This year's 11 ATHENA® Award finalists facilitate change in their communities for impoverished young girls, help rising businesswomen along the path to leadership, provide counseling to women dealing with divorce, abuse or the death of a loved one, and navigate career changes for women who want to get back into the workforce after time off to raise a family.
They've made it to the top of the companies, nonprofits and law firms that employ them. Then, without hesitation, they've turned around and extended a helping hand to the women coming after them.
In its fifth year in the Tristate, the ATHENA® Award program honors individuals who achieve success in their careers, give back to their communities, and actively assist women in realizing their full leadership potential.
Of the 11 finalists, chosen by a judging panel of leading local professionals, the judges chose one award recipient. Recipients may win the award only once.
Sneaking a flashlight to read under her blankets as a girl, Judith Harmony wasn't poring over teenage magazines — she was reading science books.
At the time, bug collecting and science experiments were considered "geeky," as she says, especially for girls. But that didn't stop Harmony from pursuing a career in science, teaching biochemistry/molecular biology at the University of Cincinnati and researching cardiovascular disease and obesity until she retired in 2000.
Despite some gender stereotyping, she says, "I navigated those barriers pretty well with a lack of role models."
After retirement, Harmony was recruited to the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to conduct the PULSE study. Along with Drs. Lisa Mills and Kathy Burklow, she determined the status of girls in the Tristate in regard to health, education and leadership.
"The experience changed our lives," Harmony recalls. "I had no idea about the disparities for girls in the inner city and rural areas in their lack of connections to their schools and communities."
The evidence was strong enough for Mills, Burklow, Harmony and her husband, Richard, to start a new initiative: Harmony Garden. Essentially, it's a center for community research to address the factors of well-being for girls. Some current programs are the West End Community Resident Research Team studies, the Millvale Hope Project, and the Healthy Communities Healthy Girls initiative in Covington and Price Hill.
"This [research-based] approach allows programs to grow, mature, or stop if the situation changes. It's like putting your finger on a ball of mercury — the balls spread in every direction," says Harmony, scientific even in her analogies.
"I'm just seething with excitement about what real people in the community can do."
Cynthia Booth is lovin' it. Pun intended.
Former bank vice president, member of the board of trustees of her alma mater Denison University, board member of the YWCA — and that's just the start for Cynthia Booth.
The entrepreneur who left the safety of a stellar bank career to pursue a dream as a business owner is now operating six Cincinnati-area McDonald's restaurants. As president and CEO of COBCO Enterprises, she oversees the strategic vision for the company. So, why does she strive to give back to the community and assist women and girls?
She's just following her mom's advice. "There's so much more to you, Cynthia, than what you do behind a desk," Booth remembers her mother saying. "Whatever you do, ask yourself, •did I make a difference?"'
She began volunteering at the Y because of its mission to eliminate racism and promote women. She helped launch the Development Network at U.S. Bank and has been on the boards of the American Red Cross, United Way, Federal Reserve Bank, Cincinnati Museum Center and U.S. Bank.
She wants others to know that the 300 employees at her restaurants do more than serve hamburgers and fries. "They come to work to pay their mortgage or pay their rent. There are mothers who put their kids on the bus and then come to work at a job where they have the flexibility to be back home to receive their children," Booth says.
She tells the stories of employees who complete company financial literacy classes and become homeowners. That's the difference her mother challenged her to make.
And that's why she uses the McDonald's slogan as a personal motto. She's lovin' it.
As a successful trial lawyer and partner at Thompson Hine LLP, Renee Filiatraut knows how hard it can be for women to balance their personal and professional lives.
"I think the most challenging part of being a woman litigator is trying to pursue the skill development to be a successful trial lawyer at the same time you want to start a family," she says.
Filiatraut is working to make the law field more woman-friendly. She was a driving force in the creation and success of Thompson Hine's nationally recognized Spotlight on Women Program, which provides mentoring, education and social networking opportunities for women attorneys.
"Business decisions tend to happen informally, the golf course being a stereotypical example," Filiatraut says. "This program creates ways for women to network and forge relationships with each other."
Filiatraut is also involved with the Summer Work Experience in Law program, which places qualified minority law students in various legal settings. In addition, she developed a volunteer mentor program with Visions Community Services in the West End, pairing Thompson Hine women with young mothers from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"I've been mentoring a woman in her early 30s, and I am so impressed by her and her energy," Filiatraut says. "She is raising four kids and going to college; she is so inspiring."
In the end, she hopes to foster change to the status quo through her volunteer efforts and involvement in women's programs.
"Change is hard, and it is natural to resist it," she says. "But I just remember that I don't have to move heaven and earth to make a difference."
When Robin Harvey first began her legal career years ago, others openly wondered if she was a paralegal, or perhaps a secretary.
For Harvey, now a partner at Baker Hostetler with 33 years of experience as an attorney under her belt, it's an example of how women struggle to achieve professional credibility.
"Those assumptions are barriers to achieving credibility comparable to male peers and require otherwise competent women to work harder to achieve the credibility and recognition naturally accorded to their male peers," she explains.
Harvey has achieved success for herself in her legal profession, representing corporate clients in consumer product violations. She also goes to bat for the women around her who she feels are deserving of advancement.
"What makes a good workforce is diversity," she says. "You get points of view that you don't get with just one group at the table."
Harvey is also a passionate humanitarian, recently serving on the boards of nonprofit retirement community Cedar Village and Hebrew Union College, among others. In addition, she is a member of the United Way Tocqueville Society Women's Leadership Council.
Her next venture? She hopes to start a nonprofit group that would prepare viable female candidates to sit on the boards of for-profit companies. The endeavor is consistent with her strengths.
"You should always take stock of what you're good at and what you're not," she says. "Once you have a few trials, you can go for what you're looking for."
"Now as an educator, I see that when you tell a student they had a good speech, they absorb it and take it with them for the rest of their lives," says Luccioni, now in her 22nd year as a communications professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Fast-forward to an internship in 1995 where Luccioni was invited to a high-profile dinner in Washington, D.C. But instead of networking and enjoying the five-course meal, she was baffled by the daunting place settings.
"I had to play follow the leader," she remembers. "I wanted to go into a situation with confidence. When I returned to UC, I resolved to learn etiquette and teach it to others so they could do the same."
Today, Luccioni's class titled "Business Etiquette & Professional Image" fills up within moments of registration, and many call the end-of-semester dinner at The Palace restaurant inside the Cincinnatian Hotel the highlight of their college career.
In addition to teaching, Luccioni is also the founder and president of The Image Establishment, which offers communication, image and etiquette advice. She's also a Certified Image Professional through the Association of Image Consultants International. There are fewer than 100 in the United States, and she is the only one in Ohio.
"Image and etiquette information is all about empowering women," Luccioni says. "When you have the information, you can excel in your life."
Following it, finding it, and helping other women to do the same. After working as an attorney for 25 years, Macdonald realized that while she had been successful, she had other passions to pursue.
Macdonald left the legal field behind and dedicated herself to doing something more community-focused. She decided to concentrate her efforts on providing quality health care for women, serving as the director of women's healthcare strategy at ProScan Imaging. Macdonald also helped establish the Cris Collinsworth ProScan Foundation and led its installation of a mammography screening center in Over-the-Rhine called the ProScan Pink Ribbon Center.
"It has been a journey with delightfully unexpected discoveries," she says. "After corporate law, the search was to find meaningful work that utilized my training and personal skills."
Inspired by the notion of for-profit companies starting initiatives to give back to their community, Macdonald started her own entrepreneurial venture, Core Corporate Consulting. Through the firm, Macdonald advises healthcare companies, such as the Cincinnati Eye Institute, on how to start nonprofit programs but still maintain a profitable business plan.
Macdonald now sees that embarking on her second career path was the best decision she's ever made. She tries to lead other women by example, demonstrating that they can truly do anything.
"Follow your instincts," she advises. "Don't be afraid of serendipity."
If patients leave the center having a great day, too, then Dr. Stephanie C. Owens of Owens Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Center in Silverton has accomplished the goal of her practice. In her chiropractic clinic, as well as in the community as a whole, Owens strives to make the worlds of others a little brighter.
"When I was young, my mother instilled in me to always give back," she says. "It doesn't matter your financial status — you have this day, and you can make it better for someone else."
Her holistic chiropractic approach allows Owens to treat a range of ailments: from standard back pain and scoliosis to allergies and headaches. She also uses the center as a platform to give back to the community with health fairs, free health screenings on Fridays, and the Owens Walking Club, which was established in 2006 to promote a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise.
Whether Owens is donating to the Joseph House for Homeless Veterans or showing children how to artistically express themselves through The Links Incorporated, she always works to improve her surroundings. Owens believes the philanthropic spirit is just in her genes.
So, too, she says, is the entrepreneurial bent. After making such a success of her current facility, Owens hopes to open a second one in the near future to serve women with all types of holistic care. And what's stopping her?
As she tells young women around her, "Put your best foot forward, face your challenges and overcome them."
Nancy Riesz prefers the image of a kaleidoscope.
"People aren't usually that far off the mark," says Riesz, owner and partner of Success Catalyst, a professional speaking, training and consulting firm. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be there. With a kaleidoscope, you move it very slightly and the pattern shifts completely. You just make incremental shifts until boom. There it is. "
Hyper-organized, incurably optimistic, filled with energy that someone half her age would envy — she's 60 — Riesz is a can-do professional who seems like a holdover from an earlier era. Judging from her jam-packed schedule, hers are lessons that today's businesses are eager to learn.
"People call me a connector," she says. "What I really am is a solutions person. I talk to people. We find the problem. Together. And then we find a way to solve it. It's not impossible. But you have to open your eyes and your ears and your mind. That's how you solve problems."
In addition to Success Catalyst, Riesz is also involved in the community. She initiated, implemented and facilitated Exchange Teams for Women Entrepreneurs Inc., bringing together women business owners to share education, information, support and advice; she founded Catalyst Leadership College in 2007 to provide leadership training for women in nonprofit associations and small businesses who did not have the time or resources to attend graduate school; and she's served as a leadership coach for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber's WE Lead, a leadership development program for women.
Like her father, she wanted to help people. More specifically, she wanted to help women. As it turns out, Roy's spirituality led her on a path that would allow her to help women heal and grow.
In June 2004, Roy opened the Eve Center. She was determined that it wouldn't be one of those single-issue women's centers.
"Life is never that uncomplicated," she says. "It's always a mix of connected problems."
The center was located in a small suite of rooms in the Fellowship of Jesus Christ Church in Silverton. It wasn't fancy. It wasn't well-funded. It barely had a public profile. But making a fashion statement wasn't the point.
The dedication paid off — a second center opened a year later in Price Hill, and more satellite operations are on the way.
Eve Center's counselors discuss nearly any issue: abuse, divorce, death of a loved one, eating issues, sexuality, self-esteem, promiscuity, spirituality, suicide and others.
Just as important, Roy says, they are training counselors to help even more women. More than 200 women have gone through the peer counselor training, and 2,299 face-to-face client sessions were held last year alone.
"People are often in a hurry to get rid of the pain, whatever it is," Roy says. "But that isn't how real life works. What we say is •we'll stick with you.' Sometimes that's the most reassuring thing a woman can hear."
It's a word that's often overused, but in her case, "survivor" barely touches the surface. In the last four-and-a-half years, Sacksteder's husband of 30 years died at age 52, her 50-year-old brother-in-law passed away, and Sacksteder and her two sisters were all diagnosed with breast cancer within a five-month span.
Staggering. For most of us, it would be time to pull the shades and wallow in self-pity. But wallowing isn't Sacksteder's style. Back at Harrison High School, she was the class wit, the party-starter, the girl who orchestrated everything. "I can do this," she says. "I'm not a scientist, but I'm not afraid."
Forward is the only direction she knows.
"I still work my business every day," says Sacksteder, owner of Sacksteder's Interiors in New Trenton, Ind., 10 minutes across the Indiana state line. "But my husband, Craig, worked with me every day for 30 years. When he died, I thought •I need more.' So I made the decision to reach out and help other women."
First came a witty, inspiring and autobiographical book, Vivacious Vivian: The Wig That Helped A Girl Through Breast Cancer, in which Sacksteder details how a wig turned her life around after she lost her hair to chemotherapy.
Then came fundraising, volunteering and an event called "Who The Heck Do You Know???" It's not about cancer. It's not strictly about business, either.
"It's about life," Sacksteder says, "about making the most of every day, about succeeding. And surviving. I am looking for fun, vivacious, exciting women who want to grow through their business and personal relationships to help other women."
"But I knew there was something else for me to do in life," Shifman says.
She left the legal profession, founded a nonprofit consulting firm and spent several years there. Although she enjoyed the work, she kept hearing women her age talk about their confusion when trying to re-enter the workforce after their children were grown.
It wasn't so much that there weren't jobs. It's just that there weren't the right jobs.
"I understood exactly what they were going through," says Shifman, the mother of four boys. "I was having the same stirrings. I found myself asking •what am I going to do,' but there was no one to answer the question."
So in October 2008, she launched Act Three to assist women entering into that "third act" of their lives. It provides coaching, workshops and networking and helps propel women toward their professional goals.
"It's not a job bank," Shifman says. "What we do is help them plan more strategically, to figure out what they want to do and then discover what steps are necessary to get there."
For many clients, this third act leads to starting a business, or to a type of job they might never have imagined for themselves when they were younger.
"They're seeking a way to feel that they've made a difference," Shifman says. She pauses for a moment, laughs and adds, "I guess that's exactly what I'm doing, too."
Sheree Paolello has walked the walk: career, community and family. But she says when she takes the mike to emcee the Sept. 22 Athena Awards, she'll once again find herself inspired by the finalists who handle it all and keep on giving.
Paolello, the evening and late news anchor for WLWT Channel 5, has a demanding schedule and a third baby on the way. So, how does she find time to return to the Athena Awards? "It's simple. This event is too inspiring to turn down. The women who we feature at the Athenas do it all. Sure, they may be a mother, a wife or have a tough job but they do all of that and take on these enormous roles in our community. They make a difference in someone else's life.
"These women inspire me to be better and do more," Paolello says.
A Tristate native, Paolello graduated from Northern Kentucky University and has worked at TV stations in South Bend, Charlotte, N.C., and Dayton. When she received a job offer from WLWT in 2002, Paolello jumped at the chance to move home. She and her husband are raising their family in Northern Kentucky with extended family just over the river on Cincinnati's West Side.
Her volunteer efforts include the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, animal shelters and humane societies.
To read Susan Croushore's keynote speech please click here.
With Christ already a linchpin in Greater Cincinnati's healthcare system, Croushore and the board of directors of the recently independent hospital want to reach a new level of excellence through their Vision 2020 plan.
"We hit top 10 for physician satisfaction, we've already hit top 10 for some of our services like heart services, and we have a very team-spirited culture and folks want the best. Andthen we say, 'How do we set the bar even higher next year?'" she says.
Croushore, 56, is Christ's first female president and CEO, but she's no newcomer to the upper echelons of healthcare executives. As part of a career in health care that has spanned more than 30 years, she's served as CEO of Jeanes Hospital of the Temple University Health System in Philadelphia and president of St. Joseph Hospital (now the Lancaster Regional Medical Center) in Lancaster, Pa. It was a long climb to the top.
LEAVING THE LAB
As a college student attending Penn State in the 1970s, Croushore never dreamed she would one day lead a hospital, a role monopolized at the time by men. Instead, she became a microbiologist.
"I was a laboratory technician, so I always thought that if I ever made it into the position of being a lab manager that would be great," she says. "But it seemed that as I achieved each of those goals, I was able to advance."
Croushore quickly realized that her talents might be better focused outside a lab. "I had originally thought that I'd want to spend my career in research, but I found it to be less exciting than working with people. So I really focused my career on management, working with people and in the community. That's where I get my energy," she says.
If there was resistance from male colleagues on her way up the career ladder, it's not something she dwells on. "I've been very fortunate to have encountered very little of that in my career. Most men have been very helpful to me. Early on when I would attend national meetings or conferences with my husband (Ed Croushore, a chef at Oasis Golf Club & Conference Center in Loveland), they always assumed that he was the CEO. But that stereotype is quickly disappearing," she says.
In fact, Croushore is happy to see the ceilings perceived by the talented women of her generation absent in the young
professionals she mentors today. "I'm seeing in the last 20 years that there's really been remarkable progress, and it's continuing. When I talk with young women or mentor young women, they really don't put any limits on themselves in terms of what they want to do," she says.
Under her guidance, Christ Hospital is rapidly expanding its core services and physician practices, partnerships with other medical institutions, and participation in the revitalization of Mount Auburn, the historic Cincinnati neighborhood where Christ is located.
After a messy legal process to divorce itself from the Health Alliance, Christ became independent in January 2009 and had to build human resources, IT and other back-room
Her Best Advice
"We grew from about 3,200 employees to about 4,500. Our patient service has grown over $100 million in two years," she says.
Croushore and her team used the opportunity to introduce state-of-the-art electronic medical record technology, which she says already complies with this year's healthcare reform law that calls for streamlining paperwork and shifting it to electronic form.
She sees healthcare reform as a necessary step to shave costs from the system and also to shift emphasis to prevention from running test after test.
"More than likely, hospitals and physicians, homecare professionals, we're all going to have to work together for a single patient and decide how we can care for this patient for the best possible outcomes and at the best price," Croushore says. "Right now, all of the (financial) incentives are geared toward how much we do to people, not how well we care for them. That change is the part that is going to help."
PAYING $50 MILLION
The hospital's financial health has taken a hit recently, due to a $108 million settlement of a federal whistleblower lawsuit. Former doctors accused Christ of running a kickback scheme with physicians to funnel patients to its cardiac care center. The hospital and the Health Alliance agreed to the settlement in May, admitting no wrongdoing. Christ will pay nearly $50 million of the settlement, a price tag that temporarily curtails plans to invest in Mount Auburn revitalization projects and the opening of a women's birth control and reproductive services center in Northern Kentucky.
An aftershock of the settlement is that the federal government is now considering cutting off Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to the hospital because it refused to sign a Corporate Integrity Agreement that would have increased government oversight of the hospital, a step the hospital considered overly burdensome and unnecessary.
Croushore says the age of the alleged kickbacks and the hospital's full disclosure of its compliance with federal standards, coupled with the facts that no patients were harmed or received any unnecessary care and there was no misuse or inappropriate billing of Medicare and Medicaid funds, will lead the government to drop the threat.
She says the hospital is on track to resume development of its community revival plans in 2011.
Christ is working with the city of Cincinnati and neighborhood leaders to expand its main campus and add a greater selection of retail. "Every day, 8,000 to 10,000 people come to this site, and there really are no venues for them. So we think that could help revitalize the neighborhood," she says.
Wendy's and its distinctive french fry smell that wafts into the lobby will soon be vacating the hospital in favor of Au Bon Pain, which sets up shop in January.
Add it all up, and Croushore is having fun taking on the challenges. "We are having fun because it's challenging, it's risky, but we have a great team here, wonderful physicians, and everybody is very energized and wants to do the right thing." -
Maria P. Ortega is the managing director for the Cincinnati location of Quest Diagnostics, an international healthcare organization that provides diagnostic insights to physicians. Previously, she was business director for Quest in Puerto Rico, where she led a business turnaround and the successful expansion of an international laboratory services unit. Prior experiences include the integration of several large-scale business acquisitions and the launch of the company's first internet-based customer connectivity product. She is an active member of Quest's mentoring program, and is a founding member of the company's diversity council.
The Art Institute of Cincinnati
Son of co-founder Cyndi Mendell, Sean Mendell is now president of the Art Institute of Cincinnati. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Northern Kentucky University in marketing and has spent the last eight years employed in marketing and advertising for the aviation industry. Mendell is also the founder and owner of The Children's Art Academy in Ft. Thomas, Ky. He is active in YMCA Camp Ernst as a member of the committee of management and served as assistant ranch director from 1995-99.
Great Oaks Career Campuses
Robin White, a 2008 ATHENA finalist, is President/CEO of Great Oaks, one of the largest career and technical school districts in the country. She helps thousands of high school students who begin their careers and college preparation at Great Oaks, and she also has helped provide better access for adults to return to school and continue college. Dr. White has been an educator for more than 30 years. She sits on the governor's Workforce Policy Advisory Board, and is currently working with area school districts on a project to introduce 21st century teaching and learning into K-12 classrooms.
Amy Ostigny, certified professional senior marketer, established her own consulting company in 1998 and offers services including electronic marketing and social media, event planning, sponsorships and fundraising, along with public relations, technical writing, new business development and association management services. Ostigny is the managing director of the Cincinnati chapter of eWomenNetwork, the number one resource for connecting and promoting women in business. Amy Ostigny Company has also been instrumental in the membership growth of many nonprofits associations.
Alison Miuccio has been the marketing director for the West Chester - Liberty Chamber Alliance for more than four years. She is responsible for public relations, working with Chamber members one-on-one to assess marketing needs, collateral materials and more. Miuccio serves as editor of the monthly Chamber newsmagazine The VOICE, associate editor of the annual Connections Magazine in conjunction with Cincy Magazine, as well as facilitator of the area's map. She is a 2009 graduate of SEBC Leadership 21 who lives in Liberty Township with her husband, son, dog and two cats.