Conference empowers girls to face fears, succeed

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Heritage Hills High School seniors Lauren Caswell, left, and Leah Mosby try to find each other’s mastoid pressure point, located just behind the ear, during the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” self-defense presentation by Dubois County Sheriff’s Department Assistant Jail Commander Kelli Faulkenberg and Jail Officer Hannah Merter at the Young Women LEAD conference at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Thursday.


JASPER — Hundreds of high school girls from around the region took the challenge to “fear less, do more” Thursday in Jasper.

More than 500 attendees flooded the Jasper Community Arts Center and parts of Vincennes University Jasper Campus for the seventh annual — and largest to date — Young Women LEAD conference organized by the 2018 SOAR class.

SOAR is a nine-month leadership development class for professional women. Each year, a new class of women starts in January and meets once a month until October. The capstone project for the class is the Young Women LEAD Conference every March. This year, the conference focused on getting girls outside their comfort zone and facing their fears to live the most authentic life they can.

“The enemy of success is not failure,” said keynote speaker Michelle Poler. “The enemy of success is comfort.”

Poler founded Hello Fears, a worldwide social movement to empower people to step outside their comfort zones and reach their full potential. The movement started with the 100 Days Without Fear project that Poler created as part of her master’s degree program in branding strategy. In the project, Poler faced one fear a day for 100 consecutive days, and posted a video of her doing it on YouTube.

Through the project, Poler said, she found a lot of things she liked that she didn’t know she liked. One of the fears, for example, was holding a tarantula. As she was getting ready to hold it, the tarantula’s owner stressed how careful she needed to be because if she dropped the spider, it would die. As she let the tarantula crawl up her arm, Poler said, she realized how delicate and elegant the creatures are. Now she’s thinking of getting one as a pet herself.

“We can’t just say no we don’t like things if we’ve never tried it,” Poler said.

Poler culminated her project with a Ted Talk, conquering her fear of public speaking. From there, her career as a public speaker took off, and now she and her husband manage Hello Fears full time, which is the life they dreamed for themselves.

Heritage Hills High School sophomores Mallory Garrison, Nevah Barnett, Kyla Peter and Rebekah Gordon watch as Dubois County Sheriff's Department Jail Officer Hannah Merter and Assistant Jail Commander Kelli Faulkenberg demonstrate ways to get out of holds during the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" self-defense presentation at Young Women LEAD conference at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Thursday. 

Poler’s message inspired the girls in attendance.

“I like her dancing and how confident she was,” said Heritage Hills senior Becca Rogier, referencing how Poler came on stage dancing.

Abby Van Hoosier, another Heritage Hills senior, said Poler’s speech inspired her to face her own fears, including public speaking and heights.

After Poler’s speech, the girls adjourned to breakout sessions that covered a variety of topics, including confidence building, healthy relationships, professional skills like interviewing, self defense, and fitness and health. All the breakout sessions followed the theme of facing fears and getting out of one’s comfort zone.

In her session on empowerment through fitness and nutrition, entrepreneur Ashley Downes, who owns FitFuel Nutrition in Jasper, shared a story about training for the Boston Marathon. At the time, she’d already run one marathon, but would have to shave more than an hour off her time to qualify for the Boston race. The first time she tried to qualify, she missed the mark by three minutes. The next time, though, she made it.

“I don’t share that story to brag about my own fitness,” Downes said. “I share that story because I failed before I succeeded.”

At the end of her talk, she challenged the teens to ask themselves, “What have I got to lose?” when facing a challenge or setting a goal.

At the end of the day, the teens headed home pumped up to face their fears.

“If you want to better yourself,” Southridge sophomore Madison Songer said, “just go for it.”

Forest Park High School seniors Allison Hassfurther, left, and Hannah Borden make vision boards during the "Dream On" session at the Young Women LEAD conference at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Thursday. "It's my third year coming and I've always felt more confident with myself after and I want to take that with me to college next year," Allison said. 

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