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YWCA conference aims to mentor female leaders

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 1912, the goal of the newly formed YWCA Charleston was to encourage young women. With that in mind, the organization will continue its centennial celebration with a special event aimed at tomorrow's leaders.

"Young Women Leading Change," aimed at women and girls ages 15 to 35, will take place from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Clay Center.

Participants will attend small group workshops to learn ways to lead change -- by understanding differences, improving communities and becoming tomorrow's leaders. A networking lunch will feature retired Army Lt. Col. Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, who will speak at the close of the conference.

Kara Williams, president of the YWCA board of directors and head of the program committee for the centennial celebration, sees this as a way to add substance to the celebration.

"We started planning for the centennial more than a year ago," Williams said. The group wanted to look forward to the next century as well as celebrate the accomplishments of the past during this anniversary.

"The YWCA offers a wide range of social services, and we were looking at all of the emerging issues that we see. We finally had a 'light bulb' moment and said, 'We can't tackle all of these issues in a half-day conference!'

"It was too much, too big, so we decided what we can do is help prepare the next generation with the tools needed to address these concerns."

So they looked at their strategic plan, which encourages them to engage the community's youth. That's when they realized this topic was the right one to pursue.

"Ages 15 to 35 is an interesting demographic," Williams said. "At one of our YWCA board meetings, we asked the group members, all successful women in their fields, to invite a young woman whom they know who has leadership potential to come to the 'Women of Achievement' luncheon. You could see them getting excited about this idea." The women and girls they invited determined the age-group focus for the conference.

"We looked at the whole concept of going through life, and as you proceed, you often have your hand up, asking for help," Williams said. "You need to have your hand back, to help someone else along. When you reach a hand back, you get so much more. We want to promote that type of giving."

Riverside High School rising senior Nichelle Draganowski, an active member of the YWCA board, has rallied her friends to join her at the conference.

"I, certainly, will be attending along with at least 10 friends. I am still recruiting though and plan on getting every slot available filled with local young women I know need and deserve this opportunity," Draganowski said.

"It is not every day that free chances are available to young West Virginia women -- to expand our horizons and speed our way down the paths of success with the help and tips from the wonderful guest speaker of this conference," she said, "and even local women of the YWCA that have proven themselves day in and day out."

Different sessions will be taught by area women, including Denise Burgess, of Charleston Area Medical Center; Carolyn Meadows, director of programs at the YWCA; Karen Workman, 2010 Consulting; Becky King, an organizational consultant; and Jeri Matheny, communications director for Appalachian Power.

Kickbusch will lead sessions as well as speak on the topic "Living your Legacy." Based in Texas, she broke barriers by becoming the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Combat Support Field of the U.S. Army.

In 1996, Kickbusch founded the human development company Educational Achievement Services Inc. to fulfill her mission of preparing future leaders. Kickbusch has shared her knowledge of effective leadership with hundreds of schools, universities, corporations and government institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

YWCA volunteer Ashley Showen, a recent college graduate who works at CAMC, will attend the conference. She sees it as an important way to continue to hone her leadership skills.

"I went out of state to college -- Ohio University -- and chose to come back to Charleston because I have strong ties to the city and have a passion for making it a place to which more people will want to return," Showen said.

"As young women, it's so important to feel confident that we have the power to make a difference. Leading by example, I believe we can encourage others to effect change in their communities. Volunteerism is a large part of that, and the YWCA is one of the best examples I can think of in leading that charge.

"Hopefully, this conference will get more people in the community involved in the great work the YWCA and other local nonprofits are doing to make Charleston a better place."

Nina Shell, an account executive with ContactPointe and mother of two, said she believes wholeheartedly in lifelong learning and service.

"I think so many young women are driven to make this community an improved environment, not just atheistically or economically but socially as well," Shell said. "Networking with similarly caring and devoted women will be the greatest opportunity this event could offer. I also hope to learn more about the YWCA's efforts to improve the lives of individuals in the most destitute of circumstances. The bigger picture is that our society would benefit by lending a hand and harnessing the tremendous spirit these people exhibit."

To participate in the "Young Women Leading Change" conference, contact Andrea Thaxton at 304-340-3584 or at athaxton@ywcacharleston.org. Admission to the conference is free as part of the continuing mission of the YWCA.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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