Honoring the talent in the community
By Josephine Hinderman
GREEN BAY – At a dinner hosted at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center on March 2, local individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses were recognized for the positive impacts they’ve made in the Greater Green Bay area.
Greater Green Bay Chamber Director of Talent Retention Christine Gunderson explained why the awards program was so important.
“I truly love this event … It’s really inspiring [to learn] about the energies we’ve infused into our community, and in so many unique and important ways; and more so, it’s also essential [to] acknowledge the talent that’s already here, to look for the good that’s already happening in our community, and to take a moment to celebrate that incredibly hard work. While we honor amazing talent … we know the needs of our community are ongoing and the work is constant.
“The mission of Current Young Professionals is to inspire, challenge and empower young professionals to spread meaningful change in Greater Green Bay.”
A selection committee nominated award finalists – 15 nominees for the Future 15 and Young Adult Professional Award, three for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and three businesses for the Next Generation Best Place to Work Award – with winners announced that evening.
First started in 2007, the Current Young Professionals (CYP) was created with the intention of honoring individuals in the community whose mission was to provide the best practices to the community, and to allow that mission be adopted by other organizations and individuals in the community.
The CYP annually nominates 15 individuals to recognize all they’ve done within the community, and they are nominated on their ability to have a positive impact in the Green Bay area, and the area’s future, through their involvement in the community and their professional accomplishments.
Those nominated for this year’s award were Jessica Adams Nelson, St. Norbert College and Brown County; Bradley Burmeister, Green Bay Emergency Medicine Services; Dr. Vallari Chandna, UW-Green Bay; Megan Dickman-Renard, the Business News and Dickman Media Group; Cam Fuller, St. Norbert College; Amanda Garcia, Casa ALBA Melanie; Jasmine Gordon, St. Norbert College; Ben Gunderson, Greater Green Bay YMCA; Ashley Heim, Bellin Health; Ashley Jones, Bellin Health Foundation; Dr. Joseph Kucksdorf, Bellin Health; Sarah Olejniczak, St. Norbert College; Dr. Bryan Schwebke, Paramount Performance; Justis Tenpenny, Napalese Lounge & Grille; and Jose Villa, Fox Communities Credit Union.
Young Professional of the Year was presented to Dr. Vallari Chandna, a professor of management at the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business at the UW-Green Bay (UWGB).
Chandna received her law degree in India in 2007, her MBA in organizational behavior and human resources in 2011 and her Ph.D in organizational theory in 2015 from the University of North Texas.
“I came to UWGB as my first job right after [getting] my Ph.D in 2015, and I’ve been here since then,” said Chandna. “I’ve been promoted twice already, so I’ve gone from assistant professor to associate professor, and then associate to full. I love learning new things, and I feel very excited about learning new things, and I want to impart that excitement to others… I’m very excited about the Phoenix Leadership program that I helped start up last year. It’s essentially a professionalism and leadership training program for any UWGB student to apply to. It runs for an entire semester and teaches students about how to be better managers, how to be better leaders, more ethical leaders. I’m very passionate about sort of helping train the next generation of leaders… not just for the workforce, but to be ethical leaders, to be champions of sustainability, to be out there, to be responsible and strong leaders.
“As a woman of color, I do feel that I should be helping when I can because there were other people of color who sort of paved the path for me to have less struggles and less barriers than I would have 50 years ago. Having a lot of the barriers removed for me makes me appreciate all the work that people did before me, and I hope to be that kind of person to help pave a path for those after me.”
On top of teaching at the UW-Green Bay campus, Chandna serves on the advisory board for BIPOC R.I.S.E., a program at UW-Green Bay dedicated to providing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and multicultural (BIPOC) students with resources for academic and professional support; the Institute of Women’s Leadership, an on-campus organization whose mission is to help women advance both professionally and personally at various stages in their career by providing education and networking opportunities; and on the Bias Incident Response Team, an organization on campus that handles reports centering on hate crime-related incidents.
Chandna also played a key role in the launch of the Phoenix Leadership program, a program at UW-Green Bay that teaches skills in professionalism and leadership.
“I am deeply honored to receive the Young Professional Award this year… As a university professor my primary goal has been to shape college students as future leaders, and I am passionate about helping them achieve their fullest potential while providing guidance, inspiration and support. So it’s truly rewarding to see them grow and succeed in their careers. Teaching and mentoring has been my passion for many years, and I am really privileged to have the opportunity to be the positive impact on the lives of our learners at UWGB. It is wonderful to know that I play some part in inspiring and guiding our learners to their goals and helping them achieve their fullest potential. Engaging with our local communities is something that’s very important to me and also a big part of our mission values at the Cofrin School of Business, and UWGB as a whole. My focus as a business professor is always around helping and supporting local professionals and local businesses in some way,” said Chandna after receiving her award.
This Young Entrepreneur Award is presented to a business owner in the area that has, through their business, demonstrated commitment to the greater Green Bay area through entrepreneurial and business accomplishments.
To select finalists that receive this award, individuals have been nominated on the basis of the positive impact they’ve had on the community rather than financial success.
Those nominated for this year’s award were Emily Jacobson, Green Bay Doulas; Tarlton Knight, The Tarlton Theatre; and Celeste Faye Parins, Voyagers Bakehouse.
Jacobson was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
She is the founder of Green Bay Doulas, an organization consisting of dedicated doulas that provide “judgment-free, unbiased care” to pregnant, birthing and postpartum individuals and families throughout Northeast Wisconsin.
“I am a Green Bay native. I took a 10-year hiatus to Madison, came on back, found my love as a doula – so I’ve been a doula for over a decade – and I have an agency that is now almost nine years old, and we are doing great things with our community [supporting] families from pregnancy, birth and after, and we love what we do, we do what we love, and not many can say that,” said Jacobson.
“The business actually started on 11-11-11 when my niece was born, and my sister-in-law had asked me to be in the room with her as labor support, and I said ‘what’s that?’ and then I learned this word ‘doula,’ and, again, I said, ‘what’s that?’ and so I did all of my training when I was still living down in Madison. [Then] on 11-11-11 my niece was born, and, as Oprah says, I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment, and that was the moment I knew that I would do this for the rest of my life.
“This kind of work is very hard, it’s very high burnout, a lot of secondary trauma, a lot of martyr complex that comes with it. It’s a calling, it’s not just something that you just put on JobSeeker, and so the women that come to me that want to be doulas, too, I will personally mentor them and make sure that they feel comfortable and supported as well. The hard part about doula work is that the average career of doulas is only two to three years. It’s such a high burnout rate. People aren’t taught how to run a business properly; they’re taught how to support effortlessly and to sacrifice yourself for others, so, for us, we really had to figure out what that sustainability looked like… The more that we can keep educating the community, the better it’s gonna be, and our area is such an amazing place for families to grow and we love being a part of it.”
Jacobson plans to continue expanding her services beyond Brown County, making her services statewide.
As the executive director of the Wisconsin Doulas Association, Jacobson also has plans of addressing barriers that may prevent those from accessing proper prenatal and postpartum care.
“I meet people daily who have no idea what a doula is, so all my work is uphill educating so many misconceptions, so that’s why I created Green Bay Doulas – to set a standard of care, create sustainability and to run an ethically supportive and caring community for not only doulas but families that we’re grateful enough to support,” said Jacobson following her award win. “As an entrepreneur, my advice to other entrepreneurs out there is perseverance is a choice. COVID almost took us out – I had only 30 days left of cash flow… You have to choose to keep going … I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference. As an entrepreneur you just keep going; it’s okay to not be okay … Entrepreneurship is an iceberg: everyone sees what’s above the water, they never see what’s below it.
“There should be no socio-economical boundaries or barriers for those to access resources for parents and their families.”
Next Generation Best Place to Work
Next Generation Best Place to Work was presented to a local business that has shown dedication to helping the development of young professionals and creates a work environment that allows growth, diversity, friendly policies and initiatives for young talent.
The businesses nominated for this year’s award were America’s Service Line, Bellin Health and Breakthrough, with America’s Service Line (ASL), a private transportation fleet and transportation management company for American Foods Group (AFG), ultimately winning the title of 2023 Next Generation Best Place to Work.
Since its founding in 1996, ASL has undergone immense growth and now provides transportation, logistics services and shipping services to customers all across the country – which has been an integral role in AFG’s growth as a supply chain.
ASL has continuously given back to the community, including through fundraising for various local organizations, sponsoring for the Special Olympics Trucks Convoys and donating food to St. John’s Homeless Shelter.
ASL also prides itself in providing its employees support for a proper work-life balance.
Accommodations include flexible schedules that ensure that employee drivers have time away from work to spend with family and friends, work-provided laptops and remote work options and encouragement to expand skills and fulfill their full potential.
“America’s Service Line is the transportation for American Foods Group. It started in the mid ‘90s – just two guys, a table and a phone, one truck and two trailers. We’ve grown to about 150 trucks now, and we’re going to have a second facility,” said Jake Wieland, who works at ASL as a recruiter and in human resources.
“I think ASL is a great place to work, especially for young talent because for us it’s about culture. You come in, and we meet you and if you’ve got that tenacity, you’ve got that want, you’ve got that culture fit for us then we’re going to put in the work to make that work.
“I think largely, when people think of trucking and transportation, people think about trucks. They don’t think about getting on the phones and making calls or taking bids… they don’t think about HR, they don’t think about the whole accounting arm of the company either. And we’ve had hires come on with us as interns from schools in the area, and going into all of those parts of transportation. We’re definitely involved in as many things as we can. We serve meals at local pantries, we have a lot of in-house activities to larger scale bake sales, we’ve done penny wars to the point where competition gets so aggressive that we’ve had a couple banks out of change for a few days… It’s people first for us… When you come on as a new employee, regardless of age or experience, you’re given the opportunity to make that path grow.”
America’s Service Line President Scott Willert accepted the award on behalf of his team.
“I truly am excited to accept this award on behalf of our amazing team. I also want to congratulate Bellin Health and Breakthrough on being fellow finalists. It’s obvious that we all share a goal and value our team members, and creating a culture and work environment that helps our people thrive personally and professionally,” he said.
Pass It Forward™ editorial is sponsored by Packers Give Back and Nicolet Bank.