GEN in Houston: An Interview with Toni Candis About We Are Girls Houston
Contributed by: Lauren Santerre and Toni C.
Lauren Santerre, of the Houston Conference Committee, had the opportunity to interview Toni C., who attended We Are Girls Houston last year with her two nieces.
How did you first learn about Girls Empowerment Network? What attracted you to the mission and programs of Girls Empowerment Network?
I initially learned about the Girls Empowerment Network (GEN) through the Texas Girls Project Collaborative Project newsletter, which often highlights current projects of GEN, in addition to other career and leadership program opportunities for girls in the Texas Region. What attracted me to the mission and programs of GEN is its dedication to supporting the holistic well-being of girlhood. GEN uses its platform to empower girls to be the leaders they are while providing them with guidance through sensitive subjects that many girls experience: self-worth, friendship, body-image, in addition to empowering them to engage in career exploration, particularly with women who are leaders in their field.
You went to the Girls Empowerment Conference, tell us a bit about how you got involved and what you experienced during your time at the conference?
When I heard the We are Girls Conference was coming to Houston from a colleague who had planned to take her daughters, I was very excited and I followed suit by bringing my nieces, Destiny and Christy, who were in the 5th and 7th grade at the time.
As we entered the conference, we were greeted by friendly volunteers wearing orange “We are Girls Conference” shirts; a few of them even wore colorful boas, tutus and big sunglasses. Once we were inside, the atmosphere was filled with music, dancing, women, and girls from all grade levels, school groups or organized girl groups alike chanting “Girls Rock!”. It was definitely a high-energy event.
To set the tone of the day the conference began with brilliant keynote speakers: a student who had graduated from the very school where the conference was held. Karen, an author and photographer who presented on “Your Visual Legacy” spoke to the girls about the importance of having their images depict who they truly are. This was a great message for girls who live in a social media driven society where people may feel pressure to portray themselves differently. At one point the speaker had the girls take out their cellphones to give them tips on how to capture the best lighting when taking selfies, which they enjoyed very much. Before breaking off to their separate sessions, GEN volunteers encouraged the girls to interact with someone they hadn’t yet met, as well as to attend sessions that most applied to them, despite coming with a friend or relatives.
Destiny and Christy enjoyed every session they attended, even the exhibit hall. They went to many of the sessions that involved physical activity, preferably dancing. However, they were also intrigued by the “The Vision Board Party” session. This session encouraged them to make a collage about short-term goals and long-term goals out of the supplies they chose, all while listening to music. The presenter, Chasidy Celestine, presented her board to demonstrate what had come to fruition of her vision. I was very inspired by the session, and how the girls interacted with their parents as they shared their goals and visions.
What about your life experiences and own girlhood resonates with what you saw girls learning, doing, and exploring during the Girls Conference?
As I look back on my own girlhood, I think that I was very fortunate to have many women in my family as great mentors, like my mother, great-grandmother, grandmother and aunts, as well as friends that were positive and honest about their experiences. What most resonates with my girlhood and the conference was my experience as a Girl Scout. As a Girl Scout, I could be myself and have fun at the same time. That’s what I saw taking place at the conference, girls being authentic, while having fun, an experience I wanted my nieces to have. Recently, I asked them both about their experience at the conference and they both agreed it “inspired”, them to believe “I can do this, I can really be and do something.”
Do you work with young women or have young women in your life who you have introduced to Girls Empowerment Network because of your experience at the Conference?
Yes, since the conference, I have told many people about my experience and encouraged them to volunteer or present if they so desire.
After having gone to the conference, how do you think you might have had a different experience being a young woman if you had been able to attend something like the Girls Conference?
Having attended the conference, I realized that many girls and women may not have had the opportunity to engage with women that were influential and open to offering their talents and stories. Before leaving the conference I knew I wanted to become a volunteer, so in 2017, when the conference returns to Houston, I will serve on the Houston Conference Committee.
What would you say to young women who are considering attending the Houston Conference on April, 29 2017? What would you say to their parents, teachers, or mentors?
I would say to any young women planning to attend next year’s conference, “come ready to have fun and feel inspired!” As for parents, teachers, or mentors planning to attend, I would encourage them to attend the adult sessions or even possibly the girl/adult sessions. The conference not only inspires girls, it is created to empower women, too.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to tell us about why you LOVE Girls Empowerment Network?
One of the things I LOVE about Girls Empowerment Network is their drive to provide support to girls as they navigate primary and adolescent girlhood through young adulthood, and how GEN provides mentor opportunities and internships.