ANDERSON — The 14th annual Athena Community Shining Star and Community Rising Star Awards Gala left Annette Craycraft breathless for all the right reasons.

Craycraft, the executive director of East Central Indiana CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Inc., was named the winner of the 2019 Athena Award Thursday night.

The audience of local business leaders and government dignitaries who packed the ballroom at Anderson County Club gave Craycraft a standing ovation, which left her admittedly overwhelmed for a few moments.

“It means so much, because there were so many awesome people nominated tonight,” Craycraft said. “To be selected out of all of those, it just means so much to me. There are so many women in here who have helped me along the way and who have mentored me, and I’ve kind of watched them over the years. To see them standing right in front of me was really cool, just seeing how excited they were for me.”

Craycraft’s list of professional accomplishments is lengthy and impressive. She has received the Indiana Women of Achievement Award for Distinction in Advocacy from Ball State; she has also been recognized with the Above and Beyond Award from Big Brothers/Big Sisters. A former chair of Indiana Public Radio/WIPB, she was also recently named the CASA Executive Director of the Year by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Craycraft’s job is not an easy one, she said, but the Athena Award reaffirms a sense of value and purpose in what she does.

“I’ve seen children go through interviews where we pretty much feel 100 percent sure that things happened, but sometimes even the system fails them. So it is a difficult job day in and day out, and I think just knowing that you’re helping somebody is kind of what gets you through each day.”

Craycraft said Thursday’s gala reminded her of a common bond that connects all the finalists, uniting them in a mission to make their community a better place to live and work.

“The women I know personally, they’re passionate,” she said. “They’re tenacious and they’re not going to let anything get in their way, whether it be working for social justice or helping others or giving back in the community or whatever they give through their professions, so I think that’s a common thread.”

Mary Jamerson, the owner of Myers Autoworld who emceed the ceremony, said all of the evening’s nominees have “removed the glass ceiling from their dreams” and embody a sense of responsibility and desire to better those around them.

“I genuinely find them all to be true guardians of our community that want to make a difference,” Jamerson said. “They want to make everything they do every day mean something to someone other than themselves. I think that’s amazing.”

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

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