Paramus, NJ

YWCA Bergen County Encourages Girls to be Young and Strong at Power of YOU Girls Conference

Jehan Sanders, Kesha Nichols, Candace Carrizales and Nancy Flood at "The Power of You" Conference. 

Girls ruled the day at the YWCA Bergen County’s The Power of YOU conference. More than 100 young women ranging from ages 11 to 18 filled the conference hall at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey for a day dedicated to learning, connecting and owning their power.

“YWCA Bergen County is committed to providing a foundation for continued achievement for women and girls of all ages, socio-economic groups and ethnicities,” said Jehan Sanders, Vice President and Relationship Banking Officer of ConnectOne Bank, a YWCA board member, and co-chair of the event. “Addressing key concerns that affect their lives and offering solutions and support is one way we can empower girls on their personal paths to becoming strong, self-confident and successful.”

Morning keynote Kesha Nichols kicked things off with the inspiring story of how she overcame obstacles, including racism and bullying, along the road to becoming a successful  dancer, TV personality and CEO of her own company, Sugar & Spice Productions. Nichols’ experience as a cast member in season 4 of VH1’s Basketball Wives ignited a passion for teaching the art of increasing self-image and confidence. She encouraged attendees to be supportive of each other and to take charge of their futures. “We need to lift each other up as girls and women and take over the world!” she said. “You be the one who is bringing home the bacon. Don’t depend on anybody else.”

Susan and Sydney James enjoyed spending time together at the conference.
The girls spent the morning and afternoon attending interactive workshops led by local professionals who shared their insights, information, advice, and resources. Topics ranged from self-esteem and self-confidence, healthy body image, and bullying, to social media, social action, managing finances and preparing for the future. There were also workshops for parents that provided guidance and support in dealing with these same issues. Throughout the day, teens and adults had ample time to network with speakers and presenters as well as with each other.


Lunchtime keynote Candace Carrizales offered an entertaining and intimate look into how she used her artistic talent and sense of humor to live a more authentic life. The 16-year-old host of SoulPancake’s hit YouTube series Live A Little! encouraged girls to be themselves, to try new things, and to pursue their dreams. “Be the best you possible. I feel free to be myself without needing approval, or trying to impress other people, or compromising my values,” she said. “Of course, being yourself comes with consequences. People may exclude you, try to manipulate you, or try to change you. But if you’re true to yourself, it doesn’t matter.”

The feedback from girls and parents was enthusiastic and positive. “The keynote speakers and lecturers really personalized a lot of the information,” said Mary Tutschek, who attended the conference with her daughter Nicola.  “It was a great reinforcement of things we talk about at home. Hearing it from other voices, giving my daughter a different perspective, is very helpful. And it was a great way to spend time with her, too.”

Eleven-year-old Sydney James thought the keynote speakers were inspiring and especially enjoyed the self-esteem workshop she attended. “They told you to be confident and believe in yourself and not to worry about what other people say. I also liked meeting girls from other towns. They were nice and we really bonded,” she said.

 “Through an inspiring day of education and sharing, along with powerful messages delivered by the keynote speakers, attendees came away with a greater awareness of the positive changes they can make in their lives—and of their own potential,” said Event Co-Chair Nancy Flood, Vice President of PNC Bank. 

The Power of YOU was sponsored by ConnectOne Bank, PNC Bank, United Water and the Women’s Institute at Bergen Community College. Scholarships were provided by the AXA Equitable Women’s Outreach at Work (WOW) Employee Resource Group.

Learn more about the YWCA Bergen County and their programs, and visit them on Facebook.