All posts by Dan Thibeault

Debra Briss Wolfe -112

The one thing that isn’t being talked about in the corona virus pandemic is that people are dying alone. And that’s not all: Covid-19 has changed the entire funeral service. -Debra Briss Wolfe

The woman you are about to meet has spent nearly 30 years in the funeral business. In fact, it is fair to say that being of service to those who have died and those who are mourning is in her blood. Debra Briss Wolfe is the great-great granddaughter of Jacob H. Levine, the founding father of Levine Chapels and that iconic funeral home has been part of the fabric of the Boston Jewish community for generations. A graduate of Mount Ida College, Debra recalls going inside Levine’s as a child, and becoming very aware that “important work” was done there. Armed with a degree in funeral service, Debra has been devoted to her work in the funeral industry ever since, first as a Funeral Director and now as a Family Service Counselor. With the death toll climbing each day from Covid-19, I wanted to ask Debra if she could shed some light on how the extremely contagious virus has changed her industry, what families can expect when their loved one is taken to a funeral home and how the rules around funeral services and burials have changed due to new CDC guidelines. The mother of two daughters, Debra says she has never shielded her girls from the reality of her work. A big believer in the healing power of yoga, she is “sitting in a lot of silence these days because I feel that I’m going to be needed by my colleagues, my friends and my family. This pandemic is going to be rough for a lot of people.” No matter what your faith is, Debra’s knowledge of the funeral industry, along with her understanding of the importance of religious customs and rituals for the dead and those who mourn them will educate, inform and inspire you.
#coronavirus #covid-19 #funeralservice

Sima Aleahmad -111

If you walk on the sidewalk outside our school you might see blood. -Sima Aleahmad

Frightening words from Ms. Sima, an elementary school teacher in South Central, Los Angeles, one of the most violent school districts in the United States. But it is here in this place that Sima has chosen to work, spending 20 years empowering hearts and expanding the minds of underserved children. Sima says it is not rare at all to see kindergarten students kicking doors and punching teachers. An advocate for school improvement from the inside out, she is a beloved teacher whose classroom strategies reach into the hearts of children who live in a world filled with toxic stress and fear. She calls her philosophy the SIMA method and that stands for: success is mindful awareness. Says Sima: “One thing I know after 20 years of teaching is that all children really want is to love and be loved. Connecting with a child heart to heart is how we create fertile soil. It is how we plant the seeds for a child’s future.” Her third graders have learned how to be mindful of their actions, how to stop and “refresh” before reacting violently, and how to fill themselves and each other with compassion and love. And it’s not just the students Sima is transforming, it is her fellow teachers. Increased performance demands and complex student needs have made teaching more challenging the ever before. In this interview, Sima advocates that self-care for teachers is just as important as creating a daily lesson plan. Armed with a masters degree in Elementary Education, Sima is also National Board Certified in Teacher Leadership. In this up-close and personal interview, Sima speaks passionately about the violence she has experienced first hand, including the devastating loss of students who have been murdered. She also shares her success stories and the everlasting belief that what drives student success can’t be found in a textbook. For this exceptional woman, the meaning of success is simple: “I do whatever I can to make a child feel safe, secure and loved. I want to be that one teacher who changed a life.” #thesimamethod #storybehindhersuccess #inspiringteachers

Cassy Arsenault -110

I learned that if you want to be in broadcasting, you’ve gotta be able to take tough criticism and not let it get you down. You’ve just got to take it, soak it up, cry at home and get to work and do your best. -Cassy Arsenault

If you’ve ever wondered what would be like to work at Good Morning America and Nightline, this episode is for you. Born and raised in the little town of called Leominster, Massachusetts (also the home of Johnny Appleseeds), Cassy promised herself that someday, she’d fly away and live large in New York City. As luck would have it, she gained admission to New York University and before you know it, was interning for network TV. She got her start as a live producer for Lara Spencer on Good Morning America and then became an associate producer for Cynthia McFadden producing segments that ran the gamut from extreme bachelorette parties to an investigation into the case of poison leaching into the watersource used by military families at Camp Lejeune. Although she loved what she did, Cassy realized that if she was ever going to make the switch from working behind the camera to being the face in front of the camera, she’d better do it quick. After stints at small stations in Salinas/Monterey California and in Michigan where she was a member of the Problem Solvers Team at WXMI, Cassy made her way back home to Boston where she is now a freelance reporter for NBC 10 and the creator of an empowering video series called Bosstown which features boss ladies from every walk of life. The oldest of 4 children, Cassy credits her parents with instilling her unstoppable work ethic and sense of resiliency no matter what the obstacle may be: “When things are going bad, you just have to self talk and say: don’t quit. Keep going. You CAN do this.” At a time when members of the media are often accused of being vultures, Cassy subscribes to a more personal approach to her stories. “As a general assignment news reporter, I show up in people’s lives on their worst days. I’m inspired by their courage. I’m respectful of everyone I meet. I’m gonna give a good name to our industry. “  #womeninmedia  #storybehindhersuccess  #gma  #nightline

Nancy Quill -109

I’ve learned that you have to be persistent. You have to keep at it. You can’t let yourself down. You can’t let anybody else down, either. You just have to keep going no matter what. -Nancy Quill

Words of wisdom from the most listened to woman in the city of Boston. Nancy Quill has been on the radio for 38 years. Hired at only 22 on a brand new station called Magic 106.7, WMJX, Nancy is still there, doing what she loves every single day. And she’s really good at it. With number one ratings in her 10A-3P time slot, Nancy says it wasn’t long before she realized that being #1 is great, but staying #1 is hard work: “I’ve got to be on my game every day. I’ve got to do the best that I can to relate to people…to be real. I want them to know that I care, that I’m there for them.” A graduate of the University of Lowell with a degree in music education, Nancy is an accomplished singer, songwriter and musician. Radio is in her blood: she is the daughter of the late Doris and Joe Quill, owner and general manager of WRLM in Taunton, Massachusetts. In this interview, she recalls voicing her first commercial at about 4 years old, sitting on her father’s lap. She names her Dad as her lifelong mentor…a gentle giant who always had the best advice in any situation. It was Joe Quill’s diagnosis and eventual death due to Alzheimers Disease that sparked Nancy’s devotion to the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. At the end of the day, Nancy’s marriage and motherhood are what matter most to her. For a look into a humble and kind Boston radio legend’s life, this candid interview checks all of the boxes. #womeninradio #storybehindhersuccess

Natalie Martinez -108

I had a lot of hopes and dreams, but I really didn’t have a voice growing up. I was shy. I was in the background. I had to figure out what I wanted to do in this world. -Natalie Martinez

The Executive Director & Co-President of Strong Women Strong Girls has spent her entire career in the non-profit world. The youngest of three girls and the daughter of a military man and a nurturing mother who was “her rock”, Natalie Martinez grew up in Mattapan not really knowing what she wanted to do with her life. Her career path was full of forks in the road, but there was one thing knew for sure: “I wanted to give back to the community. I want to see us all thrive.” With 18 years of experience in nonprofit management, she accepted the opportunity to step into a leadership role at Strong Women Strong Girls with open arms. An award-winning nonprofit launched in 2000 by Harvard undergraduate student Lindsay Hyde, the organization blossomed in Boston as a way of mentoring girls in grades 3-5 with a goal of helping them to develop skills for lifelong success. There is a reason why girls between the ages of 8-11 are the target for this curriculum. Research shows that a girl’s self-esteem peaks at about age 11 and if she doesn’t have a positive role model, her confidence and sense of self go down and girls in underserved communities are at especially high risk. Female students from area colleges served as role models within the original program model. By 2004, Strong Women Strong Girls was incorporated as a nonprofit and the organization expanded its footprint across the country. Today, Strong Women Strong Girls is thriving in Boston with 550 elementary school girls from 45 different community centers across the city and mentors from 7 area colleges. With corporate support from forward thinking companies, is able to provide mentorship for its college students by introducing their Strong Leaders Network. The mother of three daughters, Natalie says her message to her girls is the same message she brings to Strong Women Strong Girls every day: “Your path may not be like everyone else’s, but there is something unique in you that you have to contribute to the planet.” In other words: little girl: you can do anything! #swsgboston #storybehindhersuccess #mentoring

Hannah Finn -107

I’ve learned that you have to be grateful for everything you have in life and that some people have so much less. You have to help people whenever and wherever you can.  -Hannah Finn  
She may only be 17 years old, but Hannah Finn is an old soul who lives her life with compassion and purpose. Her mission to help those less fortunate began three years ago when her mother, Claudia told her she needed to devote at least some of her time to a cause that mattered to her. Shocked by how many homeless people she observed in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Hannah decided to combine her love of baking with a commitment to help homeless families by making birthday cakes for homeless children in nearby shelters. What started out with a single birthday cake is now about 400 cakes, specially designed and made with love for each birthday boy or girl at 6 shelters in the Merrimack Valley. Her non-profit is called The One Wish Project and her purpose is simple:  Hannah Finn just wants to spread kindness. The awards for her community service are starting to add up, yet the humble, kindhearted teenager is quick to match the sentiment of American poet laureate Maya Angelou, explaining in this candid interview that she doesn’t do it for the recognition. “These children may not remember who I am, or the cake I made for them, but they are always going to remember how they felt on their birthday.”   #kindness   #birthdaycake   #storybehindhersuccess

Suzanne Iovanna -106

Taking care of three dealerships was hard enough for someone who didn’t know anything about the car business! -Suzanne Iovanna

October 19, 2014 is a day Suzanne Iovanna will never forget because it was the day her husband Michael died in a car accident. It was also the day she became a single mom to teenagers Michael Jr and Alexandra, and the owner of Pride Motor Group in Lynn, Massachusetts. A Periodontal Surgical Assistant and stay at home mom, Suzanne admits she knew nothing about how to run a large car dealership that includes Pride Hyundai, Pride Kia, and Pride Chevrolet www.pridemotorgroup. She spent a year settling her husband’s estate and then decided the best way to honor him was to dive into trying to run the family business. In this candid interview, Suzanne recalls attending meetings where she had no idea what people were talking about, so she’d go back to her office, close the door and start googling words. An invitation from Hyundai to begin training as a Dealer Principal in Korea was gratefully accepted, followed by joining a “NADA 20 Group” where dealers meet to learn from each other. Soon after, she enrolled at the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy in Tysons, Virginia for intensive instruction in automotive sales, service and finance, earning her NADA certification in 2017. The President of Pride Motor Group and a Dealer Principal for Hyundai, Kia and Chevrolet, Suzanne is among a very small group of women car dealership owners in the United States and she is on a mission to promote women in her industry. “At the end of the day, my goal is to learn every single thing I possibly can. It’s kinda like a boxing match. Every time someone thinks, oh, she’s out, I come bouncing right back up again. I just want to prove to myself that I can do this.” #storybehindhersuccess #womencardealers #pridemotorgroup #kia #hyundai #chevrolet

Jill Fopiano -105

I had a trader pour tequila on my head because I wouldn’t kiss him in the middle of the trading floor. To react to that would have been career suicide on Wall Street in the 1990’s, so I laughed it off and grew some pretty thick skin. -Jill Fopiano

Making her way in the financial world has been quite a ride for Jill Fopiano. She never really got used to being the only female at the table, but she always did her best to be heard, even when she was mistaken for a secretary. As the years passed, she added designations and credentials to her name like CFA, CFP and an MBA from Yale. The goal was to demand the same level of respect given to her male counterparts. Armed with the wisdom that comes from real world experience, Jill made the move to O’Brien Wealth Partners LLC as a Principal. In 2016, she became the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Investment Officer and majority owner of the all-female owned firm. One of her missions is to break down the “Money Taboo” which is the idea that it is impolite or improper for women to talk about money. Jill’s aim is to create an environment where women are financially confident and empowered. Says Jill: “we don’t hide behind mahogany walls, leather briefcases and power suits. We sit on the same side of the table as our clients.” The single mom of two sons, there is no such thing as the work/family balance for this powerhouse. No stranger to long work days, there are times when she runs to her son’s baseball games in a black dress and red heels, just in time to stand-in as a third base coach. A member of the Women’s President’s Organization, Jill is committed to mentoring and advancing women owned businesses in the Boston area and beyond. Her top 5 secrets for balancing career, family and self include this pearl of wisdom: “On your worst or hardest days, wear your best tutu.” Right on, Jill. #womeninfinance  #storybehindhersuccess  #singlemoms


Meredith Atwood -104

I never listened to my intuition. I did what I was expected to do. I made other people proud. That was how I lived my life. -Meredith Atwood

Meredith Atwood remembers working very hard to get into law school, knowing all the while that being a lawyer was not what she was meant to do with her life. She did it anyway. The years flew by, she married her college sweetheart, had babies, and was making lots of money as an attorney, but somewhere deep down inside, Meredith had lost her way. One morning, after drinking too much wine and binging on pizza and ice cream, the triathlete just couldn’t get out of bed. She didn’t even remember the promise she had made to her daughter to help with a project before school. Instead, she pulled the covers over her head and slept through the entire morning. When she woke up, she found a note from her husband with four powerful words on it: GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER. Says Meredith: “When you are in a state of emotional despair, you are not living your authentic life. You are sick.” And so began an open, painfully honest 365 day experiment which is now the title of her book: The Year of No Nonsense: How to get over yourself and on with your life.” Published by Hatchette Books, it reads like a journal and is both heartbreaking and hysterically funny, all at the same time. Determined to figure out what was working in her life and what wasn’t, Meredith gave up both her legal career and drinking wine, and set about the task of adjusting her compass. The result is a book that resonates for any woman who has also lost her way. In this candid interview, Meredith shares her belief that we all suffer losses throughout our lives, but “getting over the past requires seeing it, acknowledging it, and then saying to yourself: hey, I can do nothing about that. I only have today, so let’s get on with it.” For 23 minutes of truth and wisdom, just hit that download button. #yearofnononsense #storybehindhersuccess #triathletes

Marilyn Abrams -103

Nobody in the dressing room at Shear Madness knew that I was the co-producer. I just wanted to be a part of the cast and the camaraderie! -Marilyn Abrams

This is the story of a woman who has not only used her creative talents as a singer and an actress, but has gone outside her skillset and comfort zone to produce and market a theatre production. Meet Marilyn Abrams, the co-creator and co-producer of Shear Madness, the hilarious and endearing whodunit launched in Boston at the Charles Theatre way back in 1980. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running play in the history of theatre in the United States, the play has launched 50 production companies, been translated into 27 languages and seen by 12.5 million people around the world. Not bad for a play that was originally 4 pages long! Raised in the Bronx, New York, Marilyn always loved to act and sing. A student at the Bronx School of Science, she held her own, but never excelled in math or chemistry. One day at an assembly, Marilyn’s teachers discovered her love of the stage and created moments for her to shine. They also wrote glowing recommendations for Marilyn to attend Cornell where she continued to thrive. Marilyn met fellow actor Bruce Jordan playing summer stock in Lake George, New York and the two actors would go on to co-create and co-produce Shear Madness. This effort took time and patience, and originally, Marilyn was committed only to an 8 week run playing the role of Barbara deMarco. She soon realized that someone had to figure out how to sell tickets and market the play in order for it to succeed. Marilyn figured out early on that word of mouth, and relationships within the Boston area would eventually grow the production, and she was right. “We were told to give up, that nothing plays in Boston in the summertime. A little light bulb went off and we said: great, we’ll be the only show in town.” At one point, Marilyn got on a bike and dropped off playbills herself to every hotel in the city. As Shear Madness celebrates 40 years on stages worldwide, we celebrate the accomplishments of Marilyn Abrams: wife, mother, singer, actress, producer and force of nature! #storybehindhersuccess  #shearmadness40  #whodunit  #womenintheatre