13 minute read

2019 Orlando Women's Conference




Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Photos by Victoria Angela Photography

It was a day for discovering, exploring and sharing power, passion and purpose as 600 attendees and 50 speakers gathered in the spirit of community to inspire and support each other. The program held at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort started with a welcome from Conference Co-founder Christi Ashby and an amped-up presentation by Dr. Romie Mushtaq on being the odd girl out who overcame stigmas and stumbling blocks to recognize her talents, leadership skills and compassion.

Christi Ashby

Melanie Pace

Dr. Lori Boardman

Diane Diaz

Annetta Wilson, Tiffany Moore Russell, Sharon Line Clary, Sandy Hostetter, Joanie Holzer Schirm, Elisha Gonzalez Bonnewitz and Amy Lockhart

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Carolyn Moor, Noelle Moore, Pam Saffran, Norma Stanley and Andrea Eliscu

During the luncheon, Dr. Lori Boardman, chief medical officer and executive medical director of AdventHealth for Women, delivered thought provoking comments about loss and how passion for her work helped her recover and enable her to help other women. And Diane Diaz, founder and CEO of The Brand Teacher, discussed pushing personal boundaries by asking the question: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

At the conclusion of the luncheon, The Mall at Millenia presented stylist Melanie Pace who demonstrated how to present a polished, purposeful appearance while letting your individuality shine through.

The afternoon’s last session featured Orange Appeal’s Women of the Year engaged in a candid conversation moderated by award-winning broadcast journalist Annetta Wilson. Sandy Hostetter, SunTrust Bank Central Florida market president; Elisha Gonzalez Bonnewitz, vice president of community relations and government affairs at FAIRWINDS Credit Union; Sharon Line Clary, vice president of marketing for AdventHealth; Joanie Holzer Schirm, author; Tiffany Moore Russell, Orange County Clerk of Courts; and Amy Lockhart, Seminole County Commissioner, talked about challenges and triumphs in their personal and professional lives.

Attendees engaged in 45-minute interactive discussions of their choosing from the nine morning breakouts in packed rooms with energized panelists. Several of the moderators offered a synopsis of their sessions.


Moderator Andrea Eliscu, president, Medical Marketing, with panelists Carolyn Moor, founder, Modern Widows Club; Noelle Moore, founder, The Finley Project; Pam Saffran, author and mental health counselor; and Norma Stanley, attorney.

Loss is something no one wants to talk about, yet everyone will face. As women, we find ourselves in a number of different roles when a loss strikes — caregiver, mother, daughter, wife, partner, friend — which can make preparing for and coping with it all the more challenging.

The brave women who spoke and attended our panel discussion on Purpose: Redefining it After Loss shared in a critical conversation and walked away with several key lessons learned to help ourselves and each other:

• Be prepared and surround yourself with skilled advisors you know and trust. This includes a CPA, a financial advisor, and an estate planning attorney. Work with them now to create the appropriate estate plan and financial plan for you and your family.

• Supporting someone in their grief journey is not a sprint, but a marathon. Continue reaching out to someone even if there’s no response. Be consistent. Grief is lonely, and there is a lot of attention in the beginning that rapidly drops off in the weeks and months after. Continue to show up and be there. Everyone else returns to life, and those grieving feel isolated and alone. Part of them is missing, and their world is forever changed. Even if they don’t say it, they need you.

• One of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is grieving is to simply listen without judgement. Let the grieving person talk. Three powerful words to say: “tell me more.” You can’t stop the rain, but you can share the umbrella.

• When you endure a loss, place a comma rather than a period. While grief never completely goes away, it can lead to new strength, hope, resilience and purpose that you never knew you had. And it is important to find and embrace that new meaning and energy in your life.

• Practice gratitude and look for hope even on the darkest days. It may be a cup of coffee someone brought you, a friend who picked up your kids from school, or a neighbor who dropped off dinner. Let people help you. And then down the road, once you are stronger, pay it forward and help others in their time of need.

• Find a way to honor those you have loved and lost. This can be a new family tradition, educating or lobbying for a specific cause or change, or establishing something in a loved one’s memory such as a philanthropic gift or scholarship.

Loss can you leave you bitter or better — choose better.

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Diane Meiller Cook, Roseann Harrington, Ann Fairchild and Karen Keene


Moderator Jill Hamilton Buss, mental healthcounselor, with Kimberly Bell, vice presidentof AdventHealth Cardiovascular Institute;Colette Fehr, mental health counselor;Dr. Deborah Harding, founder, HardingMedical Institute; and Dr. Amber Orman,board-certified radiation oncologist withAdventHealth Medical Group.

Dr. Amber Orman, Dr. Deborah Harding, Colette Fehr, Kimberly Bell and Jill Hamilton Buss

Chronic stress seems to be plaguing everyonethese days. From depression, anxietyand burn-out to cardiac events, stroke, somecancers and sleep problems, untreatedstress can lead to very serious health issues.

The all-star panel, which included psychotherapists,physicians and a nurse,offered strategies to reduce and manageour stress. These included getting regularexercise, practicing meditation or mindfulness,eating a healthy diet with morefruits and vegetables, and getting enoughgood sleep.

Other tips included getting better atsaying “NO,” reducing commitments you’renot absolutely passionate about, andknowing your limits — and what rejuvenatesyou. Then, commit to doing more ofthat. Time with friends, time to just be(not do), and time to think and reflect.

Lastly, if you can’t get your stress undercontrol, seek professional help. Talk to yourdoctor or find a good therapist. Yourhealth, well-being and life, could be at stake.


Moderator: Karen Keene, director of business development at Dean Mead, with panelistsDiane Meiller-Cook, president and CEO of Diane Meiller and Associates, Inc.; RoseannHarrington, chief of staff for Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings; and Ann Fairchild,general counsel of Siemens U.S. and global general counsel for Siemens Gas and Power.

In preparation for this session, members of the panel talked about their initial reaction tothe word power. The responses were mixed. It has a different meaning to different people.Studies show that some women may feel uneasy labeling themselves as powerful because

they fear it may have a negative connotation. There is a traditional definition people commonlyrefer to as the male view of “powering over others” or getting people to do what youwant them to do. One of the panelists said of her experience working in a male-dominatedindustry, “women leaders can be seen as influential, but not powerful”.

The women on our panel encouraged audience members to embrace the positiveimpact of power because it is critical if we are to advance, change and grow. Specifically,we discussed five pillars of power:

Power of influence • Power of fear • Power of collaboration

Key takeaways for using your power:

Power of authenticity • Power of vulnerability

• Being fearful is okay. We want our leaders to embrace fear because it demonstratesthey’re relatable to others.

• Ask for feedback and give feedback.

• Focus on listening to and learning from others.

• Stamp out perfectionism! Practice self-love and accept yourself.

• Always stand on your reputation and be yourself – that’s authenticity!

• Never keep score. In the words of Elsa from Frozen, “Let it go, let it go!”

The panelists were asked about how they prevent others in the workplace from strippingaway their power. Some of their responses were as follows:

• You can’t get distracted from the goals at hand. Then it becomes personal and othersmay try to attack you. Keep your eye on the target and forge ahead to achieve the resultsthat you’re seeking.

• Equate power to confidence. Know that you’re doing your best every day.

• In most situations, everyone has an agenda. Be mindful of it and pick your battles.Define up-front what’s in your space, and what isn’t. Stay in your lane and you’ll be successful.

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Judi Awsumb, Vernice Atkins-Bradley, Wendy Connor, Carol Cox, Leslie Heimer and Jackie Hirsch


Moderator Judi Awsumb, president, Awsumb Enterprises; with Vernice Atkins-Bradley, majority shareholder, Votum Construction; Wendy Connor, founder, Team True; Carol Cox, founder, Speaking Your Brand; Leslie Heimer, owner, American Liberty Mortgage; and Jackie Hirsch, founder, Crowne Atlantic Properties.

We all want to find our passion, figure out who we are meant to be, and begin to explore our passion in the best way possible. Ask yourself: If you could do anything for eight hours a day for the rest of your life, and money were no object, what would you do? We also asked the audience how many owned their own business or were thinking about a significant transition in their career path. Many in the audience raised their hands. Our knowledgeable panel of professional women shared their experiences on how they started their businesses, transitioned from another career, and the important things to consider when taking the leap.

Jackie Hirsch said:

• Time is your prime asset. If you want to own a company or multiple companies, you need to streamline your life and make space for big things to happen.

Remove things from your life that don’t serve your highest purpose. If you dream of owning a large company, watching television on the couch or spending an hour doing your makeup won’t get you there. Get up and take the leap. That is what life is about.

• Make everything in your life purposeful. You’ll get so much more out of life and enjoy it more. It’s not what you do but how you do it that will determine your destiny. Take challenge or tragedy in your life as a growth opportunity.

• Those who wallow in self-pity and victimhood aren’t leaving mental space for themselves to be successful in life. Take the energy and gifts of wisdom from those challenges and build your dream life. The modern-day fairytale storyline: you save yourself. That is true empowerment. Start today!

Leslie Heimer commented on how several different women after the session ended said: “I was supposed to be in that room and hear what you said. We had a number of small business owners and entrepreneurs, and it felt so great to be able to inspire and encourage them. Specifically, the women who tapped me after the session felt encouraged by hearing they were not alone in the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

One minute you feel like you are on the cusp of something big and the next you are trying to figure out how to make payroll. I shared that day that the most successful business owners aren’t always the most brilliant innovators or the most experienced in their field, but the ones that can ‘stomach’ the roller coaster of running a business and have the guts to forge ahead.”


“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” –Steve Jobs“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Dr. Barbara Jenkins, Christina Pinto, Dana Beldsoe, Jill Schwartz and JoAnn Newman


Presented by Cara Hewett andTracy Zboril, psychotherapists andfounders of Soul Happy.


Moderator Dana Bledsoe, president of Nemours Children’s Hospital; with Dr. BarbaraJenkins, superintendent for Orange County Public Schools; JoAnn Newman, president andCEO of Orlando Science Center; Jill Schwartz, managing partner of Jill S. Schwartz andAssociates; and Christina Pinto, Certified Financial Planner and partner at MPC WealthManagement.

We were happy to have a full room, and the engagement level of the women is what every speaker wants. As the day went on and the lunch proceeded, it was evident that women inspiring women was indeed taking place and was a beautiful thing to observe.

The introduction of the subconscious mind and how it relates to women’s insecurities can be an incredibly powerful message — one that brings comfort through understanding. This empowerment seemed to be the overriding agenda of many of the speakers and made us proud to be part of that community.

Tracy Zboril and Cara Hewett

A packed room gathered to hear esteemed panelists discuss Passion: Exploring and Using It to Achieve Success for You and Your Organization. Panelist expertise and interests spanned the entire lifecycle from school ages and STEM education, to financial planning for aging parents and long-term care, and rounded out with gender equality. Panelists set the discussion stage by sharing their passion word, followed by heartfelt and inspirational stories of how their passion word had inspired their careers and infused their lives with personal fulfillment. The panelists’ passion words — education, learning, equality and caregiver — guided the dialogue. While each panelist is highly successful, they shared a personal experience that brought their passion word to life and made their lives relatable to all.

Dr. Barbara Jenkins shared how a personal interaction and expectation-setting dialogue changed a curriculum and the outcome of early children’s education for years to follow. JoAnn Newman explained how getting girls (and boys) excited about STEM and the opportunities available to them at a young age is changing the STEM field, and how her personal experiences fuel her drive.

Jill Schwartz described an early career experience where professional successes were not equally recognized in the work environment and how this led to a distinguished career advocating for gender equality. Christina Pinto explained how the life lessons learned when caring for an aging mother evolved into expertise in long-term care financial planning and a passion to share those lessons with other caregivers.

The sincerity, warmth and candor of the session, sprinkled with a healthy dose of laughter, was a great launch for the day. Panelists as well as the audience were eager for more when the time was called.

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Leslie Hartog, Gaby Ortigoni and Susan Johnson

Secily Wilson

Christi Ashby and Kate Slentz


Moderator Secily Wilson, broadcast journalist and nonprofit founder, with Leslie Hartog,social entrepreneur and philanthropist; Susan Johnson, founder, Support Our Scholars; andGaby Ortigoni, president, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.

Carol Wick, Allison Walsh, Melissa Wiggins, Stacey Papp and Kay Rawlins

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is my passion?” “What should I do with my life?” “How do I find my purpose?” The 2019 Orlando Women’s Conference left nothing on the table for the more than 500 attendees all on a mission to empower, enlighten and engage. That’s exactly what was delivered during the morning session on Purpose: Exploring & Defining What Yours Is.

Powerhouse panelists Susan Johnson, Leslie Hartog, Gaby Ortigoni and moderator Secily Wilson gave “the standing room only” crowd something to talk about and think about as they defined purpose and passion. Some had questions about how to identify their purpose, while others shared tips on executing their purpose. There was one common denominator, which was everyone has a purpose.

The panelists shared their personal journeys of self-discovery, which all included a life transition to do something different. For some, the leap into their purpose pursuit was by choice and others it was out of necessity. You may believe your purpose is a singular experience. Leslie says, not so. “Finding one’s purpose is a lifelong pursuit — not because a purpose is elusive but because there is likely more than one in your life,” she says.

Each of the panelists agreed, in order to find your purpose, you must follow your heart. Susan says, “Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing that makes me feel most alive?’” The key, Gaby says: “Don’t over think it. Just do it! The hardest step is taking the first one and getting rid of the doubt or disbelief that it’s possible.”

Secily challenged each woman to listen and look within themselves to find what makes their heart sing, listen to what others say you’re good at, even if it’s not what your job title says, then start doing it on purpose. Passion mixed with action is guaranteed to create purpose.

Kelly Cohen, Helen Martinez, Hope Newsome, Adrianna Sekula and Shelley Lauten

In addition to the speaking programs, the 2019 Orlando Women’s Conference also featured a keynote luncheon, exhibit area, end-of-day reception, and plenty of opportunities for connecting and engaging in meaningful conversations. The 10th annual event is scheduled for Thursday, April 9, 2020 at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. For exhibitor and sponsor information email Kate@orangeappeal.com. To see the full 2019 program and more details visit orlandowomensconference.com.

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