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Meet our Keynote Speaker!

Melody Warnick

Melody Warnick is the author of This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, a practical guide to loving the place where you live that’s been featured in the New York Times, Time magazine, Fast Company, Psychology Today, and others.Her second book, If You Could Live Anywhere: The Surprising Power of Place in a Work-from-Anywhere World, about how location-independent people choose where to live and how local economies support their success, will be published in July2022. Melody has spoken about place attachment in communities around the country, and her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, Reader’s Digest, The Guardian, Woman’s Day, and many others. Melody lives with her family in Blacksburg, Virginia.




Meet our Breakout Speakers!

Session One 8:30-9:15AM

Wendy Puffer

"Make Space: Generating Communities of Practice"

Let's admit it. The blurred space between work and personal life existed before the pandemic. COVID just gave us permission to soften the edges a bit more! This session will introduce the practice of placemaking to enhance your community of practice and bring joy as you redefine work and the places you practice.

Wendy Puffer, NCIDQ, is the Owner and Chief Design Officer of Marion Design Co., a community-based creative design studio with an educational model in downtown Marion. Her design staff of professionals and interns have created designs throughout the city such as the Marion City Brand and Marion Health’s (MGH) recent rebrand and hosted events such as the Marion Made Fashion Show and Market. As a licensed interior designer, she’s designed dozens of homes and businesses throughout Grant County and beyond. She launched two design programs at IWU; Interior Design and Design for Social Impact. As a professor, she lead teams to paint murals on the Sweetser Cafe and on Converse Mainstreet, directed eight teams to build temporary facade designs on the downtown square, and more. She earned a Design Thinking MFA in 2016 which expanded her collaborative offerings to empower businesses and organizations to creatively solve “wicked problems” through innovative solutions. She’s been married to Dr. Keith Puffer, IWU Psychology Professor for 35 years and has three adult children located in New York (Mackey Saturday graphic designer), Los Angeles (SciArc Architecture MA student), and Indianapolis (Curriculum designer).

Wendy's Book Rec:  

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within All of Us by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century by Nato Thompson

Ann Vermilion

“Women in Public Service: Can we fix it? Yes we CAN!”

In the current cruel climate and social divisiveness of politics and life, why would any woman CHOOSE to serve in a public service position, join a board or get involved? Mostly, because we believe we have the voice, the talent and belief that change is possible, that improvements can be made, that we CAN make a difference (fix it).  Rep. Vermilion will spend time collectively discussing with attendees the current political climate and brainstorming where the voice of women can be elevated and heard.


Ann Vermilion is the Indiana State Representative for District 31, which encompasses Grant, Blackford, Wells and Delaware County.  She has completed three legislative sessions bringing leadership to the Public Health, Family and Children and Elections Committee.  She has authored and passed numerous bills that have been enacted in to law, many highlighting her expertise and wisdom in improving the health outcomes of Indiana. Rep. Vermilion was elected President of the POWER caucus, which is the non-partisan female legislators of all parties in the Indiana House and Senate. She is a graduate of Marion High School, achieving her BS and MBA with Indiana University.  Ann is a national healthcare consultant and was an administrator at Marion General Hospital for nearly 15 years.  She and her husband, Aaron, have served on numerous Grant County and State of Indiana boards and commissions.  They are immensely proud of their three children and their multiple kids who call them mom and dad.

Ann's Book Rec:  Strong Mothers, Strong Sons or Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
Connect with Ann:

Session Two 10:40-11:25AM

Dawn Brown

"Leadership, Creativity, and the Medici Effect"

Admiral Grace Hopper once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘It’s always been done that way’.”  We’ve all heard it, maybe even this week. Sadly, organizations that cling to their history more than their future are where ideas go to die. But leaders who emphasize the need to proactively develop a culture in which creativity can thrive, harkens the image of a gardener who prepares the innovative soil and nurtures the seedlings of ideas while killing off the weeds that destroy imagination and inspired problem solving. Let’s talk about how to manage for creativity in the workplace and let the sparks fly!

Dawn is an educator by trade and has continued teaching even after completing her Master’s Degree in Management at Indiana Wesleyan University. She began her professional development career as the National Implementation Manager for Vivendi-Universal where she instructed educators across the country. Dawn joined the Community Foundation of Grant County, Indiana in 2005 as a Development Officer and became the President/CEO in 2012. She’s been recognized for her community-building work as an ATHENA Award recipient, the OCRA Award winner for Indiana Main Street Volunteer of the Year, and as beneficiary of the Indiana Wesleyan University’s 2020 Tony Maidenberg Community Service Award. When she’s not changing her little corner of the world, Dawn reads nonfiction to continue her quest of lifelong learning, writes a blog about nonprofit marketing, communication, and stewardship at, and develops marketing content at dawn brown creative llc.—all while figuring out how to become the philanthropic Leslie Knope!

Dawn's Book Rec: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson and Teresa Amabile


Shanta Horton

"Grow with Me"

In this session, attendees will get their hands dirty by planting their own seeds with Shanta in addition to hearing her story of building community through gardening with her neighbors.


Shanta Horton is a community garden advocate and local volunteer. Shanta was born in Arkansas and joined the military after her high school graduation, where she worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) and learned to copy morse code.  After spending several years in the Air Force, she relocated to Marion in 1996 and has lived her since. Shanta has been employed by Marion Community Schools for the last 14 years and currently works as an Instructional Educational Assistant in the Giant Success Academy (GSA) classroom at Frances Slocum Elementary.

Shanta has been married to John Horton for the past five years, and together they share nine children and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She spends most of her time in Marion giving back to the community through volunteering at various organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Grant County, and she also holds the title of Program Director for MPOWER, a local non-profit organization that specializes in food sustainability.   Shanta and her family started a community garden about 5 years ago and it has grown into what it is today.


Shanta's Book Rec: “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

Session Three 1:45-2:30PM

Kayla Johnson

 “‘Home is where the heart is' ...actually it's more complex!"

After moving around a lot when I was little, the concept of "Home" became super interesting to me! Home as a "place" has always been challenging to me. I credit "home" to so many other things, people, experiences, flavors, smells... But with my "place" always shifting, Marion has shown me how all of these can come together to collectively create an attachment to a place and space. I hope in this talk to share about how I didn't know attachment to a place was a thing before living in Marion, IN. And how planting myself here for 10 years has changed me and brought even more depth to my definition of "Home."

Kayla Johnson is originally from North Carolina and came to Marion in 2008 as a student at Indiana Wesleyan. She graduated in 2012 with a degree in International and Community Development and has worked throughout the Marion community since that time. Her main jobs have been with the Marion Public Library, Main Street Marion and currently works for the City of Marion as the Neighborhood Association Coordinator. Her volunteerism and service on local non-profit boards stretches many causes including the Marion Community Gardens Association, Circles of Grant County, Affordable Housing Corporation, and Main Street Marion. She loves being outside, gardening and when off duty she can typically be found in her backyard gardening with her dog Gibson!

Kayla's Book Rec:  "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, "Ruthless Elimination of Hurry" by John Mark Comer, and whatever poetry that helps your mind and heart stay balanced... For me that's all things Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver.

Jennifer Lee

“Bloom Where You Are Planted”

What Are You Waiting For?  What’s the Hold Up? You already know what you want to do. Who you are created to be. Often times we are waiting for the right conditions, the right circumstances, the right day, the right time, or the right person to make the next step. In this session we will address the waiting and will be encouraged to act now.

Originally from Peru, Indiana Jennifer Lee and her husband Derrick have chosen to make Grant County their home. Jennifer is a proud graduate of Indiana University Bloomington where she double majored in Criminal Justice and African American Studies. Later returning to obtain her MSW. Her personality and character embody a diverse and inclusive mindset as she strives for equitability amongst systems

Jennifer is a transformational leader with 26 years of experience in facilitation/training, program development/implementation, family/youth engagement and leadership. Currently, serving as a Program Manager for the Department of Child Services she has been successful in the development and implementation of seven statewide programs all of which have received national recognition. Jennifer is a visionary and is passionate about transforming and improving systems for long term sustainable change. She is a 2021 graduate of the Minority Professional Leadership Academy through Adopt USKids and is considered a subject matter expert on Youth Engagement, and Permanency Planning. In addition, Jennifer is a certified John Maxwell Coach, Trainer, and Speaker and is a Human Service Consultant specializing in the DISC. Jennifer enjoys serving her community as a current Board Member of the Grant County Community Foundation and a previous IVY Tech Adjunct Professor. She also is a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, INC.

Jennifer enjoys reading, learning the latest TikTok dances, and celebrating life with her family and friends.

Jennifer's Book Rec:  Set Boundaries, Find Peace a guide to reclaiming yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab.

Connect with Jennifer:  LinkedIn

Learn more about where proceeds from BLOOM will go!

Today’s conference is designed to encourage and engage the women in our community. All the proceeds from this event are being directed, through the United Way of Grant County in partnership with the Grant County Early Childhood Coalition, to support impact in access to early childhood education in Grant County.

In 2018, Grant County had 4,914 households living in poverty and an additional 6,075 households living paycheck to paycheck. 50% of families with children are living in these circumstances and face average monthly childcare costs of $935. Many times, finding quality childcare and early education for children is a struggle. Grant County has been designated a childcare desert so even finding, let alone affording the care, is a struggle.

All that said, we are making an impact on these statistics through today's event! Grant County has seen our childcare providers increase and the percentage of children living in poverty drop. The proceeds from today's event will work to alleviate some of these barriers through the initiatives of the Early Childhood Coalition.  For more information about the Coalition, contact Alicia! IMP/AEP made a generous donation to the United Way to help pay for the philanthropic match to the On My Way PreK seats. Now with the proceeds from BLOOM2022, all the seats will be completely covered for the 2022-2023 school year. Follow this link for more information about On My Way PreK .



Thank you to the sponsors that make BLOOM possible!

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