Conference exposes girls to future full of possibility

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— There was a veterinarian, a dancer, a psychologist, a massage therapist, an architect and a botanist at the Sheraton Conference Center Thursday, but the most important guests were 100 eighth-grade girls.

It was the second annual Women to Girls/Girls to Women Conference and eighth-grade girls from Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Soroco, the Christian Heritage School and Lowell Whiteman were the focus of the day.

"I think it's cool so many women in the community are willing to come out and show us we have a future," Steamboat Springs eighth-grader Kaitlin Gallagher said.

The focus of the conference was to show girls that there are many career options out there, as well as instill them with self-esteem. The theme was "The Girls of Yesterday Bridge to the Women of Tomorrow."

"We're introducing them to the possibilities," organizer Maria Porter said. "A lot of the emphasis is that the 100 women here today are here for them."

The conference, which is a project of the Women's Foundation of Colorado, started last year as a way to help adolescent girls through what is considered a challenging period of life.

"This is such a transitional time of life. It's a pivotal time for the choices they're making in terms of career directions and career options," Steamboat Springs Middle School eighth-grader teacher Lisa Lorenz said. "Right now the social issues are a priority, but the choices they make now could affect career choices."

This year is pivotal because next year the eighth-graders will be going to high school where social and academic pressures will mount. While some of the girls said they weren't nervous about high school, Steamboat Springs Middle School counselor Margi Briggs-Casson said it's because they haven't gone through it yet.

"They haven't done it. This is to encourage them and give them self-confidence that it will be a good transition," she said.

Conference organizers hoped to expose the girls to positive female role models, Briggs-Casson said. The girls were encouraged to dress professionally and were treated to lunch.

The day began with a speech by Tiffany Tuell, a contestant in the Miss Colorado pageant who won scholarships and then chose an academic path. The girls then spent the day in seminars on everything from yoga to achieving financial freedom to learning about the world of an atmospheric scientist.

During lunch, they watched a student fashion show on appropriate ways to dress -- and all received goody bags when the day was over.

The conference offered an opportunity for the students to forget about the normal day-to-day pressures of middle school and mingle with girls from other schools.

"It was great to get out of the cliquey stuff and talk to people who've done things instead of being with people who are worried about what other people think," said Steamboat Springs eighth-grader Brynn Gotchey, who wants to be a reporter, a music producer or go into medicine.

Several girls agreed that it was nice to have only girls at the conference, saying it allowed them to relax and speak more freely.

"It's a relief to get away from guys," Hayden eighth-grader Kerrilyn Keadle said.

Several high school girls heard about the conference and volunteered to help because they thought it sounded interesting.

"I think this is really wonderful," Colorado Mountain College student Chanterelle Hernandez said. "I wish they had something like this when I was in eighth grade." Steamboat Springs High School junior Mackenzie Finley said the conference would have helped her realize there are so many things she can do.

"They shouldn't think they can't do something because of looks, because of grades or because of money," she said. "They shouldn't think they don't have the potential."


- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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