Women’s Initiative

Who We Are

Our vision is to be the premier women’s philanthropic and leadership group in Central Massachusetts funding programs that improve the lives of adolescent girls. Women’s Initiative groups are part of a national trend of women engaging in philanthropy, organized to create a powerful force to effect change in society.


The Women’s Initiative was established in 2002 by Lois Green and Meridith Wesby who joined forces with other influential women leaders in Central Massachusetts to raise funds to prevent and reduce violence in the lives of adolescent girls in the community.


Working with volunteer committees of community leaders, the Women’s Initiative has engaged more than 1,000 members and 2,000 donors.


Funds raised support programs that improve and empower the lives of girls, ages 10 to 14, through mentoring, educational opportunities, and financial literacy. Grants are awarded to organizations which build, strengthen and support the development of healthy, safe and confident girls. With support from area colleges and local women volunteers, the Women’s Initiative runs biannual financial literacy conferences for teen girls, called Dollar $cholars.


Impact Since Inception


 $6 million raised in donations


 153 grants made to programs that support safety, well-being, healthy relationships, education, and financial literacy among girls ages 10-14


 14,500 adolescent girls helped through WI-funded programs


4,000 girls from local middle schools and agency programs participated in Dollar $cholar financial literacy sessions


 1,400 women volunteered as Dollar $cholar financial literacy mentors for middle school girls



Meet the Women’s Initiative Leadership Team

Director, Women’s Initiative

Leah Larson, M. Ed. was recently appointed as the Director of Women’s Initiative. She has over 15 years of Institutional Advancement experience with an extensive background in volunteer leadership and strategizing as well as event planning and fundraising. Prior to joining the Women’s Initiative, she worked in higher education at Springfield College where she was the Director of Strategic Research; specializing in prospect management and data mining. She also spent several years in the community nonprofit sector working at the YMCA of Central Massachusetts during their 150th Anniversary Capital Campaign, impacting Capital Projects across the Association and with the March of Dimes, Massachusetts Chapter planning and executing signature fundraising events. She credits several female leaders and mentors with empowering her professionally at these organizations. She received her bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State University and a master’s degree from Worcester State University. When she is not working, she can be found volunteering at several community organizations that her children and family are a part of and going on adventures with her family. Leah can be reached at leah.larson@unitedwaycm.org



Chair, Women’s Initiative Leadership Council

Aarti Smith Madan is an Associate Professor of Spanish & International Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she directs the Buenos Aires Project Center and co-directs Latin American & Caribbean Studies. She also serves as faculty advisor to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. Holding a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, Aarti centers her writing and teaching on questions of national identity, environmental humanities, and global feminisms in Latin American literary and visual culture. She’s the author of Lines of Geography in Latin American Narrative: National Territory, National Literature, essays in journals like ASAP/JournalMLNRomance Notes, and Dissidences, and book chapters on geo- and ecocritical practices in Latin America & India. In 2013, Aarti was awarded WPI’s Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, which recognized her efforts to provide students with opportunities to engage with Worcester’s Latino community. It was precisely that award that opened the proverbial door to UWCM’s Women’s Initiative in 2014, when then-Chair of the Community Impact Committee (CIC), Helen Shuster, recruited Aarti to join CIC. Quickly falling in love with the WI mission and with CIC’s work reading and scoring grant proposals, Aarti served as the CIC Chair from 2018-20. She is honored and delighted to continue her leadership as Chair of WI’s Leadership Council from 2023-25.



Leadership Council Members


Joycelyn AugustusChair, Diversity CommitteeJCassand, Inc.
Kathryn BehanCo-Chair, Marketing-MembershipUMass Memorial Health
Claudia Oliveira De PaivaVice Chair, DiversityBinienda Center for Community Engagement (Worcester State University)
Patricia FlanaganVice Chair, Community ImpactColonial Figure Skating Club
Jodie GerulaitisChair, Financial LiteracyCountry Bank
Erin GizaAt-LargeThe Hanover Insurance Group
Kayanna JamesAt-LargeOffice of State Sen. Robyn Kennedy
Kelly JohnsonVice Chair, Financial Literacy
Hannah KozlowskiVice Chair, Fundraising StrategyMaster’s Degree Candidate
Daniela LeblancCo-Chair, Marketing-MembershipExsel Advertising Group
Michelle MulkernChair, Community ImpactWorcester Polytechnic Institute
Melanie Perreault-LeBouefVice Chair, Marketing-MembershipWICN Public Radio
Domenica PerroneCo-Chair, DiversityClark University
Sherri PitcherVice Chair, Leadership CouncilNotre Dame Academy
Theona ScolaChair, Fundraising Strategy
Aarti Smith MadanChair, Leadership CouncilWorcester Polytechnic Institute
Elizabeth VittumChair, GovernanceSeven Hills Foundation


Emeritae Members


Kay Bassett
Pamela BoisvertMassEdCo (retired)
Filomena Cesareo
Christine CassidyFallon Health
Linda CavaioliYWCA Central Massachusetts  (retired)
Sen. Harriette L. ChandlerMassachusetts State Senate (retired)
Kerry ConaghanUnited Way of Central Massachusetts
Patty Eppinger
Dr. Marianne FeliceUMass Memorial Medical Center (retired)
Lynne Flanagan TsombakosYou, Inc./Seven Hills Foundation
Mary Fletcher
Eve GilmoreEdward Street Child Services
Maureen Gray
Patricia HallbergGirl Scouts of Central & Western Mass
Elizabeth HeleniusMass General Brigham Health Plan
Kathleen JordanSeven Hills Foundation
Katharine JorgensenElevateBio
Karen KingCentral MA Housing Alliance
Echo LaheyUnited Way of Central MA – ASOST-R
Leah LamsonNew England High School Journalism Collaborative
Cheryl M. LaprioreUMass Memorial Health (retired)
Patsy Lewis
Jennifer LuisaThe Hanover Insurance Group
Stacey LusterWorcester State University
Samantha McDonaldBowditch & Dewey
Jessica McGarryCountry Bank
Dr. Sarah McGeeUMass Memorial Health
Kerri MelleyCommonwealth Financial Group
Trisha MorrisWalmart
Kathleen MyshrallSeven Hills Foundation
Alicia O’Connell RogersWorcester Housing Authority
Wendy O’LearyMindfulness Educator & Author
Phyllis PollackChild Heart Associates (retired)
Krishan ProsserWorcester Business Journal
Carol Seager
Helen ShusterWorcester Polytechnic Institute (retired)
Carol Sleeper
Lois SmithLAS Consulting Pro
Tina SullivanSullivan Travel Insurance
Anne Wettengel
Stephanie WilliamsMount Wachusett Community College
Elaine WrightWebster Five (retired)
Pamela ZorgeSaint-Gobain