The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) announced the 2017 ATHENA Public Sector, Private Sector and Young Professional Award recipients during its 30th Anniversary ATHENA Awards Luncheon Oct. 25 at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.
Mi-Ai Parrish, president of Republic Media, was awarded the 2017 ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award in the private sector. Michelle Just, president & CEO of Beatitudes Campus, earned the 2017 ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award in the public sector. Drena Kusari Berisha, General Manager, Southwest Region, of Lyft, took home the 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Greater Phoenix Chamber’s ATHENA Awards with such a distinguished group of leaders as this year’s recipients,” said Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. “These women embody the spirit of ATHENA in all that they do, and their collective work in our community is continuing to make the Valley strong. Their passion for the causes they serve, their mentorship of others and their dedication to create a brighter tomorrow are an inspiration. It is an honor to highlight their achievements and celebrate their leadership and vision.”
The ATHENA Awards, named after the Greek goddess of courage and wisdom, is a program of ATHENA International, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating leadership opportunities for women.
“I’m just so proud to be able to thank the people who helped me and to celebrate women and their accomplishments” said Mi-Ai Parrish, 2017 ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award recipient in the private sector. “To be a part of a tradition like this is just really meaningful to me.”
As Republic Media’s first minority woman president, Parrish is also the first Korean-American mainstream publisher, and is one of three Asians in this role. She has consistently broken through barriers and continues to make a difference through her fearless leadership and innovative work.
Parrish’s commitment to her staff and those who she leads is evident through all that she does. She makes it a priority to ensure everyone feels that they are a part of the bigger picture by incorporating personal touches on an individual basis.
When asked what advice she would give women who are just beginning their career, Parrish said,
“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else. We all get gifts. None of us get all the gifts. Know who you are and know what you’re wonderful at, and surround yourself with people who will love you for who you are.”
“For me being an ATHENA is such an overwhelming experience,” said Michelle Just, 2017 ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award recipient in the public sector. “I look at the women that I’m sharing this experience with, and I think it shows that there’s strength in numbers and we can continue to have a voice and make a difference.”
Recognized nationally as leader in her field, and with 19 years of experience in aging services, long-term care and life plan community management, Just is not only firmly entrenched in the vision and mission of her organization, but also demonstrates a passion for the broader Phoenix community.
With a philosophy to “give where you live,” her wide range of community involvement and strong desire to help others reach their full leadership potential have made an impact throughout the Greater Phoenix area.
When asked what has empowered her to lead and mentor other women, Just said, “I’m just paying it forward. I’ve always been blessed with very strong women in my life, and having them as a part of me has inspired me to want to do the same. I want the ladies that I mentor now to do the same too. It’s going to take all of us paying it forward to make a difference”
“This is a huge recognition for the work that I care so deeply about,” said Drena Kusari Berisha, the 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award recipient. “It’s inspiring to see the past recipients who have used this recognition as a platform to further the work that they’re doing.”
Berisha has a passion for her work in connecting transportation with technology to improve the lives of millions in Phoenix. Under her leadership, in just over a year Lyft has quadrupled the number of rides and active users in Greater Phoenix, and Lyft’s market share in Phoenix has more than doubled.
A harrowing experience living through the war in Kosovo made a profound impact on Berisha as a young teenager. When the war ended, she vowed to make her survival count by helping others accomplish their goals, and spent time working with refugees to help reunite families.
When asked what she sees as the key to continued success, Berisha said, “It’s a very basic belief, but I believe that it’s really all about hard work – there is no substitute for it. It’s hard work toward the things that you care about and that you believe in.”
Parrish, Just and Berisha were chosen from among 11 ATHENA finalists, who were selected from a large group of nominations received in August. The following is a complete list of the 2017 ATHENA finalists:
ATHENA Private Sector finalists:
Susan Anable, Cox Communications
Roopali Desai, Coppersmith Brockelman PLC
Judith Dworkin, Sacks Tierney P.A.
Mi-Ai Parrish, Republic Media
ATHENA Public Sector finalists:
Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU Gammage
Michelle Just, Beatitudes Campus
Jodi Liggett, Planned Parenthood Arizona
Kate Wells, Children’s Museum of Phoenix
ATHENA Young Professional finalists:
Michelle Donati-Grayman, AAA Arizona
Drena Kusari Berisha, Lyft
Jenny Poon, CO+HOOTS
Concluded GPCC CEO Sanders, “Our 2017 ATHENA nominees, finalists and recipients represent the best of the best that the Arizona business community has to offer. I look forward to seeing the great impact they will continue to make on our community.”