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The Niagara Falls American Business Women's group was down to just a handful of members a few years ago, but it has come back strong.

Today, the group has more than 60 members and will take on its most ambitious project yet when it offers a daylong women's educational conference Saturday called "Looking Glass 2001 -- Where the Reflection is On You."

The conference, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Select, 300 Third St., is open to all women regardless of where they live, job titles or membership in the group. It will include several motivational speakers and interactive discussion groups.

"We are pointing out what is innately female, and instead of having it work against us we will focus on making it work for us," said event chairwoman Grace Luterek. "We are not burning bras, but there are a lot of myths out there -- not just one that men see, but women see them too. Women are not always kind to one another."

Luterek said the conference is a chance for her group to "step out of the box" to let others know what they're all about.

Humor and interaction are the goals of the conference, she said. It's not just a tutorial.

"Even if you don't join (the American Business Women's Association) you can benefit from what the group is offering," she said.

Luterek said that most of the speakers and BusinessTheaterworks are donating their time. The keynote speaker, Dr. Peggy Farmer, is giving the group a special rate so it can keep the cost of the conference affordable.

Farmer, a psychiatrist and internationally known speaker as well as the author of "Exploratory Surgery of the Soul -- A Journey to Self Mastery," is known for her enthusiasm and high energy, speaking on stress reduction and change.

"Dr. Farmer is a phenomenal speaker," said Linda Rafferty, former president of the Niagara Falls chapter of the women's group. "She gives you back the empowerment women are entitled to. When I walked out of her (past) lecture I was two inches off the ground." Rafferty, who led the group from five members to 62 in three years, said she began focusing on educational programs and women's financial issues. She also began using the group to act as a resource for the community with auctions to raise funds for child advocacy and mental health issues.

"Women are 'touchies, " said Rafferty. "We become friends and console each other. When someone needs help in our group we can be there for them. There are doctors, lawyers, dentists, clerks and administrators, but there are also lots of single, working mothers in this group. One crisis can change everything for them. If we can help them today, they can turn around and say 'Someday it can be my turn.' We can act like a unit."

"Do men need to act like a woman to succeed? -- No," says Luterek, and she notes that the purpose of the conference will be for women to use the strengths they have as women as an asset for their success.

Other featured speakers included in small group interactive sessions will be Patricia Bax, an accredited counselor, an adjunct professor at Niagara County Community College as well as a seasoned speaker and stand-up comedian, who will have fun with her group in discussions about the resiliency of women; Deborah Diebolt-Legge, the co-founder of Strive for Women, which provides mentoring for women who are in transition as well as educational programs on emotional well-being, empowerment, health, financial concerns and other women's issues, will offer an open forum round-table discussion on the myths and pitfalls facing women today; and Shelley Stoeckl, a physical therapist, will lead a group discussion on breathing away stress.

Also appearing will be Business-Theaterworks. This local group is a national training company in which actors portray real business situations in the form of vignettes. The audience is encouraged to participate as they work out solutions for difficult business situations. The actors stay in character for the entire presentation.

Advance registration for the conference is required by calling Luterek at 895-2320 or by e-mail at Reservations must be made on or before Wednesday. The cost is $30, which includes breakfast, lunch, a Chinese auction and several speakers and interactive sessions.

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