Beginning in her early teens, Sarah Bachwitz had an idea. She was so passionate about this idea that she began to plan. She drew out potential logos and developed ideas for group activities. In 2016, after the adventure of a lifetime, Sarah put her plans into action developing Empower Camp: A place where young women from across Buffalo Niagara can go to feel courageous, make new friends, and be empowered.
Sarah is BN360’s Spotlight Professional for the month of April. And as you’ll read in the interview below, seeing Empower Camp come to life was the realization of a dream much bigger than her own.
BN360: Sarah, where did the idea of Empower Camp really originate?
Empower Camp was an idea I had as far back as 14. I remember getting journals and filling them with ideas of what the camp would be like, how it would run, even drawing out logos and developing different camp activities. Every year, I would go on these father-daughter hikes all over the area, and my dad became my camp ideas confidant. That really started the journey for both myself and Empower Camp; my dad has continued to be there every step of the way.
What was the inspiration for you behind “empower”?
I believe all women have a personal story that has the potential to transform them into radiant warriors. I have been shaped and fueled by heartbreaks and triumphs over the years. It is my hope that I can inspire young women to find their inner strength earlier in life. Life is too short.
How did your own journey empower you to start this initiative?
I was going through a difficult time. The early 20s are tough. They’re really formative years where you aren’t a teenager, but you don’t quite feel like an adult; you are somewhere lost in the middle of trying to decide who you want to be and where you want to go. Through work, I heard about this opportunity to travel to Mongolia, where you hike 100 kilometers across the Gobi Desert. I can ‘talk the talk,’ but I decided it was literally time to see if I could also ‘walk the walk.’
Most of us have not had the chance to go to Mongolia; what is it like? How did the hike affect you mentally and physically?
Mongolia is in Asia and sits between Russia and China. We flew into the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and began our journey to the Gobi Desert. You may be picturing sun and sand, and you are half-right; there’s sand, but the Gobi Desert is a cold desert. Imagine driving from the capital city out into the middle of the desert, where you are about to walk 100 kilometers in five days. There is literally nothing. It’s like being dropped in the middle of the ocean, but this is land. No water. No bathrooms. No lights. No resources, whatsoever. Nothing.
To make matters worse, the temperature is below freezing, and our bags were lost the first night. I am thousands of miles away from home, with absolutely no comforts, in the middle of nowhere, and we are about to start walking.
We hiked in four groups of 25; there were only six Americans in total. Most of the walk was silent as you focused on overcoming thoughts of hunger and cold. Truthfully, the first several days I began to breakdown; I was angry, cold, and sad as I thought about myself and my life in that silence. Then, something changed.
I had reached a state of acceptance, walking out all stress, and achieving a level of peace. That was the turning point. I thought a lot about Empower Camp on that walk. I picked up my journal once again but decided that this time, my dreams of Empower Camp would be a reality.
What happened with Empower Camp when you got back from Mongolia?
With the help and support of family and friends, especially my dad, we got to work. We started by doing market research, conducting focus groups, and really understanding if there was a need in the community—and if so, what the concentration should be. We had proof of concept with the help of Buffalo Seminary. Then, we went on to win the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County’s Pitch 10 contest for non-profits. This allowed us to take Empower Camp to the next level by offering scholarships.
Today, Empower serves campers ages 13 to 18, with a goal of having 50 campers per summer. I am truly humbled by the ability to develop connections in the community, by the support of the community, and the opportunity to bring my dream to life! Being a BN360 Spotlight Professional has further allowed me to share my own experiences and journey and how that has helped me develop the connections and skills to be successful.
BN360 is the young professional and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Learn more about BN360 and find out how you can get involved here.