The new date for the postponed Generation W conference is Sept. 11. Until then, founder and CEO Donna Orender and her staff will keep pondering how to keep everyone in the W world connected.
About 1,300 people were expected to attend this year’s version of Jacksonville’s Generation W, a one-day women’s leadership conference founded in 2012 that evolved into a national organization.
When the April 3 event was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, founder and CEO Donna Orender and her staff pondered how to stay in touch with what had over the past eight years become the “Generation W community.”
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The outcome was REfresh, which took the in-person gathering to the “virtual sphere.”
“We started REfresh Virtual because it was an immediate and impactful way to deliver what everyone was seeking, which is what is central to the Generation W community, … connection in a time of disconnectedness,” Orender said. “Then, of course, there is inspiration as we look to bolster each other's and our own spirits.”
Anyone can join REFresh, which is noon Wednesdays on Facebook Live. Host Orender and a guest expert discuss the topic of the day and participants ask questions via chat.
“Leveraging this incredibly experienced, smart and caring community that is so willing to share and elevate each other remains a great anecdote for life, especially now,” she said.
The guest speakers so far have been Heidi Hanna, a neuroscientist and stress management expert, and Michele Ganeless, the former president of Comedy Central; actress and author Tina Lifford; Marla Wynne, enterpreneur and creator of the fashion brand MarlaWynne Collection; and Leah Jewell, work and learning expert. Scheduled for Wednesday is Olenda Johnson, professor of leadership and ethics at the U.S. Naval War College.
The first session, with Hanna and Ganeless, focused on humor as a stress alleviator.
“The more I see things that are funny about life, the more I can navigate things that aren’t as funny,” Hanna said.
Lifford talked about inner fitness, Wynne’s topic was how to reinvent yourself and Jewell discussed what the future “work world” will look like, after COVID-19 and with more robots in use.
Nikki Glover, who works in commercial banking, has joined all four sessions.
“Each session has benefited me and [they] have been inspiring,” she said.
They have helped her “laugh a little louder, live my life as I matter, dress to impress on my own terms and learn how to work and do business in this pandemic state,” Glover said. “Each curated conversation has and is making an impact in my live daily.”
Coretta K. Hill, vice president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, said she has attended past Generation W conferences and “really enjoyed the content delivered.”
“So I was very excited to see the virtual opportunities when they were announced,” she said.
She has taken part in several REfresh sessions and found the recent chat with work expert Jewell, in particular, “included some great nuggets,” she said.
“She suggested we draw a circle around ourselves and focus on the things we have the ability to control. Of course, that hit home since there are so many uncontrollable variables we're all navigating right now,” Hill said. “It was a great reminder and a testament to the value of connecting and networking with other women to learn from each other, even if it's virtual.”
The Wynne and Jewell chats had an impact on participant Marianne Hill Jakoby, who is pondering the next work phase of her life.
Wynne “reinvented herself,” Jakoby said. “I am going through that now. … It was eye-opening, [the potential] to have a second act or a third act.” And Jewell discussed how future generations will live longer and spend more time in the workplace, she said.
“So we have to be productive,” Jakoby said. “So many opportunities to pick up a new skill.”
Generation W has also gone virtual with its school-based Generation WOW component for girls ages 12 to 18. Unable to hold club meetings at their schools, the girls are now meeting online at 4 p.m. Fridays, via Zoom.
“Girls … from all over the country are joining in,” Orender said.
The new date for the postponed Generation W conference is Sept. 11. Until then, Orender and her staff will keep pondering how to keep everyone in the W world connected.
“We are brainstorming everyday on how we can be supportive … as we all deal with the uncertainty of this exceptional time,” she said. “We are better together.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109