Lawrence Leads

An Executive Leadership Development Program for Leaders of the City of Lawrence.

Hosted by Harvard Business School.

Themes and Program Content

Founded in Lawrence in 2018, the Lawrence LEADS program was a pilot initiative incubated by the Lawrence Partnership, in collaboration Jeff Bussgang, Pam Hallagan and others connected with the Alliance for Business Leadership and Harvard Business School.


The program invests in a cohort of area leaders as a key strategy of investment in the city of Lawrence, building both the capacity of individual leaders as well as the connectivity among them and their ability to work together for the broader good.


LEADS combines the academic rigor of a Harvard Business School course with experiential learning opportunities in Lawrence and Boston, helping participants develop skills to better position their businesses and organizations for growth, while also building their capacity and commitment as civic leaders. Through its success, the LEADS program has scaled regionally, with programming across the Merrimack Valley and beyond.

For more information on LEADS, visit here.

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Business and Economic Development Director

City of Lawrence, MA

Abel Vargas is the Business and Economic Development Director for the City of Lawrence, MA. Mr. Vargas has served in this role for the last 4 years leading efforts on behalf of the Lawrence as it looks to boost economic activity.  During his time with the city Mr. Vargas has worked with multiple housing developers as they bring 1,000+ units of housing online.  His skill sets include business attraction, marketing, business site location assistance, and assisting businesses gain access to financing. Currently, he is managing efforts to revitalize a 1.5 mile rail corridor that has long been abandoned into a multi-use corridor.  He is also leading efforts on marketing, site cleanup of contaminated parcels, and a downtown parking study.  Mrs. Vargas holds a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Massachusetts at Lowell and is near completion of a Masters of Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University with a concentration of Community and Economic Development.  In addition to these activities Mr. Vargas is a board member of the Merrimack Valley Investment Board.  Mr. Vargas resides in Lawrence with his wife and two children.

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Andreina Viera, a Lawrence resident forever 20+ yrs & mom of 2, was used to managing the infrastructure of busy businesses. With over 15 years of experience in the administrative world, she has worked in the offices of industry leaders in textile, fashion, food, health and education. In her different administrative roles, she managed departments and assisted Directors, Presidents and Department Heads at companies such as DKNY, Nestle U.S.A., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In each of these roles she worked on teams that achieved their goals of success, learning about the inside workings of business along the way. In the height of her corporate career, she wanted to spend more time with her children while also becoming as effective in her community as she had been in these powerhouse companies. She started Viera Admin Solutions, a mobile executive assistant firm that helps businesses with their back-office support so that they can spend more time on revenue-generating activities. Taking the focus off what can seem like tedious tasks like bookkeeping, payroll and email management, VAS allows teams to focus on growth. Andreina is the Grand Prize Winner of EforAll's 2016 Winter Accelerator program and has been featured in the Eagle Tribune and in Boston Voyager Magazine. 

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Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative & Human Resources Officer

Greater Lawrence Family Health Center

Ann Marie Borgesi joined Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in 2012 as Chief Human Resources Officer. She is an accomplished HR professional with close to 20 years of experience in human resource management. A native of the Merrimack Valley, Ann Marie was born in Methuen and raised in North Andover. She attended Phillips Academy, Andover and graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration. In her role as Chief Administrative & Human Resources Officer, Ann Marie provides leadership for the health center’s workforce management strategies including recruitment, retention, performance management, training and development. She is certified through the Human Resource Certification Institute as a Human Resource Professional (PHR) and through the Society for Human Resource Management as a Certified Professional (SHRM-CP).  Ann Marie represents the Health Center locally as a member of the Lawrence Partnership’s Advisory Council and on a national level, serving on the National Association of Community Health Centers Workforce Development and Training Committee and its Membership Committee. 

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Ari Velóz is currently a Program Manager at Mill Cities Community Investments, a regional lender of mission-focused residential and commercial loan products. She has over 11 years of experience in the field of community economic development. She has a bachelor's degree in Economics from UMass Amherst and a master's degree in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University. As a graduate student, she focused in international economic development, interning in Cambodia and Peru for micro-lending projects. Her first job out of school was with ACCION New York, a small business lender. Prior to joining  Mill Cities Community Investments, she was Director of a department home to a range of asset building programming aimed at facilitating economic upper mobility. She graduated from Lawrence High School in 1999, and was part of the cross country, outdoor track, and basketball teams. She currently lives in Lawrence. When she is not working, she enjoys taking on kid-friendly engineering projects with her young daughters and is a supporter of Maker Education Initiatives. 

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Chief Operating Officer/VP of Clinical Services

Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

Christine Tardiff is the Chief Operating Officer/VP of Clinical Services at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, an agency providing programs and services to meet the diverse and changing lives of elders, adults with disabilities, families, and caregivers.  Previously, she served on the leadership team at Lawrence General Hospital in Lawrence, Massachusetts as the Director of Nursing Systems and Practice.  Christine’s leadership portfolio includes hospital administration, quality, and patient safety, including Joint Commission and National Quality Assurance Committee surveys and interprofessional clinical leadership.  Christine has experience integrating  the work of community based organizations with that of complex health systems, leading initiatives such as  the Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization, and Transformation (CHART) grant programs with two community hospitals and managing contracts with five senior care organizations (SCOs) and other managed care entities.  She is also leading the Long Term Services and Support Community Partner (LTSS CP) initiative, which includes managing contracts with eleven ACO/MCO organizations involved in the MassHealth restructuring initiative.   She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Salem State College and a Master’s Degree in Nursing from the University of Texas at Arlington.  She resides in Derry, New Hampshire with her two children and husband.

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I describe myself as a Black-Latina, mother to four amazing girls, Sasha, Mara, Elena and Sofia. Being a mother is where my leadership begins.  For me, leadership is personal and begins at home. I was born in the Dominican Republic and have lived in the United States since age 12. I attended Lawrence High School, and I am a proud alumnus of Northern Essex Community College where I received my first college degree in Early Childhood Education, of many more to come. I continued on to complete my Bachelor of Arts in ECE degree at Lesley College.  I received a  Master’s in Social Work  from Boston College, and a second masters from Worcester State College in School Leadership Administration. After graduate school, I returned to live in Dominican Republic in search of an identity that without awareness, I had left behind.  I attended college there and received a post-graduate degree in School Leadership and Administration. I returned “home” looking for a sense of belonging  only to realize that I belong where my affections are.  I had to leave the USA to understand that Lawrence, MA was home and based on my experiences, it was impossible to claim only one identity.


I finally understood that my relationships define my life.  My life is no longer defined by my ethnicity, my nationality or where I live.  Nevertheless, I understand that these are essential threads that weave the quilt of my life and enrich my human experience, personally and professionally.  I am every place that I have ever lived or visit and every person that I have encountered.  I have made of Lawrence, MA my emotional home.  My heart beats for this city.  I am a seasoned educator, and a passionate and committed community leader.  I bring a wealth of difference experiences as faculty at Merrimack College, a field advisor at Boston College, and a former program coordinator at Northern Essex Community College.  My past career also includes positions at Lawrence Family Development Charter School, Lawrence High School, and Notre Dame Christo Rey High School, where I became the School Principal.  Presently, I am honored to say that I am the new Executive Director at Mill Cities Leadership Institute, serving both cities of Lawrence and Lowell.  Personally, one of my biggest leadership accomplishments is being the founder of Nosotras: Una Fuerza Natural and Amigas, two women’s empowerment groups to honor women’s voices and experiences. We come together to give of ourselves, to form lasting bonds of friendship, love and support in a spiritual, loving, supportive, and socially responsible space. We celebrate life through stories, experiences, workshops, art, poetry, music… us.


It is a pleasure to write and reflect on these personal and professional experiences that make up the woman I am today.

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Vice President, Community Development

Mass Development 

Eleni Varitimos joined MassDevelopment in June 2014 as Vice President of Community Development for the Northern Region of Massachusettts.  In this Lawrence-based role, she manages the Commonwealth’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, the Transformative Development Initiation (TDI) program, including the development of its collaborative workspace and placemaking  programs, and predevelopment lending in fifty-five communities including seven Gateway Cities.  Ms. Varitimos was the District Manager for TDI:Peabody and a collaborator on TDI:Haverhill and TDI:Lynn.  

Ms. Varitimos spent 11 years on Beacon Hill as Chief of Staff to Senator Steven A. Baddour focusing her work on statewide transportation policy and fiscal affairs.  Most notably, Ms. Varitimos managed the drafting of the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Transportation Bond Authorization bills, and was the partial author of the Commonwealth’s landmark Transportation Reform Act (Chapter 15 of the Acts of 2009), which reorganized the state’s transportation delivery system.  In her role, she coordinated the Joint Committee on Transportation’s Big Dig oversight hearings which provided evidence that ultimately enabled the state to recoup millions of dollars through the cost recovery process.  

 Prior to working in the Massachusetts Senate, Ms. Varitimos worked at Fidelity Investments providing strategic marketing services to their portfolio companies and as a Business Analyst at PrimeStreet Corporation.  Her earlier work including helping launch the non-partisan public policy think tank MassINC and its independent policy magazine, CommonWealth.  She is affectionately referred to as employee Number 5.  

Ms. Varitimos earned an MBA with magna cum laude honors from the F.W. Olin School of Business at Babson College after graduating from Bryn Mawr College where she concentrated her studies in political science and Latin American Studies.  Her minor in 17th and 18th Century European History is seldom mentioned, except when fact checking PBS period dramas.

The daughter and granddaughter of Lawrencians, Ms. Varitimos is married to Lawrence-native Kevin Higginbottom, an urban education administrator.  Their two boys keep them overly involved with soccer and their three kittens keep them overly involved with mayhem.  Although she no longer lives in Lawrence, she has a continued commitment to its revitalization. 

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Director of Grants, Community, Workforce Development

Greater Lawrence Technical School

Elizabeth Bennett has worked in vocational technical education for the past 17 years. She is a graduate of Rivier College in Nashua, NH where she earned her Masters Degree in Educational Administration. She began her work as an administrator at Greater Lowell Technical High School and advanced her role to Director of Grants, Community, and Workforce Development at Greater Lawrence Technical School. In her two years at Greater Lawrence, she has secured approximately one million dollars in competitive grant funding to enhance the school’s educational services. She has worked with local agencies, post-secondary institutions, businesses, and industries to build partnerships to provide workforce training needs. 

Elizabeth serves on a number of committees in the community including the Massachusetts State Apprenticeship Advisory Board and Steering Committee to the Secretary of Labor, the Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board Youth Council, and the Advisory Board for the Graduate School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is a member of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators. Elizabeth also serves as a trustee for Methuen Memorial Music Hall.

Elizabeth resides in Lowell with her husband Erik and their daughter Elizabeth.

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Gary Sidell has worked in Lawrence since 1993, after joining his father’s apparel company, KGR, Inc.  After a 25-year run, the family decided to close that chapter in 2001 and were left with several vacant properties that were previously used for the family business.  In a short period, that became the impetus to form his company, Bell Tower Management, a Lawrence-based real estate development and management firm.  His business is focused on restoring historic, under-utilized buildings and repositioning them as thriving commercial properties, including medical, office and retail uses. An MBA from Babson College, he currently manages close to 500,000 square feet of mill space in the Merrimack Valley.  At the same time, he consistently gives back to his community, from being a Big Brother, to mentoring entrepreneurs through E for All and E Para Todos, and sitting on several non-profit boards, including the Lawrence Partnership, Acting Out Theater Company and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley as their incoming Board President.  

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Senior Vice President

Lupoli Companies

Gerry-Lynn Darcy is an accomplished professional with over 20+ years of experience within the real estate and construction industry. She has built her career by effectively collaborating with developers, designers and owners on several nationally recognized development projects. Currently she serves as a Senior Vice President for Lupoli Companies. 

Throughout her career, Gerry-Lynn has been responsible for directing development strategies for several local and national companies in New England and the Eastern United States. In 2011 she was honored as an esteemed member of the Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of leaders making a difference in their industry. In 2014 she received the Banker & Tradesman Women of FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) award and in 2016 she was honored by North of Boston Business Magazine’s Women in Leadership issue. This installment highlights the accomplishments of the area's most successful female leaders. 
Gerry-Lynn received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Management from Wheaton College and her MBA from Endicott College’s Van Loan School of Management. She maintains an Unrestricted Construction Supervisor’s License and a Broker’s License within the Commonwealth. 

In 2016 Gerry-Lynn was appointed by Governor Baker to the eleven-member Board of the UMass Building Authority where she also serves as Chair of the Financial Strategies Committee. 

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Executive Director

Groundwork Lawrence

Heather McMann is Executive Director of Groundwork Lawrence (GWL), a community development nonprofit organization that is “changing places, changing lives” in Greater Lawrence, MA, working at the intersection of environment, public health and education.

Under Heather’s leadership, GWL has quadrupled in size and its impact has been recognized locally and nationally, including receiving the 2014 Nonprofit of the Year by Enterprise Bank, being named as a Social Innovator by Root Cause’s Social Innovation Forum, and receiving the MA DPH Peter R. Lee Healthy Communities Awards.  

Heather has spent over 20 years in the nonprofit sector building community and individual assets and she holds a breadth of experience in nonprofit management, with a focus on preparing organizations for growth.  Prior to joining GWL, much of Heather’s experience was with youth organizations focused on creating our communities’ next generation of social justice leaders.  Heather received her MBA from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and her BA from Smith College. Beyond GWL, she is a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Nonprofit Practice and serves as the President of Groundwork USA, Assistant Treasurer/Clerk of the MA Public Health Association, and Treasurer of the Lawrence Partnership.  In 2010 Heather was honored to be selected as one of the YWCA of Greater Lawrence’s Tribute to Women awardees and selected for the Irish Echo’s 40 Under 40.   

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Jessica Andors

Executive Director

Lawrence CommunityWorks

Jessica Andors is the Executive Director of Lawrence CommunityWorks, a nonprofit community development corporation forging a network of residents and stakeholders dedicated to asset-building, mutual support, and collective action to transform and revitalize the city of Lawrence.  Jessica was part of a team of community organizers that spearheaded the organization’s rebirth in 1999, and has held several different positions within LCW.  Since 1999, LCW has grown from a staff of one and a deficit, to a $3 million organization with over 5,000 resident and stakeholder members, over $100 million invested in affordable housing, family asset building, and community organizing and development, and numerous awards for its work (most recently first prize as lead agent in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Cities Challenge competition).  Jessica received her Master’s of City Planning degree from MIT, where she was honored for outstanding contributions to the intellectual life of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.  Previously, she worked in the New York and San Francisco nonprofit sectors after graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College.  She has served on the boards of the Lawrence Teen Coalition, the Hope Street Youth Center, the Essex Art Center, the MA Association of Community Development Corporations, and chaired the statewide asset-building MIDAS Collaborative.  She currently serves on the Boards of the Lawrence Alliance for Education (a nonprofit board acting as Receiver of the Lawrence Public Schools), Mill Cities Community Investments (a community development financial institution serving the Merrimack Valley), the Lawrence Partnership (a public-private economic development collaborative), and Team Summit (a local youth organization); she also chairs the MA Brownfields Advisory Group and sits on the MassDevelopment New Markets Advisory Group.  Jessica is bilingual in English and Spanish, a proud Lawrence resident, and the mother of the exuberant and beautiful Elias, who shares his mother’s love of books, food, and playing outside.

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Johan's real estate career took off at only 19 years old.  Today this “closer” leads a stellar team at Home Shop Properties, Inc  of handpicked, highly professional real estate agents in the historic Methuen Square.


Mr. Lopez exemplifies what a real estate broker should be, loyal, accommodating and a great negotiator. He spends days and nights brokering deals from first time buyers purchasing small condominiums to out-of-state investors building apartment complexes.


Nearly fifteen years ago Johan embarked on an entrepreneurial journey with his girlfriend, Walkiria Manzueta. That journey has led to opening and running a number of successful businesses. One of these ventures is RENOV8 Homes, LLC, a real estate investment company, which focuses on bringing new life to neglected homes and buildings in the Merrimack Valley. Most recently RENOV8 Homes has spurred a lot of energy in Methuen's downtown with the purchase and renovation of four historic buildings.


Johan always finds time to give back to his community. He is the president elect of The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professional's Boston Chapter (NAHREP) and is an active board member of the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council (GLCAC).


Johan continues to grow his real estate office and continues to cater to his clients with the goal of becoming their agent for life.  He has a great interest in serving the Merrimack Valley and surrounding areas and is particularly focused on any housing initiatives that may benefit this community and it’s members.

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Assistant Vice President, Commercial Lending

Enterprise Bank

My name is Jonathan Machado and I was born and raised in the great City of Lawrence. Growing up I was very active in the Portuguese community and attended Lawrence Public Schools before going to Central Catholic High School. I went on to receive my Bachelors in International Business, concentrating in Finance from Bryant University and will be completing my Masters in Business Administration, with a concentration in Finance this Fall with Suffolk University. Over the last 6 years I have had the privilege of working for Enterprise Bank as a commercial loan officer which has allowed me to become more active in the community. Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for Lawrence Community Works as well as and Community Inroads. I also serve on the Development Committee of both Central Catholic High School and Si Se Puede. I am also very involved with the Lawrence Partnership’s Venture Loan Fund and am also a Lawrence Rotarian.
Growing up in Lawrence as part of a large tight knit family instilled in me the importance community. Now, as a commercial loan officer with Enterprise Bank I have the honor of meeting with local business owners and community leaders who share that same passion. Helping these businesses, both big and small bring their businesses to next level has been exciting. I truly feel as if Lawrence is great place with endless possibilities, and I look forward to helping bring about more positive change to this great place.

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President and Chief Executive Officer

Reading Cooperative Bank

Julieann M. Thurlow is the President and Chief Executive Officer at Reading Cooperative Bank, responsible for the strategic direction and management of Reading Cooperative Bank. 

Julieann is a board member of the American Bankers Association.  She also serves on the ABA’s Membership Council and Government Relations Administrative Committee.  She also serves on the Massachusetts Banker’s Federal Liaison Committee and was a founding member of BancAlliance, Inc.; in 2014 Julieann was named to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Community Bank Advisory Council.  

Locally, Julie is a Boardmember of the Cooperative Central Bank where she serves as the chair of the Finance & Audit Committee; she is a Director of Bankers Bank Northeast serving on their Credit Committee.  She is the Chair of the Lahey Hospital Continuum of Care Board overseeing Homecare, Hospice and Senior Care.  

In 2014, American Banker Magazine named Julie to its list of the 25 Women to Watch in Banking and the Commonwealth Institute has named Reading Cooperative Bank a Top 100 Women- Led Business for the past three years running.

In addition to an MBA from the Charles F. Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University, she has completed further studies at the Stonier National School of Banking, Massachusetts School for Financial studies, Wharton Aresty Institute of Executive Education and Harvard Business School’s Division of Continuing Education.

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President of Commercial Lending

Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union

Kara Doyle is the Vice President of Commercial Lending at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union in Lowell, MA. The Credit Union is the third oldest in the country and the second oldest in Massachusetts.  They opened in 1912 to provide financial stability to immigrants who came to Lowell from all over the world to work in the textile mills during the Industrial Revolution.  The mission is simple:  To help members make smart financial choices.  To achieve this mission, the Credit Union incorporates the right mix of financial products and services, along with a strong financial education program that offers free workshops and seminars so members can put their financial plans into action. Additionally, the Credit Union employees also spend countless hours assisting those who are less fortunate by gathering donations, serving food at local shelters, repairing homes and participating in walks and events benefiting numerous worthwhile causes.

Kara holds a business degree from San Jose State University and has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. After beginning her career at a large, national bank in California, she and her husband relocated to Massachusetts where she discovered that social responsibility is an integral part of personal and professional success. She uses her financial background to not only improve the financial lives of entrepreneurs throughout the Merrimack Valley but also to have a positive impact on the many boards and committees she serves on including Girls, Inc., the Salvation Army, the Lawrence Partnership, Mill Cities Community Investments, Merrimack Valley Hospice House, Lowell Community Health Center and the Lowell Development and Financial Corporation.


Kara resides in Pepperell, MA with her husband Al and her 13 year old daughter Riley.

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As the owner of City Sealcoating and Hi-Rise Graphics, Keith brings over 25 years’ experience as a business leader with expertise in change management, talent development and employee relations  with the ability to drive business results through an innovative and collaborative approach. Successful in developing and implementing cost-effective solutions for enhancing competitiveness, increasing revenue, and improving customer service offerings in both the private and public sectors. As a Vice President at State Street he Led complex, enterprise-wide strategic planning process across multiple divisions. Able to reach all levels of the organization and work cross functionally to drive initiatives and improve outcomes.

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Marianne Paley Nadel is the owner/manager of the historic Everett and Stone Mills in Lawrence. An urban planner specializing in community based economic development; Marianne sees real estate as a means to create opportunity for entrepreneurship, job growth, urban manufacturing, and education. Marianne worked at the New York City Economic Development Corporation focusing on arts, culture and economic development, including the initial plans for the 42nd Street Redevelopment and South Street Seaport projects. After receiving a Masters in City Planning from MIT in 1993, Marianne became a Senior Planner at Icon Architecture concentrating on historic districts and heritage projects. Marianne was the founding Executive Director of Groundwork Lawrence, an environmental non-profit, developed through a partnership between the National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency. Through its environmental and open space improvements, community food programs, youth education, employment initiatives, and community events, GWL focuses on building a healthy community and empowering Lawrence residents to improve the quality of life in the city.  She is married to Eric Nadel, and mother to Josh, Emily and Henry.

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Mark became executive director of YDO in 2013. Under his leadership, YDO has developed an 11,000-sqft facility to offer a variety of in-house enrichment programs in both STEM and the arts. Mark has also overseen the rapid growth of YDO Summer and the establishment of the STEM Design Lab, a hands-on technology and engineering workshop where students are learning by doing things not possible in their schools.

Prior to joining YDO, Mark gained experience supporting other startup nonprofits in Greater Boston, including Youth CITIES and Edvance Foundation. He continues to mentor students interested in social entrepreneurship and serves as an advisor to Bicycles Against Poverty, the Lawrence Partnership, and the budding Maker Innovation Lab Lawrence.

From 2006 to 2009, Mark was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia, where he taught mathematics and English in the rural village of Andara. During his service, Mark spearheaded an infrastructure project to bring water to his school, founded Computers for Kavango to establish 12 technology labs across his region, and co-led the development of a novice teacher mentoring program that has been implemented nationwide.

Mark holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and classics from Bucknell University. In 2010, he was awarded a Peace Corps Fellowship by Duquesne University, where he earned an MBA with a concentration in sustainability. In 2016, the Boston Business Journal honored Mark with a spot on its list of Boston's "40 Under 40" business leaders.

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Marathon Manufacturing Solutions

Marko Duffy is the president of Marathon Manufacturing Solutions and has been in manufacturing for over 35 years.  A graduate of Malden Catholic High School and UMass Amherst, Marko began working right out of school in a Malden metal finishing plant and started quite literally at the bottom, working in every position, from entry level to VP of manufacturing. From there, he joined a small struggling metal finishing company in Lawrence as Vice President. This position marked the start of his long relationship with the both the manufacturing base and the people of Lawrence. The hard working and willing people of Lawrence become the company's greatest asset; Marko worked closely with many Lawrence residents in a training, teaching, and supervisory position. In 10 years the company grew from $1 million a year in sales to over $10 million.  In 2006 Marko began representing a world-wide company selling specialty chemicals throughout New England and in 2012, he founded Marathon Manufacturing Solutions. Marko is known throughout the region for his knowledge and experience as well as having a network that provides the solutions many manufacturers need. Over the years Marko has created opportunities and solved problems for many manufacturers around the area, providing them with requisite training and products. Marko has served on the board at the Merrimack Valley YMCA chairing many committees and acting as Board Chair of both the Lawrence Branch of the YMCA and the Merrimack Valley YMCA. A volunteer, donor and YMCA father, Marko raised his 2 daughters at the Y and they both chose career paths based on their experience. Living in Andover with his wife Carla and daughters, Marko continues to serve at the Lawrence YMCA. Marathon is entering its 6th year in business and both the company and Marko continue to evolve.  

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Plant Manager

The Gem Group, Inc.

Michael Braley is the Plant manager for The Gem Group Inc., a top 40 promotional products company in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Mike has responsibility for all operational functions, including manufacturing, warehousing and engineering.  He has over 30 years of experience in a manufacturing environment, starting as an Industrial Engineer, working through assignments with increasing responsibilities within Malden Mills, before moving to The Gem Group 20 years ago to continue his growth.  He played a major role in the rebuilding efforts of the Malden Mills factory in Lawrence when it tragically burned to the ground in 1995.  Mike also spear headed the discovery and implementation of Lean Manufacturing at Gem over 10 years ago.  This has had a profound impact on the business culture and has allowed the company to remain viable in a very competitive industry, while providing many job opportunities to the Lawrence area.  Mike takes the most pride in developing highly capable team members and has seen many associates promoted through the ranks, to management roles, under his guidance.

Mike holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Technology from University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  He is happily married to his wife Stephanie, and has three children, residing in Worcester Massachusetts, where he was born and raised.  Mike enjoys golfing, reading and spending time with his family at the beach.

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VP of the Lawrence Campus and Community Relations

Northern Essex Community College

Dr. Custodia-Lora is the Vice President of the Lawrence Campus and Community Relations at Northern Essex Community College, the first Hispanic Serving institution in Massachusetts.  She spearheads the NECC Early College program that includes more than 15 regional high schools. Also, under her leadership are Communiversity Partnerships with four-year institutions to offer bachelor degree completion programs at NECC.  Dr. Custodia Lora is responsible for launching an onsite credential evaluation service at NECC for immigrants in the region; the development of the NECC Dom. Rep. Experience Professional Development Program for staff and faculty in partnership with Dominican Republic universities. She has also participated in the National Credential and Skill Institute as part of the White House New Immigrant Initiative. Dr. Custodia-Lora is an active community volunteer serving on multiple boards including the Lawrence Partnership Advisory Board, Lawrence EparaTodos Advisory Board, and the Maker Innovation Lab Lawrence Advisory Board among others and actively involved with La Feria Internacional del Libro de Lawrence.  In addition, she serves as anEvaluator for the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education New England Association of School and Colleges (NEASC) for accreditation of colleges and universities and a board member of the Lawrence Alliance for Education.
In 2013, Dr. Custodia-Lora was one of only 47 Fellows selected nationwide by the American Council on Education, and the only community college representative. As part of her fellowship, she spent a year working at Lesley College in Cambridge, leading special projects.  Dr. Custodia-Lora was the principal investigator for a 1.4-million-dollar grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Capital Program to update all NECC life science labs in the Lawrence and Haverhill Campuses and for a National Science Foundation – Advance Technological Education to develop and implement a Laboratory Science Program (LSP). The LSP was developed in collaboration with area employers and received the highest endorsement—gold level—from the Massachusetts Life Science Education Consortium.  She also developed the ESL (English as Second Language) Learning Social Club to promote Science careers among NECC ESL students.   Dr. Custodia-Lora joined Northern Essex in 2003 as a faculty member of the Natural Sciences Department. Prior to that, she was a research fellow at Tufts Medical School.  Dr. Custodia-Lora was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican immigrant parents.  She holds a PhD. in Molecular Endocrinology from Boston University and a B.S. in Biology from Universidad de Puerto Rico.

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Vice President of Operations

Steward Holy Family Hospital

Paul C. Smith is the Vice President of Operations for Steward Holy Family Hospital in Methuen & Haverhill. His current administrative focus is on the operations of Holy Family’s Haverhill Campus where he is also the Site Administrator as well as Surgical Services across the organization.  

Holy Family Hospital is a core health care provider to the City of Lawrence and is directly engaged with numerous organizations that focus on improving access, care, and opportunities for the residents of Lawrence.  Lawrence is also home to a number of primary care and specialty practices that are affiliated with the Steward Health Care Network.

Paul joined Holy Family in December 2016 from Steward’s Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, MA where he was the Senior Director of Surgical Services for Steward Medical Group where his focus was on physician practice management, business development, and operations.  Prior to joining Steward, he spent ten years at Cambridge Health Alliance, a three campus safety net system based in Cambridge, MA where he had a number of progressive leadership positions that culminated in service line responsibility in Surgery, Orthopedics, and Anesthesia.

Paul graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH with a BA in Computer Science and also holds an MS in Health Care Management from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. 

Originally from Hanover, MA, he has lived in Methuen for over 10 years where he and his wife Jennifer, a Methuen native, are raising Oscar (11 / Dog), Ella (9 / Child) and Nolan (6 / Child).  When not at the hospital or trying to keep up with his children, Paul enjoys reading, supporting Tottenham Hotspur, and spending time with his family. 

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Radhames Nova joined Junior Achievement of Northern New England (JA) in October 2016 as President & CEO, overseeing a staff of 12 and responsible for the organization’s overall operations and strategy.

Prior to joining JA, Rad was Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), the largest Latino professional organization in the United States, where he was responsible for overseeing some of the organization’s largest national corporate partnerships and a pilot partnership between JA and ALPFA. He was the Executive Director of the ALPFA Boston Chapter from 2011 to 2015.

From 2002 to 2006 Rad served as Director of Development for the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, raising $1.8M annually for operations and leading the organization to a record breaking $8.5M capital campaign to build a new facility.  Prior to that, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. Beyond the nonprofit sector, Rad has held positions in the financial services industry – notably the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and SCS Financial. After five years working in the investments industry, Rad returned to his mission-driven career when he joined ALPFA in 2011.

Since becoming CEO, Rad has focused on increasing JA’s impact in Lawrence, growing the number of students served from 42 two years ago to over 400 in the 2017-18 academic year. In 2018 JA was awarded the prestigious $100k for 100 from The Cummings Foundation to continue JA’s growth in Lawrence.
Rad obtained his B.A. from Middlebury College and his MBA from Boston University. Born in the Dominican Republic, he immigrated to Lawrence in 1989. He was an active member of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence and graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1993. He currently lives in Salem New Hampshire with his wife Alexandra and their three children.

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Senior Vice President, External Relations

Chief Marketing & Development Officer

Greater Lawrence Family Health Center

Rich Napolitano joined Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in January 2014 and serves as Senior Vice President of External Relations and Chief Marketing and Development Officer. He and his team are responsible for the following key areas for GLFHC: Marketing and Communications, Community and Public Relations, Development and Fundraising, Grants and Contracts Administration, and Governmental Affairs. Rich represents the Health Center in local initiatives such as the City of Lawrence, Mayor’s Health Task Force Executive Committee and as Chair of the Lawrence Partnership’s Advisory Council.  He is also a member of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers Governmental Affairs Committee and the National Association of Community Health Centers’ Healthcare for the Homeless Committee, Health Policy Committee, and NACHC’s Advocacy Task Force.  Rich and his team have been recognized by NACHC as national leaders in advocacy and for setting the standard for grassroots advocacy programs amongst the nation’s community health centers. 

Rich has over 25 years of experience in non-profit management roles, specifically focusing on advancement programs, strategic planning, marketing and communications. Rich’s expertise encompasses an array of development and community relations functions, and in addition to solid fundraising credentials, Rich has a strong track record in achieving efficiencies in non-profit operations, ensuring maximum support of organizational missions.  

In his spare time Rich enjoys time with his family and vacationing at his parents’ home in Maine.  He is well known locally as a high school and Men’s NCAA college basketball official and has served in leadership roles at both levels, statewide and nationally.  He volunteers his time as the director of the long-standing Greater Lawrence Christmas Basketball Tournament now known as the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic, which provides college scholarships to deserving student athletes from participating schools.

Rich earned a Certificate from the Geiger Gibson Fellowship in Community Health Policy and Leadership program at the George Washington University- Milken Institute School of Public Health as well as a Certificate in Leading Product Development from Harvard University’s Executive Education Program.  He is a graduate of St. Michael’s College in Vermont with both a BA in Psychology and a Master of Science in Administration, and currently serves on his alma mater’s Alumni Board of Directors.

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Socrates De La Cruz received his Bachelor of Science Degree from the College of the Holy Cross in May 1995 and his Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School in 1998. He has been a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association since 1999 and a member of the New Hampshire Bar & New York Bar since 2012. Atty. De La Cruz served as an Assistant District Attorney in Essex County, MA for then District Attorney Kevin Burke. After working with the criminal defense firm of McBride and Associates in Boston, MA. Socrates founded DLC Law Group P.C. Where he represents individuals from all walks of life in criminal proceedings.  
Throughout his career Atty. De La Cruz has received many honors including being featured in Denzel Washington’s NY Times Best Seller book, “A Hand to Guide Me” as well as the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999. In 1999, he was inducted in the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame and was featured in National United Way television documentary in 1998. 

While dedicated to his craft he is also very committed to serving his community. Socrates has been a member the Board of Trustees for the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club from 1999-2005 as well serving in the same capacity for the Holy Family Hospital 1999-2007. In 20014 Socrates formed Socratic, Inc. a Non Profit organization dedicated to motivational speaking and awarding yearly Scholarships to underprivileged kids going to college. He is also serving on the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council Board, The Executive Committee of the Lawrence Bar Association and the Lawrence Partnership Board. 

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Business Development Manager

Home Shop Properties, Inc.

Walkiria’s entrepreneurial spirit has introduced her to many different types of businesses and industries. She found her way in an industry that allows her to use her business experience and charming personality, real estate!  Alongside her long time business and life partner, Johan Lopez, Walkiria opened a real estate company in Downtown Methuen. Her role as Business Development and Talent Acquisition at their seven-year-old real company provides her with the opportunity to train, manage and mentor 14 real estate agents.

Before Home Shop Properties, there were other start-ups; JoWa Bar & Lounge, Walki’s Closet and are some of the businesses Walkiria today attributes her success to. These businesses from a bar and restaurant to an online women’s clothing store, have taught Walkiria that perseverance, a strong work ethic and the importance of a good support system are all an integral part of an entrepreneur’s success.

Today at their Methuen Real estate office, she pushes for sustainable homeownership and is an advocate for educating first time homebuyers with the buying process and the responsibilities that come with homeownership so that they may enjoy their home for many years to come. 

Walkiria is a proud Central Catholic High School and Boston College Alumna.  She serves as member on a number of local non-profit boards. She’s also very proud of her Merrimack Valley roots, she grew up in Lawrence, works in Methuen and lives in Haverhill. 

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Wendy Y. Estrella is originally from the Dominican Republic – she migrated to this country as a teenager. She graduated from Lawrence High School and  obtained her Associates Degree in Business Administration from Northern Essex Community College. After graduating from NECC, Wendy attended Merrimack College where she obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting and Management. After working as an accountant for companies such as Fidelity Investments and The Gillette Company, Wendy decided to pursue a law degree from Massachusetts School of Law where she graduated in 2004. Wendy owns and operates her own law practice, Estrella Law,  in downtown Lawrence where she specializes in real estate and landlord tenant law. Wendy participates in various non-profit organizations serving as a board member of the Lawrence Partnership and the  Boys and Girls Club, as well as conducting law related seminars for organizations such as First Time Home Buyers and Landlord Tenant Law trainings. She serves as a Trustee of Massachusetts Law School and a Board Member of The Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board. She is a former board member of the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, a former Trustee of Northern Essex Community College.Wendy Estrella is married to Jose Estrella and they have three children: Alex, Gabriel and Javier. They reside in Methuen, Massachusetts. Despite of having a family at a very young age and migrating from a foreign country with a different language, Wendy has been able to overcome these obstacles and manage to follow and fulfill her dreams.

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Executive Director

Bread & Roses Housing

Yesenia Gil served on the Board of Directors of Bread & Roses Housing for five years before she became its Executive Director in 2015.

Yesenia is a first generation American whose parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic and settled in the Greater Lawrence community.  A life-long resident of the City of Lawrence, Yesenia was educated in the public school system and attended Northern Essex Community College, Hesser College and Cambridge College where she received a Master in Management. Yesenia has dedicated many years of her experience in different sectors of the housing industry including private, local government and nonprofit.  As Housing Manager for the City of Lawrence Community Development Department, and as a private consultant, she administered HUD funded housing programs, including sharing team responsibility for the administration of over $33 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds.  As an Associate Investment Officer at Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Yesenia was responsible for underwriting equity and debt deals for Tax Credit projects. In her current role as CEO of Bread & Roses Housing she works to resolve housing inequality by providing affordable homeownership opportunities to low-income families in the Greater Lawrence area. 

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Managing Partner

Gomez & Palumbo, LLC

Zoila Gomez Attorney Zoila Marisol Gomez immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1988 at the age of eighteen. She attended Northern Essex Community College (NECC) for English as a Second Language (ESL) after graduating from Lawrence High School in 1989. As a single mother after the birth of her first child in 1994, she returned to NECC where she obtained an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies in 1997. She transferred to UMass Lowell where she obtained a Bachelors Degree in Political Science in 2000 while working full time.  In 1999, she began working for then Congressman Martin Meehan as an intern and three months later she was hired as an employee.  She left Congressman Meehan’s office in the fall of 2002 to begin law school at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, at which time she opened her own business as an immigration consultant.  She obtained her Juris Doctorate in 2005 and license to practice law in 2006.  She immediately opened her law practice, the Law Offices of Zoila M. Gomez and since then has been serving the immigrant community north of Boston and beyond with much needed legal representation and advocacy.  She is now the Managing Partner of the law firm Gomez and Palumbo, LLC.

Since 1999, Attorney Gomez has dedicated her time to advocate for and educate the immigrant community.  In her efforts to further educate the immigrant community regarding their rights and responsibilities, Attorney Gomez, participates weekly in the radio show “Al Son de la Manana,” which airs Mondays through Fridays in WGUA Radio Catolica, 98.1 FM. In the fall of 2011, she returned to NECC as a professor of Immigration Law and Policy and feels passionate about giving back to the school that she graduated from.  She is no longer teaching because the NECC Paralegal program is no longer active. She is also the board chair of the Youth Development Organization, a nonprofit organization which seeks to engage students in after school programs to enhance their abilities to compete and have the confidence to survive in the world outside the walls of Lawrence. She is a member of the board of trustees for Lawrence Evangelical Church where she celebrates her faith along with her sons, Christopher and Jean Carlos.  She is a former member of the UMass Board of Trustee to which she was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick.  On April 2015, she was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to the Judicial Nominating Commission and served in that capacity until May 1st, 2018.  Most recently in 2018 she became a member of the Lawrence Partnership Board of Directors.