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Harbor director earns Athena leadership honor

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PINE LEVEL — Kay Johnson, executive director of Harbor, Inc., received the 2019 Athena International Leadership Award. Harbor provides safety to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Johnson received the award Oct. 29 at the annual banquet presented by Call Pernell Heating & Air Conditioning and hosted by the Triangle East Chamber’s Women’s Business Network at the Hinnant Family Vineyard in Pine Level.

“When I was informed regarding the nomination, I was honored,” said Johnson. “ To be recognized among such elite women within Johnston County was humbling. Their bios far exceeded what I had accomplished within my professional career.”

Johnson said she was surprised to receive the award.

“But if I had to sum up being the recipient of the Athena Award, I would say that I am grateful,” said Johnson. “And for Harbor, I believe that the recognition of the leader validates even the more that Harbor is an entity that strives for excellence. And it is my hope that this knowledge alone will encourage the community to continue to support the work that we do.”

Johnson was selected among 15 award nominees.

“When I think about this year’s recipient, I always think about the story in the book of Daniel in the Bible about Daniel and the lion’s den,” said award presenter Twyla Wells, Johnston Community College’s vice president of institutional advancement and community relations. “Daniel was steadfast in his beliefs, he was faithful and he was a quiet but strong leader who did not shy away in fear when facing the lions."

Wells said Johnson, an ordained minister since 2014, “has always displayed great faith in her various roles and she is fearless as she works to improve the lives of others..”

She quoted several community leaders who praised Johnson.

“She is humble, but a determined professional who has the utmost integrity,” said Leigh Hudson, a fellow Rotarian and community leader. “(Johnson) started what we know today as Johnston County Youth Services with an $11,000 grant and a heart for service.”

“She is my hero, this woman has continued to stand up for people who do not have a voice in the situations they find themselves in, and she and her team work tirelessly to advocate for them,” said Ruth Anderson, chairwoman of Harbor’s Board of Directors. “In the past couple of years, she has faced tremendous challenges in carrying out these responsibilities, but not once has she wavered. Her dedication in adversity is beyond words, she is a true leader and I am proud to call her my friend.”

District Court Judge Addie Rawls had praise for this year’s Athena Award recipient.

“I have watched her since I came to this county. She is a champion of all of her causes and she goes over and beyond the call of duty,” said Rawls. “She is a friend of the disenfranchised and those who otherwise are devalued by our society. She has a way of bringing out the best in everyone and makes all feel included. She is a woman of strong moral conviction, strong in her religious faith and her life embodies the Theodore Roosevelt quote that states, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”

Johnson said receiving the honor will continue to motivate her.

“When Dr. Wells began to read my bio that was written from the individual that nominated me and what I had penned myself, I became empowered,” said Johnson. “Not that I attempted to measure up, but I realized that I too had contributed and served those within my community in an important way. Although we nominees serve in various capacities, we all serve with a spirit of excellence within an arena in which we are passionate. And it is for this reason that this county is blessed.”

Athena awards have been presented in more than 500 communities since 1982 through licensing agreements with Cary-based Athena International, a women’s business leadership organization. According to the group’s website, awards are given “to a woman, or man, who is honored for attaining professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their achievement of professional excellence and leadership skills.”

The leadership group and award take their name from the Greek goddess Athena, who the organization notes was “known for her strength, courage, wisdom and enlightenment.”

Johnston County’s other Athena Award nominees were Annette Atkinson, marketing director, Huebner Family McDonald’s; Donna Bailey-Taylor, president/CEO, Johnston County Visitors Bureau; Samantha Bureau-Johnson, vice president, Blue Cross; Shanna Capps, general manager and co-owner, Johnston Now; Jessica Davis, owner, Curated & Co; Tara Dunn, owner, Memory Lane Frame Studio; Johna Falconer, associate professor, East Carolina University; Corina Knott, account executive, Interstate Outdoor, Inc.; Sarah Elizabeth Lagasse, sales manager, Johnston County Visitors Bureau; Melissa Overton, owner,; Dr. Marilyn Pearson, Johnston County Public Health director; Cookie Pope, former Johnston County commissioner; Pamela Tripp, CEO, CommWell Health and Kelly Wallace, vice president and chief operating officer, Triangle East Chamber of Commerce.

State Auditor Beth Wood served as keynote speaker and challenged audience members to push through and achieve their goals.

“How do you do that, especially when people are telling you you’ve already reached your potential?” said Wood. “I almost considered quitting school. But I wonder where I’d have been today if I went home.”

Wood recalled her first campaign.

“When I told the state auditor I was leaving, he said, ‘You can’t leave, you’re the heart and soul of the agency,’” said Wood. “Then when I ran against him, he said I was a ‘showhorse.’”

“I’m an ordinary person whose been blessed to do extraordinary things,” said Wood. “I’m a three-time cancer survivor. When I went through my third round of radiation, I just pushed through it. Never let anyone set your expectations.”