After a challenging and memorable year, we're proud to recognize these resilient change makers—the finalists for the fifth annual Brilliance Awards.
Woman of the Year
Valencia Agnew, Ph.D., LLPhD, DBTC
Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services
"When you put your heart into something and refuse to settle, it creates ripples. Why be mediocre when I believe there are gifts within all of us that can make us agents of change?"
"I am driven to create change within my sphere of influence. This drive is fed by the community of strong women with which I surround myself, as well as my thirst for knowledge. I constantly want to learn more, do better, and rise above my own expectations."
"Sharing my talent of casting vision with organizations and women who need support to find their vision has been a cornerstone to creating positive change. When you see someone following their vision—finding their value—you know you've done great things for the world."
Ernst & Young
"I'm motivated to give back the benefits I've received from my mentors to the next set of leaders in our organization and community. I especially see the need for mentors for our rising female leaders and helping them to navigate opportunities where women are historically still not in the majority of leadership roles."
Meaning In Colors
"I've known for a long time what my purpose is and I have made myself busy functioning in my purpose. I have celebrated many moments that included the successes of my clients and people that are a part of my team. I've always considered their win a win for me."
Jean Holthaus, LISW, LMSW
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
"Michelangelo said, 'Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.' I ardently believe every individual is created uniquely, and when they are encouraged to unearth, refine and leverage the magnificent 'statue' within, humankind benefits."
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
"I get such a huge lift from seeing others lead and shine with the right team, plan or bit of cheerleading. People have so much greatness in them, so much more than they know, and sometimes I get the opportunity to help them in some small way and that is so fun for me."
"Everyone deserves the opportunity to dream. Sometimes those opportunities only come through other people. 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."
"I truly believe that I can make a difference in our community by being a bridge for individuals and organizations, linking them to services and resources in order to build and foster relationships that create promising social change that inevitably strengthens our community."
Social Change Agent
Stir It Up
"I advocate for those with disabilities because I believe everyone has something to offer. I know firsthand how great of employees they can be, when given the opportunity. Statistics continue to show that those with disabilities are some of the most loyal, dedicated, long term employees. How can more join the workforce?"
Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
"It is my greatest success when I can support someone bringing their own ideas to life. Change cannot be accomplished by one person or leader. We must continue to listen to those doing the grassroot work and empower them."
"It's a privilege to do this work because you can't outperform community, especially when you authentically and intentionally engage people in a way that builds relationships based on mutual respect and trust. I'm in awe of the neighbors I get to work with on this journey."
Gretchen Johnson, CNE DNP, MSN, RN-BC
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
"When work is challenging, I roll up my sleeves and dig in with my coworkers. I share with my colleagues that I was created to be a psychiatric nurse. I am a psychiatric nurse at my very core and love what I do."
"I've always, personally and professionally, taken an approach that we can't succeed in a bubble. That takes a team of individuals who each bring something different to the team."
Wedgwood Christian Services
"It's a daily honor to be invited into the hearts of children and families who are hurting so deeply while instilling hope when they feel hopeless. I love walking alongside each and every one of them and empowering them to be all they are capable of being."
Champion of Service
"I feel deep fulfillment doing works of mercy because they allow me to take direct and immediate action for those I serve and against the problems of society that robbed them of their life, freedom and dignity."
SpartanNash | West Michigan Veterans Coalition
"After surviving combat in Iraq, divorce, PTSD and cancer, I feel these have all led me to a place of understanding more about what others are going through and have also set me up to share these experiences and life transitions with others going through similar situations."
Wedgwood Christian Services
"I serve others because my faith calls me to do so, because it forces me to think beyond myself and my world, and because by doing so I can help people reach their goals, which is incredibly rewarding."
Lachman Stuart PLC | Lunar Cycle
"I look at an obstacle as an opportunity to innovate my business models with bold, brave moves. I like to believe that I OWN the pivot, and hope to inspire other small businesses to challenge themselves in similar ways."
Michelle Peña, MSN, RN, NEA-BC
Mercy Health Saint Mary's
"Towards the end of 2020, 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."
Hire for Hope
"Sharing my story publicly has helped me learn that my adversity does not define me. It only ignites my fire and spirit, giving me the courage and power to persist even in the darkness."
Micro Visions, Inc.
"True brilliance is in the people you hire and surround yourself with. This certainly proved to be true this past year. You need to build your team and be thoughtful about what your team brings to the table. You need to mentor, encourage and bring out the best in your people."
ACTPhotoMedia | Wrapped by A.C.T.
"The journey to self-confidence and entrepreneurship can be a challenge. I have personally stopped and started more times than I would like to admit. I have learned the importance of having people around you who will remind you of your why, even if they don't understand."
Pieces of Me
"There have been so many times throughout this journey where I truly believe many would've thrown in the towel, cut their losses and moved on, but for some reason I haven't. I believe who I am innately, the way God made me, was to do exactly this."
"I am empathetic. I believe people have good intentions at heart. I understand that now, more than ever, we are all battling something. We are all human. My leadership style may be process first but it is people focused at heart. We are nothing without our teams."
Grand Rapids Public Schools - Westwood Middle School
"As the infamous Rumi advised, I try to lead like I live: by 'be[ing] a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.' As a lamp, I seek to show; as a lifeboat, I seek to support; as a ladder, I seek to serve. In my experience, the strongest leaders are those who can lead from the front (the lamp) or from the back (the ladder), providing both support and celebration (the lifeboat) along the way."
Snowden Builders LLC | Professional Women in Building Council (PWB) of Greater Grand Rapids
"Be honest and always act with integrity. When faced with a decision and you're not sure how to handle it, take a step back and ask yourself, 'what is the right thing to do?' and most times, you'll find your answer. Even if doing the right thing is going to take money out of your pocket, your reputation is priceless!"
Best Supporting Man
GRNoir Wine & Jazz | Brigham Consulting
"I would encourage men to find ways to advocate for women in the workplace, to disrupt any evidence of patriarchy at play that diminishes the power and voices of women. Be intentional about learning and listening, and not to come in with assumptions and stereotypes."
"For the most part, men have impact equity with access to capital, jobs, promotion, networks and introductions. We must be willing to share these resources with women—particularly women of color—in order to elevate equality."
Conductive Learning Center | Olivia's Gift
"Listen. Don't place male-value on knowing. Place value on learning, and showing everyone your vulnerability to making errors and mistakes while you learn."
The 2021 West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards take place August 31, 2020.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.