Learning to Lead

Northeast Dubois seniors Rachel Hoffman, left, Stephanie Nordhoff and Megan Wilz punched and danced while taking a Zumba session from Ashley Recker of Dale during the Young Women Leadership, Education And Development conference at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on March 7. Nearly 250 high school girls from Dubois, Spencer, Pike, Crawford, Daviess, Martin, Orange and Perry counties attended the one-day conference intended to help young women embrace their strengths and reach their potential.

Story by Claire Moorman
Photos by Rachel Mummey

Self-esteem. Professionalism. Poise. Healthy relationships and bodies. Safety. Web know-how. Perseverance. Financial Literacy. Entrepreneurship.

These concepts have circulated in the brains of the 10 women of the Jasper Soar team for the past year as they planned for their big Young Women Leadership, Education And Development — LEAD — conference for high school girls, held March 7. The 10 young, professional women who had gathered for leadership activities throughout the year knew they had only one day to impart all of life’s most important lessons to the future female leaders in the community.

Keynote speaker Julie Marie Carrier delivered a message about being confident. Carrier is a national speaker, accomplished writer and success coach for MTV’s show “Made.” She also worked as a senior management consultant in leadership development for the Pentagon.

The conference began in the auditorium of the Jasper Arts Center before moving to Vincennes University Jasper Campus. The nearly 250 high school girls from eight counties in southern Indiana who had chosen to attend waited eagerly together for the learning to begin. Each had selected three of nine breakout sessions to attend throughout the morning. Topics included Be Social, an open discussion of the impact of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest; Be Money Wise, featuring lessons about financial independence; and Be Your Own Boss, a panel discussion with local entrepreneurs Maureen Braun and Kim Messmer and facilitator Beth Sweeney.

“We can make physical activity part of our everyday lives,” Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center health educator Ashley Recker told a group of girls, panting after a 30-minute workout during the Be Active session. “Parking farther away from a building, you get those extra steps.”

Recker taught the high school students how to do Zumba, a set of choreographed dance routines that serve as effective and fun cardiovascular exercises.

“It was kind of neat to just get out and dance,” Jasper High School junior Nora Hopf said after her session.

The Soar group provided lessons about self-worth and goal-setting by bringing Precious Blood School teacher Kelly (Craig) Schaefer, who was paralyzed in all four limbs after the car she was riding in was hit by a drunk driver in 1999, to tell her story of perseverance in the Be Inspired session. The mood in the room was somber and eyes glistened with tears as Schaefer explained that even though some of her goals have changed, she has still managed to achieve the things that were important to her.

“When I was your age, I had my own hopes and dreams myself. The challenge is, what if circumstances interrupt or derail your dreams, your plans, your goals, and you don’t get to do those things?” she told the group. “There will be hardships of different kinds. There will be bumps that will derail you from your goals. My prayer for you is that no matter what happens, you hold on tight to your dreams and your ambitions and don’t let anyone shake those.”

Similarly, Soar members invited BeYouTiful Club ambassador Jenna Phelps, 20, to talk about overcoming childhood leukemia and crippling seizures.

Jasper High School sophomore Mariya Merkley both laughed and winced as Washington Police Department Capt. Tim Guy demonstrated how to use pressure points to get away from an attacker.

“Her story was just an extra boost of confidence that you’re not going through life alone. There’s always tough times, but everybody’s with you,” said Shelby Hopf, a Jasper High School senior and Nora’s cousin, as she ate lunch with her friends and discussed the day’s activities.

The conference offered opportunities to advance the girls’ professional skills with a tutorial on interview techniques hosted by Soar member and Jasper Engines & Transmissions operations manager Sara Schmidt and Memorial Hospital’s director of medical practice management, Jill Wagner.

Forest Park seniors Kylie Blessinger, left, Johannah Jackson and Jaylyn Miller laughed during a crowd energizing exercise at the Jasper Arts Center.

When the attendees arrived, Wagner was slouched in a chair wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt, chewing gum and messing with her phone. She said she wanted to demonstrate all of the possible interview mistakes that can prevent a candidate from being hired.

“Good morning. I’m Sara. Nice to meet you,” Schmidt said, smiling as she took several high school girls’ hands. “Make sure you stand up, give a firm handshake, make good eye contact and make that good first impression. You guys know you only have one chance to make a good first impression, and you really only have 30 seconds.”

Jasper High School senior Kelsey Blackgrave said she enjoyed the social media discussion and a self-defense session hosted by Washington Police Department Capt. Tim Guy.

“They used the funny saying that if you wouldn’t tell your grandma, then you probably shouldn’t post it,” Blackgrave said of the Be Social session. “In (Be Safe) we learned pressure points and we learned what to do if someone is acting suspicious if you are walking to your car alone. It was pretty cool to know how to react and go with your gut feeling, because if you don’t, it could be too late.”

She and her friends said that with college just around the corner, knowing how to defend themselves while away from home is especially important to them.

The girls closed out the conference with a chance to interact with others from different schools in a session that Northeast Dubois High School sophomore Ashton Knies called her favorite of the day.

Julie Marie Carrier, TV personality and author of the self-help book for teens “BeYoutiful,” served as the keynote speaker for the day. She said she once was an awkward girl suffering from an embarrassing growth disorder, but she overcame that adversity by learning to be herself and act with confidence.

“”˜Be you,’ two words that we hear so much they’re in danger of becoming a dismissed cliché. But I’m here to share with you girls that even though it sounds simple, being who you really are can be one of the most difficult and one of the most rewarding things that you can ever do,” Carrier said.
She then instructed each girl to turn to her neighbor and tell her, “You deserve respect!”

Girls from area high schools walked to their first breakout session. The conference was open to 250 attendees and sold out.

“I love how she was so involved,” Knies said as she and fellow Northeast Dubois students junior Erin Dorsey and sophomore Danielle Lynch waited in a long line after the conference to get their complimentary copy of Carrier’s book signed by the author.

After nearly a year of hard work, the Soar members were elated to have met their goal to provide a learning opportunity for so many local young women.

“We touched these girls. They hadn’t experienced anything that was specifically for young women.
We wanted to reach as many as we possibly could,” said Dawn Ferrier, who served as project manager for the event. She explained that each of the 10 Soar women headed a committee to run one aspect of the conference.

“A lot of our inspiration was based on the fact that we all wish we had something like this when we were younger,” said Schmidt, who headed up the marketing committee. “It was our opportunity to think, ”˜What would I have liked to have when I was younger to help me get to this point?’ Let’s help these girls understand what they can be.”

The Soar members have all committed to serving as advisers to the next Dubois County group that began meeting last month. They will also plan and host a Young Women LEAD conference next year.

Ferrier explained that the event would not have been possible without dedicated volunteers and donors who helped pay the entire $15,000 cost of the event.

In addition to Carrier’s book, each girl received a gift bag stuffed with items from community donors. Throughout the day, volunteers raffled other donated items from businesses, including the grand prize of a laptop computer.

The result was an experience the high school girls won’t soon forget.

“Just being able to hear a whole bunch of speakers and not have to go very far or pay anything to do it is a cool experience,” Nora said.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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