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Highlighting the 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference: Mission I’m Possible!

Gena Graves leads a budgeting session at the 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference

Gena Graves began coordinating the Women’s Leadership Conference 20 years ago as a way to stay connected with former Passage House residents and to reach out to new potential residents. When Gena first began working at Passage House, she was a young mother herself, with a 1 year-old and a 3 year-old. She says the job combined her two favorite roles: professionally helping people and motherhood. Each year, when she begins to plan the conference, she asks questions of previous attendees and current residents about what they want to learn, do, or experience. She then tries to remember how she learned those things as a mom and brainstorms ways to teach those things in a fun way.

Her intention is to structure the conference as if it is a professional or community conference with hopes that having a positive experience there will cultivate a desire to attend future conference that interest them in their own communities, but “the most important thing this event does for the young women who attend is show them that they are not alone in their difficult experiences of motherhood. Motherhood can be isolating, but it can also bring others together through a shared experience. Because they are mothers, they almost always put their children first and their own needs and dreams get lost in the process. I want them to be able to, if only for a few days, dream and do something for themselves that is both fun and empowering. And in the process, hopefully they make some friends and find a support group as well.”

A couple of weeks ago, 30 young mothers came together at Covenant House Alaska to attend a conference and unlock their endless potential. They networked, gained further life skills, and enjoyed time together. The mission of the conference was to empower and encourage young mothers through building their confidence. Read about one young woman’s experience below:

The first morning of the conference we received our program, conference shirts, and a pair of sunglasses at the check-in table. There was a breakfast bar with big fluffy waffles, warm bacon, fresh fruit, whipped cream, coffee & orange juice. Calm, uplifting music played in the background as we enjoyed our breakfast and chatted with those next to us. Each table was minimally decorated with a beautiful glass vase and a single Bird of Paradise flower.

To break the ice, we went around the room and shared our names, how we became involved with Covenant House Alaska, and our current life mission. Everyone was a little nervous, including me, but that quickly changed. Some of the ladies were from Passage House, some from Crossroads (a high school for parenting and pregnant mothers), and some were Passage House alumni. Our missions ranged from providing the best lives for our children, to becoming financially stable, to becoming debt free. The conference spoke to each woman’s mission, providing practical resources and advice, encouraging and empowering us to complete our personal goals.

Day 1: after introductions, we did crafts—each person got a plain white picture frame, chose from a variety of phrases printed in various fonts, such as “You are my sunshine” and “Moms are like buttons, they hold things together,” and then decorated them with colorful buttons. Most people planned to keep theirs in a place they would see it every day as a reminder while others planned to give theirs as gifts. While we let the glue dry, we had lunch: a burger bar (burgers grilled courtesy of maintenance staff) with potato salad and potato chips. After lunch, we did budgeting activity in groups. Each group was given a budget of $50 with the requirement of buying enough food to make breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for 7 days. We had 10 minutes to write out the items we would purchase and the meals we would make and then we shared with the whole group. Everyone seemed to go for ingredients like ground beef, dry beans, milk, eggs, pastas, and rice—they knew they could use them in many different recipes and make them stretch for a while.

Afterwards, we decorated meal planning sheets that were laminated afterwards so that we could write on them with dry erase markers each week. We heard a presentation by AWAIC and discussed abusive relationships, how to navigate them, and resources available if we found ourselves experiencing domestic violence. Some of the information we talked about was triggering, so afterwards the meditation and restorative yoga led by Angela Houston was a perfect way to end the day. Before yoga, we were given soft eye pillows filled with aromatic lavender that we got to take home with us.

Day 2: everyone showed up in their “Mission I’m Possible” shirts! The morning began with an information session, “Legal Info We All Need to Know,” presented by Jessica & Jessica of Nyquist Law Group. The presentation included the basics of everything from rights as a tenant to rights with police. The presentation was useful and probably could have easily lasted all day, but of course there wasn’t time for that. After this more serious session, there was a light & fun cake decorating demo presented by Alaska Cake Studio. Chef Will taught us how to make the perfect buttercream and how to avoid cake crumbs in your icing. We loved his demo and he even gave the cake he made to the person whose birthday was most recent. Luckily at lunch, there were cupcakes from Cake Studio, because after watching the demo, ALL we wanted was cake!! Lunch was catered by Hula Hands—pulled pork, grilled chicken, mac salad, and rice.

At lunch, Kari Hall gave a presentation about all types of relationships and how important they are in determining how our lives end up. She asked us to think about who we spent time with and decide if they had a good, neutral, or bad influence on our lives. We talked to the people next to us, kind of trying to figure out where to place the people that came to our minds. We wrote the names down on a piece of paper, put them in envelopes, and addressed them to ourselves at an address we would be at in 6 months.

For the service project, which was the final activity of the conference, we helped make breast cancer awareness bracelets for breast cancer survivors. A local woman was trying to complete 300 bracelets and wanted us to be involved. In just an hour, we probably completed about 40 bracelets! I left the conference feeling inspired, empowered, and accomplished. I also felt like I was joining other women in solidarity. I left with a new support group that I was a part of. I’m definitely attending next year, and I can’t wait to see how far everyone has come.

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