Confidence to Connect: Young Women LEAD

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park High School sophomore Macie Zink, left, and Heritage Hills High School junior Caitlin Lueken participated in the “Be Fit” breakout session during the Young Women LEAD Conference Wednesday at Vincennes University Jasper Campus in Jasper. Caitlin said her favorite part of the conference was the focus on building confidence.


JASPER — One day ahead of International Women’s Day, more than 500 women took over the Jasper Community Arts Center and Vincennes University Jasper Campus Wednesday for the sixth annual Young Women LEAD Conference.

This year’s Young Women LEAD — leadership, education and development­ — event was the largest yet and focused on giving the high school women in attendance the confidence to connect with each other outside of technology. All day long, the girls were encouraged to sign each other’s T-shirts, drawstring bags and conference folders with their Sharpies. At the end of the day, the participant with the most signatures won a prize.

Heritage Hills High School sophomore Olivia Meunier, right, and senior Kendyl Brown did a back-to-back squat in the "Be Fit" breakout session during the conference.

“Was it that hard to connect?” event emcee Shelby Coates, WEVV news anchor and executive producer out of Evansville, asked the crowd of high school girls during closing remarks. “We didn’t even use our phones.”

The Jasper chapter of Soar, a national leadership program for female professionals, hosts the conference annually as the program’s capstone project. Christina Gubbins, a 2018 Soar graduate with MasterBrand Cabinets, volunteered with the conference in 2017 and was part of the group that planned this year’s event. Gubbins said participating in Soar boosted her confidence as a leader.

“Just how to take a seat at the table when given the opportunity and to share my opinion,” Gubbins said.

The Soar class tried to teach the high school girls the same lessons through the conference.

The day’s programming reached beyond connection to cover additional topics in breakout sessions, such as health, entrepreneurship, interview skills, personal finance and self-defense. The keynote speaker, certified life coach and singer, Jessie Funk, focused on leading through kindness and overcoming the urge to return mean actions with more mean actions.

“Kindness does not mean weakness,” Funk said in her closing remarks. “It never will unless you make it that way.”

During a self-defense breakout session, Heritage Hills High School seniors Alyssa Guth, left, Maddie Fuller, Raven Poehlein and Kayley Marchand practiced techniques. "It was intense," Maddie said. "I'm glad I got to go to this (session) and I'm definitely going to be using some of these techniques if I ever need to."

At least a handful of girls in attendance hoped the day would be a confidence boost.

Rachel Martin, a freshman at Heritage Hills High School, said she signed up because her friends were, too, and she thought it would give her the confidence she needed to step up and lead. Martin also cited the #MeToo movement on social media as another inspiration to attend the conference. In the movement, people, primarily women, share stories about sexual violence and harassment and it has led to a larger movement for female empowerment.

Taylor Mitchell, a junior at Jasper High School, also hoped the day would boost her confidence, something she said she’d been struggling with lately. She also attended because her aunt, Dana Coultas, was an organizer.

“She’s been bugging me to do it for years,” Martin said.

For Colby Kreilein, a Jasper High School junior, the highlight of the day was Coates’ breakout session, “Be Powerful,” which focused on how to put your most confident face forward.

The three girls all agreed that the day had “definitely” boosted their confidence.

After eating lunch together, Kreilein, Forest Park junior Allison Mason, Martin and Mitchell all signed each other’s T-shirts before joining the sea of women dressed in blue making their way back to the auditorium for closing remarks. It was the end of a day full of learning to lead and of forging new friendships.

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