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story.lead_photo.caption Kris Wilson/News Tribune HALO founder Rebecca Welsh greets the crowd filling the Miller Center for Performing Arts auditorium before delivering the day's key speech, "Living With Intention" during Saturday's INSPIRE Women's Conference. Proceeds from the one-day event benefit the homeless and at-risk children of HALO.

The Miller Performing Arts Center became a hub of female empowerment Saturday as hundreds of women filled the facility for the inaugural INSPIRE women's conference.

From college students to retirees, the daylong conference attracted women of all ages who sought to learn new ways to not only live better but to more effectively take care of themselves and each other.

The conference was hosted by the nonprofit organization HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) and was modeled after similar events held in other cities. Prior to Saturday's conference, HALO founder Rebecca Welsh said the goal was to help women nourish themselves, inside and out, or as she called it, "filling their cups."

"Women need more days like this in our lives," Welsh said during the conference.

The event included keynote speakers as well as smaller sessions from local women that included better organization for nutrition and meal planning, tips to beautify spaces using plants and how to better connect with your breath, among others. It also included a variety of vendors, with portions of all sales going back to benefit HALO.

The keynote speakers — Welsh and authors Kim Becking and Christine McDonald — all spoke about their own journeys and gave tips to those in attendance on how to live their best life. Welsh spoke of the journey that led her to found HALO as well as what she learned after suffering a stroke four years ago. That experience led her to begin "living with intention," she said.

"My moments had to be so intentional," Welsh said. "Living with intention changes your life because your moments start to matter."

Becking emphasized to "live your 1,440" which references the amount of minutes in each day. Becking, a breast cancer survivor, emphasized taking time for yourself by setting priorities and boundaries, including learning how to say no and letting go of things that can't be controlled.

"Saying no allows you to say yes to what really matters," Becking said.

Referring back to that 1,440, Becking told those in attendance it's up to them how to use each and every minute, urging all to find joy and soak up life.

McDonald, a former victim of sex trafficking who struggled with homelessness and substance abuse, shared her journey of pain and abuse, noting an organization like HALO could have changed so much in her own life.

"Hope changes everything," McDonald said. "Don't allow your burdens to be your final destinations. Love is the most powerful thing in the universe."

Casey Garber and Madeline Mertgen attended Saturday's conference together, to support HALO and find empowerment. Garber said she attended specifically to "see women empower other women." Mertgen, the mother of two girls, said she also chose to come out because "I needed to focus on me."

Garber and Mertgen said the message of letting go and setting priorities really hit home for them.

"That has been a really good part of the event," Garber said.

Madison Kliethermes and Cortney Higgins also came out Saturday. The two are self-described HALO girls, saying the organization has helped them move forward in their own lives. The pair said they loved hearing from all the different speakers and seeing so many people in the community support HALO and, by extension, girls like them.

"(HALO) helped me so much," Kliethermes said, noting there are a lot of other people who need the help HALO provides, and both she and Higgins want to see it continue to grow so others can have the same chance they were given. "We've been blessed with this opportunity and we want others to have it too."

At the end of Saturday's conference, Welsh said she was speechless at the outcome. To see so many women come together to hear positive messages and support each other, "just inspires me so much," she said.

Welsh said she hopes to make INSPIRE an annual event, but before deciding whether to expand it next year, she wants to hear comments from those who attended and see what might need to be changed in the future.

To find out more about HALO, visit haloworldwide.org.

This article was edited at 12:35 p.m. Sept. 16, 2019, to correct the spelling of Cortney Higgins' name.

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