Women receive scholarships, give encouragement

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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.

Attendees find inspiration and motivation at WE Conference from listening and sharing life stories.

By Maria Gardner


Hosted by the Empowerment Center and Network/Power Texas, the 16th annual Women’s Empowerment Conference brought more than 500 women of all ages and backgrounds to hear inspiring stories of perseverance and overcoming obstacles.

At this college May 18, the women learned tips for success in the workplace and encouragement for seeking an academic path to achieve their goals.

“We have a pathway for each and every one for you,” Dr. Vela, president of this college said during the morning session at the McAlister Auditorium.

“So, if you want to attend San Antonio College, were going to find a way for you to get here,” Vela said.

Dr. Jothany Blackwood, vice president for academic success, said all women have the power to rewrite their own story, regardless of the life they inherited.

“The most powerful woman is the woman who knows she has options.”

The keynote speaker, 57th District Court Judge Antonia Arteaga, shared her story of facing challenges in life and seeking options when things seemed hopeless.

The youngest of eight daughters to migrant workers, Arteaga grew up in Ballinger, a rural town with a population of 3,767 according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Arteaga said education was always emphasized and encouraged by their mother despite her limited schooling.

Her mother only went as far as the fifth grade because she was routinely pulled out of school to pick cotton in the spring, Arteaga said.

Her father was killed when she was only 2 years old.

Arteaga said she knew at an early age she wanted to be a lawyer and so, she was not deterred when a high school teacher said she would make a great secretary.

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.

“I stayed focus, and I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me,” she said.

At the University of Texas at Austin, she struggled financially and academically.

“I didn’t realize we were poor until I left for college,” Arteaga said.

She picked up a job during her first semester but failed to properly drop out of classes when she was struggling, juggling both work and school; as a result, she was placed on scholastic probation.

Scared, the first in her family to pursue higher education, she remembered the importance of being humble.

She spoke with her mother and stepfather.

Their advice — “You need to talk to someone,” Arteaga said.

She reached out to the dean of liberal arts, who gave her a second chance to improve her academic standing.

She said it was never in her plans to be a judge but was encouraged by former Mayor Phil Hardberger.

“‘When you are judge, you can better help people,’” she recalled the mayor said.

Arteaga became the first female judge in the 57th District Court when she was elected in 2008.

Of all of her accomplishments, she said her education is what she valued the most.

“Once you have your education, they can’t take it away,” she said.

“You get superpowers when you are educated.”

Some of the workshops offered were “Overcoming obstacles: When life gets in the way,” “Healthy relationships: all start with you,” and “Know your legal rights: When and where to look for assistance.”

“Everyone of us are born leaders,” Ginger Purdy, founder and president of Network Power Texas, said at the “Reclaim your Power: Be the leader of your life” workshop.

Network Power Texas, founded in 1980, has helped thousands of women find their voices, Purdy said.

Denise Willis, member of Network Power/Texas and owner of “Body by Design” modeled the tan suit she was wearing which she found at the Magic Closet, a program for women in need of professional clothing necessary for employment.

For more information about the Magic Closet, call Rebecca Boles at 210-827-0055 or Mamie Benitez Campbell at 210-219-1285.

Throughout the workshop, women were encouraged to share their stories of struggle and overcoming challenges.

Sandra Nickelberry, conference volunteer and president of the Nontraditional Students Club at this college, said when her father was killed during the Vietnam War and her mother fell ill and incapable of providing for the family, it was up to her to take care of her three younger siblings.

Her journey has not been easy, but Nickelberry said she has found encouragement and hope in her involvement with the conference.

Next year, she plans to graduate with an associate degree in business management.

Scholarships worth $1,000 were awarded to 15 and $500 scholarships were awarded to 10 attendees to apply to the cost of attending this college.

For upcoming scholarship opportunities, go to the website at www.alamo.edu/sac/SWANS/.


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