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The Yankee Express

Women’s Success Network ready to reengage for 2021

Feb 09, 2021 02:28PM ● By Barbara Van Reed

Heather Elster, executive director of Whitin Community Center.

The year 2020’s often-heard refrain was that of a new business or organization just getting started and then…COVID. 

And yes, 2021 still has some hurdles ahead. 

One organization that is eager to reengage with its community is the Women’s Success Network, an initiative formally begun by the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce in April 2019 with a clear purpose to “help women in the workplace to achieve their vision of success by creating a community of support and inspiration.”

The very first program, one that people are still raving about, was presented by Dr. Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Another was a presentation by Representative Hannah Kane, who spoke about the critical need for women to get involved in politics at all levels and her challenges as a mother, wife, business owner, consultant, volunteer, and politician.

Ashley Daviau, senior member service representative at Millbury Credit Union.


Later in the summer of 2019, Wine & Women Wednesday debuted with a networking event at the Blackstone National Golf Club in Sutton, followed by financial and time management workshops in the fall.The Women’s Success Network was off and running, complete with a committee of professional women from all backgrounds and experiences to support the effort, which would include quarterly gatherings. But 2020 was to become history; all four major scheduled events were canceled, though quarterly newsletters were published.

The board is ready now to plan lectures, workshops, and networking opportunities for the new year.

The first, a Blackstone Valley Zoom Café on February 9, featured Sandra Kearney, CEO/President of Human Power Solutions, whose timely topic focused on building and maintaining strong business relationships in the age of COVID.   

The WSN executive committee members who plan the programs are Pat Hurton (Chair), Pat Baker, Alise Breton, Carol Dauphinais, Ashley Daviau,, Heather Elster, Jessica Muradian, Kathy Tonry, and the BVCC staff.

We asked several of the members why they personally became involved with the Women’s Success Network.


Interview with Heather Elster, Executive Director of Whitin Community Center

Why did you agree to join the WSN committee? 

I believe in our mission to support one another to reach our professional and personal goals. 

How do you think WSN can best support women?

WSN can best support women by providing opportunities to build new relationships and facilitate those introductions at events that are fun and informative.

How do you think you can personally contribute to that? 

I can help with that by encouraging attendance of women in my network and make introductions at events.

WSN seeks to connect with women in a great variety of careers and life stages. What is the best way to do that? 

By providing events that appeal to different generations and encouraging everyone to be open to trying new things.

What experiences in your life would make a good illustration of having received support from another woman? 

I have been fortunate to work for and work with women who prioritized their family but did not sacrifice their work commitments. I learned to share with my employer what was important to me but assuring them that I would work hard and commit to my deadlines. It might mean I had to take a work phone call on the sideline of a soccer field when my boys played but I could still be present for them, which was my priority.

What is your advice for young women, middle-aged women, older (maybe retiring) women?

This can be life advice, financial advice, career advice or other. You truly cannot do it all. You have to prioritize what is most important to you and then be open and honest about what you can and cannot do. Work hard and be flexible.

Interview with Ashley Daviau, Senior Member Service Representative at Millbury Credit Union.

Why did you agree to join the WSN committee? 

I had attended a women’s breakfast back in 2017 and just loved every second of it.  It was so interesting to see all of the remarkable accomplishments that Dr. Laurie Leshin (president of WPI) had achieved.  I was so small minded and didn’t realize that someone from our very own city of Worcester, Massachusetts, had done such great things – I mean, she worked with NASA!  It was also then that I felt very small in this sea of big fish.  When I had the chance to work with women and the opportunity to network with these “big fish,” I jumped to the occasion.  It felt nice to be able to contribute and to be helpful towards a common goal.  

How do you think WSN can best support women?

I think that the WSN can best support women by helping facilitate the networking process and to show other women that they are the “big fish” regardless of their title or status.  The WSN is all about creating our own version of success and helping women achieve that through workshops, discussions and by working together to recognize our own value and worth.

How do you think you can personally contribute to that?

Well, there is the most obvious answer in the sense that I help with the mailing list, so I put together all of the contacts that we reach out to.  I also brainstorm with this group of impressive women, bouncing ideas off one another to create and construct events that are meant to not only support women, but to additionally educate and encourage them as well.  

WSN seeks to connect with women in a great variety of careers and life stages. What is the best way to do that? 

I don’t think that there is any one-stop-shop in terms of connecting with and reaching out to women in various careers or different life stages.  I think that’s the importance of having such different women working together - to come up with different events and avenues to go down to help achieve this goal.  I, for one, am in a different career and in a much different life stage than many of the members on the Committee, but that’s what makes it work.  You are getting differing views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum and we talk about what would work for us.  I am still growing in my career and have two young children at home – what works for me may not work for a grandparent who has settled in their job title or a single woman who isn’t quite sure what they want their career to be just yet.  It is key to switch up the type of event, the focus or topic, the timing, and schedules, etc. to be able to reach as many women as we can.  

What experiences in your life would make a good illustration of having received support from another woman? 

Honestly, the situations that stand out the most to me would be my get-togethers with a couple of my co-workers.  I consider this group of women to be like my mentors. They are older (although not much older – sorry ladies) and further in their careers than I am, and I have always looked up to them.  We have become quite close over the years and, as time has passed, we no longer work side by side.  We still have our little getaways or sporadic dinners with each other and inevitably, work conversation comes up.  This is about the time when they, not only give me advice and direction, but praise me for the work I’ve done.  There isn’t much like the feeling of a group of women that you look up to telling you what a good job you have been doing and pushing you to keep climbing.  They, too, come from different stages in their career and in their personal lives and to get their guidance, in all of the different shapes and sizes that it comes in, is extremely gratifying.  Although it doesn’t seem like much – this is some of the support that means the most.  It really does go to show that what may seem like such a small act to you can mean something so much greater to someone else.

What is your advice for young women, middle-aged women, older (maybe retiring) women?  This can be life advice, financial advice, career advice or other.

My advice for all women is to never settle. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out and are feeling insecure about what you have to offer or if you’re retiring and you think that you’ve done all that you are going to do.  There is always going to be something more – something more that you can learn, something more that you can offer, something more that will surprise you about yourself.  As I mentioned before, I have always considered myself to be one of the “small fish” in this big sea but the more that I network and put myself out there, the more I realize that I can swim with the “big fish” just the same.  Through the Women’s Success Network, I have been introduced to some women that I consider to be extremely successful, by my own definition of the term, and some women that have done some pretty remarkable things. What I’ve learned is that we all have to start out somewhere and make our own path.  We truly are in control of our own destiny.  It is never too late to redefine yourself or add something to your so-called “resume.”  Create your own definition of success and never let anything stop you from achieving it.

Women interested in getting more information about the Women’s Success Network and to be added to the mailing list should contact Pat Hurton at pjhurton@