This past weekend I had the privelege of being invited to do a workshop at the annual Rural Women's Conference held in Binghamton, NY. This is sponsored by the Rural and Migrant Ministry and was founded by my friend, Ruth Faircloth in 2006. The purpose of the conference is to provide connection for rural women who are "isolated by location, language, culture, and resources", and to help them "develop strategies and networks for change".
The location in central New York makes it possible for women in especially underserved areas to come together. One woman I met who recently retired and lives about 40 miles from Binghamton was so excited, "Things like this don't happen out here. You think of the big cities, but not here. This is so wonderful!" She returned to school getting a degree in ministry as she was preparing for retirement and she may become one of those who take on the role of ally to this group of women.
Workshops were geared to health, careers, domestic violence, justice, and families. Some address spiritual needs. I was asked to provide a session on creativity and joined forces with the other woman, Jill Austen, who had also been asked to do one. She was focussing on storytelling, I offered painting rocks. Blending the two gave participants the possibility to tell their stories in words or images - or to just play. We all ended up having such a good time. Ruth had told me that she'd been wanting to include a creativity segment for a couple of years. And while it is fun, there is ample evidence that stimulating creativity reduces stress and helps people rethink the ways they operate that keep them stuck.
For me, the most exciting part of these conferences is to see the young women who attend. They are often from families who have struggled through many barriers and to see them taking on leadership roles while still in their teens is really inspiring.