Chamber selects Athena winner


Peggy Lawrence Burns. Courtesy GRACC

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has announced its 2015 Athena Award recipient.

Rev. Peggy Lawrence Burns was named this year’s honoree on Wednesday and will be recognized at the 26th annual Athena Award Celebration on Sept. 17 at the JW Marriott. The annual award honors women who exemplify leadership in their professional field and helped open doors for women.

Lawrence Burns, who is the vice president of Older Adult Volunteers at Gerontology Network and founder of the Traveling Grannies and Grandpas Program, was selected from among 43 nominees.

“Peggy has shown herself to be a dynamic leader who demonstrates the many attributes of the Athena Leadership Model,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of GRACC. “She clearly has a passion for people, is a courageous and fierce advocate, challenges herself to be authentic and innovative, and creates true professionals through her mentorship.”

Lawrence Burns has worked in the area for more than 40 years, and has supported “encore careers” for those 50 and older. She also has helped connect older adults with area youth who can benefit from wisdom and life experience.

She was the director of the Kent County Foster Grandparent program and started the Traveling Grannies and Grandpas Program in 1992, which provides in-home parenting instruction, experience and support for teen parents. The program received praise from Hillary Clinton.

Lawrence Burns also has helped support 3,500 children — and 120 teen parents — by beginning several local elementary school literacy programs.

She serves as national legislative representative for the Michigan Association of Foster Grandparent & Senior Companion Program Directors and is a member of Community Partnership Committee for the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center.

Lawrence Burns also has been honored with the Rita Katzman Award for Legislative Advocacy for Older Adults in 2009, the Warren Featherbone Award for Innovation in Connecting Generations in 2003, the Women of Voices Award, YWCA Tribute Award for Professionals in 2001, the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council 1999 Exhibit for 12 Outstanding Women, Service to Children Award in 1999 and Unsung Hero Award of West Michigan in 1997.

In 2002, she was honored with the nation’s highest voluntary community service award, the President’s Community Volunteer Award. That same year, she also won the Governor’s Services Award for Program Manager of the Year.

Along with honoring Lawrence Burns and the other nominees, five scholarships will be granted to women over 30 who are pursuing a higher education degree.

Athena finalists

  • Nikeidra Battle-Debarge — Wedgwood Christian Services–Manasseh Project
  • Mary Buikema — Habitat for Humanity of Kent County
  • Jane Gietzen — Spectrum Health
  • Diane Griffin — Griffin Properties/Keller Williams Realty
  • Denise Kolesar — Kohler Expos
  • Nicole McConnell — Spectrum Health
  • Jodi Peterson — Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy
  • Monique Salinas — Mind Meets Music
  • Sandi Frost Steensma — Kennari Consulting

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