All posts by Dan Thibeault

Jessica Pearce Rotondi -122

My mother’s loss became my loss. The letters I found were like a roadmap through a grief she never meant to leave me. -Jessica Pearce Rotondi

In the mood for a story you just can’t stop listening to? When she was growing up, Jessica heard stories of her Grandpa Ed’s heroism in World War II. Shot down in a B-17 bomber over Germany in 1943 on a day known as “Black Thursday”, he was captured after parachuting onto a farmer’s land and spent over two years in the infamous prison camp known as Stalag 17. Once liberated, he returned home to the United States where he became a Pennsylvania State Trooper, raising five children with his wife, Rosemary. Three of their boys went into the military including their eldest son, Jack. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam until the night of March 29, 1972 when his AC-130 bomber vanished over Laos. For the next 36 years, the Pearce family searched for answers, refusing to accept his death without proof. Jessica’s mother devotes much of her life to finding out what happened to her brother, while at the same time, raising her daughter’s in a loving home, sparing them the pain she felt so deeply. But when her mother dies of breast cancer in 2009, Jessica finds herself on the floor of her mother’s closet sitting beside an old file cabinet filled to the brim with handwritten letters, news clippings, military documents and 13 CIA reports about the disappearance of Jack Pearce. On this day, Jessica decides to take up her mother’s search and find some answers of her own. An accomplished writer and editor, Jessica’s work has been published by TIME, Reader’s Digest, HuffPost where she is a senior editor and The History Channel. Her book: What We Inherit is more than a great story, it is living proof of the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter.

Whitney Savignano -121

Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself or try something new, and fail because the good part of it is: the experience. -Whitney Savignano

This is a story that starts with an early loss and then, moves to finding love, the joy of being part of a family on two continents, adventure, entrepreneurship, fulfillment and the kind of hard won success that fills your heart with gratitude. In 2008, Whitney and her Italian-born husband teamed up with his brother Giuseppe to purchase an old property in Pienza, Tuscany that included a rundown structure originally built in the 13th century. Once a monastery, the property included a vineyard and an overgrown olive grove. When she first saw the place, Whitney admits it looked like the opening scene of the old TV show Sanford & Son, but she could see that this was a diamond in the rough, worthy of years of renovations that would bring it back to life. Today, Tenuta Santo Pietro is a gorgeous 14 bedroom luxury inn, with a working vineyard and an olive oil grove. With the creation of PSP Imports, the family business imports and distributes 200 wines, many from little, boutique vineyards that the world had never heard of before. Using her well-honed writing and marketing skills, Whitney oversees all olive oil sales from their home in Beverly Farms, MA. while also raising the couple’s two children. For this exceptional woman, success means feeling fulfilled and living a life where she can also do good things for others. Reflecting on the loss of her mother to ovarian cancer at only 19, Whitney says: “Losing your mom at a young age is something that changes you for your whole life. I just feel very, very fortunate everyday that I am past 46 and that to me, is a gift. Everyday that I have with my kids and my husband, I’m grateful for.” This story takes a page out of the movie Under The Tuscan Sun and includes a fairy tale ending. #tuscany #wine #pienzaoliveoil #inspiringstories

Jennifer McCollum -120

The strength and the passion I have aligns with my purpose. I want to help individuals, teams and organizations fulfill their potential. That’s my measure of success. –Jennifer McCollum

No one is born a leader. The traits and characteristics of a great leader evolve over time as an individual “becomes” the best version of themselves. What’s more: the best leaders aren’t in it for themselves, they are in it for the greater good. Meet a woman whose career has been woven around building and managing businesses that focus on leadership. Her name is Jennifer McCollum and she is the CEO of Linkage, Inc. a global leadership development firm based in Boston. Using its signature “purposeful leadership” model, Linkage is leading the way when it comes to advancing women leaders and creating a culture of inclusion. When you are the CEO of a company whose main focus is leadership, the pressure to lead is pretty demanding, but Jennifer is up for the challenge. A wife and mother of three, Jennifer shares what she has learned on her career path from 20, to 30, to 40 and now to age 50, explaining the importance of “taking a step back and realizing that testing, learning, failing and being disappointed doesn’t mean you can’t start over!” The daughter of two teachers, Jennifer was raised in Germany where she credits her mother with giving her the perfect balance of independence and responsibility. Of the many pieces of advice her mother gave her, Jennifer says these words of wisdom are her favorite: “Set the intention for what you want and then let go of how you are going to get it.” She credits mentors, colleagues and friendships with other women as her greatest source of strength. In fact, when her own “inner critic” might be getting the best of her, it is her friends who set her straight. For a look inside the mindset of an insightful, compassionate female leader in the C-suite, grab a paper and pen and start taking notes! #leadership #womenleaders #inspiringstories

Mikey Hoag -119

The sand is in the hourglass and I am in the greatest race of my life. -Mikey Hoag, Founder of Part the Cloud

The woman you are about to meet knows what it’s like to lose both of her parents to Alzheimer’s. She and her five brothers and sisters feel like ticking time bombs, just waiting for the disease to come after them. Recruited to spearhead a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association in 2012, Mikey Hoag (short for Michaela) originally said “no” to the task, fearing that no one would come. Although passionate about the cause, she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk about how it felt to lose her parents in such a slow, painful way. After some arm-twisting from a friend, she agreed. Mikey’s fundraising goal was $200,000, but to her amazement, the gala sold-out and raised two million dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association. That night, she realized that “behind the closed door, there are so many people who are suffering, who are dealing with their parents, or a relative, quietly. If we could pull the veil over and say it’s okay to talk about Alzheimer’s, we could do something about it.” Mikey founded Part the Cloud under the umbrella of the Alzheimer’s Association with a focus on funding grants for research into treatments and a cure. 30 million dollars in grants have gone to advanced research on drugs for human trials, and those projects have gone on to receive $290 million in additional funding. And that’s not all. Part the Cloud has found a friend and supporter in Bill Gates who committed a quick 10 million. “None of us want to just exist, we want to live fully” says Mikey. Add her experience as a lifelong equestrian on the short list for the Olympic team, the loss of her Boston College roommate in an accident that would have taken her life, too if she hadn’t decided at the last moment NOT to get into the car… and her lifelong work ethic and you have a success story with all the right ingredients. Mikey Hoag’s story is rooted in love, second chances, dedication, and a true belief in the power of the human spirit. #alzheimersassociation #inspringstories #siliconvalleywomen

Greta Bajrami -118

I want people to remember Greta Bajrami: the girl who was an immigrant, a teenage parent, the woman who made it in an industry that not many women are welcomed into. That’s what fuels me every day. -Greta Bajrami, CEO & Founder, Golden Group Roofing

Welcome to the inspiring story of a girl from war torn Albania who came to the United States when she was only 9 years old. Greta and her parents settled in Worcester, Massachusetts where she enrolled in public school knowing only one word: pizza! Her mother had been a Chief ER surgeon in Albania and while Greta excelled in school, she set about re-training herself to meet rigorous U.S medical standards. The message in her home was clear: sacrifices have been made to get us here. Work hard and honor your family. At only 17, Greta and her steady boyfriend learned they were expecting a baby. They stayed in school, graduated and began their lives together. Disappointed in their daughter’s behavior, Greta’s proud parents let her know that she was on her own. In this episode, Greta doesn’t sugar coat the life of teenage parent. Determined to get their college degrees, Greta and her husband Freddie organized their classes at Worcester State College so that they could also care for their daughter. When there was no heat in the house, they covered their baby in blankets and wore extra clothes themselves. But deep down inside, Greta thought she was a loser who had let her parent’s down. At 21, she saw an ad on Craig’s List for a roofing foreman that paid $300.00 a day. She reasoned that her family desperately needed the money and that if she put her mind to it, she could learn to do the job. Greta was hired that day. After spending three years as a roofing foreman, Greta and her husband took a giant leap of faith and founded Golden Group Roofing where she has innovated the construction process, elevated the customer experience, and brought pride and dignity to her workers. Considered a trailblazer in her industry, Greta is a role model for any young woman who finds herself at a crossroads. Looking back on her life as a teen parent, Greta says “I don’t know how we did it. I think in life when we’re put in very tough circumstances, the best comes out of it. We become super-heroes. We have so much strength…we don’t even know where it came from!” #womeninconstruction #inspiringstories #storybehindhersuccess

Ann Ehrhart -117

Imagine being in commercial real estate during a pandemic. Retail stores, restaurants, bars and businesses are closed. Pretty scary, don’t you think? Meet Ann Ehrhart. Her colleagues call her the “master distiller” because she is able to listen, process information, articulate goals, take action, and solve problems. These days, Ann is using her skills 24/7 as she and her business partner help their clients navigate an unprecedented health crisis. A recognized leader in Boston’s commercial real estate industry, Ann launched Boston Urban Partners in 2010 with Jonathan Dutch. Together they have grown the firm into one of the region’s most successful real estate companies, facilitating close to 2 billion dollars in transactions. In 2019, Ann and JD took another leap of faith when they joined forces with architect Deniz Ferendeci to open Boston Urban Places. In this interview, Ann recalls her childhood in St. Louis, and her tight knit family where the message was always “to whom much is given, much is expected.” An accomplished equestrian, Ann says her competitive spirit has helped her win business and stay confident in a male dominated field. “I think one of the biggest keys to success is wanting something…being willing to get your butt kicked and to get back up and show up everyday.” A devoted wife to husband Andrew and mother of one year old Harrison, Ann is no stranger to the balancing act women in the workplace experience every single day. Her climb to the top and her perspective about what really matters in life will inspire you. Suggestion: download this episode and play it whenever you feel like you need a push in the right direction from someone who believes in taking chances! #womenincommercialrealestate #womenleaders #wereallinthistogether

Joyce Kulhawik pt2 -116

The lesson to me is always: GET UP. Don’t be afraid to get back up on your feet and keep going. -Joyce Kulhawik

Welcome back to part two of the story of a woman who has done so much with her life, we just couldn’t squeeze it all in one episode! Joyce Kulhawik is a force of nature. As a well-known arts & entertainment critic, she has interviewed just about every celebrity you can think of. But it is her intelligence, attention to detail, curiosity and spunk that make her the kind of interviewer Oprah, Meryl Streep, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Steven Tyler and more love to sit down and talk to. In this interview, Joyce shares some of her favorite interviews, as well as the experience of covering the death of Princess Diana, live from outside Kensington Palace, and the horror of landing at JFK just 15 minutes before the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Her live coverage at Ground Zero would go on to receive numerous broadcast industry awards. No stranger to adversity in her personal life, Joyce shares her journey as a 3 time cancer survivor, her determination to be an advocate for anyone struggling with a cancer diagnosis, her very personal decision to have a child through surrogacy, and her powerful definition of “mother love”. The host of the Simmons Leadership Conference, Joyce is an in-demand “hostess with the mostest”. Her website: www.joyceschoices is a destination for legions of fans who value her reviews on arts and entertainment in Boston and beyond. More than anything else, this is an interview with a woman who is never complacent and understands the value of reinvention. Says Joyce: “I’m still trying to raise myself to be exactly who I am. I want to be the best self I can be.”  #inspiringstories  #reinvention  #theatre  #arts

Joyce Kulhawik pt1 -115

I come from a long line of working women. It wasn’t a matter of learning to have confidence, it was a matter of learning to work hard to get what one wanted and I knew that I would work hard to get whatever I wanted. -Joyce Kulhawik

Joyce Kulhawik is a trailblazer for women in the arts. As the first full-time arts reporter/critic in the United States, she broke down barriers for women in television and made it her mission to promote the importance of the arts in our lives. Raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut by loving, hard working parents, Joyce was the organist and soloist for her church, danced ballet, was the president of her senior class, and had no fear of public speaking. But Joyce says: “I just didn’t know what to do with all of that!” Always a “talker”, Joyce loved words, great writing, literature and critical points of view. When it came time to go to college, she double majored in Literature and Education and began a career as a high school english teacher that lasted about two years. She left her position with no other job to go to because she knew that teaching was not for her. The story of how Joyce ended up on television is two parts talent and one part old fashioned chutzpah. One of the original members of the Evening Magazine team in Boston, Joyce experienced “lightening in a bottle” on a show that would become the inspiration for copycat news magazine programs nationwide. As the longtime arts & entertainment reporter for WBZ, Joyce gave journalistic stature to arts reporting, winning numerous Emmys for the WBZ series “You Gotta Have Arts”, and her role in team coverage at Ground Zero. It wasn’t long before Joyce was tapped by Roger Ebert and Leonard Malton to co-host their nationally syndicated movie review shows. A three time cancer survivor, Joyce testified before Congress on the 20th anniversary of the National Cancer Act and has been a champion for the American Cancer Society, which honored her for her work with its National Bronze Medal. Her trailblazer legacy is reflected in her status as a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, The New England Emmys Governor’s Award, an Honorary Doctorate in Communications from her alma mater, Simmons University and an endowed scholarship in her name at the Berklee College of Music. For a master class in what it takes to create the kind of career that has a pulse, and a purpose, download part one of the story of Joyce Kulhawik.  #theatre  #arts  #inspiringstories #womeninmedia

Annie Montgomery Clausen -114

I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and I had a little baby inside of me. I had to be strong. You do what you’ve gotta do to get through the hard things. -Annie Montgomery Clausen

Just imagine it: you are 34 years old, happily married with a successful career as a sales rep for Stryker Instruments. You love being a mom to daughter Quinn and are overjoyed to learn that you are expecting a second child. And then suddenly, something is very wrong. Your OB-GYN notices that one of your ovaries is abnormal and before you know it, you are having surgery to figure out what is wrong. Biopsies are taken and at 14 weeks pregnant you are told that you have stage 4 colon cancer. The situation is dire and word goes out through family and friends that prayers are needed. A group of prayer sisters, all Boston College grads receive this request and begin praying for Annie and her unborn child in earnest. Welcome to the life of Annie Montgomery Clausen, a beautiful California girl raised in the Bay area by loving parents (both cancer survivors) who taught her that a positive mindset combined with equal parts of courage and determination will serve you well. Although there was a moment when doctors warned that treating the cancer and saving the baby might not be possible, Annie and her husband found an oncologist at UCLA who could effectively treat her cancer without harming their unborn child. Exhausted but determined to “keep her head down and beat this” she did 9 rounds of chemotherapy and delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl named Cody at 36 weeks. Say’s Annie: “Someday I’ll tell her that she’s a warrior. From day one, she fought and fought. She is our miracle baby. In this emotional interview, Annie shares a cancer journey that is still unfolding and a mindset that will inspire anyone who hears it. This story is what “mother love” is all about. #inspiringstories #motherhood #coloncancer

Laurel Schnitman -113

My decision to pursue this career is because I feel that I learn from kids every single day. Sick children are amazing. They don’t act like they are sick. -Laurel Schnitman

Meet Laurel Schnitman: wife, mother of two and certified child life specialist for Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. I didn’t have to go very far to find Laurel, because she lives right across the street! We settled into my living room for a conversation about her career and her passion for working with children while making sure we practiced social distancing! As part of a team of 15 child life specialists, Laurel provides psychosocial, medical play therapy and procedural support for children during hospital stays. Many of the children she helps are hospitalized for long periods of time and she has experienced the heartache of losing her young patients to the illnesses that brought them to the hospital in the first place. Laurel is that critical bridge between doctors, nurses, parents and children, offering sage advice and comfort when it is needed the most. In this interview, Laurel shares her experience of working with children and families at the most vulnerable times in their lives to shed some light on how our children are reacting to the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Anxiety and fear come from the unknown. When you can give children a predictable environment at home, that can really help to reduce fear and anxiety.” For a tutorial on helping your child maneuver the rough seas of a worldwide pandemic, press that download button. #wereallinthistogether.