Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Chamber and ATHENA Grand Rapids hosted the 34th Annual ATHENA Awards Celebration, recognizing the individuals and organizations who are challenging, inspiring and innovating within our community to empower and encourage the inclusion of women.
“The ATHENA Grand Rapids community is truly unique, and we are thrilled to celebrate these amazing individuals and organizations,” shared Monica Mendez, Director of Talent & Leadership Programs for the Grand Rapids Chamber. “We had a record number of nominations this year. It is inspiring to see the great work that is being done to impact the ecosystem for women in business in our community.”
The 34th Annual ATHENA Awards recipients are as follows:
- ATHENA Leadership Award: Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor, City of Grand Rapids
- ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award: Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez, Executive Director, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
- ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award: Steelcase, Inc.
This year, over 130 nominations were submitted for consideration. After the selection committee, comprised of ATHENA Council members, studied the nominees’ initiatives, impact in the community, and leadership, 13 finalists were announced in August. More than 450 community leaders came together to celebrate the recipients at the ATHENA Awards Celebration on Wednesday at the JW Marriott.
About the Recipients
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.
This year’s ATHENA Leadership Award recipient is Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of the City of Grand Rapids. She became the City of Grand Rapids’ first female Mayor when she took office on January 1, 2016 and was re-elected for a second term in November 2019. She previously served as a Second Ward City Commissioner for 10 years. She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Alabama and a master’s in social work from Michigan State University. Mayor Bliss has been recognized statewide for her commitment, dedication and work in the field of child abuse and neglect and for her leadership in the community. As Mayor, she is committed to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, creating a healthier and safer community, and addressing disparities to make sure that Grand Rapids is a great place for everyone.
“We need more women around every table, in every board room, on every leadership team, and in public office,” said Mayor Bliss. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the incredible women – many who are in this room – who have supported and encouraged me for nearly 20 years.”
Additional ATHENA Leadership Award finalists recognized were Sonali Allen, Shorouq Almallah, Sara Armbruster, and Latesha A. Lipscomb, JD. Learn more about the finalists in this video.
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.
This year’s ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award recipient is Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez, Executive Director for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. With almost 10 years of experience in nonprofit administration, Evelyn has a proven record of implementing and growing successful programing for the Hispanic community in West Michigan. Evelyn and her family arrived from Mexico to the U.S when she was only 15 years old. Through her own personal experiences, Evelyn has become passionate about providing the Latinx community with a place where they are treated with respect, equity, and dignity. By building a strong, loyal, and committed team, Evelyn hopes to give our community a center they know they can trust to receive the best services for their needs. Evelyn began her career in early childhood, serving in financial management where she learned more about the need for increased support for Latinx families. Evelyn graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and general business and recently completed a Master of Accountancy from Davenport University. Personally, Evelyn enjoys being a mom to her two young boys.
Additional ATHENA Young Professional Award finalists recognized Renida Clark, Stella Michael, Allie Walker, and Carrie Wilson. Learn more about the finalists in this video.
The ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award recognizes an organization that supports, develops and honors women leaders. These organizations create a culture that encourages women to achieve their full leadership potential and give back to the larger community of women and girls by supporting leadership initiatives.
This year’s ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award recipient is Steelcase, Inc. Steelcase is a global design and thought leader in the world of work. For over a century, Steelcase has designed, manufactured and partnered with the world’s leading organizations to create furnishings and solutions for the many places where work happens — including learning, health and work from home. Through their research, they deliver insights and design innovation to customers around the world. Their solutions are brought to life through the Steelcase dealer community, Steelcase store and retail partners. And because Steelcase is dedicated to doing their best work for the places we all share, they come together for people and the planet — using their business to help the world work better.
Additional ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award finalists recognized were Grand Valley State University and Treetops Collective. Learn more about the finalists in this video.