WINGS conference lifts women into a position to decide their futureOne day last summer, Shari Paredes-Moyer's husband of 10 years told her he was getting a divorce. That single event changed everything. It changed what she did, where she went, who she saw and met.

That event changed who she was.

"My transition started last summer. My whole life just turned, and I didn't expect it."

As Paredes-Moyer, 42, spoke about her life, she gazed out the kitchen window onto the surf and mist beyond. The rain pounded the coast and the sleepy fishing harbor below, partially obscured by trees and hills, and Paredes-Moyer's eyes took it all in. The drizzle, the desolation, the haziness and fog.

"I thought I was going to be a happy mother and wife and live the Cinderella dream ... but I didn't," the Astoria woman said.

Reeling after her divorce, Paredes-Moyer realized that she was alone and helpless.

"I was terrified," she said. "I thought I was going to lose the house, I didn't know where I was going to get food, how I was going to feed my kids. I didn't know if I could stay here or if I had to move. I was all alone."

For 10 years, Paredes-Moyer was a stay-at-home mother, caring for her 10-year-old son, Ricky and her 9-year-old daughter, Danielle. During that time, she lost her job skills and consequently could not find work that would adequately pay the rent, pay the bills and feed her family.

More info.Women Interested In Going to School (WINGS) is an annual conference dedicated to providing information and support to any woman interested in finishing high school, earning an associate's or four-year degree, training for a new career or updating job skills.

Participants will receive information about scholarships, financial aid, distance learning and more, and will also receive vouchers for placement testing, GED classes and test materials and, for the first 40 to register, free three-credit class vouchers.

Lunch and childcare is provided and the entire event is free.

The conference will be held at Clatsop Community College in Patriot Hall, Room 325, and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 11.

For more information, to register or to recommend a woman for a personal invitation, call (503) 338-2404."You think when you're my age you wouldn't have to start over from ground zero," she said. "Most men just keep working ... but women have to take time off to have a family. Those 10 years I took off I had to start over."

After her husband left, Paredes-Moyer knew she had to do something. She said she saw an ad in the newspaper for a "transitions conference."

"Going to the conference was something I had to do without thinking," she said. "If I was thinking about going I wouldn't have made it."

WINGS conferenceThe conference, now in its third year has been renamed Women Interested In Going to School (WINGS). It provides information for women who are interested in finishing or starting school, obtaining degrees, updating job skills or changing their careers. Information about admissions, scholarships and financial aid, support programs, career planning and distance education is also available.

The conference and provided lunch and childcare are all free. It will be held at Clatsop Community College Sept. 11. Drawings are held throughout the day for prizes donated by local businesswomen, including a night at the Hotel Elliott.

"I think the conference is letting them know that they can broaden their horizons and can reach for their dreams," said Pat Lehman, organizer of the conference and member of the Seaside branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

"It lets them know there are people concerned about them and willing to help them ... to be a support network for them. Without the conference, they might never had made that jump before - it's intimidating."

Lehman organized the first conference as part of a community service project for AAUW. After collaborating with Clatsop Community College and the Astoria and Seaside branches of the AAUW, the conference was born.

"Everyone was so enthusiastic and it has mushroomed ... it has grown," she said.

Lehman has booked some inspirational speakers for the conference, including state Sen. Joan Dukes and state Rep. Deborah Boone. Lehman said she is hoping that state Rep. Betsy Johnson will be able to make it, because Johnson is a huge supporter of the conference and a great motivational speaker.

"The conference is 60 percent information and 40 percent inspiration," Lehman said.

As well as an intense amount of information, participants receive vouchers for placement testing, GED classes and test materials. The first 40 women to register for the conference receive a free three-credit class voucher or equivalent.

Back to schoolAfter attending last year's conference, Paredes-Moyer used her voucher to pursue an associate's transfer degree. While most nontraditional students might be intimidated by the prospects of going back to school, Paredes-Moyer embraced it. She is a self-described "old hand" at college, with an associate's degree in mathematics that she earned just out of high school.

Other participants may not feel so comfortable jumping back into school, and for them the college offers a program called "Lives in Transition," which is a no-credit, no-fee program designed for people going through changes in their lives. The program offers motivational encouragement, as well as study skills and other college preparatory abilities.

Paredes-Moyer, however, had a lifetime of working before she had children, and was eager to immerse herself back into school and a career.

After receiving her first degree, she worked her way up the corporate ladder from a technician to a "semi-conductor process engineer" making microprocessors at Portland's Lattice. She said she loved her job and only gave it up to follow her husband to Clatsop County, where he was transferred.

"Coming out here I was either overqualified or underqualified for jobs," she said. "When we moved out here there was nothing for me to do."

Paredes-Moyer will soon start her new job as a library aide at Warrenton High School. Because she is working, it will be harder for her to juggle all her different responsibilities - a common plight for single mothers who attend school.

"I have to allocate time because the kids are constantly pulling in different directions," Paredes-Moyer said. As well as running a household, taking care of children, going to work and going to school, Paredes-Moyer has to work in time for her social life and herself.

"Juggling the time is the hardest," she said. "You always have to make time for yourself. It's hard ... but I try to remember. If I am not OK, no one around me will be OK and life will not be OK."

But through the uncertainty, Paredes-Moyer acknowledged that things do look OK. She's earning a 4.0 grade point average, which requires that she earn an A in each class. Eventually she hopes to become a radiologist, but if she doesn't get into the program at Portland Community College, she plans to attend Portland State University and work for a master's degree in education.

"Radiology is my No. 1 goal, but it's a far-fetched goal," she said. The radiology program accepts fewer than one-quarter of the applicants and competition is intense. "Teaching is a more realistic and achievable goal for me."

One of the best changes for Paredes-Moyer is that she feels like an independent woman again, a sensation she coveted in her youth and lost when she got married and had children.

The conference also led her to meet her best friend, and Paredes-Moyer's life is now filled with a new dog, a new boyfriend and a new perspective on life.

"I took responsibility ... It helped me get over the pain and I wasn't angry anymore," she said. "I don't think of (the conference) as 'Women Interested In Going Back to School.' To me it was more of a building block. It was a tool that I used to help myself start over."

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