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An honor to serve and celebrate!

On International Women's Day, our community celebrated women, encouraged growth, and recognized milestones.

My friends Katie Stahlhut, owner of Stage1Dance Academy, Carmen Young, Director of Administration Town of Whiteland, and I were recognized for showing up to serve others. I am still overwhelmed by the impact of this milestone in my life. This recognition validates the growth in my heart to encourage others and provide a pathway for them to grow together in our community.


It has been an incredible journey to use my 30 years of corporate leadership, sales, marketing, start-up development, and support of growth environments to bring these principles and ideas to build better communities.

I believe that much is required of what is given, and I have been blessed to know my purpose in my life. This is the start of a new chapter in which we will all pour more into our community and find new ways to grow together.

I wanted to share the article published by Aspire Johnson County on behalf of the International Women's Day Luncheon Celebration and Awards event for 2024.

Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance announced the winners for its 2024 Women Leaders awards today. The Champion of Women Award recognizes an organization that prioritizes women in leadership and provides women with opportunities for growth, both inside and outside their workforces. The Woman Leader of the Year Award recognizes a woman who has contributed significantly to her company or organization as an influencer, leader, and ally.

A surprise third award category at the event was announced as well. The Impactful Leader Award recognizes a woman leader who has demonstrated strong leadership and measurable achievements while overcoming barriers and/or adversity. The Impactful Leader has created success and growth for her organization that truly impacts the community. The winner in each category was revealed at the Woman Leaders Workshop on March 8. The event was held at the Valle Vista Golf and Conference Center.

Winners by award and category are:

  • Champion of Women – Stage I Dance Academy

  • Woman Leader of the Year – Melahni Ake with Everyday Leaders

  • Impactful Leader – Carmen Young, Director of Administration for the Town of Whiteland

Stage I is a woman-owned and operated studio that has been supporting generations of young women in the arts and business for over 60 years. Because of its hard work in creating an environment where women support and learn from each other, Stage I was chosen for the Champion of Women award.


The Stage I CEO, Katie Stahlhut, is president of the nonprofit Dance Every Journey, which brings dance classes to adult populations who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity. With 24 of their 25 employees being women, Stage I has created a wealth of personal and professional opportunities for the development and growth of women in the community.

Melahni Ake is a coach, speaker, author, and organizer who has supported the professional development of women in her community for her entire career. Ake developed a youth leadership program for at-risk high school female students and coordinated passionate women serving community youth to facilitate daily leadership development programs. Due to the program's success, it has already been funded for the next school year.

In 2022, Top Floor Women, a program that allows women to prepare, practice, and deliver their business strategies in front of other women who are passionate leaders and learners, was moved under Ake’s leadership. The group has grown to serve over 60 women.

Carmen Young was chosen for the Impactful Leader award for leading and rebuilding her community after severe tornado damage impacted Whiteland residents and businesses last year. Young’s role at the time was Community Development and Planning Director. Still, due to the then town manager’s leave, she stepped up to accept the role of Acting Town Manager, organizing staff and helping manage the town’s clean-up efforts.

Young also contacted every resident and business owner in Whiteland affected by the tornado. She helped establish a locally led long-term recovery group for tornado victims, spearheaded a move-back-in gift program for families returning to their homes, and, as late as last month, arranged open meetings for residents to meet with insurance agents to ensure they were getting their needs met.

“Over the years, this program has provided great content targeting professional development for women,” said Angela Vandersteen, Vice President of Investor Development and Relations at Aspire. “Aspire is grateful for how the programming has evolved to address today’s leadership needs and has expanded to celebrate women leaders' impact in Johnson County.”

As the state-recognized economic development organization for Johnson County and its chamber of commerce, Aspire believes the Women Leaders Workshop is a platform to focus on women's contributions to the business community and provide further leadership training. Last year, Aspire added quarterly leadership development programming for women and will continue to offer these sessions in 2024. Johnson Memorial Hospital presents Aspire’s 2024 Women Leaders Workshop. Ageless Aesthetics and VisionQuest Eyecare present the awards program.

Congratuations to all of the women nominated and finalists in this process!

Andrea Munn with Tilson HR, Gail Richards (retired) Johnson County Community Foundation, AECOM Hunt, and Spotlight Strategies. it takes all of us to forge ahead and continue building the next level of impact!

Thank you to Aspire Johnson County and the sponsors and committee members for making this recognition and event possible.

If you are ready to build strategies to be a better leader, Let's connect. Everyday Leaders programs welcome you. We meet you where you are to develop you into a better leader.

If you're a business or community leader, we want to celebrate you! Share your story on the Everyday Business Leaders Podcast, and join us at JPtheGeek Studio so we can celebrate you!

If you're a women business leader, entrepreneur or looking to network with other women leaders in our community, join us at our monthly networking event. Indy's Southside Premier Women's Networking Event- Top Floor Women

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