The YWCA Northeastern Massachusetts – A Voice for Women & Girls

Tribute 2017 Honoree Information.

Urvi Athia
Owner, Primrose School Andover

January 9, 2017 was a memorable day for Urvi and her husband Beau. It was the day that a dream came true—the day they opened the Primrose School in Andover. Urvi had always wanted to be an educator.  She became a teacher after earning her degree in education from York University in her native Toronto, Canada.  She has always wanted to introduce young minds to new concepts, to help children learn and grow. “Being able to shape them” is nothing I take for granted, Urvi said. She appreciates the responsibility of teaching, and the impact teachers have on young lives. Urvi, mother to a one-year-old daughter named Uma, is passionate about early childhood education. But after teaching for a while, she wanted to be more than a teacher so that she could mentor other early education teachers, and to have a greater impact on the development of young children. She discovered the perfect opportunity to do that in 2009, when she and her husband learned about the Primrose Schools. They met the leaders and visited the support center of Primrose Schools in Georgia, where the national franchise was created in 1982. Primrose Schools has 300 schools in 25 states that have offered high-quality, research-informed child care and early childhood education for 35 years. Urvi knew she had found the perfect model for her own preschool, and the journey began toward her dream come true earlier this year.

Stefanie Messina Sewade nominated Urvi to be honored at the Tribute to Women. Stefanie, herself a human resources professional, was especially impressed at Urvi’s diligence in hiring staff for her new school. “She individually and meticulously took on the task of hiring directors and teachers who would be working with the children. To her this was the most important task.”  Stefanie said she is also quite impressed with how Urvi engages with each family who was interested in enrolling their child. She gives each of them a personal tour of the school, explaining in detail how the Primrose model works, its values and curriculum, and how it would benefit their child.  She reaches out to the community, hosting events about the benefits of high-quality early education and building character in children.  Stefanie calls Urvi a role model who truly practices what she teaches: compassion, trust, honesty, and caring, which are the core values of the Primrose Schools.


Ilona Bolich
Employee Assistance Provider, Internal Revenue Service

Since 2012, Ilona has been an employee assistance counselor at the Internal Revenue Service’s large Andover campus, where about 2,000 people are employed. She is the person employees can go to for confidential counseling on matters affecting their professional or private lives. She also does motivational presentations, grief counseling, and leads meditation groups that became instantly popular. “Never in a million years would I have dreamed I would be doing what I love most—meditation—at the IRS!” Ilona said. Amy Stanton, a Field Director for the IRS, nominated Ilona, calling her “very inspirational, compassionate, and professional” in her daily interactions with others. Ilona is a peacemaker, someone who diffuses workplace conflicts, Amy said.

Her journey has been a challenging one that started with a rough childhood in Manchester, NH. Ilona was on her own at age 15. In her early twenties, she was living in Manhattan, working as a coat checker at the famous Studio 54 discotheque. At that time in her life, she suffered from what she calls “monkey mind”–her thoughts racing in all directions. She was desperate to find a way to calm her mind, without using any substances. Then she read about meditation. She found a yoga studio. Ever since, she has practiced both, and her personal mission has been to share the many benefits of yoga and meditation with others. After earning a BS in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling Psychology, Ilona has been a licensed mental health counselor for the past 17 years. She also has a certificate in spiritual counseling, and is a certified yoga teacher, and a Reiki Master. Ilona says it took a lot of hard work to overcome damage from her own early life. She has obviously done that extremely well, becoming a teacher, counselor and role model for so many.  Ilona spent many years working in methadone clinics in Boston, where her clients were inner-city women suffering from trauma, addiction and mental health disorders. She maintains a private counseling practice in addition to her work with IRS employees. Ilona still works with the Center for Expressive Arts, Therapy and Education, an arts-based therapy center in her native city of Manchester, NH. Her work there focuses on young women who suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to sexual abuse or assault.


Dr. Maria Carles
Professor of Natural Sciences, Northern Essex Community College

Maria is a native of Panama City, Panama, the mother of two sons and two daughters, a professor of Natural Sciences at Northern Essex Community College–and a very accomplished scientist. She earned an undergraduate degree in Zoology in Panama, followed by a post-baccalaureate in Clinical Microbiology, then a Masters in Immunology, and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Northeastern University. She has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including one at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama—the only bureau of the Smithsonian Institution based outside of the United States—and an Exxon Training Award in Human Genetics at the University of Utah. 

What is so special about Maria is how humbly and generously she appreciates and gives credit to the professors, scientists, family members and others who inspired her, taught her and helped her along the way in her impressive career. This is one of the qualities that prompted Dr. Noemi Custodia-Lora to nominate Maria for the Tribute to Women. Dr. Lora is Executive Director of Campus & Community Relations at the Lawrence Campus of Northern Essex Community College. She called Maria “smart, dedicated, kind, charitable, and impressive.” Maria is “a blessing to Northern Essex students, particularly the ones in her own classes,” Dr. Lora added.  “She takes the time to cultivate good relationships, which allows students to discover what they are capable of doing. She’s a phenomenal role model as she teaches by example, always giving credit to the professor or scientist who helped her to achieve her own goals.” Although Maria has received support in her career, it has been Maria’s own intellect, her dedication and exploration that allowed her to rise to level of scientist she is, and the excellent teacher that she has become, Dr. Lora said. Maria said her PhD advisor at Northeastern, Dr. Ban-An Khaw, a prominent scientist in the field of targeted immuno-drug therapies, gave her tremendous support. He was the one who invited her to apply to the PhD program and gave her the opportunity and the support to juggle her studies, her research work in the lab, and her family responsibilities. “Now that I am a teacher,” Maria said with characteristic empathy and kindness, “I understand that my students may have an even harder time than I had coming to school and also fulfilling daily responsibilities.”


Arlene Champey
Regional Director, Environment Health and Safety, Holy Family Hospital

As Regional Director of Environmental Health and Safety for Steward Health Care, Arlene’s work touches the lives of virtually all employees and patients and their families who use four facilities owned by the corporation:  Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, the Andover Surgery Center, and the Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer.  A Methuen native, Arlene earned a BS in Medical Technology and later a Certificate of Graduate Studies at UMass Lowell. She then earned an MS in Organizational Leadership from Southern New Hampshire University.

Arlene likes challenges—and she clearly rises to them. When her son Samuel, now 25, was a first-grader, she was a PTA member. That year, there was a bond issue on the ballot to finance school renovations in the Timberlane School District and to build new elementary schools and a Performing Arts Center. Arlene worked enthusiastically to get the bond issue passed. But it failed at the polls that year. However, because of the time and determination she devoted to it, the principal of her son’s school identified her as a good candidate for the school board. She ran, and was elected—and then she was re-elected continually for the next 11 years! During her tenure, the bond issues passed and the schools were built. Arlene served on two of the building committees, plus a special safety committee that was formed at the time. Not only that, but Arlene served two terms as vice chair, and three terms as chairperson. She also served on two of the newly constructed schools’ safety committees.  Fast forward to 2005 . . . Arlene was tapped by her boss at Holy Family Hospital, where she was working as a phlebotomist, to apply for the newly created Safety Officer position.  For a while, she was able to split her time between the lab and her Safety Office duties, eventually moving full-time into safety, security and emergency management.  Today, Arlene is highly regarded by hospital administration, by the area police and fire departments, and all who come in contact with her, according to her colleague Karen Kennedy, who nominated Arlene. Karen also applauds Arlene’s leadership within the Timberlane School District. “She is a good mother who understands the importance of a good education,” Karen said. She noted that in addition to all her leadership on the school committee, Arlene was twice voted Timberlane’s Volunteer of the Year.


Kim Clark
Managing Owner, National Fiber Technology

With roots in Tennessee, Kim became a California girl, living in Los Angles and working in costume design for Walt Disney Imagineering, the company that dreams up and creates sets, staging and costumes for Disney theme parks. Kim had quite a year in 2000. She got married and left the California sunshine behind.  She and her husband, Fred Fehrman, were setting out on their honeymoon when she got a call from John Moot in Lawrence, owner of National Fiber Technology. Kim had ordered wigs and other products from John’s company—and they had joked about her buying his company when he retired. John’s call was to inform Kim that he was retiring, and he wondered if Kim might really be interested in purchasing his business. The timing was perfect, Kim said. She and Fred decided to come to Lawrence, since they were flying east anyway. Not only that, but there were large scale layoffs anticipated at Disney. Plus, the market for selling homes in Southern California was excellent. As they say, the rest is history!  Kim and Fred reached an agreement with Mr. Moot and became the proud owners of a vintage factory that had produced wigs, artificial fur, and other fiber-based products for over a century. They got good severance packages from Disney, sold their home, traveled cross-country, and got right to work. They encountered many challenges, including 19th century machinery that needed to be replaced.  But 16 years later, state-of-the-art sonic cutting machines are side-by-side with the 19th century looms and weaving machines. Under Kim’s leadership and management, NFT is recognized internationally as a powerhouse in the manufacturing of custom-made fur fabrics, wigs, and related products for the entertainment industry. Today, The Grinch, King Kong, The Cat in the Hat, and The Energizer Bunny have all been seen in Kim’s creations! 

Marianne Paley Nadel, of Everett Mills Real Estate, nominated Kim because she is “creative, engaged, and a candid businesswoman who manages her business with directness, honesty and humor.” Marianne said that Kim is incredibly giving, too. Kim is a moving force in the work of Debbie’s Treasure Chest, a non-profit that provides toys and clothes for disadvantaged children in the Merrimack Valley. Kim also builds sets and creates costumes every summer for Camp Fatima’s summer theatre program for children with disabilities. Kim and her husband love their two dogs, Rocky and Marlena, and Kim supports organizations that work on behalf of canine friends, too.


Gerry-Lynn Darcy
Senior Vice President, Lupoli Companies

Gerry-Lynn’s great inspiration was her father. He earned his degree from Merrimack College in 1978, already married and father to 5-year-old Gerry-Lynn. He left a corporate position in finance before he was 30, and with a leap of faith, started his own real estate development company. He wanted to pursue his passion. That passion became Gerry-Lynn’s, too. As a pre-teen she shadowed her father, learning to read blueprints and touring construction sites. What she loved most was seeing the plans and blueprints eventually rise from the ground as new buildings. When Gerry-Lynn began to work in this male-dominated industry, she was already at home in it, thanks to her father. She is now Senior Vice President at Lupoli Companies, the family-owned real estate company headed by Sal Lupoli. He is another inspiration to Gerry-Lynn, who said, “We have similar ideals and we share many of the same traditional values that shape our approach to business. I feel blessed to work with a man who embraces the community and improves the lives of the people that surround him.”  Gerry-Lynn likes to quote Henry Ford, when he said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”  The same can be said of Gerry-Lynn. Heather McCann, Executive Director of Groundwork Lawrence, nominated Gerry-Lynn, noting how she helps to empower people, businesses and organizations throughout Lawrence. Gerry-Lynn has served on Groundwork Lawrence’s board of directors since 2015, and also chairs its annual Glow Gala fundraiser. Heather said that Gerry-Lynn’s leadership makes the event “enormously successful.” 

A single mother of two teenage girls, Gerry-Lynn is no stranger to the challenge of work-life balance. “I hope they’ll learn from me that possibilities for women are endless and that glass ceilings will continue to break for generations of young women to follow,” Gerry-Lynn said. Aside from her professional work, and being a mother and role model to her girls, Gerry-Lynn has served on the board of Notre Dame Cristo De Rey Academy;  was chosen by Gov. Charlie Baker to serve on the UMass Building Authority Board;  and was honored by Boston Business Journal in its “40 Under 40” class of industry leaders. In 2014, Gerry-Lynn received a Women of FIRE award celebrating the best and brightest in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industries. Aside from her fundraising skills, Heather admires Gerry-Lynn for many other reasons. She called her loyal, inclusive, driven but centered, a dedicated mother, and noted that she is a yoga practitioner and student of Eastern philosophy.


Joanna de Peña
Executive Director, Top Notch Scholars

First and foremost, Joanna is a role model and an inspiration for young people. Eduardo Crespo, CEO of Hispanic Market Solutions, nominated Joanna. He calls her a model well-rounded and engaged citizen who practices exactly what she teaches others. As a high school student, Joanna’s abilities earned her a full scholarship to Proctor Academy in Andover, NH where she excelled as a scholar-athlete. She played softball, was on the cross country team, and was captain of the varsity basketball team that won Proctor Academy its very first championship. Her top grades earned her a scholarship to Lasell College in Newton, MA, where Joanna earned a degree in Business. As a college student, Joanna landed what she calls “the internship of a lifetime” at Walt Disney World. Even before graduating, Joanna was motivated to pay it forward. Her junior year at Lasell, she founded Top Notch Network, which offered motivational events and workshops for students, and funded scholarships for inner-city kids like Joanna.

Joanna founded Top Notch Scholars in 2014, a non-profit dedicated to youth leadership development, providing workshops and motivational events for students in Greater Lawrence. The workshops focus on “soft skills” such as confidence-building and interviewing techniques–skills that can help with college admissions, applying for scholarships, finding employment opportunities, and career advancement. Top Notch Scholars kicked off its first Youth Leadership Academy in March, with 15 high school students who are regularly meeting for a series of empowering workshops. Joanna integrates her motivational speaking and life coaching into the Top Notch Scholars experience. She is so passionate and so sincere about being a role model that she is making it her life’s work. “The world is full of celebrities and public figures,” Joanna says, “but how many are positive role models?” In her motivational speaking engagements, she has already addressed over 4,200 young people in the Merrimack Valley and Greater Boston. Her goal?  To reach and help over one million during her career. It will be no surprise if Joanna achieves that ambitious goal!  Joanna has been recognized by El Mundo in its “Boston’s Latino 30 under 30” for her dedication to youth and community. As her nominator said, she does indeed practice what she preaches. Joanna is enrolled in a Master’s program at Merrimack College, and in 2015, Joanna enhanced her own leadership and entrepreneurial skills by completing E for All’s Business Accelerator Program.


Janin Duran
Executive Director, Epara Todos

Janin was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Lawrence and graduated from Lawrence High School. She earned a bachelor’s at UMass Lowell, with a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice, followed by a Master’s in Criminal Justice. Janin said that she learned to embrace the greatness of both the Dominican and the American cultures, but not until after some confusion as she was growing up. Her sense of belonging wavered between both countries and cultures, until finally she embraced the greatness of both. In fact, Janin says, that is what enables her to be her best self, a “professional and a servant to my community.”  Even as a young girl in an immigrant family, Janin dreamed of being a change-maker. Her dream was to find a way to help pave the way for others toward a more fulfilling and successful life. She clearly found it when she joined the team at Entrepreneurship for All—E for All—in 2011. The organization gives people the tools they need to create a business, through a structured year-long program.  Janin was instrumental in creating the first ever Spanish language version of the E for All program—Epara Todos–in 2015. It is the first-in-the-nation business accelerator program offered in Spanish. She is now Executive Director of Epara Todos, and proud to say that there are now 36 graduates, several new businesses and over 30 new jobs in the city because of it. Janin has found a way for her own dream to come true as she helps others’ dreams come true. What a win-win! 

Tracy Sopchak of E for All nominated Janin because of her visionary leadership and her passionate advocacy for the Lawrence Community. Janin is a hard-working entrepreneurial problem solver, Tracy said. She pointed out that Janin is one of the few Latinas who head a non-profit in Greater Lawrence. “She is a wonderful role model for young Lawrentians” Tracy said, Janin believes that creating Epara Todos has been her greatest accomplishment—and   apparently many others agree!  She received a certificate of appreciation from the City of Lawrence in October, 2015; a commendation from Mayor Dan Rivera at Hispanic Heritage Month in 2015; and was recognized in 2016 for Leadership in Entrepreneurship by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; and by the Dominican Development Center in Boston. Janin has appeared on Univision, and has her own radio program, La Voz del Emprendedores.


Evelyn Friedman
Executive Director, Greater Lawrence Community Action Council

After graduating from East Windsor High School in Connecticut, Evelyn earned a bachelor’s in Sociology at UMass Amherst. She then moved a bit further east to Boston College, where she earned her Master’s in Sociology. She made her career in Boston, until a non-profit in Lawrence was lucky enough to get her in September 2012. That is when Evelyn became executive director of the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council. She brought 30 years of distinguished non-profit and public sector management skills and an exceptional reputation with her. Evelyn came to Lawrence from the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development where she lead a staff of 200 and managed a $100 million-plus budget. During her tenure as Chief of Neighborhood Development, Evelyn was instrumental in bringing $50 million in additional resources to assist in redevelopment of housing and addressing foreclosures in Boston. Prior to that, from 1990 to 2008, Evelyn was executive director of Nuestra Communidad Development Corporation in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Under her leadership, a once-failing agency was transformed to one of New England’s premier community development corporations. She played a similar role as Executive Director of the Hyde Park YMCA in Boston. It was in poor physical and financial condition when Evelyn accepted the challenge to revive it—which she did very successfully.

Evelyn was nominated by Bill Parkinson, who reports to her in his role as Director of Development at Greater Lawrence Community Action Council. “She has made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of people in her career,” Bill said, adding that Evelyn is a caring and compassionate leader who has committed her life to helping children and families live better lives. In addition to her professional work, Evelyn has volunteered countless hours and her impressive expertise to the Mass. Housing Investment Corporation, the Boston Homelessness Prevention Steering Committee, and the Governor’s Homelessness Prevention Task Force. She has served as a Trustee of Boston Main Streets Foundation, and has served as chair of the Boston Private Industry Council, President of the Board of Directors of Third Sector New England, and chair of the Investment Committee of the Mass Housing Investment Corporation.  This is not even a complete list of the organizations Evelyn has volunteered for in order to bring better housing and public services to those who need them most. The community of Lawrence is indeed fortunate to have her.


Marlene Hoyt
Executive Vice President Construction Lending Director, Enterprise Bank

Marlene heads Enterprise Bank’s construction lending department. She is invested in good relationships with her clients, always focused on personalized quality service, and deeply involved in community service. As Marlene puts it, “When you are working with a relationship you are aware that decisions do not solely impact the individual you may be working with; they extend to their family, the families of their employees and the broader communities their business serves.”  Marlene studied business at Northeastern University and is a graduate of The New England School for Financial Studies at Babson College, an executive training program for bankers. She joined Enterprise Bank in 2001 and has been a major contributor to its growth and success.  Alison Burns, the bank’s Vice President of Community Relations and Customer Experience, nominated Marlene. Alison described Marlene as “quiet but determined” and noted the long, impressive list of professional and community organizations that Marlene has served over her 30-year career.

Marlene serves on the Andover Economic Development Council and the finance committee of Edgewood Life Care Community in North Andover. She is Past President of the Merrimack Valley Chamber’s Greater Lawrence Revolving Door Fund, and served on the scholarship committee of the Lynnfield Business Coalition, and the board of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. She is a member of the National Association of Home Builders and a life director of the Northeast Home Builders and Remodelers Association. She frequently serves on panels and makes presentations on construction and commercial lending in the Greater Boston area, and is highly regarded as an expert in the industry. Marlene said, “Non-profit engagement has always been important to me.”  In her 20s, when she was on the board of a local VNA, she was in awe of the care and compassion VNA staff provided to individuals and families as they confronted serious health issues and end of life care. Sadly, those issues became part of Marlene’s and her children’s lives ten years ago, when her husband’s battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease came to an end. Marlene said that the “strength, dignity and humor her husband displayed during his battle gave my son Alex, my daughter Devon and myself the courage to move forward during his illness and after he lost his battle to ALS.” She said the support they received during their most trying time–from family, friends, community and the Enterprise Bank community–reinforced her passion and commitment to volunteerism.


Patti Lessard
Director of Operations and Programming, Strongwater Farm Therapeutic Equestrian Center

Patti is Director of Operations and Programming at Strongwater Farm Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Tewksbury. Patti’s nominator, Chris Perley, is on the board of Strongwater Farm. He gives Patti credit for accomplishing great things in the four years she has been there. She had many years’ experience in similar positions in Illinois and Florida.  According to Chris, Patti has the farm running more efficiently and safely, has inspired teamwork among the staff, improved fundraising efforts, expanded the programs to benefit a broader range of individuals, and reached many more individuals than ever before. Even the horses are healthier, happier and more reliable, thanks to Patti’s skillful management, he said. As a result of Patti’s knowledge, tireless efforts and leadership, the mission is being realized every day, “to enhance and enrich lives by providing education, physical activity, social opportunities, and emotional support”  to those who can benefit from equine therapy, according to Chris.

The only full-time employee at Strongwater Farm, Patti oversees 14 part-time staff and 300 volunteers—and of course, the horses—currently a herd of ten!  Patti is certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) as a PATH Mentor, and an Advanced PATH Instructor. She is a certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning, and a Special Olympics Coach. Only five years old when she first got on a horse, she did so “screaming and crying in fear of the horse named Charlie Brown,” she said. But she is forever grateful to her father for putting her on that horse, despite her protest. Patti moved from New England to Florida and back again, working various jobs. When she was introduced to Therapeutic Horsemanship in Naples, FL, she knew it was for her. Her first client was a recovering addict and former drug dealer, who had lost both hands and fee to frostbite. She said after a year of equestrian therapy, he became a motivational speaker, who now reaches thousands of youth in Florida middle schools and high schools. At Strongwater Farm, Patti and her staff of certified therapists work with recovering addicts, as well as veterans, at-risk youth, survivors of  violent crime, and people young and old, living with dementia, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and other disabilities. Patti is proud that she was able to open the first therapeutic riding center in Azerbaijan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, where children with disabilities are now enjoying therapeutic horsemanship.


Julie Little
Branch Manager/Officer, The Savings Bank

Julie is the oldest of four children who were raised in Methuen in a strict Catholic family with parents she describes as “deeply religious and always giving of themselves.” Julie credits her commitment to community service and volunteerism to her parents’ example.  “I had a couple of the best teachers in life—my parents,” Julie said. “I have always loved the idea of helping the little guy and doing what I can to make things better for someone else,” she said. Julie has been branch manager at The Savings Bank Methuen branch for three years. Julie’s supervisor, Bruce Donovan, Senior Branch Administrator for the bank, nominated her for the Tribute to Women, recognizing that she is “always open, honest, extremely caring and wants to succeed by showing her staff how to succeed.”  Bruce said she demonstrates a passion for wanting everyone to succeed—herself, her staff, her customers and the bank.

Aside from her outstanding performance for The Savings Bank, Julie devotes tremendous time and energy to volunteer work. “Thankfully, my job allows me the opportunity to be involved in my community,” Julie said.  “I have never known anyone as involved in the Merrimack Valley as Julie is!” said Bruce. She is on the board of the Methuen YMCA, a member of the City of Methuen Community Development Board and on the board of Neighbors I Need. Last winter, Julie organized the Neighbors in Need hat and mitten drive for the homeless. For the past two years, she has organized its holiday meals project. “I was introduced to Neighbors In Need about 13 years ago,” said Julie. “I wondered what it would be like if my children or I did not have the most basic necessities of life.  What if I had to choose between food or heat or rent? I can’t begin to imagine. Can you?”  Julie loves the organization because it gives without judgment and allows people to keep their dignity. She also volunteers for Si, Se Puede, where she has collected and filled backpacks with schools supplies, and also collected clothing.  Julie goes to local high schools and non-profits to teach basic banking courses, and she is a member of the Methuen Rotary Club.


Andrea Luppi
Manager of Communications and Community Relations, Columbia Gas of MA

Veterans occupy a very special place in Andrea’s heart. It is no wonder, since she and her four siblings were raised mostly by their mother, who never knew if Andrea’s father was MIA or if he was even alive. Then, in 2007, Andrea lost her husband Eddie, a Vietnam vet who died of causes related to exposure to Agent Orange. Andrea’s devotion to veterans’ causes was recognized in 2015 when she became the first-ever honorary veteran of New England Liberty Veteran House in Lawrence, a service organization for veterans. Andrea works closely with Jamie Melendez, the City of Lawrence Veterans Services Officer, on many projects, including the Veterans Day Lunch that honored 200 local vets. When Andrea’s husband came home from war, it was a time when veterans were not respected or welcomed home as vets are today. “In his memory I’m committed to veterans’ organizations, both from a company standpoint, and a personal one. If Eddie were still here, he’d be supporting our military, so to honor him in my own way, I do what he cannot.” Professionally, as a manager of community relations for Columbia Gas, she ensures the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion of all.

In 2008, Andrea and daughter Jessica honored Eddie by creating the Edward Vancini Luppi Memorial Library Fund. It funded a new a library at the S.A.F.E. School in Springfield, MA where Jessica was a special education teacher at the time. Now, the Memorial Fund has grown to the point where it donates to preschool programs, teen parenting programs, Dress for Success graduates and other non-profits that provide books for children and adults alike. The fund honors Eddie’s love of children. Andrea said he was the favorite of his nieces and nephews—the adult always available to play. When they were young, their own children, Jessica and Thomas, waited anxiously for Eddie to come home from work—to let the fun begin, Andrea remembers. She is also actively involved in supporting Lazarus House in Lawrence, and Family Services of Merrimack Valley. Representing her employer, Columbia Gas, she serves of the board of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO and President Joe Bevilacqua nominated Andrea, saying that she is an extraordinary leader in the male-dominated power and utility industry, and she is  “always someone you can count on to lend a hand.”


Tricia MacDonald
Executive Administrative Assistant, Pfizer, Inc.

Tricia was raised in North Andover, the youngest of four daughters who have remained close—literally close, since they all remained in North Andover!  Among them, they have 12 children who Tricia says are more like siblings than cousins. She credits her strong sense of family, her work ethic and her strong Catholic faith to her parents. Although her father is deceased, her mother is a “young and healthy” 89-year-old, says Tricia, “and the strongest woman I know.” Tricia has two children, Ali (23) and Marco (20), and “a wonderful boyfriend, Jose.” She says they love hosting celebrations when the house is overflowing with family and friends.  Since 2013, Tricia has been Executive Administrative Assistant to Site Leader Jon Tucker at Pfizer’s Andover campus. More than a workplace, it’s a 70-acre community where over 1,000 people work. Kristen Eagleston, who nominated Tricia for the Tribute to Women, said Tricia is a leader in this community and “carries a heavy load.” She coordinates several annual site-wide events, collaborates on projects with various departments, is the key leader among administrative staff on site, and still goes above and beyond with her willingness to help with anything that comes her way. Tricia moved to the Andover site in 2004 from Pfizer’s Cambridge site, where she was assistant to the Site Lead/VP of Medical Research Oncology. Tricia’s patience and a passion for excellence shine through in her work and her desire to improve the working environment for all, according to Kristen.

Pfizer’s Andover site is large, so there is an expectation that it should give back to the greater community, Kristen said. Tricia is one of those who exemplify Pfizer’s spirit of giving. She is a driving force behind the Work to Learn program for intellectually challenged students from Andover High School. In 2014, it began with four students and now has 25 students participating.  These 17- to 22-year-old special needs students gain hands-on experience in Pfizer’s business environment.  They receive training, perform meaningful work, and most of all, build self-confidence. “Tricia has organized, inspired and continues to motivate these students,” Kristen said. As for Tricia, she says it is the most rewarding project she has had the pleasure of being part of. “I feel privileged to be on the team that works with the students daily, assigning them projects and guiding them as they work in the office supply room, the mail room, or security,” Tricia said. She is thrilled to see how the students have grown over the past three years, and very excited that the Work to Learn program is so successful that Pfizer intends to replicate it at some of its other sites.


Dale Makowski
Vice President, BCM Coordinator, Eastern Bank

Dale moved around a lot as a child, graduated from high school in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and then earned a business degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.  Thirty years ago, she and her husband John settled in North Reading. Today, with children who are 22 and 25, Dale says she is grateful that she was able to raise a family with a “firm foundation in and connection to their community.” She is also grateful to Eastern Bank for the “wonderful career” that has allowed her to balance work and family—a tough balancing act. Dale joined Eastern Bank 1990. She has worked her way up through several progressively responsible positions. According to Thomas “Doc” Daugherty, Regional Branch Manager and Vice President for Eastern Bank who nominated her, Dale’s steady career advancement is due to her “commitment to her work, her fun personality, and her desire to learn.” In 2006 she became a Vice President and Risk Management Officer, focusing on business continuity management. This means she oversees the planning, testing, and effective execution of all systems that might be interrupted by storms or any other type of service interruption. Dale was part of the team that developed Eastern Bank’s Corporate Recognition Program and the high standards of service that it rewards. Doc says that Dale’s contributions over 25+ years with the bank have touched bank staff and customers in a positive way in many areas.

Dale lives by precepts, one of which is “the old Boy Scout motto—always prepared.”  It obviously applies to her professional duties, but Dale applies it to financial literacy education, too, which is one of her passions. She believes that if you are accountable for managing your money, and have a solid financial foundation, “then life isn’t just ‘happening’ to you.” In other words, when you are prepared, say, with a savings account, then needing to buy a new appliance or repair a car is a manageable event instead of devastating one. Dale has shared her passion for financial literacy education with the YWCA, and also has generously shared her time and expertise with Girls. Inc. and a number of school and youth service organizations. Dale sits on the board of directors of House of Hope, and House of Hope Housing, in Lowell. Dale has sat on numerous committees at her church, and currently is a member of the Finance Committee.


Kerry Morrison
Andover Girls Lacrosse and Field Hockey Coordinator, Andover Youth Services

In fifth grade, Kerry was introduced to a sport that has had an enormous impact on her life. Lacrosse was new at her school, so new that the coach showed up for the first practice with a book entitled, “How to Play Lacrosse.”  Kerry said they huddled around the coach and the book, reading aloud and looking at the illustrations—everyone learning together. Her coach had the heart and determination, and none of them gave up. Kerry remembers it as an early experience in learning how sports could bring great enjoyment and camaraderie. Later, Kerry played lacrosse for Gov. Dummer Academy and then at Roanoke College. She was part of the Lacrosse All Conference in 1992 and 1993, and she was a Lacrosse First Team All American in 1994. Kerry said what she really loved the most was being part of a team. She was honored to be captain of the Governor’s varsity team her senior year of high school, and captain of her college team for two years. “Being chosen as a leader by my peers gave me the responsibility I craved and needed. I wanted to inspire my teammates to do their best, play to their potential, and fight to the end!” Kerry said.

Today, Kerry is Andover Girls Youth Lacrosse Coordinator, 34 years after first picking up a lacrosse stick. Mother of two boys, Kerry says coaching girls is “tons of fun.” But it is about more than just lacrosse. “I’m grateful to be a positive role model, and to help build players’ self-confidence. I make every effort to let the girls lead and to provide them with tools to be strong, independent young women,” Kerry says. Cindy Hansel Sherlock nominated Kerry, citing Kerry’s energy, motivation, encouragement, respect, and team-focused discipline. She credits her with turning the lacrosse program around, creating a competitive program that fosters personal growth among young girls as much as athletic improvement. Cindy says Kerry connects personally with every team member, doing whatever she can to empower them, regardless of lacrosse talent. Kerry also coordinates Andover girls’ field hockey for grades 3 to 8, and will soon take over the Andover girls travel basketball team. “I’d like to help girls create memories and experiences to take with them through their lives,” Kerry said.  She considers it her chance to thank all the strong women who paved the way for her.


Wanny Muňoz
Director of Programming, Chica Project

Wanny is a Lawrence native with family roots in Manganagua, a town near the Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo. A  Lawrence High School graduate, she got a degree in Business Administration from Stonehill College in 2013. Wanny taught math at her alma mater, Lawrence High School, for one year.  But she left full-time teaching and committed to a year of AmeriCorps service.  “As a first-generation college graduate, with immigrant parents, leaving a full-time job to work for ‘free’ was the opposite of ideal career advancement,” Wanny said. But “in the midst of pouring my heart and soul into every minute of those 1,800 service hours at the Chica Project,” I witnessed firsthand how a nonprofit runs and I was privileged to be a leader at an empowerment and leadership organization for young Latinas in Massachusetts, and gain skills in leadership development, program management, and community engagement.

Chica Project is a volunteer-based organization founded in 2011. Since then, it has paved a path for over 400 young Latinas toward success in education, careers, and leadership. Wanny was charged with launching the Project’s mentoring program, and she did that and much more!  Chica Project’s intergenerational mentoring component is now one of its great strengths. She led the shift in youth programming to a school-based model, another success. In 2016, she brought a chapter of Chica Project to Lawrence High School!  With her father, Ruben Munoz, she created UWander, the learning and community service component of Chica Project. Partnering with a sister school in Manganagua, Chica Project participants travel there to do community service for one week, engaging the community to work with them. In just two years, over 350 Manganagua residents have participated.  Wanny is an optimist.  “Every day I choose to be an optimist, and I also choose love, gratitude, and transparency as a lifestyle,” she said. “My life’s work is becoming a self-expert using my creative process and knowledge to inspire social impact. I’m always relentless in following my gut and listening to my heart.”  El Planeta, the Boston-based Spanish-language newspaper, recognized Wanny as one of 2016’s most influential young Hispanics, and named her one of their “Power Under 30” honorees. Sarah Young, who nominated Wanny, says she has exceptional motivation, enthusiasm, strong leadership and devotion to community. Indeed, Wanny also serves on GroundWork Lawrence’s Advisory Council, is a former board member there, and was also a GWL Green Team member.


Ruth Ogembo
Director, Teen BLOCK Program, Lowell Community Health Center

Ruth remembers the exact moment in her childhood in rural Kenya that sparked her passion for social justice and service. It was after a family dinner. To his credit, Ruth’s father rejected the custom of men eating in a separate room where women or children were not allowed. He always shared meals with his family. When an elderly friend of his was invited to dinner, the guest was clearly unhappy to be sitting down with a woman and four children. After dinner, Ruth’s mischievous brother popped a milk carton—making a loud boom behind the visitor’s chair. It startled him and gave him the perfect excuse to scorn Ruth’s father for his unconventional practice. Ruth’s father told him that sharing his meals with his wife and children was the practice in his home, and if the visitor disapproved, he was welcome to leave. Later, Ruth’s father sat her on his lap and said, “Don’t ever let anyone look down upon you because you are a woman. Always stand for what is right, regardless of what’s going on around you.”

Ruth earned degrees in Biology and International Affairs, and a Master’s in Public Health, all from University of New Hampshire. She is now Director of Lowell Community Health Center’s Teen BLOCK Program, a program that educates and empowers teens to view health holistically. With her MPH degree and a deep understanding of the social determinants of health, Ruth feels well-positioned to direct the program, she said. BLOCK stands for “building leadership opportunities in the community.” It targets very specific needs of Lowell teens. For example, Journey to Healing is for Southeast Asian youth from families affected by the Khmer Rouge genocide. Afro-Fusion gives teens with African roots a chance to learn about and celebrate various African cultures through arts and cultural enrichment. Under Ruth’s direction, Afro-Fusion blossomed from just a few teens to a robust group, more than half of African descent. Sheila Och, Deputy Director of Lowell Community Health Center, nominated Ruth. “Her work over the past year to address racism and build community trust deserves recognition,” said Sheila. “Ruth has facilitated very difficult and meaningful discussion about race, racism, equity and equality, engaging multiple community partners.” Sheila calls Ruth “passionate toward her work, exceptional at dealing with complex issues, and tireless as an advocate for teens, focused on social justice, non-violence and encouraging student achievement.” Shelia added, “Ruth is incredibly humble!”


Leah Okimoto
Executive Director/Founder, Aaron’s Presents

Leah’s parents gave her love, stability, and a directive to “think big.” She has always believed there is no reason to take “no” for an answer, to limit her dreams, to be afraid to take risks, or to fail. “I grew up thinking there was nothing standing in my way,” said Leah. When a new idea presents itself, Leah starts at “yes” and then sets about figuring how to get it done. Leah knows some of the big dreams never come true, but she believes there is power in having permission to dream big in the first place. Along with her confidence in her personal power, Leah says the other gift that matters most to her is empathy. Even before she knew the word, she understood what empathy was and has cared deeply about people—sometimes sharing their feelings on an inexplicable level. Leah says this has played out when she composed music for musical theatre. She has a name for this combination of gifts—empathetic empowerment.

Leah’s first big dream was to be a songwriter, although her passion today is quite different. Three of Leah’s musicals are still being staged throughout the country, but she has moved on to another dream that grew from a tragedy. She and her husband Dan have two daughters, Alison and Rebecca, 8 and 2. But in 2013, they lost a newborn son, Aaron, after only 8 days. Even while mourning her baby, Leah knew she wanted to create a positive legacy for him. That’s when Aaron’s Presents was born, a unique non-profit that empowers children in 8th grade or younger to know the joy of giving and experience the “ripple effect of positive energy,” says Leah. Aaron’s Presents provides individual mentoring, logistical help, and materials and services for the philanthropic projects of children who create projects that benefit other people, the environment, or animals. Aaron’s Presents has supported projects in several elementary and middle schools, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lawrence and Lowell, YDO Lawrence, Si Se Puede in Lawrence, and Girls Inc. It has enabled over 500 children to complete 189 service projects benefitting over 60 community partners (including the YWCA!) and about 19,000 individuals. Brenda Bryan, who nominated Leah, said she is “talented and intelligent, a Harvard graduate . . . tenacious, joyful, passionate, enterprising and open-hearted.”   Leah’s amazing efforts are inspiring a new generation, said Brenda.


Jan Lewis Plourde
Executive Director/Founder, The REAL Program, Inc.

Jan grew up in Beverly with six siblings. Their mother was British, very loving, and strong. She taught her children to lift up those around them so they, too, would have a chance to bloom and grow. The REAL Program, which Jan founded in 2013, does exactly that. Reading and Educational Assistance for Learning (REAL) bridges the gap between what Lynn schools offer during the school day and what parents provide at home. Plus, it also fills a gap created by the fact that Lynn, a city of 100,000, has only one public library and two thirds of its 18 elementary schools have no library. Jan is “a world changer,” says Linda Kennedy, who nominated her. She remembers when Jan was known as “the Book Lady” since she collected and gave books to children on her own. She is one of those special people who see a need and take action to meet it.  Like her mother before her, Jan recognized the need for learning, literacy and enrichment, especially for children of recent immigrants whose first language was not English. In the early ‘70s, Jan’s mother founded what is now the Beverly Children’s Learning Center. A British immigrant, she understood the immigrant experience, but did not have to face the challenge of learning English. Jan shares her mother’s concern for children and families whose first language is not English—about half of all Lynn households today.

The REAL Program has distributed over 50,000 children’s books since 2013. Every child who participates takes a book home every day. This gives their siblings and families access to the books, too. The REAL-Mobile, a donated van, travels around the city picking up and distributing donated books at The REAL Program’s two sites and other sites in Lynn. Children not only receive a snack of fresh food every time they attend the program, but My Brother’s Table in Lynn provides meals that their families can also take home.  Over 4,800 meals have been served since 2013. Mass. Literacy, the nonprofit supporting literacy education statewide, named Jan a 2015 Mass. Literacy Champion. Linda said, “Jan is making an impact in the lives and futures of hundreds of families.” She knows that reading at a young age improves the ability to learn in all areas, and she is filling an important need for so many children.


Caitlin Rivet
Site Nurse Manager, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center

Caitlin is 29—with an exceptionally mature outlook for someone so young. “I may be only 29 years old, but I often feel I’ve lived a lifetime,” she says. “Conversely, as I think about how young I am and all I’ve done, I realize we live in a vast world and I have much more to accomplish.”  She earned a degree in Spanish, International Studies and Latino/Latin American Studies, with plans to go to medical school. She studied in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, worked on public health projects in South Africa and Nicaragua, and at a mobile health clinic in rural Oklahoma. Realizing that she wanted a career focused more holistically on patients, Caitlin chose nursing school instead of medical school, earning her BSN degree through the accelerated program at Mass. College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Before nursing school, she spent three years as an EMT and a security guard at a busy urban hospital. Not surprisingly, with her multi-faceted experience and education in healthcare, Caitlin was offered a nursing position right out of nursing school.  She has rapidly worked her way up at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center from staff nurse to charge nurse to site nurse manager. Her next step is a Master’s in Public Health at Boston University, beginning this fall.

Caitlin says she appreciates every step of her journey and incorporates her varied experiences into everything she does—and as she does so, her empathy grows. Serving others is central to her identity, she said, and it is her source of joy and meaning in life. Remarkably, even in the face of very bad news in mid-2016, Caitlin’s resolve to serve others and move forward on her journey remains strong and steady. She was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. Mary Lyman, Manager of Donor and Community Relations at GLFHC, nominated Caitlin. Mary says Caitlin has never wavered from her responsibilities as a leader, a nurse, or a friend, even in difficult times. Mary considers her to be “an inspirational leader and a strong woman . . . revered by the employees who report to her as well as by all GLFHC staff who know her.” Mary tells us that Caitlin goes beyond the call of duty every day, striving to help patients with more than just healthcare, showing extraordinary kindness and caring for everyone.

Anita Sapienza
Administrative Assistant, Shaheen, Pallone & Associates, P.C.

Anita is a Lawrence native, daughter of Italian parents who grew up during the Depression Era. They taught Anita to be humble and to appreciate the value of strong work, faith, family, country and friends. Anita is proud to say that she has “worked diligently for 51 years in the aerospace industry, sales, the stock market, and an international labor union—spending that past 29 of those years at the well-known Merrimack Valley accounting firm, Shaheen, Pallone & Associates in North Andover. Anita has the attitude, skill and temperament that a busy tax firm needs during tax season when there are long hours and high performance demands. According to Janna Hartley, who nominated Anita, “She approaches her work with optimism, care, and focus” always putting forth her best effort to ensure that the accountants, staff and clients are well supported.

Anita is also extremely dedicated and committed to her community service, particularly the Corpus Christi Parish community in Lawrence, Janna said. How does she find the time and energy to organize retreats, teach religious education, serve on the parish council, sing in the choir, and also serve as a Eucharistic minister? Not only that, she organizes the annual parish fair, a large fundraising event, and holiday parties and other events for the parish youth group. And  . . . she belongs to two women’s Sodality groups at Corpus Christi. And . . . Anita works every year with the North Andover Lions Club and the St. Alfio Society to maintain the great tradition of the Feast of the Three Saints. It has been celebrated with a parade and other festivities since 1921 in Lawrence—and since the 1500s in Italy!  Anita is part of the effort that creates scholarships for students from five high schools in Lawrence, Methuen and Andover. Anita says the key to success it to be happy with what you have and satisfied with your accomplishments, knowing that you have touched the hearts of many people along life’s journey. Clearly, Anita has done that in her professional and her personal life. And, according to Janna, Anita remains “humble beyond words.”