Ladyfest celebrates women in the C-U community


Photo Courtesy of Darrell Hoeman

The “That’s What She Said” ensemble prepares to take a bow after last year’s performance. The show will return as part of Ladyfest at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

By Meral Aycicek, Contributing Writer

When Kerry Rossow co-founded the “That’s What She Said” project four years ago, she couldn’t have imagined how impactful it would be for the Champaign-Urbana community. Now in its fourth year, the project is bigger than ever with seven speakers and more than 1200 expected participants.

“That’s What She Said” will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Virginia Theater. It is the main event of LadyFest, a series of events designed specifically for women to share their stories and celebrate one another.

In four days, LadyFest aims to show women their own strength, introduce them to other strong women in the Champaign-Urbana community and inspire a younger generation of women to discover and exercise their strength.

“All the women who participate in this build each other up and support and encourage each other. None of our people are professional speakers, and the idea is that you can throw a dart and anybody could be on that stage,” Rossow said.

This year’s speakers feature women spanning many generations who will touch on a wide range of topics from friendship to domestic violence.

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Debbie Hensleigh, personal life coach, will speak at the event. The topic of her speech is “Which Old Woman Will I Be?”

Hensleigh said it is important for women to get to know and support each other from a young age rather than judging and breaking each other down.

“The women you meet today will be your best friends when you’re 42, and it doesn’t all end in college,” Rossow said.

The goal of “That’s What She Said” is for every member in the audience to connect with at least one of the speakers and for the speakers’ stories to be mirrors or windows into the audience members’ own lives.

If an audience member sees that the speaker went through a similar struggle, they feel less alone because they see their story mirrored in the speaker’s story, Rossow said. If an audience member hears about an unfamiliar problem that a speaker went through, they have a window into that woman’s life and are better prepared to face the same problem if they were to ever go through something similar.

“There is tremendous value in women hearing one another’s stories. It’s really easy to think that as women — and as humans — that what we’re going through is unique to us but we’re all going through similar things,” Hensleigh said.

Another speaker at the event is Mary Enright. Her speech, “Afternoon Delight,” explores a shift in perspective Enright experienced one afternoon, changing her life.

Enright said that like her personal experience, Ladyfest is about gaining new perspectives.

“The stories are funny and heartwarming. It gives perspective as to what life is going to be like when you’re 40, 70, a grandma. We’re all on this journey together and we’re all just trying our best,” Enright said.

All three women stressed the importance of college students attending LadyFest.

Hensleigh said it’s a great way to break out of the college bubble and do something inspirational and fun with your girlfriends.

“I think this is a really great opportunity. When you’re in college you start feeling like an adult, and this is an adult event. It’s a time that you can be around 1,200 women instead of your high school graduating class,” Hensleigh said.

Rossow said this event will bring students together and allow them to build solid foundations of support and friendship that will last a lifetime.

“Just go and cut loose. Don’t overthink it. By the end of the evening you’re going to have a whole bunch of new friends and you’re not going to want to leave,” Enright said.

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