Expanding Access to Role Models for Girls with Disabilities

Back in November, I told you about the new nonprofit organization I co-founded, Disability EmpowHer Network. Disability EmpowHer Network is dedicated to connecting, motivating, and guiding disabled girls and women to grow, learn, and develop their highest potential and gain the confidence to lead.

When I first shared the news about Disability EmpowHer Network, we only had one program: EmpowHer Camp. This multi-stage skill-building, empowerment, and mentoring program brings a diverse group of girls with disabilities (ages 13 -17) to camp with successful disabled women mentors. Held in the Adirondacks for one week, the girls learn about disaster preparedness and basic survival skills, while also developing independent living and leadership skills.

Our New Program

Since November, however, we have grown our organization and now offer another program. We help girls with disabilities connect with successful disabled role models! Our new program is called Letter from a Role Model. It is a mentoring initiative that matches girls and young women with disabilities with a successful disabled woman to write them a letter of encouragement! 

Letter from a Role Model creates a unique experience for girls with disabilities to feel connected and understood by a real-life role model. Our role models are matched with the girls based on their backgrounds, interests, disabilities, and personalities. Role models write letters to the girls, making a real connection. They talk about tough times they went through when they were younger and how they prevailed! Each letter is full of encouragement. By receiving an actual letter, the girls with disabilities experience the excitement of receiving mail; a delight during this pandemic. The letter is also a tangible object that the girls can look back to whenever they need a confidence boost. 

When we started Letter from a Role Model in December, we thought it would be a short term event. We put a call out on our social media saying that we wanted to help five girls with disabilities start the new year off with a letter from a disabled woman role model. We planned to connect five girls with a role model to write them a letter and be done. Instead, we got lots of nominations for lots of girls to receive a Letter from a Role Model! All over the nation, parents, teachers and friends were nominating girls with disabilities to receive a Letter from a Role Model. We quickly realized that this “short event” needed to be a permanent program for Disability EmpowHer Network. 

Making a Difference for Girls with Disabilities

Since December, we matched over 30 girls with successful disabled women role models! Each time we make a match, I celebrate because I know that a disabled girl is getting a role model that she truly needs. These letters are making a difference.  Connecting girls with disabilities to successful disabled women role models they can identify with is impacting girls with disabilities and their families in incredible ways. Girls who received letters tell us that they feel like they can really relate to their role models.

Parents are overjoyed, too. One parent told us, “we have had many talks about how she feels about being treated different or feeling left out. This is really a new discussion with COVID being a factor because class size is super small and not being able to interact with others in class has brought it to her attention even more. With that being said, I truly have no idea how that feels but knowing that she can now reach out to her Role Model, someone who completely understands, makes my heart happy. That her Role Model can truly relate and give advice or just listen to her hurt is a blessing.”

But it’s not just the girls with disabilities and their families that are benefitting from this program. The Role Models are benefitting from it too! One Role Model said: “Being a role model brings things full circle for me. I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was 8 years old so I’ve had many role models, and I can truly say I wouldn’t be who I am today! It’s because of role models that I had the drive to learn to be independent, love my body, find love, become a mommy, and even jump out of a plane. There’s just a special connection when you see someone ‘like you’ doing what you dream of doing. I hope to be able to give even a portion of the confidence, support, and example of strength that I’ve been so fortunate to receive!”

I am thrilled for all of the girls and Role Models that we’ve matched and I look forward to matching many more girls for years to come!

About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.

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