GCC Alums Top Young Business Community Leaders in Western Mass
Michelle Dwyer – President and CEO, Franklin First Federal Credit Union; Age 34
It’s one of the more unlikely career journeys in the region’s financial sector. “I fell into the world of banking,” Michelle Dwyer told BusinessWest. “I was working retail, and I was like many people who get to a certain age and realize that’s not the career path for them.”
Working with a job-placement center, she was matched to a temporary teller position at Franklin First Federal Credit Union. Nine years later, in 2016, her business card read ‘president and CEO.’ “As I worked my way up, I was lucky to have people who were very supportive, and the timing was good with people retiring, giving me opportunities to learn and move forward,” she explained.
In her current role, Dwyer oversees an institution with 7,000 members, 18 employees, and more than $50 million in assets. But she sees her most important role as connecting the credit union with the community and building relationships with Franklin County residents and businesses.
To that end, she has increased the credit union’s involvement in a variety of community activities, including sponsorship of events and organizations like Greenfield’s Movies in the Park series, the Clarkdale Cider Run for CISA, the Fire Bird 5k benefiting addiction-prevention efforts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, just to name a few. It’s a spirit of giving back she has strived to cultivate at Franklin First Federal by encouraging fund-raising and volunteerism.
“A lot of it comes from when I was little; I always tried to go volunteer and help people,” Dwyer said, adding that, as she got older, “I had big dreams about creating these big programs, but reality and finances set in. Now I’m in a position where I can go out and make an impact. It’s a huge opportunity for me.
“It goes along with the credit-union spirit of going out and helping people,” she went on. “Credit unions started when a group of farmers helped each other, or a group of business owners helped each other. Obviously, we want to make money, but it gets rolled back in to help our customers.”
While she enjoys the various aspects of her role, Dwyer is still a bit shocked at how rapidly it came about. “It was a very quick progression in 10 years,” she said. “But it’s so gratifying. I wouldn’t have chosen my path any differently.”
Megan Holl Shaw – Owner and Instructor, MEGAdance; Age 32
Megan Shaw has been passionate about dance and fitness all her life, so, about eight years ago, she started teaching Zumba. Noticing that her classes at the YMCA were always packed, she took a leap in 2012 and launched her own fitness business, MEGAdance — which she characterizes as a “high-energy dance party workout” — from a small church basement, starting with only eight students. But it grew quickly by word of mouth, and today, she’s moved to much larger facilities in Greenfield, where her classes typically draw 40 to 50 people.
“MEGAdance is a place where people of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and fitness abilities work out, dance, and have fun without fear of judgment,” she told BusinessWest. “I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is celebrated, supported, and encouraged to be themselves and express their own rhythm in class and in life.”
Shaw said her classes are a judgment-free zone for women and men of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. “I love that women in their 70s come to my class; it’s very inspiring. And I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to be themselves. We are a fit family.”
It’s also a business that gives back to the community, offering free classes in low-income communities, schools, nursing homes, and at the Center for Human Development, and holding fund-raisers to support the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Community Action, and most recently, the Peruvian Red Cross to help flood victims.
Shaw, who speaks Spanish fluently, is especially fond of Peru after spending the past two summers there, participating in internships that promote sustainable agriculture and working with indigenous communities.
“Because I come from a humble background and understand the struggle to live with few resources, I feel strongly about supporting the community,” she said, both in Peru and in her own backyard. To be able to do that while sharing her passion for dance, well, that’s just gravy.
“The goal in my professional life is nothing short of breaking the status quo and transforming my community through dance fitness, community building, and radical self-acceptance,” she noted, adding that seeing lives change for the better is only half the story. “It’s reciprocal,” she said. “They change my life, too.”
Joseph Bednar, BusinessWest, 4/17/17
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