Carol Moore Cutting

President, CEO, and general manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

Jean Deliso

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

Ellen Freyman

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin

Mary Hurley

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

Assistant superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Suzanne Parker

Executive director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Katherine Putnam

Managing director, Golden Seeds

Event Information

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Tickets: ON SALE NOW $65/person; $650/table of 10
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]



Keynote Speaker

Lisa Tanzer, president of Life is Good, has over 25 years of consumer brand experience. Prior to becoming president, Lisa served as the company’s head of Marketing after spending over 20 years on the board of directors of the Life is Good Kids Foundation. She’s held executive positions in the entertainment, ecommerce, and education sectors. Earlier in her career, Lisa held marketing and strategy roles at Hasbro, Staples, The Gillette Company, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She received her BA from Tufts University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Taylor Knight joined 22News in July of 2018 as a multimedia journalist. Currently, Taylor is the co-anchor of the 22News weekday morning newscasts and a reporter for the 22News I-Team.  Before arriving in Springfield, Taylor was a reporter for FiOS1 News in New Jersey. Taylor began her career as a multimedia journalist in Connecticut, covering news and sports in Fairfield County.  Taylor earned her B.A. in broadcast journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia. During college, she interned at WFSB in Connecticut and NBC Sports Philadelphia. In her free time, Taylor enjoys spending time with her dog, running, and watching the Philadelphia Eagles. She is excited to now be “Working for You!”

Presenting Sponsors

Supporting Sponsors

Speaker Sponsor

Exclusive Media Sponsor

Women of Impact 2019

President, United Personnel

By Connecting People with Opportunities, She Impacts the Economy — and Many Lives

Tricia Canavan spent much of her early career as an educator. Today, in a much different role, education is never far from her mind.

“As I’ve done this job for the last eight years, I’ve learned how education is tied to workforce development and people being successful. It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

She’s been helping people support themselves for much of the last decade as president of United Personnel Services, but also as a voice for the importance of education and workforce development in giving people the skills they need to access job opportunities. At the same time, by helping connect employers with talent, she’s helping companies grow, which boosts the region’s economy.

“When we have good jobs and we have thriving businesses, that’s good for everybody,” she told BusinessWest. “The health of the economy in Western Mass. is absolutely critical to every single person who works here and lives here.”

That’s real impact — which is why it’s no surprise Canavan is being honored with this award. But she’s not one to seek out accolades, said Jennifer Brown, United’s vice president of Business Development, who nominated Canavan as a Woman of Impact.

“Tricia is incredibly humble,” Brown said. “In spite of her success, she never considers any task to be beneath her. On any given day in the office, you can find her sitting beside her staff, fielding phone calls, or greeting clients and candidates. When understaffed, she jumps in to help and consistently proves that she is not just a leader, but also a partner to her team.”

Canavan similarly deflects praise to her team. “I’ve been really fortunate to have the opportunity to run this company and be able to combine my interests with an amazing team of colleagues,” she said. “I’m so lucky in that regard. I would not be able to do everything I’m able to do without them behind me. No, not behind me — with me.”

Knowledge Is Power

Back to that role as an educator, though. “I’ve always been very driven to give back, and I really thought my career was going to be in education or nonprofit management of some sort, and that’s a lot of where my career has taken me,” she explained.

As a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Canavan volunteered teaching English as a second language, and later worked as a tutor-counselor with Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps high-school students become first-generation college students.

“It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

“I really fell in love with these kids and their families. It became very clear to me that education is the key to so much,” she said. “I could see the impact that we can have working in partnership with them, helping them achieve their goals. I loved that opportunity.”

Prior to taking over her family’s business — her parents, Jay Canavan and Mary Ellen Scott, launched United Personnel in 1984 — Tricia ran the venerable lecture series known as the Springfield Public Forum. Prior to that, she worked in myriad teaching roles, including a stint at Berkshire Community College.

So her original career path wasn’t focused on following her parents’ path. Still, “when you’re part of a family business, it’s always part of you. I’ve worked here at various times as a younger person and have always been involved. My sister, my mother, and I are the board of directors. United has never been too far from my mind or my heart.”

After her father passed away about 20 years ago, Scott continued to run the company, and when she was getting ready to retire eight years ago, she was unsure what the best pathway forward was, Canavan said.

“So we hired some consultants to work with us and talk to me and my sister and the members of the senior management team at that time. At the end, they came to me and said, ‘we think you’re best suited to run this organization.’”

At the time, she was happy running the Springfield Public Forum, an organization she loved and remains involved with today.

However, “I had a mentor who knew I was considering this great opportunity — and how lucky am I to have had this opportunity? — anyway, she said to me, ‘you know, I think you want to make a difference in the world. And I think you will be able to make more of a difference running United Personnel than you will running the Public Forum. As great an organization as that is, you’ll have a different voice than you have now. And you’ll be able to make a difference and perhaps a bigger impact in your community than you currently can.’”

United Personnel moved its downtown Springfield headquarters to a larger space a few years ago.

That turned out to be a critical conversation as she considered how to move forward, she said. “I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

Clearing a Path

Many well-paying careers, Canavan noted, are in reach without a college education for those who are willing to access training, start small, and work their way up. Part of United Personnel’s mission is to dismantle as many roadblocks to employment as it can.

For example, employers typically prefer to hire someone with at least six months of recent, steady work without gaps. But, realizing there are reasons those gaps exist, United offers myriad short-term jobs to help people build a portfolio and references and prove they can handle something more permanent. Meanwhile, it helps connect job seekers with the myriad workforce-training resources available in the community.

There are institutional barriers as well, such as the so-called ‘cliff effect,’ which throws up financial disincentives to people on public benefits who want to work. She said a bill currently making its way through the state Legislature would address that scenario through a pilot program that would help low-income Springfield residents access jobs while reducing the need for public benefits.

Her advocacy for people seeking work starts where she believes it needs to start — in the schools, by making sure students are learning at an age-appropriate rate. Only 7% of Springfield children are considered kindergarten-ready when they enter school, and if they don’t hit reading proficiency by third grade, it sets them on a never-ending pattern of playing catchup.

“That’s my nonprofit heart, asking what does social justice look like for our kids and our families, and what role does education play in that, and then how does that feed into workforce development and a strong economy? It’s all tied together, for sure,” she told BusinessWest.

“How do we help our students and our families get to the point where they are at a living wage and they can support themselves and thrive?” she went on. “One of the social determinants of health, when we look at population health, is economic stability. So it even drives health outcomes. It’s critical.”

For that reason, making sure kids have the same educational opportunities no matter their address or family circumstance is nothing less than a social-justice issue, she said.

“I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

“I believe everyone is aware of these inequities, and we’re all working on them, but the reality is, if you live on the Springfield side of Forest Park as opposed to the Longmeadow side of Forest Park, you’re likely having a very different education experience.”

At the end of the day, helping people — from childhood through life — access the education and skills they need to live the life they want is a critical element of Canavan’s impact, and one she takes seriously.

“I feel like it’s a little bit glib to say the best way out of poverty is a job. But we need to help everybody achieve the educational background they need — and that can mean different things for different people,” she said, whether that’s a certificate or degree from college or vocational training in a trade. “What is the pathway to a living wage?”

Growth Pattern

And that brings her to the second pillar of United’s business, helping companies access the talent they need to grow.

“It’s all tied to economic development,” she said. “I see so clearly the importance of education to a strong economy. If our employers don’t have the qualified candidates they need, they’re not going to stay, and if they do stay, they’re going to struggle.”

United has grown significantly since Canavan’s parents opened their first office in Hartford, specializing in professional, administrative, and finance services. A few years later, they opened a second office in Springfield, focusing on support to the light industrial sector. Today, the firm also boasts offices in Northampton, Pittsfield, Chelmsford, and New Haven.

Meanwhile, its roster of specialties has grown to include manufacturing, hospitality, information technology, nonprofits, medical offices, and even a dental-services division, which has proven to be a significant growth area.

Cavanan said she enjoys working in partnership with clients because it allows United to become a part of their business and operational strategy and provide real value. Whether it’s helping clients with continuous improvement, staff-retention strategies, joint recruiting events, or simply serving as subject-matter experts in matters like HR compliance, she said United does its best work when it’s able to take on that level of partnership.

That said, she noted that legislative mandates from Boston, such as increased minimum wage and broadened leave laws, continue to burden employers and make it more difficult than ever to do business in Massachusetts.

“I’m interested in educational policy, but also regulatory policy as it affects businesses,” she said. “As a younger person, I would’ve said, ‘she’s sold out, she’s gone to the dark side, she’s become conservative.’ But being in this role has given me a much more nuanced picture of all the different elements that make up a thriving region. Businesses can look at competing, surrounding states and see a more favorable regulatory environment. So I think we in Massachusetts really need to make sure we’re balancing the needs of our residents with the burden on businesses. I don’t think we, as a state, have figured that out yet.”

After providing staffing and HR support to its clients, and career opportunities to its candidates, United’s third pillar has long been giving back to the communities it serves, Canavan said, and she encourages her staff to volunteer and serve on boards — both on work and personal time — while the company supports area nonprofits financially.

“I’m really fortunate to work in an organization I love where we’re doing work to help our candidates and help our clients, but also gives us a platform to do things in the community, whether it’s policy or volunteerism or being able to endow a scholarship. I feel very, very lucky to be able to do that,” she said.

Several years ago, Brown noted, United launched an annual Academic Merit Award. This program identifies one contract employee, or the child of a contract employee, currently enrolled in college or a recent graduate, as the winner of a $1,000 award to recognize hard work both inside and outside the classroom.

“It is opportunities like this that show her employees that she’s invested in their futures,” Brown said. “Tricia stands behind everything that her employees stand for — drive, determination, heart, and community involvement.”

Bottom Line

Again, that’s real impact on real lives — something Canavan wondered whether she’d have when she left a career she loved eight years ago.

“As my mentor said, ‘you can have a voice. You can have impact,’” she recalled, quickly noting that scores of other women in the region are just as worthy of being called Women of Impact, and she hopes more of them are publicly recognized as such. “I’m always struck by how lucky I am that a handful of people brought me to the table. It’s a privilege to be able do all this.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

President, CEO, and General Manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

This Radio Pioneer Has Overcome Obstacles to Better Her Community

“Success,” Booker T. Washington once said, “is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

By both standards, Carol Moore Cutting is certainly a woman of impact.

It’s a quote she has long loved, not only because she admires Washington — who established Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she earned a degree and met her husband — but because of the truth it reflects about her own life, and the lives of others with a passion or dream that encounters stress, hardship, and opposition.

“Booker was very much an entrepreneurial person who built Tuskegee from nothing,” said Cutting, who grew up in a rural, segregated area of Alabama and came to Massachusetts with some entrepreneurial dreams of her own.

It was her husband’s first job that led them to settle in Longmeadow; Dr. Gerald Cutting, now retired, is a Boston native who eventually opened his own veterinary practice in Chicopee. Carol was initially struck by how difficult it was to connect with places where communities of color gathered — in particular, how little community information was available on the radio at the dawn of the ’70s.

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?’ As naïve as I was — I was very young — I began to do research at the library.” That research, on what was required to launch a career in broadcasting, led to a license from the Federal Communications Commission in 1971.

But that’s just the start of the story that saw the birth, 28 years later, of WEIB 106.3 FM in 1999 — currently the only locally owned commercial FM radio station in the Greater Springfield market, the only female-owned FM radio station in Massachusetts, and the only station — AM or FM — in New England owned by a person of color, and now celebrating its 20th anniversary of eclectic programming, community awareness, and, yes, impact.

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress,” said Irene Thornton, who is both an on-air host and a member of the administrative, operations, and sales team at WEIB, in nominating Cutting for this award.

“In a world dominated by men, she has made bold decisions to command an on-air staff that is overwhelming female,” Thornton added. “She has broken the well-established industry stereotype that women are to be relegated as a second voice, a two-dimensional entity on the radio, and has placed women in her prime-time programing schedule. These women, most without formal training in radio communication, were mentored by Mrs. Cutting to become recognized and award-winning on-air hosts. These voices, with her support, are setting a standard for the next generation of female broadcasters who want to pursue the airways as themselves.”

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?”

That sort of pass-it-on influence is gratifying to Cutting, who has drawn inspiration from a strong role model in her mother and a series of pioneers who came before her.

“We had no resources, no money, and we were young,” she said of her idea to create the radio station. “Looking back, you might say, ‘the nerve of you, how did you think you could do that?’ Well, Booker T. Washington built Tuskegee University from nothing, so why not?”

Heading North

Cutting traces much of her ambition, in broadcasting and in life, to high expectations placed on her by her educational mentors, but more importantly her mother.

“I was told I didn’t have to let where I came from dictate where I was going in life — because where I came from, as I said, was this very segregated, southern environment,” she recalled. “But I also came from a family where my mom was an excellent role model in terms of pushing yourself and striving toward your goal.”

Her mother, a teacher, was a role model in several ways, she explained — as a kind, giving person who embraced people, but also a determined, hard-working woman who would teach all day, then drive from Livingston to Montgomery for night school — a 120-mile trek each way — then go back to school the next day to teach.

“That was the kind of environment I grew up in,” Cutting said. So, when she caught the itch to build a radio station, she drew on the same sort of determination her mother had displayed. “We just believed, ‘why not? It’s a long shot, but why not?’ Fortunately, I had a supportive husband.”

Others were less supportive. Cutting applied for a construction license to build the station in 1984, but she had a long fight ahead, particularly with a competitor who fought her in various courts for a decade and a half.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a tough 15 years. To be honest, it was a lot of prayer and being patient because it did not happen as quickly as one would think,” she recalled. “But even if you’re discouraged and people challenge you, that doesn’t mean you should just stop because you’re afraid of them. Knowing he had more resources and he was already in broadcasting made it even more difficult. But I prevailed at every level, all the way to the D.C. Court of Appeals.”

Carol Moore Cutting with T.J. Williams, who has been able to combine his twin passions for music and marketing at the station.

At least the long fight gave her time to hone her vision of what the station should offer. By the time the WEIB started broadcasting in 1999, she had been part of civic life in Greater Springfield for almost three decades, developing an understanding of what would draw in listeners and, crucially, advertisers.

“Because of my learned experiences and growing up the way I did, I’m more focused on the community, so I wanted to incorporate community things as well as broaden the scope of listening opportunities with programming that didn’t exist in this area,” she explained, adding that music that stirred her spiritually was one consideration.

“As much as I like gospel music, this is a commercial radio station, and even though it was a deep part of my faith and upbringing, I wanted something that brought everyone into the mix,” she went on. “So I decided on smooth, contemporary jazz, but I didn’t want to say ‘smooth jazz.’”

In the end, the mix that emerged is what WEIB calls “cool jazz, smooth sounds, and a touch of soul, with a cutting-edge blend.”

“But it took me a while to commit to that,” she added, with the process entailing copious research, attending broadcasting conferences, and plenty of soul searching. “I wanted something anyone can listen to.”

That mix has drawn a loyal core of advertisers who appreciate the station’s blend of a rich musical experience with community-focused information. Cutting’s mission, Thornton said, “is about getting a message out to her dedicated and loyal listeners, who she sees as family. In her eyes, it is vital that they are aware that there is someone right here in their own backyard who can support their needs. By tying this together, she effectively affirms the concept that we are one community, which promotes businesses and individuals growing together.”

And because she’s so rooted and invested in the Greater Springfield community, it’s important to stay here — and stay independent — at a time when most stations are owned by large conglomerates, Cutting said.

“It’s been difficult at times. It’s challenging because of the consolidation in the industry. Other stations have told advertisers, ‘well, we can cover everything, the entire market. You don’t have to deal with this little, independent radio station.’ But that isn’t true because our listeners are loyal, and [larger entities] don’t reach the audience we reach.”

That reach isn’t just local, she noted, but regional and even global through WEIB’s website, from which anyone can listen live.

“We get people writing us from all over the world saying, ‘we wish your terrestrial radio station could reach us,’” she told BusinessWest. “ So, we have listeners, but it’s something we’ve had to build. It hasn’t come easy.”

Voices Raised

Cutting’s commitment to the community includes the arts, as she has sponsored myriad cultural organizations and jazz festivals in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Meanwhile, the station’s “WEIB After Work Cool Down” program has offered a platform for up-and-coming musicians to showcase their talent.

The station has also supported non-arts-related nonprofits over the years through announcements and coverage, some with media sponsorships, but some of it under the radar. For example, Cutting was personally moved by TommyCar Auto Group’s annual Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament, which raises money for brain-cancer research, because she had a friend with the same condition.

“We didn’t approach them as a sponsor, but we promoted the event because of its impact. We ran commercials about how people could get involved and put in on the website because it was creating awareness of something important,” she explained. “You don’t always have to get a pat on the back to do what’s right and use the resources you have.”

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress.”

Of course, “we also do things in conjunction with organizations,” she was quick to add. “You can’t give away everything. I have to be careful because I have a soft heart and I empathize and I’m touched by so many needs in the community. If I was rich and had the resources, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. But we do have the radio station to get messages out.”

While striking that balance between lending community support and paying the bills, it helps that the station, unlike so many in America today, is locally owned.

“Because it’s local, we don’t have to go to corporate to decide what can we support. If we want to do something for breast-cancer awareness and there’s an event going on, or something for prostate cancer, we can do it. That’s what we strive for.”

Paying those bills is still a challenge, she said, because some potential advertisers will never see the value in partnering with a station with roots that are deeper than they are geographically broad. “They don’t get what we have to offer them, which is unique, and something they’re not going to find anywhere else in this market.”

The mother of two and grandmother of eight, Cutting has also taken on a caregiver role these days to her ailing husband — but says it’s a role she appreciates, cherishing the whole of their life together.

“My faith has seen me through some very challenging times, and I would say it continues. My strength doesn’t come from me,” she noted. “I tell people, ‘have faith and maintain and hang in there,’ and that’s what I’m doing with this radio station. It hasn’t always been the easiest time, to be honest with you, because of the fear of those who would minimize the impact we have the community.”

Twenty years of listeners, and organizations that have heard their voices amplified on the airwaves, would agree. So would the young African-American women who see Cutting as a role model and trailblazer.

They want to be inspired, she said — “and not just women of color, but any woman — and, I would venture to say, any person, because there’s no gender line, no racial line. People need to be encouraged.”

After all, you don’t need to be a national media giant to have an outsized influence.

“Don’t judge us by our size, but by the impact we have on this community,” she said. “We’re not corporately run — we are community-focused, yet with a broader regional and international flavor because we can be heard throughout the world.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

She Helps People — and the Community — Get Where They Need to Be

Jean Deliso likes to say she is part financial advisor, part therapist.

This description of her work as owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in Agawam sums up not only what she does, but how she does it. Indeed, while the primary objective of her job is to provide financial advice to her clients, she is also committed to forming a personal relationship with each individual who sits in front of her in order to better understand exactly where they are financially and where they want to be — and help them get there.

This is especially true with women, a rewarding niche, if one chooses to call it that, for Deliso, who has, over the course of her 25-year career in this field, become a specialist in empowering women and positioning them for a solid financial future, as well as during times of transition, such as divorce and widowhood.

“I spend a lot of time trying to speak to women because I want them to not be afraid and get educated so they understand that the decision they make, or the lack of the decision they’re making, is going to make a difference in their lives,” Deliso told BusinessWest. “We deserve equality, but we as women need to believe that we deserve equality.”

But helping women — and all her clients — chart a course for a lifetime of financial stability is only one of many reasons why Deliso has been chosen as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

She is also heavily involved in the community, especially with groups and causes that impact children and families. She currently serves as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation, and is immediate past chairman of the Community Music School, for example, and is also past chair of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield and past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

Meanwhile, as the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs (more on that later), and a successful one herself, she is also a mentor to young entrepreneurs, especially women, through work with Valley Venture Mentors.

Talking about the various aspects of her life — her work, her involvement in the community, and her family life — Deliso said they all connect and flow together.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not. We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

“Some people are different at work than they are at home, but I’m the same way throughout,” she said. “I’ve really identified that my effort in my business matches what I do in the community, and matches who I am. All three components are aligned.”

Together, they make her a true Woman of Impact, as noted by Scott Berg, vice president of Philanthropy at Baystate Health, executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation — and a client of Deliso Financial Services, one of her several people who nominated her.

“Jean is an outstanding person, both professionally and personally. She has built a successful business focused on helping people reach their financial goals,” he wrote. “I believe the key to Jean’s business success has been her unwavering dedication to the community; she is a person, both in business and in the community, who leads by example.”

On-the-money Advice

Deliso told BusinessWest that her strong work ethic, commitment to the community, desire to help others, and, yes, leadership by example are all what she calls family traits.

Indeed, she said she grew up in a family of entrepreneurs — her grandfather, Joseph Deliso Sr., founded HBA Cast Products, later run by her father — who made a point of donating time, energy, and talent to the community.

Her grandfather was one of the founders of Springfield Technical Community College, and his name is on one of the academic buildings on the historic campus.

Jean Deliso doesn’t have any buildings named after her — yet. But she is certainly following the lead of the generations before her when it comes to being an entrepreneur and giving back.

“My work at the YMCA, the Community Music School, and Baystate is all about helping children and helping those in this community who are not as fortunate as I was growing up,” she said. “I had wonderful parents, great role models, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family who were community-minded and taught me that hard work, dedication, giving back, and being kind to others was the way to live.”

With regard to entrepreneurship, Deliso said she knew early on that she wanted to work for herself, and she’s been doing that for 20 years now. After working in the family business in Florida, she relocated to Western Mass., where she consulted with small-business owners on financial operations and maximizing performance. She then segued into financial planning and has become a regional leader in that field.

Jean Deliso, seen here speaking with attendees at a Baystate Health Foundation event, has continued a family tradition of being active within the community.

She has been a New York Life agent since 1995, and is associated with the company’s Connecticut Valley General Office in Windsor, Conn. She is currently enjoying her seventh year as part of New York Life’s Chairman’s Council, ranking in the top 3% of the company’s sales force of more than 12,000 agents.

While such honors and accolades are rewarding, Deliso finds it more rewarding to assist individual clients, guide them through what can be a very difficult process at times, and help them make the right decisions to set them up for a financially stable future.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not,” she said. “We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

This is particularly true with women, she noted, adding that they often outlive their husbands and, too often, are not involved in the family’s financial planning.

“I like to educate women because I cringe when I hear the words, ‘oh, I’ll let my husband take care of that,’” Deliso said. “The value of a woman is so important, and I think we, as women, undervalue ourselves a lot.”

So, Deliso and her “small but mighty staff,” as she describes it, helps clients set goals and objectives, and then assists them with getting from point A (where they are) to point B (where they want to be, up to retirement and then through it).

“I will find the disconnects from where they are versus where they want to be, and I help them build this bridge to get them to where they want to be,” she said, adding that this sometimes includes asking difficult questions.

“She is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music.”

These include ‘have you thought of the what-ifs?’ and ‘are you prepared?’

All too often, the answers the answer to those questions is ‘no,’ she went on, adding that she has a passion for turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’

Balance Sheet

To get this point across, Deliso summoned a case from very early in her career — new clients who provided a critical lesson in being ready for one of those ‘what ifs.’

A young couple in their 30s had two young children and wanted to buy a house. Deliso sat down with them and talked about their goals and asked them those difficult questions mentioned above, especially the one about what would happen if something happened to one of them.

The couple decided they wanted college taken care of for their two children, and also wanted to take care of their mortgage. So, Deliso put them on a savings plan, bought them life insurance, and got them on track to start saving money.

Two years after she started working with this couple, she got a call from the husband: his wife passed away at the age of 32.

His first question, Deliso recalled, was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Her quick answer was that he could do it because of the plan she put in place for him.

“From that moment, those two children went to college because we put money aside for that college education,” she said. “We paid off most of the mortgage because I made sure that that family would be fine if one of those incomes went away, and that’s exactly what happened. This was so powerful that it cemented me in this career.”

Likewise, her family’s deep commitment to the community cemented in her the need to get involved and stay involved. And, as noted, this involvement often involves institutions and initiatives with missions focused on families and children.

Berg summed up this commitment in his nomination of Deliso.

“In addition to impacting the lives of her clients, she has influenced, both directly and indirectly, countless lives through her volunteer efforts at the Baystate Health Foundation, the YMCA, and the Community Music School,” he wrote. “As can be seen in the agencies with which she has given so much time, she is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music. This dedication to our youngest community members is truly an investment in the next generation of our community’s leaders.”

Elaborating, Berg noted that how Deliso serves the community is as important as where she trains those efforts, specifically with enthusiasm that is contagious and strong leadership.

“When Jean presents to the Baystate Health Foundation board of trustees, she strives to make her words resonate, to encourage introspection, and to promote enthusiasm,” he wrote. “Her passion is a reminder to all trustees why they have chosen to commit themselves to moving the foundation mission forward and the true impact it has on its beneficiaries. Jean is exactly what you would want in a leader.”

Her leadership skills were recognized, and applauded, by the Professional Women’s Chamber, which named her Woman of the Year in 2013.

Investments in the Community

As noted, there were several nominations for the Woman of Impact honor with Deliso’s name on them. Collectively, they do a fine job of explaining why she was chosen.

In hers, Judy Moore, director of Client Management at Deliso Financial, noted that working for Deliso has given her an inside look at all the hard work she invests in order to ensure her clients get the best service possible.

“Working for her for 11 years, I can attest to the fact that her high level of professionalism and ethics is astonishing, and her clients reap the benefits of that on a daily basis,” said Moore. “She never tires of giving back to the community and making lives better through her various work, both professionally and altruistically.”

Those sentiments effectively sum up both Deliso’s life’s work and her commitment to the community. In both realms, she always has one eye on today, and the other on tomorrow.

“What I do for a living makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “If I can make an impact on someone’s life, that’s a good day.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Partner, Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C.

She’s Made It Her Mission to Help Others Get Connected

‘Hi, Ellen. I hope all is well. I can’t wait to see you soon and hear all about your trip! My colleague Erica is very interested in getting even more deeply connected to the philanthropic life of the Greater Springfield area. Your name immediately came to mind, and I thought you both would have a lot to discuss.
Erica: Ellen is incredible! Please feel free to connect directly.’

Ellen Freyman doesn’t know how many e-mails like this one she’s received over the past few decades, but she does know it’s a big number. And she’s proud of each one.

The subject matter varies slightly (she’s obviously not recently back from a trip in all cases), but there are similar themes and like words and phrases used, and, yes, probably lots of smile emojis.

In short, this missive she agreed to share, sent by an executive at a large local employer, sums up perfectly why Freyman, an attorney with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, is a Woman of Impact and, well, what makes her tick, to summon a phrase from another time.

In short, Freyman’s name is the one that immediately comes to mind when people such as the executive who sent this note want to help others get more connected to the philanthropic life of this region.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating.”

That’s what Freyman does. It’s not all she does, as we’ll see. But that’s mostly what she does, and that’s what she believes is her biggest impact within the region.

She connects people with opportunities to get involved with their community, especially people new to this region and its business community, and also members of what would still be called the ‘minority community’ even though they’re not the minority anymore in Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities.

“What I like to do is bring together people who should know each other, who should be working together and collaborating,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she regularly gets e-mails like the one above asking her to make connections and introduce people to one another. “That’s what we need in this community — people working collaboratively — and that’s what I like to do.”

These sentiments explain why she founded an organization called OnBoard, which works to make some of those connections she spoke of and help organizations achieve not only diversity but cultural sensitivity by enlisting women, people of color, and other under-represented populations to their boards.

The nonprofit organization stages a biannual event at the Basketball Hall of Fame designed specifically to help organizations and people looking to get involved make much-needed introductions.

“I call it a cross between speed dating and a job fair,” said Freyman, noting that the event involves a host of area nonprofits with small tables arranged in a horseshoe. Attendees — those individuals looking to get involved — move from table to table looking for good fits.

The next event is slated for December (no specific date has been set), and Freyman is working hard to secure strong representation on both sides of the equation.

As she talked with BusinessWest for this story, Freyman brought along a cheat sheet of sorts — and she really needs one. It’s a running list of the boards and organizations she’s serving on or has served on in the past. There’s also a compilation of awards she’s won — and there have been many.

They range from BusinessWest’s Difference Makers Award (presented a decade ago) to the Pynchon Award; from Rotary International’s coveted Paul Harris Fellowship to Mass. Lawyers Weekly’s Top Women in Law Award.

The board-activity list is quite impressive as well, and includes everything from the Community Music School to Elms College to the World Affairs Council. Equally impressive, though, is her desire, as she put it, to replace herself on all those boards and get other people involved with those organizations and the community at large.

“I want all of these boards to have younger people on them — new blood,” she said as she ran her finger down the list. “And I want these boards to have memberships that look like the community today — not what it looked like years ago.”

She said this process of replacing herself will take place over the next few years and certainly by the time she retires — six years from now is the plan. In retirement, she might sit on a board or two, but her real ambition is to return to the classroom (that’s where she started her career) and teach adult basic education to refugees and others. But that’s another story.

This one’s about making connections and creating diversity, and those are the reasons why Freyman is a Woman of Impact.

Creating a Deeper Pool

Freyman said she’s made it a habit in recent years to stop for a minute at each event she attends — and there are several each week, and often a few each day, during the busy seasons in the spring and fall — and also at each board gathering, and do some counting.

Ellen Freyman says she launched OnBoard to help individuals get involved in their communities, and also assist area nonprofits and institutions with achieving diversity.

Specifically, she’s counting the Hispanics and African-Americans in whatever room she happens to be in, hoping that the number will represent something approximating the demographic profile of the Greater Springfield area.

Rarely, she said, does it meet that threshold.

“No one wants it to be that way — no one,” Freyman told BusinessWest, adding that there are reasons why boards and gatherings lack diversity. For starters, while there are some candidates, the number is not as high as it should be given this region’s demographic profile, she said, adding that many groups need introductions to the many fine candidates that are in the 413.

Creating a larger pool of candidates, and then making these connections, has become Freyman’s life’s work outside of her life’s work.

And that is a law practice focused on several specialties, but especially commercial transactions and commercial real estate.

She segued into law after stints in the classroom and as a commercial banker, and joined Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin in 1988. Even before that, though, she was getting involved in the community.

She started with Jewish Family Services (JFS) in 1984, not long after she relocated to this region and joined Third National Bank as an auditor training to be a loan officer — and also not long after she enrolled at Western New England University School of Law.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that.”

She recalls having lunch with Steve Dane, principal with the accounting firm Themistos & Dane, and asking how she could get involved. Dane was on the JFS board at the time and asked her if she wanted to join him.

She did, got very involved with the group’s efforts to assist Russian refugees, and soon added the board of the Springfield Museums to her schedule. And many others followed.

But her work in the community has involved much more than board sitting. Indeed, she has been very active in raising money for many of the groups she’s been involved with, and also with identifying, and in many cases mentoring, the next generation of leadership for those organizations.

Indeed, looking back to that lunch with Steve Dane, she said she’s doing for others what he did for her nearly 40 years ago — helping them get involved in their community.

Freyman said the initial impetus for OnBoard, which she created in the mid-’90s, was to get more women involved and on area boards.

“But immediately afterward, I realized that we’re not the only voice that’s missing,” she said. “We need to focus on all under-represented groups, and we have.”

In December, the nonprofit will stage its sixth board-matching event, she noted, adding that, to date, the initiative has had a good amount of success with connecting members of those under-represented groups to opportunities to get involved. But there is still work to be done when it comes to making boards, businesses, and, yes, those myriad events where Freyman takes a head count more diverse.

Overall, she wants other boards, commissions, and businesses to look like the Springfield Rotary Club, which is much smaller than it was years ago (all service clubs are), but more diverse, in large part because Freyman, who has been a member for nearly 30 years now, has recruited members of minority communities. And like the Springfield City Council, which is far more diverse than it was years ago because candidates from underserved constituencies have come forward and become candidates for those seats.

“The Springfield City Council looks like the city,” she said, putting a verbal exclamation point on that statement, adding that other groups need to take on that quality, not for the sake of numbers, but because boards and commissions are more effective, she believes, when their membership mirrors the community they’re serving.

How can boards become more diverse?

Well, Freyman, without exactly saying so, suggested this goal could be achieved if more people worked as she does to make connections and help others get involved.

This, as she said, is her most meaningful contribution locally, far more than her work on any specific board — or all the boards she’s served on over the past 35 years.

“I want to help empower people who haven’t been involved and contributing and volunteering, and give them entrée to all that,” she told BusinessWest. “What’s nice is that people do think of me as someone who can help them connected. People will say, ‘someone told me you’re the person I need to talk with if I want to get involved’ — I get those calls and e-mails all the time, and it makes me feel like I am helping to create progress.”

And these efforts extend to replacing herself on many of the boards she’s currently on.

“I want to open up my seat — I don’t want to take the spot of someone who should be there,” she said, using that phrase to reference younger people and those of color.

Overall, she believes progress is being made on this broad front — she noted that Springfield’s hiring of a diversity officer is a significant step in the right direction — but that much work still needs to be done.

Walking the Walk

The OnBoard website features a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that sums up not only its mission, but Freyman’s considerable impact in the community: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

Freyman has always done a lot for others, whether it’s donating time and imagination to a board, helping to raise money for a nonprofit, or assisting refugees as they try become part of the community.

But her biggest contribution has been prompting others to ask that question posed by Dr. King — and then answer it in a resounding, meaningful way.

And that’s why, as the e-mail writer noted, “Ellen is incredible.”

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

Women of Impact 2019

Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor

Former Mayor Says Making an Impact Recharges Her Batteries

As she talked about her lengthy career in public service and her philosophy about such work, Mary Hurley summoned a 30-year-old memory that certainly speaks volumes about why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Then mayor of Springfield — the first (and still only) woman to sit in the corner office — she was eating dinner at the kitchen table with her husband, Michael (now deceased), when the phone rang.

Michael picked up the call and encountered a very frustrated man on the line complaining that his trash didn’t get picked up. After assuring the caller he would pass the message along to his wife, he looked at her and said, “if a Chrysler breaks down, do they call Lee Iacocca?”

Mary recalls telling him, and she’s paraphrasing, that maybe they don’t call the CEO of Chrysler when their car won’t start, but they do call the CEO of the city when their trash is still sitting on the curb.

“I told him it’s a 24/7 job,” Hurley recalled, adding that, throughout her long career, she’s made it a point to know not just the formal job description for the various positions she’s held, but everything that goes into each job, right down to making sure the trash gets picked up.

That goes for her stint as mayor, her lengthy career on the bench as a District Court judge, her time on the City Council before becoming mayor, her tenure in the city’s Law Department before running for City Council, and her current work on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, which she was elected to in 2017 after “coming out of retirement,” as she put it.

It was a short retirement, and not retirement as most know it — she left the bench in 2014 only to again practice law (she’s of counsel to the firm Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley) — because she decided she certainly wasn’t through serving people in the four western counties of Massachusetts and being a strong advocate for this region.

“It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people.”

Indeed, since being elected to the Governor’s Council for the Eighth District, she has worked tirelessly to not only fill vacancies on the bench — a problem she recognized while serving as a justice — but push for geographical equity in the Bay State concerning the appointment of judges and clerks. And she’s helped achieve progress in both areas.

“When I started in this judgeship, we had 28 judges out here in the District Court in this region, and when I left, we had 19; you try running a business when a third of your workforce is gone,” she said, adding that, since taking office, these numbers have improved considerably.

Looking back on her career, and ahead — she’s planning to seek re-election to the Governor’s Council — Hurley said she’s driven by a desire to help people, usually at a difficult time in their life, and use her knowledge and skills to make an impact. Succeeding in that quest has provided lasting rewards, as another story, this one from just a few years ago, makes clear.

“I was getting a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, and the girl who was waiting on me said, ‘you were my judge; you turned my life around,’” Hurley recalled. “It’s the impact you can have, often that you don’t even know about, that’s so important for people. It gives you a really long-lasting, good feeling. It’s like verification that you actually made a difference.”

There are a great many people who can say the same thing as that young woman in the coffee shop, people who can say that Hurley helped turn their lives around. And that’s why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Making Her Case

Looking back on her life and her career, Hurley said there were a few pivotal moments that positioned her to be able to make a difference in so many lives.

The first occurred at Elms College, where she was training to be a teacher, but, after some experience in the classroom practice teaching, she decided this wasn’t the route she was destined to take.

“I knew after practicing teaching that the one thing I didn’t want to do was teach school,” she said with a laugh, adding that, while she gives credit to all who do this extremely difficult job, it simply wasn’t for her.

Instead, she decided to enroll in law school with the goal of following in her father’s footsteps as a criminal lawyer. She got accepted into Boston College, but chose to go to Western New England University so she could take classes at night and work at her father’s office in Springfield during the day.

“That first year … I knew I loved it,” she said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

The second ‘moment,’ if you will, involved an internship she landed during law school in Springfield’s Law Department, an opportunity that put her on a path to a career in both the law and public service.

“My summer internship at the city Law Department was key to exposing me to the political side of things up close,” said Hurley, who would later serve as assistant city solicitor. “If I didn’t have that experience, my life would have been totally different.”

Mary Hurley has had many titles attached to her name over the years, including city councilor, mayor, and District Court judge.

Wanting to make an even deeper impact in the community, and with a little encouragement from former City Solicitor Frank Antonucci, Hurley ran for City Council. After coming up short in two bids, one to now-U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, she eventually served two terms on the council, an experience that only fueled her passion for serving the city she grew up in.

Indeed, when Neal, after becoming mayor, decided to run for Congress in 1988, Hurley triumphed in a special election to become the city’s first woman CEO.

But her mettle, and her ability to work with others to solve hard problems, was tested immediately, as she assumed the corner office during what became very difficult times for the city financially.

“I walked in the door, and [Massachusetts Gov. Michael] Dukakis was running for president,” she recalled, referring to the 1988 election eventually won by George H.W. Bush. “So all the financial problems in the state got swept under the rug. I had to lay off 850 people the first six weeks I was in office.”

The financial situation was so dire that Hurley convinced voters to override Proposition 2½ and raise their taxes by about $9.2 million — to this day, she is still the only mayor of a large metropolitan city to do this.

The override and the massive layoffs were just some of the steps Hurley took to lead the city back to financial stability, and, looking back, she counts this among her most significant — and rewarding — accomplishments.

“Springfield has always been my home,” she told BusinessWest. “I was proud to be able to get us through a serious financial crisis without having to close the schools, without having to go into bankruptcy, and coming up with some changes in the law that required a balanced budget and fiscal accountability.”

Court of Opinion

After serving two terms as mayor, Hurley decided to go back into private practice for a short time in 1991, becoming a principal of the firm Cooley Shrair, before she was encouraged to apply for a judgeship. She was sworn in as a District Court judge on Sept. 29, 1995 and served until July 4, 2014, when she ‘retired.’

But, as noted, it was not a typical retirement, and it didn’t last very long.

“My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

“For the first six months after I retired, I didn’t do anything,” she recalled. “There was a prohibition against me practicing law because I was a judge, so I bought a place in Florida. I was going to retire, play golf, and that was going to be it. But I just got caught up in the whole political scene again, and here I am.”

By that, she was referring to her decision to run for the Governor’s Council, a return to public service sparked by her concern about how understaffed the courts were with judges. She decided to run for the council in an effort to do something about it.

She recalls putting 30,000 miles on her car while campaigning hard in all four western counties during that 2016 election, introducing herself to people unfamiliar with her record in Springfield or on the bench. She eventually triumphed, earning 60% of the vote.

In her first year in office, she worked with the Baker administration to fill a number of vacancies: six new District Court judges, three Superior Court judges, three Probate Court judges, two Juvenile Court judges, and clerks in Orange and Chicopee. Of the new judges appointed, nine are women, a development she’s very proud of.

“I want to continue to keep the courts supplied with good personnel because I truly believe, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” she said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “My whole life has been public service and the law, and I enjoy what I do.”

She told BusinessWest that what’s important is not just filling vacancies, but filling them with the right people, which is a huge part of her work on the Governor’s Council.

She said the judicial nomination process is a lengthy one, with the council reviewing applications and interviewing candidates and ultimately making recommendations to the governor.

For each nominee, Hurley reads a 40-page application, interviews the candidates, and vets each person thoroughly to determine if they are right for the bench. And she uses her years of experience in public service to help guide her as she goes about such difficult and important work.

“I’m very interested and concerned about temperament, their character, what kind of involvement they’ve had in their local community, and who they have for references,” she said, adding that their experience, knowledge of the law, and what kind of judgeship the individual is seeking are all factors as well. “It’s also important to me to look at how they treat people in the courthouse. How do they treat the court officers? How do they treat their clients and the other lawyers that are on the other side of cases?”

Final Argument

Hurley said she plans to run for the Governor’s Council again in 2020 because, well, she’s a “glutton for punishment.”

That’s one way to describe nearly four decades of public service. She has many others, as well.

Indeed, she describes such work, as tedious as it can sometimes be, as immensely rewarding. For proof, she retells stories like the one involving the waitress in the coffee shop and her husband taking that phone call back when she was mayor.

Such seemingly small moments, she said, have a big impact and get her through the hardest of times. As a judge, it was a parent coming up to her and saying, ‘thank you for saving my child’s life.’ As mayor, it was someone thanking her for doing a great job.

“I could walk into an elevator frustrated as hell; there’s all kinds of stuff going on in the city, and you’re the mayor, and there’s a budget crisis, or it’s this or it’s that,” she said. “Then, someone walks into the elevator and says, ‘thanks for the job you’re doing.’ It gives you that little charge. It literally recharges my batteries.

“I never planned to do any of these things, but it just all fell into place,” she went on, adding that having family and friends by her side got her through the ups and the downs over the years. “You’re not here by yourself; your family, your friends, they all affect how you do things, what you’re able to do, and what motivates you to do the best you can.”

Hurley has been doing the best she can throughout her lengthy career, and success at each stop, in the many ways it can be measured, has certainly made her a Woman of Impact.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

Assistant Superintendent, Springfield Public Schools

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez

This Educator and Leader Strives to Position Students for Success

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez says she entered the education field somewhat by default.

As she tells the story, she was working first at American Airlines at its reservation desk in Hartford and then Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield doing similar work just to make ends meet.

And then … she took a job as a substitute teacher and, as she put it, “got the bug.”

Big time.

Nearly a quarter-century after entering that fifth-grade classroom at Samuel Bowles Elementary School as a sub, she is the assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (SPS). This is a position with a broad job description, as we’ll see, and one that ensures that each day is not like the one before it or the one after it.

She likes that aspect of it, certainly, but what she enjoys most is the challenge — and the opportunity — of positioning young people for success later in life, and this, when you get right down to it, is the basic job description for every one of the more than 4,000 people working for Springfield Public Schools.

It’s one of the many aspects of her work she is passionate about, as evidenced by these comments about the Working Cities Challenge — an initiative led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to create opportunities for low-income residents of smaller cities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — and Springfield’s involvement in it.

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally,” said Martinez-Alvarez, a core member of the team leading the city’s efforts within the program. “I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.

“That didn’t sit well with me,” she went on. “So when the opportunity came about to create a group to try to close that gap of unemployed and underemployed individuals, I jumped on it.”

“When I saw the unemployment gap involving the 18- to 24-year-olds, I took it personally. I thought, ‘we’re contributing to that gap — we’re letting them go at 18, and we’re sending them off to become unemployment statistics.”

She has jumped on a number of strategic initiatives to take what has long been one of Springfield’s weakest links — its school system — and make it an asset.

These efforts are still very much a work in progress, but there are encouraging signs.

Indeed, when Martinez-Alvarez and Superintendent Dan Warwick took their respective positions in 2012, the graduation rate in Springfield was 56.6%, and the dropout rate was 6.5%. Today, those numbers are 76.9% and 5.1%, respectively, rates of improvement that are among the most, if not the most, significant in the Commonwealth.

When asked what’s behind them, Martinez-Alvarez said there are many factors, but especially ongoing work to promote parental engagement and work vigorously to keep kids in school.

Summing it all up, she said it comes down to building relationships with those at every level of the equation — students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, and the community — and also creating more accountability.

While building these relationships, SPS works to develop plans for specific schools that will set goals for improvement, measure results, and keep the school in question on the desired track. And these are group efforts that involve many stakeholders.

Such efforts have generated improvement on many levels, including progress with taking a number of underperforming schools (formerly known as Level 4 schools) off that list (although many remain on it), and moving the needle in the right direction on graduation and dropout rates.

But the ultimate goal is to ensure that students can take those diplomas and use them to not only enter the workforce, but thrive within it.

And Martinez-Alvarez believes the system is making progress in this realm through initiatives ranging from internship and work programs to the new Conservatory of the Arts being created in the former Masonic Temple on State Street.

While playing a significant role is all these initiatives, Martinez-Alvarez, the first Hispanic to hold the assistant superintendent’s position in Springfield, has become a role model to all young women, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike, who aspire to careers in education.

Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, left, seen here with Annamarie Golden, director of Community Relations at Baystate Medical Center at Baystate’s recent Adopt-a-Classroom Challenge, has been instrumental in helping Springfield’s schools get the tools they need to succeed.

That’s a role, like her one with the School Department, that she takes very seriously, and that’s one of many reasons why the judges have chosen her as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

Learning Curves

Martinez-Alvarez remembers a few intriguing, somewhat awkward, but ultimately “neat” moments when she became assistant principal of Chestnut Accelerated Middle School.

And perhaps with good reason.

After all, she attended the old Chestnut Middle decades earlier, and some of those who taught her were still at their jobs.

“All of a sudden, I became their boss, and that was interesting,” she recalled. “I would still call them … Miss Taylor, for example, and she would say, ‘no, Lydia, you don’t have to call me that.’ It was like I was still afraid of her, she was still my teacher; I couldn’t flip the relationship for some reason. But we did some really good things, and they were very supportive.”

Martinez-Alvarez has enjoyed a good deal of support during a 23-year career that has taken her from the classroom at Forest Park Middle School to the principal’s office at Chestnut to the administration offices of Springfield Public Schools.

Looking back on it, she said there has been a succession of opportunities made available to her, and she has taken advantage of each one — starting with that substitute teaching assignment.

After getting the ‘bug,’ as she put it, she knew she would need more than her degree in Business Management from Westfield State University to go any further in education. She consulted with David Cruise, then HR director of SPS (now director of MassHire Springfield) about charting a new career course. She earned her MAT (master’s degree in teaching) at Elms College, and while doing so took a job teaching Spanish part-time at Forest Park Middle School.

That job eventually led to a full-time teaching post at Forest Park Middle, during which Martinez-Alvarez said she was encouraged by her principal to get her administrators license. She did, taking part in both the Lead program within SPS and returning to Westfield State to earn her certificate of advanced graduate studies in education administration. She eventually became certified as a principal.

When asked about the shift from teaching to administration, Martinez-Alvarez said she started to take on administrative duties at Forest Park Middle — everything from the yearbook to creation of an annual talent show to MCAS tutoring — and enjoyed those assignments. With some encouragement, she decided to alter her career goals.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself,” she told BusinessWest, adding that this was the case with her principal at Forest Park Middle, Carol Fazio, who became a mentor in many respects.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many instances where someone saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

“She said, ‘I would love for you to become an assistant principal,’ Martinez-Alvarez recalled. “When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she said ‘absolutely,’ and that prompted me to go back to Westfield State and enter Project Lead.”

She interned at Forest Park Middle, and when Jesus Jara was named superintendent of the High School of Science and Technology in 2003, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as one of four assistant principals, a challenge she accepted.

“He gave me the 9th-graders,” she recalled, putting an exclamation point on that comment while acknowledging that was a logical move because she just came from a middle-school environment and knew many of the 9th-graders. “That’s a hard assignment for a newcomer like me, but it was fascinating; I really enjoyed the challenge.”

That has been a consistent theme throughout a career that saw her then take the helm at Chestnut Accelerated Middle School, which at the time, in 2004, had more than 1,200 students, an assignment that is in many ways a microcosm of her career and her commitment to help students succeed.

Grade Expectations

Like Sci Tech, as it’s called, Chestnut was facing a number of serious challenges when she arrived, including high absenteeism, a high suspension rate, test scores she described simply as “not so great,” and a relatively poor level of parental engagement.

She addressed those issues the same way she and the team at Sci Tech did, and the one the current administration does now.

“We really took a deep dive into what was happening through quantitative and qualitative data,” she explained. “We took a good look at who the teachers were, their strengths and weaknesses and attributes, and made some changes around the needs of the children.

“We had to look at everything, from the way the children were interacting in the halls to the PE schedule to the lunch schedule, and adjust according to the needs of the children,” she went on, stressing that word ‘we,’ and noting that this was a team effort.

And an effort focused on building those relationships she mentioned earlier, including one with the neighborhood, Plainfield, that surrounded the school.

“Many of our teachers at the time didn’t know the community, and they were afraid of it in many ways,” she explained. “Plainfield had a reputation which I didn’t agree with because I’d always lived in that part of town; I didn’t see what others saw. I saw a beautiful community filled with beautiful people. So we did a lot around the community so people would get to know it and people would get to know us.”

Martinez-Alvarez remained at Chestnut until 2008, when she became senior administrator for the Leadership Continuum and was named to the system’s senior leadership team.

Near the end of 2009, she became chief schools officer for Zone 3, meaning she supervised and led nine middle schools and high schools in the city. And when Warwick became superintendent in 2012, he asked Martinez-Alvarez to join him as assistant superintendent.

As noted earlier, this position comes with a detailed job description and a host of responsibilities.

Running through them quickly, she’s involved in all school initiatives, but specifically oversees everything from IT to attendance; from college readiness to summer school; from student services to Springfield School Volunteers.

That list also includes athletics and, most recently, work to identify the latest members to be enshrined into the SPS Sports Hall of Fame and the naming of its class of 2019, to be honored on Nov. 23 at Central High School.

Slicing through everything within her job description, Martinez-Alvarez said she and all those in administration at SPS are charged with positioning teachers, schools, and students for success.

This brings her back to those aforementioned strategies developed for specific schools within the system in conjunction with the state — and the relationship-building efforts with the many stakeholders involved with these strategic initiatives. And also to something she called “learning walks,” which are taken after plans are created and put into place.

“We need to monitor things and make sure these plans are not dust collectors on the shelf — that they’re live plans that are being fulfilled,” she explained. “We do learning walks — we go through the classrooms and look for evidence that change is occurring and that we’re doing what we told the state we were going to do to in order to make progress and close the learning gap for our students.”

Such initiatives have succeeded in helping 10 city schools exit the list of underperforming facilities, she went on, adding that several are still in underperforming status.

Overall, she believes SPS has turned a corner of sorts over the past several years.

“There are many things we’ve been doing, and that I’ve become personally involved with, to change the dynamics of what’s happening not only in our schools, but in our city,” she told BusinessWest. “And I believe we’re making some real progress.”

That phrase extends to efforts to close that gap involving the unemployed and underemployed, she said, adding that, through a host of initiatives, students are more workforce-ready when they take their diploma on graduation day.

Class Act

When asked to look back at her career to date and identify what she’s most proud of, Martinez-Alvarez didn’t hesitate.

“It’s the work to ensure that our students have the best possible learning experiences before they leave us, and that there’s something for them to go to when they leave,” she said. “It’s not just taking them to the end of their time with us — it’s about where they’re going next and preparing them for that.”

As noted, significant progress has been made in this realm, and Martinez-Alvarez has been a real force in making it come about.

And that’s just one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

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

Women of Impact 2019

Executive Director, Girls Inc. of the Valley

Girls Inc. Leader Is an Innovator, Role Model, and Inspiration

The phone call came roughly 13 years ago, but Suzanne Parker remembers it like it was yesterday.

It came several days after she had agreed to become the new executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, but a few days before she officially took the helm. The caller was informing her that the nonprofit was not going to be able to make payroll that week — unless some action was taken.

“I said, ‘you have a line of credit — and you’re going to have to use it,’ she recalled, adding that this was an expensive but very necessary step for an organization that had relied heavily on a federal grant that was due to expire soon and essentially lacked a plan for sustainability.

As she recounted that phone call all these years later, Parker said she wasn’t entirely surprised by it — “I went into this with my eyes wide open,” she told BusinessWest, noting that she was well aware of the agency’s fiscal condition — and not at all fazed by it.

“I like a good challenge — I knew what I was getting into,” she said, adding that she was in many ways motivated by the situation she found herself in.

Indeed, within a year she had righted the financial ship at the agency through a series of cost-cutting and revenue-generating steps (more on those later) and recalls with a huge dose of pride that she has never again had to tap that aforementioned line of credit.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”

But Parker, who earned a law degree earlier in her career and has certainly put it to very good use in her position, has done much more than put Girls Inc. of Holyoke on solid financial footing. Since becoming executive director in late 2006, she has led the nonprofit on an ambitious course of expansion — geographically, programmatically, and in terms of its overall impact to the region as a whole and to the individual girls who walk through the door.

For starters, she has taken the organization beyond its original borders and into Springfield and Chicopee, territorial expansion that has prompted a name change to Girls Inc. of the Valley. She has also helped introduce new programs, including the hugely successful Eureka program, an innovative and intensive five-year program that Girls Inc. operates in partnership with UMass Amherst and which is developing a pipeline of girls into STEM majors and careers.

Overall, Parker has become deeply and energetically involved in every aspect of the program, from board recruitment to fundraising; from events management to marketing.

And the results have been stunning, with the local chapter of Girls Inc. winning recognition for its efforts regionally — the nonprofit was named one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2018, for example — and within the Girls Inc. network, especially for its innovative programming.

Melyssa Brown-Porter, chair of the Girls Inc. board, put Parker’s impact on the nonprofit, area girls, and the region in its proper perspective while nominating her to be a Woman of Impact.

“Suzanne lives and breathes Girls Inc.’s mission and vision — for girls to be strong, smart, and bold,” she wrote. “She is extremely passionate about the work that GI is doing for girls and the communities they live in. She is always looking out for the best interest of the girls and concentrates very hard on the results programming has on their lives. Her focus is to reach and serve more girls with impact on our community.

“Suzanne has been an innovator and leader throughout her career,” Brown-Porter went on. “In tune with workforce needs and changes in the economy, Suzanne was piloting state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering, and math programs for girls long before STEM became the focus that is today.”

Innovator. Leader. Inspiration. These are the words many people have used to describe Parker’s work not only at Girls Inc., but at Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start before that and other stops on a lengthy career working with and on behalf of young people.

Some of her best work, however, may be as a role model for the girls who come into the program.

Indeed, Parker, who became a mother at 41, has managed to effectively balance work, life at home, and deep involvement in the community, meaning that girls looking for proof that all that can be accomplished need only walk down a few doors at the Girls Inc. complex in Open Square.

And now, those looking for more descriptive terms that can be applied to Parker have three more — Woman of Impact. Although, truth be told, they’ve probably been using them all along.

Orchestrating Progress

Parker joked that, while she played the clarinet well in her youth growing up in Belchertown — and later in some impressive performance venues, like the Esplanade and Government Center in Boston — she didn’t play it well enough to get paid to do it.

But her love of music prompted her to get a degree in music education from UMass Amherst and eventually teach instrumental band music at Cohasset Middle School. And that’s a good place to begin our story, because it was there that Parker developed an interest in working with young people — and a passion for helping those less privileged.

Seen here with some members of Girls Inc. of the Valley, Suzanne Parker has become a mentor and role model for many members.

“Cohasset was a very affluent community, and, with my humble beginnings in Belchertown, it was a little bit of a culture shock for me,” she explained. “The students I connected with the most were those who were part of the METCO program, mostly students of color living in Dorchester.

“It was important to me to make sure they were included in the band,” she went on. “I also wanted to include kids of different abilities, something that wasn’t the case when I got there, thus creating an environment and atmosphere where there was a lot of inclusion. That’s what I was most proud of from my work there.”

These themes of inclusion and working to provide opportunities to those less fortunate would define her work throughout her career.

Fast-forwarding a little, Parker said she soon realized that she wanted and needed more than teaching, but didn’t know exactly what. She started by returning to Western Mass. and working in sales for a time. Her career path took a rather sharp turn, however, when she saw a sign on the roadside advertising for Head Start substitute teachers.

She knew was overqualified, but took the job anyway, with her first assignment at the Westover Air Reserve center for Head Start. She spent the next 16 years moving up the ladder, serving in a number of roles and eventually deputy director.

Along the way, she realized she needed another degree, and after considering several options, including a master’s in social work and a master’s in education — she settled on a law degree.

“A friend of mine who I grew up with decided to go to law school at Western New England University, and he passed,” she recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘I know that guy — I think I’m as smart as this guy; I think I can do it.’”

So she applied, received some needed financial aid, and went to law school part-time at night, commencing an arduous journey that ended in 2003 when she passed the bar.

“There were many days of tears because I was working tons of hours as a senior-level exec at Head Start,” she said in reference to the difficult task of balancing everything she was doing at the time. “But I did it.”

And now, her very unofficial job description at Girls Inc. is to not only show young girls that they, too, can do it — but to give them a road map for getting where they want to go and the tools to get on the right course and stay on it.

Degrees of Progress

As noted, she has put that law degree to good use, providing ample evidence that such an education isn’t just for those who want to work in the courtroom.

“I use it every day,” she told BusinessWest. “That law-school education helps you every day as an executive director. I use it with everything I’m involved with: contracts, employees, real estate, administrative law — we have federal and state funding — as well as writing skills — I was on the Law Review. It was a really great education, and it has really helped me.

Beyond serving as a great advertisement for law school, those comments hint at Parker’s broad job description at Girls Inc. Slicing through it all, though, her primary work early on involved turning the organization around, putting it on solid financial ground and a path to sustainability — and keeping it on that path.

“It’s all about the mission. It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.”

She’s done that through a variety of measures, including some restructuring, belt-tightening, and the establishment of several of reliable fundraisers, especially the annual Spirit of Girls breakfast, launched in 2007, which does a lot more than raise roughly $150,000 each year, although that is certainly significant.

Indeed, girls involved in the program are heavily involved with the event, and several take to the microphone — in front of an audience of more than 500 people — to talk about Girls Inc. and how it is impacting their lives.

“We keep the expenses incredibly low; it’s a light breakfast, and we don’t pay for speakers — the girls are the speakers,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s an empowering experience for the girls themselves — they take leadership roles in this event.”

The breakfast is just one of the ways the organization works to empower girls and put them on the path to becoming leaders — in their chosen fields and the community as well.

Looking ahead, Parker said the obvious goal is to broaden the regional impact of Girls Inc. and continue those efforts to give the nonprofit the same qualities it strives to give young girls — to be strong, smart, and bold.

Thus, the agency will look to continually extend its reach within Springfield and Chicopee, while keeping Holyoke as its home and base. Finding a new, permanent home is one of the assignments moving forward, said Parker, as is creating sustainability for the Eureka program, conducted in partnership with UMass Amherst and its College of Natural Sciences, Bay Path University, and several other area colleges, and scaling up that initiative. A capital campaign to pay for all this is also in its formative stage.

As for Parker, who has continually sought out new challenges throughout her career, she’s looking forward to being with Girls Inc. as it strives to get to the next level.

“It’s all about the mission,” she noted. “It’s so empowering, and there is such a need; we know that there are still gaps that exist with women and girls with regard to opportunities and pay and STEM fields … there’s still such a need, and that’s why we do what we do.

“Every year, we have the conversation — am I still helping this organization, and is it still a win-win, for me and Girls Inc.?” she went on. “As long as I can still feel challenged and that we’re growing and we’re changing, and that I have something to give and I’m making a difference, I’m in.”

Leading by Example

And there are a great many people who are happy she’s in.

Indeed, Parker has become a Woman of Impact not just because of what she’s done as the leader of a nonprofit clearly in need of strong leadership.

She’s also reached that status by being an effective role model for the girls who join her program — and girls across the region. Years ago, she set goals for herself, understood what was needed to reach those goals, and positioned herself to succeed.

That, in a nutshell, is what Girls Inc. is all about, and while its success doesn’t stem from the work of a single woman, Parker’s influence has greatly enhanced its ability to carry out that all-important mission.

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

Women of Impact 2019

Managing Director, Golden Seeds

This Investor and Mentor Is Making a Difference within the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

Katherine Putnam was a history major in college, and she certainly knows her stuff.

While she really likes European history, she knows all about this country — and this region — as well. She knows, for example, about the very rich tradition of entrepreneurship in Western Mass., and what it meant for the development of individual cities and towns.

“From the 1880s to the turn of the century, Holyoke had more millionaires per capita than any city in the country,” she said, referring to the dozens of mill owners living in the Paper City. “There are two McKim, Mead & White buildings in Holyoke; there was so much money, they were paying for world-renowned architects to come in and design their buildings. And it was the same in Springfield.

“When you read your history books, for 100 to 140 years, this region was a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity,” she went on. “But that hasn’t been true for 50 years.”

Putnam knows that a return to those glory days is certainly not likely, given how global the economy has become and the development of innovation and entrepreneurship hubs such as Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and the Research Triangle. But she firmly believes that the region can once again be a thriving center of new business ventures, and she’s playing an active part in such efforts as managing director of Golden Seeds — a national investment firm that focuses on early-stage businesses that have women in management and leadership roles — and in a host of other roles within this region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

As an investor and a mentor — the two primary roles she plays — she has a number of goals and missions. They include sparking levels of entrepreneurial activity reminiscent of those from generations ago, and also leveling what is currently a very uneven field when it comes to which demographic groups receive venture capital and mentoring, and which ones don’t.

“We have two main problems overall. We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

“We have two main problems overall,” she noted. “We have less money flowing to diverse teams, and there’s less advice flowing to diverse teams. And my mission right now is to try to change that.”

Putnam brings an intriguing background, a wide variety of experience, and a host of skills sets to this mission and her various roles within the region’s growing entrepreneurship infrastructure.

Indeed, she started her career in the banking industry before shifting to corporate treasury work and then deciding she wanted to run her own company. In 1996, she put together a group of angel investors and purchased Package Machinery. Before selling it 20 years later, the company had become a technology leader in wrapping machinery for consumer-product manufacturers.

Today, while investing in some developing ventures, she spends most of her waking hours advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, especially women.

Meanwhile, she’s working diligently to create strategies for helping women and minorities crash through the many barriers facing them as entrepreneurs.

“Statistics tell us that 70% of angel money and about 95% of VC [venture capital] money go to teams that are all white males,” she told BusinessWest. “I love white males — I had one as a father, I have one as a son, and I have one as a husband — but that’s not equitable. What are the barriers that are keeping women and minorities — diverse teams — from getting more money?”

There’s no quick or easy answer to that question, she went on, adding that she and some colleagues are hard at work trying to not only find some answers, but develop strategies for somehow changing this equation.

Ali Usman, founder and president of PixelEdge and a fellow investor and mentor of entrepreneurs, summed up Putnam’s work in this region while nominating her for the Woman of Impact award.

“Kate should win this award for her consistent commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he wrote. “Kate is not just involved with one project or company at a time. She is constantly using her knowledge and expertise to help others day after day, week after week. Currently, she serves on three different boards, is a managing director of an angel-investment group, and, in her spare time, manages to mentor entrepreneurs through several different programs.”

Actually, mentoring is much more than a ‘spare-time’ pursuit. For Putnam, it’s her passion, and that’s one of many reasons why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Ventures and Adventures

When asked to summarize the best advice she gives to entrepreneurs at all levels, Putnam didn’t hesitate and recited the lines as if she’s uttered them hundreds of time, which she is undoubtedly has.

“Have lots of conversations with your customers and your prospective customers,” she said. “Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this.’ And then they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they’re solving that problem now.

Kate Putnam says it’s her mission to level the playing field when it comes it diverse groups and their efforts to gain capital and mentors.

“If you get out and make a lot of your widgets without figuring that out, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money,” she went on. “Whether it’s something really cool that you’ve developed in some esoteric lab at UMass at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences or you did it in your garage, you have to figure out who is feeling enough pain to change however they’re doing it now and adopt whatever it is that you’ve developed.

In short, she explained, people are more motivated by pain then they are by gain. “People will go a lot further to avoid losing $10 than they will to gain $10, and so I tend to ask people to think in terms of whether they’re solving someone’s pain and if people will be uncomfortable enough in their pain to switch.”

Steve Jobs was famous for not asking customers what they wanted and for actually saying that “customers don’t know what they want if they haven’t seen it before,” she noted, but he is certainly the exception to the rule with development of such products as the iPhone, and young entrepreneurs would be wise not to emulate that approach.

Passing on such advice has become a career of sorts for Putnam — or the latest career, to be more precise. Indeed, as noted earlier, she’s had several, which in sum have given her exposure to business and entrepreneurship from all angles.

That includes the finance, or funding, side, and also the entrepreneurial, risk-taking side with Package Machinery, which was struggling when she took it over, and she guided it back to prominence within that specific manufacturing niche, increasing machine sales by more than 300%.

In this, her latest career, she spends a good deal of time on the road — she’s put 40,000 miles on her car over the past 15 months by her reckoning — working in a variety of settings and with companies of all shapes and sizes.

Currently, she’s mentoring a few entrepreneurs involved in a program called I-Corps, a National Science Foundation initiative to increase the economic impact of research the agency funds.

“It uses the Lean LaunchPad model for getting people to identify a problem to solve,” she explained, adding that she’s mentoring teams behind ventures in Connecticut and Vermont. “You’re a scientist, and you’ve invented something cool; now you have to figure out if anybody wants it.”

She’s also involved with MIT and its Venture Mentoring Service, and also Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, which she has served in a number of capacities, including entrepreneur in residence for its most recent accelerator class, as well as Greentown Labs. She’s a founding member of Women Innovators & Trailblazers, which strives to make Western Mass. a more vibrant hub for women innovators and entrepreneurs, and also serves as an instructor with RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established small business owners created through a collaboration between the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business and Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

All this keeps her quite busy and her car’s odometer spinning, but it’s work she’s passionate about.

That’s especially true when it comes to mentoring women, leveling the playing field when it comes to capital and opportunities for women and minorities, and launching — and keeping — more businesses in the 413.

Capital Ideas

And the playing field is certainly not level, she told BusinessWest, citing those statistics concerning venture capital awarded to teams comprised of white men given to white men and noting that, by and large, the investing community has historically treated women differently than men, holding them to what amounts to higher standards.

When asked to elaborate and offer a tutorial, she talked about questions asked by potential investors and some of the categories they fall into, including ‘promotion’ and ‘prevention.’

“Most people come into this thinking, ‘I have this really cool idea — the world must want this. And then, they get out there and they realize that the world does not feel enough pain to switch from however they were solving that problem now.”

“A promotion question would be ‘how big would the market for your product possibly be globally?’” she explained. “And a prevention question would be ‘how are you going to reach your first $1 million in sales — how are you going to do that?’”

Prevention questions are associated with raising less money, she went on, adding that the more of these questions an individual or team gets, the less money they are likely to raise.

“We know that women get more prevention questions than promotion questions,” she went on, adding that she can’t get inside the heads of investors and come up with an answer to why this is the case, but she had some guesses.

“The sense of it is that the general theory is that women are less competent than men,” she said. “It’s also true that most of the people who are doing the investing are white men, and that they prefer to invest in and mentor people who look like them.”

Diversity refers to geography as well, she said, adding that there is less money flowing to people in more remote areas because, well, there is simply less money there, from the seed (friends and family) level on up to the VC rounds.

“If you’re in Wellesley and you want to raise seed money, it’s a lot easier there than if you’re in Holyoke,” she explained. “In Wellesley, you’ve got friends and family who are likely to have money, and in Holyoke, you’re less likely to have that.”

As she mentioned, changing this equation has become a mission, and she’s carrying it out in a number of ways, from creation of Golden Seeds to involvement with groups like VVM and SPARK EforAll Holyoke, to mentoring in places like Springfield, Holyoke, and other communities in this region.

These are cities, which, as she noted at the top, have a rich history of innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking that is, unfortunately, referred to mostly in the past tense.

“That kind of attitude toward building it, and taking the risk, and making that investment has been gone from this region for quite a while,” she noted. “And it’s tough to recreate it; it’s a real challenge.”

She acknowledged that the needle is moving in the right direction when it comes to entrepreneurial energy and startups taking flight, but not enough movement to suit her.

“I’m impatient — I want to see more activity, sooner, faster, all those things,” she said, adding that the two main ingredients needed are capital and mentoring. There is some of each, but there needs to be more if companies are going to get off the ground and then remain in the 413 rather than packing up and going to where the capital is, be it Cambridge, Boston, San Francisco, or somewhere else.

In Good Company

Reflecting on what has happened in recent years when it comes entrepreneurial activity in this region and efforts to level an uneven laying field when it comes to opportunities and capital for women and minorities, Putnam said there has indeed been change.

Just not enough of it.

As she said, it is her mission to create more of it. That’s the latest focal point of a career that has included success in business and a host of initiatives to help others enjoy some of that same success.

And it’s just another way in which she’s certainly a Woman of Impact.

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

Women of Impact 2019

2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards

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

Nominees can be high-level executives, entrepreneurs, leaders of a non-profit organization, business owners, volunteers, or mentors: any inspirational woman, at any level in her career, who is doing remarkable things. Nominate NOW! 

Event Information 

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
Tickets on Sale: September 1, 2019; Price $65
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

Nomination requirements and information

For sponsorship information contact:
Kate Campiti 413.781.8600 (ext. 104)  [email protected]
Kathleen Plante 413.781.8600 (ext. 108)  [email protected]

Presenting Sponsor

Supporting Sponsor

Speaker Sponsor

Exclusive Media Sponsor

2018 Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6, 2018 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

The 2018 Women of Impact Honorees:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allen Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

2018 Women of Impact Honorees

Celebrating the 2018 Women of Impact

Scenes from the Women of Impact Event

More than 400 people turned out at the Sheraton Springfield on Dec. 6 for BusinessWest’s inaugural Women of Impact luncheon. Eight women were honored for their achievements in business and with giving back to the community. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended and offered remarks on subjects ranging from advancements in STEM education to a host of bipartisan efforts at the State House. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno also offered remarks. The keynote speaker was Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam.

Women of Impact 2018

Leaders Who Have Been to the Top

BusinessWest’s chosen Women of Impact for 2018 know what it’s like to surmount challenges, tackle huge obstacles, and clear bars they’ve set very high.

As they receive their awards on Dec. 6, they and a gathered audience of friends, family, and colleagues will hear some motivational words from someone who’s done all those things in a very literal sense.

Indeed, the keynote speaker for the Inaugural Women of Impact Awards will be Lei Wang, the first Asian woman to climb the highest mountain on every continent and to ski to both the North and South Poles. 

Wang, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Tsinghua University in Beijing, an M.S. degree in Computer Science from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was on track for a promising career in information technology — until she discovered her passion for mountaineering in 2004 and set her dream on reaching the peak of the world’s highest mountains on seven continents and skiing to the North and South poles.

With no previous athletic training, she started with running, from one mile to a marathon. She built her basic fitness foundation and learned the craft of climbing from scratch. She gave up a normal life to dedicate herself to this undertaking and overcame many physical and ideological challenges with her commitment and determination. Her remarkable journey culminated at the top of Mount Everest on May 24, 2010. With that climb, she became the first Asian Woman to successfully reach the world’s seven summits and two poles.

Wang now shares her reflections and experiences in front of a wide range of audiences as a motivational speaker. At the Dec. 6 event at the Sheraton in Springfield, she’ll be sharing the day with eight women who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession, but who have also devoted their lives and their careers to finding ways to give back to the community.

That’s why they’ve been chosen as Women of Impact, with the emphasis on both women and impact.

The Women of Impact for 2018 are:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

The awards luncheon will begin at 11 a.m. with registration and networking. Lunch will begin at noon, followed by the program and introduction of the Women of Impact by Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest and Healthcare News and Tamara Sacharczyk, news anchor and I-Team reporter for WWLP-22 News.

The Inaugural Women of Impact is sponsored by Bay Path University, Comcast Business, Country Bank, and Granite State Development Corp, with media sponsor WWLP-22.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (413) 781-8600, or go HERE.

Thank you to our sponsors:


Bay Path University; Comcast Business; Country Bank; Granite State Development

Exclusive Media Sponsor:

Springfield 22 News The CW

Photography by Dani Fine Photography

Cover Story Women of Impact

Women of Impact to Be Saluted on Dec. 6

Leader. Inspiration. Pioneer. Mentor. Innovator.

You will read those words countless times over the next 8 profiles as BusinessWest introduces its first Women of Impact.

In fact, you might read all or most of those words in each of the stories because each member of this inaugural Class of 2018 are, as you’ll see, worthy of those adjectives.

These are compelling stories about remarkable women, and as you read them, you’ll quickly understand why BusinessWest added Women of Impact to its growing list of annual recognition programs. In short, these stories need to be told.

Some have been told in part before, but not in this context. Not in the context of a celebration of women achieving great things, standing out in their chosen field, and doing impactful work in the community.

BusinessWest chose to create this setting, this stage, if you will, because, while there have always been women of impact, many of these individuals and many of their accomplishments have not been given their proper due.

We’ll rectify that first with these stories on these pages, which detail not what these women do for a living, but what they’ve done with their lives. Specifically, they’ve become leaders in their fields, leaders within the community, and, most importantly, inspirations to all those around them.

The stories are all different, but there are many common denominators: these are women and leaders who have vision, passion, drive to excel, and a desire to put their considerable talents to work mentoring and helping others.

Individually and especially together, they’re made this a much better place to live, work, raise a family, and run a business.

They will be celebrated on Dec. 6 at the Sheraton in Springfield, starting at 11:30 a.m.. We invite you to come and applaud true Women of Impact.

The Women of Impact for 2018 are:

• Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services, Springfield City Library;

• Kerry Dietz, principal, Dietz Architects;

• Denise Jordan, executive director, Springfield Housing Authority;

• Gina Kos, executive director, Sunshine Village;

• Carol Leary, president, Bay Path University;

• Colleen Loveless, president and CEO, Revitalize Community Development Corp.;

• Janis Santos, executive director, HCS Head Start; and

• Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.


Purchase tickets here.

Photography by Dani Fine Photography

Thank you to our sponsors:


Bay Path University; Comcast Business; Country Bank; Granite State Development

Exclusive Media Sponsor:

Springfield 22 News The CW

Speaker Sponsor:





Event Keynote Speaker

Lei Wang
The first Asian woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam. Lei Wang’s journey redefined success in her own terms, and today, she is challenging individuals around the world to do the same.

In 2004, Lei, who grew up as a Beijing city girl who had no athletic training, set out to climb Mount Everest. She was on a promising career trek in finance with an MBA from Wharton. But she was excited about proving that an ordinary person could climb Everest. That excitement empowered her to not only climb Everest, but to become the first Asian woman to complete a journey to the summits of the highest mountains on each of the 7 continents and to the north and south pole, a feat called the Explorer’s Grand Slam. As she endured outstanding hardships and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she made an astonishing  discovery. She discovered that excitement is the driving force motivates and empowers every one of us and the secret to innovation, peak performance and extraordinary achievement. Today as a speaker, author and adventurer she travels the world to ascend new summits and empower individuals and organizations to dream big, take a leap of faith and to tap into the power of excitement to realize their potential and reach the heights of success. Read more about Lei here.

Meet the Judges

Samalid Hogan
Samalid Hogan is the regional director for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Regional Office. In that role, she has built partnerships across public, private, and civic sectors to achieve economic-development goals for the Pioneer Valley region. In 2014, Hogan founded CoWork Springfield, the city’s first co-working space, which focuses on serving women and minority-owned businesses. In addition, she was appointed to the Governor’s Latino Advisory Commission in 2017, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including Common Capital, the New England Public Radio Foundation, the Minority Business Alliance, and National Junior Tennis and Learning of Greater Springfield. A BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree in 2013 and winner of the Continued Excellence Award in 2018, she was also awarded the Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 2017 and was recognized as a Woman Trailblazer and Trendsetter by the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce in 2016.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan
Susan Jaye-Kaplan is the founder of the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club and Go FIT Inc., and co-founder of Link to Libraries Inc., an organization whose mission is to collect and distribute books to public elementary schools and nonprofit organizations in Western Mass. and Connecticut. She is also the co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Network and founder of the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club of Western Mass., as well as an advisory board member and fundraiser for Square One. She has received one of the nation’s Daily Point of Light Awards, the President’s Citation Award at Western New England College, Elms College’s Step Forward/Step Ahead Woman of Vision Award, Reminder Publications’ Hometown Hero Award, the Mass. Commission on the Status of Women Unsung Heroines Award, the New England Patriots’ International Charitable Foundation Community MVP Award (the only person to receive this award two times), and the Girl Scouts of Pioneer Valley’s Women of Distinction Award. She was chosen one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers in 2009. She has also received the National Conference on Community Justice Award, the Springfield Pynchon Award, and the Holyoke Rotary’s Paul Harris Award.

Dora Robinson
Dora Robinson has served as a nonprofit leader and practitioner for more than 35 years. She recently retired from the United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) after serving for more than eight years as president and CEO. Previously, she served as the first full-time president and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services for 19 years. The foundation for these leadership roles is based on previous experiences as corporate director and vice president for the Center for Human Development and vice president of Education at the Urban League of Springfield. Her earlier professional experiences included social work with adolescents and families, community outreach, and program planning and management. She is currently an adjunct professor at Springfield College School for Social Work and the School for Professional Studies. Dora has received much recognition for her work as a nonprofit executive leader and her work in social justice. Most recently, she was elected to serve on the board of directors for the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and is serving as a steering committee member to establish a neighborhood-based library in East Forest Park.



More than a decade ago, BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty recognition program to celebrate the achievements of the region’s rising stars. A few years later, a new program was launched called Difference Makers, which paid tribute to those who have become just what the name on the plaque says.

And just last year, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched a program to recognize the accomplishments of those in the broad field of health and wellness with Healthcare Heroes.

Over the years, many women have come to the podium for ceremonies involving each award.

So why did BusinessWest create a new recognition specifically targeting that demographic, called Women of Impact? The answer is simple: while there are many women of achievement in this region — and have been over the centuries — not enough of them have received the recognition they are due.

What was needed, we concluded, was a new program that recognizes women not for what they’ve done, necessarily, but what they’ve become — specifically, role models, mentors, and inspirations to those around them.

And that is what Women of Impact does. As the stories clearly show, this region has no shortage of women making a real impact — in their specific business fields, but also in the community.

This inaugural class, meanwhile, is very emblematic of this region, its business community, and the nonprofit agencies that are such a huge force here. Indeed, this area is known as an education leader, and two of our honorees are from opposite ends of that realm — Janis Santos, leader of HCS Head Start, and Carol Leary, president of Bay Path University.

And, as noted, the region has a large number of nonprofits that are making a difference across the region. That realm is well-represented by Gina Kos, director of Sunshine Village; Colleen Loveless, director of Revitalize Community Development Corp.; and Katie Allen Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Mass. There are civic leaders as well, specifically Denise Jordan — now director of the Springfield Housing Authority and former chief of staff for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno — and Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director of Public Services for the Springfield City Library, and one traditional businesswoman, if you will, in Kerry Dietz, principal of Dietz Architecture.

But while these women typically have business cards that tie them to one business, agency, or institution, their influence extends far, far beyond the walls of the place where they work. And that’s what makes them Woman of Impact.

This is an exciting new program, and it has allowed us to tell some remarkable stories. We hope you enjoy them, and we hope that you’ll nominate a woman of impact for the class of 2019. To do that, go HERE.

Women of Impact 2018

Assistant Director for Public Services, Springfield City Library

Photo by Dani Fine Photography


She Keeps Writing New Chapters to a Story of Community Activism

Jean Canosa Albano says she’s been called an ‘honorary Latina,’ not once, but on a number of occasions.

That’s not an official title by any means — there’s no plaque or certificate to this effect, obviously — but it might be the honor, or designation, she’s most proud of.

That’s because, while she’s not Hispanic in origin, she speaks Spanish — she’s studied it here and abroad — and has therefore made thousands of non-English-speaking visitors to the Springfield City Library more comfortable and better able to utilize its many resources.

More importantly, though, she has advocated for that constituency — and in many ways become part of it — during a lengthy career devoted not only to library science but to community building and community involvement.

A few weeks back, Albano again led a contingent from the Springfield City Library marching in the annual Puerto Rican Parade through downtown Springfield, something the library has done the past several years. It’s a symbolic step and an indicator of how the institution, and especially Albano, have taken great strides, literally and figuratively, in efforts to serve that constituency and connect it with resources.

“I’m not a Latina — I have a different heritage,” she told BusinessWest. “But I have embraced it as much as somebody from outside the culture can. “I’ve been called an honorary Latina, and I love it when I hear people say that.”

But service to the Hispanic population is only one chapter, albeit an important one, in the story of Albano’s career spent with the library — and as someone committed to being involved in the community and inspiring others to get involved.

“I’m not a Latina — I have a different heritage. But I have embraced it as much as somebody from outside the culture can. “I’ve been called an honorary Latina, and I love it when I hear people say that.”

To put that service, and her career, in their proper perspective, she said that all through it, she has adopted a variation, if you will, of Shirley Chisholm’s often-quoted bit of advice. The first black woman elected to Congress famously said, “if they don’t offer you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

“I feel very fortunate — the Springfield community is very open and welcoming, so I haven’t had to bring my own chair very often,” Albano explained. “But I have made my own invitation sometimes; when I see something going on in the community that I would like to get involved in or when I think the library could benefit from me being there, or when we have something to offer, I won’t be shy about inviting myself to be part of it.”

Examples of this mindset abound, from her participation in the Reading Success by Fourth Grade initiative to Gardening the Community; from summer learning groups to the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield.

With that last one, she acknowledged that maybe — that’s maybe — she’s not exactly in the target demographic group. But she saw a group with an intriguing mission and another opportunity to help strengthen the community through her own involvement.

“I said to myself, ‘they’re doing cool work, but maybe I’m a little old for that group,’” she recalled. “Then I saw some news coverage on them and heard that they didn’t have an age limit, so I decided to join. I go to the social events, and have learned about the small-business development happening in those circles, and connected them to the library; I really enjoy it.”

Jean Canosa Albano, right, with friends Maria Acuna, a Realtor, and Holyoke City Councilor Gladys Lebron, at the 2015 Puerto Rican Parade.

Jean Canosa Albano, right, with friends Maria Acuna, a Realtor, and Holyoke City Councilor Gladys Lebron, at the 2015 Puerto Rican Parade.

As she said, she’s been making her own invitations and getting involved. And while doing that, she’s always looked for new and different ways to help others get involved and help them develop professionally — especially women and minorities.

Which brings us to “My Beloved Springfield,” a women’s leadership panel and information fair she created. The most recent edition, staged last spring, featured a host of speakers discussing the paths they took to leadership positions, including Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh; Arlene Rodriguez, a senior advisor for the Mass. Department of Higher Education; and others.

Looking back on her career, Albano said her command of Spanish has created opportunities for her — when she entered a poor job market in the mid-’80s, it helped her land a job with the Springfield City Library. And in many ways, she has dedicated her career to creating opportunities for others.

As we explore the many ways she has done that, it will certainly become clear why this public servant, who keeps writing new chapters to her story of involvement, is a Woman of Impact.

A Good Read

‘Spanish desirable.’

That’s the two-word phrase that caught Albano’s attention as she read a job posting for the library position that would become the springboard for a career she says she “fell into.”

It was as a library associate with the Brightwood branch in the city’s North End neighborhood, heavily populated by Hispanics then and now.

“I remember saying to my mother, ‘I think this is a job I can do and that you would love,” Albano recalled, adding that her mother wanted to get into library science after high school, but was hindered by the cost of higher education.

Turns out, she came to love it herself — not only the job, but working with and on behalf of the residents of that neighborhood.

“Speaking Spanish was a real help in not only communicating with people, but also getting out into the community, becoming part of it, and discovering what the people there wanted and needed — from the library and from life — so we could respond,” she said. “I remember going to the old version of the Puerto Rican Festival or just going out onto Main Street or visiting schools; there was a lot of filling in the gaps and building bridges — and that’s been the way I approach my work to this day.”

Indeed, while Albano moved on from the Brightwood branch — she came to the central library in 1989 — she has continued to build those bridges, taking her service to the community far outside the library walls, while also making that institution a welcoming and responsive resource for city residents.

In her role as assistant director for Public Services of the libraries, she wears a number of hats — as well as an ‘Hablo Español’ button. She’s involved with a variety of human-resources functions, including hiring and recruiting, and as she recruits, she’s looking for individuals who embody what she calls a ‘turned-outward attitude’ with regard to the institution and how it must function.

Albano acknowledged that, overall, the library’s role within the community has changed somewhat over the past 30 years, and so have the duties of those who work there.

She can recall working on the reference desk decades ago and fielding a wide range of questions from callers who couldn’t simply Google things when they needed the answer to a pressing question. She remembers fielding queries on everything from stock prices on a specific date to the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for specific titles so people could order them (now, they just go on Amazon) to Dr. Seuss and his history in Springfield.

Today, while there’s still a reference desk, the librarian spends less time behind it, and the questions are generally much different than those of a generation or two ago.

“People will ask how they can upload their résumé to a specific site, or how they can tell if a website is legitimate,” she told BusinessWest, adding that today, libraries, while still storehouses of books and information, are more community hubs than anything else.

“The library is a place to be when you need some solace, a place to be when you need to reflect, a place to meet with neighbors and strengthen community,” she said. “It’s also a place to research your entrepreneurial idea, gather together to learn, and build community.”

Spreading the Word

When the Springfield City Library created a number of outreach teams several years ago, Albano was assigned — actually, she assigned herself — to lead the civic and community-engagement team.

The key word in that phrase, of course, is engagement, she said, adding that the group focused on connecting people with their city and getting them involved with government and the many issues impacting the community.

“A lot of people feel disconnected, and we wanted to do something about that,” she said, adding that, through partnerships with the Springfield Election Commission, the Secretary of State’s Office, the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Fund, and other groups, the library has helped stage ‘meet the candidates’ events and other informational programs.

“Speaking Spanish was a real help in not only communicating with people, but also getting out into the community, becoming part of it, and discovering what the people there wanted and needed — from the library and from life — so we could respond.”

Like “Slots, Pot, Veal, and Schools,” an intriguingly titled program focusing on the four ballot questions for last year, dealing with casinos, marijuana, animal welfare, and charter schools.

“That was a heated debate moderated and filmed by Focus Springfield,” she recalled. “And it was released throughout the Commonwealth, so we had hundreds of views beyond the people in the room.”

In recent years, the library has coordinated a host of other programs, including one on how to run for office and what it’s like to serve in an elected position, she said, adding that 30 or even 20 years ago, it is unlikely that the city library would have been involved in such matters. Today, though, as part of its changing role, the institution is acting as (or much more as) a connector and a convener.

And Albano has been at the forefront of many of these efforts, especially with the Hispanic population and other often-underserved constituencies.

The Hispanic population is now quite large in Springfield, said Albano, adding that, in the public schools, at least 60% of the students are Hispanic. These numbers demand attention, she went on, adding that institutions across the city, including the library, need more than people on their staffs who can speak the language — although that certainly helps.

They need people who can connect with that population, advocate on its behalf, and connect people with resources.

The city’s response, and the library’s response, to the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Maria is a good example, she told BusinessWest, adding that staff members there helped with everything from attaining a library card to figuring out where to receive help with insurance matters, and host of other issues.

“We were always thinking about ways to make a stressful time, a very traumatic time, less stressful,” she said, adding that thousands of refugees came into this region, and most all of them needed help on many levels.

While the Hispanic population has been a primary focus of Albano’s time and energy, so too has been the subject of leadership and helping others develop those skills.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Sonia Sotomayor’s historic visit to Springfield in 2015 as part of the Springfield Public Forum, an opportunity Albano said she ran with.

Indeed, she was able to obtain multiple copies of Sotomayor’s book in English and Spanish and set up a book-discussion group. She was also able to help arrange a meeting with the justice, the nation’s first of Hispanic descent, prior to her talk.

Sotomayor’s book is titled My Beloved World, and it, and the justice’s visit, inspired Albano to launch “My Beloved Springfield,” a now-annual program that brings in women leaders to tell their stories and lead a moderated discussion.

It’s simply one aspect of her broad efforts to help foster the next generation of leaders for this region, a role she takes very seriously.

“If you’re going to truly be a woman of impact, you have to pass things along,” she explained. “You have to make opportunities known to others, and you have to help them get there.”

Volume Business

As noted earlier, Albano hasn’t had to bring too many lawn chairs with her during her career. Indeed, she’s been given seats at a number of tables.

But she has invited herself to get involved on many occasions and in many ways, bringing the community into the library and the library into the community while doing so, and strengthening both.

Thirty years after taking a job her mother would love, she has come to love everything about it, especially the many forms of outreach.

She loves those almost as much as being called an honorary Latina.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Owner, Principal, Dietz and Company Architects

She’s Long Had Designs on Building a Stronger Community

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

The course was titled “Architects as Leaders.”

Kerry Dietz taught it at UMass Amherst, her alma mater, several years ago. This was a one-off of sorts, she told BusinessWest, adding that there was a critical mass of students interested in this material — which amounted to insight and instruction not on how to design structures, but rather on how architects could and should become leaders within their communities — and circumstances haven’t permitted her to teach it again.

But while that class is no longer in the catalog, ‘architect as leader’ has been a course of action for Dietz — and those who have come to work for her over the past 30 years or so. It’s a phrase that defines her career more than any building or office interior she’s designed, and it explains, better than any other three-word phrase we can find, why she is a Woman of Impact.

Examples of this mindset abound — from her time spent on the Springfield Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to her company’s involvement with several area nonprofits, from Revitalize CDC to Habitat for Humanity, to her decision to locate her growing company in Union Station at a time when that massive project was fairly desperate to land a high-profile tenant.

And then, there was the company’s 30th birthday party.

Rather than celebrate with a cake or maybe lunch on the town, the employees at Dietz & Company, as a group, decided to use that occasion to give back within the community, in a big way.

She took that number 30, added three more zeroes, and put a dollar sign at the front. And then, she and her team set about finding appropriate ways to bestow that amount on members of the community.

“She has also been an inspiration to me personally in promoting and supporting social-issue programs that support food and housing for the homeless, veterans’ housing, and health and scholarship funding for low-income students and families.”

Throughout the course of the year, a cookout was hosted by Dietz & Company staff for veterans of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and a monetary donation was made to assist with the home’s Veteran’s History video project. Also, a monetary donation was made and staff members volunteered their time to help make repairs to the home of a low-income Springfield resident as part of Revitalize CDC’s Green-n-Fit Neighborhood Rebuild. And $25,000 worth of materials and projects were funded for Springfield teachers through a competition in which initiative and impact were honored for educators going the extra mile to help and encourage the success of their students.

It was Dietz’s concept, but it was a company-wide effort.

“I basically said, ‘here’s my idea — the broad stroke,’” she recalled. “And people ran with it. As a company, we figured out who we wanted to support, and they (team members) did all the organizing. All you have to do sometimes is say, ‘let’s do it.’”

But Dietz has never waited for round-number anniversaries to become active and get herself — and her firm — involved. And in doing so, she has become not only an employer, but an inspirational leader, role model to those in this profession, and mentor.

“Kerry has committed her life to promoting women in the practice of architecture by promoting a fair work environment in her firm and as a leader in the Massachusetts architectural and business community,” said Kevin Riordon, an architect at Dietz. “She has also been an inspiration to me personally in promoting and supporting social-issue programs that support food and housing for the homeless, veterans’ housing, and health and scholarship funding for low-income students and families.”

While doing all that work within the community, Dietz has established herself within the field of architecture, one long dominated by men. She owns one of the largest firms in the region, and has carved out several strong niches, especially in affordable housing and education.

It is this combination of excellence in her field and career-long designs on finding ways to strengthen the community that has placed her in the inaugural class of Women of Impact.

From the Ground Up

Deitz traced the ‘architects as leaders’ concept — as a college course but also the M.O. for her career — to a summit she attended in the early ’80s that was hosted by the American Institute of Architects.

It was memorable because it was not what she was expecting.

“It wasn’t about how to be a good supervisor or how to do marketing and make more money — it wasn’t that kind of thing,” she recalled. “Instead, it was about our place in the political world and within the community — what do you have to offer?”

Kerry Dietz, right, presents a donation to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke as part of her company’s 30th anniversary celebration. Several staff members are in the background.

Kerry Dietz, right, presents a donation to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke as part of her company’s 30th anniversary celebration. Several staff members are in the background.

And because of their training and the collaborative nature of their work, architects have quite a bit to offer, whether they fully understand that or not, she went on.

“If lawyers think they can run the world, and captains of industry think they can run the world, well … how about architects?” she asked rhetorically. “We receive an incredible amount of training on how to take a whole bunch of dissimilar thoughts and ideas and listen to a whole group of people, and pull it all together and create a building. And even before that, a vision of a building; it’s all really about listening to people and synthesizing all that.

“These are core skills the world needs,” she went on, adding that a commitment to putting these skills to work has guided her firm, not only in its design efforts, but within the community as well. And it’s been that way pretty much since she got into this business more than 40 years ago.

Our story starts in Ohio, where Dietz grew up and later attended Kent State University, majoring in architecture. She was one of just four women in a class of 150.

“Kerry is an outstanding example of what it means to be a community-oriented businesswoman. She is an extremely positive influence and role model for young professionals and the next generation of architects.”

After earning her master’s in architecture from Michigan State University, she worked for a few firms in Western Mass. before partnering with Phil Burdick and launching a firm that would bear both their names.

While that venture was short-lived, Dietz would go into business for herself, opening Dietz & Company Architects in 1985. It has been a staple in downtown Springfield ever since, growing from three employees to a high of 28 (currently 23).

Over those 34 years, Dietz and her staff have ridden out a number of economic downturns, which are felt in this field perhaps as much, if not more, than any other, and firmly established the firm as a leader in several areas, but especially the commercial, education, and housing realms.

The portfolio of recent projects includes the poker room and restrooms at the $960 million MGM Springfield as well as renovation of 95 State St., MGM’s local headquarters; bankESB’s banking center and corporate headquarters, as well as a number of other projects for that institution; 83 Maple St. in Springfield, the Merrick Phelps House historic preservation project; a new branch for the Bank of Western Massachusetts in Northampton; and many others.

In the education realm, the company has designed the UMass Center at Springfield facilities in Tower Square, the Hoffmann Environmental Center at Berkshire Community College, the King & Scales dormitories at Smith College, and numerous renovations and repair projects at Springfield Technical Community College, among countless others.

And in housing, recent projects include Parsons Village, multi-family housing in Easthampton; Roosevelt Towers, a multi-family project in Cambridge that is still ongoing; and Highland Woods, a multi-family and senior-housing project in Williamstown, among many others.

But while what she and her team have accomplished is certainly significant, it is how Dietz runs her company that sets her apart within the field of architecture — and makes it clear why she is a Woman of Impact.

Drawing Inspiration

And this brings us back to the company’s 30th-anniversary celebration, and also to that class she taught at UMass and the mindset behind it.

“We started reading these stories about how teachers were paying for stuff out of their own pockets and they can’t get tax deductions for it even,” she recalled. “And we thought, ‘what if we could fund some special projects that teachers wanted to do?”

Working in concert with Springfield School Volunteers, Dietz & Company invited teachers to visit a website and propose specific initiatives, listing motivations, goals, and possible outcomes. It was competition, but the company had enough money to fund all the requests.

“We had an awards ceremony at Central High School where we had wine and hors d’oeuvres for the teachers, because they don’t get recognized for all they do,” said Dietz. “And some of them are just amazing in terms of what they’re doing with the limited resources they have.”

The work with Springfield’s teachers, as noted, is just one example of the operating mindset at Deitz & Company, one that is perhaps best summed up in the company’s primary marketing slogan — ‘design that looks good, does good’ — with the supporting line: ‘with a collaborative and dynamic approach, our designs reflect the desire to create exceptional architecture that also serves.’

There is much that goes into those two words ‘good’ and ‘serves’ — everything from a focus on the environment to meeting the needs of the client; from preserving the past to sustainability. But behind it all is that focus on this firm, and especially its founder, being leaders in the community and setting a tone when it comes to giving back.

Indeed, when referring to Dietz, team members consistently use words and phrases like ‘mentor,’ ‘role model,’ and ‘inspiration’ to describe her as well as her approaches to architecture and community involvement.

“Kerry has shown an ongoing desire to give back to the community on many levels, from spearheading design-inspired solutions that serve the community through addressing housing and public-space needs, to a more grassroots-level approach by dedicating personal time and efforts to enrich the lives of others face-to-face,” said Mark Hellen, a project architect with the firm. “She continually teaches her staff and colleagues that there is great importance, and great need, in helping the communities that surround us in as many ways as possible.”

Jason Newman, another project architect, agreed.

“From the perspective of a young professional, Kerry’s drive to educate and develop the next generation of architects is as much present in her company as it is in the classroom,” he said. “She continually creates learning opportunities within the context of our work, and does not punish a mistake made with good intention.

“Our office is an environment of shared learning, equity, and support in all aspects of our operation,” he went on. “In my opinion, Kerry is an outstanding example of what it means to be a community-oriented businesswoman. She is an extremely positive influence and role model for young professionals and the next generation of architects.”

Newman took the class “Architects as Leaders.” He remembers it opening his eyes to the larger responsibilities of all people in business.

“We learned about public engagement, advocacy in local governments, and serving the greater context of the communities in which we work,” he told BusinessWest. “Our assignments throughout the semester included things like attending the local government meeting of our choice and forming conclusions on the social impact of the items on the agenda, good or bad. This class taught us the importance of being aware and participating in the big-picture issues at the forefront of our communities.”

The Bottom Lines

The big picture.

That’s always been what Kerry Dietz has been focused on.

That’s not the company’s bottom line — although she’s focused on that, too. Rather, it’s the health and vitality of the communities in which she lives, works, and designs buildings.

She doesn’t teach “Architects as Leaders” anymore — actually, time doesn’t permit her to do much, if any, teaching these days.

But she still lives by that credo, and so does her firm. And that’s a very solid foundation on which to build.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Executive Director, Springfield Housing Authority

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

Throughout Her Career, She’s Been Both Active and Visible

Denise Jordan says she was caught off guard — “blindsided” was her exact terminology — when Domenic Sarno, then Springfield’s mayor-elect, asked her to be his chief of staff when he assumed the corner office in early 2008.

Not just because she had only recently started working for him on the campaign trail, but also because she had no real idea just what a chief of staff did and what this position might mean for her, career-wise and otherwise.

So she researched it the way people research things these days.

“I Googled ‘chief of staff,’” she told BusinessWest with a wide smile on her face, adding that her online search was, for the most part, fruitless. Indeed, about the only material she could find regarding that title related to the military.

Still desperate for some insight into what a chief of staff does, she said she started watching reruns of The West Wing hoping to get a clue.

In the final analysis, she said ‘yes’ to Sarno’s offer without really knowing just what the job entailed and what she would be doing day in and day out. Which turned out fine, because if there was a standard, or traditional, job description for the Springfield mayor’s chief of staff (and there wasn’t, really), Jordan essentially tore it up and wrote her own.

“She was driven, but she also had a great deal of compassion and empathy — and that’s important in this business.”

Indeed, during her more than 10 years in the post, she was highly accessible and visible (something most mayoral chiefs of staff were not) and also innovative and even entrepreneurial in her efforts to serve the city’s roughly 150,000 residents and represent her boss and his plans for the city.

Most everyone remembers how she was front and center after the June 1, 2011 tornado that practically went over the roof of City Hall as it traveled to the south and east across the city, working 45 straight days and assuming a wide variety of duties in an effort to restore order and begin the work of rebuilding.

But in many ways, she was like that every one of the nearly 4,000 days she spent as chief of staff for the Sarno administration, displaying the qualities needed to do that job well, but also being a true leader within the community.

“She was driven, but she also had a great deal of compassion and empathy — and that’s important in this business,” said the mayor, adding that Jordan, now executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, is recognized as a “voice of leadership” not just for the city but in the region.

This explains why she’s been asked to lend her time, energy, and talents to organizations and causes ranging from Rays of Hope (she’s a breast-cancer survivor herself) to Square One; from the Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition to the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s Women’s Leadership Council.

And when asked for her working definition of ‘leader’ and what separates such an individual from a manager, Jordan offered a response that explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Denise Jordan says she grew up in a “house of service,” and all through her life and career she has made it a priority to give back.

Denise Jordan says she grew up in a “house of service,” and all through her life and career she has made it a priority to give back.

“Managers tend to the day to day, and they keep things going,” she explained. “Leaders … they chart the path; they’re the ones who hold folks accountable and set the tone for an organization. Leaders are people who other people follow, not because they have to, but because they believe in their ability to lead.”

Stay with us, and soon it will be clear why Jordan certainly fits her own description of ‘leader.’

An Involved Effort

Jordan was at the famous civil-rights rally at the Octagon Lounge in Springfield in 1965. Well, sort of.

Her mother was several months pregnant with her at the time, and she was there, as was her father, Raymond Jordan, later a long-time state representative, who was arrested that day along with many others. Denise said her parents were a huge influence for her growing up, instilling in her the importance of getting involved and serving the community.

“I always tell people that I grew up in a house of service,” she told BusinessWest. “Both my parents were actively involved in the civil-rights movement in Springfield, and they were also very involved in the community.”

Her résumé would indicate that she learned well from her parents’ example. It lists stints as a civil-rights officer with the Executive Office of Health & Human Services in Boston, a variety of posts for the Department of Mental Retardation, starting in 1989, and as a personnel compliance monitor with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

But while carrying out those various responsibilities, she was also very active within the community.

“I just recall that, ever since I was young, I’ve always been someone who volunteered to do something,” she said. “When I was young, I did all the March of Dimes walk-a-thons, and just volunteered for anything and everything.

“I’m a product of the Girls Club on Acorn Street,” she went on. “And that was probably the beginning of just being around a lot of nurturing adults who always put us first and gave back. And I think, from that moment, I always strived to be one of those adults when I was old enough to be.”

She said she got her start within the community as a board member for Martin Luther King Family Services, and considered that a springboard to a wide range of service, from chaperone duties for the Martin Luther King Center’s black college tours to a stint on the FutureWorks board; from being a founding member of the Martin Luther King Charter School for Excellence to serving as president of Academic Athletic Arts Achievement Assoc. (5A) Football, a youth football league founded by her father in the mid-’90s.

She served for 10 years on the Election Commission and as chair for six years. Under Mayor Charlie Ryan, she served as co-chair of the Youth Commission.

All that work within the community caught the eye and the attention of Sarno. Jordan says she knew him, but not personally or very well when he called early in 2009 and invited her to a meeting, at which he revealed his plans to run for mayor and asked for her support.

He got it, and after the election that swept him into office, he named Jordan co-chair of his transition team. Not long thereafter, he had a different role in mind.

And as noted earlier, one of her first priorities was to make the chief of staff visible and accessible — to a host of constituents, but especially city employees.

“It’s been said that the doors of City Hall were really opened under the Sarno administration,” she said. “I remember my first week at City Hall … there were employees who had been in the building 25, 30 years, and they had never seen the chief of staff’s office the whole time they had been working there.”

Twists and Turns

Just to be clear, there is an official job description for the chief of staff’s job at the mayor’s office. The list of duties is rather extensive and includes everything from representing the mayor in dealings with constituents, city officials, and the business community to overseeing commission and board appointments, to being the mayor’s first point of contact for 2,800 municipal employees.

“Managers tend to the day to day, and they keep things going. Leaders … they chart the path; they’re the ones who hold folks accountable and set the tone for an organization. Leaders are people who other people follow, not because they have to, but because they believe in their ability to lead.”

But during a decade-long stretch that saw the tornado and a host of other weather events, a natural-gas explosion that damaged several city blocks, and a seven-year-long effort to bring a resort casino to the city, the position demanded that its holder provide real leadership, and Jordan did just that.

Especially in the hours, days, weeks, and months after the tornado tore a path across Springfield seven and half years ago. To Jordan, it seems like only yesterday, and the memories of that period remain etched in her mind.

She has vivid recollections from the moments just as the tornado passed almost directly over City Hall, such as gathering in the basement of that structure and later seeing what she described as “mass pandemonium” in Court Square and the area to the south.

She also remembers instinct kicking in as she hailed a passing police cruiser and directed the officer to take her to the city’s emergency command center on Carew Street.

“It was a like a scene out of a movie,” she recalled. “You literally jump in a car, and the sirens are going, and you’re driving down State Street trying to get where you need to go. To me, it was so reassuring to see the leadership qualities of the department heads of the city of Springfield; we had never had a disaster like that, but folks just knew what to do.”

Sarno said Jordan was one of those leaders, visible as always, doing whatever needed to be done, and acting with that aforementioned blend of drive and compassion.

“Boots on the ground, literally — that was her,” the mayor recalled. “She was out there in the days and weeks after the tornado, going to door-to-door in all the neighborhoods in that heat and humidity, talking to residents, assessing damage, helping however she could.”

Jordan was brand-new to the Housing Authority position when she talked with BusinessWest. In fact, it was her first day on the job.

She said she would approach it the same way she’s approached everything during in her career — by making full use of her strong listening skills, being visible and accessible, and putting those she’s serving first.

“Every job I’ve had, I’ve been paid to serve people,” she explained. “When the Housing Authority position came open … I didn’t see myself there initially. But the more I talked to people about the skill sets needed and things like that, I decided that this was something I wanted to pursue, based on the fact that it still put me in a position to help people.”

Soon after Jordan started her work with Sarno’s team in 2008, friends and colleagues threw a party to mark the occasion — specifically her becoming the city’s first African-American chief of staff. And as her time with the mayor was winding down, many of those people decided it was time to throw another party.

But Jordan, thinking another celebration wasn’t really necessary, decided to transform the event into a fundraiser for Rays of Hope, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary (she was one of the event chairs).

Her goal was $5,000. When she talked with BusinessWest, she had more than tripled that, and checks were still coming in.

“I’m beyond excited and overwhelmed … it’s good to be able to give back to an organization,” said Jordan.

And she should know; she’s been doing it her whole life.

Impact Statement

Jordan told BusinessWest that she had to give up her leadership post with 5A Football about a year after becoming Sarno’s chief of staff.

As she recalled, her time watching football was devoured by city residents making various requests and demands.

“I was too accessible,” she said with a laugh. “Every game, somebody wanted a job, or they wanted to complain about their taxes, or they wanted me to get their kids into a certain school … after a while, it became too much.”

‘Too much’ isn’t a phrase you hear Denise Jordan utter very often. Her career has always been marked by her willingness to take on more, do more, achieve more, and be more of a leader within her community.

That’s the job description not for a chief of staff, but for a Woman of Impact, and that’s why she’s a member of the inaugural class of 2018.

By the way, she didn’t have to look that title up on Google. Her career’s work defines it perfectly.

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

Women of Impact 2018

Executive Director, Sunshine Village

Throughout Her Career, She’s Made It Her Business to Get Involved

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

There have always been several ways in which Gina Kos embodies that phrase ‘Woman of Impact.’

At the top of the list, obviously, is the remarkable turnaround she has orchestrated at Sunshine Village, the nonprofit agency that operates a wide variety of programs that promote independence for individuals with disabilities.

When she took over as interim executive director in 1996, the agency was at a crisis point. Over the next several years, she scripted a compelling recovery story, stabilizing its finances, adjusting its roster of programs, and eventually transforming Sunshine Village into an employer of choice, so designated by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast.

And while doing all that, she has been very active within the community, especially Sunshine Village’s hometown of Chicopee. She’s served as a trustee of Elms College and as Chicopee water commissioner, and has also been involved with that city’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, she’s donated her time, energy, and talents to region-wide nonprofits ranging from Dress for Success to the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (now HassHire) to Link to Libraries.

But over the past several years, she’s managed to add a new wrinkle, a new vehicle for making an impact — one she’s rather proud of, actually. It’s as an unofficial but very valuable advisor to Chicopee’s mayor, Richard Kos, whom, as that surname makes clear, she knows quite well.

As Chicopee’s first lady, and even before gaining that designation — they became engaged while he was running for office — she said she’s been acting in a consulting capacity of sorts and introducing the mayor to both people and new opportunities.

“I had a full career, and I had been pretty involved in the city of Chicopee, and the Pioneer Valley, prior to marrying and him being elected mayor again,” she said. “But with his new position, he’s asked me for advice, and I’ve happy to offer it.”

When asked for examples, she listed everything from her suggestion to offer CPR in the city’s high schools so every student would know it when they graduated, to introducing the mayor’s office to a program called “The World is My Classroom,” which brings students on field trips to area employers, such as Hazen Paper in Holyoke and the Chicopee wastewater treatment plant, for lessons on the environment.

“When I would talk internally, or externally at various trade association meetings or other gatherings with other local nonprofits, I’d say, ‘where is the money coming from?’ And people would say, ‘shhhhhh … we don’t talk about money — we’re mission-driven.’”

She said she’s also helped the mayor with the challenging task of finding individuals to serve on boards and commissions (something she’s done, as noted earlier), and overall has been a “chief strategist,” as she called it.

“Supporting him in his public service has allowed me to give back to the city of Chicopee, but personally, I’ve also received a lot of satisfaction from that,” she explained. “Over the past six years, I’ve attended numerous events, so many I can’t count, and that’s exposed me to so many great people; it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Kos’s assistance to her husband, and all those other forms of involvement, are in keeping with a career-long philosophy of putting her considerable talents to work benefitting not just Sunshine Village and its clients, but the region as a whole.

It’s a mindset she sums up quickly and effectively with this comment to BusinessWest regarding the many ways she has become involved.

Gina Kos, third from left with her husband mayor Richard Kos, far left, leads a host of guests in ceremonies to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sunshine Village in 2017.

“When you’re given a lot, you have to give back,” she said, adding that she has been given a lot in terms of education and opportunities to serve the region.

And she has certainly given back — in all manner of ways, from being a forward-thinking leader of a pivotal nonprofit organization at a time of profound change and a host of new challenges for all nonprofits, to valued board member for a host of colleges, universities, and economic-development-related agencies, to mentor for countless staff members. And, yes, as an unpaid advisor to the mayor.

Like we said, she has spent her life and career as a Woman of Impact.

It Takes a Village

Kos will have to make some room in her office for the award she’ll receive from BusinessWest on Dec. 6. That’s because there’s already a number of other plaques and certificates crowding her desk and credenza.

There’s the prestigious Paul Harris award from the Chicopee Rotary Club, given to those who have served not only that organization, but the community as well. There’s also the Shining Star – Volunteer of the Year award from the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, the Woman of Achievement award from the Chicopee chapter of the Business & Professional Women’s Club, and the St. Joseph Medal – Distinguished Alumni Award from Cathedral High School, among many others.

Together, these honors speak to a career spent giving back, and it’s a pattern that began when she became a mortgage officer with WestBank.

And as most know by know, it was while getting involved in the community that Kos became acquainted with Sunshine Village.

Indeed, she drove the beer cart at the agency’s inaugural fundraising golf tournament at Chicopee Country Club, and enjoyed the experience so much, she signed up to do so at the next gathering.

To make a long story short, by the time players teed it up the following year, Kos was on the course not as a volunteer, but as a member of the Sunshine Village staff — director of marketing and development, to be exact.

She told BusinessWest that she came on board with a five-year plan in mind — not for the organization, but for herself. And that plan was to give the agency five years and then return to the corporate world.

But Kos would essentially make her foray into the nonprofit realm a one-way ticket. As she approached that five-year mark, the executive director left, and the agency’s board asked her to step in as interim.

She did, and 22 years later, she’s still at the helm.

Kos likes to say that she “right-sized” Sunshine Village, taking it from a $13 million agency with continuous losses to a $6 million operation, to a $13 million entity with continued surpluses.

How? Essentially by bringing a more business-like approach to the assignment of running a nonprofit agency, something she said was lacking — and needed — when she changed course career-wise.

“When I came to Sunshine Village as marketing director and would talk internally, or externally at various trade association meetings or other gatherings with other local nonprofits, I’d say, ‘where is the money coming from?’” she recalled. “And people would say, ‘shhhhhh … we don’t talk about money — we’re mission-driven.’

“And I would look at them say, ‘if you don’t talk about money, you’re not going to have a mission,’” she went on. “So, from the start, coming from the corporate world, I cared as much about the money, the funding, as I did about the mission, and it’s allowed me to make decisions with the board of Sunshine Village to create an organization that’s fiscally sound and very accountable to the taxpayer dollars that we’re so fortunate to get.”

And while this was a somewhat new way of thinking a quarter-century ago, today, all nonprofits think and act this way, essentially out of necessity, she told BusinessWest.

Giving of Herself

That’s because of a host of changes in the landscape — involving everything from the number of regulations that must be adhered to, to new employment laws regarding everything from wages to paid leave — that have made nonprofit management perhaps more challenging than it has ever been.

“If you were to ask me, managing a nonprofit is harder than managing a business,” she opined, “because in addition to everything that business has to worry about, within nonprofits, we have to worry about so many other things; in addition to state and federal labor laws, we have to get accredited by either state or federal bodies, and we have so many more compliance issues because we’re nonprofits.

“We’re managing everything that a business has to manage, as well as looking at our bottom line to make sure it’s positive,” she continued. “Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean no profit; every year, costs go up, whether its health insurance or salary increases or just paying for the electricity to keep the lights on.”

Meanwhile, the broad realm known as giving has changed in many ways, she said, listing everything from the ways people give to the amounts they give, to the growing number of entities asking people to give.

“When I was going to school, in parochial school, you had to sell candy bars or magazines,” she explained. “The public schools never had to do this; now, they have to fundraise as well. And so are the kids playing sports and the cheerleaders. And in addition to that, we have all these natural disasters. Ten or 20 years ago, people weren’t asked for money to help the people impacted by a hurricane in Texas.

“There’s more people looking for money; all the causes are good causes, but there’s a lot more competition for private fundraising dollars,” she went on, adding that, in this environment, nonprofits must be laser-focused on fundraising, and also on showing donors that their gifts have an impact.

While leading Sunshine Village to financial security and a place as an employer of choice in these challenging times, Kos has continued — and continually elevated — her work within the community.

As noted earlier, this has been a priority for her throughout her career, starting when, at age 23, she accepted Mayor Joe Chessey’s invitation to serve on the Chicopee Water Commission. A pattern of involvement has continued, and in her high-profile role as director of Sunshine Village, Kos has been afforded with more opportunities to give back.

She served on the board at Westfield State University and Elms College, with a host of business and economic-development-related groups, and also with several nonprofits.

She reads to fourth graders at Fairview Elementary School as part of Link to Libraries’ celebrity reading program, for example, and serves meals at Friends of the Homeless in Springfield.

Each experience is different and brings rewards on a number of levels, she said, adding that, while it’s sometimes hard to do so, she generally makes room in her schedule for such activities. And for many reasons.

Helping others is a big part of it, obviously, but by being active, she becomes more aware of the issues and challenges facing the region and the individuals who call it home. This makes her a better manager, a better leader, and even a more effective advisor to Chicopee’s mayor, especially with matters such as personnel searches and filling all those boards and commissions.

“I’ve done a lot at Sunshine Village, and I’ve been on presidential search committees for area colleges,” she said, noting that she’s done such work at the Elms and Westfield State University. “I’ve also done a lot with recruiting, and I’ve tried to help him with some of those things.”

Leading by Example

‘Chief strategist to Chicopee’s mayor’ isn’t a line on Gina Kos’s résumé.

But it is yet another example of how, throughout her life and her career, she has found the time, inclination, and energy to give back to others, and the community as a whole.

And that’s why she’ll be at the podium on Dec. 6 accepting her Women of Impact award, and then adding it to a growing collection of other plaques in her office.

As she said, “when you’ve been given a lot, you have to give back.” And that’s exactly what she’s done.

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

Women of Impact 2018

President, Bay Path University

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

This Inspirational Leader Keeps Raising, and Clearing, the Bar

When, 17 years ago, I was contemplating a career move out of the financial-services sector, I made a short list of the leaders in the region for whom I wanted to work. Carol Leary was, and remains, at the top of the list.’

So begins the nomination of Leary, president of Bay Path University, for the Women of Impact award. It was authored by Kathleen Bourque, vice president for University Relations and board liaison for the school, who, 17 years later, is still there, obviously.

In writing her nomination, Bourque captured — probably better than this writer could, although he has done it several times over the past 24 years — not why Leary is worthy of an award, but why she has become an incredible force of progress, hope, and, yes, leadership, on her campus and across the region.

Indeed, here’s more from that nomination form. “A leader with boundless energy, she has an infectious zeal for life in general, and for education in particular. Determined and magnetic, she is the ultimate role model. Those of us who work with her are perpetually inspired by the time and energy she so generously gives to the university, our students, and the community.”

That sums things up pretty well, but there’s more, a lot more — well-written and poignant.

“Her accomplishments are many, varied, and impactful; her unwavering passion for women’s education has positively changed the lives of thousands of women, as has her commitment to the advancement of women in general. Spirit, service, compassion for others, and professionalism all buttress her leadership and in so doing have caused her to wield tremendous impact on our community.”

Tremendous impact indeed. Since arriving on the Bay Path campus in 1994, Leary has transformed it from a sleepy — that’s the word many opt to use — women’s college of fewer than 500 students issuing only two-year degrees to a university with more than 3,300 undergraduate women and graduate men and women with a host of graduate degrees.

“Her accomplishments are many, varied, and impactful; her unwavering passion for women’s education has positively changed the lives of thousands of women, as has her commitment to the advancement of women in general.”

In 2013, Bay Path launched the American Women’s College, the first all-women, all-online baccalaureate program in the nation. That was a big year for the institution, because it was then that it became a university and also opened the Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center for allied-health programs.

But every year has been big for Bay Path, as growth has been continual and profound — and the same can be said of its reach, especially with the annual Women’s Leadership Conference, which has drawn keynote speakers ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Maya Angelou to Jane Fonda, among many others.

But Leary’s influence extends far beyond the campus and the conference. Locally, she’s become involved with agencies ranging from the Community Foundation of Western Mass. to the Beveridge Family Foundation. Nationally, she serves as a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Academic Advisory Council, representing the only women’s college on the council, a strong nod toward the work Bay Path is doing to educate women in the fields of cybersecurity, cybersecurity management, and counterterrorism at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

She’s a frequent speaker on subjects ranging from women’s leadership to issues in higher education, and has written a book, Achieving the Dream: A How-to Guide for Adult Women Seeking a College Degree.

Asked about it all, Leary said she’s simply leading by example, in all kinds of ways.

Indeed, none of her parents or grandparents graduated from high school, but they encouraged her to gain a college education. With it, she has changed her life and thousands of other lives. The message she has for the world — and the force that drives her — is that this is the power of education.

Carol Leary introduces poet Maya Angelou at one of Bay Path’s Women’s Leadership Conferences, one of many new programs and initiatives she has introduced.

Carol Leary introduces poet Maya Angelou at one of Bay Path’s Women’s Leadership Conferences, one of many new programs and initiatives she has introduced.

“One generation later, and you can see the impact of the education,” she said, speaking not about herself, necessarily, but every first-generation college student. “Hopefully, the person has a higher-paying job than they perhaps might have had. And what does that person do with the money? They educate their children, so that generation is assured a better life; they buy a house and pay taxes; they can contribute to their communities with time, talent, and treasure.

“One person getting their education has inter-generational impact,” she went on, adding that this is the fuel that drives Bay Path and the mission that defines her career.

And it also explains why she’s a Woman of Impact.

Course of Action

The students in that “Women as Empowered Leaders and Learners” class didn’t know it at the time, but they were providing some very helpful material for this examination of Leary’s life and career and the reasons why she’s been designated a Woman of Impact.

Leary was the guest speaker at the class that day, and as she recalled what transpired for BusinessWest, the highlighted back and forth between her and the students speaks volumes about her view of the world and the mindset she brings to her job and her life.

The 12 first-year students were asked to bring questions to ask her. Before they could do that, she had one for them: “I asked them to think about a woman leader,” Leary recalled. “I told them to take 30 seconds and tell me the first person that comes to mind, and then the attributes that makes someone a leader.

“Out of the 12, 11 of them said either godmother, mother, sister, cousin, grandmother … and then talked about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, being organized, balancing many balls in the air, and being very supportive,” she said. “And then I thought about how wonderful it was that, in their minds, the women they think of as leaders are everyday women.

“And that was my whole point to this class,” she went on. “Celebrating ordinary women doing extraordinary things is what we need to do more of in this country. That’s what we try to with our students, our faculty, and the speakers we bring here. Many of these people may not be making the most money in the world at their job, they may not have the big title of director or vice president, but there is potential in everyone to make a difference.”

Making everyone, and especially women, aware of this, and then helping them realize their potential to make a difference would be a quick and effective way to sum up Leary’s life’s work.

By now, most people know the story of how, in 1994, Leary, then an administrator at Simmons College in Boston, was encouraged to apply for presidents’ positions, and especially the one at Bay Path, and did so even though she had reservations about whether she was ready to take the giant career leap.

It is now part of Bay Path lore that she and her husband, Noel, were traveling back to Boston from a vacation in Niagara Falls and decided to make a stop at the Longmeadow campus. The two fell in love with just about everything, and Leary took over a few months later.

“When we talk about the impact of higher education or my role as educator, I get up every day saying I’m not just teaching one student. I am making an impact, hopefully, on generations to come.”

As noted, this was and is a turnaround story in every respect. Leary has taken Bay Path from sleepy to wide awake, and from a school that few outside this region knew about to one that recently hosted 27 colleges and universities from the 37-member Women’s College Coalition to discuss new and innovative learning models for women of all ages and stages of their lives.

It’s been a stunning transformation for the once-tiny school that has found its way onto the map and into national prominence.

When asked how it was accomplished, Leary mentioned teamwork, collaboration building, and some things the school now teaches in its classrooms — innovation and entrepreneurship.

Grade Expectations

While it’s quite difficult to tell the many facets of Leary’s story quickly and easily, Bourque managed to do so in her nomination with a hypothetical, but in many ways real, day from Leary’s time at Bay Path.

“On a given afternoon, she could be sipping tea with Lady Margaret Thatcher (and in fact did!), and that same night could be opening her home to share dinner with undergraduate women (and she does, frequently). Remarkably, she is equally enthusiastic and comfortable in both venues. To Dr. Leary, the promise of a young woman launching her studies in biology is as important as engaging the presence and prominence of a global head of state.”

Indeed, it is, and that anecdote speaks to the mindset Leary has maintained throughout her career at Bay Path. She has shaken hands with Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, prominent writers, and activists. But she also makes it a point to try to meet every student who comes to the Bay Path campus and learn their name.

And when she can, she ventures into the classroom, as she did with that “Women as Empowered Leaders and Learners” class. And her answers to some of their questions reveal more about why she has been named a Woman of Impact and how she has become such a great mentor.

When they asked her who supported her and enabled her to achieve her dreams, she started by listing her parents and grandmother, who, despite their lack of education, impressed upon her the importance of school and the notion that she could achieve anything she wanted if she applied herself.

And then, she mentioned her husband, Noel, and while doing so, imparted some important advice on her audience.

“He encourages me, and he’s given up a lot in his own career because of my career,” she noted. “I gave up a career and moved to Washington for him, and five years later, he gave up his career to move to Boston for me.

“The message I gave to the women was to pick a partner in life, if you want a partner in life, and make sure that it is an equal-footing relationship,” she went on. “You can figure out together how to make sure that both your lives and careers get equal time.”

Then one of the students asked if Bay Path would do what so many other women’s colleges have done over the past few decades and go coed. Leary’s answer was an emphatic ‘no.’

“We have kept our mission as a women’s college because that is what we believe in,” she said in summing up her answer. “Every day, we get up and say our mission is the education and advancement of women … and we have a lot of work to do locally and a lot of work to do globally to educate women.”

And that brings her back to her point about education being inter-generational in impact.

“When we talk about the impact of higher education or my role as educator, I get up every day saying I’m not just teaching one student,” she told BusinessWest. “I am making an impact, hopefully, on generations to come.”

Suffice it to say that she has.

Degrees of Progress

While Leary’s list of accomplishments, accolades, and awards is, indeed, quite long, it would probably be safe to say that her greatest power, her greatest talent, is the ability to inspire others, to make them dig deeper, reach higher, and achieve things they maybe (or probably) didn’t think they could.

That’s why Kathleen Bourque put Leary on her very short of people she wanted to work with and for, and why she has stayed at Bay Path for nearly two decades.

So it’s fitting that she gets the last word on this subject, sort of.

“She has touched my life in innumerable ways, professionally as well as personally. Carol Leary is an extraordinary woman.”

There are countless people, men and women, across this region and now well beyond it, who would say the same thing.

— By George O’Brien (with a lot of help from Kathleen Bourque)

Women of Impact 2018

President and CEO of Revitalize Community Development Corp.

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

This Dynamic Leader is Focused on Community Building — in Many Ways

When Colleen Loveless came to Revitalize Community Development Corp. almost 10 years ago, she really didn’t think it would be a long stay.

She told BusinessWest that she was definitely looking for something new and different after working in various sales and marketing positions and then running her own very successful international category-management organization, and found all that in the RCDC, or ‘Revitalize,’ as it’s often called.

But down deep, she admits going in thinking that this was going to be a temporary gig. “I really thought I’d get bored and move on to something else,” she explained, adding that, overall, she is both entrepreneurial and adventurous when it comes to her career and the paths she might take.

Suffice it to say that a funny thing happened on the way to ‘temporary’ and ‘getting bored.’

Indeed, in a short decade, Loveless has taken Revitalize from an all-volunteer organization working one day a year to a year-round program with an office on Main Street, a handful of permanent employees, and, most importantly, a scope of work that keeps expanding — to the benefit of thousands of area individuals. So much so that, in 2015, BusinessWest awarded the agency (and its director) its Difference Maker award.

In a nutshell, the RCDC provides critical repairs, rehabilitation, and modifications on the homes of low-income families with children, the elderly, military veterans, and individuals with special needs. And under Loveless’ strong leadership, it now does all this on an exponentially larger scale.

Since she started, RCDC has completed more than 300 home projects with the help of more than 10,000 volunteers and hundreds of sponsors, donors, and collaborators. Thanks to this support, RCDC consistently leverages funding by a ratio of four to one, and has thus invested more than $29 million in value into the cities of Springfield and Holyoke since its inception.

While Loveless certainly hasn’t achieved all this on her own, she has been the catalyst for all that growth and expansion of the agency’s mission. It has come about through her leadership and ability to fully and effectively leverage her vast skills in marketing, brand development, and creating partnerships and collaborative efforts.

Over the past decade, she has made Revitalize, well, a household name, or household nonprofit agency (literally and figuratively), and taken its work to a plane that most could not have imagined back in 2009.

“Colleen utilizes her strong skill set in business, her professional network, and her entrepreneurial spirit to directly improve the lives of others and to rebuild neighborhoods in our community.”

“Colleen utilizes her strong skill set in business, her professional network, and her entrepreneurial spirit to directly improve the lives of others and to rebuild neighborhoods in our community,” wrote a group of RCDC’s board members, led by Chairman Gregg Desmarais, as they nominated her for the Women of Impact award. “She has successfully engaged the support of more than 90 sponsoring organizations, and has a keen understanding of how to partner effectively with the media, local government, and other stakeholders to bring awareness and support to the cause; the impact that Colleen has made in our community, and on everyone she interacts with, is undeniable.”

There have been many accomplishments and milestones recorded under Loveless’ tenure with the RCDC. They include:

• Implementation of a strategic neighborhood-revitalization plan, called GreenNFit, in the Old Hill neighborhood of Springfield. Roughly 25 homes are worked on each year as the agency proceeds, block by block, through that area;

• Expansion of the agency’s services into Holyoke;

• The creation of the JoinedForces program, whereby Revitalize CDC focuses on home-repair project work for military veterans in need; and

• The ongoing Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a partnership with Baystate Health, the Public Health Institute of Western Mass., the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, the city of Springfield, and Square One to perform interventions and improve housing conditions.

While humbly acknowledging her role in what has been accomplished to date, Loveless, not surprisingly, is looking at what might come next, and additional opportunities to expand the RCDC’s reach.

Specifically, the agency has been awarded a three-year, $730,000 grant from HUD (the federal office of Housing and Urban Development) to repair and rehab homes owned by veterans across the state. That new endeavor was announced at the RCDC’s annual fundraising event for JoinedForces on Nov. 1, and it is only the latest example of how Loveless has been relentless in her efforts to expand the agency’s reach and positively impact more than lives.

And that commitment, even more than the stunning results achieved under her watch at RCDC, explains why she is a member of this first class of Women of Impact.

Building Relationships

As noted earlier, Loveless was enjoying a good deal of success in marketing and as an entrepreneur before she came to the RCDC.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and an MBA (both from Western New England University), she worked in various sales and marketing positions for HP Hood in Boston, the Nutrasweet Company (a division of Monsanto) in Chicago, and Heublein (wine and spirits) in Hartford.

Colleen Loveless says she likes running the RCDC more than she does her own business, and admits that not many entrepreneurs can say that.

Colleen Loveless says she likes running the RCDC more than she does her own business, and admits that not many entrepreneurs can say that.

She then started her own business, called Popmax International, with Popmax being short for point-of-purchase maximization. Working for clients such as Colgate Palmolive, Stanley Tools, and Friendly’s, and breaking ground in digital photography as she did so, Loveless would, as the name on her company suggests, help them maximize space on store shelves as well as other presentation challenges.

“I really loved what I was doing, but in the last few years I was getting a little bored,” she recalled. “And I was looking for a challenge, and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.”

While still operating her business — and also doing some rehabbing of rental properties as another entrepreneurial venture — she took a part-time job with Valley CDC in its small-business technical assistance program. In that role, she was helping small-business owners and fledgling entrepreneurs with marketing, business plans, help with getting loans, and other forms of technical assistance.

She enjoyed the work, and, as she likes to tell people, she “caught the nonprofit bug.”

With that affliction, if one can call it that, the position of president and CEO of the RCDC caught her attention — and kept it. Summing things up, Loveless said the opportunity was attractive on a number of levels — it was a nonprofit, but it was also a startup business in many respects, and one where she could put her many talents to work for a cause she firmly believed in.

“They wanted me to make it a year-round organization and open our first office,” she explained. “And I knew it would really take all of my skills.

‘This was a startup,” she went on. “I used my entrepreneurial skills and also used my construction and rehab skills. And I also put my sales and marketing skills to work — I have an undergraduate degree in marketing.

“I realized that my role is to sell the organization to people in the community, whether it’s to recruit volunteers or recruit sponsors and donations,” she went on, summing up her job description quickly and efficiently. “I’m using a blend of skills, and I love what I’m doing now more than when I had my own business. Not many people can say that; once you have your own business, there’s no going back. But I can say that.”

What she loves is, well, all aspects of this job, but essentially the ongoing work to build it and expand its mission, positively impacting the lives of ever more area residents as she does so.

She started small, in a suite in the Scibelli Enterprise Center in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College, and roughly a year later moved into a suite of offices on Main Street that would narrowly avoid the tornado that roared down that thoroughfare on June 2011, but that would ultimately change the path of the RCDC’s mission, at least temporarily.

At Home with the Idea

Indeed, after a year of carrying on as a volunteer organization, the RCDC was developing blueprints for becoming far more structured and focusing more of its efforts on healthy housing, specifically with regards to asthma.

Loveless was meeting with various groups, such as the Asthma Coalition, when the tornado tore through several neighborhoods in the city.

“That took us off course, but we needed to be taken off course,” she told BusinessWest. “We needed to focus on rehabbing and rebuilding homes for families that either didn’t have insurance, or had inadequate insurance, or that were victimized by contractors that came into the area from outside the region; we filled that role for the next several years and did a total of 71 homes across Springfield.”

Since work on tornado-damaged homes was completed, the RCDC has refocused its energies on what eventually became the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, expansion into Holyoke, and completion of the GreenNFit project in Old Hill, which is now officially ahead of schedule with just one block left to do.

The assault on asthma, still in its pilot phase, has been extremely rewarding work, said Loveless, because it yields benefits on a number of levels.

“It’s a win-win situation,” she told BusinessWest, noting that roughly 70 homes have been inspected, assessed, and rehabbed to date. “The goal is to remove the asthma triggers in the home; it makes the patient healthier, and the healthcare system saves money because individuals aren’t chronically coming to the emergency department.”

And with Baystate recently receiving a $750,000, 18-month grant from the Health Policy Commission, another 150 homes will be rehabbed, with the RCDC as the lead housing agency in the initiative.

As for the GreenNFit project, it is the RCDC’s signature event, drawing more than 1,000 volunteers for an intense day of work in Old Hill. Soon, a new neighborhood will be targeted for improvements, said Loveless, adding that, similarly, volunteers convene in Holyoke (the most recent gathering was Oct. 18) for improvements to a block there, in an endeavor called #GreenNFitHolyoke.

All this success has led to the Difference Maker award and a host of other honors and accolades for RCDC and its executive director. The biggest reward for Loveless, though, is being able to take a lead role in efforts that are literally changing lives — and inspire others to follow that lead.

“I love what I’m doing now more than when I had my own business. Not many people can say that; once you have your own business, there’s no going back. But I can say that.”

“It’s a matter of being creative, being open to change, being flexible, but also being enthusiastic,” she said when talking about one of the most important aspects of her job description. “Energy — positive energy and negative energy — are contagious, and I feel like a pretty optimistic person.

“I feel very positive about the organization, and I feel very positive about the work we’re doing collectively within the community,” she went on. “You get rewarded almost every day with a past recipient coming to volunteer and help out this year, saying, ‘I want to give back,’ or with a wonderful thank-you note. The grandchild of a recipient drew us a little card thanking us; it was a picture of a house with a pretty tree next to it. You can’t buy that.”

Nor can you easily buy the kind of leadership and direction that Loveless has given this organization — and the region as a whole — over the past decade.

Building Momentum

It should be clear by now that, despite her early forecasts, Loveless has never become bored with her work at the RCDC.

Instead, she seems to become more energized — and more entrepreneurial — with each passing year.

The woman who has always been good at sales and marketing has sold the organization and its mission to the region, and enabled it to significantly expand its reach and its mission in the process.

As noted earlier, Loveless hasn’t done this alone. She’s had help from countless corporate partners, other nonprofit agencies, and thousands of volunteers ready to roll up their sleeves. But those contributors needed someone to lead and someone to inspire them.

And Loveless, as a Woman of Impact, has certainly done that.

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

Women of Impact 2018

President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts

Photo by Dani Fine Photography

This Administrator is the Region’s ‘Convener of Choice’

Katie Allan Zobel admits that, if pressed, her children would have a difficult time explaining to others what she does for living — not that she hasn’t tried to put it all into context.

The quick, easy answer is that she is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and in that role, she oversees an agency that facilitates philanthropy to the benefit of residents and nonprofit agencies in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties.

Again, that’s the easy answer. But Zobel doesn’t stop there, and shouldn’t, because there are many layers to her work that do make it difficult to articulate — to a child or even most adults.

“It’s a long-term proposition, what I’m doing, and it’s hard to explain,” she said, “because there’s not a daily, concrete ‘this is what I’ve made, this is what I’ve produced.’ It’s all so long-term, and it’s a total team effort — it’s not something I do on my own.”

Indeed, beyond the title on her business card, Zobel is, above all else, a connector and collaborator, or what Ralph Tate, retired managing director of Standish, Ayer & Wood and chair of the board of trustees for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, calls the “convener of choice” for business and nonprofit leaders across this region.

He also described Zobel as an innovator, leader, and a reader, too — she volunteers for Link to Libraries at the Edward P. Boland School in Springfield — and in all those roles, she’s taking the Community Foundation far, far beyond an organization that awards grants and scholarships, although it does that, too.

“Katie is one of the Pioneer Valley’s most strategic, engaging, and respected leaders due to her expertise in philanthropy, intimate understanding of regional needs, and well-established relationships with a diverse set of community partners,” Tate said. “She brings honesty, integrity, authenticity, and humor to her daily interactions, and commitment and dedication to improving the quality of life in the Valley, and to fostering innovation in leveraging the foundation’s assets to those in need.”

Slicing through a long list of accomplishments and ongoing initiatives, Zobel is working to make the foundation — and individuals’ philanthropy — more effective and more impactful. Put another way, through innovation, perseverance, and a great deal of that convening described earlier, she’s working with others to take the art and science of philanthropy in this region to a higher plane.

And to bring these thoughts into perspective, she mentioned a new initiative called Western Mass. Completes.

“Katie is one of the Pioneer Valley’s most strategic, engaging, and respected leaders due to her expertise in philanthropy, intimate understanding of regional needs, and well-established relationships with a diverse set of community partners.”

This is an initiative involving the 10 area colleges and universities being attended by the largest numbers of Community Foundation scholarship winners, Zobel explained, and it is designed to help improve what she called alarmingly high numbers of first-year college students who don’t make it back for a second year, let alone to the podium on commencement day.

“It’s becoming a crisis,” she noted, adding that the percentage of non-returnees is perhaps as high as 30% nationally. “And we’re partnering with these colleges to understand how our scholarship students are faring. Are they graduating at similar rates? We’re using this cohort model to understand what practices these schools are using to get these students to completion, to get their degree.”

In short, the program is designed to help the foundation not only send students to college, but see them through to graduation day, and it’s merely one example of how the ever-humble Zobel says she is working to lead the Community Foundation into, and on the cutting edge of, a period of change in philanthropy.

“We have a very strong foundation — we’ve spent the past 26 years building trust and our reputation, creating extensive networks up and down the Valley, understanding the communities, and connecting with those who can be generous,” she explained. “And we’re at an inflection point; over the past few years, I’ve been trying to prepare the organization to go around that next curve and come out stronger.”

Initiatives in this broad realm include adding new members to the team at the foundation, introducing and growing the hugely successful Valley Gives program, and even moving the foundation’s office from high in Tower Square to a street-level suite of offices on Bridge Street, where it is more visible — and also a key cog in efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

“I like to say that I’m putting all the building blocks in place so by the time the next decade arrives, we’ll be in a position to meet that inflection and grow and be more effective for the community,” she told BusinessWest.

Her success in assembling these building blocks, and in making the Community Foundation an ever-more powerful connector and collaborator, helps explain — to Zobel’s children and everyone else — why she is truly a Woman of Impact.

Checks and Balances

While Zobel graduated from Boston College with a degree in English, she quickly gravitated toward philanthropy. Soon, it became a career.

She held positions with WGBY and Amherst College — where she led the alumni fund to a record participation rate in 1996 — before eventually joining the Community Foundation in 2004.

Since becoming president and CEO, she has led the organization to growth that can be measured in a number of ways, while fostering a mindset that places a much greater emphasis, on, well, measuring.

That’s because this is what donors, and society in general, are demanding these days, she said, adding that, increasingly, groups and individuals want to see results from their philanthropy.

“We’re in this era of big data, where we can access data more readily than we have in the past,” she explained. “And this data is important because philanthropy is changing; we all want to know if our investments, our donations, are having an impact.”

To that end, the Community Foundation is using innovation, as well as its ability to convene and collaborate, to help ensure that those philanthropic investments have more of an impact.

Examples abound and include Valley Gives.

Katie Allen Zobel displays a symbolic check showing the results from the first several years of Valley Gives, one of many initiatives she has helped introduce.

Katie Allen Zobel displays a symbolic check showing the amount of total grants and scholarships the Community Foundation of Western Mass. granted out to the community in fiscal year 2018.

“This was a three-year pilot program to see if we could be a more generous region, if we could help nonprofits tell their stories in the digital age,” Zobel explained. “Could we help the donors who care about the community to connect with organizations that are doing good work that they might not have heard about before?”

The answer to all those questions is ‘yes,’ and the three-year pilot has become a six-year pilot, a program that has raised more than $10 million for more than 800 nonprofits over that short span.

“We helped, we enabled … we didn’t raise any money ourselves,” she went on, adding that this is just one example of how the foundation has used innovation to not only assist nonprofits and those they serve, but also better understand the needs of this region.

This discussion brings Zobel back to that notion of putting building blocks in place to make the foundation a more effective, more impactful (there’s that word again) force within the region.

She said there are many of these blocks, including people (she’s still adding more members to the team), technology, such as online donations, for example, and, as noted, the right space.

In Tower Square, the foundation served the community, but it wasn’t really a part of it, she explained, adding that the address on Bridge Street, and the community space that is part of that facility, is a far more appropriate location from which to carry out its mission.

But there are other building blocks as well, she went on, listing, among other things, a better understanding of community needs and the forging of strong collaborations.

“We know we can’t do this alone,” she explained. “And I’m a big fan of partnerships, so I’ve developed really trusted relationships with the Davis Foundation, the MassMutual Foundation, the Beveridge Foundation, UMass, and many others.”

Coming Together

Through these collaborations and partnerships, the Community Foundation has taken a lead role in several pilot programs and new initiatives, including something called Honors to Honors.

This is a program whereby low-income students, most all of them first-generation students, from the area’s community colleges can transfer to the Honors College at UMass Amherst, and perhaps become better positioned to graduate with a four-year degree.

Statistics show that first-generation students are even less likely to finish college, said Zobel, adding that Honors to Honors is another initiative aimed at creating more impactful giving.

“We know we can’t do this alone. And I’m a big fan of partnerships, so I’ve developed really trusted relationships with the Davis Foundation, the MassMutual Foundation, the Beveridge Foundation, UMass, and many others.”

And it’s also another example of how the foundation is responding to the changing times within the broad realm of philanthropy and demands for results from one’s giving.

“We’re in a culture that asks questions and demands answers,” said Zobel, adding that this mindset has brought her and the team at the Community Foundation to ask more questions themselves. And those related to the success rates of scholarship recipients comprise just one example.

Those are important questions because getting a young person onto a college campus is no longer the goal — not that it ever was.

“We all know how powerful a college degree can be — it can break the cycle of poverty,” she explained. “It opens doors that couldn’t be opened otherwise, and it leads to a skilled workforce. By giving a scholarship, that led to assumptions that everyone who received one graduated; we know that’s not the case.”

More questions about this region’s needs, as well as its many assets and potential growth areas, has led to another intriguing initiative involving the foundation, this one focused on the arts community, called ValleyCreates.

Indeed, the Community Foundation of Western Mass. is one of five community foundations to be awarded a $500,000 grant from the Boston-based Barr Foundation for a pilot program to help nurture the arts and creativity sector in the region.

“This was an interesting new endeavor for us,” Zobel explained. “We were given a list of what they thought were about 58 arts organizations in the three counties, and we knew there were a lot more than 58.

“We went out looking, and put together an advisory board to help us look, and we found more than 225 organizations in these three counties,” she went on, adding that many of these are small and had never reached out to the foundation for support before, in part because they didn’t have the capacity to do so.

As a result of this learning experience, the foundation is responding in a number of ways, including training sessions to help these organizations focus on capacity building and specific issues and challenges like marketing, fundraising, and board governance, as well as the creation of an innovation grant to support arts and creativity.

Meanwhile, a request for proposals is being readied for an arts hub — a digital clearinghouse that connects arts organizations across the Valley so they can share information and potential opportunities.

The two-year program is another example of those building blocks, and also of Zobel’s efforts to build a stronger, more far-reaching, more impactful Community Foundation and a better-connected region.

On-the-Money Advice

As she talked about these various initiatives, Zobel said they are very much a work in progress, a story with many chapters still to be written.

Still, much has been accomplished already, and Zobel has established herself as a Woman of Impact, even if her children would have a hard time putting into words what she does day in and day out.

She offered this explanation that might help a little — or a lot.

“I work every day with people who want to make the world better,” she said, adding that, in the most basic of terms, it’s her job to help them do that.

And she’s very, very good at it.

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

Women of Impact

The Inaugural Women of Impact Awards

BusinessWest has consistently recognized the contributions of women within the business community and has now created the Women of Impact awards to honor women who have the authority and power to move the needle in their business; are respected for accomplishments within their industries; give back to the community; and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within the field of influence.  Nominees can be high-level executives, entrepreneurs, leaders of a non-profit organization, business owners, volunteers, or mentors: any inspirational woman, at any level in her career, who is doing remarkable things.

Nominations are now closed for 2018, but you may submit a nomination for 2019 consideration.

The 2018 Women of Impact honorees  will be announced and profiled in the October 29 issue of BusinessWest and  will be honored at the Women of Impact Luncheon Awards on Thursday, December 6, 2018 at the Springfield Sheraton Monarch Place Hotel.

Click here to view nomination information, requirement, and to submit your online nomination form.

For sponsorship information contact:
Kate Campiti 413.781.8600 (ext. 104) [email protected]
Kathleen Plante 413.781.8600 (ext. 108) [email protected]

Event Information
Date: Thursday, December 6, 2018
Time: 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.
Location: Sheraton Springfield, One, Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 01144
Tickets on Sale: October 1, 2018; Price $65/person; $650/table of 10
For more information: Call (413) 781-8600 x100 or email at [email protected]

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