Jul 30, 2014

Young Women's Conference Yields Lady Gaga and Self-Empowerment

The "It's Our Turn" Young Women's Conference was held at the Brentwood School east campus Saturday and featured panel discussions and workshops led by successful, professional women in various industries...Oh, and also Lady Gaga.

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It wasn't just young women walking the grounds of in a crowd of some 800 people on Saturday. A handful of male adolescents showed support for their female counterparts at the school's , an event largely planned and coordinated by students and inspired by Brentwood resident, journalist and women's rights activist Maria Shriver.

"My work has always been about guiding and encouraging people to move beyond their comfort zones and the labels that limit them to recognize their power to be architects of change," Shriver wrote about "It's Our Turn" in the event program. 

Shriver has regularly hosted similar events since 2003, according to her women's conference website.

The school gym was transformed into a performance hall for the conference. Hundreds of chairs sat atop the hardwood basketball court, which was lined with a protective sheet. Bright lighting illuminated the stage, portraits of the scheduled speakers hung above couches where the panel discussions were held. Flanking the stage on both sides were enormous monitors where the event was broadcast live.

Outside, a group of young men donned bright blue event shirts. Some wore pink. Several booths were set up near the school's .

At one booth, event staff sold stylish white t-shirts with the name of the conference printed on front.

Nick Sheinberg, 18, a senior at Brentwood School, co-founded Project360, the company responsible for the conference shirts.

At 14 years old, Sheinberg started the company with his best friend, Patrick Schwarzenegger.

"We give money to charity from the sales and it's been a great success," Sheinberg told Patch. "We're glad we could work with 'It's Your Turn' to make the shirts for the conference."

When asked what made Sheinberg want to start a company at 14, he responded:

"This conference actually sums it up pretty well. These young women are preaching that anyone can do something no matter how old you are and we sort of felt that way all along. And now they're putting it out there through different celebrities and different speakers. It's really cool."  

Sheinberg attributed his business success at a young age to the Internet, his parents and his education. You don't need to see someone in person to do business with them, Sheinberg said. Investors and buyers didn't know that he was a 14, 15, or 16-year-old while he was communicating with them via email.

"And my parents have always raised me in a very humble way," said Sheinberg. "They never spoiled me. I've always had to work for myself and (Brentwood School) encourages entrepreneurialism, so it's been a great combo."

For senior Carly Shagrin, part of the event's 11-student planning committee, seeing the conference unfold after months of preparation was extremely satisfying.

"A lot of it was very challenging," said Shagrin. "But luckily we had a great team with Maria Shriver as honorary chair—it was really helpful."

Speakers discussed a range of topics relevant to adolescent girls, including body image, feminism, sex and bullying, panel speaker Kimberly Wolf told Patch.

"I was here today talking about healthy relationships," Wolf said. "We talked about dating, we talked about how to know if you're in a healthy, stable relationship, we talked about sex and when it's appropriate."

The conference was a launching point for Wolf's new online health and wellness magazine, Shimmer Teen, aimed at arming teenage girls with information and resources to help filter confusing messages about dating, sex and weight loss—all the things girls worry about, particularly around prom time, Wolf said.

"We want to give them a place where they can find information from the best sources around and also from mentors who've been there and beyond," Wolf said.  

The topic of bullying was one that came up several times during the event. Singer Lady Gaga drove the point home when she made a surprise appearance at the end of the day, speaking on the subject in front of the crowd.

The pop star has been a strong advocate of anti-bullying. In December, Lady Gaga met with officials in the White House to discuss it, ABC News reported.

On Feb. 29, Lady Gaga will launch the Born This Way Foundation, meant to eradicate anti-bullying and encourage individuality and self-expression, things the singer is commonly known for.

Brentwood School took a hard stance against bullying on its campus a few years ago, Mike Riera, head of Brentwood School, told Patch.

"Some of the girls got together and wanted to put an end to the bullying that was going on between girls, which is a problem in any school in the country," said Riera. "Many of them had attended Maria Shriver's women's conference and they were inspired by that, and like adolescents—which I love about them—they said 'Well, let's do that.'"

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