Gina Ponce Leads Women On a Mission for Change Conference
Gina Ponce has a passion for helping girls and women reach their potential because people helped her find her her own best self. She leads an annual event called the Women On a Mission for Change Conference that is designed to empower women and girls to achieve goals in core quality of life areas. This year’s all-day conference is Friday, March 13 at UNO’s Community Engagement Center. Read my El Perico story about Gina and her event and some of the participants it’s helped. The story includes contact information for registration.
Gina Ponce Leads Women On a Mission for Change Conference
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in El Perico
When Gina Ponce meets first-time participants of her Women on a Mission for Change Conference she sees herself 15 years ago. Ponce was then-executive director of the local Chicano Awareness Center (now Latino Center of the Midlands). The single mom was making it but didn’t see much more ahead educationally or professionally.
Then an opportunity came her way. She didn’t think she was up to it at first. But Ponce followed some advice and trusted herself to go back to school for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. That added education anchored a 10-year work career at Bellevue University. “It was the best thing I could have ever domn,” says Ponce, who then moved into her current job as Salvation Army Kroc Center education and arts director.
She says the annual conference, which this year is March 13 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Community Engagement Center, is for all women but particularly aimed at those stuck in life, unsure how to reach their potential.
“The women I’m serving have slipped through the cracks. Maybe they went to college and didn’t finish after getting married or having kids. Some are in relationships where they get emotionally, mentally beat down. These women may be in that stagnant part of their life where they don’t know which way to go. We talk to them about going back to get their degree and how important that is to moving forward.
“Some may be senior citizens who still have the ability to do something else after retirement. We empower them to believe that just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you have to sit home and do nothing. You can go out and get a job or volunteer or go back to school.”
At the event motivational speakers accomplished in various fields address five pillars of self-improvement: change, health, applied life skills, nutrition, growing your spirituality and education. There’s also a meet-and-greet and a luncheon.
“Through this conference women have the opportunity to talk to professionals who are great at telling them the importance of having all these things in their life,” she says.
The event also has a girls component that includes a mentoring program, Women Influencing Girls. Separate speakers present to women and girls. Networking and mentoring opportunities abound. Ponce wants to light a fire under participants to stop settling, start dreaming and pursue goals.
“I hope they take away being motivated to become whatever they want to be. I want them to really walk out of there saying, ‘I can do this and I’m going to do it,’ and to really stay focused and motivated to get a degree, change their job, improve their diet and health, whatever it is. I want women to know they can have a family and still get an education and have a career. I know, because I did it.”
Ten years ago Bellevue University officials asked Ponce to help fill the position of South Omaha outreach coordinator. After searching, officials told Ponce they wanted her. Afraid her two-year associate’s degree wouldn’t make the grade, Bellevue agreed to pay her way through school if she took the job. She wavered until she walked out on faith and believed in herself.
“I was scared. I had been out of school 25 years. I had all those feelings of, Oh my God, can I do this, how am I going to balance this with working and raising kids? All that stuff, But I didn’t let it get in my way. It was an incredible opportunity given to me. Yeah, it was a big strain, but it was worth everything I went through.”
Ponce wants conference participants to believe in themselves and take positive steps to aspire higher and live deeper.
“I want them to do it now. It doesn’t matter whether you’re married and have kids or whatever, just do it. This is something you’re going to do just for yourself.”
Conference veteran Judy Franklin is sold on Ponce and the event.
“When we met I was going through a time in my life where I knew I needed more and needed to expand my horizons, and Gina said, ‘I know exactly where you’re at – come to the conference.’ I did,” Franklin says, “and it really let me look at myself to see the potential in me and what I can do. She really took me under her wing to become a mentor with no strings attached. She just wanted to see me be successful in my work, my family, my relationships.”
Franklin says the conference exposes her to “powerful women doing the things I desire to do,” adding, “I get some good insights. It’s not just a conference, it’s your life as you go forward in your calling to find what you have to do. It’s a very empowering thing.”
She says Ponce has a heart for helping people tap their best selves.
“She’s just all about getting us to where we need to be. She opens up so many doors for me, for other women and for young girls and then it’s for to us to step through.”
Franklin, a state social security district manager, has done some serious stepping. She credits the conference and Ponce with “having a lot to do with me getting the job I’m in now.”
Alisa Parmer has come a long way, too. Parmer was a single mom and an ex-felon when her transformation began 10 years ago.
“I found myself being identified as a leader and a change agent with my employer, Kaplan University. I was a college graduate with a variety of degrees and letters after my name. I was giving back to the community. But I was caught up with working for others – attempting to balance family, career and a variety of roles.”
That’s when she came to the conference, whose board she now serves on.
“It gave me the first opportunity to share my story to empower women, to be empowered, to network and develop life-changing relationships with women in the community whose lives mirror pieces of mine or where I strive to be. The conference is a life-changing experience, Ms. Gina (Ponce) does not settle for anything less for each attendee.”
That holds for girl attendees as well. Judy Franklin says her daughter Abrianna, who earned the conference’s first academic scholarship, and other girls learn goal setting and leadership skills and do job shadowing. “It’s amazing to watch how she grew in a short time.”
When Ponce meets conference veterans like Judy or Alisa she sees her empowered self in them. It’s all very personal for Ponce, who feels obligated to give other women what she’s been given.
“I’m at a place in my life where I want to do it for others. I want to see more motivated women be successful and do the things I know they can do,. They just need somebody to tell them that.”
She believes so strongly in paying-it-forward that she underwrote much of the conference herself, along with sponsors, when she launched it five years ago. She’s since obtained nonprofit status to receive grants. But she feels she’s only just getting started.
“When I retire I’m doing this full-time and I’m going to make it bigger.”
The 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. conference is $40 for adults, $25 for students and $10 for girls 14 to 17 years old.
For registration and schedule details, visit womenonamissionomaha.org or call 402-403-9621.