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A bookkeeper and human resources manager at MJW EA & Company, Charon Squitiero helps small business owners navigate the options and government programs available to them. “The relief in their voices when the required documents are uploaded properly, or the application is accepted, or when they say the funds appeared in their bank account just in time is so gratifying,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Charon Squitiero )
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Charon Squitiero has a front-row seat to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on people’s lives.
No, she is not a health care professional.
Charon is a full-time human resources manager and bookkeeper for MJW EA & Company, a tax and bookkeeping services firm for individuals and small businesses.
After weeks of lockdown resulted in near-standstill retail sales and an economic contraction that some compare to the Great Depression, Charon now realizes through the company’s clients how the pandemic has wrought financial havoc on families and small businesses.
“We work with clients that have been in business for many years to those that are just starting up,” she says. “COVID-19 has brought on an entirely new set of challenges.”
Restaurants, retail stores, bars, salons, and nonessential businesses are among the hardest hit.
Part of her job, she adds, is to keep abreast of the different avenues that are available for her clients to stay afloat.
“My job has given me the opportunity to help business owners and individuals navigate through the different options available. Many have never applied for unemployment, and certainly nobody has applied for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) before. These are unprecedented times,” she explains.
“Through the Cares Act, the federal government and [the State of] Connecticut have introduced grants, loans, PPP funding, stimulus checks, and changes in the requirements for those unemployed to help businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus survive. At MJW, we have been doing our best to stay informed of the daily changes governing these initiatives,” she adds.
But Mary Jo Walker, her supervisor and owner of the company, says Charon has been doing more than that.
Walker says Charon has infused compassion and understanding to a job that could have simply been about crunching numbers and balancing spreadsheets.
“Since the pandemic began in March, Charon has shown her true calling—learning, relearning, assisting, listening, educating, encouraging, comforting, and guiding clients through a new and harrowing landscape of loans and grants,” Walker says.
“She has spent countless hours—many on her own time—guiding business owners and individuals through a very confusing and often painful process and helps them understand what would be most beneficial to them. She has virtually wiped away many tears, comforted more people than I can count, [and] educated people in systems and technology that they thought they were not capable of,” she adds.
Although Charon is a person of empathy, she does not let her emotions get in the way of what needs to be done. She focuses on the other person, the client who needs guidance in a time of uncertainty.
She works closely with Mary Laske, an administrative assistant at the company.
“Mary handles every client’s call with compassion and grace. She puts the client on hold, gives me the rundown on what the client is looking for, and I pick up the phone and say, ‘Okay, let’s work together and get this done,’” Charon says.
“The relief in their voices when the required documents are uploaded properly, or the application is accepted, or when they say the funds appeared in their bank account just in time is so gratifying,” she says.
Education, Work, and Family
Charon’s people skills and professional discipline came from years of study, work, and involvement in Madison.
She obtained her B.S. dual degrees in financial management and accounting from Quinnipiac College in Hamden, now called Quinnipiac University.
Right out of college, she worked for Coopers & Lybrand, one of the oldest accounting firms in the U.S. before its 1998 merger with Price Waterhouse to become PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Growing up in a family that owned a successful business called J&K Electric influenced her own professional direction.
When she left the accounting firm, her father suggested she open up a lighting store.
“I felt like I was back in college,” she said, adding, “I learned every aspect of owning a small business.”
That lighting store provided vision for her future in more ways than one. It was there that she met Geoff, who today is her husband of 26 years. Together, they have three children: Alex, Chloe, and Grace.
They have lived in Madison for 25 years in a house that was built in 1830.
“The home needed a lot of work,” she says. “Through the years we have replaced the windows, fixed the plaster walls, updated the bathrooms, and made the yard a great place to entertain family and friends.”
She decided to close her store and put her career on hold to raise her children. She was active in their education, serving as the PTO treasurer at their schools and working as a Girl Scout leader for her daughters. Geoff also volunteered as a Boy Scout leader for their son.
Her involvement in their children’s activities inevitably led her also to be involved in town events.
“There is no better way to get connected to the town,” she says. “Once Alex and Chloe graduated high school and Grace was a junior at Daniel Hand, I knew I needed something else to focus on.”
From 2014 to 2018, she worked as an assistant and bookkeeper for Executive Director Eileen Banisch at the Madison Chamber of Commerce.
“Working with Eileen Banisch was, on some days like working with your best friend and on other days, like working with your sister. We were either laughing or arguing,” she says with good humor. “I think I was supposed to be the bookkeeper, but Eileen let me get involved in everything.”
It was an opportunity she needed and she got involved with events that drew in the community such as the Beach Comber, Madison Bed Race, fashion show, Souper Bowl, Christmas parade, and the home and garden show.
There are also programs for the business owners to network, such as Business with a Twist, Women in Business, and Chamber Connect.
“Eileen gave me the confidence I needed to get back into the workforce after staying home and raising kids for 18 years. Once again, I was back in the world of small business and I loved it. I worked with many of the downtown merchants, banks, realtors, service businesses, restaurants, and nonprofit organizations,” Charon recalls.
“The hard work and dedication that I witnessed on a day-to-day basis from the business owners and many of their employees made me proud to work for the chamber,” she reflects.
Her active involvement in Madison also led her to run and win the alternate slot on the Madison Zoning Board of Appeals. She held that position for two years.
Her experience as a small business owner and the exposure at the Madison Chamber of Commerce also made her fit well into her current job to help Madison businesses and families hurdle the difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.
And yet, Charon remains humble about her role.
“Though I appreciate the kind words of Mary Jo, I find the recognition unwarranted,” she says.
“There is so much going on in the world. I would like to recognize the governing bodies that are working hard and making the tough decisions necessary to keep us safe, as well as the doctors, nurses, and all the other first responders dealing with the pandemic.”
To nominate a Person of the Week, email m.caulfield@ shorepublishing.com.
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!