Empower Me Day Camp has always been about kids, very special kids. It is, and always has been, about meeting the needs of children with disabilities and their families in our community, and offering opportunities to these individuals that were not already available to them.
Empower Me Day Camp was created in 1999 to serve this ever-growing population. We were fulfilling the needs of those children who had nowhere else to go during the summer. We were meeting their parents’ needs so they could go to work. We were offering these kids a safe, positive environment with a goal to increase their physical and mental abilities, their self-esteem, and their functional independence, and we succeeded.
However, those needs changed. The families needed more respite programming. Many of these families cannot just pick up the phone and call a babysitter down the street to come watch their child. Many of these children have seizures, medications that have to be administered, tube feedings, and catheterizations. They need trained personnel to take care of them. Many also have unique behavioral challenges that are often misunderstood by the untrained adult. These families needed us to expand our programs to provide respite care. So we did.
Then those needs changed again. We started getting waiting lists for our various programs. We initially turned away 20 families, then 40 families, then 88 families, then 104 families, then 124 families. Each year, more and more people needed our services. Each year we were turning people away. We have had to tell many parents we didn’t have any openings. Parents with children whose needs were no longer being met in traditional daycare and they needed a place where their child’s unique needs were understood. Heart-wrenching calls with parents in tears desperate for help. Many parents needing to find a safe place to send their child so they could continue to work. We knew we needed a larger space to be able to serve more children. We knew we needed a home.
Many of these children who started with us when they were five, were now getting close to the cutoff age of 21 years. We had originally established our programs to serve children ages 5-21. However, these children have now become young adults and are a part of our family. Many of these individuals refer to us as their “Empower Me Family”.
There is no big brother looking over us. We currently receive no state or federal funding directly. We are sustained by the big hearts of those individuals who give generously, and who want to partner with us to make a difference in someone’s life. People who want to EMPOWER these children.
Our plans originally had never been to be a year-round organization. We envisioned a 190 day calendar filled with our summer day camp, bimonthly respite programs, spring and fall one-week camps, and other scattered events, but never 365 days of direct services. Thus, our goal was to build at the James Ward Ag Center which has been home to us since our inception 17 years ago. This was to be a building we would use 190 days, and that the Ag Center could rent out the other 175 days for other community events.
However, the needs continued to change, and with change comes new opportunities for even greater things! Our goal has always been to create new opportunities to meet new needs which arise. What our families need now and in the future is a safe place for their loved ones to live, not just four walls of a house, but a community filled with love and possibilities. As human beings, we are supposed to take care of our children.
We are constantly moving forward, whether we like it or not, or whether we think we are ready or not. Change happens, so we have to ask ourselves, “What’s next?”. How do we meet these changing needs of our families? How do we continue to help those beautiful people that were created to make a difference in this world?
How did I start OUR STORY – it’s always been about these special individuals and meeting their needs. Thus, our mission must now expand to meet those new needs.
Our plans are to build a 37,700 square foot building, recreational complex and supervised/independent living cottages. With this project, there are endless possibilities and a fulfillment of dreams.
Empower Me has always been a family. Now we are ready for our own home.
DARING TO DREAM