The YWCA Northeastern Massachusetts – A Voice for Women & Girls

2015 Honoree Bio Information!.

Young, Sarah, headshotSarah Young
Board President, Groundwork Lawrence and
Director of Facilities Planning, MA School Building Authority

It all started with her mother. Born and raised in Worcester, Sarah’s father died when she was three, and her family’s circumstances changed dramatically.  Her mother worked full time to make ends meet while raising two children, but still made time to volunteer and participate in many community activities. Despite financial hardship, her mom knew that there were many in worse circumstances and was always willing to help others. Thanks, Mom, because you raised a daughter to do the same! After dropping out of college Sarah worked in construction – her first job was converting a convent to a home for the elderly—starting as a laborer, but quickly advancing to masonry. She then started her own masonry company. But, one freezing cold day on Beacon Hill, she realized it was time to move on. Sarah returned to college and graduated from Boston University. She then attended the Harvard JFK School of Government, where she initiated a team project to undertake a 360 review of a city, its assets and deficiencies. That city was Lawrence. After graduate school, Sarah was hired by the Cambridge Housing Authority as Construction Consulting Administrator. From there, it was on to the MA Department of Housing and Community Development, and her current job at the MA School Building Authority. A recipient of a prestigious Bradford Fellowship, the fellowship paid her salary and her tuition so that Sarah could continue her studies at Harvard.

Sarah always knew she would get involved in Lawrence at some point. Enter the Groundwork Lawrence (GWL) Glow Gala five years ago. There, Sarah learned about the work that GWL was doing to improve the physical environment and increase food access in Lawrence. Duly impressed, she joined their Board in 2010 and has ably served as President since 2013. A mentor and a role model to the GWL Executive Director and Board Members, her support and partnership have enabled the organization to grow and expand its impact in Lawrence. With a 30-plus year career in public service – much of it focusing on the built environment — and seven years on the Andover Housing Partnership committee, Sarah brings a wealth of expertise to her position on the GWL Board. Smart, fun, friendly, and practical, Sarah leads by example to bring out the best in everyone she meets. She also happens to be a poker player who has played with the same group of women for the past 30 years. In work and in play, Sarah is a remarkable woman who embraces the nontraditional, and helps bring out the best in everyone.


Worden, Anita Rajan, headshotAnita Rajan Worden
CEO, Solectria Renewables, LLC

Boston Globe readers might recognize Anita, who was featured in 2014 in its Top 100 Women-Led Businesses edition of the Sunday magazine.  Her Lawrence company, Solectria Renewables, is a leader in the solar industry, developing and managing solar PV inverters, which convert the variable direct current output of a photovoltaic solar panel into a current  that can be fed into a commercial electrical grid. Solectria, although a relatively small company in relation to competitors, now ranks as the second-largest inverter supplier by installed capacity in the commercial market. Originally from India, Anita grew up in England and Algeria, emigrating from Algeria to the U.S. in 1981. She graduated from MIT with a degree in Electrical Engineering and also met her husband and business partner, James. Anita started her first business, Solectria Corp., in 1989. The company was a pioneer in developing and manufacturing electric vehicles through the 1990s, employing 80 people and selling over 4,000 vehicles and drive systems, which operate to this day. She sold the business in 2005 and co-founded Solectria Renewables, LLC, which today employs 200 people to create an endless source of clean solar power for homes and businesses.

Anita credits her parents for laying a foundation of hard work and persistence – no accolades allowed. Her father, also an electrical engineer, emigrated from India for his career, but always sent money to his extended family back in India. The family moved to the U.S. so that Anita and her brother could obtain a top education. Both siblings worked hard to achieve high marks: Upon graduation, her brother was class Salutatorian. Anita was Valedictorian. Anita measures her success by how much impact her work and life have on others. She is determined that her three young children see their parents engaged in the daily balance of work, family, and community, and that they embrace the vigorous work ethic needed to accomplish their goals. Although she finds motherhood and owning a business richly rewarding, Anita also enjoys sharing her success, contributing time and resources toward entrepreneurship programs such as Entrepreneurship for All, local food and shelter organizations, and numerous charitable and educational organizations that enhance the Greater Lawrence community. A resident of North Andover, Anita also pays it forward in the schools, inspiring students with her passion and knowledge of solar energy.


Wilson, Susan, headshotSusan Wilson
Co-Founder, North Shore Women of H.O.P.E.

“There are no Cinderella stories.” That was a lesson Susan learned from an early age that financial independence and self-sufficiency are critical components of women’s empowerment. As a Senior Financial Advisor for Merrill Lynch, Susan understands that planning for longevity, and the significant costs that come with it, is essential, particularly for women. This is a theme that runs through her entire life. It also resulted in her work with a dear friend, Margaret Hamilton, eight years ago to found Northshore Women for H.O.P.E. (NSWH: Harnessing Opportunities and Promoting Education), a nonprofit that focuses the skills, life experiences, and resources of women in the community to help under-served young girls – in particular, those attending what was then a new school, Esperanza Academy in Lawrence. Esperanza is a free college preparatory middle school for low-income girls, and the partnership between NWH and the school has blossomed over the years. Along with raising funds for scholarships and other needs, the group organizes career days and other opportunities for girls to explore future options.

Susan worked in multiple jobs throughout high school and college, starting a financial planning business immediately after graduating. Her early years in the business were committed to developing clientele in a highly competitive industry dominated almost completely by men, many of whom came into the family business with established contacts. Susan moved to Syracuse, NY and set up shop alone, quickly becoming successful through hard work, courage, and a determination to overcome any obstacles that came her way. Soon, she was a top producer in upstate New York. Marriage took her to the Boston area, where she found herself starting over, once again. Susan has grown her once-fledgling Boston- based business into a highly successful enterprise, along the way working through two pregnancies, raising two daughters and staying active in their education. She remains engaged in NWH and is excited about the opportunities presented to the students at Esperanza Academy. “Our ultimate goal was to help mentor the next generation of young women so they could feel empowered, inspired and independent, no matter their home situation,” Susan recalls. “It is a great gift to watch young women grow and flourish at Esperanza Academy, and I look forward to many more exciting years to come.” She also looks forward to working with the many female friends and colleagues who have joined her in that mission.


Sutton, Dawn-Marie, headshotDawn-Marie Sutton
Distinguished Technical Staff Member, Alcatel-Lucent

Dawn-Marie’s path to a career in engineering seems to have been paved with a combination of practical knowledge and divine inspiration: Her dad was a mechanical engineer, her mother the Director of Religious Education at their church. Her dad taught her that, by starting with the basics, you could find the answer for just about anything (which explains why she knows car maintenance including how to fix a flat, change oil and brake pads, and even perform body work). Her mom taught her to always help those in need. Initiating a Christmas Giving Tree at church, her mother oversaw collection of thousands of presents for hundreds of children. Dawn-Marie dressed as “Santa’s Helper” to deliver the goods. Dawn-Marie earned her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a few MBA degrees to boot (working a customer service job to pay for college), while also remaining involved in community volunteer activities. While in engineering school, Dawn-Marie learned not only technical concepts, but how to work with mostly male groups, as well as the many foreign students in her classes. An ability to understand differences in language and culture have been keys in her success. Today, she regularly interacts with colleagues all over the world.

Having begun her career as a Test Engineer for AT&T, which later became Alcatel-Lucent, Dawn-Marie rose through the ranks and now is recognized as an optical component subject matter expert, holding the title of Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, given to no more than 7 percent of Alcatel-Lucent’s R&D community. A skilled manager who is both approachable and conscientious, she makes sure projects come in on time and on budget, negotiating contracts and schedules with suppliers and business partners, bridging the gap between the technical and business worlds. Just in case she’s not busy enough at work, Dawn-Marie is a volunteer cantor/solo guitarist at her church, and sings in Westford Community’s Christmas Chorus. She is also Corresponding Secretary of the Philanthropic Educational Organization – dedicated to helping women pursue higher education through 6 philanthropies including Cottey College, an all-woman institution. Clearly, her reputation precedes her, as she is also Secretary of the Local Electro-Static Discharge Association, having served on that board since 2006, and is a member of the Alcatel-Lucent Employee Activities Committee. Dawn-Marie lives with her family in Westford and enjoys traveling – for business and pleasure — to such far-flung destinations as Thailand, Spain, Japan and Germany.


Amy StantonStanton, Amy, headshot
Accounts Management Field Director, Internal Revenue Service

A true unsung hero, Amy feels that as leader of the Andover IRS campus, she seeks to understand people’s needs so she may not only meet them, but support their success along the way.  This lesson was learned at a young age at the feet of Amy’s mother; her personal hero.  A simple woman, Amy’s mother was the embodiment of compassion and tolerance and was an ambassador of faith and hope, charity and humility.  A neighbor’s girl, Peggy, was growing up without a father and with an alcoholic mother.  Through Peggy’s tribulations, Amy’s Mom taught Amy the value of kindness and charity toward others when everyone else walks away.  These lessons have served Amy well in her own career and community.  After college, she began her career at the IRS as a Tax Examining Clerk.  Over the years with her keen intellect and insights, Amy earned several promotions that came with ever increasing responsibilities.  During her tenure as Director of Privacy and Information Protection in Washington, D.C., she stopped over $5.7 million dollars in fraudulent returns and protected over $17.8 billion dollars in fraudulent refunds.  Her 2014 promotion to her current role finds her responsible for and directing over 2000 employees.  Amy’s masterful command of communications and her creative leadership style have enabled her to build teamships on the Andover Campus, and to foster a sense of inclusiveness among staff, thus increasing productivity.

Over the years, Amy has volunteered her time and talents, always with an eye to maximize her ability to help those in need.  In the past and present, she hosts workshops for retirees and business professionals on how they can best protect their personal information in our Technological Age.  She has organized and participated in countless food and clothing drives, and serves as a Mentor for the IRS Executive Readiness Program and Senior Manager Course for Future Leaders.  Her leadership in the Combined Federal Campaign raised over $65,000 for a variety of local charities.  Grateful to be back in the Merrimack Valley, Amy considers it a true blessing that she is now able to care for her elderly father during his time of need.  Amy’s generous spirit, leadership skills and the lessons learned from her mother have Amy feeling so fortunate to have lived the life she has and to serve those in need.

Sisson, Bonnie, headshotBonnie Sisson
Development Coordinator, Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

As a military brat with a father in the Air Force and a mother who was a nurse, Bonnie, her three siblings and parents never stayed in any one place too long.  By high school graduation, Bonnie had attended 13 schools and worried about how she would fit into college and what she would do in life.  She need not have worried!  Always the new kid on the block, Bonnie learned how to fit in to a new school through humor and initiating friendships.  As a saving grace early on, her family spent summers at her grandmother’s house in Massachusetts, but Bonnie, the oldest, was allowed to stay at her Aunt Annie’s house – a self-described spinster.  They had a special connection.  The summer Bonnie was 13 and caring for her Aunt after a fall, her Aunt suggested she make a career out of caring for “old people like me”.  48 years later, Bonnie now celebrates 35 years at Elder Services.  She began after college as an Intake Specialist and worked her way up to her current position as a star member of the Development Team. Her knowledge and history with and of the agency, along with her dedication to their mission of providing programs and services to older adults, allows Bonnie to shine whether it’s reaching out to donors, helping a client or raising over $40,000 through their Golf Classic for their Elder Care Fund.  Bonnie’s upbeat and positive manner is infectious to her coworkers.

The skills Bonnie learned in childhood – humor, resiliency, concern for others – have served her well professionally as well as in the community.  Among others, Bonnie has served numerous initiatives at the Garden Club of Greater Lowell Community Foundation, the Merrimack Valley Alzheimer’s Partnership and the Greater Haverhill Breakfast Exchange Club.  She has served countless hours within the community, and found time to care for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Married with four boys, Bonnie has made serving others a way of life within her own family.  They have helped her sell raffle tickets, attend events, pick up Harley-Davidson motorcycles [a huge hit with the boys!], and do just about any activity, always finding the fun in doing so.  Bonnie isn’t sure what has helped her be successful in her career and community, but feels lucky and blessed all the same.  “The skills I learned in childhood have served me well, and my military life-style taught me to be flexibile and adaptable”.  A favorite quote from a Bette Midler song guides her life: “I didn’t belong as a kid, and that always bothered me.  If only I’d known that one day my differences would be an asset.”


Polleck, Sharon, headshotSharon Polleck
Biotherapeudics Research and Development, Pfizer, Inc.

A Lawrence native, Sharon’s parents encouraged her to be the best she could be in whatever she undertook.  As an accomplished scientist and mentor, Sharon freely admits that she was far from a stellar student in high school. That didn’t stop her from excelling in community college, then heading with her husband, Phil, and young son to Colorado, where she attended Colorado State University to major in pre-med. While there, she volunteered at the local hospital and for the American Cancer Society, also working as a clinical assistant at the college healthcare center to help pay the bills. Homesick for the East Coast, she transferred to Merrimack College, where she earned her B.S. in Molecular Biology, gained research experience seeking genetic causes for spina bifida, worked second shift on the pediatric floor at Winchester Hospital and, by the way, had her second child, a daughter. Her plans to attend medical school were sidelined when her then-one-year-old daughter developed a chronic – although thankfully not life-threatening – disease that required round-the-clock care, surgeries and periods of isolation due to an immune deficiency. It was during that time that Sharon decided that she could help others by working to bring lifesaving drugs to patients in need  .

Beginning at DOW Chemical, Sharon went to Pfizer in 2001, where she earned a reputation for routinely going above and beyond to enhance laboratory standards and develop new or improve existing methodologies, helping colleagues across several Pfizer divisions to improve product quality, safety, and efficacy.  She’s made significant contributions in the spectrophotometer and isothermal chemical denaturation areas.  Sharon takes sincere interest in helping her co-workers both inside and outside of work and has lead efforts to raise money for families dealing with the loss of loved ones and the loss of a home due to fire. Sharon initiated and helped coordinate a multi-site bone marrow drive for a colleague in need and organized working mom’s lunches to discuss issues related to work-life balance. This mother of four has been instrumental in the success of the Women’s Leadership Network at Pfizer, helping to provide a book club, webinars and workshops for working women to improve their careers and personal and professional leadership goals. She also volunteers for Merrimack Valley Family Service’s Stand and Deliver program by mentoring a middle school student each week, and has served on numerous school improvement counsels. An added bonus, friends, colleagues and family will tell you, is that anyone who meets Sharon gets a dose of her fantastic wit, sure to brighten your day.


Perez, Dawna, headshotDr. Dawna Perez, PhD
Dean of Student Success, Northern Essex Community College

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  This quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is one of Dawna’s favorites, and best exemplifies her philosophy of life.  With over 30 years working at various non-profits within Lawrence and fulfilling many life goals, Dawna feels her current position at NECC is the culmination of what she’s been working toward to help students thrive.  At NECC since 2006, Dawna has used her passion for student education in many initiatives including Achieving the Dream, MA Vision Project, NECC’s Merrimack Valley Sandbox Campus Catalyst Program, and Dawna now heads the Access & Community Building area.  In this endeavor, Dawna works closely more than 17 local organizations to create connections with NECC. Some of the groups include the Mayor’s Health Task Force, Lawrence Senior Center, Jericho Road Lawrence, Groundwork Lawrence, Arlington Community Trabajando, GRUPO TESORO, and the Roberto Clemente Youth Program.  Dawna has been a champion of students, in particular those from historically underserved populations.

A key leader in the award and implementation of Federal Title V grants, she has helped the college improve the education of the school’s rapidly growing Hispanic population.  As a result, her guidance in the project has led to more Hispanic faculty at the college and an array of services specifically for Lawrence campus students.  She is particularly proud of the one-to-one mentoring program at the Student Success Center as it has helped connect students to support resources at NECC.
Mom to four boys ranging in age from 17 to 8 [Christian, Robbie, Eric and Matthew], Dawna is often with husband David at their sporting events, including soccer and swimming, and in the little personal time she has, she enjoys writing and traveling, and thinking A LOT about big-picture ideas.  Dawna has used her considerable talents and her natural inclinations to serve many local organizations including Lawrence Community Works, the YWCA, Diabetes Today Coalition, the Exchange Club of Lawrence and Live Lawrence among others.  It’s been a wonderful way to combine her work in motivating and encouraging students at NECC and take that passion into the community.  Whether at work, in the community or at home, Dawna dedicates herself to bridging various groups and leading efforts that optimize the potential of all involved.  For those who know Dawna, her dazzling personality and effortless style is well suited to helping transform the student body at NECC and at home.


Paley Nadel, Marianne, headshotMarianne Paley Nadel
General Manager, Everett Mills Real Estate, LLC

Marianne has dedicated much of her professional life to the job of rebuilding and investing in Lawrence, bringing tremendous commitment, optimism, experience, and talent to the job. She had a great teacher:  her dad, Bert Paley. “He was gregarious, had a hearty laugh, and was generous with advice,” she says. “He told a great story – sometimes twice and often about our family, which was his pride and joy.” Bert, a Lawrence icon, was a great connector and a champion of Lawrence, using his experience, networks, influence, and philanthropy to improve the community around him. Marianne is anchored professionally and personally by his example. And she is continuing the legacy of improving the Lawrence community. A local business owner, Marianne assumed management of the historic Everett and Stone Mills on Union Street from her father in 2008. An urban planner specializing in community based economic development, Marianne sees real estate as a means to create opportunities for entrepreneurship, job growth, manufacturing, and education. At Everett Mills, Marianne works to create synergies among companies to create a productive and vibrant commercial community by encouraging a mix of education, workforce training, and production-based tenants. Many who encounter her view her as a mentor.

Prior to working in Lawrence, Marianne worked at the NY Economic Development Corp., focusing on arts, culture, and economic development, including initial plans for the 42nd Street Redevelopment and South Street Seaport projects. After earning a Master’s in City Planning from MIT in 1993, she became a Senior Planner at Icon Architecture, concentrating on historic districts and heritage projects. Marianne was the founding Executive Director, in the late 1990’s, of Groundwork Lawrence (GWL), an organization dedicated to building a healthy community. She worked tirelessly to establish and grow the new organization, which has since become a national model for community revitalization. One notable result: the 3.5-mile Spicket River Greenway, linking parks and open space through bike and walking paths. Now a GWL Board member, Marianne also serves on the Board of the Lawrence Partnership, a new private-public sector collaboration to stimulate economic development and community vibrancy in Lawrence. She is active in the North Canal Coalition and the Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board, and was recently named a Trustee of Northern Essex Community College. She remains active in the arts, serving on the Board of the New Art Center in Newton. Marianne and her husband, Eric, have three children – Josh, Emily, and Henry — who are their own pride and joy.


Ortiz, Myra, headshotMyra Ortiz
Associate, Mayo Clinic; Lawrence School Committee Member and Pampered Chef Consultant

Growing up in a 5th-floor tenement in Lawrence, Mayra became all too aware of the climb, and what it takes to get to that final landing.  Though not there yet, the kindness and encouragement shared by her strong mother has stayed with Myra, and has influenced her life choices.  Determined to stay in school Myra graduated, and married young.  Soon widowed with two small children to raise, Myra went from the shadows to the local mainstream, driven by community work and her ability to connect people.  In everything, Myra gives 110% of her effort, energy and enthusiasm.  Her commitment to children Zach and Mahalia – along with her business, work in the community and philanthropic pursuits – are the emphasis of her life.  Her long days at the Mayo Clinic reaching out to help those in need, transfer to long evenings with her duties as a Lawrence School Committee Member, or her duties as a board member or committee member in one of the many charities she supports.  As a Pampered Chef Sales Consultant Myra travels to help her hosts and guests answer the age old question, “What’s for dinner?”

As the ultimate go-getter, Myra exemplifies her commitment to the City of Lawrence and its residents, and is part of the positive and hope-filled landscape of people transforming the city.  Her philanthropic pursuits focus on youth education, economic empowerment and the arts, as she’s a past and present board member of many organizations, including the YMCA, Beyond Soccer, Inc., Salvation Army Lawrence, and the Lawrence Public Schools.  As a youth basketball coach of grade school children, Myra adopted the imagistic language of the children to help them realize success and win The Kimball Classic in 2014.  She is very proud of her service to the YWCA as Coach in their Budget Buddies economic empowerment workshop series for their residents of YWCA Fina House.  Here, and everywhere, Myra uses her natural and developed talents to inspire others to achieve their goals.  As a candidate for Lawrence City Council, Myra’s desire is to position herself as coach, and learn the ever changing language of the community to develop strong neighborhoods and a strong city.  She is proud that her children have taken notice of her commitment to family, work and community and hopes that the acts being played out before them will reap great returns as they script their own story.


Marshall, Cara, headshotDr. Cara Marshall
Physician, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center

Every day, Cara tends to the area’s neediest patients, offering not just medical care, but personal attention, as well. A family physician at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (GLFHC) since 2001, she also serves as a faculty member for its Family Medicine Residency Program, which trains young doctors – 118 and counting to date — to work where they are needed most, in communities where poverty and lack of opportunity negatively impact people’s health. She is also a participating doctor in the GLFHC Healthcare for the Homeless program, which provides primary care assessment and treatment to our most vulnerable citizens. Cara also spends a morning each week visiting homebound patients and an evening working with residents in the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter and transitional housing. She also holds medical school faculty appointments at UMass and Tufts and has lectured at national family medicine meetings, published scholarly articles, and won numerous teaching awards. With grant funding, Cara created the “Rx for Social Health” program, devising a user-friendly database and contact list to increase patient access to community based services, now used by all GLFHC clinicians.

Her career has been characterized by academic excellence, leadership, and a commitment to medically underserved communities. Cara was co-valedictorian of her graduating class at the University of Florida and elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. During medical school at the University, Cara served as the Chapter President of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She completed her family medicine residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where she was recognized with the Daniel Leicht Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Medicine for her work with the LGBT community. Cara chose her specialty because it allows her to focus on the health of individuals within the family and the community. “My work in this dynamic, immigrant city full of hope, hard work, strong families, and people striving every day for better lives for themselves and their children,” she says, “is one of the most fulfilling things that I can imagine doing.” Caring, humble, respectful, and gentle are words used to describe Cara Marshall. Her colleagues and the thousands of patients she has touched over the years would most certainly agree.


Marra, Mary, Bread and Roses Housing, USE THIS ONE, CROPPEDMary Marra
Former Executive Director, Bread and Roses Housing

Mary has always been a good problem solver. In fact, she majored in Math at Emmanuel College, and then worked as a high school math teacher, which brought her to Lawrence in 1977. In 1980, she turned to solving the problem of hunger, helping to found the Bread & Roses Meal Program on Newbury Street. It was the first free community meal program in Lawrence. Then, in 1984, as a Lower Tower Hill resident, and in response to the riots that roiled the community the year before, she worked with other volunteers to incorporate Si, Se Peude, a nonprofit focused on education, community building, and enrichment opportunities in the Merrimack Court housing project. Next, in 1987, she helped to found a third nonprofit, Bread & Roses Housing, a community land trust aimed at opening doors to homeownership for families traditionally excluded from the housing market. She retired as its Executive Director earlier this year.

Those who know Mary describe her as humble, compassionate, supportive, and knowledgeable, with an ability to listen, and connect with everyone she meets. Mary grew up in a tight-knit, Italian-American family, sharing three rooms on the second floor of a triple decker with five other family members. Their tenement abutted another, which housed about 25 of her cousins, as well as a penny candy store – a combination that was the closest thing to heaven for a young child. Her cramped home was the preferred play space for neighborhood children and a popular stopover for relatives, friends, and travelers. Every visitor was invited to stay for dinner, with a folding cot at the ready if they needed a place to stay. The first in her family to attend college, Mary left home at 17. Although she loved her job teaching math, “the world outside the classroom captured my heart and attention,” she recalls. “The tenements of Lawrence felt familiar to me, as did the welcoming extended families who populated them.” Given her own upbringing, it’s no wonder Mary worked with others to create the community meals program and open doors to homeownership for hard-working, low-income families. She believes these words by the poet Mary Oliver best describe her life in Lawrence: “I can’t say much more, except that it all happened in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived in accordance with that certainty.”


Lembert, Danissa, headshotDanissa Lembert
Branch Relationship Manager & Bank Officer, Enterprise Bank

Described as a vibrant natural leader and an inspiration to all, Danissa’s “can do” attitude, organizational, and people skills are so apparent that Enterprise Bank hired her to open and manage a new Lawrence branch on Merrimack Street. It proved to be the right decision. Danissa is a huge asset to the Enterprise team, and to the community. Managing a team of six employees, she exemplifies the company commitment to treat everyone not just as a customer, but as a neighbor, encouraging her staff to volunteer in the community. That is why Enterprise recently recognized Danissa as a finalist for the employee Excellence in Community Service award. Danissa’s motivation and dedication come from a personal commitment to achieving spiritual, physical, and professional growth, believing that with consistency and effort, all things are possible. The mother of four children – Deliana, Juelz, Jewelly, and Darlissa – Danissa and her husband (and high school sweetheart) became parents the summer after her high school graduation. She enrolled in college just one month after giving birth. While in school, she worked at an investment company, where she realized that finance and banking were her calling, because she enjoys helping people reach for a better future.

The name Danissa means “greatness.” Born in the Dominican Republic, she recounts, “I was named Danissa Sheryl Lembert by a total stranger. When I say ‘total stranger,’ I mean it.” Danissa’s mom was expecting a boy. The day she went into labor, she shared a room in the hospital with a woman who had, tragically, just lost her baby girl. Because Danissa’s mom had not picked out a name for a girl, the woman offered her own child’s name, and her mother gratefully accepted. Always one to rescue a friend or help someone in need, Danissa is now active on the boards of Groundwork Lawrence and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, and serves on the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lawrence. Every month, Danissa reads to a first-grade class through the Hennessey School Reading program, and is a member of the Greater Lawrence Young Professionals Network.  “Growing up,” says Danissa, “I would always marvel that my mom let a stranger name me, and she would say, ‘Your name will shine one day.’”  Clearly, Mom was on to something.


Inoa, Yakaira, headshotYakaira Inoa
General Manager, R.M. Technologies, Inc.

“Strong. Courageous. A woman of integrity.” Those are the words that describe Yakaira Inoa-Severino, General Manager of Lawrence-based R.M. Technologies, an $8 million corporation with more than 200 employees specializing in construction contracting services, environmental remediation, hazardous material abatement, and demolition. As the GM, Yakaira directs and coordinates operations including sales, purchasing, quality, safety, project management and ensuring client satisfaction. She also oversees project budgets and flow, and assures return on investment and project completion. Yakaira has excelled as a woman in top management in a nontraditional field. She is a role model, a hard worker and a mentor to newcomers, who also fights for wage equality and works to interest other women in construction careers. Says Yakaira, “My definition of success is being happy with who you are and where you are, and being able to accomplish the goals that you set up for yourself.”

She has certainly surpassed her goals! A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. in 1994, Yakaira is driven not to do great things for herself, but for her three children, so that they will be happy human beings and great assets to society.  A teen-age mother who married young, Yakaira thanks God every day for her family.  “I did not know how to speak or write English (when she moved here),” she recalls, “but the circumstances made me stronger. I realized that being a teen Mom was not, and should not be an excuse, but a motivation to success.” That included earning her Associate’s Degree in Computer Science from Northern Essex Community College. Despite her many successes, Yakaira counts her ability to afford to educate her children as her biggest accomplishment. Dedicated to her community, she Chairs the Lawrence Planning Board, managing and leading her fellow directors and acting as a direct liaison between the board members, developers, and the general public, to assure thoughtful decisions about city development projects. She also promotes innovation in Green Energy and the preservation of our natural landscape and works to assure effective distribution of Community Development Block Grant funds, while also volunteering for the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence and Junior Achievement.  Determined, disciplined and with strong personal values, Yakaira inspires strength, courage and dignity to her family, colleagues and friends.


Hamilton, Margaret, headshotMargaret Hamilton
Co-Founder, North Shore Women of H.O.P.E.

Born and raised in Scotland, Margaret’s parents taught her the value of hard work and a good education. They also taught her the importance of using one’s talents and skills to help others. Margaret studied graphic design in college in Edinburgh, working for various design studios there and in London. She then started her own successful design company after the birth of her first child, creating design solutions for high tech companies including HP and CITI Bank, eventually selling it to focus on her family. Today, Margaret provides custom design services to small businesses and individuals. Her professional life often merges with her civic life, as she donates her talents to numerous nonprofit organizations in Lawrence, including Esperanza Academy, Project Home Again (providing families in need with furniture and clothing), Above the Clouds (which offers heart-lifting airplane rides to sick children), and Jericho Road Lawrence, among others.

Margaret is the co-founder, with fellow Honoree Susan Wilson, of North Shore Women for H.O.P.E., a nonprofit that supports educational opportunities for under-served girls, with a strong connection with Esperanza Academy in Lawrence. Margaret also serves on the Esperanza Board of Directors, where she chairs the Education Committee, as well as serving as a tutor. It was in 2007, shortly after Esperanza first opened its doors, that Susan approached Margaret with the idea of harnessing the skills and talents of the many women in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore to provide educational and cultural enrichment for women and girls. In a few short months, North Shore Women for H.O.P.E. (Harnessing Opportunities to Promote Education) was a nonprofit with a charter, mission, website, committed board, and busy calendar of events. Among those attending the first meeting was then Esperanza Head of School Lori Bottiger, who noted that studies showed that Lawrence middle school girls were at great risk of academic failure. The group had found its focus: making a difference in the lives of the girls attending Esperanza. “I did not realize then how much my relationship with the school would become a major part of my life,” recalls Margaret. “I am humbled and inspired every day to be a small part of an organization that succeeds because of the vision, dedication, and hundreds of hours of hard work of the faculty, staff, parents, volunteers, trustees and, most especially, the students.” In 2013, Esperanza awarded Margaret the Malcolm Coates Award for Service and Leadership for her transformational work and commitment.


Garozzo, Loubna, headshotLoubna Garozzo
Area Director, SNI Companies, Inc.

As a founder and Ambassador of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Next Generation Leader’s Program, Loubna has worked to support young businesspeople as they enter the workforce and climb the ladder to success. A driven and highly successful woman, Loubna runs the SNI Company office in Andover, which ranks among the top 100 U.S. staffing agencies. She is the perfect person for that role. Talkative and outgoing, Loubna readily admits – and those who know her would agree — that she can chat through a room of people whom she’s never met with confidence. What they might not know is her family was forced to flee from war-torn Lebanon, where her father had been held hostage for several years during which time he was severely injured. She arrived in the U.S. speaking no English. “But the idea of being in America was amazing. The Land of Opportunity,” she recalls, “Even at a young age, I decided that opportunity was mine for the taking.” Loubna attended Lawrence Public Schools through eighth grade, where she received the Youth of the Year Award in 1992 and 1993. She spent her high school years at Brooks School, and then attended Boston College.

At SNI, Loubna is the top performer nationally out of more than 300 peers in the Staffing Division. When she was hired, the office had the lowest revenue among SNI offices. Over the past 10 years, it has consistently ranked in the top five offices among 40 nationwide. Loubna relishes the opportunity to help those in our community by assisting them to advance their careers and achieve financial comfort and success. Ever aware of those who need a helping hand, she partnered her team with the nonprofit Dressed for Success, which provides women entering the business world with professional clothing that they could not otherwise afford. The mother of Gabriella, 11, she has volunteered to teach the Junior Achievement program at St. Monica’s, her daughter’s school, for the past six years. Proud of her Lebanese heritage, she sits on the Board of Directors of the American Lebanese Awareness Association, which provides annual scholarships to students of Lebanese descent. A recipient of the Merrimack Valley Chamber Next Generation Leaders Award in 2013, Loubna derives great joy from inspiring young women like her daughter, letting them know that through education, integrity, support, family, and friends, anything is possible. Her amazing life story is a testament to that.


Dow, Mary, headshotMary Dow
President, The Dow Company, Inc.

While our most mature Honoree this year, Mary may well in fact be our wisest!  An accomplished woman second to none, Mary was a pioneer and trailblazer during the 1950’s in the construction industry – then, an industry solely dominated by men.  Growing up in Chicago, Mary married Don shortly after high school and got her start working alongside her mother at the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery.  Believe it or not, the company would not hire married women, so she referred to herself as her mother’s niece!  Soon, she and Don moved to Methuen, MA to take over the family construction business begun in 1904.  Make no mistake, Mary was no figurehead in running the business.  As President – unheard of in those days – Mary initially ran the office and along the way, developed a ‘thick skin’ and the skills necessary to deal with suppliers, contractors and salesmen in the industry.  While often they tried to take advantage of her, they soon learned that ‘the little lady’s’ mettle and resilience earned their respect.  Under her leadership, they grew the business from a small, local company to a large company bidding and earning state contracts to lay utility piping.  They also worked on many projects for Boston’s The Big Dig Project.

As a working mother since the 50’s, Mary and Don raised three children, Michael, Mark and Donna, and after Don’s passing, Mary trained Michael and Mark in the business that one day they will run on their own.  Along the way, Mary took bold initiatives in helping to create and run the local Ladies Homebuilder’s Auxiliary, and she has attended countless construction industry trade shows, fairs and events as far away as Texas and Alaska.  Mary became a mentor in the National Association of Women in Construction, whose purpose is to promote women, both as owners and employees in the industry.  Through this organization, Mary has counseled and helped many women over the decades develop, promote and earn promotions in their own careers.  On the local community front, Mary has served on many boards, and has supported a multitude of worthwhile organizations in Lawrence, Methuen and the surrounding area.  Marys’ strength, curious mind, and flexible nature have given this amazing woman staying power to serve her company and community for a life time.  We are so proud today to honor this accomplished woman among our Honorees.


Stephanie DiCDiCenso, Stephanie, headshotenso
Program Coordinator, Cardiac Rehabilitation Department, Holy Family Hospital

Stephanie has turned a tragedy – the sudden death of her father due to cardiovascular disease – into a life’s calling. After earning her Master’s in Exercise Physiology 20 years ago, she accepted a position as an exercise physiologist in a large, progressive cardiac rehabilitation program in New York State, eager to begin caring for patients with cardiovascular disease – the very disease which had taken her father’s life 10 years earlier. One patient stands out: a man who arrived for his session feeling “not quite right,” but with no obvious signs of heart failure. Trusting her intuition, Stephanie called the man’s doctor, who instructed her to call 911 for hospital transport. Enroute, he suffered cardiac arrest. After undergoing emergency surgery, this man went on to lead a long and robust life. Recalls Stephanie of that pivotal experience, “I realized several invaluable lessons that continue to guide my daily practice: It is imperative to listen to your patients, to trust your clinical judgement, and to not be afraid to stand your ground…in order to deliver the very best care you can to patients and their families.”

As Coordinator of the Cardiac Rehab Program at Holy Family for the past 10 years, Stephanie serves as a true partner with her team and with her patients, working to improve quality of life by providing education, guidance, and social support. She is also painfully aware that cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States. An instinctive advocate for her patients, she always leads by example and has earned the respect of her patients, her colleagues, and the cardiologists who look to her for advice and patient evaluations. Her clinical acumen is described as “exceptional.” Her credentials are also exceptional. Stephanie is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, a member of the American Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM); a Certified Exercise Specialist ACSM; and a Certified Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional. Through her leadership and commitment, Holy Family’s Cardiac Rehab program earned accreditation by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Stephanie treats each patient as a unique individual and is an phenomenal listener. A natural heart health advocate, her compassion and ability to relate to people motivates them to take the steps to improve heart health. After one particularly inspiring presentation Stephanie made at a local adult learning center, a participant was so moved that he quit smoking – that very day. For Stephanie, that’s all in a day’s work.


Connolly-Atkins, Pat, headshotPatricia Connolly-Atkins
Founding Member, ECCF Women’s Fund of Essex County

A dynamo who seldom sleeps, it’s not uncommon for friends, family, and colleagues to receive e-mails from Pat at 3 a.m., or to connect with her in an airport as she flies around the country implementing and observing dental board exams, just one of her many responsibilities on the Northeast Regional Board of Dentistry. Pat feels so lucky and privileged to work in the field of educating and licensing Dental and Dental Hygiene Professionals. Over the past 40 years, as a senior dental health professional, she has worked in public dental health policy, administration, and procedure. Among her many roles, she has served as Acting and Assistant Deans and Assistant Professor at the Forsythe Institute, and has been a clinical instructor at Bunker Hill Community Health Center. The consummate professional, Pat has also worked as a consultant to the MA Division of Dental Health, serving as a Geriatric Coordinator and Project Director for the Statewide Clinical Survey of Nursing Home Residents, and served as a Head Start Dental Health Consultant with the U.S. Public Health Service, conducting numerous lectures in the areas of child abuse and neglect and the legal and ethical responsibilities of dental professionals.

Along with her professional commitments, Pat has a long history of active school and community volunteerism. Notably, she has made a lasting contribution to the Women’s Fund of Essex County, as a founding member, past President, and Board Member for nine years. Her greatest contribution came as Chair of the Women’s Fund’s Grants Committee, where she became famous for her color-coded notebooks and meticulous work ethic, helping to shape and refine most of the grant-making processes and evaluation tools that help the Women’s Fund identify and fund nonprofit programs that are truly helping to change the lives of local women and girls, including those at the YWCA. It makes sense that a dental professional would say that reflecting on both her professional and personal life puts a smile on her face. She credits her supportive husband with helping her to raise two socially conscious daughters who demonstrate the leadership, compassion, and integrity that are the hallmarks of women who are  productive, responsible citizens of their communities and their world. Or, to quote the author Harriet Beacher Stowe, “’Women are the real architects of society.”


Concepcion, Rachel, headshotRachel Concepcion
Assistant Vice President, Eastern Bank

You know that song, W-O-M-A-N? Well say it again, because that song could have been written about Rachel. Not only has she enjoyed a successful career in banking, but she is the proud single mother of two daughters, serves on the Boards of Jericho Road Lawrence and Habitat for Humanity, and is a member of the Lawrence Rotary Club. Just in case she has some free time handy, Rachel bakes and decorates incredibly beautiful cakes for friends and family! As AVP, Rachel is branch manager for Eastern Bank’s two Lawrence offices and is responsible for helping small, local businesses with lending needs while acting as an Eastern Bank brand ambassador throughout the Merrimack Valley. Eastern hired Rachel in 2011, when it decided to open its first-ever branch in Lawrence. It was the first bank to open a new branch in Lawrence in 23 years. That means Rachel had to immediately get up to speed on Eastern Bank’s corporate culture and work to spread its mission throughout the region. She wasted no time, joining three nonprofit boards while also reaching out to business owners and residents, and attending countless networking receptions, morning, noon and night. Last year, she also participated in a joint program of the YWCA and Jericho Road Lawrence working to increase Latino participation on Lawrence nonprofit boards.

True to form, Rachel’s efforts were so successful that Eastern opted to open a second branch in Lawrence in 2014. This time, Rachel was challenged to generate business and interest for a branch unlike any other – a 350-square-foot “branch of the future” prototype filled with new technology designed to make banking easier for customers. Rachel quickly mastered that new technology, and hired and trained a staff, convincing them that it made sense to work in a setting with no teller lines, and where transactions are conducted by a floating associate armed with a laptop and a tablet. A Lawrence native who attended Lawrence High School, Rachel insists, “I’ve been in banking for 17 years, and I truly love what I do because it allows me to help people.” She also wants to set an example for her daughters because “participation within your community allows the city to grow and generate new ideas.” Like a bank with floating tellers, perhaps? Thoughtful, hard-working, dedicated, and selfless: those words describe Rachel and explain her success. She always goes above and beyond to help her clients and her community.


Burns, Sister Eileen, headshotSister Eileen Burns
Executive Director, Notre Dame Education Center

In April of this year, Sr. Eileen celebrated the 40th year of her vocation with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND), years marked by her motivation to seek, find, and know God’s goodness, and live in community life through a life of prayer and service to others.  We are all fortunate that the community she now serves is Lawrence. As Executive Director since 2008 of the Notre Dame Education Center, Sr. Eileen oversees programs that provide undereducated, low-income adults – particularly recent immigrants – with the skills they need to gain fluency in English, gain family life skills, obtain job training leading to living-wage employment, and work toward becoming U.S. citizens. She leads with passion and commitment. Drawing on her past experience as a teacher, pastoral associate, and administrator, Sr. Eileen is a skilled administrator, who has worked to stabilize the Center’s organizational structure, strengthened its Board, and expanded programming in response to community needs. She led the Center through a rigorous strategic planning process and, together with her staff, has done a remarkable job following through on the original plan while launching a second planning stage.

If you’ve met Sr. Eileen, you have witnessed her engaging networking and collaboration skills. She seems to be everywhere in the community, reaching out to employers and the public school system to increase awareness of the Center’s programs, as well as to assure that those programs are truly responsive to emerging needs. She is always thinking about new possibilities for living out the mission of the Center, to help “adult learners achieve their next steps and reach their full potential as contributing workers in the community.” Sr. Eileen has four siblings who remain her closest friends. Born in South Lawrence, her family moved to a former farm in Methuen when she was a toddler, and she counts experiencing the beauty of nature as one of her life’s dear companions. In college, she majored in biology and ministry, with a focus on peace and justice. As a teacher, she worked in what she calls the “L” Cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Lynn, spending summers working in other areas in the U.S. and abroad.  SND’s French founder, Julie, encouraged her sisters to “have hearts as wide as the world.” Sr. Eileen has certainly embraced and lived that mission


Blanchet, Trisha, headshotTrisha Blanchet
Founder & President, Operation Delta Dog (OpDD)

Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide in this country. That is a statistic that haunts Trisha and has inspired her to combine a passion for animals with a deep respect for veterans into a vocation by designing, founding and overseeing Operation Delta Dog. Doing her homework – her friends and family will attest to how persistent Trisha can be – she learned about organizations elsewhere that were training service dogs for veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some were even using rescued shelter dogs in their training programs. The dogs and the vets were saving each other. OpDD, as it is known, now rescues shelter dogs, temperament tests them, and then matches them with veterans from the Merrimack Valley with TBI or PTSD. “I was just shocked,” recalls Trisha. “These men and women serve their country, voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way, and then come home and suffer so terribly with the ‘invisible disabilities’ of TBI and PTSD that they feel suicide is their only option. That just didn’t seem right.”

Trisha realized she had a win-win solution:  the dogs get the home they need and the veterans get the help they deserve. Although not a doctor, a dog trainer, or a veteran herself, this Chelmsford mother of 2 young children decided to plow ahead. The proud daughter of an Army Veteran and a self-described Army Brat, Trisha’s knowledge of military protocol and courtesy also stood her in good stead. Trisha holds a Master’s in Journalism from Syracuse University. Her publication credits include her award-winning humor column that appeared in the Lowell Sun for three years, articles on Nickelodeon Online, and Yankee Magazine, and books on traveling with your dog. Her training has helped her to craft a compelling story and win several Entrepreneurship for All (at that time Merrimack Valley Sandbox) pitch contests. That prize money seeded OpDD, and Trisha set about gaining nonprofit status, hiring a professional trainer, and recruiting some pretty dedicated volunteers. In just two-and-a-half years, OpDD has rescued 14 dogs and matched them with 14 vets, thanks in large part to the overwhelming generosity of supporters from throughout the region who help cover the cost of this free service. Trisha has accomplished all of this with grace, a sense of humor and unwavering commitment to those in need – both human and canine.


Abdallah, Lisa, headshotDr. Lisa Abdallah, PhD, RN

School of Nursing Chair & Associate Professor,
University of Massachusetts Lowell

A Lawrence native and Lawrence High graduate, Lisa knew as a child that she wanted to be a nurse as a result of caring for a sick uncle when she visited him. Her mother encouraged her to work as a nursing assistant at Mary Immaculate Nursing and Restorative Care in Lawrence, where she developed a love for working with the elderly. Determined to pursue a degree in nursing, she was not accepted to her first choice college due to low SAT scores. Instead, she entered a program far from home and her close-knit, Italian family. She soldiered through her homesickness, graduated and passed the nursing exam, then pursued her Master’s while working full-time and having two children 11 months apart. Lisa then began teaching nursing students at UMass Boston, at the same time earning her Ph.D.

Lisa became a faculty member at UMass Lowell in 2003, and she relished the chance to foster community partnerships where she was born, raised, and now lives. While at UMass Lowell, Lisa developed a clinical rotation for students at Mary Immaculate. Realizing how her own poor test scores impacted her college prospects, Lisa developed a passion for encouraging middle and high-school students in Lawrence and Lowell to consider a career in nursing and offering Nurse of the Future Clubs to students through the Bringing Diversity to Nursing Grant Project, for which Lisa serves as Co-Investigator and Pre-Entry Recruitment Coordinator.  Lisa expresses, “I was lucky enough to have had exposure to a career early in my life that helped me to know what I wanted to be and to set my mind on achieving that goal.”  In addition to her professional commitments, Lisa has served on the Board of the Lawrence branch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA, as well as on the City of Lawrence Mayor’s Health Task Force and the Merrimack Valley Area Health Education Center Advisory Board. She is involved with the Eta Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society for Nursing and volunteers as a presenter for the Latino Nursing Academy. Lisa is described as compassionate, committed, and honest who is a tremendous advocate for the future of young people and advancing opportunities for students, particularly those from the Lawrence area.