Arts & Culture

Beyond Rubies hopes to help attendees grow, laugh

Lisa Mills

Lisa Mills Comedian

Women from all across the Corridor will gather at the Kirkwood Hotel Conference Center this Thursday and Friday for the annual Beyond Rubies Women’s Conference.

Presented by Kirkwood Community College Continuing Education, Beyond Rubies brings together women from all walks of life for a series of business-related classes and personal development.

The event has taken place since 1981 when there really wasn’t much in the way of professional development for women, and organizers said the schedule strengthens each year.

“Beyond Rubies is a comprehensive two-day conference where women can choose what most applies to them,” said Erin Brokel, program director at Kirkwood Community College’s Continuing Education Department.

What sets Beyond Rubies apart is the opportunity to engage women at all stages of life, she said.

“This conference fits a unique niche in the community because we are really trying to apply to all generations, whether someone new to the workforce, a stay-at-home mom, a retiree or anyone in between,” Brokel said. “It’s really about bringing women together and being inclusive. Part of bringing this variety of women together is that they are going to learn from each other. We’ve seen mothers and daughters come together or groups of girlfriends come and experience this together. It’s just great for women to make time for themselves, step away from the other requirements of life and take a moment to focus on themselves.”

Knowing that the conference draws women at different stages of life, Brokel said that developing the breakout sessions requires variety as well.

“We have professional development and personal growth opportunities,” she said. “It’s not just about focusing on the working women. Beyond Rubies is looking at the whole person and looking for balance in life. You can take a class in networking, followed up by one on healthy eating, followed up by one on parenting. Our attendees can pick and choose what’s going to have the biggest impact on their life as a whole person. No two women will have the exact same day. Everyone gets to put their own personal stamp on it.”


While organizers said they get feedback that the breakout sessions and the variety built into them are a highly valued element of the conference, attendees also enjoy a special keynote speaker each day.

“The keynote speakers are a way to bring everyone together,” Brokel said. “We try to focus those messages on growth and development all while enjoying yourself during a good meal and having a good laugh. We hope attendees enjoy each other’s company and spark some conversations.”

This year’s keynote speakers plan to not only offer some inspiration to the expected 225 attendees but also a few laughs.

Lisa Mills plans to share her thoughts on “Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary” during her presentation on Thursday. A professional standup comedian, Mills said she is excited to have something designed for women today.

“We have so many things we are dealing with in our lives. We are trying to effectively trade work/life stress for work/life success. We have to know how to trade those because that’s the world. We don’t have one or the other anymore. We have work and we have life and we have to blend those. So my program will focus a lot on that,” she said.

She plans to share about the power of connection and the art of engagement to achieve personal and professional results.

“As a professional standup comedian I spent years on the road discovering how to connect with people. So I take that technique from comedy and show you how you can use it in everyday life so you know how to build a strong team, whether is your family or among colleagues. That increases productivity and develops remarkable customer service and really just makes your kids like you more.”

“And we are going to do that by having a serious blast,” she added, noting that she hopes attendees also appreciate her Southern accent and charm. “It’s rich content but it’s wrapped in hilarious comedy and a motivating and inspiring message.”

Mills said she’s particularly excited to be speaking to all women during Beyond Rubies.


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“I love that the thing we have in common is that we want to be our best self,” she said. “I don’t care what walk of life you are coming from it supersedes age, race and any circumstances in your life right now. The fact that you want to give your best self to everyone around you is a common denominator for women. And honing in on that and helping women achieve that through this conference is my absolute favorite thing. Women are made to connect and we love to know how to do it better because we know the power of it.”

Friday’s keynote speaker, Sonya White, hopes to bring some electricity for attendees and empower women.

White also is a professional standup comedian and can’t wait to make the crowd laugh and impart some wisdom.

“As a keynote speaker, I take my standup and salt and pepper it with a message. I’m happy to do so because I’ve been doing standup for about 20 years and it’s my way of giving back. I lie to make people laugh. I’m not there to preach. It’s going to be fun as well as eye opening. I hope it makes attendees say ‘I never thought of that.’”

White noted she presented at Beyond Rubies about a decade ago and so enjoyed the experience.

“It was packed with great women,” she said. “And I know I have grown leaps and bounds since then as everyone has. We all have new issues and things to conquer so I’m looking forward to this estrogen festival of huge proportions.”

“I’m happy the community finds it important to do this,” White added. “Conferences don’t need to be just all about the corporate world. We are all walks of life. If you are a corporate person, a grandmother, a mom, a cashier, there are so many ways you can make yourself a better person, for yourself, your family, your co-workers or humankind in general.”

She said she looks forward to sharing an energizing message with attendees, anyone who needs to take time to recharge their sense of self.

“Sometimes you need a shock to the system to make a change. We’d love to have everything to be positive in our lives and positive does beget positive,” said White.


“But every once in a while we get thrown something negative and like with electricity I encourage people to take the path of least resistance. I’m kind of like a comedic cheerleader.”

The conference is held over two days, but people can attend just one day if that’s all a schedule will allow, Brokel said. There will be vendors set up during Beyond Rubies.

“It’s just another great way for women to connect with different businesses in the community,” she said. “There are some selling products, some that have services available and some nonprofits just looking to share their message.”

The conference includes a wine and cheese networking reception Thursday evening. “It gives women the opportunity to connect with each other and have a moment to unwind and enjoy themselves.”

If you go

l What: Beyond Rubies 2018: Your Work, Your Mind, Your Life

l When: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday

l Where: The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids

l Cost: $195 for both days, $145 for one day

l More information:

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