By Jaylyn Cook Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Today's "Girls World Expo" is open to Girls age 11 through 18. They are invited to take part in a variety of activities during the event -- from sessions on self-esteem, leadership and healthy relationships to art and STEM exhibits
Abbey Rutledge said she doesn't think there are enough opportunities around the Decatur area to inspire girls and young women to be their best.
"I feel like us girls sometime feel like we have to hide away and hide things that we need to bring out way more," said Abbey, 15. "Sometimes I think people kind of put down on what other people's talents are because they're jealous that they don't have what some people do have."
As a step toward filling that gap, the Meridian High School freshman joined eight other local girls to form an advisory board for the Girls World Expo, a free upcoming event presented in partnership by DCC Marketing and the Herald & Review.
The expo is noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel. Girls age 11 through 18 are invited to take part in a variety of activities during the event -- from sessions on self-esteem, leadership and healthy relationships to art and STEM exhibits.
It will be the first time Decatur has hosted the Girls World Expo, a national movement that has touched down in cities like Tuscon, Arizona; Fresno, California; and Albany, New York.
Kara Demirjian Huss, president of DCC Marketing, said the event already has been well-received by community members throughout the planning process. Looking toward its future in Decatur, she believes the expo will be a mainstay in the years to come.
"As a female entrepreneur, I was like 'Wow, this is exactly right up my alley,' " Demirjian Huss said. "Helping young women reach their goals, rise above obstacles and really kind of flourish. I really think this was an opportunity to help pull together some amazing things for the young girls in our community."
On Wednesday, Demirjian Huss met with Abbey and her fellow advisory board members, Hannah Craft, 17, Jami Keck, 13 and Joella Livingston, 11, to continue their efforts to plan for the expo.
After sharing progress reports and hashing out new ideas, the four young advisers were quick to admit that they were persuaded to join the planning team by their mothers, as opposed to doing it on their own.
However, that doesn't mean they haven't embraced their positions and worked to create the best experience for not only their peers, but also for all of the girls who decide to come to the expo and take something away from it.
"I hope that this brings girls who have similar passions together and that they can then connect through social media, texting ..." Hannah, a junior at Meridian, said.
"Just getting connected and making new relationships with people who maybe they don't have at school to share the same interests as them," she said.
Discovery of new potential interests and community-building are also things that Jami hopes to see brew during the "awesome experience" of the expo, and Joella said she hopes it leaves young women with a newfound sense of confidence.
"There's a certain level of confidence that turns into arrogance or cockiness," the Maroa-Forsyth Middle School sixth-grader said. "(Girls) can be OK with themselves, but they don't have to be like 'I'm better than you' or something like that."
In the end, it's confidence, self-acceptance and drive that will propel all young women far in their lives and relationships with others, Demirjian Huss said. Like the others, she hopes the expo will serve as a major stepping stone for local girls in the years to come.
"I always say 'You need to see it and feel it before you can do it,' " Demirjian Huss said. "This gives opportunity for people to see other successful women, to see what others are doing, to see what's out there and what's available to them.
"Some people don't ever get exposed to that, so seeing is the first step, and then feeling. You have to be passionate about something ... and once you can put those two things together, then you can do and be successful at anything. I kind of hope (the expo) allows them to see and feel."