ATHENA: Leading with Fierce Advocacy

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Sharing one's passion and creating an unstoppable force for the greater good defines the ATHENA tenet Fierce Advocacy. We also concluded that Mary K. Hoodhood, founder of the hunger-fighting organization Kids' Food Basket, is the epitome of Fierce Advocacy. As part of the ongoing ATHENA Leadership Forum from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, we wanted to reach out to Mary K. and get the scoop on how she supports, shares, and acts on her passion of ending childhood hunger—and how she engages those around her in the cause.

What does Fierce Advocacy mean to you?
Fierce Advocacy means that a person uses all of their influence and communication skills to educate others about their mission. It's very important to educate yourself about your area of interest, so that you can be an articulate speaker and be considered an expert.

How do you demonstrate advocacy?
In my personal and professional life, I use every opportunity that I have to talk about the ill effects of childhood hunger and what community members can do to assist in a positive solution. Networking is key. I always update people when I see them and use conversation to let them know how to volunteer, ways they can donate resources, and how to help financially.

I accept speaking engagements at conferences, colleges and universities, churches, and businesses, in order to talk to people about Kids' Food Basket. In many cases, people are already on board with the attack on childhood hunger. If that is so, this opportunity keeps the subject in the forefront and helps keep up momentum as we grow.

What advice would you offer someone seeking a way to "create an unstoppable force for the greater good"?
It is important to join groups and find organizations that have a mission similar to yours. Surround yourself with people that are articulate, because the more people you have talking about your subject, the easier it is to recruit supporters. Always show your enthusiasm and make sure you know lots of details and statistics—and don't forget the value of a true impact story, too.

How do you get others to share your passion?
Use the media, if you are able. Be available to do interviews. Another key component is to listen to others, because you can motivate them if you can understand who they are. Practice your speeches and really work at becoming a natural and interesting public speaker.

Why do you support the ATHENA program?
I am all about this wonderful community in which we live. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce does such a great job promoting community activities and setting a high bar. The ATHENA program details what is necessary to strive for excellence.

If you had a super power, what would it be and why?
This is a very interesting, since I have been paralyzed for the past thirty-four years. When I first read this question, it crossed my mind whether or not walking was a super power. That being said, I think being able to teleport myself around would be amazing.

The ATHENA Leadership Journey 
In a community that supports the ATHENA leadership model through collaboration, courageous acts, and fierce advocacy, we challenge you to take up the torch and follow Mary K.'s advice to become an even stronger leader and supporter of your passion. Take steps to see your passion make a positive change in the community!

Kick start your leadership quest by celebrating and supporting the ATHENA tenet of Learning at the ATHENA Leadership Forum & Scholarship Fundraiser on August 21, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., at Kent Country Club, 1600 College Ave. NE. The event features Dr. Marsha Rappley, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, on the topic of learning and helps provide financial aid to women over thirty who are pursuing higher education. A portion of each ticket price will directly fund this year's ATHENA Scholarship recipients, to be announced at the ATHENA Awards Celebration on September 18.

Visit www.grandrapids.org/athena-leadership-forum to register for or learn about the ATHENA scholarship fundraiser. Visit www.grandrapids.org/athena-celebration to find details on the ATHENA Awards Celebration.

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


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