Class of 2022

Tara Brewster, Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank

She’s Put Her ‘Superpowers’ to Use to Help Those in Need

 

Leah Martin Photography

Tara Brewster says she’s probably bought more than 100 copies of the children’s book — and given them all away. She joked that she’s waiting for the author to call and thank her for her consistent support.

It’s called The Three Questions, and it’s based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. It’s about a young boy named Nikolai who sometimes feels uncertain about the right way to act. So he devises three questions to help him know what to do:

• When is the best time to do things?

• Who is the most important one?

• What is the right thing to do?

He then commences asking several different animal characters for the answers, and by book’s end he’s still asking, although one of those characters, a turtle, points out that, through the course of some recent actions — and especially his efforts to save an injured panda and its child — Nikolai had answered the questions himself.

Those answers are: ‘there is only one important time, and that time is now,’ ‘the most important one is always the one you are with,’ and ‘the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.’

And these, the turtle notes, are the answers to “what is most important in this world — why we are here.”

Brewster says the book and its message are more than a fun, informational, and inspirational story. The Three Questions sums up quickly and effectively how she has lived her life to this point — and what drives her, if you will, to lend her time and talents to several area nonprofits as a board member, cheerleader, and relentless fundraiser.

“These are questions that I really fall back on a lot in a day,” she explained. “They’re really simple, and they just help me think about what am I doing, who am I impacting, and when am I supposed to be doing the thing that matters most. When I get really stressed out and start thinking, I should do doing this, and I should be doing this, I realize that I can only focus on one thing at a time, and it’s the thing that you’re doing that you should be putting your heart and soul into.”

Brewster, who seems to possess enough energy to power all of Northampton by herself, is involved as a board member with several nonprofits in that area, ranging from the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA) to the Hampshire Regional YMCA; from Double Edge Theatre to Cutchins Programs for Children and Familes.

“I can honestly say that I have never met anyone so dedicated to helping those that are less fortunate in our community than Tara. I’ve seen so many people join local not-for-profit boards for networking opportunities or to strengthen one’s résumé. Unlike anyone I’ve ever met, Tara works tirelessly to gain support and funding for the organizations that she serves.”

But she also volunteers for, and helps fundraise for, the Food Bank of Wester Massachusetts and Monte’s March, Tapestry Development Committee, Safe Passage and its Hot Chocolate Run, and the Cancer Connection and its Mother’s Day Half Marathon.

But it’s not what she does that makes her a Difference Maker, although that’s part of it, but how she does it. Bill Grinnell, president of Webber & Grinnell Insurance, who nominated her for this honor, explained it this way:

“I can honestly say that I have never met anyone so dedicated to helping those that are less fortunate in our community than Tara. I’ve seen so many people join local not-for-profit boards for networking opportunities or to strengthen one’s résumé. Unlike anyone I’ve ever met, Tara works tirelessly to gain support and funding for the organizations that she serves.”

To get some perspective on those comments, one needs only to listen to Brewster as she talks about how she set out to become the top fundraiser for the Hot Chocolate Run, and then made the goal reality.

Tara Brewster, right, poses for a promotional photo for the Treehouse Foundation’s ‘Stir Up Some Love’ fundraiser with A.J. Bresciano

Tara Brewster, right, poses for a promotional photo for the Treehouse Foundation’s ‘Stir Up Some Love’ fundraiser with A.J. Bresciano, first vice president and commercial lender at Greenfield Savings Bank, and Julie Kumble, director of Strategic Partnerships & Development for the foundation.

“Safe Passage has a leaderboard every year, and since I started doing the Hot Chocolate Run in 2009, it’s been my goal to be number one on the leaderboard,” she said. “And two years ago, I finally got there. How did I do that? I asked, and I asked, and I asked people that I knew — friends, family, those in the community — to donate to Safe Passage to help deal with domestic violence.

“That’s what it comes down to: doing what you can, and using your superpowers to help others,” she went on. “And everyone has the power to do something, some good, every day.”

Because she uses her power every single day, it seems, Brewster has earned her place in the Difference Makers class of 2020.

 

Buy the Book

Brewster grew up Florence, not far from where she lives now, which was certainly “not the plan,” she said.

She told BusinessWest that many of those she grew up with were firm of the belief that one had to leave this area to achieve whatever dreams they had made for themselves. And she came to that belief herself.

But her desired next destination was certainly different than most others had in mind.

“I wanted to go to Montana — I think Wyoming and Montana are my two favorites,” she recalled, adding that she had already been to several states by the time she was in high school, and had determined that the Rocky Mountain region was where she wanted to go to college. “I thought I would like Big Sky country and being out in the wilderness; I wanted to be a pediatrician, and I wanted to go the University of Montana Bozeman.”

But fate would keep her closer to home.

Indeed, her mother was diagnosed with stage-4 ovarian cancer when Tara was just 15, a turn of events that would not only alter her plans for college, but inspire her to continuously review how she was living her life, with the goal of reaching higher — professionally, but also in the way she was using her considerable talents to help others who were less fortunate.

“That completely changed the course of my entire life; I have no idea where I would be had that not happened. She fought like hell, and ultimately lost the fight,” she said, adding that, long before her mother died, she gave up the dream of going to Montana, knowing she could not leave her father and brother at that critical time.

Tara Brewster works a United Way annual campaign event with Markus Jones

Tara Brewster works a United Way annual campaign event with Markus Jones, senior Major Gifts officer at Northfield Mount Hermon School.

Brewster would eventually graduate from Smith College, majoring in government and anthropology, and found her way into the men’s clothing business. She started at Taylor Men, which had a store in Thornes Market, while she was at Smith, and would later be regional sales manager for seven stores in the Northeast before moving to Manhattan and working for a men’s wholesale apparel company and becoming what she called a “road warrior.”

Eventually, the road took her back to Northampton and where she started — sort of. Taylor Men in Thornes Marketplace had closed, and she began contemplating owning her own store on that site.

Later, she and partner Candice Connors would open Jackson & Connor, an entrepreneurial venture that would — with her already-significant involvement in the Greater Northampton community — earn Brewster her first honor from BusinessWest: a 40 Under Forty plaque. It would also help set the tone when it comes to how she would be “all in,” as she put it, with both her career and her involvement in the community.

“I call that business my ‘first child,’ because I gave it my all,” she said. “And Jackson & Connor really helped me understand purpose and place of myself as a human, as a community member, and as a business owner; it gave me a clear direction of how I wanted to be in my community and in my region, and how I wanted to use my resources, my influence, and my power to lead and have an impact. And from the epicenter, I’ve grown as a human, as a person, as an employee, as a member of a team.”

 

The Plot Thickens

Eight years after launching Jackson & Connor, the two partners sold the enterprise, which is still operating today, and commenced writing their own next chapters. Brewster segued into consulting before Mark Grumoli, senior vice president and commercial loan officer at Greenfield Savings Bank, who years earlier had helped the partners secure funding to launch Jackson & Connor when he was with Florence Bank, convinced her to become the new vice president of Business Development.

She recalls friends and family members saying she wouldn’t last long in that role, but five years later, she’s still in it. That’s because it gives her what she desires most in a job — a situation where each day is different, a role where she can flex her entrepreneurial muscles, and a position that gives her the time and opportunity to be ‘out in the community,’ in every aspect of that phrase. And it has allowed her to take both her career and her civic endeavors to a bigger stage.

When asked what a typical day is like for her, she said there is no such thing. Each day is different. But each one is filled with conversations — phone calls, e-mails, texts, and some old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings. And only some of them have to do with banking.

“They pertain to connection, encouragement, engagement, assistance, and more,” she explained. “I serve on five boards, and there are probably five boards that I do other things for. So a lot of my conversations are with community members, and nonprofits in particular.

“These nonprofits have a real piece of my heart because I believe that, if you focus on and encourage and support the nonprofits, then more of the people who need help in this world and this region will get the help they need, because they are the helpers,” she went on,” she went on. “The nonprofits, first and foremost, are the ones that are doing the professional helping in a day, so if you want to do something and you don’t feel you have the time or whatever, support a nonprofit — that’s the easiest way to ensure that you’re creating some impact for the people who need it most.”

Brewster has certainly lived by these words, assisting nonprofits in many ways, especially through leadership as board member and with the all-important task of fundraising, which is always critical, but particularly during COVID, when the need is greater and many nonprofits have been hurt financially.

As she does so, she said she draws inspiration from others who, like her, balance work, family, and giving back, and somehow find the time and energy for all three. She mentioned Monte Belmonte, the host and program director at WHMP radio, the creator of Monte’s March, and a Difference Maker himself in 2020.

“He has a job at the radio station that he gets paid for, but then he has this other thing that he doesn’t get paid for — it’s his heart desire, it’s his calling, it’s how he uses his day job to be more and do more, to make a larger stage, to make a greater impact for a call to action,” Brewster said. “I have some people in my life who I’ve looked to for guidance on how to live and how to make a greater social impact with the talents that we have, because we all have these spheres of influence, whether it’s connections, or an employer, or social awareness.

“We all have these superpowers that we have to tap into in order to do greater good, in order to make a difference,” she went on. “And people think, ‘oh, I don’t have anything, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the resources.’ But we do. We all do. We all have connections, we have have these superpowers. We just have to use them.”

 

The Last Word

When asked to list her superpowers, she mentioned ‘connectivity,’ ‘engagement,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘awareness,’ and even ‘caretaking,’ and she traces them to when her mother got sick and after she died.

“For me, I’m acutely aware of sorrow and pain and hardship and loss, and what that means to being a whole self and a whole person — how you show up and how other people show up,” she explained. “It’s impacted the way I serve the community and serve on boards.”

Brewster serves in a way that enables those fundraisers to carry on that work they do and provide the many kinds of help that are needed.

“There’s an old saying … “you only get one life to live, and if you do it right, one is enough,’” she said in conclusion.

She has certainly done it right, and because of that, she has earned her place as a Difference Maker.

 

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

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