ATHENA Award recipient Dana Pellebon has forged a career in community and public service.
County Supervisor Dana Pellebon, the 2023 ATHENA Award recipient, has made her mark in nonprofits and government service as an advocate for the homeless and for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Her selection was announced March 14 at the annual ATHENA Award Celebration, held at Girl Scouts of Wisconsin–Badgerland in Madison.
The ATHENA Award Celebration, a program of The Business Forum, honors both women and men who have achieved excellence in their profession or life’s work, devoted time and effort in their communities to improve the quality of life for others, and actively helped women realize their full leadership potential.
Pellebon, also executive director of RCC Sexual Violence Resource Center–Dane County, began her professional career with Wisconsin Management Co., a property management organization. She held successive leadership positions, built a diverse skill set, and used the knowledge she gained to help create The Second Chance Apartment Program through the YWCA, serving as a trainer for the 15 years the program was funded and assisting homeless and formerly homeless women, many of whom were fleeing domestic violence.
She developed a passion for addressing homelessness, which led her to a second career at Porchlight Inc., where she rose to become director of housing and operations. Pellebon helped create policies that advanced the organization’s work to reduce homelessness in Dane County. “Anyone who has ever had the great fortune to meet Dana Pellebon learns within just moments of connecting with her how incredibly creative, determined, and visionary she is,” states Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) and one of four people who nominated Pellebon for the ATHENA Award.
After serving for a year as the RCC’s senior director of client services, Pellebon has held the executive director position since August 2020. Under her direction, the center has been transformed and programs have evolved to meet the complex needs of sexual violence victims and survivors, including the rapid expansion of therapy and mental health services. An example of this is Pellebon’s work to expand the Safe Bars program, which helps bars and restaurants and other alcohol serving establishments create safe, welcoming spaces for patrons and staff.
According to Barry, there literally is no space in which Pellebon exists where she isn’t working to uplift other women — particularly younger women. In the nonprofit community, she serves on various boards, including Freedom Inc., Urban Triage, and OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center. Also active in the local arts scene, Pellebon has led in the theater and artistic spaces, working to advance works by female artists as well as artists who identify as Black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) or as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
In the past, she volunteered as the managing director of Mercury Players Theatre and co-founded the first Black theater festival in Wisconsin. She directed Transaster, a short film written by a local trans youth that was accepted into the Wisconsin Film Festival, and she is part of the team influencing and determining theatrical programming for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture.
Raising the bar
In addition to Pellebon, seven others were nominated for the 2023 ATHENA Award based on significant contributions to their respective industries, to the Madison community, and to the advancement of local women.
The other nominees were Ginger Auchter, director of scientific and engineering talent for Carex Consulting Group; Rachellee Bly, principal at Kennedy Elementary School in Madison; Rebecca Carlin, executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Company; Shar Hermanson, director of strategy for Mid-West Family Madison; Zach Ketterhagen, founder of the Self-Leadership Collective LLC; Rachel Snethen, director of development coordination for Gorman & Company; and estate planning attorney Dera Johnsen-Tracy, partner and co-founder of Horn & Johnsen SC–Estate Planning Center of Wisconsin.