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Conference aims to build confidence, educate teenage girls

Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:16 PM

COALTON, Ky. -- After helping build the confidence of teenage girls through conferences in Louisville and Lexington, Toyota officials set their sights on helping girls throughout the state.

The first annual Young Women LEAD Conference wrapped up Wednesday afternoon at Ashland Community and Technical College's Technology Drive Campus at EastPark industrial park with a keynote address from Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes.

More than 500 high school juniors from nine eastern Kentucky school districts attended the event, said Helen Carroll, manager of community relations for Toyota, Cincinnati Area.

She said Toyota has partnered with SOAR, a professional development program for women to host similar conferences in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati, for several years. It was time to take that idea and use it to inspire future leaders in other parts of Kentucky, she said.

She said when she contacted a few local women, the SOAR program, as well as the push for the conference, took off.

"We wanted to access smaller communities that were outside of major cities," Carroll said. "The SOAR group here is great, and it's great to be on a college campus. We want these young women to be thinking about going to college and what it is they want to do with their lives."

Dawes was one 10 presenters who talked to the girls about everything from how to prevent bullying and how to use social media to "Money Matters" and developing their entrepreneurial and leadership skills during leadership sessions Thursday and Friday.

April Perry, CEO and chairman of the Board of Kentucky Farmers Bank in Boyd County, was a presenter at the event, and she said the conference was a great opportunity for all of the participants.

"I hope they understand the fact that they are in control of their own lives," said Perry. "It is their future and their lives, and they are in charge. It's important to help them keep that control and to encourage them to never let anyone else take control of their futures."

Dawes' message supported that idea of encouragement and empowerment.

She talked about her personal experience as a gymnast and as a young woman, noting how she learned about getting results through hard work and the importance of surrounding one's self with an encouraging, but honest, support system.

"Have people around you that see more potential in you than you see in yourself," Dawes said. "When the people who support me are being honest with me and telling me what I need to do to improve, I don't enjoy it. At the end of the day, when you've achieved those goals, it is so good, but the journey can be tough."

For more information about future Young Women LEAD events, visit www.youngwomenlead.com.

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