An Inclusive Camping Adventure

Posted by EmpowHer Stories in Life After Paralysis on February 20, 2023 # EmpowHer Stories

The Inaugural Disability EmpowHer Camp in August 2021 provided a lot of “firsts” for me. It was my first time traveling alone. It was my first camp experience. And it was the beginning of what I now consider to be my closest circle of independent, fierce, and courageous disabled women. However, I almost didn’t apply.

As an Oregon native, I was no stranger to camping, hiking, or outdoor recreation. However, those opportunities weren’t traditionally accessible for me. I felt nervous about camping in New York, mainly because I had concerns about how (truly) accessible it would be. Most recreation programs that I joined in the past falsely promised to be wheelchair accessible. I am glad that I took the leap of faith and applied because EmpowHer Camp provided accommodations to ensure that any girl can participate. We all contributed to food preparation and clean-up. Some chores required physical skills that not everyone had, so we divided tasks equitably. The camp organizers provided support to any girl who asked for it, rather than assuming what we needed. A culture of flexibility and assistance naturally arose. EmpowHer Camp was a refreshing example of what true inclusion looks like.

Flying to camp was hectic. I didn’t get a chance to overthink or feel nervous until I arrived at the airport. Thankfully, I broke out of my shell within ten minutes of being picked up by my EmpowHer mentor, Jill Moore. We decided to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, since even powerful women run on coffee. Jill (right on cue) accidentally flew out of her wheelchair. The stars aligned in that moment, and some space wizard bonded us in friendship forever. My nervousness disappeared.

At camp, we participated in a variety of interesting activities! We learned survival, leadership, and teamwork skills that we would build upon within our advocacy initiatives. My favorite activity was building a fire. I felt hesitant at first, but I got the hang of it! Each participant is assigned a mentor to accompany them through the year-long experience. Mentee/mentor pairs are not made immediately, which allows everyone to get to know each other’s interests. I was keen on working with Jill, and we ended up pairing together. The group bonded as we creatively utilized the camp outhouse in the rainy weather and held “conferences” to discuss our project ideas.

EmpowHer Camp is unique in the sense that participants make a one-year commitment to a community project. I might have been a little too excited about my project, as some of my ideas exceeded my ability and timeframe. Jill and I brainstormed and landed on a few themes that involved providing support for my community. I decided to start a Core Advisory Group (CAG) in Marion County, Oregon. I developed the CAG as a community model, focused on ensuring that the Disability Community has a voice in emergency management initiatives at a local level. I saw a need in Marion County, which is one of the most populated counties in Oregon. The Disability Community in Marion County has been traditionally underserved, due to the lack of an Independent Living Center. I connected with many public health professionals throughout my project, and I explored a career that I hope to have one day.

EmpowHer Camp is an experience that every disabled girl will benefit from. Not only have I gained friendships, but I have amazing new skills and leadership experience. The final step in my EmpowHer Camp journey was presenting my final project in Washington, D.C. I presented to disability advocates, public health professionals, and industry leaders. Presenting in D.C. was a bittersweet event, as it signified the culmination of the skills that I learned from the time spent on an ambitious project. I will forever be a champion of Disability EmpowHer Network, and I hope every new participant will gain new friendships and connections like I did.

Riley Hurt is a recent graduate from the 2022 class of EmpowHer Camp. She enjoys outdoor recreation and learning about science!

This blog is a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

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.