Every year at the ATHENA Awards Celebration, the Grand Rapids Chamber gathers to celebrate those who embody, encourage, and promote the inclusion of women. Join us on Wednesday, September 29 at the JW Marriot Ballroom to recognize the recipients of the 32nd Annual ATHENA Awards as they are added to this list of legendary ladies.
2021 ATHENA Leadership Award Finalists
The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to an outstanding leader who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.
- Roya Bruce | Category Manager, Steelcase Inc.
“An African proverb that encapsulates my work and leadership style says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ This speaks directly to the ATHENA principle at my core: collaboration. It’s why as a lifelong athlete who has played everything from basketball, tennis, volleyball, track, and softball, my favorite sports have always been team-oriented. I know I’m at my best when working with others.”
- Jo Ellyn Clarey | Director, Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
“Fundamental to other ATHENA principles is, I believe, learning. Sophisticating the knowledge and skills rooted in our individual pasts, learning helps to create life paths that lead toward cultivated futures. We make more of ourselves with substantive, learned content and experiences that we continually refashion for use in the changing contexts, which enable our genuine personal contributions to the world.”
- Melissa Collar | Chief Counsel, Rockford Construction
“The ATHENA principle that resonates most strongly with me is authentic self. Too often, we feel pressure to morph ourselves to meet the expectations of others. That need to “fit the mold” can sometimes be even more pronounced because of gender roles and stereotypes established over hundreds of years in education, business, and family life. But when we act as our authentic self as we pursue our passions – and allow others to do the same – we develop a mutual respect for and trust with others. Openly celebrating our true identities and using them as the foundation for our lives is the key to happiness and success, both personally and professionally.”
- Gabriella de la Vega | Broadcaster, Grand Rapids Community Media Center
“After reflecting about the years and opportunities I’ve been given, my favorite principle is giving back. I was so welcomed to this beautiful community that gave me the opportunity to grow, learn, and succeed. I made a commitment to give back to those who had helped me and continuously built a bridge between organizations and those who may need support. That’s my way of returning all the blessings, gracias!”
- Judy Welch | Executive Director, Michigan Women Forward
“The ATHENA principle that resonates with me the most is relationships. Being a connector comes naturally. I love meeting people and try to stay true to myself; strategic connecting and relationship building has become a second nature to me. I feel a special kind of joy when I can connect women to one another and see the benefits and their success in their careers and in the community. My father and mother were both connectors. I leaned from them at a very early age and really enjoy meeting men and women of all ages, especially from diverse backgrounds due to my heritage. I am bold, which doesn’t hurt, and I’m not afraid to make and ASKS for myself or others.”
2021 ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award Finalists
The ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award is presented to an emerging leader who demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; serves as a role model for young women personally and professionally; and provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others in the community.
- Kiara Baskin | Founder & Principal, Bump to Birth Doula Services
“My favorite principle would have to be relationships. Now more than ever before, we see the importance of connection after having to be apart for so long. As a community, particularly as mothers, parents, and caregivers, we were resilient! With COVID-19, the experience of giving birth drastically changed, many mothers being subjected to birthing alone. That meant the way in which I establish relationships and rapport with families drastically changed as well, but instead of looking at this as a challenge, the pandemic provided opportunities for innovation. I was able to continue to service families with the use of technology and provide care on the front lines. Was it a risk going into the hospitals? Absolutely. But in my community, black babies are twice as likely to be born low birth weight or die before their first birthday, and we saw how the inequities continued for this same population with COVID-19. Showing up and walking alongside my community has cultivated an amazing amount of trust. Women were never meant to do this alone, and just as much as my clients need me, I need them too. We’re in this together, it takes a village.”
- Dani Dubay | Operations Manager, In The Image
“Of all the wonderful ATHENA principles, I believe the ability to create and sustain genuine relationships is my superpower. Having grown up in a large, loving family, I understand that in both personal and professional spaces, influence is gained by building trust and offering positive communication in all relationships.”
- Lisa Heyne | Executive Director, Superintendent & Principal, Grand Rapids Children’s Discovery Center
“My favorite ATHENA principle is advocating fiercely. My entire life – both personal and professional – revolves around advocating for children and elevating their voices, best interests, and future dreams into a space that is often ABOUT THEM, but not FOR them. In elementary school, it can sometimes feel like children are the afterthought and the curriculum is the purpose. In my view, we must put children in the center of all we do and allow ourselves to be led by them. The same is true in my personal life, as a biological mama and foster mama, I must advocate for the type of community (equitable and vibrant) that is worthy of the dreams of my children.”
- Elisa Perez-Arellano | Founder & CEO, Inclusive Empowerment Services LLC
“My favorite ATHENA principle is courageous acts. I believe that having the courage to step into challenging situations can help you live your most fulfilled life.”
- Verónica Quintino-Aranda | Kent County 4-H Program Coordinator, Michigan State University Extension
“The ATHENA principle that most speaks to me is giving back. I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school and go to college. My parents were migrant workers. When my mother brought me home from the hospital as a newborn baby, my parents were homeless. Today, they are leaders in our diocese of Grand Rapids. I am so proud of everything my parents have accomplished today. It is very important to me to give back to my community and younger family members by mentoring them so they can also achieve their academic goals and attain higher education. Growing up, I had mentors, teachers, and principals who looked like me. As a young professional, I feel the strong responsibility to do the same for those who come behind me. COVID has really affected our student population. There is so much work that needs to be done in our community to raise up the next young ATHENA professionals.”
2021 ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award Finalists
The ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award recognizes businesses and organizations that support, develop and honor women leaders. This award is presented to organizations that actively assist women in the community ad within their organization in attaining professional excellence and leadership skills.
- Erhardt Construction
“The principles that best reflect Erhardt’s organizational values are building relationships and fostering collaboration. When a client sends a testimonial of our work, they often address, ‘the team at Erhardt Construction.’ This is because every project truly is a team effort. We pride ourselves in having amazing relationships and encouragement amongst our team, from project management, marketing, accounting, and every single superintendent and tradesperson on the job. These relationships are positively reflected onto our construction projects.
With a diverse and highly skilled team, Erhardt encourages and supports a collaborative work environment. We are problem solvers for issues that are identified far before they become a problem. We believe, ‘Innovation is enhanced by diversity.’ Having more women on Erhardt’s team makes us a more innovative, collaborative, and smarter team.”
- Express Employment Professionals
“Learning is the ATHENA principle that best represents Express Employment Professionals because our organization reflects strong personal and professional development. We, as leaders, must invest in self-leadership through learning. Our ability to help others grow stops when we stop growing. The impact and influence we have on our families, coworkers, and organization will be reflective of our willingness to look in the mirror at ourselves. We actually created a learning and training center at Express Employment Professionals to teach and train our internal employees as well as other participants from all over the world. Today, we host webinars on critical subjects and teach leadership classes and workshops to help develop ourselves as better coaches and better leaders. Today, we are impacting women all over the world through virtual, in class, and on-demand training. Being a life-long learner helps us all to become a better version of ourselves.”
- New Destiny Pathways
“At New Destiny Pathways, our favorite ATHENA principle is fierce advocacy. Taking an idea and cultivating it until it comes to fruition takes intentionality. Carrying that vision beyond the millions of no’s in the process takes perseverance. The work that we have done and the road that we have traveled to get to this point took faith and boldness. We have the privilege to walk closely with and advocate for the courageous young women who are learning skills and building healthy relationships along the way, first with themselves and then with others. When I think of intentionality, perseverance, faith, and boldness, along with the work being done at New Destiny, I can’t help but to think of the words ‘fierce advocacy.’ We believe in the work that we do and the sacrifices that are necessary to create transformation individually, collectively, and systemically. The investment of time, talent and treasure yields a harvest that will shift the very paradigm of the lives and communities that we touch. This exemplifies fierce advocacy!”
Learn more about each of these incredible finalists and find out who the award recipients Don’t miss out on the 2021 ATHENA Awards Celebration on Wednesday, September 29, where the 2021 award recipients will be announced! Join us in celebrating our ATHENA finalists, announcing the recipients, and enjoy mingling with other local lady leaders. Register here.