The 2021 West Michigan Woman People's Choice Brilliance Award

BAPCA19 Social1 UPDATEVoting is now open! The West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards is entering its 5th year of celebrating the unique talents of women and men in our community. For the third year, the public will select one honoree from the finalists for the People's Choice Brilliance Award. The winner will be announced on August 31, 2021 at the West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards where they will receive their award and recognition.

• To vote, please provide your first and last name and email address
• You may only vote one time for one person
• Voting opens June 1, 2021 and closes at 5pm on June 25, 2021

 !All finalists, along with snippets from their bios, have been placed in alphabetical order below. Enjoy learning about each of them and thank you for voting!



Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services
Brilliant Woman of the Year

Valencia Agnew's work is based upon a lifelong belief in the unique potential within each and every person to live life versus simply existing. It is this belief that drives her continued education and commitment to excellence as she diagnoses and treats mental illnesses and performs psychological evaluations. Valencia founded Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services 9 years ago, a practice that has grown from 1 therapist to 12. She is an expert in the areas of borderline personality, self-injury, and trauma, as well as adolescent, family and couple's therapy. Recognized by the education, legal and healthcare communities as a leading provider of group and counseling services, Valencia is a therapist who offers hope.

Executive Director
Grace's Table
Brilliant Woman of the Year

Lisa Anderson founded Grace’s Table in 2014 with a calling to walk alongside teen moms, moving them from isolation to community. Through one-on-one and group mentoring, she works with young mothers to establish stability, achieve educational milestones, learn parenting skills and explore spirituality. Her passion to see teen moms achieve, sustain and reach their full potential is derived from her own journey as a teen mom and years of mentoring youth. During the pandemic, Grace's Table saw a 230% increase in families served, and through it all, Lisa continued her work, striving to create equity for women and children by educating, empowering and providing resources to help them thrive.

GRNoir Wine & Jazz
Brilliant Best Supporting Man

Shatawn Brigham is the co-founder of Brigham Consulting LLC, a national consulting firm that advances diversity, racial equity and inclusion, moving leaders, organizations, and companies from conversation to agency in service of systemic, transformational change. Shatawn is also the co-founder of GRNoir Wine & Jazz, Grand Rapids’ first Black-owned wine and jazz spot. Both of these endeavors represent a transition for Shatawn, as he has spent the majority of his career supporting students, families and school leaders in eliminating barriers to education resulting from socioeconomic, structural racism and behavioral health. Shatawn is supported by his wife, Nadia, partnering with her in life, parenthood and business.

Director of Marketing & Operations
Green Giftz
Brilliant Emerging Leader

Be bold. Speak out. Listen. These are the three mantras of Kelly Brown, Director of Marketing & Operation of Green Giftz. In her position, Kelly oversees highly custom, branded merchandise projects from creation and quoting to delivery. When Kelly isn’t at Green Giftz, you can find her hosting CreativeMornings Grand Rapids, sitting on the Monroe North Business Association board as Marketing Chair and Secretary, instructing a fitness class, or coaching Rockford’s competitive cheer team. Kelly is everywhere, but regardless of where you find her, her goal as a leader is always the same: Support the team.

Stir it Up (Bakery)
Brilliant Social Change Agent

Zoe Bruyn is the Founder and Owner of Stir It Up, a bakery with the mission of empowering and providing employment to individuals with disabilities. Zoe started Stir It Up at 20 years old, out of her parent’s residential kitchen, and at the time, she had no culinary experience, only a passion and her “why.” 75% of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities are unemployed despite their ability, desire and willingness to work. It is Zoe’s hope that the work of Stir It Up stirs up the preconceived notions of employment for those with disabilities.

Manager of Neighborhood Experience
DGRI - Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
Brilliant Connector

Annamarie Buller is a connector – it’s right there along with organizer on her resume, which is very helpful to her in her Manager of Neighbor Experience position at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. where she ensures productive connections are maintained with 7,000+ downtown residents. Annamarie loves the opportunity to be of use and the chance to learn, explaining “when we can feel connected, we can be there for each other and life is fuller.” A joyful and memorable day in Annamarie’s life is one where she is bringing people together, opening up important resources, connections and conversations that meet community needs.

Designed Future
Brilliant Champion of Service

Julie Dankovich says, "The opportunity to change the world is around every corner." She left the corporate world in 2015 to launch Designed Future, where she now serves as Executive Director. Designed Future is a co-ed sober living facility, and Julie's goal is to break the intergenerational cycle of substance abuse and build stronger families. Julie is most proud of every person who successfully transitions out of Designed Future and continues to maintain sobriety. She uses her own life experiences to become immersed in social issues and aims to transform both individuals and society. Julie finds nonprofit work immensely satisfying because it allows her to be a part of something bigger than herself.

Executive Director
Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
Brilliant Social Change Agent

Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. “I firmly believe that people, systems and structures can change if we use the power of togetherness to amplify the voices of those who have been ignored,” says Evelyn. The Hispanic Center of West Michigan works directly to bring awareness to the struggles, barriers and accomplishments of the Latinx community. Evelyn admits, “we [Hispanic Center staff and volunteers] share a huge responsibility… however, there is no better time than now to ensure our voices are heard and represented.”

Director of Market Strategy
Erhardt Construction
Brilliant Best Supporting Man

Professionally, Arlen-Dean Gaddy is the Director of Market Strategy for Erhardt Construction, where he has been instrumental in building a Project Management team that is comprised of 50% women, which is rare in the construction industry. Arlen-Dean believes that promoting women in the workplace is both smart and good business, and that "by not supporting women in the workplace, organizations are hindering their ability to grow, improve and become more efficient." Influenced by his mother, wife and two fiercely independent daughters, Arlen-Dean feels a personal conviction be an advocate, ally and promoter of women.

Ernst & Young
Brilliant Mentor

With 26 years of experience, Jennifer Greenop leads the global coordination of large, multi-national companies in healthcare, manufacturing and consumer products. She is a Partner at Ernst & Young and believes she would not be where she is today without the guidance of one of her former mentors. Julie "sees the need for mentors of rising female leaders to help them navigate opportunities where women are historically not in the majority of leadership roles." Jennifer is the Vice Chairperson of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids and a member of the Grand Valley State University Accounting Advisory Board. She loves the people side of business, primarily the personal impact of mentoring.

Urban You
Brilliant Woman of the Year

Nicole Meloche-Gregory prides herself on being a market gap finder and motivated leader. She is the Founder and CEO of Urban You where she creates a market-disrupting category of inclusive medical spa treatments and services for men and women. Since 2019, she's hosted SlowMo, a podcast designed to inspire, support and deliver what listeners must hear to continue their wellness journeys. In addition, Nicole is heavily involved in education and was elected to the Forest Hills Public School Board in 2016. When it comes to inspiring others, Nicole states, "Each day, we wake up ... for two reasons: purpose and appreciation. I strive to create those two items in each business and in each person [with]in those businesses."

Meaning In Colors
Brilliant Mentor

Iryonna Hogan is the Executive Director of Meaning In Colors, where she has provided over 5 years of service in case management, event planning, recruiting and financial literacy coaching. Her career fulfills her passion to work with youth and ensure those who are in difficult places of life transition have the basic necessities for living. Iryonna understands the importance of caring for the total person—mentally, physically and emotionally. Humbly, Iryonna consistently provides resources and education to adults to help them stop living in financial fear and to youth to help them avoid instability. She is driven and inspired to mentor by the needs of her community.

Manager of the Telehealth Clinic, Hastings Clinic and the Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health
Brilliant Mentor

Jean Holthaus says, "Sharing in the celebration, satisfaction and fulfillment experienced by those I mentor when they accomplish what previously seemed impossible, energizes and motivates me to continue investing deeply into the lives of others." Jean has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 and has worked for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director. Having taught elementary and junior high students for 10 years prior to beginning her career as a therapist, Jean is a teacher at heart and states that she is "most alive when equipping others."

Pine Rest
Brilliant Team Player

As the Chief Nurse Executive, Gretchen Johnson is responsible and accountable for nursing practice access throughout Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. She implements vision and value and benefits her team by bringing focus, building a productive and fulfilling environment, and providing direction and guidance to clarify short- and long-term goals for team members. Christine explains, "What I appreciate most about our team is the passion we share for reducing the stigma of mental illness and our commitment to excellence in patient care in the behavioral health continuum. Our decision-making processes are guided by our respect and belief in those we serve."

Executive Producer
Brilliant Team Player

Christine Kelso is the Executive Producer of Local Programming at WOOD TV8 and WOTV 4. She’s held the position since the 2009 launch of local lifestyle show, eightWest. From idea to air, Christine helped get the show off the ground in a matter of weeks and has grown its popularity ever since. Christine also oversees segment scheduling for Maranda Where You Live, bringing big station projects to life on television. Christine says, "I have the privilege of being on several 'teams' within WOODTV. For me, it’s about collaboration and problem solving, and in the end, creating a better product for our viewers."

Chief Operating Officer
Public Thread
Brilliant Connector

“We may all be one person away from the greatest opportunity in our lives and just need that break or push in the right direction,” says Lisa Knight, Chief Operating Officer of Public Thread, a community-based upcycling company working to divert scrap and surplus textiles from our landfills, create living wage jobs, and support a growing creative economy. Every day, Lisa utilizes her skills in community leadership and activism to develop strategic partnerships for impact. Lisa understands that when you form relationships with people who are hurting or have been marginalized, you help build pathways to meet their needs.

Managing Member
Lachman Stuart PLC
Brilliant Tenacity

Sara Lachman is an award-winning real estate attorney and Managing Partner of Lachman Stuart PLC and Owner of Lunar Cycle, a boutique cycling gym. Not only did Sara open Lunar Cycle in January 2020, but the day after the shelter-in-place order issued, she made moves to walk away from her equity partner position at a large firm to build her current law practice. Between the two, Sara worked 18-hour days building one business and innovating ways to allow the other to survive the widespread gym closures. “I never gave up and never backed down,” said Sara. “I look at an obstacle as an opportunity to innovate my business models with bold, brave moves.”

Director of Community Engagement
Amplify GR
Brilliant Social Change Agent

Latesha Lipscomb knows firsthand that there is “absolutely no limit to what everyday people can achieve when they are supported by a champion,” and it is as the Director of Engagement for Amplify GR that she is that champion. It is her responsibility to think critically about upstream solutions, do grassroots work, have bold and courage grass-tops conversations and play a supporting role in helping neighbors improve quality of life for themselves. When asked why she pours her heart into her work, she said, “because I desire to see the world change in favor of the future generations to come.”

Micro Visions, Inc.
Brilliant Entrepreneur

Julie Lough founded Micro Visions, Inc. in 1989, and since then, has overseen the growth of the company into a team of dedicated network engineers, technology specialists and support staff. Julie says, "True brilliance is in the people you hire and surround yourself with." Micro Visions offers fully managed IT services, consulting and project management, network engineering and much more. Most recently the company was nominated for the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch with Michigan Celebrates Small Business. In 2020 and 2021, Micro Visions has had a seat on the Cabinet Committee for the Special Olympics “Building Champions” Campaign. Julie, herself, is a regular volunteer for Kids’ Food Basket and at Trinitas Classical School.

Chair of the Board of Directors
West Michigan Veterans Coalition
Brilliant Champion of Service

Brandi McBride is a Talent Acquisition Consultant for SpartanNash, recruiting for military distribution roles. She leads the company’s military outreach and hiring efforts and Chairs the company resource group for veterans. Brandi, herself, is a decorated combat veteran, winning Officer of the Year five times during her 8 years in the Air Force. She completed an overseas tour in the United Arab Emirates in 2004 and a combat tour in Iraq in 2005. Here in Grand Rapids, Brandi founded the local chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, taking the chapter from 4 members to now over 700. Additionally, Brandi serves on multiple committees to serve veterans throughout the state.

Chief Nursing Officer
Mercy Health Saint Mary's
Brilliant Tenacity

Michelle Peña is the Chief Nursing Officer at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. Michelle provides clinical and administrative leadership for planning, organizing, directing, monitoring and evaluating safe high-quality patient care. It’s an understatement to say this pandemic hit Michelle and her frontline nurses hard. Every day Michelle had to evaluate how Mercy Health Saint Mary’s was keeping patients and staff safe during the uncertain and continually changing conditions. “I reflected on the previous 18 months and was surprised that I was able to handle what came my way in that time. Looking back in a comprehensive way helped me see strength in myself I didn’t know I had,” said Michelle.

School Improvement Facilitator
Grand Rapids Public Schools - Westwood Middle School
Brilliant Emerging Leader

Megan Persons is an enthusiastic and motivated School Improvement Facilitator at Westwood Middle School, who is committed to engaging students and staff in equity-oriented teaching and learning. In her position, she has created the district’s only Developing Teacher Workshop, and she facilitates a district- and county-wide LGBTQ+ safe schools training. Megan explains that her strength as a leader “comes from [her] willingness to listen, learn or lift based on the needs of those [she] serves.” When things get difficult, instead of stepping back, Megan leans in and embraces the challenge with humility, discipline, effort and introspection—with that, comes progress.

Vice-Chair, Conductive Learning Center
Chair, Olivia's Gift
Brilliant Best Supporting Man

Chuck Saur is now enjoying writing and sailboat racing in his retirement, but throughout his career, he worked in several education-related jobs. He retired in 2014 as Project Director for the Michigan Transition Outcomes Project, a statewide effort to help students with special needs prepare for life post-school. In addition, Chuck founded the Conductive Learning Center (CLC) with his late wife, Susie, as they searched for better methods of teaching children with movement disorders. Chuck currently serves as vice-chair of CLC and as chair of Olivia’s Gift, Inc., a non-profit housing organization for young adults with disabilities. Chuck notes that raising his sons, Dan and Nick, is one of his greatest accomplishments.

Project & Marketing Manager, Snowden Builders LLC, and President
Professional Women in Building Council (PWB) of Greater Grand Rapids
Brilliant Emerging Leader

Growing up, Stephanie Snowden’s dad would say “be a leader, not a follower,” and today she is a leader in the male-dominated construction industry. Stephanie is the Project and Marketing Manager of Snowden Builders and Council President of the Professional Women in Building Council. Each day she looks for opportunities to learn and become more knowledgeable in business and the residential construction industry because she believes a good leader should never stop learning and improving. She remarks, “construction is no longer a man’s industry ... I’m helping pave the way for other young women to stand up and do something different, to be different.”

Chief Advancement Officer
Wedgwood Christian Services
Brilliant Champion of Service

Vivian TerMaat is most proud of her service in her church community. She currently serves as an Elder at Central Reformed Church, giving her the opportunity to care for others while deepening her own faith. Professionally, Vivian is the Chief Advancement Officer at Wedgwood Christian Services, where she works alongside an inspired team that raises $2 million dollars per year to support Wedgwood's services, directly transforming the lives of children, adults and families who are struggling with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges. When it comes to service, Vivian notes, "...no act is too small. They all add up and help improve lives of those around you. There is nothing better."

Brilliant Entrepreneur

Aleka Thrash's mission is to cultivate beautiful experiences of authenticity that inspire and influence others through multimedia. Aleka is known for her blog, NaturallyACT, that encourages the importance of self-care both inside and out. She feels privileged to use her gift of noticing the inner beauty in others and portraying that beauty through her multimedia creative agency, ACTPhotoMedia. Aleka is the co-founder of Kinky Hair Connection, an annual event created to support and encourage a natural hair lifestyle. In addition, Aleka serves as a committee member for Our African American Heritage Fund with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Her goal is to encourage everyone to embrace who they were born to be, naturally!

Wedgwood Christian Services
Brilliant Team Player

Brina Tiemeyer is a clinician with Wedgwood Christian Services, specializing in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma Informed Parenting and Trauma Specialization Across the Lifespan. She believes in taking a collaborative approach to helping clients reach their full potential and is passionate about helping children and their families navigate traumatic experiences, reducing symptom severity. When it comes to building camaraderie, Brina says, "Reflection of your daily interactions and the ability to empower others to be the best they can be builds not only an open, honest connection, but also promotes a bond towards a common goal—in other words, creates a team."

Pieces of Me
Brilliant Entrepreneur

Elsa Vos is the founder of Pieces of Me, a meaningful jewelry brand launched in 2016. She believes all women deserve to feel loved and valued for who they are, and Pieces of Me jewelry gifts share that message. Elsa currently serves as the creative director and design lead on all products. In addition to growing her lifestyle brand, Elsa developed an internship program that has facilitated mentoring to over 50 students in the last five years. Pieces of Me was featured as a top holiday gift in 2019 on the Hoda + Jenna show on NBC’s The Today Show. Currently, Pieces of Me jewelry can be found in over 200 retail stores nationwide.

Founder and CEO
Hire for Hope
Brilliant Tenacity

Ashley Ward is the Founder and CEO of Hire For Hope, an award-winning and mission-driven business that serves 60 clients in West Michigan. Her company specializes in executive recruiting and talent consulting services for mid-size businesses. The “hope” part of Hire For Hope is a part of the company’s mission, giving 10% of profit to nonprofits in West Michigan that support and empower women, particularly those experiencing domestic violence. Ashley is a survivor of domestic abuse herself and shares her story publicly, explaining that past adversity doesn’t define her¬—“it only ignites my fire and spirit, giving me the courage and power to persist even in the darkness.”

Director, Community Impact
The Bridge
Brilliant Connector

Melody Woods wants others to know that through “creating relationships and caring deeply for other people and the community they live, work, and play in, they too can create change.” This sentiment is echoed in her work as the Director of Community Impact at The Bridge. Melody believes in the difference she can make and has made in the community by connecting with individuals and organizations, linking them to services and resources that build and foster relationships. Melody continues to actively create promising social change that will inevitably strengthen our West Michigan community.


Disclaimer: Thank you for helping to shine a light on the dynamic women and men in West Michigan. By voting, you agree to receive email communications from West Michigan Woman. We are proud to count you as one of the 42,000+ members of our community.