Local News

2018 Athena Award recipients announced

As with any community, strong and meaningful leadership is crucial to that community’s success. That certainly is the case in Barry County, which is why the Barry County Chamber of Commerce serves as the host organization for the ATHENA program.


“The ATHENA program and awards are a way that we are able to bring acknowledgement of internationally recognized female leadership traits here to Barry County.” says Megan Lavell, Past-Chair of the Barry County Chamber and the 2012 ATHENA Young Professional honoree.


In conjunction with the Chamber’s annual awards banquet, two awards are presented to outstanding leaders in the community who embody the ATHENA Leadership Model. This year’s honorees will be presented with these awards at the January 19th Chamber Annual Banquet at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners.


The ATHENA Leadership Model, developed right here in Michigan through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: living authentically, learning constantly, advocating fiercely, acting courageously, fostering collaboration, building relationships, giving back and celebrating. These personal traits that tend to be more intuitive to women, and combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership - taking risks, assertiveness, hard work - prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.


The 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award recipient is Julie Nakfoor Pratt, Barry County Prosecuting Attorney.   


A native of Lansing, Julie is a 1984 graduate of Michigan State University and was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 1988 after completing her Juris Doctor at Cooley Law School.  She began her legal career in Barry County in 1989 and has served in both Barry and Allegan Counties since then, including four years in private practice.


In – and in addition to - her role as County Prosecutor Julie was instrumental in the opening of the Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center in Barry County. Her devotion to this cause has garnered widespread recognition, including her being voted Child Advocate Of The Year twice, in 2006 and 2015. She serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect and is a board member of the Barry County Family Support Center.


Julie also serves on the Barry County Substance Abuse Task Force, the Barry County Suicide Prevention Task Force, the Elder Abuse Work Group and many others.

“Julie knows there is bad in this world, but she always looks for the good in people first,” notes Tammy Pennington, Executive Director of the Barry County Commission on Aging. “She uses her brain, her heart and her intuition to seek justice for people of all ages and all walks of life.”


“She is one of the strongest, most intelligent and compassionate women I know. “says Liz Lenz, Coordinator of the Barry County Substance Abuse Task Force. “I think of Julie as a standing constant…waves and winds and other forces will not keep her from doing her job and living her passion.”


“Julie cares deeply about every person that is involved in a case that comes before her office,” says Kristen Cove, last year’s ATHENA Young Professional honoree. “She dedicates her days to educating victims about the process that they are going through. While Julie has been a prosecutor for decades, she understands that for most families this is a one-time experience.”


“My parents instilled in me the idea that I could be anything I want to be: whether it was staying home to raise my children or having a career or both, and to me that epitomizes what the ATHENA Award is all about,” says Pratt about bring named this year’s recipient. “When my children were young, I was fortunate to do both.  My role as a mother comes first, always!   However, I am fortunate to also have a career that I love, even though at times the subject can be heavy.  My parents also taught me to lead by example.  It is not enough to tell people what is best, but to show them!  A strong foundation of love, trust and respect starts at home and empowers our children to do the same wherever they go.”


Nancy Goodin – 2017 ATHENA Leadership Honoree – will present the 2018 award to Pratt at the Chamber Banquet event.


Kristen Cove – 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Honoree – will present the 2018 ATHENA Young Professional Award to Morgan Johnson.


Morgan is the Director of Outreach and Community Engagement at the Barry County United Way and has been with the organization since 2010, when she began as the Volunteer Center Director.

Born and raised in Hastings, Johnson has a self-professed love for this community. While at Western Michigan University, she interned at Kellogg where she assisted with opportunities for employees to volunteer and participate in the local United Way campaign. After graduating, she went to work at Hands On Battle Creek and attended the Battle Creek Leadership Academy. She felt strongly that she wanted to come back to Barry County and give back to her hometown.


Johnson married her high school sweetheart – Brandon – and have four children: Harper, Kinsey, Bryleigh and Beckett.


Initiatives that she spearheads include the Barry County Annual Day of Caring and the Fresh Food Initiative.  She also serves on the Barry County Resource Network, Great Start Collaborative and the Food Resources Workgroup. During her tenure, Day of Caring has grown to over 500 volunteers at 47 different sites on two different days, and Johnson works with governmental, non-profits, churches and the business sector to ensure the best results for all participating. To contrast what Johnson manages herself, Kent County has 800 volunteers with a staff of four.


“When the floods hit last spring, Morgan helped organize a Multi-Agency Resource Center at Barry County Central Dispatch,” says Lani Forbes, Executive Director of Barry County United Way and a prior ATHENA Honoree. “She brought together the American Red Cross and other organizations that could assist the residents effected by the situation. Morgan has chosen to be available no matter when a problem arises to bring together those needing assistance and the volunteers that want to provide services. That says so much about the quality of her character.”


“Morgan leads with a positive attitude, kindness, and passion. Each day she leads her home through all of their many adventures while managing a full-time career,” says Emily Blocher, Housing Impact Specialist at the Barry County United Way. “Morgan leads her children by setting a strong example for them, showing them how to love your community, love those around you, and give compassion. This is all true for her professional life as well through her leadership of many professional groups such as the Volunteer Advisory Board and the Barry County Emergency Food and Shelter Program Board.”


“I appreciate that my daughter has so many strong women in this community to look up to;

Morgan is one of those women,” notes Courtney Ziny of the Family Economic Support Office. “My teenager sees a woman who values her physical and mental health, who values giving back to her community and who values the importance of family. She is professional and handles crisis’ easily.”


Upon learning of her selection as this year’s ATHENA Young Professional, Johnson says she is “humbled by this nomination and award”. In fact, her actual words when she learned of her selection were: “I’m sorry….who?”


“Being an ATHENA takes on a lot of attributes that are sometimes hard to see in ourselves,” says Johnson. It is hard to take in such an honor personally as I see every aspect of my life – work or at home – as a team effort. I would not be where I am professionally or personally without a great team to support me and without this community that continues to embrace change. Growing up in Barry County, I’ve been fortunate to observe many influential leaders, women leading the charge and change makers. I am proud to be among them as we work together for OUR families, OUR community, and OUR future. I greatly appreciate all who see the leader in me, when sometimes I don’t.”


In addition to these awards, the Barry County Chamber of Commerce also hosts an ATHENA social as well as a Leadership Luncheon each year as part of its annual program. Generous supporters of the annual ATHENA program are Ruby Sponsors Hastings Mutual Insurance, Edward Jones-Andrew Cove and The Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro; and Crystal sponsors Bay to Bay Building Concepts, Carbon Green BioEnergy, Commercial Bank, Hastings City Bank, Spectrum Health Pennock, Thornapple Credit Union and the YMCA of Barry County.


“These awards continue to be a prestigious honor for recipients of both ATHENA awards,” says Kimberly Rodriguez, a Chamber Board member and past ATHENA Young Professional Honoree. “These are the women who continue to do the work that needs to be done in our community to make Barry County a better place. More important than the outcome of their own efforts is the inspiration they provide for other women to be leaders.”


Both ATHENA awards will be presented at the Barry County Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet which begins at 5pm on Saturday, January 19th at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners. Contact the Chamber at 269-945-2454 or at for details.

Listen Live





On Air Now

Best Country Hits
Best Country Hits
12:00am - 12:00am
Weekend Show