By Johnny Jackson
For many attending the annual women's conference, Tuesday's gathering demonstrated a sort of empowerment for leaders to continue their community involvement efforts, while inspiring others to become community leaders.
Dozens took part in this year's women's conference at the Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge. The event's theme was "The Future's So Bright: Healthy Concepts, Cultures, and Causes."
According to Connecting Henry Executive Director Denese Rodgers, the annual conference, which began in 2004, is geared toward providing a renewed inspiration for area leaders to positively affect their communities.
"I think it empowers the audience," Rodgers said. "It's a spiritual and intellectual outreach ... and, specifically, how we can be involved advocates of the community."
Rodgers, a member of the conference's 2009 planning committee, said the event was designed to include a diverse range of speakers and activities. "It shows that leadership does not have to a be leadership in the traditional sense," she said. "Literally, it's to create awareness that, if we don't take care of ourselves, we won't be able to nurture the rest of the world."
A highlight of the conference was several leaders sharing their personal perspectives on career, life, and community.
June Wood, the assistant to the Metro South Region Manager at Georgia Power Company, spoke about her experiences. She told the audience about her own 21-year career with the company, and how she was provided several opportunities to move forward in her career, and how her experience might relate to others' at the conference.
"I think it is something that we need more of, and more frequently," she said. "There are specific challenges that women can better support themselves on through events like this."
According to Denese Rodgers, the role of women leaders in the area has been a progression. "It's been an evolution," she said. "We started out having 'token' women at the table, and they progressed to being decision-makers, and now, they are leaders."
Rodgers pointed to Karin Korb as another example of how diverse leadership is, and can be, within communities. Korb, who spoke at the conference, now pursues her childhood dreams with different expectations from when she was a young teenager. She was confined to a wheelchair at age 17, after a gymnastics, vaulting accident. Now, she is a two-time Paralympian, holding top ranks in wheelchair tennis and bodybuilding.
"I think it's great," Korb said. "I think any time you get a group of women together in the corporate world, and in the community, to discuss issues of the community, to address them, it can be nothing but positive."
Conference participants were also given the opportunity to undergo health screenings and learn more about services offered within Henry County by various vendors, who were on hand.
"We always have terrific speakers, but it's also a time for all of the women to get together in Henry County and network," said Miranda Roberts, director of operations and events for Merle Manders Conference Center, and an organizer of the conference.
Holly Duffey, general manager at Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, said the event enabled her to get out to meet leaders in the community. "It is empowering to me," Duffey said. "We're all empowering each other."
The day-long event included a special presentation honoring women who have made positive influences on the community. Hans Broder, CEO of Enterprise Banking Company of McDonough, presented this year's Margrit Broder Woman of Substance Award to Regena Whitaker.
The award was named for Broder's mother, who was a well-known fixture in the community before her death. "My mother's success was probably being a good mother, raising eight kids," Broder said. "I think both of them [his mother and Whitaker] had a passion to help others, and they had some of the same desires."
Whitaker was credited with helping organize a local 4-H Club, 48 years ago, known as the Black Jack 4-H Club. She was also instrumental in the creation, construction, and management of Camp Fortson Youth Training Center in Hampton, Broder added.
He said Whitaker will join the ranks of past award recipients, such as Jama Hedgecoth, founder and director of Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center and Childrens Care Home in Locust Grove; Donna Crumbley, past director and president of Helping in His Name Food Pantry in Stockbridge; and Marinelle Simpson, a long-time educator and civic leader in Henry County.
"I'm shocked," Whitaker said. "I would have never dreamed this. It's one of the greatest honors ... This is one of the best."