Heading Back into the Woods

Last year my organization, Disability EmpowHer Network, launched EmpowHer Camp, a yearlong empowerment and mentoring program for young women with disabilities. We start with a week of camping in the Adirondacks where our participants learn about disaster preparedness and basic survival skills, while also developing independent living and leadership skills. The next summer, the girls 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. 

Our first class of young leaders graduated from EmpowHer Camp in July and it was a magical experience to watch them grow over the past year. Just as they graduated, however, we quickly turned around and started the journey all over again with a new class of young leaders! Just three weeks after our Class of 2022 graduated in Washington, D.C., we were back in the Adirondacks welcoming the Class of 2023 to EmpowHer Camp! 

Even though we had already had one successful EmpowHer Camp class of graduates, I was nervous about the incoming group. I worried that our first year might have been a fluke. What if it only went well the first time and it wasn’t as amazing the second year? I was wrong! 

Our new class of young leaders are all incredible and our new mentors are amazing! Together we learned how to build fires, we cooked over the campfire, we made tie-dye shirts (a first this year!), we helped each other, we learned new skills and we helped each other grow! 

One of my favorite parts of camp this year was that we added mentors-in-training (MITs). MITs are young leaders who have already graduated from EmpowHer Camp who have come back to help the next class of young leaders as peer mentors. We had two young leaders who graduated from our Class of 2022 return to EmpowHer Camp to guide the Class of 2023, and they were outstanding! When a new young leader needed guidance, our MITs gladly came in to provide support. It was amazing to watch our MITs grow as leaders and see them support the next class! I am exceedingly proud of them! 

Now that the camping portion of EmpowHer Camp is over, we still have a year to go! Each young leader will now work on a yearlong community project with their mentor and in July we’ll meet in D.C. where they’ll present their final projects, meet with Congress, and show us how they’ve grown as leaders!

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.