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Real Life Conference for real women

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The eighth annual Young Women’s Real Life Conference was held Nov. 2 in the Occhiatto University Center Ballroom. The annual conference reaches an average of 70 high school girls each year.

Carol Loats, the event planner and coordinator, has spearheaded the conference for eight years. She came up with the idea after attending a women’s studies conference, she said.

“During lunch we shared ideas about a young women’s conference for kids heading to college, but I wanted to do something for kids who weren’t headed to college,” Loats said.

The conference started at 7:30 a.m., and lasted until 3:00 p.m. It took the girls through a wide variety of activities, from their initial introduction to the final goodbyes. The day began with the girls having an introduction session that allowed them to “interview” each other.

The girls were grouped by tables and each table had two coaches. The 25 coaches were local businesswomen and students participating in an internship for the conference.

“These 25 women are the reason this (program) exists. All of these women are passionate about the girls in our community,” said Kirsten Taylor, director of Health Initiatives for Parkview Medical Center.

Following the introduction activity, a guest panel of women speakers shared their story with the girls.

“The panel is crucial,” Loats said. “It’s made up of people whose message resonates with the students.”

After listening to the speakers, the girls then worked with their table coaches to discuss real-world issues and plan their future.

“The Envision Your Future activity is a workbook activity,” Loats said. “It asks questions like, what will you be doing in the future? What are my abilities and skills? This lets the girls look inside and envision their future.”

The Living in the Real World activity talked about healthy and unhealthy decisions and allowed the girls to set goals and make decisions, Loats said.

The timeline activity allowed the girls to plan their future by figuring out what they want to do and what their end goal is, then it allowed them to see what necessary steps they need to take in order to get there. They have to answer the question, “What can you do between now and then to reach your goals?” Loats said.

At the end of the day’s events, the girls have time to decorate their workbooks with quotes and colors to remember the day.

“When I would go to conferences, I would have these powerful experiences, but forget them when I can home,” she said, “This way the girls can decorate their workbooks so when they see the book they can remember the important things of the day.”

The final activity, Just Because, gave the girls an opportunity to express themselves. The participants wrote their own “Just Because” poem and those who were willing, shared their poem with the rest of the group.

These poems expressed what the girls are feeling and what situations they have been through. One girl wrote, “Just because I am a young mother doesn’t mean I only made bad decisions.” Another girl wrote “Just because I am poor doesn’t mean you can look down on me.”

Taylor described the day’s events as empowering, she said.

“Being a part of the group was fun to see girls that were strangers in the morning, giving each other hugs by the end of the day. They found that the differences they had as people were reasons to be friends,” Taylor said. “They had a seed thought or notion of what they wanted to do and at the end of the day they had their previous notions confirmed.”

This is an annual event that takes place every November. For information regarding next year’s conference, contact Loats at 719-549-2348.