On Thursday, January 25th, 2024, Chamber members, political representatives, and Athens Area community members gathered at the Ohio University Inn and Conference Center for the Athens Area Chamber’s Annual Dinner Meeting and Awards Gala. The event underscored the importance of connection, community, and lifting each other up, and the sold-out crowd left feeling energized and excited for the coming year.

The lively cocktail hour featured light appetizers and signature drinks created for the event by OU Inn staff: the Richland Bourbon Smash and the Chamber Fizz, which included an edible paper garnish of the Chamber logo! The crowd then moved into ballroom, where they were treated to a delicious 3-course meal as the programming began. President Kristin Miller kicked off the night by highlighting the accomplishments of the Chamber in 2023, which most notably include that the AACC:

  • Welcomed 55 new member businesses and organizations (more than double the amount of new members in 2022!)
  • Introduced 4 new member benefits / cost savings programs
  • Hosted 24 events with 111 sponsors, 900+ attendees, and partnered with 98 member businesses
  • Hosted our signature events including the Annual Dinner, Celebrate Athens, the Golf Outing, and Women’s+ Summit and met our overall fundraising and sponsorship goals.

Kristin also announced that for the first time, the AACC is offering all of our sponsorship opportunities for 2024 at the beginning of the year. You can see the full 2024 Chamber Events Schedule and learn more about our sponsorship offerings and how to secure your spots in the 2024 Sponsorship Opportunities Packet, which will be sent to the entire membership on Thursday, February 1st in the February ChamberGram.

During the program, the Chamber voted in a new Chairperson to the Board of Directors, Jon Dailey (QuidelOrtho), and welcomed in new At-large Board Members, Carly Leatherwood (Ohio University) and Celeste Polsinelli (Little Professor Book Center). Recognition was also given to outgoing Chair Lindsay Barnett (Hampton Inn), who will assume the Past Chair position on the Board, and Kristi Kinnard (Career Connections), who is the outgoing Past Chair. Kristi completed 6 years on the AACC board and during that time assumed many executive committee roles, culminating in her serving as the Chairperson of the Board in 2022. We are thankful for the time and commitment that Kristi has given to the AACC!


2023 Award Winners

L to Right: Holzaepfel Economic Impact Award: Brandon Thompson of Ohio Brew Week; Young Professional of the Year: Kelcie Stevens; Best New Business: Cam Kasler of Bakery 323; Distinguished Service Award: Rich Hayes of Kona Ice of Athens Ohio; Community Support Award: Nick Tepe and Becca Lachman with the Athens County Public Libraries; Jon Sparhawk Small Business of the Year: Patty Mitchell and Matt Thomson with Passion Works Studio.

Of course, the highlight of the evening was the recognition of our deserving 2023 Award Winners. Board members presented the success stories of each of our winners, and the winners themselves then had time to address the crowd. Considering the hard work our award winners put into bettering the Athens Area, it is no surprise that each presentation and acceptance speech touched on the same few themes: the importance of community, collaboration, and connection.

Below is a list of the awards and our winners, please visit this page for full award descriptions and winner bios.

Distinguished Service Award: Rich Hayes

Holzaepfel Economic Growth Award: Ohio Brew Week

Jon Sparhawk Small Business Award: Passion Works Studio

Young Professional of the Year: Kelcie Stevens

Community Support Award: Athens County Public Libraries

Best New Business: Bakery 323


The overarching theme of the night could best be summarized as: people helping people. Each of our award winners do what they do because they want to better the lives of the people in our communities. Our Young Professional of the Year, Kelcie Stevens, is motivated to ensure every patient that walks through the doors of OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital has a positive and first-class healthcare experience. The Jon Sparhawk Small Business of the Year, Passion Works Studio, was created to provide integrated settings for people to come together to investigate their own talents and interests and participate together in community-based programming and creative endeavors. Ohio Brew Week, which is the Holzaepfel Economic Impact award winner, brings in a huge influx of people every summer to the area and serves as an example of the success that can happen when people come together and take a chance on bringing to life a new idea. Our Distinguished Service award winner, Rich Hayes, dedicates himself to Kona Ice of Athens because it brings the people of the Athens Area joy and it allows him to give back to the community through his work. The Community Support winner, the Athens County Public Libraries, provides a safe and inclusive environment for all people of the community to gather and enrich themselves. And the Best New Business winner, Bakery 323, grew out of owner Cam Kasler’s philanthropic project, Cookies for a Cause, which raised over $1,000 that was donated to local charitable organizations and people in need.

We at the Chamber are energized and excited for what 2024 will bring for our organization and members. Please reach out to us with any insights, thoughts, concerns, or questions – our success is your success!

Thank you to all of our members who sponsored and provided centerpieces for the event!

Check out some moments from the night:



And thank you once again to the businesses who donated centerpieces, which a lucky attendee from each table got to go home with. The centerpieces this year were amazing and really made the event both beautiful and exciting!