​An EmpowHering Year

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on October 18, 2022 # EmpowHer Stories

Last October, I wrote about a new program that Disability EmpowHer Network had launched called EmpowHer Camp. I shared that EmpowHer Camp is a multi-stage skill-building, empowerment, and mentoring program that brings a diverse group of transition age girls with disabilities to camp with successful disabled women mentors in the Adirondacks for one week to learn about disaster preparedness and basic survival skills, while also developing independent living and leadership skills. Then, 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 create a yearlong local project involving inclusive disaster strategies. I also shared how our first camping experience went and everything that I had learned in that one week.

Well, it’s been a year, and I am proud to say that each of the nine young leaders in our EmpowHer Camp program successfully graduated from EmpowHer Camp in July 2022! Over the past year, all nine of them worked with their EmpowHer Camp mentors to design and complete a project that would positively impact the community. All of them did amazing work, and each of their projects helped the community in profound ways. For example, one young leader collected data on how ill-prepared school districts are to assist disabled students during school shootings. After collecting this data, she wrote a white paper on the subject to share her research, and it was recently published! Another young leader worked with her local domestic violence shelter to help them become more accessible so that people with disabilities would be able to access their services.

In addition to working on their projects with their mentors, our young leaders also worked on their personal goals and connected with their mentors on deep and meaningful issues. Throughout the year, our young leaders talked with their mentors about advice for seeking jobs, how to ask for accommodations, techniques for improving their mental health, tips on makeup, and so much more.

EmpowHer TeamIn July, we reunited in Washington, D.C., where our young leaders presented their yearlong projects to leaders in the Disability Community, met with strong disabled women working in Washington, D.C., and even had meetings with their Senators about the impact they’ve made in their communities! We also had a ton of fun touring monuments, going to museums, and reminiscing about everything that had happened over the past year.

I am so impressed by the incredible work that our young leaders put into their projects and all that they achieved in one year. Beyond that, it brings me great joy to see how their relationships with their mentors and with each other have grown in just one year. These young leaders all came to EmpowHer Camp as strangers, but they left as close friends. One of my favorite parts of our Leadership Reunion Trip in Washington, D.C., was listening to the young leaders say that they were sad because they would no longer have their mentors. What they did not realize was that the program was designed to help them build a meaningful relationship with their mentor so that after they graduated from the program, they would stay connected for life. Since leaving D.C., our young leaders have continued to talk with their mentors and with each other!

It has been a magical experience watching our young leaders and our mentors grow over the past year and it was bittersweet to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the yearlong program, but I know that we’ll be connected for life. I am excited to continue to watch these young leaders change the world!

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.