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SPRINGFIELD — Western New England University (WNEU) announced the recipients of the 2021 PeoplesBank Award. The award, first given in 2020, is made possible by a grant to WNEU from PeoplesBank to advance innovation and entrepreneurship across the university and the entire Pioneer Valley ecosystem.

Mary Schoonmaker, associate professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Western New England, applauded the students’ spirit and innovation. “We continue to be encouraged to see the breadth of businesses that have applied for awards this year. It is rewarding to see these student-led ventures made possible through this PeoplesBank grant.”

Matthew Bannister, first vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank, congratulated each of the student-business initiatives. “We are pleased that our grant could assist these student teams in continuing to develop their businesses. Small businesses, powered by entrepreneurs, are vital to the economic health of our region, and we congratulate these six new ventures and Western New England University for their efforts in this area. This is exactly what we hoped would transpire when we formed this partnership with Western New England.”

This year, the PeoplesBank Award at Western New England University went to the following innovative and entrepreneurial student teams:

• Jeremy Bowler, a computer engineering major, for his work on an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission (ECVT) for small-engine applications. The funding is being used to continue to advance the prototype;

• Tytianie Brown, a sciences major, who runs a full-service beauty-services business. Brown is using the funding for beauty-services equipment;

• Caleb Miller, a mechanical engineering major and the co-founder of Woodside Getaways, an RV rental startup. Miller is using the funding to provision the RV and complete the rental unit, which is already booked for summer travel by Woodside’s clients;

• Dante Talamini, an engineering major and team leader for Frost Alert, a wearable smart device that monitors skin temperature and alerts the wearer if they are beginning to experience frostbite. The team will be using the funding to continue to advance their prototype development;

• Ethan Valdes, an entrepreneurship major with a minor in health sciences, who co-founded Bus Boiz, a social-media experience startup that captures travel experiences. The team was awarded funding for a drone to assist with aerial shots from their travel adventures; and

• Shemika White, an MBA graduate student and founder of Notes of Beauty chemical-free beauty products. White is using the funding to purchase materials and product testing.

Western New England University aspires to develop students’ entrepreneurial mindset with its innovation and entrepreneurial programs. Through co-curricular efforts, such as Startup Weekend and the Product Development and Innovation course, students are able to create innovations that have market potential. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located on campus, is a dedicated space for student startup teams, club meetings, and maker space for student-led innovations. Past WNEU student teams have advanced their innovations by participating in the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Spirit Awards, the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator, and Draper Competitions.

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AMHERST — UMass Amherst’s Jim Kurose, distinguished university professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences and associate chancellor for Partnerships and Innovation, is part of the research team recently awarded a $20 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to build the internet of the future.

The grant, which will support the AI Institute for Future Edge Networks and Distributed Intelligence (AI-EDGE), is led by Ness Shroff, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering at Ohio State University. The funding supports a core team of 30 scientists from 11 collaborating educational institutions, three U.S. Department of Defense labs, and four global software companies.

AI-EDGE is one of 11 new, NSF-funded Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes, and its ultimate goal is to “design future generations of wireless edge networks that are highly efficient, reliable, robust, and secure, and facilitate solving long-standing distributed AI challenges.”

An edge network, Kurose explained, is simply the network that each one of us connects to. “The internet is a network of networks,” he said, “and every time you surf the internet using a wireless connection, you start at the edge. That’s where you connect.” There are hundreds of millions of such edge networks, and with providers beginning to offer 5G access, with 6G in the not-too-distant future, they’re only becoming more numerous.

The challenge is how to best control and manage these networks to provide high-performance, secure, and robust service. This is where AI (artificial intelligence) comes in.

Just as much of the internet has moved to the edge, so, too, is AI moving outward from a centralized, core location. Not only is the team using AI for networking to solve the problems of speed, reliability, and security, but it’s also helping to network AI and get the technology out to the edges, where it can do the most good.

“We’re looking for anywhere from 10 times to 100 times better performance, along with better robustness and security, than the best these networks can offer today,” Kurose said.

Faster speeds and more information mean more data that can be used to make better decisions — and this is where Kurose comes in. “My research will focus on how you monitor and make sense of all the incoming data, in real time, to ensure that performance and security remain robust.”

Kurose will also co-lead the team’s effort in broadening participation. He’ll be working with middle- and high-school students, with a focus on under-represented groups, to bring them into the world of AI, as well as running a Women in AI program that will be open to girls and women from kindergarten through graduate school.

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HOLYOKE — While many organizations are still struggling to navigate the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke announced the reopening of its Lyman Terrace satellite unit.

After five years of being closed due to the Lyman Terrace Renovation Project and thanks to a partnership between Holyoke Housing Authority and the Community Builders, the club launched its after-school and summer-camp programming in the newly renovated community room located at Lyman Terrace Apartments. The Lyman Terrace satellite unit officially opened its doors on July 19 for summer camp, serving youth ages 6 to 12.

The reopening recommits the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke to doing whatever it takes to help children in Holyoke who need its services the most. For decades, the club has been proud to operate programs within affordable-housing communities.

“We are thrilled to be back in the Lyman Terrace neighborhood. Our high-quality summer and after-school programs are vital steps in supporting families to become more self-sufficient and to support young people in reaching their full potential as productive, responsible, caring citizens” said Eileen Cavanaugh, president and CEO.

In addition to its main club facility, the club now operates youth-development programming in four public-housing communities in the neighborhoods of Beaudoin Village, Churchill Homes, Toepfert Apartments, and Lyman Terrace Apartments. Each satellite unit serves up to 26 youth per day with programs rooted in academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship.

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EASTHAMPTON — Finck and Perras Insurance donated $15,000 to CitySpace in a multi-year pledge for support of the restoration of Easthampton Old Town Hall into a center of the arts for Western Mass.

In 2006, beginning with Old Town Hall’s first floor, CitySpace embarked on an effort to create affordable space for arts organizations and creative businesses under one roof in Easthampton’s Main Street Historic District. Now, CitySpace is raising funds to convert the unused second-floor, 3500-square-foot hall into a flexible, accessible, 350-seat space for performances, concerts, and community events. Renovations also will include a new box office, elevator, entryway, theatrical lighting, and sound and projection systems.

“I have always viewed Old Town Hall as a centerpiece of the city,” said Gen Brough, Finck and Perras president. “For over 85 years, Finck and Perras Insurance has been a proud member of this community. Being a part of the community and giving back to it is one of the core philosophies we feel is essential to our success. Sponsoring youth sports, supporting nonprofits, volunteering at community events, or projects like CitySpace’s Old Town Hall restoration makes us feel even more connected.”

To date, more than $4.2 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. CitySpace plans to begin renovations in late 2022 and seeks further support for the project.

“CitySpace’s project to bring the Old Town Hall back to its glory of a usable community space for everyone fits in with our values of community support,” Brough added. “We are proud to make a donation and look forward to the grand reopening of this great historical icon of the city of Easthampton.”

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HOLYOKE — Registration is now open for the Holyoke Community College (HCC) Foundation’s annual fundraising golf tournament on Monday, Sept. 13 at Springfield Country Club in West Springfield.

Last year’s golf tournament, the 33rd, was cancelled due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s tournament will recognize the 75th anniversary of Holyoke Community College. Proceeds ­will go toward student scholarships managed by the HCC Foundation, the college’s nonprofit fundraising arm.

The golf outing begins with an 11 a.m. buffet lunch followed by a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start. After golf, participants can enjoy cocktails on the clubhouse porch with beautiful views of the Pioneer Valley, followed by a special dinner and celebration recognizing the 75th anniversary of Holyoke Community College.

“The HCC Foundation could not be more excited about our upcoming golf tournament,” said Patrick Carpenter, HCC’s director of Institutional Advancement. “This is our first tournament since 2019, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. This is an opportunity to celebrate 75 years of excellence and programs and services that change students’ lives and lift up our region.”

Participants can arrange their own foursomes or sign up as singles. The $185 individual fee includes greens fees, golf cart, lunch, dinner, and refreshments on the course. The cost is $740 per foursome.

Over the past 33 years, the annual HCC Foundation Golf Classic has raised more than $500,000 for HCC scholarships, student-support programs, and classroom technology. To register or sponsor the golf tournament, visit www.hcc.edu/golf.

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SPRINGFIELD — Freedom Credit Union announced it has appointed Kriste Joy as branch officer of its two Franklin County branches in Greenfield and Turners Falls.

“Kriste is truly passionate about Freedom Credit Union and does her best to make sure our name and brand are well-known throughout the county,” Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch said. “There is no doubt she will be successful in further developing a sense of teamwork, continuity, and consistency among the Greenfield and Turners Falls branches and the members they serve.”

Joy started her career at Four Rivers Federal Credit Union in 2003 and became part of the Freedom Credit Union family through a merger in 2005. A short time later, she assumed responsibility for managing the former Four Rivers branch offices in Turners Falls and South Deerfield, doing so until the South Deerfield location closed and a new, full-service branch opened in Greenfield in 2009.

“I love my community here in Franklin County and am excited to be able to continue to help my neighbors through my work at Freedom,” Joy said. “With our cooperative spirit, we have a big impact on the lives of our local members, businesses, and community.”

Well-known in Franklin County, Joy has developed active relationships with local schools and formed several partnerships for financial-literacy and school banking programs, as well as strong ties with many local businesses and members. She also holds active roles in many local nonprofit organizations, including DIAL/SELF Youth and Community Services, the Greenfield Education Foundation, the Greenfield Business Assoc., and the YMCA, just to name a few.

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AGAWAM — Belt Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of custom metal belt conveyer solutions and conveyor systems for more than five decades, has been awarded a $45,600 grant to assist in the training of 24 workers and the creation of at least two new jobs before 2023. This project is funded by a Workforce Training Fund grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The grant program is administered by Commonwealth Corp.

“This grant provides us with a unique opportunity to not only grow our workforce, but provide new and useful skills to the people who we already employ,” said Belt Technologies owner and CEO Denis Gagnon. “We are proud to have been selected as one of the 99 Massachusetts companies to receive this grant. These funds will be integral in funding further training for our employees looking to move up in the world of manufacturing.”

More than $8 million was awarded to companies all across Massachusetts, investing in companies from a variety of different industries. Belt plans to use the funds to help employees complete several training programs which will improve their proficiency with tooling, planned maintenance, and lean-manufacturing principles. The company currently employs 39 people in Agawam and plans to add two new manufacturing positions to increase capacity.

“We are always looking for ways to employ more people from our community,” Belt Technologies President Alan Wosky said. “We are a global company, selling to distributors all over the world, but our heart is right here in Western Massachusetts, where our employees live and work. We hope these new positions we add will help us achieve our goals and provide a stable environment for employees to work and gain important skills.”

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AGAWAM — Six Flags New England is seeking hundreds of positions as the park launches its annual Fright Fest, featuring more than 20 haunt experiences and live shows featuring more than 200 roaming monsters, zombies, and ghouls. Fright Fest kicks off on Saturday, Sept. 25 and runs weekends and select days through Sunday, Oct. 31.

Six Flags New England will host its annual hiring Scare Fair on Saturday, Aug. 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the park’s Human Resources Building. The property will be adding hundreds of positions, including food service, security, lifeguards, rides, games, and, of course, its terrifying squad of zombies and ghouls.

Six Flags will offer its monsters and employees a fall bonus incentive in which team members can earn an additional bonus of up to 15% of their gross pay when they stay through the end of Fright Fest. The park will also offer an expedited hiring program that awards qualified recipients to receive an additional $50 when they complete their paperwork and training on the same day.

A few notes for performers: Six Flags is seeking scare actors, singers, dancers, and backstage crew for its haunted houses and stage shows. Interested candidates must be energetic, terrifying, Halloween fanatics, and willing to haunt people using effective scare tactics. Depending on the position, performers will be asked to prepare a monologue or uptempo song, learn a dance combination, read, scream, and even walk like a zombie to showcase their best acting and scare abilities. Performers are encouraged to prepare a one- to two-minute monologue for the audition.

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HOLYOKE — Given the positive indicators related to COVID-19 in Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College (HCC) will increase the number of students it allows in classrooms for face-to-face instruction in September.

Based on the recommendation of the college’s Return to Campus task force (RTC), HCC will raise the cap from 10 to 15 students per classroom for fall enrollment in all subjects, with the exception of health sciences.

For classes in health sciences, such as nursing, radiologic technology, and veterinary science, the classroom caps will be removed entirely because of the high vaccination rates among students in those fields and stringent adherence to health and safety protocols.

HCC is preparing to welcome students back to campus for in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester, which begins Sept. 7. While vaccinations against COVID-19 are strongly encouraged, they are not being required at any of the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts.

In a statement Monday to the HCC community, Narayan Sampath, vice president of Administration & Finance and a member of the RTC, noted that HCC has continually adjusted to conditions in the region throughout the pandemic based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health.

“In late winter, as we began to plan for the coming registration periods, fall class enrollment was capped at 10 to allow 125 square feet of space per person, to accommodate students, the instructor, plus an allowance for additional personnel for students who have an interpreter or personal-care attendant,” Sampath said. “Today, the Commonwealth leads the nation in vaccination rates. The governor has lifted all orders associated with pandemic restrictions, and there has been a dramatic drop in positive test results. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 has decreased from hundreds each day to weeks where there have been less than 10, or even none. School districts have announced that schools will open in the fall with students fully present, and several of our sibling community colleges have moved to increase their allowable class sizes. Given these very positive indicators, we believe it is time for HCC to adjust again.”

While the classroom caps are being increased, HCC will continue to require that students, faculty, staff, and visitors wear masks inside all campus buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. HCC will also continue to maintain the high standards of cleaning and disinfection it has followed throughout the pandemic, he added.

“Should vaccination rates continue to increase and COVID-19 rates decline, we hope to be able to increase class size or remove caps altogether for all classes,” Sampath said. “Of course, should our region see a rise in COVID-19 numbers, we will again take steps to mitigate risk as appropriate.”

Campus offices, including Admission and Advising, have already reopened for in-person services, as has the fitness room in HCC’s Bartley Center for Athletics and Recreation.

Registration is underway for fall semester classes. To maximize available options for students, HCC will continue to offer multiple, flexible start dates. Full fall-semester classes start Sept. 7 and run for 14 weeks, Fall Start II classes begin Sept. 27 and run for 12 weeks, and Fall Start III classes begin Oct. 27 and run for seven weeks.

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MERRIMACK, N.H. — Melanson announced the admittance of its newest principal, Duy Nguyen. The accounting firm also announced the promotion of Christopher Hill to chief financial officer.

Nguyen works in the Commercial Tax Department at Melanson and has been with the firm since 2014. He is a certified public accountant licensed in New Hampshire and practices out of the firm’s Merrimack office. Since joining Melanson, his focus has been on foreign taxation, multi-state taxation, and venture-capital taxation. His previous experience includes managing tax departments for multi-national corporations.

Nguyen received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant College. He holds memberships in the New Hampshire Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“We are proud to announce Duy’s promotion to principal,” said Lori Liberty, principal. “His strong work ethic and exceptional technical skills benefit both the firm and our clients. Personally, I am excited to see what Duy will contribute to the future of the firm.”

Hill has been Melanson’s controller since 2013. Since joining the firm, he has managed its accounting and budgeting, facilities, administrative staff, licensing and compliance, software systems, and other special projects. He received an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Franklin Pierce University.

“This is a well-deserved promotion,” said Lee Kubishta, chief operating officer. “I work closely with Chris every day. I appreciate his passion for what he does, his high level of integrity, and his commitment to the firm. With Chris’ deep understanding of our business paired with his amazing analytical skills, he is able to provide financial reporting that is unparalleled and insightful, which helps us run our business.”

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NORTH ADAMS — MCLA’s Division of Graduate and Continuing Education is accepting applicants to the college’s fall Degree Completion Program, a cohort-style program that begins Sept. 1 for students looking for a non-traditional path to a bachelor’s degree.

MCLA’s Degree Completion Program is best suited for those who have an associate degree or some college credits. Each program is conducted in a cohort-style learning format in which students begin their course of study with a group of their peers and proceed through the program together. Classes are offered in the evening and online to help students balance work, family commitments, and their academic journey. Classes are offered one night a week at MCLA Pittsfield, 66 Allen St. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

Students can earn a bachelor of science degree in business administration or a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies. Students in the interdisciplinary program may focus on children, families, and society; leadership and business; health and human services; or may create an individualized plan of study with an advisor.

To learn more and enroll, visit mcla.edu/degreecompletion or contact Erinn Kennedy, associate director of Advising and Outreach, at [email protected] or (413) 662-5422.

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SPRINGFIELD — At the time, it would have been hard to imagine a more elegant place for James Garvey to knock out digital marketing campaigns. WeWork and GCAi’s co-working space at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Calif. brought together an eclectic group of startups, most of which skewed toward the fashion-tech industry. On any given morning, you had the space to yourself, and during the day, you might run into celebrities like Kris Jenner in the lobby.

“Then came that thing we all went through over 2020-plus,” Garvey said. “As if it has suffered the impact of a California earthquake, and helped certainly by its other mega-financial failings, WeWork’s Pacific Design Center space showed some fractures. Communication broke down, free coffee became sporadic, and positive tests by tenants went up.” And, like virtually every other tech office in the world, Garvey and GCAi-LA went home.

Enter the Motoring Club in Marina Del Ray, Calif., which GCAi moved to recently. Owned and managed by Michael Rapetti, the Motoring Club is a collector vehicle storage space with unique social-club space for conversation, collaboration, or just inspired work, “if a vintage motorcycle parked next to your table does that kind of thing for you,” Garvey said.

“Indeed, the closest thing to a cubicle is Michael’s ultra-boxy 1995 Range Rover Classic. Michael is probably the most driven car nerd on the planet. His hands-on approach to the club was evident with his communication efforts during the thing. On behalf of club members, Michael leveraged all the tools at his disposal, especially social/tech like Instagram, to keep members informed. If you didn’t feel like checking your e-mail for Michael’s weekly updates, you could just watch the Motoring Club’s Instagram story (@themotoringclub) and get up to speed in a matter of seconds.”

The Motoring Club is located in Marina Del Rey, an unincorporated seaside community in Los Angeles, Garvey said. “Here is the ultimate ‘my office is better than your office’ comparison: should you need to stimulate your thinking with an out-of-office experience, you can rent a Porsche 911 from the Motoring Club for less than your monthly Starbucks tab, zip up PCH to Carbon Beach in Malibu, and do your work from there for a change. Or maybe skip the work part and stick with the experience part.”

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SPRINGFIELD — Professional Drywall Construction Inc. (PDC), a leading commercial drywall company headquartered in Springfield, will host its fifth annual PDC Charity Golf Tournament on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. at Wyckoff Country Club in Holyoke. All proceeds from the tournament will be donated to Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“It has been an honor to host this tournament for the past five years to help such an amazing organization like Baystate Children’s Hospital,” PDC co-owner Nick Shaink said. “Last year, things were a little different due to the pandemic, but we are looking forward to getting back to a full-capacity event and hope we are able to raise a significant amount for this cause. Giving back to our community is at the core of our values as a company.”

The tournament features an 18-hole round of golf, lunch, and a dinner reception. Registration is open now, and sponsorship opportunities are also available.

“We want to thank anyone who has already signed up to play or has been generous enough to purchase one of our sponsorship options,” PDC co-owner Ron Perry said. “We have sponsorship opportunities open at every level and would love for other businesses in our community to participate in giving back with us. We’ve been working to raise funds for Baystate Children’s Hospital with various events over the years and believe wholeheartedly in their mission to provide quality healthcare to children.”

To register online, visit app.eventcaddy.com/events/2021-pdc-charity-golf-tournament and click ‘register.’ To purchase a sponsorship online, click ‘store.’ The deadline for registration is Friday, Aug. 13.

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SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Monday to announce $3,740,728 in funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Shuttered Venues Operation Grant (SVOG) program. Joining Neal for this announcement was Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva.

“These funds are incredibly instrumental to operations like the Basketball Hall of Fame who suffered greatly because of the pandemic,” Neal said. “For the safety of the American people, the government forced these agencies to close their doors. And now, it is the government again stepping in to make sure that they are able to get back on their feet.”

Doleva added that “the Shuttered Venue Operations Grant commitment means the Basketball Hall of Fame can stabilize its business operations that were so severely impacted over the last 15 months and allow us to better position ourselves for long-term survival and future growth. Without the SBA’s SVOG, many venues, like ours, would have struggled to regain footing and suffered long-term consequences that for some may have been permanent.”

SVOG was established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, and amended by the American Rescue Plan Act. The program includes more than $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues, to be administered by SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Eligible entities include live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing-arts organization operators, museum operators, motion-picture theater operators (including owners), and talent representatives.

Across Massachusetts, 244 grants have been awarded, totaling $194,408,323. Thirty-three of those are in the First Congressional District, totaling $20,010,864. In addition to the Basketball Hall of Fame, they include Agawam Cinemas; Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in Becket; Chester Theatre Co.; Public Emily Inc. in Conway; Stationery Factory Events in Dalton; Luthier’s Co-Op in Easthampton; Berkshire Choral International, Berkshire International Film Festival, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, and Shaw Entertainment Group in Great Barrington; Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts in Holyoke; Athlone Artists, Edith Wharton Restoration, and WAM Theatre in Lenox; Exit Seven Players in Ludlow; HiLo Holding Co. and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation in North Adams; Barrington Stage Co. and Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield; Corcoran Productions in Richmond; PDP Productions in Shelburne; Egremont Village Inn and Triplex Management Corp. in South Egremont; Tower Theatres in South Hadley; Bold New Directors in Southampton; Cindy Pettibone in Southwick; Springfield Symphony Orchestra; Old Sturbridge Inc.; NV Concepts Unlimited and the Theatre Project in West Springfield; and Community Images Inc. and Williamstown Theatre Foundation in Williamstown.

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HOLYOKE — Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. (MBK) will close its offices on Monday, Aug. 2 in honor of its former managing partner, James Barrett.

“With heavy hearts, we share that our friend and colleague, Jim Barrett, lost his battle with cancer and passed away on July 23,” the firm said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and all the lives he touched. Our offices will be closed on Monday, August 2 to allow the MBK family to honor Jim’s memory and attend his service.”

Barrett had a successful career in public accounting following his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western New England College and his master of taxation degree from Florida International College. He was licensed as a certified public accountant in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida; served on the board of directors for CPAmerica; and was a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants, the American Legion, and the National Rifle Assoc. In 2008, he was appointed managing partner of MBK and served in that position until his health required him to step down in the spring of 2020.

“As our managing partner, Jim guided MBK through many transitions over the past decade,” the firm noted. “Jim was disciplined in his approach to leadership, always studying the facts and data before making decisions. He was particularly adept at helping clients work through the most complicated financial and business situations. He was an active listener, preferring to lead through the art of asking thoughtful questions, a trait that his clients and colleagues appreciated about him. When he walked into any room, people were drawn to his strong leadership, warm smile, and sense of humor. He knew how to help everyone balance the stress of our profession with a funny story, a pat on the back, or one of his famous fist bumps as he would make his rounds through our office (often with his to-do list in hand). Jim set a great example for us with his work ethic and desire to always improve MBK. His leadership contributed to MBK’s long-standing reputation as a leading professional service firm in New England. Jim was a great leader, mentor, friend, and brother to the entire MBK team. We will all miss Jim greatly, and we will work to honor his memory for years to come.”

Click here for Barrett’s obituary at MassLive. Memorial gatherings will be held at Forastiere-Smith Funeral Home and Cremation Service, 220 North Main St., East Longmeadow, on Sunday, Aug. 1 from 2 to 6 p.m., and on Monday, Aug. 2 from 9 to 10 a.m. The liturgy will follow on Aug. 2 at 11 a.m. at St. Michael’s Parish in East Longmeadow.

Memorial contributions in Barrett’s memory may be made to Semper Fi & America’s Fund, 825 College Blvd., Suite 102, PMB 609, Oceanside, CA 92057 or to the Sister Caritas Cancer Center, 271 Carew St., Springfield, MA 01104.

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

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

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

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

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SPRINGFIELD — The YMCA of Greater Springfield announced it will hold a golf tournament on Monday, Sept. 20 at the Longmeadow Country Club.

“We are excited to be holding a golf tournament this year, especially after the challenges of this past year,” said Dexter Johnson, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield. “This will be a great opportunity for people to get outside on an incredible course, enjoy a day of golf, and support a meaningful cause. The funds raised through this tournament will go to support youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility through access to the YMCA because, at the Y, our doors are open to all, and no one is turned away due to the inability to pay in full for programs and services.”

Michael Rouette, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Monson Savings Bank and golf chairperson for the event, added that “we’ve been working hard to create a great experience for all our golf participants and sponsors. I would like to thank all of our sponsors who have teed up to support the Greater Springfield community through this tournament. I hope others will join Monson Savings Bank, Country Bank, Epstein Financial Services, and the other sponsors in making this day a true success. You will be helping to provide childcare for our youngest in the community, support after-school programs, provide access to the YMCA’s many health and wellness programs, support a social outlet for many, and so much more.”

In addition to a round of golf, golfers will enjoy a grilled lunch at 11 a.m. and a dinner following the tournament.

To learn more about registration and sponsorship opportunities, e-mail Donna Sittard, Development director at the YMCA, at [email protected], call (413) 739-6951, ext. 3110, or visit www.springfieldy.org.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds, in conjunction with the American Hockey League, announced they will host the Hartford Wolf Pack in the club’s home opener on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 7:05 p.m. at the MassMutual Center.

It is the first of 38 regular-season home games for the Thunderbirds in 2021-22 after shutting down play for the 2020-21 season.

The first matchup with the Wolf Pack also marks the second straight season that the Thunderbirds will open their season on home ice. Click here for the full, printable 2021-22 Thunderbirds schedule.

Single-game tickets will go on sale at a later date. For more information or to become a Springfield Thunderbirds ticket member, call (413) 739-4625 or visit www.springfieldthunderbirds.com.

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NEWTON — As the Greater Boston business community prepares for a post-COVID-19 environment, the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst is opening co-working space for startup or small companies interested in co-locating with the state’s flagship public research university.

The Innovation and Collaboration Space on UMass Amherst’s Newton campus includes co-working office and lab space, with an additional makerspace planned in the near future.

The co-working office space features 20 individual workspaces, available for rent on a weekly or monthly basis, with access to shared conference rooms. In addition to the opportunity to network with other businesses, the co-working space, located in the Campus Center, allows for interaction with UMass Amherst faculty, staff, and students. The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and CoachUp will be among the first tenants in the co-working space.

The co-working laboratory space offers 26 individual benches available for rent on a monthly basis. Companies utilizing the lab space have access to the core facilities on the university’s main campus in Amherst. It is aligned with the lab space-rental program of the UMass Amherst Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS). Newton-headquartered nanotechnology company Xheme Inc. will be the first tenant in the lab space.

“The co-working lab space allows companies to access core research facilities at UMass Amherst,” said Kathryn Ellis, director of the UMass Amherst Innovation Institute. “Companies that choose to co-locate with us can also build long-lasting and valuable relationships with UMass Amherst faculty and students.”

Consistent with the campus mission and strategic plan, Innovation and Collaboration Space members are expected to provide professional-development opportunities for UMass Amherst students, including informational interviews, job shadowing, and networking opportunities.

“As a center for student experiential learning and professional development, we’re building a campus environment where UMass Amherst students conducting internships or co-ops in Greater Boston also get exposure to different industries while living here,” said Mount Ida Campus Managing Director Jeff Cournoyer. “The intent is for these companies to grow and ‘graduate’ to larger spaces in the region, but while they’re here they’ll be accessible to students — and potential future employees ­­— who want to learn about their business.”

The Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst is located at 100 Carlson Ave. in Newton, within the N-Squared Innovation District, five minutes from I-95 and eight miles from downtown Boston. The campus offers Innovation and Collaboration Space tenants free parking, award-winning UMass Dining, outdoor recreational facilities, and on-site conference and event space.

A 6,000-square-foot collaborative maker space is also in development on the Mount Ida Campus.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts encourages the community to apply for the 2021 Creative Awards before the deadline on Thursday, Aug. 5. Applicants can find the guidelines and application form by clicking here or can contact the Ad Club at (413) 342-0533 or [email protected].

Award winners will be announced at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14. Tickets to attend the awards show are available for purchase online by clicking here.

Participants may qualify for entry in a variety of categories, including advertising, copywriting, design, interactive and web media, photography, video and motion, and student work.

“We are super excited to see all of the submissions for this year’s award show and are beyond excited for our virtual celebration to highlight and honor all of the hard work and dedication that went into projects of the past year,” said Susie Howard, Creative Awards co-chair.

Daily News

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast Business announced it has launched its new wireless mobile service for small businesses, Comcast Business Mobile, nationally across its footprint. Comcast Business Mobile offers flexible data options, nationwide 5G coverage, and savings, and is available exclusively to Comcast Business Internet customers in all of its service areas via www.comcastbusiness.com/mobile.

“Staying connected — whether in the office or on the go — is critical for small businesses. Comcast Business Mobile provides small-business owners and their employees access to the most reliable network with nationwide 5G included at no extra cost as well as access to more than 20 million secure Xfinity WiFi hotspots,” said Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business. “We have created a unique mobile experience that brings more value to our internet customers, saving them money while providing tremendous performance, reliability, and flexibility.”

The service offers Comcast Business Internet customers up to 10 lines with no line-access fees. Comcast Business Mobile gives customers the freedom to build the best plan for their needs, even mixing and matching Comcast Business Mobile’s two data options — unlimited data and by the gig — across multiple lines.

Comcast Business Mobile is compatible with top phones and tablets, allowing customers to choose from today’s most popular devices. Customers may also bring their own devices with no term contract required for mobile service.

To sign up for Comcast Business Mobile or to learn more, visit www.comcastbusiness.com/mobile.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 72: July 26, 2021

George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, another of the finalists for BusinessWest’s coveted Alumni Achievement Award

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, another of the finalists for BusinessWest’s coveted Alumni Achievement Award. The two talk about a number of the D.A.’s recent programs and initiatives, from work on cold cases, to the Emerging Adult Court of Hope, to efforts to curb everything from drug addiction to human trafficking to elder abuse. It’s must listening so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local.

 

Also Available On

Daily News

WARE — Country Bank and the Worcester Red Sox have announced a community giving campaign to support nonprofit leaders throughout the region.

To kick off the campaign, dubbed “WooStars,” Country Bank recognized 11 local nonprofits at Polar Park, including Springfield-based organizations Friends of the Homeless, Ronald McDonald House, Christina’s House, and Habitat for Humanity, along with Worcester-based organizations the United Way, Why Me, Sherry’s House, Provision Ministry, St. John’s Food Pantry for the Poor, the Boys and Girls Club, and Habitat for Humanity. Each nonprofit was presented with a $5,000 check from Paul Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank. Representatives of the nonprofits also participated in a television commercial to support the campaign.

Country Bank and the Worcester Red Sox Foundation will select nine additional nonprofit leaders who have stepped up to the plate to serve their community. The deadline for nominations is Aug. 15. Each winner will receive a $5,000 donation to their nonprofit and will be recognized at a presentation in Polar Park on Sept. 9. A total of $90,000 will be donated this year through the WooStar campaign.

“One of the most important goals of our partnership with the Worcester Red Sox is to find ways for us to collectively give back to our communities in an impactful and meaningful way. Country Bank is deeply rooted in supporting its communities and a value that we have lived by for 171 years,” said Shelley Regin, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing, adding that “this campaign rewards those doing the life-changing work out there.”

In addition, the bank has also launched a Most Valuable Teacher (MVT) campaign that recognizes the outstanding work teachers do every day to educate and support students. Country Bank has a long-standing Teacher of the Month campaign to support teachers in the region, so it is exciting to partner with the WooSox to make the MVT campaign even more rewarding for teachers and students.

“We are continually inspired by the unrelenting community outreach of Country Bank,” WooSox President Charles Steinberg said. “Our shared interest in education is leading us to recognize some of our unheralded heroes — our MVTs, or Most Valuable Teachers. We look forward to shining the spotlight in the sunlight on our educators, and we thank Country Bank yet again for their splendid partnership.”

The public is invited to nominate a WooStar or Most Valuable Teacher by clicking here or here to complete a simple nomination form.

Daily News

BOSTON — For the second time in two years, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted to legalize sports betting. Though the vote was 156-3, the bill’s prospects remain unclear in the Senate, where the last attempt to pass a sports-betting law died.

The Boston Herald reported that sports betting brought in $960 million in the first quarter of 2021, according to a state Gaming Commission report. Thirty states — including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York — have all legalized sports wagering in some form.

Licensing fees for the three casinos, two racetracks, and up to nine mobile-app operators described in the bill would generate as much as $80 million for the state to begin with, and again upon their renewal every five years, the Herald added, while the state could bring in another $60 million to $70 million in tax revenue annually.

Betting would be regulated by the state Gaming Commission. In-person bets at casino and track retailers would be taxed at 12.5%, with mobile bets costing slightly more at 15%.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Market Mentors, the region’s largest marketing, advertising, and public-relations agency, announced it has received certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women-owned businesses thrive and grow.

“We had previously received certification through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Because we have clients outside of the state, pursuing this national certification made sense,” company President Michelle Abdow said. “We’re honored to be a part of a group of such successful and driven women entrepreneurs.”

WBENC certification provides Market Mentors with access to a vast network of support, including targeted business opportunities and increased visibility in corporate and government supply chains, education, and development programs. It is also an approved third-party certifier for the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program.

“This certification opens the door so we can pursue opportunities with government agencies and programs, public schools and universities, and companies with supplier diversity and inclusion programs,” Abdow explained.

WBENC certification validates that a business is at least 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. One or more women must have unrestricted control of the business, a demonstrated management of day-to-day operations, and a proportionate investment of capital or expertise. To become certified, business owners undergo a thorough vetting process, including review of business documentation and a site visit.

After working in media for more than a decade, Abdow founded Market Mentors in her home in 2003. Over the past 18 years, it has grown into a team of more than 20 professionals with multiple areas of expertise and breadth of experience across a range of industries.

Daily News

AGAWAM — OMG Roofing Products announced it has hired Christina Gonzalez as a product manager. She is responsible for developing sales and marketing opportunities for new and existing OMG discretionary products throughout the company’s extensive network of independent roofing distributors across the U.S. She reports to Adam Cincotta, vice president of the Adhesives & Solar Business Unit.

For the past four years, Gonzalez has been an associate product manager with the FastenMaster Division of OMG Inc., where she led cross-functional teams to help commercialize several new products annually. Earlier, she was in a management-training program with Sherwin-Williams. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Connecticut State University.

Daily News

ENFIELD, Conn. — Asnuntuck Community College will hold two more Admissions & Financial Aid virtual information sessions this summer, on Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 3 p.m., and Thursday, Aug. 12 at 5 p.m.

Potential students need to attend only one of the sessions. Participants will receive information about the admissions and financial-aid process, as well as learn about the many resources and course offerings available at Asnuntuck. The 60-minute session will also include time for questions and answers. Click here to register for a session. Classes begin on Aug. 26 for the fall semester.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — Excel Dryer Inc., manufacturer of the XLERATOR Hand Dryer, has added a new director of Marketing to the team. A seasoned professional with 24 years of experience, Tony Ieraci will be responsible for helping Excel Dryer create and execute long-term marketing strategies that will help grow the brand.

“We are excited to have Tony join us and bring innovative and exciting ideas to Excel,” said William Gagnon, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Excel Dryer. “With the majority of his professional life spent working in marketing and communications for industrial manufacturers, we are eager to see what he can do in this position.”

Ieraci has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in marketing from Western New England University. He has spent the last two decades working in marketing and communications for leading manufacturers like Scapa North America and Dymax Corp. Ieraci will now head up the marketing team at Excel Dryer to develop and implement effective global communication plans that advance the company’s business goals and objectives.

“Excel Dryer is a perfect fit for me, and I couldn’t be happier working for a company that makes a reliable, sustainable product in the USA,” Ieraci said. “Excel has done incredible work in creating innovative, industry-leading products, and I’m excited be part of the team and contribute to the company’s continued growth.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Increasing diversity in the construction workforce is an important topic and has become a measure of each project’s success, just like schedule, budget, and safety. To that end, Fontaine Bros. Inc. has named Elizabeth Wambui to serve as the company’s director of Diversity, Inclusion & Impact.

“Our approach, led by Liz, will go beyond the traditional general contractor/construction manager line of looking to subcontractors to have all the answers,” said David Fontaine Jr., vice president of Fontaine Bros.

Wambui will play a critical role in leading the company’s projects and project teams to maximize opportunities for minority- and women-owned business enterprises as well as attracting a more diverse workforce. Fontaine Bros. will be partnering with unions, trade schools, and other community partners to more actively promote and provide opportunities for diverse and local residents.

“The key is to support these individuals throughout their careers so that, as their time with one subcontractor or on one project comes to an end, they have every opportunity to connect with subs on another of our projects,” Wambui said. “By being more active throughout the entire diversity ecosystem, I believe we will not only meet and exceed our goals and expectations, but we will help to create and sustain great careers for the next generation of tradespeople in Springfield, Worcester, and throughout the Commonwealth.”

Wambui will immediately step in and support Fontaine’s work across the Commonwealth, including the new $242 million Doherty Memorial High School project and the new $75 million DeBerry-Homer Elementary School in Springfield.

Before joining Fontaine, Wambui served as director of Advancement at Nativity School of Worcester (a longtime Fontaine community partner). A graduate of North High School and the College of the Holy Cross, she is passionate about engaging with the community. She currently serves as a board member at the Bancroft School, Shine Initiative, Women in Development of Central Massachusetts, Worcester Historical Museum, and YWCA. She is also a Mechanics Hall Modern Mechanics Guild member, a Worcester Art Museum corporator, and has served as a Greater Worcester Community Foundation early childhood committee member and scholarship community reviewer. She was part of the Leadership Worcester class of 2016-17 and has been recognized in the Worcester Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty.

Daily News

AMHERST — The Hitchcock Center for the Environment announced William “Billy” Spitzer as its new executive director. He brings a wealth of knowledge and leadership experience in the areas of science education, climate communication, and network building along with a vast network of national and international connections. Spitzer will be influential in the continued growth and impact that the center has seen in recent years as it continues on its mission to educate and inspire action for a healthy planet.

Spitzer comes to the center as the former vice president for Learning and Community at the New England Aquarium, where he was responsible for applying learning and social-science research across education programs, exhibits, visitor experience, and community outreach for more than 20 years. Working with organizations such as the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, and North American Assoc. for Environmental Education, he has been involved in many successful collaborative projects with a focus on environmental education and awareness along with the promotion of public engagement in climate change.

In 2014, Spitzer was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders. In 2016, he received a Visionary Award from the Gulf of Maine Council for innovation, creativity, and commitment to marine protection. He holds a Ph.D. in oceanography from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Hitchcock Center worked with search consultant Cathy Cohen of TSNE MissionWorks to review more than 70 applicants for the position. After an extensive search, which saw a wide variety of candidates vetted and interviewed, the board of directors enthusiastically chose Spitzer as the best-qualified to lead the center into the future.

Board President Clay Ballantine called Spitzer “an exceptionally skilled and accomplished professional who comes to the center at the perfect time. [He] is smart, approachable, thoughtful, has high emotional intelligence, and a track record of success — a perfect fit as the center continues to forge an unwavering path forward to be a leader addressing the challenges of climate change head on and ensuring a world where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Arrha Credit Union announced the Adam Baldwin has been named Springfield branch manager.

Baldwin has more than seven years of banking experience and been recognized throughout his banking-industry career as a rising star with superior service awards. He is also a Rotarian with the Springfield Rotary Club.

“Arrha Credit Union is extremely pleased to welcome and introduce Adam Baldwin as our new Springfield branch manager,” said Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO.

Added Baldwin, “I am excited to be part of the Arrha Credit Union family and serving the Springfield community and its members. I look forward to providing caring service, offering rewarding membership benefits to existing and new members, and growing these relationships.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — On July 12, Holyoke Mall welcomed Lynn Gray back to the shopping center as its new general manager. She brings more than 25 years of experience in the shopping-center industry. She has held various roles over her combined tenure with Pyramid Management Group, including customer service representative, receptionist, Marketing assistant, assistant Marketing director, Marketing director, and, most recently, general manager of Hampshire Mall.

In addition to her numerous years of experience with Pyramid Management Group, Gray held various roles over the span of 10 years with General Growth Properties, now Brookfield Properties, including director of Field Marketing for the East Region.

When asked what her goals are for Holyoke Mall, Gray said she is “committed to fostering strong relationships with the tenants and community as well as continue the development and support of a strong and seasoned mall team.” With her indepth background in all facets of the shopping-center industry, she also looks forward to being an integral component of the redevelopment process at Holyoke Mall.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Lynn’s capabilities and experience assume the position of general manager at Holyoke Mall,” said James Soos, director of Field Operations for Pyramid Management Group. “Lynn is enthusiastic and brings her vast knowledge and hands-on experience of working in the shopping-center industry to Holyoke Mall at a time when the center is poised for growth and will benefit from Lynn’s leadership.”

Gray is a graduate of Holyoke Community College with an associate degree in business administration. A lifelong resident of Western Mass., she is actively involved with several community and nonprofit organizations. She serves as president of the board of directors for the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and the board of directors for the Amherst Boys and Girls Club. She is also a CDH International Massachusetts ambassador and volunteers for CHERUBS, the support division of CDHi.

Bill Rogalski, outgoing general manager of Holyoke Mall, retired on June 30 after 19 years in the position.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Holyoke Community College Foundation allocated $75,000 to endow a new scholarship fund specifically for Latinx students attending HCC.

Through the Bienvenidos Latinx Scholarship, HCC will provide financial support up to $2,500 each to eligible Latinx students attending or planning to attend HCC.

The foundation plans to award Bienvenidos scholarships totaling $50,000 to 20 students during the inaugural year, with the remaining $25,000 set aside in an endowed fund for future years.

The deadline to apply for Bienvenidos scholarships for the 2021-22 academic year is Friday, Aug. 6. The online application is available on the HCC website at hcc.edu/bienvenidos.

“HCC marked a major milestone in 2016 when the U.S. Department of Education recognized the college as a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), which means at least 25% of our students are of Latinx or Hispanic heritage,” said Amanda Sbriscia, vice president of Institutional Advancement and executive director of the HCC Foundation. “As an HSI, though, we are committed to doing more than simply serve our Latinx students. We want to see them thrive.”

Bienvenidos was chosen as the name of the scholarship program because it means ‘welcome’ in Spanish. Beyond the direct financial support, scholarship recipients will also be connected to peer and alumni mentors and workshops to ensure their ongoing success.

“The Bienvenidos scholarships will open doors to a college education and welcome Latinx students into our community with everything they need to succeed at HCC,” Sbriscia said. “That includes providing a culture that embraces inclusion and increases their sense of belonging. The name of this new scholarship was an important piece of prioritizing that welcoming culture. Bienvenidos says it all.”

Applicants selected for scholarship awards by the college’s Hispanic Leadership Committee will be invited along with their families to celebrate during a first-ever Bienvenidos Latinx Scholarship reception on the HCC campus on Saturday, Aug. 28.

To be eligible for the Bienvenidos scholarship, students must be enrolled or intend to enroll in at least six credits at Holyoke Community College for the fall 2021 semester and must identify themselves as a Hispanic, Latina/o, or Latinx. The Bienvenidos Scholarship is open (but not limited) to DACA, undocumented, and international students. Preference will be given to students residing in Holyoke, Springfield, and Chicopee.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — ROAR! Comedy Club is back and ready to bring the laughs. Tickets to see comedians Ray Harrington on Saturday, Aug. 14, and Marty Caproni on Saturday, Aug. 28, are on sale at mgmspringfield.com/roar. ROAR! Comedy Club is located in the refurbished Armory at MGM Springfield.

MGM Springfield and John Tobin Presents will host comedy nights in ROAR! through the remainder of the year, with more shows to be announced in the upcoming weeks. The club, which launched in 2019, is a staple of MGM Springfield’s entertainment offerings.

“We are ecstatic to be re-opening ROAR! Comedy Club and bringing the great people of Springfield, Western Mass., and Connecticut laughter again,” said Ryan Cott, managing partner at John Tobin Presents. “It’s been a long 16 months without shows at ROAR!, but we couldn’t be happier to renew our fantastic partnership with MGM Springfield, who have been instrumental in bringing top-notch entertainment to the area.”

Chris Kelley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, added that “the return of ROAR! Comedy Club marks another milestone in reintroducing entertainment to our campus and downtown Springfield. We kicked off our Free Music Friday concert series last month and put the spotlight on premier local talent. Now, we look forward to reopening the doors of the iconic Armory for evenings of laughter. MGM Springfield is proud to offer the best in entertainment as we continue to celebrate the strength and resilience of our community.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The STEM Starter Academy at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) will feature a talk by an expert on opioid-use disorder today, July 21, from 11 a.m. to noon, the first in a series of events for students in the Summer Bridge program. The events, held over Zoom, are free and open to the public as well as students.

Today’s STEM Starter Academy presents Dr. Elizabeth Evans, a professor at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst. She specializes in opioids and other substances of abuse, women’s health, life course, social determinants, health-services utilization, and outcomes. She researches how healthcare systems and public policies can better promote health and wellness among vulnerable and underserved populations, particularly for individuals at risk for opioid and other substance-use disorders.

On Wednesday, July 28 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the STEM Starter Academy will present a STEM Careers Symposium. The Zoom event will feature professors, scientists, and industry experts sharing their inspiring stories about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Anyone joining the event will learn about STEM career choices, challenges, demands, and opportunities.

Scheduled to speak are Robert O’Connor of the state office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Shannon Roberts, a professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UMass Amherst; Dr. John O’Reilly from the Division of General Pediatrics at Baystate Health; and Graziella DiRenzo, an ecologist at UMass Amherst.

To request a Zoom link to watch the series, e-mail Reena Randhir, director of the STEM Starter Academy at STCC, at [email protected].

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new award, an extension of its 40 Under Forty program. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award, and as that name suggests, it recognizes previous honorees who continue to build on their résumés of outstanding achievement in their chosen field and in service to the community. Recently, a panel of three judges identified the five finalists for the 2021 award — Tara Brewster, Gregg Desmarais, Anthony Gulluni, Eric Lesser, and Meghan Rothschild. The winner for this year will be unveiled with Alumni Achievement Award presenting sponsor Health New England at the 40 Under Forty Gala on Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. As the profiles that begin on page 7 reveal, all five finalists embody the spirit of this award. Their stories convey true leadership and are truly inspiring.

 

Tara Brewster

Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank


Gregg Desmarais

Vice President and Senior Private Client Relationship Manager


Anthony Gulluni

Hampden County District Attorney


Eric Lesser

State Senator, First Hampden and Hampshire District


Meghan Rothschild

President and Owner, Chikmedia

 


Past Alumni Achievement Award Winners:

2020

Carla Cosenzi
President, TommyCar Auto Group, Class of 2012
Peter DePergola
Director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health, Class of 2015

2019

Cinda Jones
President, W. D. Cowls, Inc., Class of 2007

2018

Samalid Hogan
Regional Director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, Class of 2013

2017

Scott Foster
Attorney, Bulkley Richardson, Class of 2011
Nicole Griffin
Owner, ManeHire, Class of 2014

2016

Dr. Jonathan Bayuk
President of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. & Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center, Class of 2008

2015

Delcie Bean
President, Paragus Strategic IT, Class of 2008

Employment Special Coverage

Questions, Questions

 

At a time when most companies and nonprofit institutions in the region are hiring, or trying to, many area business owners, managers, and HR directors are sitting across the table from job candidates trying to determine if that individual is the proverbial ‘right one.’

Given this climate, BusinessWest asked a number of area business leaders to identify one of their favorite, most effective interview questions. We asked them to explain why they ask that question and what it reveals to them about the candidate.

Suffice it to say, their responses provide some food for thought on a very important part of business.

 

 

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack, Marketing & Recruiting Manager, Meyers Brothers Kalicka

The question: “Tell me something that you would do differently than your current boss at your current job.”

I ask this question to learn more about candidate’s awareness of people around them, their creative problem-solving skills, their desire to improve and grow, and their level of tact. A candidate’s answer to this question will reveal a lot about his/her ability to solve problems, but what I am most interested in is how they communicate their proposed solution. The question itself has a somewhat negative connotation because it is asking for the candidate to share something that their boss could do better or differently. My experience has shown that, if someone will bash a supervisor or competitor to you, then they will repeat the behavior to others. Further, anyone that can share suggestions for improvement in a positive way is a great addition to the team. Tact and diplomacy are powerful tools for making improvements, contributing ideas, and working in a team.

 

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran, President, Bay Path University

The question: A two-parter: “How will this position help you grow your career?” “Tell me about an experience or work project where you had to work across departments to accomplish the goal(s).”

 

In the first part of the question, I am looking for authenticity of the candidate and the ability to be introspective and share their current strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. As their experience grows, their value as contributors to Bay Path will also increase. The second question provides insights to their capacity to be a team player and team leader within our organization. Today, 40% of Bay Path students are students of color, and we are striving to increase the diversity of our employees. As a result, as the candidate explains the project, I am looking for how they respect and handle other opinions and perspectives, value diversity of thought, and exhibit multi-cultural competencies. Above all, the candidate must be both mission- and student-centered.

 

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk, President, Graduate Pest Solutions Inc.

The question: “What do you consider to be your professional and personal strengths, and, conversely, what areas do you struggle with or are not interested in doing professionally?”

 

This is a mainstay question in all of my interviews since it encourages the applicant to be introspective and reflective about themselves — and this tells me a lot about them. Learning what they consider to be their professional strengths and how they’ve applied those strengths often creates context for what they can and will bring to the table in the position they are applying for. Perhaps more important to me is the level of candor with which they communicate areas of struggle or lack of interest and how they have managed this in their career. This question often leads to an additional discussion that unveils the applicant’s openness to coaching and development, which is a trait that is important to me as a leader, manager, and employer.

 

 

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman, Esq., Partner, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C.

The question: “What would make you satisfied in this job?”

 

This question lets the applicant know that we care whether our employees are happy working for us, and at the same time, it helps us determine if this applicant will be a good fit. It is also another way of finding out the applicant’s strengths without asking directly, and discloses what part of the job they may not care to do. The answer to this question can reveal why the applicant hasn’t stayed in previous jobs and potentially lead us to rethink some of the things we are doing in our office. The question helps us determine if the applicant understands the position they have applied for and if they have the right skill set. Getting an honest answer to this question helps both the applicant and us know whether hiring this person will be satisfying to both of us.

 

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi, President, TommyCar Auto Group

The question: “How do you delegate responsibilities to team members?”

 

I ask this question to potential hiring candidates because most managers fail at delegation. As a good leader, it is their responsibility to be clear about what they are delegating and their expectations. In our company, it is our manager’s responsibility to offer their team the tools they need to succeed by encouraging and supporting the decision-making environment. The effective delegation and empowerment of their employees is essential for their success as a manager. By asking this question, I am able to learn if a potential candidate is able to release control and effectively delegate, empower, and hold accountable their future team members.

 

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar, Chief Strategy Officer, Universal Plastics

The question: “Why did you leave your last job?” Or, if they are still employed, “Why are you looking to leave this job?”

 

As an employer, I value continuity and longevity in job history. However, the résumé is just a piece of paper. The interview is the opportunity to either rise above what the piece of paper says or minimize it. How someone discusses a job change tells me whether they are a team player, whether they are growth-mindset-oriented, and what kinds of cultures, people, and attributes they either enjoy or don’t. In short, it is the ‘heart’ (as opposed to the ‘head’) part of the interview, which answers the most important question of all for me — do I want this person on my team?

It is never easy to leave a job, whether you do it on your own terms or have been asked to do so. So, how you answer this question brings up your response to a difficult situation, which may even involve conflict or confrontation. As an employer, I want to know how you handle difficult situations. At Universal Plastics, we believe in giving people chances, lots of them, but it has to start from a place of candor and commitment to our culture and the values we espouse, and this question aims to ascertain exactly that.

 

Michael Matty

Michael Matty

Michael Matty, President, St. Germain Investments

The question: “What did your parents do?”

 

I like to ask this because we are all a product of our background, and it is a great opportunity to gain some insight into the person. If, for example, the parents ran their own business, the candidate probably has a good understanding of the needs of a small business and what it takes to make it work. It is also a good opportunity to ask why the candidate doesn’t want to work there. Conversely, the mom may have been stay-at-home, and dad worked in a factory job in a blue-collar role. The candidate may be first-generation college and first-generation in a professional role — sometimes a bit less polished in presentation, but likely with good reason. And if they are smart, energetic, and willing to learn, I’d potentially think they were a good hire. Overall, it’s a good, open-ended question that can lead to some good conversation.

 

Jane Albert

Jane Albert

Jane Albert, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer, Baystate Health

The question: “What impact has the pandemic had on you?

 

This is a newer question I ask because it opens the door to conversation about a current topic of significance with many pathways to get to know the candidate. Asking a broad, open-ended question provides the candidate with a choice to respond with an orientation toward their personal life or their work experiences. like to provide that option to make it most comfortable for the candidate during the interview. This question enables conversation about how they handled changes and challenges related to the pandemic and offers glimpses into how they may handle and adjust to changes within our healthcare environment and their potential new work responsibilities. It also opens the door to learning about the candidate’s priorities, relationships, engagements, and abilities to adapt to change, along with how they handled this in their daily life as well as throughout their work experiences.

 

 

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti, Associate Publisher and Sales Manager, BusinessWest

The question: “Have you had experience in the service industry?”

 

When I interview for sales, I look for — and ask about — experience in the service industry. If the candidate has it, I ask how they’ve handled a tough customer or table and how they turned it around or were able to shake it off to continue successfully serving the rest of the shift. If candidates can wait tables or bartend successfully, it shows they have what it takes to think on their feet, appeal to customers, and provide high-level service to earn tips. It also shows they are driven by both money and customer service, which bodes well for a sales position with BusinessWest. For other positions, I typically ask what motivates them, what they do to unwind, if they have tactics for stress relief inside and outside the office, and what they think their best assets and weaknesses are and what they think their current or previous employers would say.

Business of Aging Special Coverage

House Calls

While the pandemic may have challenged the home-care industry, it certainly didn’t suppress the need for such services. In fact, demographic trends in the U.S. — where about 10,000 Baby Boomers reach age 65 every day — speak to continued, and growing, demand for care services delivered in the home. That means opportunities both for agencies who specialize in this field and job seekers looking for a rewarding role and steady work.

Michele Anstett says business was like “falling off a cliff” when COVID hit, but client volume has returned to normal.

Michele Anstett says business was like “falling off a cliff” when COVID hit, but client volume has returned to normal.

By Mark Morris

In early 2020, Michele Anstett, president and owner of Visiting Angels in West Springfield, was pleased because her business was doing well. As a provider of senior home care, she managed 80 caregivers for 50 clients.

“We were going along just fine,” she said. “And when COVID hit, it was like falling off a cliff.”

The business model for companies like Visiting Angels involves interacting with people in their homes, so when early mandates encouraged people to keep away from anyone outside their immediate ‘bubble,’ it hit the industry hard.

Even though caregivers were designated as essential workers, Anstett saw her numbers shrink to 39 caregivers who were now responsible for only 19 clients. In order for her business to survive, she continued to provide services for her clients who needed personal-care services around the clock and for those who had no family members in the area.

“Where possible, we asked family members to step in to help out,” she told BusinessWest. “At the beginning of the pandemic, there was less risk to everyone when a family member could be involved with their loved one’s care.”

Anstett also incorporated a detailed checklist of risk factors for each caregiver to review to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to them or their clients.

“I thought patients weren’t following up because of a language barrier. As it turns out, they weren’t responding because they didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”

“We talked with caregivers about the people in their circle,” Anstett said. “It was similar to contact tracing, but we did it beforehand, so people would understand what they had to consider to protect themselves, their families, and their clients.”

A Better Life Homecare in Springfield runs two home-care programs. In one, it provides personal-care services such as helping seniors with grooming, cooking, laundry, and more. The other program provides low-income patients with medical care in the home, such as skilled nursing services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

On the medical side of the business, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) handle many of the home visits, while certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and patient care assistants (PCAs) are the main frontline workers on the personal-care side. A Better Life also employs case workers to supervise PCAs and CNAs and to set up other resources a patient may need, such as Meals on Wheels and support groups.

When COVID hit, said Claudia Lora, community outreach director for A Better Life, she and her staff made patient communication a top priority.

Claudia Lora

Claudia Lora says communication with clients was key to navigating the pandemic.

“We implemented daily phone calls to our patients that also served as wellness check-ins,” she recalled. Because a majority of the company’s clients are Spanish speakers, A Better Life employs many bilingual staff. At the beginning of their outreach efforts, Lora became concerned when some patients didn’t seem to follow up and respond to communications.

“I thought patients weren’t following up because of a language barrier,” she said. “As it turns out, they weren’t responding because they didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”

On the other hand, she said some patients temporarily stopped their home-care service out of concern about interacting with anyone in person. The system of daily phone calls helped address patient concerns and keep them current on their treatments. In addition, patients received whimsical postcards to lift their spirits and care packages of hygiene products and food staples.

“The pandemic opened our eyes in different ways,” Lora said. “It made us aware that we needed a system of daily phone calls in both programs, which we will continue even after the pandemic is no longer a concern.”

 

Growing Need

The lessons home-care agencies learned from the pandemic — some of which, as noted, will lead to changes in how care is provided — come at a time when the need for home-based services is only increasing.

That growing need is due in part to people living longer, of course. According to government data, once a couple with average health reaches age 65, there is a 50% chance one of them will live to age 93, and a 25% chance one of them will see age 97. With the increased longevity, there is also a greater chance these seniors will need some type of assistance with daily chores or treating a malady.

Receiving care at home, with an average cost nationally of $3,800 per month, is less expensive than moving into a nursing home (approximately $7,000 per month), and nearly everyone would rather stay in their home. When seniors need assistance, Anstett said, they often rely on family members out of fear of having an outside person come into their home.

Now that concerns about COVID are easing, she reports that people are increasingly more willing to have someone come in to their home to help, but there are still some who resist. “I wish they could understand we are not there to take away their independence, but to give them more independence.”

Lora said some of her patients were reluctant to allow people to come into their homes until they considered the alternatives.

“The only other option for people receiving medical care would have been checking into a skilled-nursing facility or a nursing home,” she noted. “I knew that was the last place they wanted to go.”

She added that the extensive news coverage of high rates of COVID in nursing homes and the high case rate locally at the Holyoke Soldiers Home convinced most people that care at home was a wise choice.

Anstett and Lora both pointed out that their companies always make sure anyone providing home care wears appropriate personal protective equipment and follows the latest guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID. Anstett said she encourages her caregivers to get vaccinated, but doesn’t force the issue because she recognizes some people have health issues.

“However,” she added, “I make it clear to the unvaccinated folks that the pool of clients willing to see a caregiver who is not vaccinated is fairly small.”

While the pandemic may have slowed down business in the short term, demographic trends still remain strong for the years ahead. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 10,000 people reach age 65 every day. This trend is expected to continue until 2030, when all living Baby Boomers will be at least 65 years old.

 

Looking Ahead

Fifteen months after the chaotic early days of the pandemic and with many people now vaccinated, Lora said A Better Life is busier today than before the pandemic.

“In the last six months, admissions have increased by around 50%,” she noted. “That’s more than I have seen in the past three years; it’s been insane.”

She added that her company is now short-staffed because of the rapid growth it is seeing and has been offering incentives to try to bring more CNAs and PCAs on board.

Anstett said her client numbers and caregiver numbers are back to where they were before the pandemic and noted that she has not had any problem filling open positions.

“I just cut 80 paychecks, and we are anticipating even more growth,” she said, adding that her secret to hiring is treating caregivers with respect and encouraging them to grow in their careers. “I stay in touch with every one of our caregivers. They’re the reason I’m working, so I treat them with the utmost respect.”

While many professions look to push out older workers, Anstett said she appreciates more seasoned workers and looks forward to hiring them. “Caregiving is an opportunity to keep working for those who want to, and we welcome their experience.”

Pointing out that she hired another case manager last week, Lora added that, while her organization is expanding, it has not forgotten its mission.

“Even with our growth,” she said, “we see our patients as part of a family and a community, not just a number.”

Franklin County Special Coverage

All Aboard

The Greenfield Amtrak stop

The Greenfield Amtrak stop will be busier this month with the restoration of Vermonter service and a second Valley Flyer train. Photo courtesy of Trains In The Valley

While a proposed east-west rail line between Pittsfield and Boston has gotten most of the train-related press recently, another proposal, to incorporate passenger rail service on existing freight lines between North Adams and Boston, has gained considerable momentum, with a comprehensive, 18-month study on the issue set to launch. Not only would it return a service that thrived decades ago, proponents say, but expanded rail in the so-called Northern Tier Corridor could prove to be a huge economic boost to Franklin County — and the families who live there.

 

State Sen. Jo Comerford has spoken with plenty of people who remember taking a train from Greenfield to North Station in Boston to catch Bill Russell’s Celtics.

They stepped on at 2:55 p.m. — one of as many as 12 boardings on any given weekday — and the train was already half-full after stops in Troy, N.Y., North Adams, and Shelburne Falls. Then they’d arrive at North Station at 5:15, “and you’d still have time for dinner before the game started,” Comerford said. “That was our reality in Franklin County in the 1950s.”

She shared those words last week at a virtual community meeting to discuss a comprehensive study, soon to get underway, of passenger rail service along the Northern Tier Corridor, a route from North Adams to Boston via Greenfield, Fitchburg, and other stops.

Ben Heckscher would love to see expanded train service in Western Mass.; as the co-creator of the advocacy organization Trains In The Valley, he’s a strong proponent of existing lines like Amtrak’s Vermonter and Valley Flyer, north-south lines that stop in Greenfield, as well as more ambitious proposals for east-west rail, connecting Pittsfield and Boston along the southern half of the state and North Adams and Boston up north.

Like Comerford, he drew on the sports world as he spoke to BusinessWest, noting that travelers at Union Station in Springfield can order up a ticket that takes them, with a couple of transfers, right to the gates of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. “But there’s no button to push for the Red Sox,” Heckscher said. “It seems funny — we’re in Western Mass., and you can take a train to see the Yankees, but you can’t get to Fenway.”

But sporting events aren’t highest on his list of rail benefits. Those spots are dedicated to the positive environmental impact of keeping cars off the road, mobility for people who don’t own cars or can’t drive, and the overall economic impact of trains on communities and the people who live and work in them.

People want to access rail for all kinds of reasons, Heckscher said, from commuting to work to enjoying leisure time in places like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington without having to deal with navigating an unfamiliar city and paying for parking. Then there are medical appointments — many families living in Western Mass. have to get to Boston hospitals regularly, and don’t want to deal with the Mass Pike or Route 2 to get there.

“People are just really tired of driving Route 2 to Boston, especially at night or in the winter, and they want another way back and forth,” he said. “So they’re going to do a really robust study, and we’ll see what comes of that.”

In addition, as the average age of the population ticks upward, many older people might want to travel but be loath to drive long distances. In fact, that kind of travel is increasingly appealing to all age groups, Heckscher added. “You can ride the train, open your computer, take a nap. You can’t do that operating a car — at least not yet. So, rail definitely has the potential to become even more important.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais agrees. “We know the residents of Central and Western Mass. are hungry for expanded rail service. That is clear,” she said at last week’s virtual meeting. “We are hungry for rail because we know these connections can positively impact our communities with the possibilities for jobs, expansion of tourism, and the real revitalization of local economies.”

Ben Heckscher

Ben Heckscher

“People are just really tired of driving Route 2 to Boston, especially at night or in the winter, and they want another way back and forth.”

Makaela Niles, project manager for the Northern Tier study at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the 18-month study will evaluate the viability and potential benefits of rail service between North Adams, Greenfield, and Boston.

The process will document past efforts, incorporate market analysis (of demographics, land use, and current and future predicted travel needs), explore costs and alternatives, and recommend next steps. Public participation will be critical, through roughly seven public meetings, most of them with a yet-to-be-established working group and a few focused on input from the public. A website will also be created to track the study’s progress.

“We know it’s critical that we have stakeholders buying in,” said Maureen Mullaney, a program manager with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. “We look forward to having a very robust, inclusive participation process.”

 

Making Connections

Comerford has proposed rail service along Route 2 as a means for people living in the western counties along the corridor to more easily travel to the Greater Boston region, and a means for people living in the Boston area to more easily access destinations in Berkshire, Franklin, and Worcester counties. In addition to direct service along the Northern Tier, the service could provide connecting service via Greenfield to southern New Hampshire and Vermont.

The service would operate over two segments of an existing rail corridor. The first segment, between North Adams and Fitchburg, is owned by Pan Am Southern LLC. The second segment, between Fitchburg and Boston North Station, is owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Any new service would be designed so that it does not negatively impact the existing MBTA Fitchburg Line commuter rail service or the existing freight rail service along the entire corridor.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge asked Niles at last week’s meeting about potential tension between freight and passenger interests and whether commuter times will be thrown off by the needs of freight carriers.

“We’ll be looking at how those two intersect and make sure any additional service that could occur along the corridor doesn’t impact with freight or current commuter operations along the corridor,” Niles responded. “We’ll look at how all the services communicate and work together.”

Other potential study topics range from development of multi-modal connections with local bus routes and other services to an extension of passenger rail service past North Adams into Adams and even as far as Albany, although that would take coordination with officials in New York.

“My hope is that these communities would suddenly become destination spots for a whole new market of people looking to live in Western Massachusetts and work in Boston.”

Comerford first introduced the bill creating the study back in January 2019, and an amendment funding it was included in the state’s 2020 budget, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the study until now.

And it’s not a moment too soon, she recently said on the Train Time podcast presented by Barrington Institute, noting that rail service brings benefits ranging from climate effects to economic development to impact on individual families who want to live in Franklin County but work in Boston (see related story on page 39).

With average salaries lower than those available in Boston often making it difficult to settle in Franklin County, availability of rail affects people’s job prospects and quality of life, she noted.

“My hope is that these communities would suddenly become destination spots for a whole new market of people looking to live in Western Massachusetts and work in Boston,” Comerford said, noting that, longer-term, she hopes to see greater business development in Western Mass. due to expanded rail, as businesses that need access to Boston, Hartford, and New York could set up shop here and access those cities without having to deal with traffic.

The bottom line, she said, is that it’s environmentally important to get cars off the road, but there are currently too many gaps in public transportation to make that a reality.

“There was a time when you could work in Boston and live in Franklin County,” she said. “I’ve heard story after story about what life was like up until about the late ’60s. It changed abruptly for them.

“When I was elected, one of the first things I researched was passenger rail along Route 2,” she went on. “I thought, ‘we have to explore starting this again. This is really important.’”

 

Chugging Along

Of course, east-west rail is only part of the story right now in Western Mass. Running north-south between New Haven and Greenfield are Amtrak’s Valley Flyer and Vermonter lines.

On July 26, Amtrak will restore a second train to its daily Valley Flyer service 16 months after cutting a train due to COVID-19. Southbound trains will depart Greenfield at 5:45 a.m. and 7:35 a.m., and northbound trains will return to the station at 10:23 p.m. and 12:38 a.m.

The Vermonter will return to service in Massachusetts on July 19. A long-distance train originating in Washington, D.C., it has gone no further north than New Haven since March 2020, also due to the pandemic. Amtrak is also reopening three other trains which offer service between New Haven and Springfield.

According to Amtrak, ridership on the Valley Flyer fell by more than half at the Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield stations in 2020, but the company is optimistic it will return to past numbers. That’s critical, since the Flyer is part of a DOT and Amtrak pilot program, which means its funding depends on its ridership. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) will launch an advertising campaign this fall in an effort to boost interest in the service.

“The pandemic really tanked ridership — all forms of public transportation, actually,” said Heckscher, noting that most travelers felt much safer in their cars last year than among groups of people. “But since the vaccine came out, there’s been a comeback in ridership in the Valley Flyer service.”

MJ Adams, Greenfield’s director of Community and Economic Development, said the city has been waiting a long time for the Valley Flyer, “and we don’t want to be just a pilot.”

She feels the city, and the region, will benefit from a perception that people can get anywhere from the Greenfield area, and they may be more willing to move there while continuing to work in the city. Many of those are people who grew up in Franklin County and have a connection to it but still want to feel like they can easily get to work far away or enjoy a day trip without the hassle of traffic or parking.

There’s an economic-development factor related to tourism as well, Adams said. “People in New York City, Hartford, or New Haven can spend the day up here in the country — it’s not just us going down to New York, but people from New York who get on a train, enjoy a nice stay in rural Massachusetts, have a blast, and get back on the train to go home. It’s a two-way street.”

A recent report commissioned by Connecticut’s Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), in consultation with the PVPC, reinforced the idea of rail as an economic driver, finding a nearly 10-to-1 return on investments in passenger rail between New Haven and Worcester via the Hartford-Springfield metro area.

“In so many ways, the findings of this study confirm what we have seen with our own eyes for decades here in the Valley — regions connected by rail to the major economic hubs of Boston and New York City are thriving, while underserved communities like ours have lagged behind,” PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson said. “We now know what the lack of rail has cost us economically, and this trend cannot continue further into the 21st century.”

Though she was speaking mainly of proposed routes along the state’s southern corridor, Heckscher believes in the economic benefits — and other benefits — of numerous projects being discussed across Massachusetts, including along Route 2.

“With rail, everyone has the ability to travel long distances,” he said — and the impact, while still uncertain in the details, could prove too promising to ignore.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Employment

Get the Vaccine or Get Fired?

By John S. Gannon, Esq. and Meaghan E. Murphy, Esq.

 

To mandate the COVID vaccine, or not to mandate?

John S. Gannon, Esq

John S. Gannon, Esq.

Meaghan E. Murphy, Esq

Meaghan E. Murphy, Esq.

That is the question on the minds of employers across the globe. As employment lawyers, we have been asked that question countless times by clients (and friends). Until about a month ago, all we could do was provide our best guess based on guidance and legal decisions related to other vaccines, like the flu shot. However, on May 28, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided some comprehensive COVID-19 guidance that addresses this topic head-on.

The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws applicable to workplaces. The news is good for Massachusetts employers considering a mandatory vaccine program. Some of the key takeaways for employers are described below.

 

Mandatory Vaccinations

The EEOC guidance declares in no uncertain terms that an employer can lawfully require employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of returning to the workplace. Such a practice would not run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA). There is one big catch: an employer mandating vaccines must reasonably accommodate employees who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief.

These employees might need to be excepted from the vaccine mandate if other safety measures can keep them and others safe. The EEOC provided examples of such accommodations, including requiring an employee to continue to wear a mask and socially distance while in the workplace, limiting contact with other employees and non-employees, providing a modified shift, permitting continued telework if feasible, conducting periodic COVID testing, or reassigning the employee to a vacant position in a different workplace.

Notably, employers should not assume that an employee does not require an accommodation relating to COVID simply because the employee is fully vaccinated. The guidance provides that an employer may need to accommodate an employee who is fully vaccinated for COVID if there is a continuing concern for heightened risk of severe illness from a COVID infection.

For an employee who is unwilling to obtain the vaccination because of a sincerely held religious belief under Title VII, employers should presume that the request is legitimate. The EEOC does make clear, however, that if an employee requests a religious accommodation, and an employer is aware of facts that provide an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance, the employer would be justified in requesting additional supporting information.

Employers presented with this issue should proceed with caution, as the EEOC will take a narrow view of such circumstances. Employers are required to engage in a similar ‘interactive process’ with employees who have sincere religious objections to vaccination and provide an accommodation that allows the employee to return to work where doing so does not present an undue hardship.

 

Vaccination Incentives

An employer may lawfully provide an incentive to its employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccination outside the workplace so long as the incentive is not so substantial as to be coercive. Unfortunately, the EEOC did not give any examples of what incentives would be considered ‘so substantial as to be coercive’ and also failed to clarify whether and to what extent an employer must provide a vaccine incentive to employees who are unable to obtain a vaccination due to a medical or religious-based reason.

 

Confidentiality

An employer’s request for self-disclosure of vaccination status, or for documentation or other confirmation that an employee has received a vaccination from a third party (such as a pharmacy or personal physician), is not a medical examination or a disability-related inquiry. As a result, employers may lawfully request this information without implicating the ADA or GINA.

With that said, employers should restrict access to vaccine-related information, apply safeguards similar to those applied to other types of sensitive personal information, and obtain appropriate consent from employees before disclosing vaccine-related information to third parties.

 

Legal Actions

To date, there has been one reported case dealing with mandatory vaccines in the workplace. Similar to the EEOC guidance, the case supports an employer’s right to mandate COVID vaccines.

In April, the Houston Methodist Hospital System in Texas issued a directive requiring that all employees be fully vaccinated by June 7 or they would be placed on a two-week suspension. Employees who were not vaccinated by the end of the suspension period would be terminated.

In late May 2021, more than 100 employees who were not vaccinated, and apparently did not qualify for a disability or religious exemption, filed a lawsuit against the hospital raising a number of claims, including wrongful termination. The judge dismissed the lawsuit entirely. In his written decision, the judge expressed his dismay with the plaintiffs for equating the threat of termination for refusing to get the COVID vaccination to the forced medical experimentation in concentration camps during the Holocaust, calling the comparison “reprehensible.”

Addressing an argument that the vaccine mandate was contrary to public policy, the judge wrote that the vaccine requirement “is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has held that (a) involuntary quarantine for contagious diseases and (b) state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination do not violate due process.”

 

Bottom Line

While this EEOC guidance and recent decision may seem like a big victory for mandatory COVID vaccines in the workplace, Massachusetts employers should be cautious in relying on them too heavily. The Commonwealth has its own anti-discrimination and public-policy laws, so it’s difficult to predict how this might play out in a state court or administrative proceeding.

In other words, while the decision is encouraging for Massachusetts employers who want to require vaccines, it is important to check in with experienced labor and employment counsel before implementing a mandatory vaccine program.

 

John Gannon and Meaghan Murphy are attorneys at the firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; [email protected]

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