By Mike LaBella The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It was a day to celebrate the achievements of local women of all ages at the annual "WOW" (Winning Opportunities for Women) conference in Massachusetts.
The Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce annual Winning Opportunities for Women (WOW) conference Friday stayed true to its theme, "Inspired at Any Age."
A crowd of 275 women were treated to inspirational talks from five guest speakers, including Miss Massachusetts, and honored a woman in her 80s, who is a tireless advocate for her community, and a teenage girl who is a rising star in the music business.
The event highlighted five extraordinary women who have overcome personal and professional obstacles to achieve success and inspire;
Gabriela Taveras, Miss Massachusetts who grew up in Lawrence
Renee Terry, a Haverhill native who created Sweet Cheeks Custom Sweet Confections and now lives in Amesbury WBZ TV meteorologist Danielle Niles, who is married to Haverhill's Matt Noyes, also a meteorologist
Academy Award winning filmmaker Geralyn White Dreyfous, who grew up in Groveland
Michelle Cully, who operates Xpressman Trucking and Courier in Randolph.
The day began with a continental breakfast, followed by talks by several speakers, which was followed by lunch and a personalized shopping experience in the WOW marketplace, culminating with a few more speakers and awards presentations.
For Donna Spencer Collins, pastor of Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ, it was her fifth year attending the WOW conference but her first year as emcee.
She said something special takes place when you bring together a group of women who are eager to learn how other women have overcome challenges in their lives.
"There's a synergy that takes place and an openness and when we hear stories of inspiration, we all feel as though that person's story is our story," she said. "Either we are that person, or we know someone who relates to that story."
Terry, 29, grew up in Haverhill's west side, attended Sacred Hearts School in Bradford, then Presentation of Mary in Methuen.
She talked about how a job as a part-time bakery clerk at a supermarket inspired her to bake and decorate her own cookies and cakes. It culminated in launching her own successful custom cookie and cake making business, Sweet Cheeks Bakery, from her home, while raising a family.
"I got to where I am because I forgot the word no," she told the crowd.
Taveras, who grew up in Lawrence and won the 2018 Miss Massachusetts title, walked the crowd through her life story and how she worked hard and overcame challenges. Taveras talked about how fear can hold a person back in life and squash dreams.
"I found a way to turn the things that scare me into things that empower me," Taveras said. "If I'm scared of something, I'm more inclined to do it."
Following Taveras' talk, WOW officials called 15-year-old Veronica Lewis of Haverhill to the stage, where she was presented with the WOW committee's Rising Star award.
WOW committee member Sonya Vartabedian noted that Veronica, a sophomore at Georgetown High School, is the creator of NOMAD, which stands for Navigational Ocean Mammal Assistance Drone -- and which won first place for her grade at a National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo.
The device aims to prevent whale strandings and deter sharks from infesting beaches.
"When she's not working to save the marine mammals, Veronica is making music," Vartabedian said. "This blues singer and pianist is the four-time winner of the Granite State Blues Challenge and a National Women in Blues performer."
Veronica thanked the Chamber, saying, "I truly hope that I can inspire and give others the courage to find their voice."
Chamber President Dougan Sherwood kept the crowd in suspense, offering a few clues before announcing the recipient of the Chamber's Lifetime Inspiration Award, reflecting on his being hired by the chamber.
"This was the only person in the interview process who gave me a hug," Sherwood said before calling Elaine Barker, owner of Paper Potpourri in Haverhill, to the stage to a round of applause.
"I'm successful and happy because of my faith," Barker said. "I have tremendous faith and I ask God for everything to help me. And when I get an answer, I do not forget to say thank you."