- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - A conference aimed at helping young women to reach their “God-given destiny” drew more than 100 participants to the campus of South Carolina State University on Saturday.

The event specifically targeted young women in middle and high school and in college.

“The purpose of the conference was to encourage girls toward their career path while giving them the resources and tools to draw closer to God and who he has called them to be,” founder Jordone Branch said.

In 2014, Branch founded the JordoneWrites organization to help young women deepen their relationships with God despite their stormy pasts. Since then, she has been using her gift of speaking to empower the hearts of women worldwide, Branch said. Her passion to help women led her to write her first book, “I Believe in God, Now What?,” which is her personal testimony of how God turned her life of addiction, promiscuity, depression, a suicidal attempt and the guilt of rape around.

After 15 minutes of group prayer, those attending enjoyed a Christian rap concert by J-Baptist and participated in panel discussions that included career panelists Hayward Jean, Dr. Sharon Quinn, Taylor Green, Kimberlei Davis, Eddie Massey II, Dr. Ashley Primus, Starlette Jean, Dr. Kizzi Gibson and attorney Belinda Davis-Branch.

Tiffany Smith, a 27-year-old occupational therapist, traveled from Raleigh, North Carolina to attend the conference.

“I have been following (Jordone Branch) for a while now so when I realized she was going to be here, I had to come,” Smith said, adding that she is inspired by Branch being young and pursuing Christ. “That is what I strive for.”

Smith said she enjoyed the opportunity to be able to network and speak directly to the panelists.

Participants had the opportunity to break into small sessions to ask the panelists questions. A second breakout session was held before lunch for the purpose of asking personal questions through group facilitators.

Collen Whetstone sat in on the sessions with her daughter, 13-year-old Jessica Whetstone, a rising ninth-grade student at the High School for Health Professions.

“When I found out about this conference from one of my daughter’s friends, her mother and I thought this would be something great for them to attend,” Whetstone said. “She directed me to the website, and we thought it would be great spiritual guidance for maturity.”

The program not only taught the girls how to grow into maturity, but to grow into Christ, she said. Whetstone said she is looking forward to her daughter attending Destiny Conference again next year.

During the lunch break, participants were given the opportunity to visit vendors. Most of the vendors provided free gifts and services. Some of the young women received makeup tutorials and makeovers while others sat for caricature drawings by local artist Glover Richburg. Ashley Butler gave provided arts and crafts dos-and-don’ts, and other vendors critiqued and prepared resumes.

Shaina Holder, 24, a store manger a Sally Beauty and Supply, said although she has never been to college, she believes she is a leader and is always looking for opportunities to better herself as a leader.

“I heard one of my favorite leadership quotes today: ‘A leader is a person who puts leadership in others.’ I also liked (the quote), ‘Don’t forget to use your own mind.’”

Holder said she attributes her becoming a store manager to her trust and belief in God.

She said, “God is the main component in everything for me, and that is what bought me here today.”

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