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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Stephanie Ferradino A Perfect Balance

Photos by Deborah Neary

by Christina James Saratoga TODAY

For Stephanie Ferradino, a sense of societal obligation came genetically. What she did with that sense, however, continues to exceed everyone’s expectations. Born and raised in the Saratoga region, Ferradino is the daughter to Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Ferradino. Following in her father’s footsteps, Ferradino attended Siena College, graduating in the top 4 percent of her class, and then Albany Law School, just as her father did. After her admission to the New York Bar in 1997, Stephanie has been a catalyst for change in her community ever since. Ferradino is an outstanding woman in the field of law. She practices at Jones Ferradino, Attorneys at Law, and she practices in an area unique for women in her field, real estate development. Ferradino has enthusiastically represented her clients on some of the most significant projects in our region.

“My favorite area of practice is real estate development, which includes zoning and planning,” said Ferradino. “When a new commercial or residential development comes to an area, the project goes through a series of municipal approvals before they are allowed to build. My firm facilitates obtaining those approvals for our clients. This month, I’m representing an asphalt plant, Saratoga Hospital and a new hotel in Malta. My particular area of work is definitely exciting and interesting, especially as my projects help shape my community.” You don’t have to look long or hard to see the impact of Ferradino’s involvement in her community. In 2007, when her firm was contacted by an innovated technology company named Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Ferradino worked with them to help obtain municipal approvals from the towns of Malta and Stillwater to bring the highly-lucrative company, GlobalFoundries, to the Luther Forest Tech Campus.

“[My firm] spent the better part of two years modifying the legislation and getting the site plan approved to allow the construction to begin,” said Ferradino. “Working with so many talented professionals and community leaders was a highlight of my career. I am very proud of the work our community has done in order to attract a world-class facility to upstate New York. It [was] an honor to work with such exceptional people.” And the results of their work speak for themselves. Already employing over 1,000 people, GlobalFoundries looks to be one of the most valuable additions to the region in recent memory, and Ferradino was a prominent contributor to its development. “I am not a delegator who pulls back from the work; instead, I prefer to be fully engaged with sleeves rolled up working with my team,” said Ferradino. “This [work ethic] has served me well and inspires loyalty and confi-

dence among my coworkers and clients.” Her dedication to each individual client is evident in the relationships that she is able to build and the results that she achieves time after time. “My clients realize in pretty short order that I care about finding the best possible solution for

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012 the challenge confronting them, and that if it is possible to forge a consensus to reach a positive result, I am able to do that,” Ferradino explains. “Taking the time to get to know the people I’m working with on a personal and professional level, and seeking a collaborative result, if one is obtainable, has always been rewarding to me and facilitates a more well-rounded approach to development, resulting in better projects.” And Ferradino’s law firm isn’t the only outlet for her collaborative approach to problem-solving. In addition to her professional accomplishments, Ferradino gives back to her community daily, through her volunteer work and presence on the boards of several nonprofit and business organizations. As a board member for the Saratoga Springs History Museum, the Malta Business and P r o f e s s i o n a l Association (MBPA) and the Saratoga


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012 County and Italian-American Bar Associations, Ferradino has made giving back to the community a large part of her life. She is currently helping the MBPA to organize their annual 5K race in September, and later this month she will be participating in a 144-mile bike ride to help raise money for Moveable Feast, a Baltimore-based charity that provides meals for people throughout the state living with breast cancer, HIV or other life-threatening conditions. With so many things on her plate, Ferradino’s

biggest problem is finding the time for it all. “I tend to throw myself wholeheartedly into most everything I do,” said Ferradino. “However, that isn’t without its downside. I’m learning that there are times when you need to just set aside [work] in order to be more engaged in family, friends and life. While I find it almost comically difficult to slow down, I have discovered that when I do, there is immense enjoyment in very simple things, be it my daughter, a view from the top of a peak or a job well done. The occasional conscious taming of my passion for work has some really positive benefits in other areas of my life.”

This balancing act, consciously setting time aside from work to enjoy life’s everyday moments, is what revitalizes Ferradino. It gives her the energy to be committed and passionate about so many things, and it’s something that she recommends that all women do. “Balance is essential,” Ferradino explained. “Rather than sitting on numerous boards and spreading yourself too thin, pick one organization that sparks your interest, and concentrate your energies on making an impact there. I suspect women my age are sometimes torn between advancing their careers, taking care of families, and maintaining their health. That does not leave much additional time for community involvement. However, every person can make a difference in their community, even in small ways that don’t take a significant amount of time.”

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Melissa Zieker An Eye for Details

Photos by Deborah Neary

by Christina James Saratoga TODAY

M

elissa Zieker has lived in quite a few different places. Growing up primarily in Georgia and Alabama, attending high school in Connecticut, college in Washington, and then living in Massachusetts, Zieker has seen enough of the country to know a good place when she sees one. And she thinks Saratoga Springs is a very good place. Relocating to the region permanently in 2005, she, and her husband of now 13 years, Chris, fell in love with the area almost immediately and decided to open up an ophthalmology private practice here. “We love that Saratoga is small enough to feel a tight sense of community, yet large enough to have the cultural offerings that it does,” said Zieker. “Saratoga blends the best aspects of living in a large, cosmopolitan city with the best aspects of living in a historic, small town. I love how it harmonizes both.” Graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in business management with an emphasis in marketing

from Washington State University, Zieker was originally introduced to the area by a Capital Region local, her husband. After being accepted to medical school at Albany Medical, the pair moved to Albany where she began working as a recruiter for a public accounting firm. “I spent the majority of the next decade in corporate training and development for that company,” Zieker said. “It was a wonderful experience, and I learned much of what I rely on today to run our own business.” That business, Zieker Eye Ophthalmology, is the definition of “family-owned and operated.” Zieker’s husband, Chris, is an MD specializing in cataract surgery. Her brother-in-law is a physician assistant and the other provider at the practice.

One sister-in-law works in the front office, and another sister-in-law is the billing manager. And Melissa? “I run the business operations,” Zieker said. “It is my job to manage the day-to-day operations of running a medical practice as an employer, bookkeeper, marketer or problem-solver. Essentially, anything that does not involve seeing patients likely involves me! A truly local, family-owned business, the Ziekers decided that they could better-serve patients and practice medicine in a more meaningful way by working from a small, private office rather than a larger one. The Zieker staff can take time to engage with each patient, listening to what they have to say, and since they control their schedule, they can provide care on a

more personalized level, something that is becoming increasingly uncommon. The decision to open a business was not an easy one. Despite wanting to really make a difference in the community, there were a lot of obstacles. “My husband and I took a big risk opening a new business in this economy,” said Zieker. “It is even riskier since medicine and health care are so fragile right now and so dynamic. The changes in government policy make our field a difficult one to plan for long term.” But Zieker’s business background allowed them to press forward. “Market research showed that the growth in our community could support an additional eye surgeon,” Zieker explained. “We also saw a trend toward simpler, more meaningful experiences as a consumer. For example, home milk delivery is back, there is a greater push toward shopping locally and supporting

small businesses. We knew we could offer that type of environment in a medical office. The very large practices leave so many people feeling as if they are on a conveyor belt. The experience is so impersonal, or worse, patients feel like the enemy. We feel patients deserve better. So that is what we provide.” And their research was right. People who live in this region go out of their way to support each other, and they genuinely appreciate a more “personal” approach, so Zieker Eye Ophthalmology has had no trouble finding and keeping clients. “We just had a patient say, ‘I wish I had a third eye’ so he would have a reason to come see us more often,” Zieker said. “Our mission is to preserve and protect the miracle of vision with expertise, kindness and efficiency. That mission is why I am passionate about my job.” But Zieker’s community influence isn’t only through her business. As a member of both Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s (SPAC) Action Council and Executive Committee, Zieker


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

has found another way to use her marketing and philanthropic skills to benefit the community. Created to work cooperatively with SPAC, the Action Council provides assistance with public rela-

tions and puts on several of SPAC’s fundraising events. The Rock & Run 5K, Ballet Gala, Lecture Luncheon and Nutcracker Tea are all events orchestrated by the Action Council.

Their events help raise money to support the summer residencies of the NYC Ballet and The Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as provide funding for the Vivienne Anderson Children’s Program,

which allows underprivileged children a chance to experience the arts at SPAC. Zieker’s involvement at SPAC stems from her deep appreciation for what the facility does and how

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much it influences our community. “SPAC is one of the most amazing cultural gems I have been to, and we are so lucky to have it right in our backyard,”


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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Zieker said. “SPAC is a major economic engine, generating over 100 million dollars of ancillary revenue for the Capital District each year – so not only is SPAC a world-class cultural icon, it’s also a job-creator and revenue stream for the whole region.” Despite these successes, SPAC is still in need of a lot of community support. As a nonprofit organization, SPAC receives little to no state or government support, it operates mostly on donations from members and corporate sponsorships. To Zieker, keeping this community mainstay thriving is vital. “I could not imagine our community without SPAC in it,” said Zieker. “Even with budgets repeatedly cutting the arts, SPAC continues to stand up and keep the arts relevant and vibrant, inspiring kids not only in arts and music, but science, technology – it’s what makes our culture rich. The arts are critically important.” Membership to SPAC begins at just $75, and according to Zieker, “becoming a member is a great way to ensure that this powerful eco-

nomic engine remains viable in our community.” In addition to her work with SPAC, Zieker is a volunteer for Junior Achievement, a member of the Yaddo Summer Benefit Committee, and a member of a newly formed organization that serves children with severe food allergies. She is also on the board of directors for the relatively new nonprofit Taylor’s Heroes, an organization that promotes fitness and nutrition for children. “I see myself as a woman who has the great opportunity to live in this amazing community where women are celebrated and can shine,” said Zieker. “As a small business owner, mother and volunteer I feel that I have found so many outlets where my efforts are appreciated and where I can interact with, learn from and develop bonds with other strong, thoughtful women. All of the organizations I am involved with have women in the top leadership positions. It is inspiring. I have a daughter and I want her to see all that women can do, especially when they work together. The possibilities are endless!”


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Valerie Muratori Finding a Fit Photos by MarkBolles.com

by Christina James Saratoga TODAY

F

or Valerie Muratori, being proactive is a way of life. She isn’t a waitand-see person; she’s a plan-andexecute. It’s this strategy, this hands-on approach to life, which has helped Valerie not only lead the nonprofit organization she directs through some difficult times, but to more than quadruple the number of people they serve. As the executive director of Saratoga Bridges, a nonprofit organization servicing individuals with developmental disabilities (DDs), Muratori has grown the fairly small nonprofit to one of the largest in the county, with a budget of $26 million, and one of the top 15 largest county employers, with over 600 employees. “When I came in, the agency didn’t really know anything about residential services and was looking for someone to spearhead,” Muratori said. “I came [to Saratoga Springs]

and worked for another organization known as AIM, or Alternatives in Mankind, and was the clinical coordinator there for about three years. The experience that I had with AIM, running residential services, allowed me to move to Saratoga Bridges and I was responsible for opening up its first residential program.” In 1984, that program opened the first accessible community-based home in the county, and under Muratori’s guidance, now houses 107 individuals in 17 homes and just keeps growing. “We keep a very active and long wait-list for residential services,” Muratori explained. “Anybody from Saratoga County can be added to our wait list, and then when we have an opening, we reach out to who we think is probably the person who needs the services the most. It’s not necessarily first-come first-served; it’s more of a ‘who is the most in need of services.’” Residents in the program receive a lot more than just a roof over their

heads. They are given the tools needed to become independent, with services such as 24-hour supervision, training to develop decisionmaking skills, nutritional consultation, as well occupational and physical therapy that allow them to live, work and socialize within their community. “The individuals that we support are family members to other members of this community- they’re sisters; they’re brothers,” said Muratori. “They could be aunts or uncles of other members of the community and they have grown up here. All they want to do is be able to give back and be considered positive members to the community. One of our biggest challenges is to find where our individuals fit.” Finding that fit is something that Muratori considers a top priority. She herself struggled to find her place in the world. “If you would have asked me in

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

college what I wanted to do, I would have said: ‘I have no clue,’” Muratori said. “My mom suggested I do some volunteer work. So, I went to work with a family who had a child with a degenerative disease, and it was my first experience working with someone

who had a DD. That’s really where I started my relationship with people with DDs.” Up until then, Valerie had been working with preschoolers at Prospect School in Glens Falls and as a teacher’s assistant, while she pursued her psychology master’s from UVM, so individuals with DDs weren’t something Muratori had a lot of

experience with. “I grew up in a community where, down the street, there were two kids that just never went to school because their DD was so significant that the school district just didn’t have a program for them,” Moratori said. “Now, I’m always thinking about how I can support and advocate for people with DDs.”


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

New York has seen a lot of progress in regards to programming opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and Muratori has done her best to capitalize on that, bringing everything she possibly can to Saratoga Bridges. “I think we have been very fortunate in New York,” said Muratori. “Over the last 25 years, there has been a significant amount of growth

in serving people with developmental disabilities. In this community they can access, pick and choose what kinds of services they’re interested in.” But with the economic downturn, particularly in the last five years as New York State struggles with budget reductions, Muratori and Saratoga Bridges have seen their share of difficulties.

“The opportunities have kind of plateaued- meaning there hasn’t been a lot of recent growth and development for people,” explained Muratori. “So, because of the budget crisis in New York State, we are directly impacted. We haven’t opened up a new home since 2008

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012 because of the budget problems here.” Instead of cutting back services, Muratori, with her normal can-do attitude, simply looked at the budget cuts and instead said, “What could we do that isn’t a traditional home for people?” So, Saratoga Bridges has done other things like open up independent living for people with DDs. And Muratori sees the circumstances as a learning experience. “[The budget cuts] have made us take a step back, and say, ‘what ways can we support people if we don’t have the traditional ways that used to be available to us?’” said Muratori. Her ability to think outside the box has been beneficial to the Saratoga Springs community even beyond her work with Saratoga Bridges. Muratori has volunteered for numerous local organizations, including Operation Adopt a Soldier; Maplewood Manor; Ronald McDonald House; the Salvation Army; Shelters of Saratoga; and many, many more. “[A lot of] my volunteer work has been in the field of supporting people with developmental disabilities,” said Muratori. “Anybody who knows me will tell you that what I do for a living is just something that makes me very passionate.” It’s that passion that has made Muratori one of our area’s most dedicated servants, a leader among even the movers and shakers. And having raised three kids of her own here, she is happy to keep investing in Saratoga. “I think Saratoga is a great community to have your kids grow up in because they have so many opportunities for different experiences,” Muratori said. “The community is just very supportive of offering a lot of diverse opportunities for kids, whether in sports, or in arts, there’s something available.”


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Melissa Ward “A life of experience and service”

Photos by MarkBolles.com

by Helen Susan Edelman Saratoga TODAY

W

atching a baseball game in Zimbabwe was a pivotal moment in the life of Ballston Spa resident Melissa Ward. Ward was in Zimbabwe with a Rotary Club group deployed to help improve a school for 600 children. The school building was in shambles. She helped pour cement floors, build desks and chairs and provide supplies the kids needed to achieve the education they deserved. She also helped teach them baseball with wiffle balls and bats. “Every day we would take a long car ride to the site, but park half a mile away because the sand was too soft to drive on,” Ward recalls. “We walked in the last half mile. And the kids would be waiting for us, singing and dancing in welcome.” But Ward became ill,

spiking a 104-degree fever. She was taken to a hospital in Victoria Falls at midnight, where the wife of a pharmacist acquired antibiotics to stem her sickness. Still, she wouldn’t rest the next day. “I didn’t travel all that way to stay in bed,” she said. When the group she was in arrived at the site that morning, some of the kids were singing and dancing, as always, but some were playing baseball. “They were leaping, laughing, playing,” Ward remembers, teary. “My heart burst open. If I’m ever sad, I think about that moment,” she says. “There was a little shift in the universe. We had spread some joy and I was a part of that. Since then, a lot of things that had been aggravating to me on a daily basis roll off my shoulders.” On her journey, Ward saw living c onditions she describes as “hideous, like people living in 10-by-10 tin houses.” She says of the lifechanging journey, “We were feeding them and they were saying ‘thank you.’” The trip was one of many experiences Ward has had as a dedicated member of the Rotary Club community, a highly respected service organization comprising 34,282 clubs worldwide. The 1.2 million members of these clubs adhere to the organization’s motto, “Service above self.” Ward’s first exposure to the Rotary was as a Long Island high-schooler, where she participated in Gift of Life, a project bringing children from outside the United States to America for lifesaving surgery. Her role during the project was to visit and play with the kids. One early champion of Gift of Life was first lady Nancy Reagan, who helped bring national awareness to its extraordinary work of furthering the cause of world peace and understanding by facilitating free medical services, primarily for children suffering from heart defects and other similar or allied illnesses, regardless of race, gender, creed or national origin, and who would other-

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012 wise lack access to such services. “After I graduated, I forgot about it,” she says. “Then in 2002, a friend in the Capital Region called and invited me to a meeting of a new Rotary chapter in an area aligned with the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. I went, expecting to see a lot of male retirees, but, instead, I met a lot of young, hip, cool, intelligent 40somethings, and I became a charter member of the Twin Bridges Rotary Club. That’s where I learned about the school in Zimbabwe. I was hooked.” All of her activities aren’t so exotic. She serves up Thanksgiving people to the homeless, works in the Ronald McDonald House, packs potatoes at the Regional Food Bank, helped clean up a summer camp in Albany for city youth and volunteers at the Mechanicville Community Center. “The point is to get involved with other organizations with a service mission and help them amplify that mission,” she explains, “whether it’s by providing bodies, knowledge or money. We collaborate and build partnerships, extending everybody’s reach. It’s very fulfilling.” Ward’s commitment to the allvolunteer organization is colossal in

both principle and practice. She recently agreed to take on the role of district governor, the equivalent of the CEO for the region, which represents about 1,300 club members in 40 clubs. She intends to tap into the membership for help and hopes to promote awareness about Rotary and its good works. “I can’t do everything myself,” she said. “I am going to call on others with skills, wisdom, funds and hours to contribute. And I’m going to be the one who signs the checks. It’s never a solo effort.” At this writing, Ward was in Bangkok, presenting three social media sessions to participants at a Rotary Club International meeting. While her work with Rotary evolved, Ward also raised two daughters as a single parent and launched NewWard Development, LLC, a thriving business in a competitive industry. NewWard fills a niche in the online Web-development industry, catering to small to mid-size companies looking to improve their clients' and prospective customers' online experience without breaking their website budget. Incorporated in 2004, NewWard has maintained a reputation for timely, cost-effective designs and earns accolades from

clients for excellent customer service. Ward, who has a B.S. in computer science and an M.B.A., started NewWard as a sole proprietor, but in 2004 partnered with Robert Newberry to build a Web-development firm that offers the full gamut of Web services, including web graphic design, application development, database integration, ecommerce solutions and internet marketing. She is the company’s expert in social-media marketing, Web design, marketing plans, customer engagement and loyalty. “I help companies build design strategies for marketing in a way that articulates the voice of the client,” Ward says. “Most of the time I am coaching, not doing it for my clients. We use Facebook, we use webinars; we put our collective fingers on the pulse of what people are doing, seeing and feeling.” Ward is a more mature voice in an industry largely dominated by 20-somethings. “I am an early adapter of technology,” she explains. “It’s intuitive for me.” Here is another aspect of her life – her professional acumen – Ward is willing to share. As a successful entrepreneur, Ward knows what it takes to set up a business, and she has stepped

up to help other women jumpstart theirs. At the moment, she is working with three women to write their business plans, connect to resources, work with towns for various permits, and research possible grant dollars available. “I do not do the work for her,” Ward emphasizes. “I teach her how to do it – same as my

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012 NewWard clients. I might do a little hand-holding. But we talk about possible scenarios, how to brand, how to turn what might have been a hobby into a successful business.” She says, “I really love to watch people when the light goes on, they take the leap and their business flourishes. I warn them that it might take years to make a profit, that it might be grueling at first – but there’s nothing better than working to market your passion – even if it’s not what you envision on opening day.” She remembers her own trajectory: “In my third year, I finally believed I could keep a roof over my head and my girls’.” Ward loves watching her friends fulfill their dreams. “It’s a way for me to connect with interesting, determined women, and I have a blast doing it,” she says. “Life is about experiences and service, but not just my experiences and not just my service. Whether it’s in Rotary, private business or informally consulting, it’s all energy-producing and inspirational.”


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Sue Commanda by Christina James Saratoga TODAY

H

aving reached the top, Sue Commanda is known for pulling people up to join her, not looking down on them. As the CEO of the incredibly successful Hudson River Community Credit Union (HRCCU), Commanda has the desire to make real positive change in the community and the resources to do it. Born and raised on L o n g Island, New York, in a town c a l l e d

Northport, Commanda left the island to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Plattsburgh State University. While at college, she fell in love with upstate New York, and after she graduated in 1984, she decided to relocate. Residing on a horse farm in Schuylerville with her husband, Gil, and son, Christian, 11, Commanda reflects on the key to her success. “I believe that I have been able to reach the position of CEO of one of the largest credit unions in the Capital District because I do what I love to do,” Commanda said. “My enjoyment is reflected in the enthusiasm and optimism that I carry through to my daily life. I have been able to combine this positive

attitude with an aptitude for numbers. I truly believe that it is the combination of these two traits that has taken me where I am at this point.” With 27 years of experience as a consultant and manager in the financial services industry, Commanda began her credit union career as an auditor with Credit Union Services Inc., an arm of the New York State Credit Union League. Later, as HRCCU’s CFO, she was instrumental in obtaining the union’s community charter, assisting in implementing their small business lending program, and streamlining several operational areas to improve efficiency. “As Chief Executive Officer of a major financial institution, I like to compare my daily

Photos by

MarkBolle

s.com

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activities to those of an orchestra conductor,” said Commanda. “My role is to identify the best resources (human, technological and educational) available to our organization and apply those resources in order to provide the best products and services at the best rates to our members in the most effective and efficient manner.” Her application of resources to benefit the common good can be seen in a unique partnership that she developed with SUNY Empire State College. To help her employees obtain degrees, Commanda worked with Empire State to tailor education programs for her staff. This was an important addition to the union’s existing tuition reimbursement program for employees. “As CEO, it is my responsibility to ensure that our member/owners are provided with the best service possible,” said Commanda. “The best way to ensure that service levels are at their highest is through the use of a motivated and well-educated staff.” HRCCU has offered a tuition reimbursement policy for employees for many years. However, Commanda’s initiative took the desire to provide educational opportunities a step further. Discussions with Empire State led to the development of a unique program that makes the required classes or degrees the union’s staff needed and wanted available – when it best fits their schedules. Offering this educational resource to employees gives the union’s benefit program a decided edge, and it shows both current and future employees, as well as potential customers, that the union cares. Commanda also stresses a sense of civic duty to her employees and encourages a lot of community involvement. “Volunteering is an important part of what makes our communities great places to live, work and play,” said Commanda. “As the CEO of a community credit union, it is important that I lead by example. Through my leadership and active participation, for the fourth year in a row, Hudson River Community Credit Union has provided the largest percentage of participation in the annual Run for the ROC, a charity run to support the Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center at Saratoga Hospital.”

It is important to Commanda to not only run a successful organization, but also make an impact on the community around her. She does this in traditional ways like volunteering and donating money and services, but she also has an unusual way of making a real difference in the lives of others: her horses. “I love to ride and share my love of horses with others,” said Commanda. “My husband, Gil, and I purchased and an abandoned farm several years ago, and over the last few years we rehabbed the house and built a horse farm on the property. We train horses, sell hay and offer horseback riding lessons to make the farm profitable.” The horse farm was just a second job for the Commandas until one day, several years ago, a family friend brought her daughter to the farm to take riding lessons. “She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had significant behavioral issues,” Commanda recalls. “I worked with her oneon-one for a few months and was able to teach her how to ride and behave appropriately. She [ended up doing] so well, she transitioned into a regular class and was able to enjoy meeting other girls her age and control her actions.” After that, the couple began working with other kids who had behavioral issues. And recently, they started working with a child who suffered a stroke at 9. “My husband, who is an RN, is working with her to restore her mobility on her left side,” Commanda said. “Gil and I have a firm belief that anything is possible and convey this to our riding students. No child is limited, no matter what the issue; we work with them to help them realize their dream of riding a horse!” No matter what Commanda is working on, she is fully-invested and has the community in mind. “It is my vision to enrich the lives of our members and employees by providing the tools they need to realize their dreams,” said Commanda. “Whether they are to purchase a home, send a child to college, or attend college themselves, I believe hard work, determination and access to resources makes anything possible.”


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

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Mary Gavin The Charitable Choice

Photos by MarkBolles.com

by Helen Susan Edelman Saratoga TODAY

I

n 2001, Mary Gavin and her husband and partner, business James LaVigne, moved to Saratoga Springs for its quality of life. And then they enhanced it. The couple, owners of Gavin and LaVigne Incorporated - a company that has arranged more than $8 billion of FHAinsured loans for hospitals and nursing homes for new projects and refinancings - could have established their office anywhere, but they chose a city that offered them an energetic downtown they could walk to easily from their residential neighborhood near Skidmore College, where they are raising their daughter. “I love the mental exercise of going up and down Broadway, Phila Street and Caroline Street in my head, planning my errands or where to go to dinner,” says Gavin, a native of Troy and alumna of Siena College who already had been

familiar with the area. The common knowledge that if you want something done, you ask a busy person to do it has never been truer than where it applies to Gavin. A certified public accountant, she works from home, often day and night, and sometimes goes on the road to meet with clients. But the vast intensity of her professional life hasn’t stopped her from taking on impressive responsibilities as a volunteer in Saratoga Springs. “When I first moved here, I enrolled my daughter at St. Clement’s, and I met Kristie Roohan [wife of realtor Tom Roohan], also a parent in the Catholic school community,” Gavin recalls. “I was working full-time, my husband was traveling a lot and I was volunteering in my daughter’s classroom. Kristie said, ‘You should get involved with the Saratoga Hospital Gala.’ I told her I was busy. And Kristie said to me, ‘Mary, we’re all busy.’ So, I said ‘Yes, I’ll try.’ This was what spawned my volunteer work in Saratoga Springs.” Since that conversation, Gavin has served on the major hospital fundraiser committee nine times, twice as chair.

She also served on the boards of both the Saratoga Hospital Foundation and Saratoga Hospital and Nursing Home. “Everyone has something they can bring to the table,” she says. “This year, my role is to ask for large sums of money. It’s not hard to do; it’s not work,” she said. “It’s easy to ask for support for something as meaningful as a community health-resource center for people in need of help, which is what the hospital foundation is focused on now.” Gavin emphasizes that the foundation’s executive d i r e c t o r, Terry Lee, is

“extraordinary to work for and with. She creates a sense of camaraderie. Everyone interested in fundraising should be required to be exposed to her style. And, I have the opportunity to interact with people like A.C. Riley [former mayor of Saratoga Springs as A.C. Dake] and Linda Toohey [former executive vice president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce], whose knowledge and generosity make me want to be part of the effort even more. I learn so much from them.” She says that one person on the gala committee might get a donation of a car for the silent auction and another might get a donation of a massage, and that both are

greeted with genuine excitement. “When you have limited time, you have to make some hard decisions about where to volunteer, but since I work with hospitals for a living, I have a special appreciation for this industry from a business perspective,” she points out. “And, this is such a great group of people. The whole experience brings out the best in you.” She also is on the advisory council for the Adirondack Trust Company Community Fund, established in 2009 to serve as a perpetual source of philanthropic support for the needs of local charities such as Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services, First Baptist Church, Grant Cottage and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, among many others. “When Charles Wait [president of ATC] asks you to do something you say, ‘yes,’” Gavin says. “Having a chance to work with him was very appealing. He is a role model for giving back to the community you care about.” She also contributes significant time as a board member to the Saratoga Central Catholic School, where her daughter is a student. “I think it’s important for the community to have the alternative of a private Catholic school for those who want their children to be educated there,” she says. And, by example, she has taught her daughter - who also has been pressed into service to stuff envelopes and to set up chairs for various events - about the rewards of giving. For her daughter’s 16th birthday, 85 kids were invited to a special kind of party; instead of bringing gifts for the honoree, each guest brought a toy, which then was donated to the Franklin Community Center to be redistributed to children in the area. “You can’t actually teach someone to be charitable, they have to develop the desire on their own,” Gavin says. “But you can share some ideas of how to do it.” And Gavin has lots of those. Some of them she has been able to share with the Mardi Gras Committee that steers an


Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

annual event launched by Hattie’s Restaurant proprietor Beth Alexander to raise money for local nonprofits. Last year’s efforts yielded $26,000 for Sponsor-AScholar, a relatively new organization that helps financially disadvantaged Saratoga Springs students prepare for and get accepted into college. The charity is close to the heart of Gavin’s husband, LaVigne, who serves as its executive director (another person with no time who makes time). The donation represented more than 25 percent of Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar’s yearly budget and will provide funding for 10 new students. “I’ve never seen a more generous community or one that comes together more to do good work,” Gavin comments. She knows her situation is both unique and ideal – working from home and for herself, Gavin can get up from the kitchen table and get to a board meeting without asking permission, there’s no wasted time dealing with a jammed copier or chitchat with office mates. Plus, she has been able to be an at-home

parent, when necessary. “I can’t imagine stopping any of the things I do,” she says. ”I have the best of both worlds- a stay-at-

home mom with a career. It’s remarkable.” Renewal is important too. Gavin

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Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

Week of May 25 - 31, 2012

Women of Influence 2012 Saratoga County’s Top 6

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Saratoga TODAY Newspaper Five Case Street, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 tel: 518.581.2480, fax: 518.581.2487 SaratogaPublishing.com

and LaVigne sometimes escape to the Adirondacks for a few days to decompress. “Balance is important,” Gavin says. “Taking a little break can make a big difference after you’ve worked on a deal that gets you up at 6 a.m. and continues all day and even at night, when you bring work to bed.” Having a loving and supportive partner also makes a difference, Gavin stresses. “Whichever one of us is available can do the grocery shopping, pick up our daughter, make the big ask for a charity. We divide things up. I take the lead on a lot of our business with clients, but there are things Jim is

just better at, and he’ll always back me up. And, I always back him up.” Gavin confirms that she has the same 24 hours in a day as everybody else; she has just learned to maximize them. “Volunteering is the life blood of a community,” she concludes. “The shops can be nice, the people can be nice, the place can be pretty, but without volunteers, there are no extras. Think of First Night, one of the best and most exciting events in the city, started and operated by volunteers. I like to think I am passing on to some women with potential the wisdom and friendship that Kristie Roohan passed on to me. I think not that there is too much on my plate, but, ‘this is what I am giving, is it enough?’”


Women of Influence 2012  

Women of Influence magazine

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