Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Special Section / 2015 Athena Award finalists

2015 Athena Award finalists

Susan Acker
First vice president–wealth management,  Chartered retirement planning counselor

Merrill Lynch

Education: BBA, M.S., St. Bonaventure University

Professional and community leadership: Member, executive committee; chair, investment committee, Rochester Area Community Foundation; board member, Flaum Eye Institute, University of Rochester; board member, Veterans Outreach Center; member, women’s leadership council, United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.; trustee, Nazareth College; former board member, Children’s Institute; former board member, the Children’s Agenda; former sponsor/speaker, the International Women’s Conference

Staying motivated: The pure enjoyment I have as a financial adviser, leading my team to assist people in realizing their dreams. What is most rewarding is knowing that I can make a meaningful difference in the lives of my clients.

Changes in store for Rochester: I see the changes that lie ahead for Greater Rochester as using the first-class resources in our colleges, universities and medical center to create businesses and jobs that advance the health and wealth of our region.

Recent lessons learned: I have learned that focusing on my health and happiness each day allows me to be a strong contributor in my career and community. 

Lydia Boddie-Rice

Young Audiences of Rochester Inc.

Education: B.A., Brown University, Providence, R.I.; M.A., Rhode Island College, Providence, R.I.

Family: Husband, Gregory; two daughters and one step-daughter

Professional and community leadership: Visual arts consultant, Rochester City School District; board secretary, Rochester Broadway Theatre League; member, executive committee; board member, Rochester Community Baseball; founder, Cross Currents Minority Rowing; former commissioner, Rochester Board of Education

Staying motivated: My perpetual quest is to seek and find relevance. By serving others, I not only satisfy my need  to contribute to the greater good, but I ensure that I am connected to causes that provide equity and access to the most vulnerable in our community, particularly our children and youth.

Changes in store for Rochester: Rochester is at the tipping point of becoming an arts-centered city, poised to elevate arts and culture to a level that embraces a common vision in support of a community and educational renaissance and the revitalization of our quality of life.

Recent lessons learned: I am Bruce Lee: “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Deborah Johnson
Director of national services

Children’s Institute

Education: B.A., University of California, Davis;

M.A., California State University; Ed.D., St. John Fisher College

Family: Single

Professional and community leadership: Strategic planning coordinator, National Association of School Psychologists; deacon for preaching and liturgical arts, Atonement Lutheran Church; member, community advisory committee, Advertising Council of Rochester

Staying Motivated: Motivation comes from three primary forces: 1. The staff I work with at Children’s Institute;

2. Those in schools and communities who work with children; and 3. Mentors who support, challenge and demonstrate effective leadership. Their positive energy challenges my thinking, stretches me as a leader and feeds my soul.

Changes in store for Rochester: There is renewed energy in Rochester to focus on the social-emotional needs of and skills for children, youth, families and providers. Research indicates the importance of this focus and shows that when these skills and supports are provided, the community is safer and more resilient.

Looking back: I appreciate Dag Hammarskjöld’s quote that says, “If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.” It reminds me to listen closer to my own thoughts, appreciate the diverse paths I have taken and thank those who have helped me grow. Each path has been in service to others, which I wouldn’t change.  

Lawana Jones
Founder and CEO

Executive director

The Autism Council of Rochester Inc.

Education: B.S., Nazareth College; M.S., Graduate Certificate, Simon Business School, University of Rochester

Family: Two daughters

Professional and community leadership: Member, temporary assistance and Medicaid committee, Department of Human Services, Monroe County; member, community relations committee, Council of Agency Executives; member, Association of the Severely Handicapped; member, Naturally Occurring Care Network (NOCN) workgroup, New York State Medicaid Redesign Team; trustee, Rebirth Ministries; past trustee, ARC of Monroe Foundation Board; past director, ARC of Monroe; past director, Learning Disabilities Association

Staying motivated: To stay motivated in your career you have to continually invest in yourself by being a lifelong learner, staying connected and current in your field and making a genuine commitment to personal excellence. As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Changes in store for Rochester: Rochester is in the midst of major change and redefinition in the second decade of the 21st century. This includes all of the revitalization of downtown Rochester and the major economic development efforts around town. I see continued growth in the number of biotechnology, optics, imaging, telecommunications and high-tech businesses, which will bring a number of jobs to our area.

Surprising fact: I thrive most during times of change and uncertainty. I learned early in my career that change is inevitable. Therefore, you can’t run from it, but learn to embrace it.

Gay Mills
Executive director

Genesee Land Trust

Education: B.A., Princeton University

Family: Husband, Yeates Conwell M.D.; two sons and one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Member, New York Advisory Board, Land Trust Alliance; member, Princeton Prize in Race Relations; co-chair, summer internship committee, Princeton Club of Rochester; past chairwoman, Gosnell Big Woods Preserve Planning Committee (Webster) and Corbett’s Glen Advisory Council (Brighton)

Staying motivated: I am personally inspired by the land. But I am motivated in my work by the many different people I have come to know who are passionate about land and who want to make a difference for future generations by preserving special places.

Changes in store for Rochester: I am feeling very hopeful for Rochester because of the energy of young people working to produce positive change by trying to create a sense of place and community. 

Looking back: Given how my career has developed, I would like to have taken at least one ecology class as part of my biology major.

Virginia Nacy
President/Executive director

Toddler’s Workshop Daycare Inc.

Education: B.A., M.S., Nazareth College

Family: Husband, Kevin, deceased; one son and one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Chairperson, Webster Chamber of Commerce; member, Webster Community Coalition for Economic Development; board member, chair, Ethie program, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation; past treasurer, Rochester Association for the Education of Young Children; past board president, Child Care Council Inc.

Staying motivated: Seeing the joy and excitement in the eyes of children learning motivates and reassures me that I am on the right track. I have an important message and role in affirming that childhood is preserved in my program by encouraging children to learn creatively, socially, emotionally and cognitively through play. 

Changes in store for Rochester: Ideally, the future of Rochester would guarantee that childcare subsidies are restored to families in need. Maintaining a workforce of skilled and educated millennials to support the high quality of care in our health systems, sustainable manufacturing and service industries is also paramount to the growth of Rochester.

Looking back: Looking back 27 years ago, finding a marketing mentor for advice on branding would have been beneficial. I think our brand name would be more likely to encapsulate the broad scope of services we provide and be reflective of our growth in the area of creative programming for children.

Carolyn Nussbaum
Office managing partner

Partner, commercial litigation group

Nixon Peabody LLP

Education: B.A., Smith College, Northampton, Mass.; J.D., the National Law Center, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Family: Husband, Eric Brandt; one son and two daughters

Professional and community leadership: Board member, past president, member, by-laws committee, Partnership Together committee, planning and allocations committee, Jewish Community Federation of Rochester Inc.; board member, member, distributions committee, Rochester Area Community Foundation; founding board member and current board member, Cancer Wellness Connections; board member, Foundation of the Monroe County Bar Association; past president, Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys

Staying motivated: I was raised by parents who instilled an extraordinary work ethic, by their own example, and a quest for excellence. Each new case presents an opportunity to challenge myself to do my best, to be unafraid to ask what we could do better, and to keep learning—to master new technology, new laws and even new vocabulary. I find the process exhausting but also exhilarating.  

Changes in store for Rochester: Several of our key cultural, community, philanthropic and business organizations have or will shortly have new leadership. These transitions bring new ideas, energy, innovation, visions and opportunities to the Rochester community. I hope that we will also change the way we view and interact with each other, sparked by the Facing Race, Embracing Equity racial equity initiative.     

Surprising fact: People are often surprised to know that I love to read—everything—and can lose myself in a book. I have half-read volumes of pulp fiction, chick lit, great books, leadership and historical biographies on my nightstand, next to cooking magazines and The New Yorker. The hardest decision is what to read.

Lisa Powers
Founder and CEO
The Powers Law Firm P.C.
Only This Moment LLC

Education: B.S., School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; J.D., Albany Law School

Family: Husband, Michael; one daughter and one son

Professional and community leadership: Board member, Arc of Monroe Foundation; former membership vice president, Rochester Women’s Network; former membership chair, Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys; former board member, Flower City Down Syndrome Network Inc.

Staying motivated: Faith that I am doing what I was meant to do—helping families and fellow business owners. Gratitude for the opportunity to go out on my own, for fabulous clients, excellent professional partners and mentors, past and present team members who shared the vision and most of all my family.

Changes in store for Rochester: Growth in our service industries and not just with technology companies. As government funding continues to shrink, there will be more private industry and not-for-profit collaboration, paving the way for additional innovation, job growth and community partnerships.  

Surprising fact: I am a descendant of the Hatfield clan in West Virginia. I learned Southern hospitality from my grandmother, but do not ever let my easy smile and quiet voice fool you into thinking I’m ineffectual or weak. I love to shock people who underestimate my grit and determination.

Amy Tait
Chairman, CEO and president

Broadstone Real Estate

Broadstone Net Lease

Broadtree Homes

Education: BSE, Princeton University; MBA, Simon Business School, University of Rochester

Family: Husband, Robert; one son and one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Member, board of governors, National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts; member, Rochester regional advisory board, M&T Bank Corp.; member, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council; member, VisitRochester; past chairwoman, United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.

Staying motivated: Every day is exciting, since no two days are the same. We are constantly growing and exploring new ideas. The process of learning, creating and inspiring an ambitious team is quite energizing.

Changes in store for Rochester: I see a gradual resurgence in our downtown core, as millennials and empty nesters gather to take advantage of our rich history and cultural assets.

Surprising fact: Given my increasingly public role, some might be surprised to learn that I am naturally quite introverted. I was painfully shy as a child and immersed myself in books and nature. I am still most comfortable in muck boots at our farm and enjoy laughing out loud at the antics of our alpacas, goats and llama.

Patricia Woods

Mental Health Association of Rochester/Monroe County Inc.

Education: B.A., SUNY Binghamton; MSW, SUNY Albany

Family: Husband, Thomas McGrath; one daughter and one son

Professional and community leadership: Member and co-chairwoman, nominating committee, Medical Motor Services; member,  Participant Research Council Center for Community Health, University of Rochester; member, program committee, Council of Agency Executives; member, National Association of Social Workers; member, Advisory Council for Mental Health Counseling Program, St. John Fisher College

Staying motivated: The many positive changes that have occurred in the way we approach mental health. Individuals no longer need to be defined by their illness. Through knowledge and coping mechanisms, individuals are able to be active community participants. I need to keep abreast of the changes in mental health and determine how best to integrate them into the services we offer.       

Changes in store for Rochester: The return of a vital downtown with both residential and business areas. With the growth of small business in the technology and biotechnology areas, more young people deciding to remain in Rochester. There will be a rebirth of the pride that people feel when they say they are from Rochester.

Recent lessons learned: Although I see myself as a mental health professional, I have come to realize that I am also the CEO of a small business. I have to embrace the business aspects of running an organization if I am to be successful in achieving the mission and vision that guide and motivate me.           

1/16/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]


Check Also

Embrace Your Sisters aims to fill financial gaps for those with breast cancer (access required)

When Chrisann Philipson was diagnosed with breast cancer she was fortunate that she had health insurance to rely on. But she learned quickly that health insurance only goes so far; she was forced to choose a la carte the treatment options she wanted. 

Excellence in Construction & Real Estate 2021 (access required)