Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

On the heels of the May Grand Rapids ATHENA Leadership Forum, we wanted to get the perspective on the ATHENA tenet Collaboration from a Grand Rapidian involved in the community's social, creative, and entrepreneurial scene. Without question, we looked to Johannah Jelks of Generation X&Y for MI, a grassroots organization she started that helps support Michigan neighborhoods by helping increase capital, talent retention, and entrepreneurial growth. Choosing Johannah for this ATHENA tenet was a "no-brainer."

How do you live out the Collaboration ATHENA tenet?
As a woman, a socially conscious millennial, and a rising entrepreneur, I live a life revolved around building relationships. My workplace environment changes frequently, since gathering new inspiration is a high priority for developing creative strategies and campaigns. In my personal life, I live in a great neighborhood, East Hills, where I spend much time supporting local businesses or giving back to others in the community. I also enjoy traveling to new places and dancing.

How has living out this tenet affected your career?
I was mentored early in my career by several Grand Rapids women business owners to get involved with community. At age twenty, I was the youngest member of the MYOB six-week business program at GROW (Grand Rapids Opportunity for Women). I had one really great job shadow, with the female director of marketing/archives at Ralph Lauren Corporation in New York City, which really became a tipping point for me at such a young age. I now have a career in marketing campaign management and social media management. I am very excited to showcase women who are changing their environment in my first Generation X&Y for MI campaign, "She Rides Her Own Way," a campaign designed to build self-esteem and bring health awareness to women in West Michigan through biking.

Has Collaboration allowed you to achieve something you'd thought was not possible?
In every part of my life, collaboration has been extremely important. I learned early on that collaborating with other women is the only way to change the current business landscape. Through collaboration, a neighborhood and neighborhood school have been revitalized.

Was there a time when the outcome of Collaboration pleasantly surprised you?
When I was on the board of East Hills Council of Neighbors, myself and several women board members collaborated with Congress Elementary School Principal Bridget Cheney to create a partnership that creates a top neighborhood school in East Hills. The "East Hills Loves Congress" initiative has grown into a statewide model of how to partner a community with a local school. This has by far become the best surprise in my professional career!

How does Collaboration help the community and its residents thrive?
New and old residents both rely on collaboration in order to build a thriving area to live. The resurgence of urban living has sparked a new conversation on what collaboration and inclusivity looks like. As a millennial, collaboration is so much a part of our culture.

Why do you support the ATHENA program at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce?
I support the ATHENA program because of the ATHENA program mission, which is to highlight, support, and showcase women who are going to continue to make new pathways. The ATHENA program is one of the best programs in the West Michigan Region.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
The Power of Healing

To continue the movement of collaboration within this great city and close-knit community, you're invited to join the August 21 ATHENA Leadership Forum & Scholarship Fundraiser, where you'll have the opportunity to lunch and mingle with business professionals, students, and anyone interested in the ATHENA program or looking to support such a great cause.

The fundraiser—featuring a keynote presentation from Dr. Marsha Rappley, Dean of MSU College of Human Medicine, on the topic of learning—will be hosted at Kent Country Club and raises funds for the ATHENA scholarship awarded to five women who are following their passions and pursuing higher education.

The ATHENA Scholarship uniquely provides unrestricted financial aid to women over thirty. The scholarship funds may be used at any accredited college or university, for whatever expenses best fit the recipients' needs—whether tuition and books, or transportation and child care.

Visit www.grandrapids.org/athena-leadership-forum to find out more and register for the ATHENA Leadership Forum & Scholarship Fundraiser.

Contributed by Mercedes Cowper, a program & events coordinator for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
Edited by AliciaMarie Belchak, a communications specialist for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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