Archive for Awesome Woman of the Month

Awesome Woman: Stephanie Anne Johnson

Stephanie Anne Johnson

Stephanie Anne Johnson is on fire, and it’s her voice–as well as her heart–that will put her on the map.

First, the voice. When Johnson sings, you’re going to hear nothing you’ve ever heard before. When she was on 2013’s season of “The Voice,” she started on Christina Aguilera’s team, and was saved by her second coach, CeeLo Green, because he loved her unique style and found her “remarkably talented.”

To think, it was a voice that almost didn’t get shared with an audience.

Johnson was given her first tape player at the age of eight, and remembers coming home from school and singing all afternoon in her room with the doors and windows closed so no one would hear her.

“My brother heard my singing, and told my mom that she should get me voice lessons,” she recalls. “The first time I sang in public was at a coffee shop. I was 15, and felt awkward and didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember being really scared. My heart was beating really fast in my ears. I was scared people would look at me.”

She developed comfort in front of a crowd while attending school at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. “I learned how to relax on stage because I knew what to do,” she says. “There wasn’t a time I was like, ‘how do I do this?’”

Then came practice involving another muscle: the heart.

The Heart of the Matter–Girl Scouts and Beyond

After college, Johnson took a job as a staffer and troop leader at Girl Scouts of Western Washington. She led five troops each week, working with girls on everything from self-esteem to bettering their communities.

“Girl Scouts gives hope to girls,” Johnson says, “and helps them learn skills they might not otherwise learn elsewhere.”

Stephanie Anne Johnson

Johnson knows the impact of the Girl Scout experience best as her days as a Girl Scout Daisy and Brownie. She went camping, sold cookies and earned the self-esteem badge, but says the experience was most profound because it provided a place for her to be around other girls and not feel some of the judgment you get at school.

“My family is biracial,” she says. “My mom is black and married someone who is white. So it was always awkward for me to be walking around with a different kind of family than everyone else had. At my Girl Scout troop meetings, there was always a sense that we were all doing something together, and it didn’t matter who looked like what.

“And at Girl Scout camp, there were a lot of girls from different backgrounds. It was nice to be in an environment that embraced diversity … We learned about honesty and integrity, and things that aren’t taught in school. You take on bigger challenges and have a wider skill set while still being you at the core.”

She incorporated those life lessons into her day job at Girl Scouts, eventually branching out into other worthy service jobs, including one as an AmeriCorps volunteer, where she served at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club in Tacoma. Though she later left service work to pursue her music full-time, her role as a change agent is not something she’ll ever leave behind.

“I love my music, but I feel strongly about the future of our kids and our education system,” Johnson says. “The responsibility of being a good steward is not something I take lightly. I’d like to be a lightning rod for issues surrounding people who don’t have a voice. Women and girls, the homeless, the LGBT community … I like to think of myself as a work-in-progress. If I’m not the best at living up to everything I hold dear, I hope that I will continue to grow into that person.”

Advice to Girls Who Want a Career in Music:

Guitar“Keep in mind that you’re always a work in progress. That helps when you’re an artist.
If you want to be involved in the music industry, it would behoove you to find someone in the industry who is actively doing what you want to be doing and try to start a dialogue with them. For some people that might mean sending a letter to Christina Aguilera, but for other people it might be finding other girls in your town who play guitar and sing.

Anybody going to school for music needs a business class. Being a working musician is a lot like having your own business. I’m not only selling myself, I’m also selling CDs and T-shirts, and I have to have a stock of these things.

You’re also going to need a goal. Research someone who is doing something you like. Where did they go to school? Who did they study with? Then go study with those people.
Pay attention.”

Looking to the Future

Now that she’s no longer on TV, Johnson is back home in Washington, working on her next album and playing shows. She’s not waiting around for Hollywood to call, but she’s not stopping what she loves, either. Johnson recognizes the gifts she has to share with the world, and has no plans to stop sharing.


“A lot of people wait around for validation and for the world to tell them they’re doing the right thing, but that’s something you have to tell yourself,” she advises. “You’ve got to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you did a good job.

“I have been blessed to have my mother and grandmother for great support in my life. I have wonderful friends and teachers. I just want to say thank you to the universe. I feel supported by the people who listen to my music.”

Awesome Woman: Gillian Muessig

Gillian Muessig

Though countless girls and women regularly express just how profoundly they were impacted by the Girl Scout program, the friends they made, the leaders they had, the camps they attended and the sense of belonging they experienced, Gillian Muessig’s Girl Scout story hits you square in the jaw. Perhaps it is just her passion for paying it forward that carries so much weight. Or maybe it’s her personal journey – a young girl, fighting to find herself and, in the midst of that struggle, feels acceptance – that feels so powerful.

Or maybe it’s her profound sense of urgency for girls to find strong female role models and opportunity for growth, self-awareness and leadership that strikes a chord in all of us who want the same thing.

Gillian Muessig wants girls to get more. What they’re currently getting from the media, in school and from adults is not enough. She wants them to get more opportunity, more support and more mentorship, and knows exactly where they can find it.

This is what she said, in a note: “My Girl Scout troop leader saw potential in the scrawny, buck-toothed, coke-bottled glasses bedecked, far-too-loud and joyful little girl. She gave me structure into which I could put my incurable optimism, and gave me strength to withstand the rigors of entrepreneurship, as well as help others build their companies.”

Did that troop leader know Gillian would become a successful female business owner, co-founding the incredibly popular SEOmoz (now Moz) in 2004, which serves a community of 400,000 search marketers around the world? Or that she would become known as SEOmom throughout the industry, giving generously of her time and talents by lecturing, inspiring and innovating? Did she know Gillian would travel the world (having visited almost every continent), serving on the boards for tech, bio-tech and other start-ups in four continents, inspiring those who may need a bit of coaching while traversing the path to greatness?

Gillian in Ahmedabad

Of course she didn’t know that. But it didn’t matter. You don’t volunteer in Girl Scouts because you know exactly what the future holds. You volunteer because you believe in the power of a girl to design her own future and achieve her goals by building the courage, confidence and character she needs to make the world a better place.

Gillian believes there is a great sense of urgency for volunteers and strong female role models to help girls grow into strong leaders. She is serious when she says girls need our help, and they need it now.

The Girl Scout Arc – Then, Now and the Future

Gillian’s best friend Nina was in her Girl Scout troop, and Nina’s mother was her troop leader. They both started in third grade, in Manhattan, and have known each other longer than anyone else on the planet, except parents and siblings. “Most marriages don’t even last as long as our friendship,” says Gillian. They even went to Girl Scout camp together in Brewster, New York.

Gillian Muessig in Sophia“It was a different time,” recalls Gillian. “There were strong expectations about what girls could and couldn’t do. Girl Scouts was a place where, if you had broader goals, it was looked at and not laughed at.

“Nina’s mother saw in me the ability to be more than what one would have expected in the slums of New York. We were encouraged instead of discouraged.”

Gillian believes Girl Scouts can provide a huge benefit to young women by helping them find their strengths in academia, the arts, business and sports. She says it can help them establish their limits and boundaries, and give them good reasons for keeping those limits.

“It can provide them with business mentors who show them a clear path to success beyond entry level and middle management as well as paths that lead to ‘non-traditional’ jobs,” she says. “And it can provide girls with peer mentorship – opportunities to mentor and be mentored by those in the group, developing a long-lasting expectation of peer support among women.

“There is a serious dearth of support systems in place for girls and young women. We need to stand behind these young girls and give them encouragement. We need to support girls to young women to adulthood. Empowerment starts at home, and it starts early. Girl Scouts can do that.”

Early Inspiration

Gillian in Kiev

You might say it was a mixture of things that spurred Gillian on to a life full of great adventures, wonderful connections with others and an impressive confidence in her abilities and value. It was certainly the influence of her father, who passed when she was a girl, and his simple, but powerful words of advice: Achieve, achieve, achieve.

And it was her mother, who raised five children on her own while working whatever jobs she could in the early years and later edited academic papers and books for respected authors at Yale University’s Political Science department, who showed her all a woman could accomplish.

“A little girl in the slums of New York, raised by a widow who was awfully strong, it never occurred to me that it couldn’t be done,” Gillian recalls. “I was always encouraged to follow my dreams. What I accomplished, I accomplished because it did not occur to me that I couldn’t do it. It was my obligation.”

And, finally, it was her introduction to Girl Scouts that served as her team and her cheering squad.

What a powerful story! Thanks for being such an Awesome Woman, Gillian!

Awesome Woman: Kylee Kitchens

Pacific Kitchens, Kylee 07-21 cr.AS

This time of year, visions of sugar plums frequently dance through our heads. What perfect timing! Kylee Kitchens, a soloist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, is dancing her way through the Nutcracker! It’s probably every little girl’s dream to be a ballet dancer, and Kylee is one of the few (and lucky) dancers who gets to dance professionally for one of the country’s most acclaimed dance companies.

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Awesome Woman: Shannon O’Donnell


When you turn on your TV to watch the weather, it usually appears as though the people you’re watching could give their reports with their eyes closed. They’re confident, funny, comfortable behind the camera and super knowledgeable about the subject.

Ever wonder what things look like before the camera starts to roll?

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Awesome Woman: Dr. Nancy Hawkes

Nancy Hawkes headshot

Have you ever wondered who gets to choose which animals live at the zoo?

Most of us never think about the selection process, or even know what it involves, but thankfully, there are people like Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the general curator at the Woodland Park Zoo, who does all the thinking for us! All we have to do is enjoy the animals. Read more

This Awesome Woman Dreams Big – On and Off the Yoga Mat!


Most of us think a dream takes years, maybe even a lifetime, before it becomes real. We assume we have to put careful thought, planning and effort into getting something off the ground. Though that is certainly the case for some dreams (like becoming an astronaut!), sometimes, all it takes is a single conversation to get you started. For Anne Phyfe Palmer, owner and education director of 8 Limbs Yoga Centers in Seattle, that’s exactly what happened. Read more