Young women get inspired, learn about careers during conference at Temecula City Hall

From left to right: Leah di Bernardo of E.A.T Marketplace, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White, Mayor Maryann Edwards, Temecula Police Chief Lisa McConnell and Disney Channel writer Silvia Olivas participated in a panel Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the inaugural Young Women’s Career Conference. Shawna Sarnowski photo

A group of high school girls got to learn a little bit more about different career paths and what it’s like to be a woman in those careers during a conference Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Temecula City Hall.

Temecula’s inaugural Young Women’s Career Conference gave girls the opportunity to meet women leaders in different fields, including politicians, writers, chefs and members of charitable organizations and hear their stories. The event was organized by Temecula’s Youth Innovators group.

Great Oak High School student, Valley News intern and Temecula Youth Innovator Stephanie Lai kicked off the event by recognizing the people she said were involved in a multi-week effort to make the event happen. She then addressed dozens of her peers.

“We decided to start with this conference because we felt that this group of 130 girls is the most powerful assembly that we could possibly bring together,” Lai said. “Think about it: You are part of the 130 girls in Temecula that get to have this experience. We want to help you get to the next step, whether that be finding internships, experience or even a potential mentor.”

Each of the woman leaders was asked to introduce themselves. It was a group that included Temecula Assistant Fire Marshal Elsa Wigle, Lt. Col Christine Bell of the United States Air Force Academy, former Great Oak student and recent Harvard graduate Jade Miller and Mt. San Jacinto instructor Eileen Dotorski, among many others.

The two keynote speakers for the event were Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards and Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White.

Edwards talked about some of her earlier days of serving the public as a member of the Assistance League of Temecula in the ‘90s and how taking opportunities there led her to where she is today.

Edwards said her initial job was to come in and price all the items in the Assistance League’s thrift shop, but she took on additional roles during her tenure with the organization until one day, she was asked to step into a much bigger role.

“Leaders rise to the top somehow and I think it’s because we don’t know what we can’t do,” she said. “I didn’t realize what I couldn’t do. I’d figure it out. So, in 1997, somebody came to me – a leader in the Assistance League and a past president – and said, ‘we’d like to nominate you for president next year.’”

Edwards said she was apprehensive at first because she didn’t know whether she could fill that role, especially with the thrift shop being as big of a business as it was.

But with the help of her fellow Assistance League members Edwards was able to accomplish a lot as president. She went to various events and schools and spoke on behalf of the Assistance League. She was also part of an effort to add Menifee as one of the places the Assistance League services.

“When somebody comes to you with that proposal or that offer or invitation and you think, ‘oh, you know, I don’t think I can do that,’ say yes,” Edwards said. “And then hold them accountable for making you a success. Take advantage of everyone around you, all the resources around you.”

Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White talked about challenges she had during high school and college and how she found ways around them.

One challenging encounter White said she had was when she asked whether girls could run for student body president at her high school.

“They said no, but girls don’t do that,” White said. “They said, ‘you have a straight A report card and I bet your handwriting is great, so we want you to be the secretary.’ I said, ‘if there’s no law, I’m running.’”

White did run and ultimately became her school’s first female ASB president. She had run on a platform of stopping riots and fights between different races at her school.

“When I made that pledge, and said I was going to stop the riots, I had no idea I was going to do that,” she said. “But what I did find out is that when you bring people together and you focus on humanity you can solve a problem – and that’s what female leaders do: We bring people together, we collaborate, we focus on community and we make a difference in the world that we exist in.”

White said she was able to inspire unity and break down barriers among people from different backgrounds at her high school campus, but things were different when she went to Occidental College and was met with instances of racism.

But, she says, words of wisdom that she heard from comedian and satirist Dick Gregory during college have stuck with her.

“He said life will happen and when it happens to you, things unexpected, it may not be your fault for being down, but it will be your fault if you don’t get up,” she said. “And when I realized that I didn’t have any more pity parties. Things happen, but what am I doing to get up?”

After their presentations, Edwards and White joined E.A.T Marketplace co-owner Leah di Bernardo, Temecula Police Chief Lisa McConnell and Silvia Olivas, head writer for Disney Channel’s Elena of Avalor. The group was asked about challenges they faced, people who inspired them and how being a woman has impacted their career.

At the conclusion of the event, Edwards left the group of young girls with a message about empowerment.

“We want you to be successful, but most importantly we want you to feel good about who you are and what your possibilities are,” she said. “You have the world at your feet, so go back to school today and make the day better for somebody else.”

Speakers and participants from the inaugural Young Women’s Career Conference stand outside for a photo at Temecula City Hall. Shawna Sarnowski photo

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