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- by  Barbie Heit
After a two-year hiatus, SRQ MEDIA proudly hosted the fourth annual SMARTgirl Mentorship Summit and Leadership Luncheon at The Hyatt Regency Sarasota on April 15th. SMARTgirl is an event for select elementary and middle school girls from Sarasota, Manatee and Lee Counties. The goal of the program is to connect young girls to examples of excellence within our region and provide encouragement, advice and feedback on how to make it happen.


A lineup of inspiring women leaders and organizations supported the program. Lisl Liang, CEO and President of SRQ MEDIA opened the panel discussions with a heartfelt welcome, letting everyone know how wonderful it was to be back together in person. Sponsor welcoming remarks followed from Kirsten Russell, Vice President of Community Impact with Community Foundation of Sarasota who encouraged the girls to lean on each other always because “girls are powerful!” and Dr. Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, Interim Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at New College of Florida who shared her own mother’s inspiring quote: “Don’t let the limited beliefs of others shape our beliefs in ourselves and what we hope to achieve.”

This year’s opening keynote speaker was Sebrena Pawley, a woman who entered the foster care system directly from the hospital where she was born. Growing up, she alternated between foster care and homelessness. As an adult, Sebrena is a champion and tireless advocate for teens and young adults as the Area Manager for Young Workforce Development at Eckerd Connects in New York City, and is the founder of the scholarship program “I Was 16 Yesterday”. While her opening remarks sparked a giggle, “Be yourself because everyone else is taken,” her discussion was powerful and a reminder to all on how important it is for caregivers to be mentors and listen to our children: “All kids want is to be seen, valued and heard,” she said.

Interactive keynote Speaker Blair Bloomston, CEO of Game On Nation wrapped up the afternoon by bringing the room to life with group games, such as “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and “Expert Speaker” meant to improve team building, leadership and culture. “What’s the takeaway?” Bloomston asked, “it’s to show what success can look like when you’re surrounded by people who have your back.” By the end of her presentation, the girls were cheering each other on and celebrating the fact that they are girls and “girls can do anything!”


Pictured: From left to right: Dr. Queen Zabriske, Lisl Liang, Serena Pawley, Blair Bloomston and Kirsten Russell. Photo taken by Wes Roberts.