Powerhouses lead '09 Women's Conference

LONG BEACH, Calif. Close to 14,000 women gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center for the event billed as the largest women's conference in the country. The theme this year is Architects of Change.

"Women, over the past 50 years, have become so much a driving force in the change that's happened in the world, the change that's happened in the workforce, the change that continues to happen in recognizing our environment," said actress Sharon Lawrence.

The conference covers topics that can empower women, including health, politics, business and education.

Kidnapping victim /*Elizabeth Smart*/ and her mother Lois will take part in a panel discussion on "Overcoming the Unimaginable." Actor and "new media" entrepreneur /*Ashton Kutcher*/ will speak during a panel on "Changing the World Through the Web" and U.S. Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who became a national hero when he safely landed a plane on the Hudson River, will be featured in a discussion on "Profiles of Inspiration."

Other notables on the program include Cindy and Meghan McCain and Patrick Swayze's widow Lisa Niemi.

"I think when this amount of women gets together with a common goal, which is to educate each other and to find out what they share in common, we can help bring it out into society," said actress Brenda Strong.

Officials are also trying to spread the word that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.

Singer /*Alicia Keys*/ is scheduled to perform during an awards ceremony Tuesday night.

The Women's Conference was formerly called the California Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women. It began more than 20 years ago as a small government initiative for women business owners.

During these tough economic times, some of the participants are looking for ways to reinvent themselves. Some of them are out of work and looking for a way to regain their business entrepreneurship.

"I'm in the new home construction arena, and the company I worked for for years went out of business, so I need to figure out just what else I can do with my life because I'm not ready to quit," said conference attendee Jeanienne New of Chino.

On topic of conversation is the question, "Can women have it all?"

Valerie Jarrett, an advisor to President Barack Obama, told the audience that women indeed can have it all, but maybe just not all at the same time.

"I think it's really exciting with all the different speakers we have today talking about empowerment," said Shannon Hendren of Long Beach.

"You come out full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm, so this is really a good event," Hendren added.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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