Young women gather for conference

Our youth represent our hope for the future; we should prepare them as best we can.
In Northwestern Ontario, parents and others who are doing that got a boost April 28-30 via a Young Women’s Conference at Quetico Centre.
How young? Surprise–the age range of the 38 participants was 12 to 18! They came from Rainy River, Sleeman, Barwick, Stratton, Emo, Devlin, Fort Frances, Nestor Falls, Mine Centre, and Atikokan.
The Young Women’s Conference is a school-based service project, sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Ontario Women’s Directorate in conjunction with the Atikokan Crisis Centre.
The program was organized by Katy Latell and Jody Labossiere of Atikokan. Key teachers Janet Maxwell and Dianne Thompson from Fort Frances, Rhonda Jesse from Rainy River, and Denise Radigan from Mine Centre assisted.
The key teachers will act as coach, advisor, and counsellor for the young women in the future.
The conference activities addressed a wide range of issues that face today’s youth. At the start, participants shared why they came and what they hope to get from the conference.
Later, they decided on action steps to bring back the ideas and information gained here to their peers in school.
Latell led a workshop on respectful communication, distinguishing between aggressive, assertive, and passive. She showed how to get one’s point across without creating winners and losers.
Her other topic, “Pictures around us,” addressed how media and other propaganda affect young people’s self-esteem and reinforce social stigmas. When youth don’t have, look, or act like what is portrayed as normal or popular, they tend to feel inferior.
The participants learned that a lot of the images are fake and not worth adopting.
Karen Hade, from the Multicultural Youth Association in Thunder Bay, presented issues of concern in forming cliques, bullying, and sexual harassment.
These themes got a lot of discussion, as did “Helping Ourselves” by OPP Cst. Brenda Varney and Kathy Sanderson of the First Step Women’s Shelter.
They discussed teen dating violence, date rape and drugs, and prevention. Confidence building and “honouring the young woman within” also were explored in depth.
On Saturday evening, the young women listed all the topics covered, and thought about what to do about them. Then on Sunday morning, Labossiere led a planning activity for next steps.
Participants from each community met in their groups to decide what they thought most important to carry forward to their school. Then they presented their plans to the whole group.
MaryLynn Clement of Atikokan videotaped the general sessions. The Atikokan student group will edit the video as a sample for others who may want to organize such a conference.
At the end, each participant was presented with a certificate, and a lovely red rose. One young woman touched and smelled hers to believe it was real, then whispered, “My first rose.”
May she and the others receive many more–and a few thorns.

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