Born and raised in Springfield, Mass., Dena Calvanese enters her 10 th year as the Gray House executive director. A woman of passion and drive has seen the Gray House transform over her time, starting her journey on 22 Sheldon Street in November 2006.
Calvanese was working at Mass Mutual, as a fresh out of college business student. She started volunteering at the Gray House in the Adult Education program, and found love in nonprofit. As her love grew, so did her journey.
Before settling at the House, Calvanese found herself at Open Pantry, an organization that is in the area, working with homeless people. She was there for about seven years, before founding a larger nonprofit, which she knew was not the place for her.
“I hated it… Within three months I knew I made a mistake. It was not community-based,” said Calvanese.
Calvanese got a break when a friend of hers who had interviewed for the job as executive director of the Gray House. “I just interviewed for the job for you…,” she shared with Calvanese.
“I knew that community-based work was where it was at for me,” she said. Despite the strenuous work of things such as grant writing, approvals, and making sure everything comes together for the Gray House, Calvanese expresses her love for the House in moments. “You get another great moment, and I’m like, yes I’m in the right place.”
As the executive director of the Gray House for 10 years, Calvanese has seen people walk through the doors and watch the growth of students from the ages of 9 all the way to 60. She holds a low-key personality with such passion; the same passion that keeps the nonprofit organization running.
Calvanese shares a story about one of the first kids she ever met at the Gray House, who have recently paid a visit to their old stomping grounds. Hearing this story made it apparent that Calvanese loves what she is doing.
“He said, ‘I just want to let you know I am graduating this year.’”
“I said ‘What are you studying?’”
He said, “Engineering.”
“I almost lost it,” said Calvanese.