Empowerment center hosts 16th annual Women Empowered Conference

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Bianca Rodriguez, future business management freshman, and her mother, Flavia Rodriguez, learn from recruiter Melissa Valdez about Project Quest’s occupational skills training program at the 15th annual Women Empowered Conference May 19, 2016, in the lobby of McAllister. This year the theme is “Rewriting Your Story, Reclaiming Your Power” and will focus on empowering women to reframe their view of past struggles and reach for their goals. The conference will be 9 a.m.-2 p.m. May 18 in McAllister. File

Free conference will feature motivational speakers, workshops and college and community exhibitors.

By Alison Graef


The 16th annual Women Empowered Conference “Rewriting Your Story, Reclaiming Your Power” will be 9 a.m.-2 p.m. May 18 in McAllister Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored by the empowerment center and Network Power/Texas.

A light breakfast and lunch will be provided to the first 400 women to register. The deadline for online registration is Wednesday. To register, visit alamo.edu/sac/swans/scholarships. Walk-ins are also welcome.

Helen Vera, director of services for women and non-traditional students (SWANS), said the goal is to provide women with a space in which they can focus on themselves.

“We want them to just relax and put everything else aside, all of the different roles they play — mom, student and everything else — and just focus, take a deep breath and focus on themselves and have a good time,” Vera said. “So the day is about nobody else but themselves and learning about themselves.”

Judge Antonia “Toni” Arteaga of the Bexar County 57th District Court will deliver the keynote speech. Vera said Arteaga grew up with a struggling single mother and many siblings. Arteaga became the first of her family to graduate from college and has had a successful career in law despite her situation.

Professional motivational speaker Dawn Thurmond, known as “the laughing lady,” delivers the keynote speech at the 15th annual Women Empowered Conference May 19, 2016, in the auditorium of McAllister. Judge Antonia “Toni” Arteaga of the Bexar County 57th District Court will speak at this year’s conference 9 a.m.-2 p.m. May 18 in McAllister. File

“The reason we chose her is that we felt that a lot of the participants would be able to relate to her story, kind of beating the odds, and still being able to rise to this position,” Vera said.

Abby Gonzalez, senior coordinator of SWANS, said Arteaga’s decision to leave home was not a choice of the easy path. However, Gonzalez said, as a judge, Arteaga now serves her community and has genuine compassion for the people who come through her court.

“To leave her family, to go to a big university, you know, that was a big deal,” Gonzalez said. “It was not an easy thing for a young woman from a Hispanic family.”

After the keynote speech, women will go to different workshops such as “Moving Forward: Letting Go of the Past,” “Healthy Relationships: Building Each Other Up,” “The 7 Habits: Being Proactive” and a Spanish-language workshop “Following Your Star.”

“What we’re looking at is a lot about looking at where you have come from, but not getting stuck there — moving forward, ” Vera said.

Emma Mendiola, professor and coordinator of the student development program, will be leading the workshop “Learn to Rewrite Your Story: A New Beginning.” Mendiola has a master’s degree in psychotherapy from University of Texas at Arlington, and will talk about how to reframe negative past events during her workshop.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of deal where all of a sudden you kind of paint it over with a paint brush and everything’s just fine and happy,” Mendiola said. “But it is taking a different perspective — a look at what might have been gained by the things in our lives that happened to all of us.”

Mendiola said she wants to explore issues that are commonly faced by women. She said the process she will introduce of how to reframe perspective is applicable to anyone, but many of the topics discussed will be specific to women.

“The process is applicable to anybody — male, female, different age groups,” Mendiola said. “Now, of course, the stories will be different based on age, gender, life experience, that kind of stuff, but the process can still apply to anyone.”

Mendiola said she hopes women will drive the workshop discussion by sharing their own experiences.

“What are the specific issues that they want to look at and reframe? What is their story?” Mendiola said. “That’s the piece that’s going to come from the participants.”

Mendiola was a first-generation student and was married as she pursued a bachelor degree in psychotherapy. Ten years after getting her bachelor’s, she returned to school at age 32 to pursue a master’s.

“I think sometimes we get caught up in how we’re ‘supposed to do things,’” Mendiola said. “And sometimes, we make choices that end up with us not doing anything because we’re thinking we should do it a certain way, and rather than do it our own way, we just don’t do it.”

Mendiola said it is important that women educate themselves on the resources available to them.

“I think one of the main things that women can do is inform themselves,” Mendiola said. “Get informed about the opportunities that are out there, because there are still opportunities out there.”

Mendiola said people don’t ask for help often enough, even though there are resources and people available desiring to help them reach their goals.

“I see students right now not having the confidence or wherewithal to be asking for help,” Mendiola said. “Almost like they should already know all of this. And there’s no way. Why would anybody already know all of this? We’re here because students are here to learn. If they already knew it all, there wouldn’t be any need for us.”

After lunch, attendees may talk with community exhibitors about resources available to them. Exhibitors will include the Texas Diaper Bank, San Antonio Water System, San Antonio Food Bank and AVANCE. This college will also have exhibits, such as SAC Cares, the tech store and SWANS.

Twenty-three scholarships worth more than $20,000 will be awarded at the conference. Applications may be submitted after registering for the conference. The deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. today. To register, visit alamo.edu/sac/swans/events.


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