McKee Amazing Leadership Nominees

McKee Homes Amazing Leadership – a woman whose integrity, vision and discipline have proved an inspiration to others

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Ashley Veenstra

Ashley Veenstra has been changing lives as a personal trainer for nearly 10 years.

After leaving an oil and gas position in Calgary, Veenstra decided to channel her energy and passion into a job that would keep her busy and on her feet. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives and show women you can be fit and strong with muscles, and still have a feminine side,” she says.

I want to make a difference in people’s lives

Veenstra helps her clients set goals and be honest with themselves about changes they’ll need to undertake. A trainer, she says, is there to motivate each and every client differently, to meet their exact needs.

“The hardest step is the first – walking in the gym doors and starting day one,” she says.

Veenstra has completed eight fitness shows in her career, the first just one year after delivering her son. She took part in her first World Beauty Fitness and Fashion competition last August in Las Vegas, fulfilling a personal goal she set four years prior.

“She had such zest for life I was instantly drawn to her and had to keep her in my life,” says Sylvia Schultz. “Her drive and passion is something to admire.”

Veenstra finds inspiration in her clients’ dedication and successes, but her biggest is a bit more personal – her six-year-old son, Kayden. “He has been my No. 1 motivation,” she says. “Being a single mother and raising him by myself has helped me to stay driven and positive above all else.”

Charity Hutchinson – FINALIST

“Charity Hutchinson is the most amazing, strong and determined woman I’ve ever known; a woman who displays unyielding courage, endless compassion, and unbreakable spirit,” says her husband, Josh Hutchinson.

The Hutchinsons have two little boys, both of whom have autism. Josh works up north and, as a result, Charity takes on a great deal of extra responsibility – working from home, overseeing the children and managing their house with a cheerful ease.

Charity is a coach with Beach Bodies – an at-home workout and fitness program. “I love that it’s online because I can help anyone, anywhere,” she says.

Ultimately, she wants to be a life coach and is well on her way. She also runs monthly organization and budgeting groups on Facebook for local moms in Airdrie. Her workshops are designed for ease of use, perfect for busy mothers. “Moms can do them when it’s convenient and don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time – they can pop in and out,” Charity says.

Charity Hutchinson is the most amazing, strong and determined woman I’ve ever known

Her online mentoring is inspired by her own journey. Over the years, she learned these same skills herself and now uses the wisdom of her experiences to help others. Her sons, she says, are her inspiration to dream big, and her motivation to succeed.

“I didn’t want them to sacrifice anything because they’re autistic, or because of our finances. I want them to have the best shot in life,” Charity says, “and also see their mom going after what she wants.”

Deanna Hunter

Deanna Hunter is the owner of Ridgegate Consulting, an HR consulting practice based in Airdrie.

This savvy businesswoman had spent 20 years working for others and was inspired to start her own business two years ago when her then-job was eliminated during a restructuring. After a summer travelling, she realized she didn’t miss the corporate life and created her own job.

As a consultant, Hunter focuses on small businesses that need solid management and human resources advice to support their growth and success. “The goals I set for my first year – the litmus test to whether this was a viable business or not – were all met by the time I celebrated my first anniversary,” she says.

Among other successes, Hunter lent her expertise to a provincial advisory council, took part in a speakers panel at a Canada’s Top 100 Employers conference and provided insight to Mount Royal University on the redevelopment of its business school curriculum.

Her ability to lead people towards positive collaboration demonstrates her leadership ability and success

“Her ability to lead people towards positive collaboration demonstrates her leadership ability and success,” says Michelle Wagner, Hunter’s employee.

Hunter also volunteers with Creative Airdrie Society and currently holds the position of board chair. “As part of the board of directors leading this small but mighty little society, I get to advance the arts, and creativity in general, in Airdrie,” she says.

Juanita Mulder

Juanita Mulder owns and operates two businesses – FABFitness and a day home.

The 47-year old mother of two was inspired to start her fitness business in 2007 after her personal weight loss journey helped her discover a love of fitness and healthy living. Inspired to continue, Mulder got her fitness instructor’s certificate from the Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association and thus was born FABFitness.

“Teaching fitness classes is my stress reliever,” she says. “I love to inspire other ladies to be healthy and fit.”

Mulder teaches a variety of women-only, small group fitness classes in the evenings and she takes pride in creating a close-knit and relaxed atmosphere her clients appreciate.

I love to inspire other ladies to be healthy and fit

“I love fitness for what it can do for you – not only [does it make] you look better, but it makes you feel better,” she says. “It’s great when a client comes to me all excited about an accomplishment they have reached.”

Mulder is looking ahead and planning to earn her health and wellness coaching certification, so she can offer a wider range of services and expand FABFitness.

“She has such a passion for fitness and her determination to run a fun and affordable workout business is inspiring,” says Stephanie Hogewoning. “Juanita has a way of motivating you to be the best you can be.”

Leona Esau – 2016 Recipient

“When Leona is passionate about something, great things happen,” says colleague Sara Chamberlain. “She is a problem-solver and carries out this skill with great kindness, tact and diplomacy.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Leona Esau works for the City of Airdrie as the intergovernmental liaison – a brand new position for the City. Prior to this role, she spent eight years in economic development with the City and spearheaded SMARTstart – a training program designed to provide real-world business skills for new or potential entrepreneurs. Through lessons and mentorship, the program offers much of the advice necessary to setting up a successful business.

“There are certain things that help people succeed – proper training and knowledge are two of them,” Esau says. “We knew there was a gap in the resources [available for] people in Airdrie looking to start a business, or who were new to business.”

Esau and her team wanted something accessible and specific to Airdrie with the added benefit of one-on-one mentorship, and that’s exactly what they built. “We’ve been fortunate to have a whole team of thoughtful, energetic, knowledgeable business owners step up to take part in the program,” she says.

Sometimes you just need a little bit of support, encouragement and access to the right resources

The program gives new entrepreneurs the confidence, skills and access to resources they need to succeed. Esau, who has left SMARTstart in the capable hands of a colleague, is excited to see how the program and its participants will continue to grow.

“I believe everyone can do great things,” she says. “Sometimes you just need a little bit of support, encouragement and access to the right resources. That’s my philosophy.”

Lynn Kehoe

As the owner of Cream Body & Bath, Lynn Kehoe is a leader in the local beauty business.

“Her job is to make women feel beautiful about themselves in her shop and [with] the products she sells, and she does so with grace and kindness,” says Suzy Rounce.

While living in Saskatoon, Kehoe and a friend decided to start a small business and built a 12-foot sales stand with displays for their product of choice – coloured sea salt. “We went to the Farmers Market each Saturday and sold empty bottles customers could fill with whatever sea salts they wanted,” says Kehoe. “After they bought the bottle, they could come back and refill it for a discounted price.”

Her job is to make women feel beautiful about themselves, and she does so with grace and kindness

Then, through much trial and error, Kehoe came up with a variety of recipes for soaps, lotions and other products to add to their line. Eventually, she relocated to Airdrie and took over the business on her own with considerable success. In time, the business outgrew her home and she opened Cream Body & Bath in downtown Airdrie where she sells bath products and lingerie.

Ten years later, the entrepreneur and mother of two has a well-established business and supplies several hotels and spas in Western Canada with products. Not one to rest on her laurels, she’s always looking ahead.

“My goals every year are to make each one better than the last, both personally and professionally,” Kehoe says.”

Michelle Wagner – FINALIST

Michelle Wagner is a loyal volunteer, among many other things.

Wagner started working at TransCanada Pipelines in 2008 and today she is the public awareness program manager. Be it at work or in her community, giving back is a huge part of her life. “It only takes one person to make a difference for someone else, whether through a formal volunteer role or a simple act of kindness,” she says.

Wagner believes that volunteering is a powerful tool to provide new opportunities for people to improve themselves and their lives. A stepmother to three youngsters, she hopes her good works set a positive example for her family and friends.

She is a strong influence in the lives of most everyone she meets

“She is a strong influence in the lives of most everyone she meets,” says David Belle.

Among other volunteer responsibilities, she sits on two boards of directors: Creative Airdrie Society and the Airdrie and District Victims Assistance Society. She works hard to give others the opportunity to cultivate their creativity, learn new things and receive guidance when needed.

“Knowledge, education and exposure to new things are a key to success and equip us to be happier and healthier in our day-to-day lives,” Wagner says.

And for her, volunteering changes her life over and over again.  “Volunteering keeps me humble,” she says, “and allows me to experience life through so many different sets of eyes”

Natalie Gibson

Natalie Gibson boasts a mile-long resume with more than 20 years of experience, a stint on municipal council and an impressive list of successfully completed projects.

“She truly is an amazing woman leader from Airdrie,” says Leann Hackman-Carty.

Gibson is president of InnoVisions & Associates, an international economic development and marketing consultancy firm based in Airdrie. A smart and savvy woman, she was inspired to start her own company after serving as an elected official and working with the Chamber of Commerce in Drayton Valley.

She truly is an amazing woman leader from Airdrie

“I discovered that many businesses did not know how and where to looks for business resources,” she says. “And often, elected officials do not know how to develop policies and programs that support business growth and sustainability.”

Today, Gibson helms a successful company with clients and projects across the country. She also lends her expertise to non-profit organizations and donates business planning resources to community residents and organizations.

“As a rule, I volunteer or donate professional services to one organization, or entrepreneur, each month and continue to support them for up to one year,” she says

Sarika Mehta

Sarika Mehta was destined to run her own business.

Mehta was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and her father was a successful businessman and textile manufacturer. After she got married 10 years ago, she moved to Australia and then Canada with her husband. Today, they live in Airdrie with their seven-year-old son, have a second child on the way and Mehta is the proud owner of a makeup and image consulting business.

my heart was always searching for something I could do on my own

“I would say business is in my blood,” says the experienced businesswoman who owned and operated a 24-hour convenience store in Australia. “I tried doing some [other] jobs; however, my heart was always searching for something I could do on my own.”

According to Mehta, she started her image consultant business to help women overcome obstacles and achieve their life goals. She works closely with local photographers and creates style looks for models, brides and everyone in between.

“She offers amazing services, but it never stops there: she always wants to make sure you are really happy, and goes out of her way to make you feel loved,” says April Douglas.

Mehta gives back to charity where possible, supporting Airdrie Food Bank and causes in her home country, among others.

“I feel blessed … and thank God for giving me this much so I can share,” she says.

Sherry Jenkins

Sherry Jenkins owns her own business and, ultimately, determines her own success.

A long-time entrepreneur, Jenkins owned two businesses with partners prior to hanging up her own shingle as an independent mortgage consultant 14 years ago.

“I wanted something of my own,” she says of the We Mortgage team with Axiom Mortgage Solutions. Her business, which offers an array of residential mortgage products and services, is located in Airdrie – her home city for nearly all of her life.

she is an amazing friend, businesswoman, mentor and leader

“She is an amazing friend, businesswoman, mentor and leader,” says Jacqui Jepson. “Sherry runs her business under values which I feel are key: she cares about her clients first, not just about her business.”

Currently, Jenkins is – as she puts it – stretching outside her comfort zone and putting together a plan to build on her existing business location. When not hard at work, the busy mother of two enjoys spending time with her family and watching her children grow and start their own lives. She’s also an avid volunteer supporting several causes near and dear to her heart in the community.

“I believe we are given many things in life,” she says, “and the ability to share our talents and resources is the least we can do.”

Tammy Block

Tammy Block knows a lot about work-life balance.

This enterprising woman has a full-time job, a husband and three children, and last year she co-founded PUSH Cycling Studio in Airdrie with her childhood best friend, Janine Hartsook.

“In Grade 11, we took an entrepreneurship class and wanted to open a gym,” Block says. Twelve years later over a glass of wine, the pair decided to make their dream come true and launch Airdrie’s first indoor cycling studio. They opened their doors on Jan. 29, 2015.

Both women continue to work full-time jobs and oversee the gym. Luckily, Block is a graphic designer and artist by trade, so she handles the marketing, website design, advertising and social media for PUSH.

“I am very passionate about health – mental health and fitness,” she says. “This year Janine and I want to grow the PUSH community of riders and help influence and motivate others to reach their health and fitness goals.”

We push our limits together in a safe and unique environment

Her exceptional entrepreneurial attitude has not gone unnoticed. “Tammy shows true leadership at her business and has cultivated an environment that is both welcoming and vibrant. She inspires those around her to always be their best,” says Carley Toye.

Block is putting together a Team Push for the Ride to Conquer Cancer this summer and hopes to fundraise for a good cause. Teamwork is important to both founders and the spirit of working together motivates the PUSH philosophy.

“We push our limits together in a safe and unique environment,” says Block. “You’re not alone. We all ride together.”

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