SAN JOSE -- With a theme of "Strong Girls, Strong Women," San Jose's second annual leadership conference for young women drew a big crowd Saturday.
About 260 high school girls, their mothers and grandmothers attended the conference at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.
Organized by the American Association of University Women and the Santa Clara County Office of Women's Policy, the meeting featured a series of panel discussions on economic, educational and health equity for women ¿as well as discussions on crime and violence.
"If you asked every woman in this room for an experience of sex discrimination, they would have one," said Darcie Green, a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee and government relations manager with Kaiser Permanente.
"It's not until you bring these women together that you start to realize that it's not just one or two of us, and we don't have to take that," she said.
There were sessions on financial literacy, healthy eating, body image, becoming an agent for change, cyber safety and teen dating violence.
Separate tracks were scheduled for mothers and adult advocates for girls.
"It's exciting to see so many mothers here," said Chandra Lopez-Brooks, a liaison with the San Jose Job Corps Center and a panelist on leadership. "They know what their daughters are going to face in society."
Along with these weighty issues, there was the simple fact of high school girls gathering for some serious conversation about their lives and futures.
"We all think we are alone," Lopez-Brooks said.
But by helping one another, she said, the young can overcome fears of speaking up and taking leadership positions.
"We really like how they talk to people," said Kiyasha Mehta, 15, a Cupertino High School student.
Kiyasha and her friend, Keiko Speed, 15, who attends Summit Preparatory, were also at the conference last year, when they attended a panel on financing a college education.
"It got me thinking about how we're going to do that because that's a huge thing," Keiko said.
AAUW member Louise Persson,¿ who helped launch the conference, said the event was free because "we want to be sure everyone has access."
Carla Collins, with the Office of Women's Policy, said the event puts a big emphasis on advocacy.
"We want them to know they really can go out and change the world," she said.
That's exactly what the girls involved in the HOPE Youth Leadership Program at Andrew Hill High School are trying to do.
The program is facilitated by Maria Valle, 23, a 2012 Santa Clara University graduate, who last week took a group of Andrew Hill students to Sacramento to lobby for health care for all and funding for schools.
On Saturday, the students -- Daisy Lira, 17, Melina Guardado, 17, and her sister, Paulina, 11, and Cindy Lopez, 17 -- were conducting a panel on how to access the Internet safely.
AAUW member Beverly Bassett watched the event unfold with obvious satisfaction.
"All these months of working on it, seeing it come to fruition -- it's great," she said.
For lunch, three chefs prepared food that could be purchased with $23 a day in food stamps.
"That workshop filled up first," Bassett said.
Evan Brauning, a culinary arts teacher at Dublin High School, roasted some chilis on a camp stove.
"I really like the message and I want to help out," he said
The event was co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the El Camino Medical Group, PG&E and the Santa Clara County's Commission on the Status of Women.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419 Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey