The Changemakers

L to R: Stephanie Hall Barrett, Brea Sims, Antigona Mehani and Dawn Shannon.

Meet the 2019 Class of New and Future Voices of Philanthropy

By Mariah Kline
Photos by
Kathryn Harrington

The Voice of Louisville has proudly covered Louisville’s nonprofit community for the last 70 years. We have admired the work of the countless individuals who give of themselves to help others and make our city a benevolent community. For the last two years, we have partnered with the Community Foundation of Louisville (CFL) to recognize young philanthropists in our city. This year, three exceptional people between the ages of 21 and 35 were selected as the next class of New Voices of Philanthropy, while one person under 21 was selected as our Future Voice of Philanthropy.

Our selection committee – made up of staff members from The Voice and the Community Foundation as well as previous New Voices honorees – carefully narrowed down this year’s nominations to these five philanthropists. Each New Voice will receive $1,000 to donate to the cause they are involved in and the Future Voice will receive $500, thanks to CFL.

“These honorees exemplify how philanthropy makes a lasting impact in our community,” says Jan Walther, CFL’s vice president of marketing and communications. “The Community Foundation is proud to celebrate the passion and commitment of these generous, game-changing leaders. Partnering with the Voice-Tribune for this recognition has created the opportunity to inspire others to take action, make a difference and be a force for good.”

As you get to know our New Voices and Future Voice, we hope you will be inspired by their efforts, their work ethic and the spirit of generosity they each possess.

Dawn Shannon

Dawn Shannon has been involved with C.H.O.I.C.E. (Children Have Options in Choosing Experiences) since her early childhood. The nonprofit works in prevention and early intervention with high-risk and at-risk youths and adolescents, teaching them to make positive life choices. Shannon’s mother Liz Sias-Shannon, the executive director and founder of the organization, recruited her daughter to assist with Red Ribbon Week activities starting at the age of five, and before long, Shannon had caught what she calls the “social work service bug.”

In high school, she conducted self-esteem workshops for elementary and middle school girls, and in college, she pursued studies in sociology and social work. After working with Child Protective Services following graduate school, Shannon realized C.H.O.I.C.E. was where she needed to be in order to maximize the help she could offer to children.

“They didn’t have a position for me at the time,” she explains. “I just started volunteering and writing grants in order to create a position for myself.”

Since 2015, Shannon has worked closely with abused youths and adolescents, providing invaluable support to some of the community’s most vulnerable young people. Thanks to the C.H.O.I.C.E.’s counseling and mentoring programs, these children feel seen and heard by trustworthy adults.

“Young people need to understand what they believe, how they feel and what they want to do,” she says. “They need adults to guide them to that – not tell them what to do. We’re a guiding principle to youths who are experiencing any kind of trouble or having issues with their resiliency within life.

“I have a personal mission statement,” she continues. “It’s to build a community of givers who are concentrated on transformational community change. C.H.O.I.C.E. allows me to live out my mission statement.”

Antigona Mehani

As someone who has always considered herself a giver, Antigona Mehani knows she was meant to work in service of others. After realizing she needed an outlet to give back every day, Mehani quit her job in the private sector to pursue a more meaningful career.

“I had no plan B,” she recalls. “It was probably one of the craziest, scariest, best decisions I’ve ever made. It completely changed the trajectory of my career. I knew volunteering wasn’t going to be enough, but that’s how I started. I wrote to Kentucky Refugee Ministries and said I would like to volunteer if they had any opportunities. That email led to an interview for a position there, and that’s where my life changed and I was able to work directly with refugees.”

Today, she serves as the director of development for Americana Community Center, a nonprofit that provides holistic services to Louisville’s refugee, immigrant and underserved populations. They work with thousands of people from more than 100 countries each year, helping them not just survive but thrive through educational opportunities, family support, career and financial development and more.

One of Mehani’s primary goals is to create a common language where leaders and philanthropists understand their impact and how changing one life can have a domino effect.

“I really want to develop a platform where we’re no longer misunderstanding each other and assuming that one group is better than another,” she says. “Everyone should have access to reach their potential and do and love as they please.” 

She also strives to lift up and inspire others in the way that she was as a young adult.

“I’ve been given so much in my life and have been so fortunate to be surrounded by people who supported me personally and professionally,” she says. “I feel like if I don’t give back that I’m wasting the resources and platform that I’ve built. … I love this community. This is my home. We’re lucky we work in this place where nonprofits are a wonderful way to combat the current issues in our community.”

Stephanie Hall Barrett

“My mom always tells me, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” Stephanie Hall Barrett says.

As president of the board of directors at KMAC Museum, Hall Barrett is sharing her gifts and collaborating with other board members to further their reach. The museum’s mission is to connect people to art and creative practice through exhibitions, education and outreach.

“I was really lucky enough to grow up with the arts as part of my school curriculum, not as an extracurricular activity,” she says. “My big thing is trying to make KMAC a location for folks who might not have the arts in their day to day curriculum or routine. Let us be that (place) where they can come to enjoy and question and learn and be creative. It’s so important not only for young individuals but for adults as well.”

By trade, Hall Barrett is a personal insurance advisor with Sterling Thompson Company. Her experience and organizational skills blend well with the creative mind of Executive Director Aldy Milliken and other KMAC board and staff members, all of whom share her passion for the cause.

“I often (address) emails to our board and staff as ‘KMAC Family’” she explains. “I really do feel like we’re a close knit group of individuals who are all trying to achieve the same goal, and that doesn’t always happen.”

Hall Barrett first got involved with KMAC Museum through her grandfather-in-law Al Shands, a well-known art collector and advocate for Louisville’s artists. Shands’ late wife Mary Norton Shands was one of the original founders of the museum in 1981.

“I think our wide reach in the local community would really impress her,” Hall Barrett says. “She also worshipped fashion, so of course she would love KMAC Couture. I get a lot of inspiration and motivation from the family tie that we have – making sure things continue on the course that they were set up on so long ago.”

Brea Sims

Student, volunteer and advocate Brea Sims is always thinking ahead.

“I have a lot of plans,” the 19-year-old says. “One of my dreams is to be an animator. There are a lot of stories I want to animate.”

At the moment, Sims is finishing up pharmacy technician training at the local Job Corps Center and volunteering with 2NOT1, an organization that works to promote the safety and wellbeing of children.

“I was in foster care when I was a baby along with my brother,” she recalls. “There was a point in my life where I wasn’t looking at the parent that I do have; I was looking at the parent I don’t have.”

2NOT1 works to address the challenges of Louisville’s urban families and support the concept of two-parent households. The nonprofit employs strategies to keep fathers involved, help co-parents work together and provide resources for single parents. By helping remove barriers – including health problems, unemployment and other issues – more children and young adults like Sims can grow up in healthy and nurturing environments.

Within her own friend group, Sims works to share what the leaders and father figures of 2NOT1 have taught her. She gives particular credit to The Blueprint, a tool used by 2NOT1 to teach young people how to navigate the challenges in their lives.

“I’ve learned how to make myself a better person,” she says. “I’ve learned about The Blueprint, and I feel like everyone needs it. It’s ABCD: A is for attitude, B is for behavior, C is for confidence and D is for discipline.”

Every week, Sims teaches art classes to the children of 2NOT1 while their parents participate in family learning programs. She also works diligently at the nonprofit’s annual events and seeks to expose more children to the arts. Looking ahead, Sims wants to open an organization similar to 2NOT1 that will serve even more families as well as inspire and motivate youths like her.

“It’s good to help them see that the world isn’t as bad as we think it is,” she explains. “There are people all around – even if it doesn’t seem like it right now – who want to help you and sometimes they do help you.” V

Meet the New Voices of Philanthropy at the inaugural Bestie Awards, happening Nov. 21 at 21c Museum Hotel. For more information, visit voice-tribune.com/bestiesballot.