EmpowHERment Pushes Women to Find Their ‘Thinking Branch’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Brea Schmidt and her husband endured a miscarriage, it was a season of life that caused her to slow down and reflect on the important things in her life.

The Pittsburgh-based speaker, photographer, writer and mother of three uses her blog, The Thinking Branch, to connect women and help mothers feel less alone, she said. After Schmidt launched her blog in 2016, she has built it into an engaged social media community of more than 50,000 by sharing real stories with raw emotion, she said. 

During Schmidt’s keynote speech at the second EmpowHERment event at The Lake Club Wednesday night, themes of self-care, learning to say no and accepting help when needed were brought to the attention of the 95 women in the audience. 

The idea of a “thinking branch” stems from Schmidt’s childhood, when she would climb a tree near her home. That branch she sat on served as a space she could turn to when she felt overloaded or overwhelmed. As an adult, a “thinking branch” can be something to turn to as to slow your life down and examine priorities, she said.

In 2011, Schmidt took a leap of faith and left her career in sports to start her own photography business. For Schmidt, her “thinking branch” is her blog. For others, it’s driving with the windows down with rock and roll music blaring and singing, a yoga class, diving into a good book or having wine with a spouse while talking about the “real things,” she said. 

“Where is your thinking branch and have you been there?” Schmidt asked the audience. “Are you just moving so fast through life that you’re not even paying attention to it? Find your Thinking Branch and go be the best version of you.”

EmpowHERment was formed by Dr. Meredythe McNally-Ryznar, a gastroenterologist and chief of staff at Salem Regional Medical Center, and her sister, Dr. Shannon McNally-Velasquez.

“It was clear from the first one that women felt a need for this,” McNally-Ryznar said. “Their feedback was great, there was a lot of excitement and buzz surrounding it and they all expressed the same desire, which was to come together as a community.” 

All of the panelists at the inaugural EmpowHERment event in September were physicians, but surveys showed that attendees wanted to hear from other women professionals in the community, McNally-Ryznar said. Fields that were brought up were law, health and fitness, finance and business administration, she said. 

“[EmpowHERment] is empowering,” McNally-Ryznar said with a laugh. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to not only help your community in one fashion but then help your professional peers and connect with them in another way.” 

In December 2010, Schmidt and her husband saw the two lines on the stick and found that they would have their first child, she said.

“A little under six weeks after we found out, we went to the doctor and we saw that little beam up on the screen, but there was no heartbeat there,” Schmidt said. “And I remember just sitting there thinking not me. No way. And the doctor said, ‘You know, we might be early, so why don’t you go back to work and come back and see me in a couple of days.’ ”

At the time, Schmidt was a sales leadership executive for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The week of her miscarriage happend to be the most important week of the year for the department she ran,

she said. Six weeks later, Schmidt got a second chance after she found out she was pregnant again. That was the moment she re-evaluated her career path, she said. 

“I finally realized that in slowing down there was something in my job that wasn’t fulfilling me,” Schmidt said. “You need to stop and slow down, and pay attention when things don’t feel right and to really dive into what is important.” 

Panel participants at EmpowHERment included Erin Sardich, market and executive director for JPMorgan Chase and Co.; Gina Agresta Richardson, attorney at Gina Richardson LLC; and co-owners Laura Zavadil and Erica Fleming of Mega Barre Youngstown. 

“We would like to touch about how women, whether they’re physicians or whatever profession they’re in, can all relate to each other with the same kinds of issues with balancing work and life, and balancing your kids,” Zavadil said. “Bringing us all together to discuss this kind of thing is powerful. Hopefully we can all lift each other up and learn from each other.”

It can be a challenge to be “on” all of the time, Fleming said. However, Mega Barre has a great staff of women who support one another, she said. 

“We’re busy ladies. We’re just not open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Fleming said. “We’re open from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., so we have to be on all the time.” 

It’s nice for women in medicine and other professions to be able to get together, and to be able to share stories of trials and triumphs, said Dr. Lori Crowl, a first-time attendee at EmpowHERment. Crowl practices between Columbiana and Salem with Mercy Health. 

“We, as women, need to band together instead of being so critical of each other,” she said. “It’s a great way to show support for each other.” 

For Dr. Kristyn Essad, a family practice physician with Southwoods Health and a second-time attendee of EmpowHERment, the group has allowed her to meet some of the women physicians she has been referring patients to, she said. 

“We shook hands, we had conversations, they gave motivating talks and it was eye opening for me to see how these other women physicians handle their daily lives,” she said. “A huge thing for me is exercise and finding different ways to take care of myself, whether it’d be yoga or running.”

Women should do everything they can to get to a place where they can be comfortable and happy, Essad said. 

“No matter what you need to do, just get through it,” she said. 

Pictured: Brea Schmidt, keynote speaker; Gina Agresta Richardson, attorney at Gina Richardson LLC; Erin Sardich, market executive director, JPMorgan Chase and Co.; Erica Fleming and Laura Zavadil, co-owners of Mega Barre Youngstown; and Dr. Meredythe McNally-Ryznar, co-founder of EmpowHERment.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.