Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts Welcomes New CEO

 In Client Press Releases

Springfield native Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez has 25 years of experience as a champion for women and social change

SPRINGFIELD—The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts recently appointed Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez as CEO of the philanthropic organization, effective June 17. A native of Springfield’s North End and a driven, longtime mentor of women and champion for social change and empowerment, Pabón-Hernandez succeeds Donna Haghighat in the key role for the nonprofit.

Throughout her 25-year career, Pabón-Hernandez has supported women and Latinx community members, first as a marketing strategist in business for herself and later in roles that include program director for the YMCA North End Youth Center, founder of a community-based digital storytelling center and executive producer at New England Public Media. She left NEPM in early June after 14 years to accept the CEO position.

Pabón-Hernandez has experience as a program developer, grant writer, mentor, facilitator, consensus builder and storyteller, and she is excited to put her skills to work for the Women’s Fund. “I want to make a meaningful impact that’s less about program development and more about supporting the people who have the ideas,” Pabón-Hernandez said. “I’ve been the one who has been dreaming big and creating programs of impact. Now, I want to support the dreams of others.”

Luzed Guzman Romano, current treasurer and incoming board co-chair for the Women’s Fund, said the board is excited about the opportunities that Pabón-Hernandez’s experience, determination and leadership present. She said, “We are all confident Vanessa’s leadership will drive the organization forward, continuing its mission to support and empower women, girls and gender-expansive people in the region. In many ways, Vanessa’s life experience mirrors the reason why the Women’s Fund exists.”

Inspired by a strong, independent mother who helped facilitate her path, Pabón-Hernandez defied the odds several decades ago as a young, single mother, earning two associate degrees at Springfield Technical Community College before launching her own business as a marketing strategist for political candidates and area businesspeople. 

She mastered the art of storytelling to advance social change, entered the nonprofit sector, and over 25 years, led and founded innovative programs in marginalized communities that have allowed thousands of individuals to access resources, leverage their strengths, and drive their own career paths.

Pabón-Hernandez’s extensive nonprofit background began at the North End Youth Center, where she served as program director, developing community initiatives that empowered and supported young people in discovering their passions, fostering personal growth, and cultivating leadership skills to become confident, engaged members of their communities.

Recognizing that some dialogue and action in the community was driven by assumptions and not realities, Pabón-Hernandez launched an initiative called TOLD, Telling Our Legacies Digitally: a community-based digital storytelling center in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood. Through TOLD, she helped shed light on the social justice challenges in the North End of Springfield and mentored its residents in self-advocacy. 

In 2008, Pabón-Hernandez pitched the TOLD concept to WGBY Public Television, and two years later, after helping the station secure grant funding, she came on board as director of community engagement, leading WGBY’s Project TOLD and the Latino Youth Media Institute, which provided paid internships and a career pathway for Latino youth interested in a career in the media. 

As an executive producer with WGBY’s successor, New England Public Media, Pabón-Hernandez also launched Presencia, the station’s first bilingual programming, in English and Spanish. Before the show lapsed due to the pandemic, it was award-winning. 

Pabón-Hernandez has received the “Unsung Heroine” award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and was named to Business West’s 40 Under 40. She was also the grand marshal for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade. 

She said, “Everyone’s story needs to be told. And the Women’s Fund helps women, girls, and gender diverse people find their authentic voices.”

About the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts

Located at 333 Bridge St., in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts fuels progress toward gender equity by funding the most promising solutions, collaborating with results-oriented partners, and by elevating the collective power of local women to take charge, and to lead with purpose. To learn more, visit mywomensfund.org.

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