2023 Anchorage ATHENA Leadership Award Co-Recipients


Sheri Buretta, Chairman of the Board Chugach Alaska Corporation

Sheri Buretta is a steadfast advocate for Alaska Native self-determination.

She has served as Chairman of the
Chugach Alaska Corporation’s Board
since 1998 and guides the vision for
intergenerational prosperity, balancing
current shareholders’ interests with that of
future generations. During her tenure as Chair, Chugach has regularly ranked 5th/6th amongst Alaska’s most profitable businesses.
Sheri is Chairman of the Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Heritage Museum & Archaeological Repository. She is on the boards
of the Alaska Federation of Natives (25 years); Native American Contractor’s Association; Silver Salmon Creek Leadership Institute; Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska; The Tatitlek Corporation; and the Copper Mountain Foundation.

She served on the University of Alaska Board of Regents (including Chair), AEDC, and Foraker Boards, and as President and Board member for the ANSCA Regional Association. Sheri is especially proud to have safeguarded the ancestral waters of the Chugach Region through her work on the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council and Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Public Advisory Group.

In addition to being an Anchorage ATHENA, Sheri is a YWCA Woman of Achievement, and received Chugach’s Visionary Award for her lobbying and legislative work leading to Alaska Native settlement trusts to benefit future generations. She has also been recognized by the California Air Resource Board for including Alaska in their territory.

Born in Anchorage, Sheri’s family is from the Native community of Tatitlek. She has an accounting degree, University of Alaska and a business degree, Gulf Coast Community College. She is married to Gary and has two beautiful children, Anastasia and Bo.


Shirley Mae Springer Staten, Executive Director Keys to Life

Sheri Buretta is a steadfast advocate for Alaska Native self-determination.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten, international
keynoter, singer and workshop facilitator,
moves people forward beyond their limits.
She grew up in Georgia during the 50s
and 60s. While working alongside her
grandmother in the cotton fields, music
became a large part of her life. A born
storyteller and dynamic a cappella vocalist, she brings vision, passion, and unrivaled virtuosity to her work locally and globally.

Her transformation to adulthood came with many challenges. A daydreamer and dyslexic, she graduated from high school not knowing how to read. Persevering, she earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.

Shirley Mae believes being raised in a time and place with so much separation had a great impact on her. Ultimately, this was a guiding force for her life work in bridging race, gender, class, and cultural divides.

Some highlights of her work: Cultural Event Coordinator for the United Nation’s NGO 1995 world conference, Beijing; organizing
a choir to Cuba for the International Choir Festival; Home Base Afterschool program taking youth to Ghana for a service project;
the Citywide Martin Luther King celebration (5 years); the Alaska Humanities Forum cross-cultural teacher program (5 years); youth leadership programs at the Alaska Native Heritage Center; and the opening ceremony for Anchorage Museum’s Smithsonian Arctic Center.

Shirley Mae founded the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Lullaby Project which pairs music mentors with incarcerated parents to create lullabies for their children to help keep parent and child connected. To support this program, she started the nonprofit called Keys to Life. She also works full time at Nine Star Education & Employment.

2023 Anchorage ATHENA Inductees

Melissa Branch, Owner and Principal Engineer Big City Engineers, LLC

Melissa Branch embodies the ATHENA model of mentoring women to be leaders in professional communities. She uses her personal success in the engineering field to encourage, empower, and enables women to realize their own potential in a non- traditional career.

Described as one of the best Civil Engineers in Anchorage, Melissa does the day-to-day work that is largely invisible, yet crucial. Her job of designing civil infrastructure, like site drainage and utility connections doesn’t garner awards for beautiful design but is critical to the successful functioning of our city.

Melissa’s dedication to mentoring upcoming engineers is reflected through her involvement in programs like the Society of Women Engineers. Every year she brings her energy to the annual Women in Engineering Night, a speed mentoring event where she shares her knowledge and love for engineering. Melissa is truly a trailblazer and has earned her recognition as a membership of the ATHENA society.

Janis Fleischman, Owner/Baker Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, LLC

Janis Fleischman drove north to Alaska in 1980 to work as an engineer on the North Slope. In 1985 she began work as an Anchorage high school teacher, which became her calling for the next 24 years.

Today, she is regularly approached by former students who say that her caring attention changed or even saved their life. Janis retired from the Anchorage School District in 2009 and, alongside her husband and family, opened Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop in downtown Anchorage. The bakeries have become centers of the community, donate baked goods each day to local shelters, employ refugees who have fled conflict zones including Ukraine, and hire women recently released from prison.

Janis is also a dedicated outdoorswoman who worked on commercial fishing boats and led groups of students into the Alaska backcountry. Lastly, she is devoted to her family and is immensely proud of all her children and grandchildren.

LeeAnn Garrick, Chief Operating Officer Cook Inlet Tribal Council

As Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s (CITC) Chief Operating Officer, LeeAnn implements the organization’s strategy for accessible, responsive programs that empower Alaska Native people to meet their greatest potential. A CIRI shareholder and member of the Ninilchik Native Association and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, LeeAnn supports others as she herself has been supported in her career.

In her previous 16- year career with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, LeeAnn worked in various positions in support of Native people and those in vulnerable situations.

Her super power is lifting others up and bringing out the best in people. As a troop leader for the Girl Scouts of America, LeeAnn provides an example to young girls of a woman in leadership inspiring others to be leaders in diversity. It is a very important part of her life to give back to the community alongside her daughter, Iris.

Betsy Haines, Interim President Alyeska Pipeline Service Company (TAPS)

Betsy is Interim President, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. During her 30-year Alyeska career she delivered critical roles including Senior VP of
Operations & Maintenance, VP Engineering & Risk, Oil Movements Director. In every position, including currently leading the entire organization, Betsy has been an inspiring Alaskan business leader with incredible grit, operations excellence and commitment 365 days a year.

In recognition of her compassionate and effective leadership, she received the coveted Alyeska Lifetime Achievement Award (fewer than 10 recipients) and YWCA Woman of Achievement Award for advocacy of working women, Habitat for Humanity involvement, and helping women explore math/science careers.

Betsy competed in the 1980 Olympics (cross-country skiing), remains a passionate skier/runner today, and serves on the Gold Nugget Triathlon board. Raised in Anchorage with six siblings, she graduated from East Anchorage HS and has a BS Mechanical Engineering, University of Vermont. Betsy is married and has two beautiful daughters.

Heather Handyside, Chief Communications Officer GC

Heather Handyside is a trusted leader and equity champion known for her collaboration skills bringing people and ideas together. In 2001, she led a team executing the largest sporting event in the state’s history, Special Olympics World Winter Games, marking her commitment to inclusion.

She followed this milestone serving in two mayoral administrations where she developed an Alaska-specific, citizen emergency response curriculum recognized by FEMA. She is the first woman to serve as Anchorage’s Director of Emergency Management and Deputy Municipal Manager. Heather was press secretary for U.S. Senator Mark Begich before transitioning to GCI. As Chief Communications Officer, she manages programs bridging digital divides in Alaska’s remote communities. She continues her commitment toward inclusive initiatives helping to launch GCI’s DEI and company wide racial bias training.

Heather is a strategic changemaker. She is a leader who makes a difference in people’s lives, while simultaneously inspiring others to succeed.

Suzanne LaFrance, Assembly Chair MOA, Anchorage Assembly

Suzanne LaFrance was born and raised in Palmer but lucky for us, she came home after leaving for college. In 2019, Scouts USA opened enrollment to girls and Suzanne stepped up to be the scoutmaster in order to provide girls the opportunity for making scouting a family affair. She has also been involved with Special Olympics, PTAs, and forums for women seeking to enter politics, and currently serves as a board member for the Alaska Municipal League.

Advocating for public schools inspired Suzanne to run for the Anchorage Assembly in 2017 and she has served two terms on the Assembly. Her signature initiatives have focused on public safety, funding for critical roads and childcare. Serving as Chair of the Anchorage Assembly, she has deftly managed the sometimes rowdy crowds with respect for all.

Suzanne is married to Dave and they have three growing leaders at home.

Sarah Lukin, Chief Strategy Officer Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI)

Sarah Lukin is an avid fisherwoman, novice gardener, and her daughter Kiya’s biggest basketball fan. Alutiiq, originally from the village of Port Lions, Sarah serves as the Chief Strategy Officer for CIRI. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alaska and is a graduate of Alaska Pacific University’s Alaska Native Executive Leadership Program. Sarah is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Achievement, Alaska “Top 40 Under 40” (Alaska Journal of Commerce) and the American Indian “Top 40 Under 40” (National Center for American Indian Enterprise).

Mentoring other Alaska Native women, supporting their professional, personal, and academic growth brings Sarah immense joy. Whether advocating for land preservation and subsistence rights for Alaska Native people or identifying long- and short-term business strategies for CIRI, Sarah leads with vision, heart, and fortitude.

Joy Merriner, Assurance Office Managing Partner BDO USA, LLP

CPA and Office Managing Partner at BDO, an international public accounting firm, Joy graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wellesley and will complete
her MBA this spring at the University of Washington. Joy is a Top 40 under 40 and a Gold Pan recipient. She has served with the Boards of the Anchorage Chamber, Alaska Chamber, and Nine Star.

While Joy is known as an auditor and consultant for businesses, nonprofits and governments throughout Alaska, her true talents shine as she mentors others. The HARD work of finance keeps her technical mind sharp; however, her HEART work is building capacity in others. Accounting is what she DOES for a living, but what she LOVES for a living is coaching her teams to excel at work and beyond – creating balance, happiness, and empowerment of the young professionals with whom she works.

Smart, fun, a consummate professional – Joy Merriner, ATHENA 2023 Recipient.

Leslie Ridle, CEO Girl Scouts of Alaska

Leslie was born in Douglas, Alaska, and graduated from Bartlett High in Anchorage and from Oregon State University. She taught at Gruening Middle
School, and she worked for the Alaska Legislature, Governor Knowles, Mayor and Senator Begich, and Governor Walker. Her public service career spanned over 25 years in many leadership positions culminating as the Commissioner, Department of Administration.

Leslie currently serves as CEO of Girl Scouts of Alaska. As a lifelong leader and glass ceiling breaker, Leslie has mentored women and assisted and coached women running for office. She has worked on many political campaigns and is a presenter for Alaska Women Ascend, a nonprofit that coaches and trains women from both parties how to run for office. She has also found time to volunteer at Beans Café, for the Chugach Electric Nominating Committee, and she serves on the Anchorage Community Development Authority board.

Kim Waller, Director of Diversity and Inclusion The Foraker Group

Kim Waller dedicates her business and communications skills to promoting diversity and
inclusion within the nonprofit sector, and to women’s empowerment. Kim is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion with the Foraker Group and the founder/
CEO of Women’s Power League of Alaska (WPLAK), a nonprofit focused on strengthening Alaska’s economy through the empowerment of women. Under Kim’s leadership, WPLAK opens doors for women through mentorship, professional development and community building.

Prior to her current roles, Kim enjoyed an acclaimed broadcast media career spanning over two-decades as an on-air host, writer and producer. Her awards include a national Gracie Award for exemplary programming in public affairs during her tenure at IHeart Media, New York.

Kim holds a B.A. in Mass Media from NYU and an A.L.M. in Journalism from Harvard University. She is a board member of Alaska Public Media and Foundation Chair for Jack and Jill Inc., Anchorage Chapter.