Imagine a world where rewards are granted when mistakes are made.
Maxine Clark, CEO and founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop, described that personal reality during her keynote address at a community women’s conference Feb. 23 in St. Charles, which focused on strength, vision and talent exploration.
Addressing a group of 120 women from diverse backgrounds, Clark shared a story of her first grade teacher who rewarded children when they made mistakes.
“I learned from an early age that making mistakes was okay,” she said. “It encourages curiosity and inspires children to be creative. Do not let the fear of making mistakes stop you from accomplishing your passion in life. Never put a restriction on vision.”
Clark recounted the story of discovering her passion in 1972 when she founded Build-a-Bear Workshop, a St. Louis-based company which eventually would grow to more than 400 stores worldwide.
Her remarks touched a chord with many who attended the conference.
“She has inspired me and given me so many ideas,” said Becca Munson, a conference participant and local small business owner. “It was so exciting to hear from her – there’s so much I can learn from her story.”
The event was organized by four local congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in St. Charles County, as well as Trinity Episcopal Church of St. Charles, Hope Lutheran Church and St. John AME.
Reverend Tamsen Whistler of Trinity Episcopal Church of St. Charles was also a guest speaker. Addressing the gathering, she shared her personal experiences caring for those with mental illness.
“Mental illness is not a sin,” she said. “It is not a character flaw or a defective personality. It is an illness, just like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes are illnesses.”
She encouraged the women to accept mental illness for what it is and get the help needed, rather than deny its existence or sweep it under a rug. “It is not something we need to or should handle by ourselves.”
Bringing these two speakers into one venue was only part of the vision and planning of Karen Perkins of St. Charles, who began working on the event a year ago.
Perkins, president of the women’s group for the St. Charles congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wanted to organize an event where women from throughout the community could come together to share topics of mutual interest. It was a vision with a future in mind.
“There are so many issues that we as women have in common,” Perkins said. Perkins wanted to make the conference a true community event rather than just her own church’s group. The plans grew until they included partnering with local community churches, musical groups and speakers.
Reaching out to these other churches seemed natural to her.
“We’ve done things with other churches in the past and have a positive mutual relationship with them. I was thrilled with their willingness to partner on this.”
In addition to Clark and Rev. Whistler’s messages, there were breakout sessions on health and wellness, Internet safety and strengthening marriages. Musical entertainment included performances from Connections, a St. Charles County group which performs Southern Gospel music; a viola solo by Francis Howell North senior Madeline Martin; the St. John AME choir; and the women’s group of the Rising Generation Youth Chorus.
Those attending the conference included women from Jewish and Muslim faiths as well as a variety of Christian churches. It was that diversity and community involvement for which Perkins had hoped - an event which focused on similarities rather than differences.
Clark capitalized on those similarities when she encouraged all women to reach for their dreams. “We are all entrepreneurs – we build empires of character, value and importance to people. Everyone has their own passion. They just need to reach for it.”