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When given the opportunity to view Springfield with the eyes of a tourist, Erin Danastasio, executive director of the Hatch Foundation, says despite having lived in the area almost all her life, she had no idea just how much was possible here. The lightbulb went on during a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership Visit in 2021 – that toured sites in town rather than in another city.
“To visit Springfield and play the role of an outsider was unique,” says Danastasio, who participated in an excursion that included kayaking on the James River. “How did I not know about this?” she laughs.
She says it made her wonder: If these experiences were new to a lifelong resident, who else might be missing out?
That became the spark that turned Celebrate Springfield into a reality. Danastasio brought community leaders an idea: to create a monthlong celebration highlighting the uniqueness of Springfield. In September 2022, Celebrate Springfield launched with a website and app that helped plan free and discounted activities and events, and it ended with a free family-friendly party in Jordan Valley Park.
“My goal was to remove multiple barriers so people could participate,” she says.
The event was such a success that Danastasio already is heading up a committee to plan 2023’s celebration, which will center around the city’s vibrant arts-and-culture scene.
Danastasio credits her grandfather, William Darr, founder of American Dehydrated Foods and International Dehydrated Foods, with instilling in her a lifelong love of both the community and giving back to it.
“My grandfather, and a huge part of why I’m here now, always instilled in us to treat people well,” she says. “I owe a lot of that to him.”
When the family business where Danastasio worked for eight years sold in a $900 million deal to Germany’s Symrise AG in 2019, she helped create the Hatch Foundation, a project-based philanthropy foundation.
Hatch Foundation has granted funding to projects designed to strengthen the community and empower neighborhoods – such as MidxMidwst, a mural and music fest in September 2022, and the South Avenue Project with Better Block to create temporary outdoor seating for dining and coffee shops that lost business during the pandemic. Most recently, Danastasio is excited about the $500,000 gift to the Springfield Art Museum’s capital campaign.
“I am blessed to be in a position where I can work towards that goal and make a difference for many people in Springfield,” she says.
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