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Suzy Merchant and Leslie Auld to be Honored at 2018 ATHENA Awards

Wednesday, November 14, 2018  
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MSU Women’s Basketball Coach Named 2018 ATHENA Award Recipient

 Entrepreneur and Therapist Selected as 2019 ATHENA PowerLink Recipient

Suzy Merchant, head coach of the Michigan State University women’s basketball team, and Leslie Auld, owner and director of Therapy Today Counseling & Consulting, will be recognized by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce at the annual ATHENA Awards luncheon on Thursday, December 6. The luncheon will take place from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.

Merchant is the recipient of the 2018 ATHENA Award, which honors individuals who strive towards the highest levels of professional accomplishment, who excel in their chosen field, have devoted time and energy to their community, and who pave paths for other women to follow.

Suzy Merchant is a great leader on and off the basketball court,” said Tim Daman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Her success in building the MSU women’s basketball into national prominence is matched by her work in preparing student athletes for life after basketball. Her leadership in the community, most notably in founding the empowHER leadership retreats is inspirational. She is truly a role model who embraces qualities that all great leaders should possess.”

In all her years in the Greater Lansing area, Merchant has gone to great lengths to become an integral part of the community. In her time off the court and out of the office, Merchant can be seen at many community service events in the greater Lansing area. She has been an Honorary Chair for numerous Sparrow Hospital Foundation events, including Hike for Hospice, W3 5K/Ok and Dapper Dads Runway Show. In addition to the Sparrow events, Merchant has been the honorary chair for Ele’s Place, MSU Children’s Health Initiative, Women’s Center of Lansing, Haven House, Ronald McDonald House, Advent House Ministries, Old Newsboys’ Shoe and Coat Drive, and Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2016, Merchant helped create the empowHER Retreat. empowHER is designed to build confidence in girls in grades 4th through 8th, by providing interactive workshops concentrated on the importance of self-empowerment, confidence, health and wellness and relationship building. Last year’s empowHER retreat served over 425 girls from the state of Michigan.

Beginning her second decade at the helm of the Michigan State women’s basketball team, Merchant’s success is undeniable. Entering her 12th season as head coach of the MSU women’s basketball program, Merchant has proven to be one of the best coaches in Michigan State history and a force in the Big Ten Conference. Through her first 11 seasons, Merchant has brought the Spartan program to the upper echelon at the Big Ten and national level.

The Spartans have finished third or better in the Big Ten in eight of the last 11 seasons, and her conference record of 118-68 (63.4%) is in the top-12 career winning percentage in the 34-year history of the Big Ten and is the fourth-highest percentage among active coaches. The Spartans have won at least 20 games in nine of her 11 seasons.

“It is an awesome responsibility to be their second mom and help guide them through some challenging situations and celebrate their successes,” said Merchant. “There are a lot of changes that go on in college between the ages of 18 and 22 and a lot of choices that young people can make. As coaches, our job is to do the best we can to support them and develop them as people.”

Suzy Merchant has been widely lauded for her work as a coach, leader and mentor, and has been recognized for that work by being named the recipient of the 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award, a recognition that caught her by surprise.

“I have certainly appreciated what ATHENA is all about and am truly honored and humbled,” said Merchant.

Leslie Auld has been selected as the 2019 recipient of the prestigious ATHENA PowerLink (APL) award. As the APL recipient, Auld will be connected to a panel of expert mentors who will provide consulting to her regarding business growth strategies over the next 12 months. Since 2006, APL has helped women business owners in the Lansing region grow their sales, business and personal net income, the number of employees in the business, and enhance their leadership and management skills.

As a Licensed therapist and social worker, Auld has been passionately helping people find their inner wisdom and move through challenging times in their lives for more than 29 years. Auld founded Therapy Today Counseling & Consulting in East Lansing after 15 years in a solo private practice when she came to realize the tremendous need for greater access to therapy in the Lansing area. Auld noted that she was receiving several calls per day from people desperate to get help who could not access an appointment for several weeks and from this, the idea for Therapy Today came to life.

Recognizing that quick access to therapy has a significant impact on results, Therapy Today is committed to minimizing the wait for an appointment and offers those in need same day appointments. Being very familiar with the experience of therapists providing care, Auld also sought to create a therapy practice environment in which the therapist’s needs for clinical and administrative support were all so thoroughly met that they could be free to focus on providing the highest level of care to each and every person in need without distraction. The Therapy Today mission is to provide this community and other Michigan communities with a place to go whenever the need arises so that no one ever finds themselves alone with a difficult problem but instead finds a caring and highly skilled therapist available today.

“The ATHENA PowerLink program has been an invaluable resource for women business owners in Greater Lansing, helping grow their business and enhance their leadership and management skills,” said Auld. “I’m honored to join fellow women business leaders and hope to continue the legacy they have established in the community.”

APL is a national business mentoring program connecting women-owned businesses with a skilled advisory panel that provides strategic consultation services for one year. The consulting services are valued at over more than $25,000.

Women business owners seeking mentoring support through APL program must meet the following criteria:

  • 51 percent of the business is owned and actively managed by a woman or women
  • At least two years in operation
  • At least two full-time employees, including the applicant
  • At least $250,000 in annual gross revenues for manufacturing or retail business; or at least $100,000 in annual gross revenues for a service business
  • Clearly defined business objectives and specific reasons for seeking an Advisory Panel

The advisory panel is a group of business professionals who volunteer their time to work one-on-one with the business owner for one year. This group of experts assists in the development and implementation of the entrepreneur's business plan and strategic goals.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual ATHENA Awards luncheon will be held on Thursday, December 6, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing. To register or for more information, visit

About the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC) works relentlessly to help businesses connect, grow and thrive. For more than 115 years, the Chamber has served as the voice of the Greater Lansing business community. More information about the Chamber, its programs and services can be found online at, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

About the ATHENA Award

Started in Lansing in 1982 by Martha Mertz, the ATHENA Award is presented annually in over 500 communities internationally, recognizing individuals for professional excellence, for providing valuable service to the community and for actively assisting all women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Award seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence.

About ATHENA PowerLink

Established in 1999, ATHENAPowerLink is a national mentoring program that connects selected women business owners with a skilled advisory panel. The local advisory panel, comprised of mentors best suited to the recipients' needs, will provide free business consultation services for one year (value: over $25,000).

The panel will consult to help the business owner achieve networking, capital, operational and strategic goals. The program will also help enhance the business owner's leadership and management skills for future business endeavors.

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