MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.
Director of Banquets
Levy Convention Centers
Director of Catering Sales
For helping to turn a convention center into a Covid hospital and then aid and advocate for unemployed events-industry workers
Thomas Whelan and Jennifer Bertolino are the yin and yang of catering at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Both are employed by Levy Restaurants, the F&B provider for both the BCEC and Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, with Whelan overseeing the operations side and Bertolino handling catering sales. The duo has had quite a year.
They used their time, together and independently, to advocate for the safe return to events, help others in the events industry, and improve industry associations services. But that wasn’t until after several months of work at the BCEC that they’ll never forget.
On April 2, just a couple weeks after the first pandemic restrictions went into place in Massachusetts, Boston’s mayor announced that the convention center would be converted to a field hospital, with 500 beds assigned to the homeless and 500 beds accepting Covid patients from city hospitals. Whelan directed the transition and execution of Boston Hope, as the facility would come to be known, and Jennifer managed the billing and on-site execution of about 80,000 staff and patient meals before the site closed in June.
“It was one of the highlights of my career, just being a part of that,” says Whelan, who noted that the hospital included six acute-care suites, 52 nurse stations, and a physical therapy suite. Bertolino agreed: “Nothing was normal. I never expected to be in healthcare, but it was really cool to make a difference by working with our team, the military, and others.”
After the field hospital closed, most of Levy’s management team and hourly staff lost their jobs. Whelan and Bertolino kept theirs, but the layoffs were a catalyst for both to get more involved in and make a difference for the struggling events community. They joined the Live Events Association, a nonprofit organization created in response to the Covid pandemic, and quickly got involved in its new local Massachusetts chapter to help organize one of LEC’s Empty Event installations. These events, first held in Washington, D.C., Dallas, and New York, then elsewhere around the country, were full-scale events set up in public places where no one attended. The idea was to demonstrate the impact that Covid was having on the industry.
Today, Whelan is president of the Massachusetts LEC and Bertolino sits on its board as director of membership. Through MLEC, Whelan has begun an educational video series called Hangin’ Tough, which has helped unemployed events-industry workers with information on complicated topics like PPP loans and unemployment benefits. In April, the Massachusetts Legislature invited him to represent the MLEC at a hearing for the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development on the issues facing the industry and what recovery measures are needed.
Bertolino has also made her mark through MLEC. She launched an affinity program that offers discounts on products and services to the membership, and her initiative was so successful that she was asked to scale the program for LEC nationally. LEC now offers member benefits at BJ’s Wholesale Club; Constant Contact; BetterHelp, a mental-health counseling service; Virtually Yours, an online business services company; and more.
The two continue to give of themselves. This year Thomas began leading a DEI Working Group in Boston for Levy, and recently, Bertolino took a leadership role in another association: She’s now on the International Board of Governors for the International Live Events Association. While it’s clear that they can handle anything that comes their way, you can be sure their calendars are now busier than ever: The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center began welcoming its first post-pandemic events in May.