A Week at EmpowHER Camp

I’ve previously written about how we launched Disability EmpowHer Network last year. Disability EmpowHer Network is an organization dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities to live to their fullest potential and have the confidence to lead. Our first big program is EmpowHer Camp. This is a multi-stage skill-building, empowerment, and mentoring program that brings a diverse group of girls with disabilities (ages 13 -17) to camp with successful disabled women mentors in the Adirondacks for one week. They learn about disaster preparedness and basic survival skills, while also developing independent living and leadership skills. Next summer, the girls will reunite in Washington, D.C. to explore how they have grown as leaders. During the year between the first trip and the reunion trip, the girls will create a yearlong local project involving inclusive disaster strategies. 

We launched the EmpowHer Camp program thanks to some wonderful grants that we received and thanks to some wonderful corporate sponsors, including Quantum Rehab! In addition to all the wonderful supporters who helped fund EmpowHer Camp, we have nine incredible women with disabilities committed to this yearlong program and committed to mentoring nine amazing girls with disabilities from across the country!

Even with all this support, I was worried that I had not planned enough or that it would not be a fun and fulfilling experience. I was wrong. Let me tell you how wrong I was! 

I worried that I had not planned enough.

I had planned for EmpowHer Camp for over a year. The idea of a camp and outline for the activities were planned out before the organization even existed! In fact, I had called John Dillon Park in May of 2020 to ask if we could host a program in August 2021 and got the ball rolling from there! If you can say nothing else about me, you can say that I am a very good planner.  

But what I learned was that no matter how hard I try, I can never plan for everything. For example, I picked August for EmpowHer Camp because that is usually one of the most beautiful months for weather in the Adirondacks. during our week, however, we had torrential downpours and flood advisory rain almost every day!  I had planned for rain, but I had not planned for that much rain!  

Just because I didn’t plan for it, that doesn’t mean everything was terrible. In fact, I learned that all of us, especially our participants, are amazingly resilient and flexible to work around the weather!  

I worried EmpowHer Camp wouldn’t be fun for the girls.

The purpose of EmpowHer Camp is to help young women with disabilities learn the skills they need to succeed and to help them gain confidence to lead. Still, I really wanted EmpowHer Camp to be fun. I worried that the participants would be bored and wouldn’t enjoy their time. 

I am so glad that I was wrong! It turns out that we can have a good time doing just about anything.  Downpouring rain? No problem. We’ll throw on our ponchos and dance in the rain. Hiking trails that are hard to walk on? Don’t worry! Some girls use power chairs and were happy to give a friend a break! No electricity? Wonderful, that means we can sing all our music! No matter what we did, we found ways to make everything fun.  

I worried EmpowHer Camp wouldn’t be fulfilling.

When I had planned EmpowHer Camp more than a year in advance, I hoped that everyone would find the experience meaningful and fulfilling. I was really worried that the experience might not be impactful. 

Not only was I wrong, I was wrong in many ways on this one! First, each of the participants stated that EmpowHer Camp has helped them in different ways. Most girls expressed that they felt more confident after their week of camping. All the girls grew in different skill areas. Several told me that it was lifechanging.  

That was more than enough for me, but it didn’t stop there! Mentors also shared with me how fulfilling and empowering EmpowHer Camp was for them too! They told me that being a mentor with EmpowHer Camp has pushed them further than they knew they could go, both physically and mentally. They also shared that they learned about self-care, how to communicate with people who have different learning styles and to stop apologizing so much!

The best part of all is that this is only just beginning! Our week of camping in the Adirondacks kicked off our yearlong EmpowHer Camp program. Now the girls are each paired with a mentor to work with for an entire year. They’ll work together on their projects, talk about life and have lots of laughs. Then, we’ll reunite in Washington, D.C. in July of 2022 to present projects, talk with Congress, meet with national leaders and graduate from EmpowHer Camp. I cannot wait to see how much we all grow over the next year!  

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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