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Surefire Utah

Supporting Teenage Girls

Deanna Devey | Photos by Nephi Johnson of New Lake Media Mar 12, 2018

Heather Mason is the founder of a company that produces events for big-name organizations like the Skoll Foundation and Vanity Fair — but she is also using her expertise to help teenage girls.

She does so through the Surefire organization, which produces conferences throughout the U.S. with the goal of helping teenage girls reach their potential. The conferences connect girls to mentors, community programs and workshops.

Inspired by help she received while a shy, awkward teenager, Mason used nearly all her retirement funds to finance the first Surefire conferences in Los Angeles.

“You can be really smart and capable, but there are other things you need to be successful,” Mason says. “You need a network; you need to figure out what you want to do; you need a support system; you need confidence. As a society, we’re not consciously curating these skills.”

Mason was lucky. As a teen, she stumbled into those skills by randomly meeting five mentors who helped her become a leader at her high school and put her on a path to eventually create her event management company, the Caspian Agency.

“What stuck with me my entire life was, ‘Why are we relying on serendipity for our girls?’” Mason says. “If we got together as a community, we could absolutely create a tapestry of opportunity and resources for every girl.” 

Surefire Utah

Zions Bank sponsored Mason’s most recent Surefire conference in Salt Lake City, where girls 15 to 18 years old attended sessions on managing money, interviewing, building a resume, exploring careers and developing confidence.

Prominent businesswomen and activists also spoke to the girls and their parents. For example, Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh hosted a “Dream Big” workshop and performed “Daughters for Sale,” an internationally acclaimed song about child marriage.

“Hearing Sonita speak about her dreams and the hope she has about ending child marriage has inspired me to stand up for what I believe in,” says Allie Zehner, a Surefire ambassador who helped plan the conference.

Zehner was one of 20 high school student ambassadors from Utah who chose content and recruited attendees. The ambassadors also introduced presenters and interviewed speakers on stage. 

“This really is a for-girls-by-girls conference,” Zehner says.

Teenagers from more than 50 high schools and representatives from 35 community organizations attended the event. Girls came from all backgrounds and incomes, including refugees and children in foster care. Following the conference, each was paired with a professional woman who will serve as a mentor.

For sponsor Jacki Zehner, Allie Zehner’s mother, supporting Surefire was a way to bring resources together to advance girls. 

“There are things we can do to make Utah one of the best states to be a woman and a girl, and not one of the worst,” says Jacki Zehner. “Convening is a way to create community. This conference provides amazing content that’s a catalyst for change.” 

Keep the Fire Burning

Mason’s goal is to have a conference in every metro area in the U.S. For the girls lucky enough to attend the Utah event, new dreams were sparked. One girl said she had never thought about studying gaming and animation but was now. Another said she got valuable advice on how to get an internship.

“For me, the success is hearing them take away those sparks,” Mason says. “Hearing words like, ‘I never thought I could do this before, but I’m thinking about it now.’ That’s truly life-direction changing — all because of one day.”

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