If there was a theme for this year’s Business Woman of the Year celebration, held Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 at Jack’s Waterfront Bar in downtown Morehead City, it would have definitely been advocacy. Both Business Woman of the Year Audra Smith-Odum and Nonprofit Director of the Year Glenda Riggs are staunch advocates in the community – one in the fight against cancer, the other raising awareness about domestic violence.
Now in its fifth year, the annual award is presented to a standout in the Carteret County business arena – a woman who not only excels at business, but also exhibits a marked contribution to the community as well.
This year, the panel of judges culled nominations down to five finalists – Gina English of Coconutz Tanning; Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick of The Friendly Market; Pat Rappaport of Hole in the Wall (who had a schedule conflict and could not be here this evening); Janeen Russell of Promise Land Market; and Audra Smith-Odum of Bella Hair Studio.
Moving away from the traditional lunch format, this year the awards were presented during an evening reception, allowing guests to network with the five finalists and bid on silent auction items to raise necessary funds for the Carteret County Domestic Violence Program. Master of ceremonies was Jamie Bailey, from the sales department at NCCOAST, with the help of Kim LaChance, creative director. Food was provided by Janeen Russell of Promise Land Market and each guest received a signature cocktail, crafted by the staff at Jack’s. On hand from Jack’s was last year’s Business Woman of the Year Keri McCann and Holly Fletcher, ensuring that the evening flowed smoothly.
In business for 20 years, this year’s Business Woman of the Year has graciously transitioned from renting booth space to perform her craft to recently purchasing and remodeling her own location. Like most business owners, she has faced both the successes and challenges of our local economy – but her positive outlook and her ability to read the market has given her the momentum to down size in hard times and expand when the economy allowed.
Smith-Odum’s positive outlook paid off again when she was diagnosed with invasive stage 3 cancer in 2008. This rare form of breast cancer wasn’t going to stop our winner – if anything, it made her stronger. Battling sickness and fear, she never gave up – continuing to run her business and make sure her employees were taken care of as well as her dedicated clients. It was a time when many people might have lost hope – but not Audra, her nominator Melodie Willis wrote. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. She turned the negative into a positive by becoming a staunch advocate for cancer awareness by working with the Breast Cancer Foundation, Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Through her business, she has also contributed to the Hair Ball, Locks of Love, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Coastal Carolina and many others.
“I cannot think of a better candidate to represent Carteret County and receive the Crystal Coast Business Woman of the Year award. Audra is committed, faithful, honest, hard working and generous. She encompasses everything that represents professionalism and loyalty. She is the definition of excellence,” said Willis.
“I think I’m still in shock,” Smith-Odum said, nearly a week after the presentation. “I just feel so honored, not just that I received the award, but that Melodie and my peers said such wonderful things about me. I’m so thankful to everyone. And I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people in such a great community.”
Smith-Odum shared that she is also celebrating another milestone – her five year anniversary of being cancer free.
Due to popular demand, a nonprofit award was added three years ago. The criteria for the Business Woman of the Year award specifies that the winner not work in the nonprofit sector – yet nominations continued to flood in for strong women in the community who were definitely making a difference from their nonprofit roles. Prior winners of the nonprofit award include Stephanie McIntyre of the NC Seafood Festival and Crystal Hesmer of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
This year, Glenda Riggs, executive director of the Carteret County Domestic Violence Program was surprised by the honor. Early in her career, Riggs wore several hats before finding her niche in Carteret County. She originally studied nursing before taking a break to open two small restaurants near what is now Elon University. Once she arrived full-time in Carteret County, however, that path would change. She took a job as a victim advocate, supporting women in the area who had been victims of domestic violence – and there, she found her calling, slowly growing into the community leader she is today.
Riggs embraced education, learning as much as she could on the subject – including an associate’s degree in criminal justice to better understand how the law pertains to the victims she protects and a grant writing certification from Duke University to ensure that funds are always available for the program. As the executive director she worked closely with Doris Buffett Bryant and other donors during the purchase of a new shelter. In 1998, Bryant presented her with a Sunshine Peace Award for her efforts. Additional awards and certifications are too vast to list – including a Distinguished Women’s Award from the Carteret County Council for Women and a special award for her dedication and compassion during the council’s 30th anniversary. Dedicated and tireless, if there is an opportunity to raise awareness – and those necessary funds to keep her organization vibrant, Glenda Riggs will be there.