Women take to the stage for WOW conference

A day for everyone and a message for all — told by women.

Bekah Zachritz practices her song “Motherhood and Mine

A day for everyone and a message for all — told by women.

Women of Whidbey will join together for the third annual WOW! Stories conference at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts next Saturday.

It’s a day filled with inspirational talks from women of all ages and backgrounds who share their experiences.

Organizer Heather Racicot said the conference highlights the passions of people in the community and the challenges they overcome.

“It’s everything from personal journeys that have changed direction of people’s lives to finding comfort, contentment and appreciation of what you’re doing now,” she said.

Audience members, no matter where they’re coming from, will feel a sense of connection with the presenters, she said.

“It’s an intimate opportunity to share personal stories — it’s unique and a gift,” Racicot said. “Truly, people in our community we look up to as leaders, we might not know other parts of their lives or stories or how they got here. How they came to find their passion that’s what [the conference] is really about.”

The event will feature talks from 18 women, including Lisa Kois, Georgia Gerber, Sue Taves, Vicky Brown, Colleen Chartier, Chéri Olney, Sue Frause, Beth Smith, Jeanne Strong, Val Easton, Autumn Preble, Lynnaea Lumbard, Dyanne Sheldon, Amy Wheeler, Audrey Neubauer, Kathy McLaughlin McCabe, Cynthia Jaffe and Erica Rayner-Horn.

Performances will also be included in the conference from Margaret Storer and Linda Morris, Karin Blaine and Siri Bardarson, Bekah Zachritz, and Whidbey Island Dance Theatre. Judith Walcutt and Daunne Zinger will lead group activities.

The conference began with an idea from Diana Lindsay three years ago to benefit WICA and Whidbey Island Nourishes. Each talk ranges from 5-12 minutes, similar to the popular TED Talks website and conferences.

For speakers, it’s a journey as well to reflect on their lives and passions. Racicot said some have spoken to large audiences before, but for them the conference has a completely different purpose.

“Because it’s speaking to the people who matter most in their life. And we’re not asking about work, [we’re asking] how did you get there?” she explained. “They’re opening up and sharing a bit of themselves — that’s really special.”

“There’s such a range of talks that display the most amazing women overcoming certain challenges, it’s humbling.”

One of the speakers, 17-year-old Audrey Neubauer, will discuss starting a project based on her passion — reading.

Audrey grew up in Langley and is a junior at The Northwest School in Seattle.

Growing up on the South End, she said the idea of giving service was part of her.

“Something about Whidbey kind of rooted itself with me,” she said.

At 14, Audrey started a project to collect books for public school libraries undergoing budget cuts.

“I realized if I were to relive my life without books around me I would be a different person,” she said. “It’s something that struck me.”

Audrey said she was inspired after watching previous Women of Whidbey conferences through YouTube videos. She hopes to influence people in the same way with her own talk.

“I was impressed,” she said of the first time she watched one of the talks. “I felt connected hearing the personal accounts of women dedicated to their passions.”

Despite nerves, Audrey said she is thrilled to be part of the conference.

“I’m very excited to be included in this inspirational group of women … and get to know the other women who live where I live.”

For Colleen Chartier, a photographer and presenter, the conference is a chance to connect with people through her work and talk.

“I really wanted to connect to the energy of the unusually interesting women who live on this island, and this seemed like a good way to do that,” she said.

Chartier, a part-time Langley resident, photographs contemporary architecture around the world. Her photos are used primarily by universities.

“It makes this small world smaller and connects us all,” she said of her work. “I think that’s something you can really feel — these are places that are real.”

Musician Bekah Zachritz, of Freeland, will be debuting a song she wrote called “Motherhood and Mine,” during the conference. The piece is a reflection of motherhood and the loss of a child, inspired by a girl in Freeland who suddenly passed away.

“There’s an emotional piece that can’t be communicated in lyrics,” she said. “The music is just a tiny piece of the whole.”

Zachritz, a mother herself, hopes the piece stirs emotion and is something women can resonate with.

As someone who is interested in women’s issues, said the event is a good opportunity to meet inspiring women and find mentors.

“I think that women in society are not as connected … as we journey through different stages of life,” she said.

The conference provides an opportunity for “generations of women sharing wisdom,” she said. “It’s a whole day of that — amazing women in my community. It’s a big honor to be a part of.”


WOW! Details

The conference is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 8 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

Tickets for the event are sold out, but videos produced by WhidbeyTV of each talk will be available online at the WOW! Stories website, www.wowstories.net, and on WhidbeyTV.

A post-production reception will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. at Zech Hall in WICA for those who were unable to get tickets.


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