Debra Williams begins each day by reading devotions.
Some days the inspirational words come from Iyanla Vanzant, one of Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual guides. Other days Williams is guided by biblical teachings from Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen.
But it was Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman, whom Williams quoted Thursday when her name was read as the 2013 Athena Award winner.
“Service is the rent that you pay for room on this earth,” Williams said during a lunch at Ceruti’s Summit Park. Winning the award “means more to me than you know. At my core, I am a servant leader.”
The international Athena Award program recognizes those who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in work while also giving back to the community and empowering women. The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, part of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., launched the local contest in 2005.
More than 6,000 individuals have received Athena Awards worldwide. Nine were nominated this year for the local award, and three were nominated for the Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.
Williams, 52, is senior vice president/chief human resources officer for Parkview Health. She is chairwoman of the United Way of Allen County and serves on the boards of the Early Childhood Alliance, SCAN, Turnstone, Visit Fort Wayne, Leadership Fort Wayne and the American Society of Employers.
“She exemplifies professional excellence and provides valuable service to so many in our community,” Todd Stephenson wrote in a nomination letter.
Stephenson is president and CEO of the United Way of Allen County.
Williams is also on the advisory board of the Inforum Center for Leadership, the leading Midwest organization devoted to nurturing women’s careers, and was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels to the State Workforce Innovation Council, which looks at ways to increase jobs and pay for Hoosiers.
In addition to her charitable works, the Michigan native loves cooking, reading and “spending time in robust conversations with really intelligent people.”
Williams has given notice at Parkview Health, where her last day will be April 19. She wants to return to Michigan, where her parents and extended family live.
“It was a really tough decision,” she said, adding that she believes we each have a calling and that calling can change over time.
Williams doesn’t have a job lined up but thought she should leave Parkview before launching a vigorous job search. The HR executive will remain in Fort Wayne into June to complete her commitments to various local nonprofits.
Also on Thursday, Angie Garcia, an attorney with Carson Boxberger LLP, was given the Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.
Garcia serves on the board of the YWCA Northeast Indiana Inc. and is an active member of the Junior League of Fort Wayne and Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.
She was unanimously selected as this year’s president of WOWnet, a women’s networking group, and serves on the nominating committee for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Northeast Indiana, Man and Woman of the Year fundraiser.
Garcia has attended the annual Athena ceremony for the past couple of years and said she always walks away inspired by the event.
Garcia thanked her husband for motivating her and her parents for teaching her their philosophy of life.
“Life is only worth living,” she said, “if you’re using your talents to serve others.”