The inaugural ASPIRE summit – hosted by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation -- kicked off a tradition of helping local seventh grade girls.
The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation launched the first ever ASPIRE summit Thursday at the Visa Campus in Loudoun County, Va.
The ASPIRE initiative, created for 7th grade girls, focused on inspiring, educating and building confidence in young women students, who heard from influential women in business and technology through two panel discussions.
The event brought together 75 seventh grade girls from local middle schools in Loudoun County and Fairfax County Public Schools to discuss the importance of chasing their dreams and doing the work to be prepared for their futures.
ASPIRE will help provide young women with information and inspiration to chart a course for success in their lives.
"The message is: believe in yourself, share your knowledge and you will do well. If you believe in yourself, you're going to go far," said Karen Strong, senior vice president of Visa's global client support and implementation.
Strong was one of four panel members during the first discussion on achieving success and goal-setting. Allison Seymour, anchor of FOX 5 News Morning and Good Day DC, moderated the panel and first asked the participants to recall what they wished they would have known in seventh grade.
Cathy Lanier, senior vice president of security for the NFL, shared her experience of dropping out of school before eventually becoming the first female police chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of DC.
Lanier said that she was painfully shy while growing up while trying to earn her GED and eventually going to college. She told the young girls that while social anxiety may seem like a huge problem now, things aren't so bad once they get older.
"You're shy because you're afraid you're going to say something that makes you look stupid," Lanier said. "So, don't be stupid."
Rebecca Schulte, president of NBC Sports Washington, and Danielle White, regional vice president of community engagement for MGM, also took part in the opening panel.
White told the audience that some of the hardest things in life to attain are also the most rewarding.
That message stuck with one of the girls in the audience.
"I learned that if it's not a challenge, then it isn't worth your time. We learned so much today and I'm so thankful that I'm able to be here," said Sherley, a seventh-grade student from River Bend Middle School.
Following the first panel, Alise Dixon of Boys & Girls Club of America helped the students create hats with their own unique "brands." Many of the girls painted their school's logo or their favorite activities on white baseball caps.
The second panel consisted of three women well-versed in the technology world.
Tiffany Moore, vice president of government and political affairs for the Consumer Technology Association, started the panel discussion by explaining how young people can be the drivers in the business of technology not too long from now.
"I think that it's important that we are consumers in technology," she Moore said. "How do you flip that on its head and be someone who benefits [is key]."
Jennifer Hinkle, vice president of digital marketing for the Redskins, added that since the technology world moves at such a rapid pace, many of the future professions of the students in the audience may not even exist yet.
Joyce Hunter, CEO of Vulcan Enterprises, closed the final panel of the day with a word of advice.
"It does not matter where you start, it's a matter of where you end up," Hunter said. "Don't be afraid."
Jane Rodgers, executive director of the Redskins Charitable Foundation, said that today is just the beginning of a yearlong initiative. The girls will be connected through a secure online community and will participate in another ASPIRE summit in March at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park that will focus on living a healthy life.
"We're excited about the long-term impact," Rodgers said. "We see this growing each year and staying connected to these girls as they matriculate from seventh to eighth grade all the way to adulthood."