WHEELING — Local leaders gathered Friday for the inaugural Ohio Valley ATHENA Award ceremony presented by the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, recognizing excellence among women in leadership roles that have made a profound impact on the community. And Lori Jones, executive director of YWCA Wheeling, earned the honor of being the first winner.

Friday’s luncheon was the culmination of efforts by Chamber officials to bring the ATHENA Awards to the Ohio Valley. ATHENA International is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is “dedicated to building a global pipeline of women leaders from the classroom to the boardroom who will create a balance in voices of leadership worldwide.”

A selection committee chose five leadership award finalists for this year’s local event. Finalists included Jones; Alicia Jordan, marketing director at Belmont Savings Bank; Amanda Stoltz-Moore, owner and operator of McDonald’s locations in the Ohio Valley; Joelle Moray, owner of Joelle Moray Coaching; and Beth Whitehouse, senior director of strategic planning for the Wheeling Park Commission.

At the end of the event, each of the finalists were recognized for their tremendous contributions to the community, and the winner of the inaugural awards ceremony was named. This year’s award went to Jones, who applauded not only her fellow nominees but also the scores of other women in the room who helped blaze trails and provide inspiration for future leaders.

“I think every woman needs to be applauded every day of the year because of the work that we do – whether it’s at home or at work,” Jones said. “I’m going to continue to be that cheerleader because it’s kind of who I am. Thank you Chamber of Commerce, and thank you Ohio Valley for recognizing and noticing us. Women need all of the support that they can get.”

Jones — who was brimming with emotions upon accepting the award — had noted that she is most proud when a woman who comes to the YWCA feeling defeated walks out with her head held high, with a job and with a bright future ahead of her.

“Supporting women in their personal and professional advancement is what we do at the YWCA,” she said. “It’s what I do. It’s who I am.”

Chamber officials scrambled to make a last-minute change of venue on Friday after the power went out at the newly renovated White Palace at Wheeling Park, where the event had been scheduled to take place. Organizers jumped into action and were able to move the event to the Pine Room at Oglebay.

Aside from the finalists’ recognition and award presentation, another highlight Friday was keynote speaker Beri Fox, Marble King CEO. An outspoken advocate for U.S. manufacturing, Fox has guided the internationally recognized, locally based company through challenging times only to emerge as a global leader in the industry.

“One thing is certain in life, and that’s change,” Fox said, noting the shift in consumer’s use of glass marbles since the company was founded in 1949. “Even if you don’t change or don’t want to change, the world will change, and you have to change with it.”

Marble King manufactures more than 1 million marbles each day for various uses, and the company’s products are sold internationally in more than 20 countries. The company was able to take risks and broaden its market for different uses, and while dozens of others folded over the decades, Marble King is now the only domestic marble manufacturer left in the U.S.

Fox encouraged people to have faith in themselves, even when they may think they can’t do it. The mantra is a proven one that can break down barriers – often ones that are self-imposed, and it is especially true for strong women … and for natives of West Virginia, Fox noted.

She shared her stories of self-doubt when entering uncharted waters – being asked to be interviewed on nationally televised programs such as “The Colbert Report” and “The Martha Stewart Show,” which were initially unnerving situations that ended up kicking new doors open to new opportunities for herself and new levels of success for her company – from working with NASA to being featured in the Made in America Product Showcase at The White House.

“I want to encourage each and every one of you to believe in yourselves, to take chances to do things that you don’t think you can do,” she said. “Stand tall and strong for yourselves, and for West Virginia as a whole.”