Park City teens serve as ambassadors for girl’s conference

Five students were chosen to represent the area

Allie Zehner is the lead youth ambassador for the SUREFIRE Girlís Conference. The Park City resident is a junior at Rowland Hall. (Carolyn Webber/Park Record)

Although Utah’s economy, recreational opportunities and standard of living rank among the top compared to other states, in other measures it is at the bottom of the pack. Utah ranks 50th in terms of the political participation of women and their treatment in work and family, according to data from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research.

A combined women’s and girl’s conference in Utah is working to challenge those societal norms, and five high school girls from Park City are joining the fight: Allie Zehner, 17, Heidy Onofre, 16, Emma Harter, 17, Jenifer Celestino, 16, and Sadie Ortiz, 16. Zehner attends Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City and Harter attends Intermountain Christian School in Cottonwood Heights.

The other three are students at Park City High School.

The five are part of the 20 girl team serving as ambassadors for the SUREFIRE Girl’s Conference, which is combining with the Utah Wonder Women Summit and is scheduled to take place on Nov. 10 and 11 at the University of Utah. The women’s summit has taken place since 2013, but this is the first year SUREFIRE, which is based in Los Angeles, is set to take place in Utah.

The women from the summit will serve as mentors for the young girls, Zehner said.

Heidy Onofre originally became involved as an ambassador because of her desire to help empower women and be a leader. She is a junior at Park City High School. (Carolyn Webber/Park Record)

The women’s summit will include discussion sessions about topics such as “the future of work” and “our brain on race and gender.” The following day, women from the summit will volunteer at the girl’s SUREFIRE conference, which has workshops and keynotes meant to inspire girls, such as “women in film and media” and “entrepreneurship.”

Zehner is the lead youth ambassador manager for the event, and has been reaching out to schools around Park City and Salt Lake City to recruit girls both as ambassadors and as participants since July. She previously served as a teen advisor for the United Nations organization GirlUp.

“It was an incredible learning experience for me as far as leadership, advocacy, fundraising — you name it,” she said. “I was forced to learn those skills through the opportunity, and I’m really excited that girls in Utah are able to develop these key skills.”

The ambassadors participate in workshops leading up to the conference, where they decide on topics and plan the event. Some will work on public speaking skills at the event, and some will learn how to brand themselves while representing an organization, Zehner said.

Harter is excited to gain more leadership skills by helping to prep for the conference, as well as hear from strong women who could serve as mentors for her and her female classmates.

Some of the ambassadors from around Park City and Salt Lake City gathered on Sept. 30 for their first workshop. (Courtesy of Emma Harter)

“I think now is a perfect time for this conference because the majority of the girls attending will be heading off into college or the workplace in the coming years,” she said. “So if we can give them the skills they need now on how to manage their money, career options, how to set goals, and communicate effectively, then they will be able to thrive and lead in their communities.”

One of the other ambassadors, Onofre, said she is excited to be a part of a women’s organization that promotes strength and lead other girls as they grow.

“We are all equal, but sometimes we seem to be looked down upon,” she said. “I saw an opportunity to get involved with something leading to female empowerment.”

At the conference itself, Zehner, too, is thrilled to see all girls — ambassadors and attendees – learn about topics that are important but not taught in schools, such as body image, social media or representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“It’s an opportunity for a lot of girls to come together, maybe girls they never would have met who are from different areas, different backgrounds,” she said. “They really get to meet each other and then learn about topics that they think are interesting and they don’t have access to.”

Speakers will include Afghan rapper and activist Sonita, who attends Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah; High School Musical actress Monique Coleman; and step star Blessin’ Giraldo. The conference is targeting young girls ages 15 to 18, but girls and women of any age are welcome to attend, Zehner said.

“Hopefully, the ultimate goal with these workshops, whether it’s women in STEM or women in politics, is to inspire young women to pursue action in these fields,” she said. “Or, if it’s a body image, to be confident in themselves. You know, there are a lot of different messages depending on what aspect of the conference you want to focus on. It’s to (inspire) change in these young teenage girls.”

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