Member of the Month


ShannellCartgenaShanell Cartagena first participated in the WI Dollars Scholars program in 2013, when she appeared as a student speaker from Assumption College. Today, Shanell is an admissions counselor at Assumption, and continues to be active in WI, as a Dollars Scholar volunteer, and through her participation in Stepping Up for Girls and other WI-sponsored events and programs.

Shanell, who now resides in Worcester, is originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  Shanell is very passionate about getting more women into leadership roles and encouraging others to step up to ignite positive change around the world that addresses key challenges, such as poverty and inequality. Because making these changes begins locally and will take action from everyone, the Women’s Initiative is a great vehicle to begin working toward these important goals.

2017 February Members of the Month!

The Women’s Initiative of the United Way of Central Massachusetts has announced two appointments to its Leadership Council beginning July 1.

Leah Lamson

Leah Lamson will become chair and Kerri Melley will become vice chair. Both terms are for two years. Ms. Lamson will take over for Elaine Wright, who recently retired as vice president of business services at Webster Five.

Ms. Lamson, a media professional, is currently the managing director of the New England High School Journalism Collaborative and former editor of Worcester Telegram & Gazette. She spent 36 years at the T&G, starting as a reporter and working her way up to being named the first woman to serve as editor at the newspaper.

Ms. Lamson, a resident of Bolton, is a founding member of the Women’s Initiative and a member of the United Way of Central Massachusetts Governance Committee. Through her extensive career as a journalist, Ms. Lamson has the ability to lead effectively, based on skills that motivate, enthuse and build respect.


Kerri Melley

Ms. Melley, a financial advisor with Commonwealth Financial Group, will become vice chair. Prior to her career in financial services, she was a development professional for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Eastman School of Music, working in the areas of strategic planning and relationship management.

Ms. Melley of Worcester is the current vice chair of the Membership Committee. Recognizing that today’s women face a unique set of challenges when it comes to financial planning , Ms. Melley is passionate about helping women grow and preserve their wealth, while building their confidence in planning and managing their financial lives.

The mission of the Women’s Initiative is to ignite positive change for girls through philanthropy and women’s leadership. The Women’s Initiative is a volunteer-based women’s group whose vision is to be the premier women’s philanthropic and leadership group in Central Massachusetts funding programs that improve the lives of girls. It is part of a national trend of women engaging in philanthropy, organized to create a powerful force to effect change in society. Working with volunteer committees of community leaders, the Women’s Initiative has engaged more than 1,000 members and 2,000 donors. Raising funds for its work through an annual campaign, the Women’s Initiative puts money into programs that improve and empower the lives of girls through mentoring, educational opportunities, and financial literacy.

United Way of Central Massachusetts connects people and resources to improve the community by focusing on the building blocks for a good life: education, family stability, and health.

Strengthening Girls … Empowering Women


2016 April Member of the Month

This year, the Dollar $cholar program celebrates 10 years of providing Financial Literacy curriculum to 8th grade girls! Throughout those 10 years, hundreds of volunteer mentors have taught middle school girls about financial literacy, putting them on the path towards future economic independence! Meet WI Members Maureen Gray and Debbie Neal, who helped found the program and develop the curriculum.

Maureen Gray, Senior Wealth Strategist, The Gray Group

Maureen Gray is a founding member of the Women’s Initiative who attended the very first group meeting 12 years ago. She immediately knew that WI was the answer to her need to give back and motivate women philanthropists. “As my background is in education and finance, I wanted to bring some necessary skills to young girls just starting to form their money behavior habits,” says Maureen of her involvement in developing the Dollar $cholar curriculum. “The opportunity to initiate a financial literacy program was presented, so I seized upon it to help sponsor what is now the Dollar $cholar program. This program and many others offered by WI convinced me to stay involved, to work on the Leadership Council with professional women of similar interests, and to contribute in so many ways.” When Maureen is not working or giving back to the community, she enjoys spending time with her 6 granddaughters and grandson, who make her smile each day. She is also currently enrolled in oil painting classes at the New England School of Fine Arts, where she spends a few hours each week relieving stress with oils and canvas. Maureen has always thought the motto “Carpe Diem” signifies her outlook on life. “As members of WI, we seize every opportunity and explore every avenue to better the lives of the women and girls in our community.”

Debbie Neal, Director, Academic Budget & Operations, Holy Cross

Debbie Neal has been a member of the Women’s Initiative for 8 years, and throughout that time has been very involved in the Dollar $cholar program. When asked why she wanted to get involved in financial literacy training, Debbie said, “For me, time is my most valuable resource and it is important to me to volunteer where I feel I can make a difference. I don’t believe I am much different than most professional women. I was first drawn to financial literacy programs because of the benefits for adolescent girls. While it was personally rewarding to play a role in the growth of the program, it was most gratifying to see the ways in which the “scholars” related to the professional women who served as their mentors.” Debbie has also seen that the program benefits the mentors by providing them with a meaningful and engaging volunteer experience. Debbie also enjoys spending time with her family, and has recently become a new grandmother!

2016 March Member of the Month

Sarah Hovagimian, Sr. Rating Analyst, IDI Business Operations, Unum0308160950a

“Since you get more joy out of giving to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Sarah first became acquainted with the United Way and the Women’s Initiative through her employer, Unum. She became involved as a volunteer mentor at the Dollar $cholar
financial literacy conferences, giving her the opportunity to share healthy financial habits one-on-one with 8th grade girls. She says, “I am proud to be a part of the Women’s Initiative because of its focus on women’s leadership and philanthropy. The Women’s Initiative is one vehicle I rely on when investing in our community. I absolutely love what WI does for young professional women in our community – creating an environment for women to seek guidance from other successful leaders. I plan on staying involved by volunteering as a committee member and will stay active through Women’s Initiative events.”

Sarah loves being a redhead because “there are not as many of us. It ensures you will be remembered, it represents my Irish heritage, and people who have not seen me for years recognize me right away! This past June my husband and I went to Ireland for our honeymoon. Even though I was your typical American vacationer, I was stopped by many for directions to all the typical tourist spots (like Trinity College, Guinness Storehouse and other destinations) because I resembled so many of the native Irish citizens.”

2016 February Member of the Month

Laila Mhirig, Assistant Vice President/Branch Manager, Commerce Bank

“Don’t just stand for the success of other women … insist on it.” Laila is all about enabling women to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence, and to recognize and eventually use their resources and changes. As Assistant Vice President/Branch Manager at Commerce Bank, Laila is a person that has qualities and skills that you would like to emulate. As a Branch Manager, Laila provides first hand teachings that are not just lessons geared towards banking but more common than not, they manifest themselves in the form of life lessons that occurred in her own life. Laila immigrated to central Massachusetts from Morocco in 1998. Since then she has held many positions in retail banking and has been the Commerce Bank Holden Branch Manager since 2011. Commerce Bank strongly believes in giving back to the local community where she was first introduced to the United Way. Laila has always been passionate for helping others which lead her to the Women’s Initiative where she has been involved with Dollar $cholars and other mentoring programs. Laila understands the importance of young women learning about their finances and banking and looks forward to volunteering for many of the Women’s Initiative events. The mother of two young daughters, Laila is motivated to empower other girls in the community. In her free time, Laila enjoys spending time with family and friends and has a love for traveling and cooking.


2016 January Member of the Month

Aarti Madan, Assistant Professor of Spanish, WPI

We are excited to introduce you to Aarti Madan. Aarti has been a WI member for 2 years, and is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at WPI. Recently, Aarti told us a little bit about her work and the role WI has played in her personal and professional life: “I always wanted to be a literature professor because I knew I could see every corner of the world through books. What I didn’t know was that I’d eventually get to travel the work with students, opening their eyes to themselves and new places all at the same time. As an undergrad at Birmingham-Southern College and a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, my research took me to Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico. That work brought me to WPI, where I’ve had the opportunity to create a Study Abroad in Buenos Aires in which students experience both city and country as well as neighboring Uruguay and the magnificent Iguazu Falls. My mind is always blown seeing young people wide-eyed and giddy as they learn to speak a new language and experience a different culture. No wonder, then, that my husband (also a professor at WPI) and I have loved taking our daughter along on our adventures so far to Argentina, London, and Costa Rica. Not bad for a two-and-a-half year old! In her incisive and witty book of essays BAD FEMINIST (2014), cultural critic Roxane Gay lists thirteen rules for female friendships. “If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without same,” she writes. “It’s not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s okay for women to do it too.” I find this rule particularly relevant to how I see Women’s Initiative’s two-fold benefit in my life. Firstly, my work on the Community Impact Committee empowers young girls to make it through adolescence by relying on each other. And these relationships go beyond adolescence, which takes me to my second point: my friend circle within WI is about solidarity and support, whether that means arranging a professional talk or taking a meal to a friend with a new baby. We sustain each other, we collaborate, we are women that make ourselves and our societies better. “WI is a hinge that connects us.”

2015 October Member of the Month!

Alyson Whalen

Director of Women’s Economic Empowerment, YWCA of Central Massachusetts

AlysonAlyson Whalen has always been a Worcester native. She grew up attending both private and public schools, and she graduated from South High in 2002. She understands that, as an inner city teenager, having activists and youth workers who dedicate their time and efforts to help is extremely important. As the Director of Women’s Economic Empowerment at the YWCA, Alyson oversees the Young Parents Program, Transitional Housing Program, and Girls Choice. She believes in empowering women to achieve their goals and self-sufficiency through the empowerment model.

Alyson joined the Women’s Initiative about a year ago because of all that it embodies. The Women’s Initiative goal of “build, strengthen, and support the development of healthy, confident, and safe adolescent girls” is also her number one goal. It not only correlates to the work that she does at the YWCA but also in her everyday life as a mother. Alyson said “joining Women’s Initiative was a no brainer”, as she continues to strive to empower youth, young women, and especially these girls that will become our next leaders.

Alyson is also an MBA student at Clark University, focusing on Non Profit Management. She is also and mother to two children, ages five and seven. She loves the fall and everything about it: crock pot meals, apples, pumpkin recipes, hooded sweatshirts and the Patriots.

The Women’s Initiative is proud to have a member like Alyson making the community a better place for our future leaders.

2015 June Member of the Month!

Shirley Jane Williams


Shirley2Shirley Jane Williams is a founding member of Women’s Initiative. She has been actively involved in the work since 2003. Shirley is passionate about empowering middle school girls, saying, “I think girls should get all the help they can growing up!!!”.

Shirley was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, but she is a true world traveler. She was a shepherdess for an Israeli Kibbutz when she was 20, and she worked for Pan American World Airlines for 8 years, where she traveled the world and lived in New York, Hong Kong, and San Fransicso. She even met her husband Peter while skiing in the Austrian Alps! Shirley and Peter have 3 children, 3 grandchildren (all 5 and under!), a grand dog and even a grand horse.

Shirley loves travel, fly fishing, and gardening. She and Peter’s beautiful home, Brigham Hill Farm in North Grafton, boasts 5 acres of gardens, lawns, and water features. They add new gardens every few years. Shirley hosted the Annual Member Celebration at Brigham Hill Farm on Thursday June 11th. Thank you, Shirley, for all your work in the community and for opening up your home to Women’s Initiative!

2015 May Member of the Month!

Tammy Hessberger

Vice President, Personal Lines, The Hanover Insurance Group

tammy2Tammy has been a Women’s Initiative member for several years, and she will be an advocate for their work forever! Shortly after moving to Massachusetts to work for Hanover (a company that is incredibly involved in the community), Tammy found out about the great work the Women’s Initiative was doing. She was instantly impressed by their undying commitment to help girls develop confidence, knowledge, and opportunities to become strong, successful women.

Mentoring for Dollar $cholars feeds Tammy’s passion for helping people reach heights they did not think were possible. As a mentor, she is able to provide guidance, share experience and knowledge, build confidence, motivate, and celebrate success with the girls. Being part of this has truly been one of the greatest pleasures of her life. She says of her fellow members; “The members of Women’s Initiative are illustrious trailblazers. Their journeys are speckled with phenomenal experiences, challenges, and successes. They’re all very impressive and positive influences for me personally.”

Tammy loves people. She is full of energy and always having fun. Tammy believes in looking on the brighter side of things – it takes more energy to frown than it does to smile! In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, going to the beach, time with friends and family, and yoga. She gives back to her community as much as possible and has been a 12 year participant in the Avon 39 – Walk for Cancer.

Congratulations, Tammy! The Women’s Initiative is thrilled to honor your commitment to our community!

2015 April Member of the Month!

Amarely Gutierrez Oliver

Director of Domestic Violence Services, YWCA Central Massachusetts

AmarelyAmarely Gutierrez Oliver currently serves as the Director of Domestic Violence Services at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts. Economic justice is her passion, and she holds economic empowerment classes for survivors of domestic violence at the YWCA. She has been a member of the Women’s Initiative for 2 years because WI fits with her passion for empowerment. WI’s work provides hope for the future one step at a time, guiding us into a world where equality is the reality instead of just something we all wish for.

Amarely enjoys mentoring at the Dollar $cholar Conferences because she believes in the value of providing young women with financial literacy education. Programs like Dollar $cholar are stepping stones that help make great changes for our future.

A proud Salvadorian who migrated here with her family when she was 6, Amarely became a naturalized citizen in order to have the right to vote and help make positive changes in our community. She lived in Florida, but relocated to Massachusetts to join in the mission of the YWCA. When she first moved here, she had not seen snow in almost 10 years (but she has seen plenty since)! She has been a vegetarian for the last decade, but recently discovered she is a pescetarian because she eats fish. She loves dogs and has two of her own.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “I gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which I must stop and look fear in the face…I say to myself, I’ve lived through this and can take the next thing that comes along.” Amarely truly represents the words in her favorite quote. We applaud her passion to promote independence, confidence, and leadership through her work at the YWCA and as a Women’s Initiative volunteer and member!

2015 March Member of the Month!

Michelle Jones-Johnson

Sr. Human Resources Business Partner, Aetna

michelle2Shortly after Michelle Jones-Johnson arrived in Worcester, Patsy Lewis, former chair of the Women’s Initiative, invited her to coffee. After talking to Patsy and meeting WI co-founder Lois Green, she decided to join the Women’s Initiative, and has been a member ever since. The Women’s Initiative provided Michelle with a wonderful opportunity to share her passion for supporting girls and women toward leadership excellence with other dynamic women in the Worcester community. She has a desire to inspire others to develop and excel to their greatest potential.

The Women’s Initiative, as described by Michelle, means:

“I am whole. I am perfect. I am strong. I am powerful. I am loving. I am harmonious. I am happy.”

As a strategic Human Resources consultant for Aetna, Michelle is proud to work for an organization that is recognized for its commitment to advancing women in leadership. They partner with senior executives to align talent management, workforce planning and other human capital strategies required to drive organizational performance and resolve business challenges.

When Michelle is not working or inspiring others, she can be found watching the syndicated Peanuts television specials featuring Charlie Brown and his friends. The Women’s Initiative is proud to have dynamic and passionate members like Michelle!

2015 February Member of the Month!

Leah Lamson

Retired Editor, Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Telegram & Gazette, Editor, Leah Lamson in the newsroom at 100 Front Street in Worcester. (TOM RETTIG)

Leah Lamson, media professional and former editor of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, is a founding member of the Women’s Initiative. Prior to WI’s inception, Leah worked as a loaned executive for the United Way of Central Massachusetts, and later served on the United Way Board. So, when talk of starting a Women’s Initiative began, Leah jumped at the opportunity to be involved with the planning. She is passionate about WI’s focus on middle school girls. As someone who grew up in a family of three girls and attended an all women’s college, helping girls achieve their goals really resonates with her. After spending over 25 years at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Leah decided to change direction, but one thing that has remained constant is her passion for the community. She finds the camaraderie of the other WI members exceptional. When thinking about the Women’s Initiative, its many accomplishments, and the wonderful friendships she has made, she always thinks of the saying, “If you want something done, find a busy woman.” This truly exemplifies the spirit of the Women’s Initiative and its members. When not helping out in the community, Leah enjoys pursuing a variety of athletic endeavors – something instilled in her by her father, who was a standout high school and college athlete. She is known for her “MLB” baseball throw and makes a point to Slalom ski (one ski) each summer on Squam Lake in New Hampshire just for bragging rights. Women’s Initiative is thrilled to announce that Leah will be assuming the leadership roles as Vice Chair starting July 1.

2015 January Member of the Month!

Renata Lech

A US Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration, Senior Investigator

LechRwebRenata Lech, a US Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration Senior Investigator, joined the Women’s Initiative in 2011. She first became involved as a mentor, passing on a wealth of knowledge about finances, gathered from her father, onto young women through the Dollar Scholar Program. She believes in the valuable lessons that young women need to learn in order to make thoughtful and informed decisions.

A good friend gave Renata a poem years ago, that has resonated with her ever since. The Bridge Builder is a story of an old man who has to cross over deep canyon with water running through it. The man crosses the ravine and when he reaches the other side he builds a bridge. A person observes his act and asks why he would stop to build a bridge when he has already gone through? An old man answered that the bridge is not for him but for those who will follow behind.

Renata also spends her time helping to preserve St. Mary’s School in Worcester, which holds a special place in her heart. She holds a connection to those that founded the school a century ago, as she is a naturalized U.S. Citizen that emigrated from Poland. The proud parent of two students, she feels privileged to have the opportunity to assist other students, alumna, and the school with their marketing and fundraising efforts.

Aside from giving back to the community, Renata has a love for reading and a thirst for knowledge. Commuting to Boston every day, she uses books as an escape to take her to a different place and live in the thoughts of others.

Inspired by mentors that offered advice and allowed her to learn from their mistakes, Renata has become a bridge builder for future generations. She believes that, “The Women’s Initiative provides all of us with a vehicle to work together as bridge builders. We can share openly and help others willingly and by doing so we can advance the lives of our children, neighbors, friends and colleagues.”

2014 December Member of the Month!

Quontay Turner

Outreach Coordinator for Diversity Programs, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

qt_head_shot_2013Quontay Turner began her endeavors at WPI as a student, graduating in 2011 earning her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies. Since, she has held many positions within the WPI community, which have ultimately led to her current position as Outreach Coordinator for Diversity Programs. She develops, implements and assesses diverse programs and events that focus on inclusion for the entire campus community, and specifically underrepresented populations.

Quontay became a member of the Women’s Initiative at the suggestion of a colleague, Crysanthe Demetry. She, like the Women’s Initiative, defines success as the ability to give back and help young women. She credits much of her success, to programs like the Women’s Initiative, for helping her achieve and succeed in her position.

Aside from her hard work and dedication to her alma mater, Quontay is an explorer of her community, event planner extraordinaire and chocolate connoisseur. She enjoys watching movies and football, especially the Patriots.

Women’s Initiative honors Quontay’s passion for giving back and helping young women!

2014 November Member of the Month!

Donna M. Truex

Real Estate and Environmental Practice Lawyer, Bowditch & Dewey

Donna Truex“Giving doesn’t have to be too big or hard, just start where you are, use what you have and give what you can, whether it be time, talent or treasure. All three are important and needed and no gift is too small. Together we can make a difference.”

Donna Truex has been a member of Bowditch & Dewey’s Real Estate & Environmental Practice area for over 15 years. She advises and represents clients in all aspects of commercial real estate transactions, including the acquisition, financing, development, permitting, construction, licensing, leasing and disposition of commercial and industrial properties.

Donna has been a community advocate and supporter of gender specific programming through the Women’s Initiative since 2006. Her real passion is empowering other women to develop their own definition of success. Donna’s belief in the rights and equality for both women and children is evident, as a board member of the Women’s Bar Association and YOU, Inc. Her commitment to these organizations led Donna to the Women’s Initiative and she has been a valuable member ever since.

Fun Trivia about Donna: While many may know Donna for her hard work in the court room, few may know her for her adventurous, try anything once (twice if she likes it) spirit. She’s a certified deep water scuba diver and has even jumped out of a plane! Her desire to continue learning has led her to Bay Path University, where she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in psychology.

2014 October Member of the Month!

Sue Mailman

President, Coghlin Electrical Contractors

Sue Mailman_PhotoWomen’s Initiative is thrilled to recognize Sue Mailman, owner and President of Coghlin Electrical Contractors, Inc., as our October 2014 member of the year. Sue’s dedication to our community makes her an advocate and model for younger women in the community. She is an award winning pillar of our community who is clearly an excellent example of the ideals and values of Women’s Initiative.

It is impossible to deny the effect that Sue Mailman has had on both the business world and the surrounding community alike. Her leadership over the years is truly admirable and worth commendation. Her dedication to the Women’s Initiative is evident, as she has been a member since inception. Perhaps what makes Sue so influential is the way she mentors aspiring leaders through experience of her own.

It is not often you meet someone who is as perfectly suited for the Lois B. Green Leadership award as Sue Mailman. A few words to describe Sue and what is important to her would be: community, leader, mentor, volunteer, philanthropist, and advocate. When Linda Cavaioli of the YWCA nominated Sue for this year’s Lois B. Green award, she said, “Sue is a sharp business woman who also has a soft spot for so many who survive domestic violence and turn their lives and their children’s lives, to economic self-sufficiency.” Her works exemplify the mission and goals of the Women’s Initiative and because of this Cavaioli adds, “Sue has a genuine connection to people of all levels in our community.”

Her hard work, dedication, and generosity are the reasons she is the current co-chair of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. Sue embodies what it means to be a great leader and her tireless work to drive social change in the community is appreciated by everyone she encounters. We congratulate Sue on receiving the 2014 Lois B. Green Leadership award and for setting the stage so that many young girls will one day have their own voice and become the leaders of our community.

Fun Trivia about Sue: Sue’s favorite cookie is the Oreo. She likes old houses, history, and gardening. Though she has little time to focus on her hobbies, she remains optimistic by seeing that lack of time as an opportunity to look forward to the moments she does!

2014 July Member of the Month!

Lois Smith

Area Development Director of Boston, UNCF

Lois Smith_PhotowebWomen’s Initiative is excited to learn that long-time member, Lois Anne Smith, just joined the Northern and Midwestern Development team of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) as the Area Development Director of Boston. Lois will support the 37 UNCF institutions by conducting annual, capital, and fundraising campaigns as needed. In addition to increasing contributions through donor stewardship and cultivation, Lois will also focus on increasing the visibility for the Boston and New England Area.

Anyone who has worked with or knows Lois personally can appreciate and celebrate this career move. Lois was raised in Boston (Roxbury and Dorchester), pursued a B.A. in Sociology from Northeastern University, and earned a M.Ed. from Antioch University. Lois brings to this position more than 25 years experience working in the nonprofit sector for various institutions and organizations including her recent role as the Senior Program Officer at the Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

When asked how she became involved in Women’s Initiative, Lois always answers “Lois Green.” Yes, Lois Green’s enthusiasm for Women’s Initiative was certainly infectious! Lois (Smith) became involved with Women’s initiative in 2007 because she “is passionate about issues affecting women and girls and saw this as a wonderful and exciting opportunity to “lean in “ and become an active participant in the effort.” She has since learned a great deal about the struggles and challenges that today’s girls and their families face in central Massachusetts and knows that her work with Women’s Initiative will make a difference in their lives. Upon joining Women’s Initiative, Lois quickly became involved in the Community Impact Committee and the Dollar Diva mentoring program (now Dollar $cholar). She was later invited to serve on the Coordinating Committee and she is still an active member of that committee today. Lois has played a substantial role in enhancing diversity among Women’s Initiative members by actively identifying and recruiting several women, particularly women of color. These women remain active members to date! Lois sums up her passion for the work that Women’s Initiative does by quoting the amazing, late Maya Angelou: “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

Lois also attributes her commitment to women and community issues to her late parents who instilled a value of service in her. In addition, Lois is the proud mother of one daughter and grandmother of two granddaughters, ages 12 and 14, who are not only the joy of her life, but a reminder of the importance of empowering girls to grow into strong women.

Please take a moment to join Women’s Initiative in congratulating Lois Anne Smith on her new position!

Fun Trivia about Lois: Lois was a former member of Greater Boston Community Gospel Choir and had the amazing opportunity to perform at Boston Symphony Hall and the Esplanade.

2014 June Member of the Month!

Kathryn Buckley

Disability Benefit Specialist, Unum

KBuckley_photo_webWomen’s Initiative is thrilled to watch Kathryn step up into leadership roles and embraces the energy, dedication, and perspective she brings to meetings and events. We congratulate her on her recent college graduation and her new position as a Disability Benefit Specialist at Unum, and look forward to watching her grow and lead a new generation of Women’s Initiative Members. Kathryn gives us great hope about the future of female leadership in central Massachusetts!

Despite the fact that Kathryn graduated from Assumption College less than one month ago, she has been a member of Women’s Initiative for 3 years, where she has served as a Dollar $cholar Mentor and recently joined the Marketing Committee. Kathryn is the youngest WI member to date to serve on a committee!

Kathryn majored in Economics with a Concentration in Business and minored in History. She graduated with Honors in the Foundation Program which provided her with opportunities to travel to Belgium, Holland, and Paris. Kathryn was a member of Assumption’s Chorale and co-president of the all-female a capella group, Major Treble. With Major Treble, she performed at events including Worcester’s Breast Cancer Walk and Assumption’s Relay for Life, and hosted a benefit to raise money for One Fund.

One of Kathryn’s favorite hobbies is playing golf. In high school, she played competitively and, during her senior year, she led her team to a top 5 finish at the state tournament. Today, she plays for recreational purposes. So if there are any golfers out there looking for a new partner…

2014 May Member of the Month!

Tamara Berry

Assistant to President, Coghlin Electrical Contractors

TBerry3You may know Tamara from her active involvement in Women’s Initiative and the Worcester community, from her position at Coghlin Electrical, or for the incredible cake she donated to last year’s Women’s Initiative Member Celebration (yes…she was the master behind that ganache). These three Tamara connections just scratch the surface of this incredible Women’s Initiative member who embraces many different aspects of her own personality and the adventures that life offers her.

Tamara is an active community volunteer – always lending a hand to her city, church, and family. At a very young age, Tamara’s mother instilled in her the importance of volunteerism and reaching out to meet the needs of others. In addition to Women’s Initiative, Tamara serves on the MLK Jr. Community Breakfast Committee and the MLK Jr. Scholarship Committee.

Tamara is an artist – celebrating her creativity through baking (cakes, cupcakes, cookies), knitting/crocheting, and sewing. Most recently, Tamara started sewing custom bow ties. She enjoys “creating something out of nothing.”

Tamara is an adventure seeker – continually seeking opportunities to try new things that are outside of her comfort zone. She got her license to ride a motorcycle, went target shooting, and participated in and completed her first Spartan race. Tamara also loves to travel. Don’t tell her mother, but next on her list is jumping out of a plane (oops just spilled the beans…).

Tamara is passionate about the work of Women’s Initiative: “Women’s Initiative understands that empowering young ladies doesn’t start in the workforce but at the school age level. I was privileged to experience first hand the importance of programs such as Dollar Scholar and how a seemingly simple game made up of real life situations help these young ladies to reason out their choices and how their choices (our choices) effect lives. I applaud the United Way’s Women’s Initiative for planting good seeds in the lives of girls, young ladies, and women. Your harvest WILL be plentiful.”

Women’s Initiative honors Tamara’s passion for empowering young women, and at the same time, values and celebrates the empathy, creativity, and adventurous spirit she brings to the community.

2014 April Member of the Month!

Sherri Greene Pitcher

Worcester Chamber of Commerce

SPitcher_photo_web2“I absolutely love living in this city and it is very important to me to be actively involved in the community; the Women’s Initiative has enabled me to contribute in a meaningful way. I am continually amazed by the incredible women involved with the United Way and the people I’ve met through the programs we support. They all motivate and inspire me!”

Sherri Greene Pitcher brings incredible energy, drive, and passion to everything she does. Sherri balances work, family, and community involvement with a smile on her face.

Sherri grew up in West Boylston and earned her B.A. from Fairfield University. After living in California for seven years, she returned back east with her husband to be closer to family. Sherri and her husband of 20 years, David, live in Worcester with their two children, Hailee (16) and Stephen (13), as well as a giant dog named Titan. Sherri loves Worcester and believes it is a great city to work, visit, and raise a family.

Sherri just started working for the Worcester Chamber of Commerce as the Director of Business Recruitment. In the past, Sherri was involved in the EcoTarium for seven years, co-chairing fundraising events and serving as a Corporator.

As if the work and family life were not enough, Sherri also teaches a fitness class and runs 5-6 miles every day with a fabulous group of women, “the runner girls.” Sherri loves to cook, particularly experiment with new recipes. And, yes, believe it or not, she loves to iron and fold laundry!

2014 March Member of the Month!

Alicia M. O’Connell

O’Connell & O’Connell, P.C. Attorneys at Law

Alicia OConnell_webIt is amazing how one member can impact the work of Women’s Initiative in such a short amount of time! Since joining Women’s Initiative just 18 months ago, Alicia has not only mentored at every Dollar $cholar financial literacy conference, but she has also reached out to non-member colleagues in the community to mentor with her. Recently, Alicia took her passion for the Dollar $cholar program to a new level by serving as Chair of the Financial Literacy Committee, where she will be able to use her passion for this work to continue building on the curriculum and program. Alicia also serves on the Member Cultivation and Education Committee where she seeks to not only grow the membership, but also make sure that new members enjoy being part of Women’s Initiative as much as she does.

Alicia was a Women’s Studies major at Bowdoin College. Before attending law school, she lived in Washington D.C. where she worked on the Campus Program at the Feminist Majority Foundation and in development at Women for Women International. Upon graduating from law school, Alicia launched her legal career in New York City. Because of the whirlwind nature of her new job and the general sense of anonymity in the city, she found it difficult to get involved with community organizations.

Upon returning to Worcester a couple of years ago, Alicia was looking for ways to get involved in community organizations that support women and girls. Not knowing where to start, a friend suggested she attend the annual Stepping Up for Girls event and, according to Alicia, “from that day, I have found ways to contribute to and grow from my involvement in the community.”

Alicia’s active role in Women’s Initiative has led to new relationships and opportunities. Through another mentor she met at a Dollar $cholar conference, Alicia become involved with the YWCA, where she currently sits on one of their committees and participates in fundraising activities for events including their annual Dance for Peace. She also volunteers at Girls, Inc. with other Women’s Initiative members. Alicia tells us, “It is incredible to see how the organizations in Worcester that work toward the same goal work together and support each other.” Alicia not only serves as a mentor, but through the Women’s Initiative, has found her own mentor, an attorney she met at her first Stepping up Event, who gives her professional advice and guidance.

2014 February Member of the Month!

Remembering Jeanne Curtis

Jeanne_Curtis_PhotoUnited Way of Central Massachusetts (UWCM) announced today that it has received a $300,000 gift from long-time friend and supporter, Mrs. Jeanne Curtis. This is one of the largest single gifts from an individual that United Way of Central Massachusetts has ever received. Mrs. Curtis treasured United Way’s role in helping those most in need in the community and, as a member of The Women’s Initiative, she took pride in supporting programs that improve the lives of local girls. During her life, Mrs. Curtis believed in the mission and work of United Way and, through this gift, United Way will create an endowment celebrating her legacy by investing in both Women’s Initiative and Community Safety Net programs for years to come.

“I’m delighted that Mrs. Curtis bequeathed this extremely generous gift to United Way of Central Massachusetts,” said UWCM President and CEO Tim Garvin. “We feel privileged to be able to carry on Jeanne’s passion of promoting women’s leadership and philanthropy and look forward to funding worthy programs that, in turn, will spread her legacy of caring for those in need.”

Having lived most of her life in Worcester, Mrs. Curtis graduated from Holy Name High School, attended Worcester Business School of Science, and received an Associate Degree of Nursing from Quinsigamond Community College. Her leadership left an enormous impact on the community and on the lives of friends and family who knew her best. Maureen Gray, Women’s Initiative member, remembers her friend: “Jeanne lived life to the fullest but always made time to find ways to help others. Through her association with the Women’s Initiative, she found a concrete way to affect outcomes. When asked for support, she readily agreed. She remains a true example of the spirit of philanthropy.”

2014 January Member of the Month!

Helen Shuster

Hshuster_photoFor Helen Shuster, Vice Chair of the Women’s Initiative Community Investment/Impact Committee, “girl-time” has a whole new meaning now that she is retired. Most importantly, it is the valuable time she spends with her treasured granddaughters. She also enjoys the additional time for some of her favorite activities including quilting, knitting, and making doll clothes for her granddaughters. Her other favorite “girl-time” activities include serving with women volunteers to make a difference in the lives of girls in the community.

Helen became a Women’s Initiative member when asked to serve on the Community Investment/Impact Committee several years ago and it opened a new world of opportunities. Her main philanthropic focus has always been children and women and she was excited to not only contribute financially, but also have the opportunity to be involved in the practical implementation of supporting the development of healthy, safe, and confident girls.

Helen enjoys visiting the funded agencies to see the girls in action and hear from the girls themselves how they value what they are learning. Getting to meet the dedicated staff who design and deliver these programs is an education in itself and it is an incredibly rewarding experience to see how Women’s Initiative support translates into confident, healthy girls.

When asked why her volunteer role is so meaningful, Helen states “For me, the Women’s Initiative serves as the center of a network of women dedicated to the goal of “building, strengthening, and supporting the development of healthy, safe, and confident girls.” From this center I have had the privilege of meeting and working with other women whose primary focus is improving the lives of girls. The work of the Women’s Initiative is intellectually stimulating, emotionally satisfying, and profoundly important.”

2013 December Member of the Month!

Mary Ritter

MRitterMary Ritter, Chief Strategy Officer at Fallon Community Health Plan, became a member of the Women’s Initiative when co-founder Lois Green “suggested” she do so. Mary thought back to childhood to explain her pathway to membership: “When I was in grade school, there was a rule. The boys could play in the field during recess, but the girls had to stay on the paved courtyard. I have five brothers and grew up playing in fields, so this seemed like a stupid rule. In fifth grade I organized a protest. I convinced all the girls to line up at the fence of the courtyard and chant. It went pretty well until I got hauled into the principal’s office. But in the end, the rule changed! Now, I’m married and have three sons. I have a lovely, strong, and very supportive mom, but I have spent practically my whole life living with only men. As a young professional, I eschewed events and efforts targeted toward women because I wanted to be treated the same way as ‘the boys.’” Now, the Women’s Initiative is one of Mary’s favorite networks to be a part of. She explained that she’s come to understand that the Women’s Initiative funds and produces programs that give local girls support, mentoring opportunities, and skills that they might not otherwise have. “And maybe they’ll start a protest and change a rule,” she added.

When asked what being a member of the Women’s Initiative meant to her, Mary recalled the Eleanor Roosevelt adage, “we must do the things we think we cannot do.” Mary believes the Women’s Initiative’s goal to build, strengthen, and support the development of girls through philanthropic efforts is bold. “The world around us is changing so fast that it’s almost counter to what we’re trying to do,” she said. “I worry that for all the advances we’ve seen in technology, it makes it harder to achieve our goal. But I know that this group of bold women is on the right track, no matter how hard it is.”

2013 November Member of the Month!

Anne Kruse

kruse_anne_photoAnne Kruse, Convention Sales Manager at the DCU Center, became a member of the Women’s Initiative after attending the 11th annual Stepping Up for Girls Event in September. When asked what being a member of the Women’s Initiative meant to her, Anne reflected on her life experiences. “I was a young, single mother for a few years and I have always felt that the difficulties I experienced during that time would somehow have a greater meaning,” she said. “Over the years, I have tried to find ways to help young women realize that even though life may be hard sometimes, your future can be anything you choose it to be if you believe in yourself. I truly feel that the Women’s Initiative has come into my life as another way to help young women be the best that they can be, and, at the same time, help me fulfill that greater meaning.”

Anne has been married for thirty-two years and is a mother of three and grandmother of six. When her children were young, she worked nights as a bartender so she could stay home with them during the day. When Anne’s youngest child went off to school, Anne’s new career started at the Beechwood Hotel, then Worcester County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and landed her at the Centrum Centre (now the DCU Center). Anne proclaimed, “I have always been a believer in Worcester and consider myself lucky that I am able to sell the DCU Center and the city on a daily basis.”

Anne serves as the Church Clerk at Greendale People’s Church. There she has volunteered as a Youth Group Leader, Junior/Senior High School Sunday School Teacher, and Camp Counselor, as she has always enjoyed working with teenagers.

2013 October Member of the Month!

Cheryl Lapriore

CHERYL LAPRIORE“Dress in self esteem, and you will always be in fashion.” That’s the sentence that comes to mind every time I think about my involvement with the Women’s Initiative and when I often re-read the quote from Sharon Rainey (see below). The Women’s Initiative is the catalyst for connecting with middle school girls at every junction of the lifecycle of their world at this impressionable and important time in their lives. In a manner of speaking, our directed giving for educational programs, grants and sponsorships helps our girls “find their voice” –

  • To speak up and manage bullying situations
  • To enhance their financial literacy so they understand the value of how to manage their own “treasure”
  • To focus on their health and wellness so they start each day with a smile to greet the world
  • To keep themselves safe in all circumstances in and all areas of their lives
  • To benefit from the mentoring of other youth and women who have their best interest at heart
  • To build that all important self-esteem that will carry them forward successfully beyond their middle school years

Frankly, I often wonder who benefits the most from being involved with this incredible organization started and energized by incredible women — the girls I see dancing on stage at our annual event or the woman who puts her head on her pillow at night that has the opportunity to contribute in some small way to keeping us all “in fashion”. – Cheryl Lapriore

Before you put on clothes, slide into heels, spray perfume, or accessorize to leave out the house and step into the world; there is a wardrobe that every woman must first put on. Bathe in forgiveness, dress in self-esteem, adorn yourself with praise, and slip into joy. If you are fully clothed in self-love, you will always be in fashion. – Sharon Rainey

2013 September Members of the Month!

Samantha McDonald

samantha-mcdonaldMy primary philanthropic interest is girls ages 10-20. I believe that establishing and bolstering health, skills and confidence in these girls pays dividends across nearly all areas of society.  (I want to say across all areas, because I haven’t thought of one that doesn’t benefit yet, but my training as a lawyer tells me not to make a blanket statement I can’t prove!)  This is particularly important during this age range, when so much of our society teaches girls that their value is measured by their looks and burgeoning sexuality.  I want girls to know that they are worthy, interesting and contributing members of society, period. The Women’s Initiative holds a special place in my heart because of its focus on funding programs that provide the room for girls to gain confidence in themselves, and to learn communication and informed decision-making skills.  Confident, educated young women who know where they want to go?  They are going to rule the world and it’s going to be a better place.  I couldn’t be more excited about helping make that happen!

I started out as a WI member and began volunteering in 2009 as a Dollar Scholar mentor.  From there, I became a member of the WI Financial Literacy committee and then a Dollar Scholar Facilitator.  Frankly, I doubt there is anything more important than teaching girls that their economic future is in their own hands:  they can get an education and earn more, that there are ways to help pay for college, that knowing where your money comes from and goes to is power, and that they can make any decision they want to but there are consequences.  Yes, you can buy that expensive handbag but do you have money saved for that AND a surprise car repair?  Ideally, these are lessons that they have learned from their parents and we are reinforcing, but too often parents haven’t learned these lessons either.  Women’s Initiative provides a girl’s first experience with budgeting and the first concrete discussion that education provides alternatives.

The Women’s Initiative also provides adult women of all sorts of stripes with an opportunity to work together to make Worcester a better community.  I have met many friends and business acquaintances who share my values through the Women’s Initiative.  The common focus on improving girls’ lives has had a side benefit of making my life happier and more fulfilling. – Samantha McDonald

2013 August Members of the Month!

Rose Hayes

Rose HayesI have been a member of the Women’s Initiative since its inception. It is incredible to be a part of 1100 women philanthropists that, in only 10 years, have raised over 3 million dollars to fund programs that have had a positive impact on adolescent girls in the Central MA community. From a participant’s perspective as both a mentor and now facilitator of the Dollar Scholar program it is amazing to see that “light bulb moment” when middle school girls understand the impact of choices they make about earning and spending money. I have also benefited personally from the many educational programs and volunteer opportunities offered to WI members. This year I am honored to be the Vice Chair of the Membership Cultivation and Education committee and I look forward to working with committee members to plan and implement exciting new activities and programs for WI members. – Rose Hayes

2013 July Member of the Month!

Pam Boisvert

New Board Chair

Pam BoisvertPamela Boisvert has been named Chairperson of the Women’s Initiative of the United Way of Central Massachusetts. For the next two years, Pam will lead the Women’s Initiative, United Way’s women’s leadership and philanthropy group that focuses on creating positive and measurable change for women and girls in our community. Ms. Boisvert is CEO of Massachusetts Education and Career Opportunities Inc., formerly Vice President of the Colleges of Worcester Consortium.

I am very excited to be chairing the Women’s Initiative of the United Way for the next two years. I am truly honored to be joining a dynamic group of women leaders in central Massachusetts who so willingly put their time and talent to work for such a worthwhile cause.

Promoting women’s philanthropy for the greater good of vulnerable girls and women in our communities is a very effective way of ensuring a brighter future for all. Women have made great strides in the last few decades, but there is still much to accomplish if we are to truly benefit from the strengths and abilities of half our population! The Women’s Initiative works to ultimately empower women to fulfill their potential and contribute to creating strong, vibrant communities. As the mother of 4 grown daughters and five granddaughters, I understand the importance of providing those opportunities to enable girls and women to fulfill their individual potential. Society benefits, the local community benefits, and their families benefit.

Due to the amazing commitment and perseverance of the founders and subsequent members of WI, much has been accomplished in the first decade. I look forward to helping to build on that solid foundation as we head into the next decade. The need is great, but the possibilities are endless. Please join us! -Pam Boisvert

2013 June Member of the Month!

Eve Gilmore

Board Chair 2011 – 2013

Eve_web“The Women’s Initiative of United Way stimulates leadership, invests resources, and challenges the community to develop the best strategies to serve young girls in our community. I am proud of the thousands of members and donors over the last ten years who have literally changed this community for girls and responded by providing a critically needed lens on the often tumultuous years of their early adolescence. Three million dollars raised and more than twenty new ventures and programs developed have created a solid foundational network to guide and mentor girls along their way and strengthen the resolve of women as philanthropists to change the world for the better.” Eve Gilmore

2013 May Member of the Month!

Meridith Wesby

Founding Member

Meredith“The Women’s Initiative has impacted my life personally and professionally. Ten years ago, when I should have been entering early retirement spending time at the golf course and checking off the many items on my bucket list, I co-founded Women’s Initiative and put those other personal goals on hold.

Professionally, the opportunity to start up Women’s Initiative came at the right time. I wanted to “make a difference” in the next stage of my life. As the perennial student, it was what I would describe as my Capstone Course. Creating Women’s Initiative enabled Lois Green and I to frame the processes and structure to develop an organization from a blank piece of paper using our education, our collective experience, and some of the values and ideals that were important to us.

Women’s Initiative also addressed a number of my own interests – middle school girls, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, financial literacy, women’s issues, women’s education, and women’s philanthropy. My work with Women’s Initiative was varied enough that I remained actively engaged long after the initial start-up phase with the creation of the Financial Literacy Conferences and the establishment of the collaborative model, Investing In Girls Alliance. I am excited to embark on the next 10 years with a focus on both meeting the girls’ needs and funding for the future where, once again, visibility on my part will be a developmental experience.

In the past 10+ years, I have taken away far more than I have given – a close friend in Lois and the camaraderie of talented women on a mission. During this tenth year, I celebrate the over 100 mentors and 230 girls participating in the spring Dollar Scholar conferences, the more than 1100 members of Women’s Initiative, and the $3+ million raised. I can honestly say that this journey has been a true Capstone course and I am looking forward to the next 10 years…” Meridith Wesby

2013 April Partner of the Month!

Ellen Davis

Clark University

Ellen Davis_Headshot_web“As a mentor for the All Kinds of Girls Program (AKOG) and as a member of Women’s Initiative, I have been given the opportunity and tools to create lasting bonds with a diverse group of young women who I otherwise, would not have known. Aside from being very personally rewarding, through my experience I feel confident that I have been able to positively impact girls from the community with the work the program does each Saturday. Whether we are discussing bullying or the media, AKOG allows us to examine ourselves and the world we live in to work to create a more empowered and less violent world. The thing that I appreciate most about AKOG is that, although I am the one serving as a mentor, I manage to learn something new from the girls each and every week. My experience has been invaluable and is something that I will carry with me long after I have graduated from Clark and the AKOG Program.” Ellen Davis

2013 March Member of the Month!

Dr. Melinda Boone

Superintendent, Worcester Public Schools

Mboone“The Women’s Initiative targeted and focused work with adolescent girls is providing critical support as we prepare all students for college and career readiness. The programs such as ‘Financial Literacy,’ along with support of various programs throughout the community which connect middle school girls to develop a greater understanding of the academic and social skills necessary to be successful throughout high school and beyond, are invaluable. It takes the full community to deliver a high quality 21st century education! The Women’s Initiative is a great partner with the Worcester Public Schools in its promise to deliver on that commitment!” Melinda Boone

2013 February Partner of the Month!

Alexander Diaz

Coordinator for Soles4Souls and Feet Need Shoes

A Diaz“I have been in the United States for 11 years and I have been so blessed. My former life in Puerto Rico was not very pleasant; growing up being bullied by my friends, not having enough money, and not believing in God. My life was a disaster. Since coming to the United States, I found the person that saved my life. Jamie Salisbury provided me with a life full of love and support; he brought me back to church. We have been so blessed with having the perfect home and an amazing life full of all the things that I never had before. I don’t want to take these blessings for granted and keep it all. It is so important to me and Jamie that we put ourselves second and give others the opportunity to be first. Collecting shoes gives me the sanctification the I am giving back …it is my job to try to bless as many people as I can like I was blessed. After collecting 120,000 pairs of shoes, I learned that it is not about the shoes, but about taking the time to make the difference and help those in need. Feet Need Shoes is the continuation of what we did in the past and what we will do in the future. ” Alexander Diaz

2013 January Members of the Month!

Grace Hall & Kaley Smith


Kaley & Grace Best_web1“In college it was easy to find a diverse set of opportunities to serve my local community. Upon entering the “real world” last fall, I always wished my job permitted me to do more for the community. When Kaley and I were asked to be a part of Saint Gobain’s United Way team for the fall campaign season, I quickly agreed, knowing this might help fill the missing gap I’d developed since starting work. The more Kaley and I became involved on the Saint Gobain campus, the more we thought helping United Way, in particular the Women’s Initiative, was a great opportunity. Empowering others has always been a passion of mine. We’ve all been blessed with varying gifts, but many times, particularly in women, these gifts are under recognized. It’s really amazing to think that we may have the knowledge, advice, or tools to inspire and help other women recognize and put their gifts to use.” Grace Hall, Marketing Specialist, Saint-Gobain”I joined the United Way team as part of a fundraising campaign at Saint-Gobain, but as Grace explained it was really about something bigger for me. I had always been involved in the community and, since moving to Worcester, I had been trying to find an opportunity to do so. The United Way was a great fit for me: I was able to encourage my colleagues to support a wonderful cause. Grace and I were fortunate to become connected with Anne Wettengel who introduced us to the Women’s Initiative. The Women’s Initiative was everything I could have hoped for: an association of inspiring people empowering young women in many ways, including fostering a love of science and technology. As a female engineer, I know the path can be difficult for women in this industry, but with the support of many people I was able to make it though, and I am looking forward to being that support for other young women.” Kaley Smith, Process Engineer, Saint-Gobain