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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021

AWARD to HONOR

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Exemplary Individuals

For more than three decades, the Greater Shreveport Chamber has hosted the ATHENA Leadership Program honoring a class of leading women and men in our community. From each class, one individual is selected to receive the prestigious ATHENA International Leadership Award.

Since the ATHENA program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the ATHENA Award in the United States and worldwide.

The award recognizes an individual who has attained and personifies the highest level of excellence and creativity in their business or profession. They also devote time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community. They have actively assisted women in achieving their full leadership potential through service and mentorship.

The ATHENA International Leadership Award was inspired by Greek mythology’s goddess known for her strength, courage, wisdom and enlightenment – qualities embodied in the ATHENA Leadership Model. The award is unique in scope – local, national and international – and in the ATHENA mission upon which it is based.

This year’s class represents a compelling group of individuals leading in our community. They serve in our medical community, in higher education, as business owners and entrepreneurs, leading organizations and living lives of impact and purpose.

Since the inception of our local ATHENA in 1990, we have recognized more than 450 individuals in the Shreveport- Bossier area. As we present our 53rd ATHENA recipient with the ATHENA sculpture, we not only recognize this individual’s achievements, but by honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

The ATHENA Leadership Award Luncheon, presented by Willis-Knighton Health System, will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 11:30 a.m. at Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino.

On the following pages, we introduce 16 outstanding community leaders who are this year’s ATHENA honorees.

–Sandy Cimino, Greater Shreveport Chamber’s Business Development Connection President

Lyndsi Alvarez

Lyndsi is the president of Precision Waste Solutions, a local processor of cardboard, plastic bottles and aerosol cans. Lyndsi and her team have spent the past year focusing on advanced recycling as they work to find long-term solutions for everyday problems. They have successfully built a prototype machine that breaks down old tires and separates the carbon black for recycled rubber. This process also creates reusable fuel.

Precision is 98% woman-owned, and 75% of the staff are women. Lyndsi believes that it is important in the waste and recycling industry to employ and promote women in the predominantly male career field.

Before coming to Shreveport, Lyndsi spent several years implementing recycling and organic food processing programs in cities such as Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and Honolulu with the hopes of reducing our nation’s carbon footprint.

Shelley Nicole Armstrong, Ph.D.

Dr. Shelley Armstrong’s passion for higher education, health and fitness has changed the lives of thousands in her community and across the U.S. during her 21-year career. Armstrong has mentored and motivated countless female students and athletes through her roles as academic program director, chair of health and exercise science, senior woman administrator of intercollegiate athletics, and an NCAA Division I cross-country coach.

While her numerous career accomplishments are notable, her community projects, Kids on the Run and YOUth FIT, are equally impressive. In 2019, YOUth FIT, which promotes fitness, received the National Outstanding Youth Program Award. As a professor, coach, community leader and mom of two young girls, Armstrong continually sets an example of living up to and beyond her leadership potential.

Krystle Renee’ Beauchamp

Krystle Beauchamp currently serves as the communications manager and parish spokesperson for the parish of Caddo, where she directs the dissemination of public information to the media and citizens and works to tell the story of all of the wonderful things happening in Caddo Parish.

Krystle earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of New Orleans and her master’s in public policy and administration from the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. Deeply rooted in the belief that public service is a noble calling, she has dedicated herself to the Shreveport-Bossier community and the citizens who have given her so much. She is an active community member, giving her time to organizations such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Sci-Port, Junior League of Shreveport Bossier and the YWCA.

Kathleen Bursley

Katie Bursley is the director of donor relations and human resources for United Way of Northwest Louisiana. Joining United Way in 2017 allowed her to be involved in the community and connect needs with opportunity so that everyone wins. She aspires to uplift marginalized people so everyone’s potential can be realized.

Katie began her career in event management at Shreveport’s premier city club. Her sales experience drove her creativity so the event space could deliver for clients. In 2019, she earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Louisiana State University at Shreveport.

Katie moved to Shreveport from Tennessee in 2013. Since then, she has strived to get involved in the Shreveport/Bossier community and celebrate all our region offers.

Susan East

Susan East is a resident of Bossier City. She is a wife, mother and grandmother. Since 1990, Susan has owned and operated two businesses in Shreveport. She atttributes her success to putting customer service as her top priority.

Susan serves as a CASA volunteer. The program advocates for the best interest of abused and neglected children in our community. She has also served with ESA, Epsilon Sigma Alpha. The organization aims to inspire leadership and service by bringing people together to pursue programs and projects that make a positive difference in the community. In addition, Susan serves on the Commission for Women of Bossier City. The commission acts as an advocacy agency for women and implements strategies to solve problems facing women today.

Jana Freeman Forrest

Jana Freeman Forrest is the Caddo Parish market president for BOM Bank. She is a proud community banker, serving 20 years in the financial services industry. Jana received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern State University, graduated from the Louisiana Bankers Association Leadership School, and most recently, the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.

She has served on numerous boards and organizations throughout the years. Jana is passionate about volunteering, promoting financial literacy and making a positive and lasting difference in our community. She is an active member of Grace Community Church. Jana is a steadfast advocate for Shreveport, where she resides with her wife, Maribeth, and daughter, Madison.

Von Jennings

For 29 years, Von Jennings has served as an advocate for women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and inclusion. Jennings has certified women-owned businesses, managed job training programs, taught life skill classes and coordinated celebrations for Women’s History Month. Professionally, Jennings established herself as a talented grant writer and project manager implementing workforce and economic development programs with projects in Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kansas and Ohio.

Currently, she serves as a grant manager for the Young Adult Life Launch program hosted by Goodwill Industries of North Louisiana. Jennings has led the Shreveport site of the Life Launch program to be ranked #1 in the U.S. for enrollment.

Jennings is the owner of Von Jennings Consulting Services, which provides complete grant writing services, outreach and social media marketing. She is the creator of Louisiana Women in Business, a social media group, which consists of 900 fellow women business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs from across the state.

Julie Gilley Milam

Julie grew up in Shreveport and attended Byrd High School, LSU and LSUS. After gaining professional experience in Washington, D.C., New York, Indianapolis and Boca Raton, she was presented with the opportunity to come home and help startup companies while focusing on economic development. Since returning to Shreveport, she has vetted over 1,000 startups, of which 48% have been woman-, minorityor veteran-owned.

Julie teaches and mentors college students for university pitch competitions and high school students through Junior Achievement. She serves the local homeless community at the Hope House by providing meals and organizing and distributing hygiene items and clothing. Julie’s passion is to help North Louisiana grow its economy and improve the quality of life for the people in the region.

Leslie Peck

Leslie Peck enjoys a life shaped by expression. A Shreveport native, she won numerous poetry, creative writing and journalism awards throughout school, and she channeled her gift for writing into a successful career in advertising.

Peck has over 22 years of professional experience, serving as advertising manager for both Eldorado and Margaritaville casinos before being promoted to her current position, director of marketing and communications for SporTran.

Peck combines her love of communications with a passion for giving back. She has served on many professional and charitable boards, providing messaging and outreach to nonprofits. She has also championed women through hiring practices, mentorship programs and providing her services gratis to women in business. Currently, she is dedicated to providing a greater understanding of transit’s vital role in our community.

Margaret Claire Rebouche

Claire Rebouche, vice president of quality and clinical performance at Willis-Knighton Health System, began her health-care career as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care and mother-baby units. After years at the bedside, she became the health system’s director of education and later served as corporate patient safety officer. She has dedicated her professional life to caring for mothers and their children, educating clinical staff and developing processes to facilitate quality patient care for this community. She has led, mentored and inspired clinical staff, predominantly women, for almost four decades.

Claire has also dedicated more than 15 years of service to the Independence Bowl, including serving on the Executive Committee and accepting an invitation to be the game’s 2024 chairperson.

Miranda Small

When you think of Miranda Small, you think of creativity and groundbreaking leadership! Ms. Small is a native of Shreveport and loves the community she calls home. Miranda serves as the convention services manager for Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino Shreveport. For the past 20–plus years, she has been able to help her clients facilitate events at the hotel with excellence.

Ms. Small received her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a minor in organizational management from Wiley College in 2006. She also holds an Associate’s Degree in business with a concentration in hospitality and tourism from Southern University – Shreveport and is pursuing her MBA at LSUS.

She is the proud mother of one son, Mathis Chandler Morris. She says that he is her “greatest” blessing!

In her spare time, she works diligently in her church, Mt. Canaan Missionary Baptist Church, serving on Young Adult Sunday School and YAM (Young Adult Ministry).

Karen Soul, Ph.D.

Dr. Karen Soul is the provost of Centenary College. A Shreveport native, Karen graduated from Captain Shreve High School and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota- Duluth and her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Karen taught elementary and middle school before accepting a faculty position at Centenary. She also served as the college’s Title IX coordinator and is particularly proud of the programming she planned and implemented to prevent sexual assault and her role as an advocate for victims’ rights. Karen was selected as one of 30 administrators nationwide for the Council of Independent Colleges Senior Leadership Academy and is a regional leader for the national Legacies of American Slavery grant project.

LaToria Willis Thomas

LaToria W. (“Tori”) Thomas has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years. Tori’s career has always fulfilled her personal mission to improve the lives of people in need. Currently, she serves as VP of operations/community investments for United Way NWLA.

She has been very active in service and has several awards and commendations. She received the Presidential Community Service Award from former President William J. Clinton. She served on the Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Committee. Tori is the founder of the Emerging Philanthropist of New Orleans, a giving circle to educate young professionals about the importance of philanthropy in society. She was recently selected as one of 50 members of the 2021 United Way Worldwide LEAD Program and has served on several boards and committees.

Keely Verges

Keely Verges has been active in her community as a volunteer to many organizations, a business owner and as an active advocate for mental health services. Keely has worked in the field of mental health for the last 20+ years. Since 2016, she has served as the director of business development at Brentwood Hospital. In this role, she has had the opportunity to identify gaps in services and work with a team to develop programs to fill those gaps. These programs serve thousands of people with mental health needs each year.

As the director of a six-person, all-female business development team, Keely empowers each of them to be successful by providing individual support, resources and training.

Felicia Latonya Williams

Felecia Latonya Williams began working in the beauty industry after being told she didn’t fit the mold. She left feeling empty and unwanted. Being overweight, dark-skinned and having extreme ADD symptoms made graduating seem impossible, let alone envisioning a successful future afterward. Despite the odds and the naysayers, Williams honed and excelled at her craft. She became the first African- American makeup artist for Clinique Cosmetics’ southern region. Her work has been featured in New York Fashion Week, music videos and movies.

In 2015, Williams started Gertrude’s Gifts to combat her depression and anxiety and as a tribute to her beloved grandmother, who always encouraged and validated her. Her nonprofit serves as a tool for young women that have been affected by abuse and depression themselves.

Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams is a business owner and philanthropist working in the Shreveport-Bossier area. Williams owns Seedlinks Behavior Management, which employs 60 employees, 75% of whom are women. Also, all leadership positions in the company, besides his own as CEO, are held by women.

Williams is a partner and co-founder of Seeds in Action Community Healthcare, where Allison Youngblood is the executive director. He has provided thousands of dollars in seed money to assist women in starting businesses in the Shreveport area, helped women start their own Air BnB businesses, and financially supported campaigns for women in politics through sizable donations. Williams has consistently shown through his actions that he believes in the capability of women to lead in all areas of the business world.

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