Grand Rapids Chamber Honors Joan Budden and Shannon Cohen

| 15.09.2017


Once upon a time, women weren’t accepted in the workplace, let alone in the boardroom.  Today, after years of fiercely fighting for equality, women are challenging, re-inventing, and innovating businesses and their communities – and are a strong force for economic change.

On September 14, 2017, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce awarded the prestigious ATHENA Leadership Award to Joan Budden and the ATHENA Young Professional Award to Shannon Cohen. Over 600 people attended the celebration held at the J.W. Marriott Hotel’s International Ballroom. The Chamber is proud to be one of the early adopters of ATHENA to engage and honor women leaders in West Michigan.

The prestigious ATHENA Leadership Award honors an individual who has demonstrated leadership in their professional field, mentored and opened doors of opportunities for women, and contributed time and talent to the community.

Joan Budden, President & CEO of Priority Health, has been described as a “chess player in a world of checkers players” by Robert Roth, President/CEO of Roman Manufacturing. Budden has made it her mission to combat the issue of affordability in the healthcare industry. As a leader, she is often recognized for her positive and engaging presence, as well as her spirit of authenticity. “Joan always shows up as her best self, but it’s her authentic self,” said Kathleen Stewart Ponitz, Founder of Stewart Ponitz Group.

“You see other leaders and you say, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re wonderful! I want to be just like them.’ But you can’t, because you’re a different person. You grew up different, you had different experiences. You can admire other people but you have to have a good self-awareness in order to be a good leader,” said Budden.

The list of 2017 ATHENA Leadership Award finalists are:

Lori Burgess, Executive Director Kent County Girls on the Run Carol Van Andel, Executive Director David and Carol Van Andel Foundation Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh , Chief Executive Officer Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative | Christy Buck, Executive Director Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

The ATHENA Young Professional Award recognizes an emerging leader for their contributions to community, professional excellence, and commitment to serve as a personal and professional role model to young women.

“You think coming to an awards space like this that it would be competitive, but this is a space of sisterhood and I’m very thankful for that intentionality,” said Shannon Cohen (Founder/CEO/Principal of Shannon Cohen, Inc,) upon receiving the award. “[When I heard about] all the women who are finalists, I said, ‘Gosh, this is hard! They all slay!’”

As creator of Tough Skin, Soft Heart, a leadership-wellness movement designed to support the emotional health of difference-makers, Shannon has found an impactful way to teach others the value of self-care. Shannon is also co-founder of Sisters Who Lead, an affinity space for women of color in West Michigan.

The 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award finalists are:

Sarah Brodhead, Spectrum Health | Danielle DeWitt, Spectrum Health Foundation Afton DeVos, Kids’ Food Basket Cailin Kelly, Creston Brewery | Lorena Aguayo-Marquez, DGRI | Alexis Rangel, Lake Michigan Credit Union | Tami Sytsma, Sytsma Wealth Strategies LaTarro Traylor, DGRI | Alyssa Veneklase, Gold Coast Doulas, LLC

In addition, five $1,000 ATHENA scholarship recipients were awarded from the stage. The ATHENA scholarshipgoes to women aged 30 or older working to complete a degree program at an accredited college or university.

All in all, the 2017 ATHENA Awards Celebration was a victory for women leaders and professionals everywhere.

Click here to see Women’s Lifestyle’s pictures from the event!