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Give Her Camp: Brandi’s Story

by Chelsea Leader Gold
 ∙ Dec 2 ∙ 7 Min Read

In 2015, we created the aptly named Give Her Camp,* our 501(c)(3) nonprofit to raise funds that would elevate the spirits and planes of opportunity for brave, smart, deserving women who give so much to so many but experience a roadblock to giving to themselves. We knew that by empowering YOU — our community — to empower a grassroots scholarship fund, we’d unearth the chance to both give and receive second chances to be happy, successful and fully seen. 

Since then, your donations have sent 50 women through the transformative experience that’s kick-started their next chapters and lit their life with new spark. Incredible women like Brandi Donnelly, who, on this Giving Tuesday, we’re featuring, so you can fully understand what your donations to Give Her Camp cause and inspire in the world, one woman at a time. 

In 2014, Brandi’s life stopped short the day her son Henry tragically died, just four days short of his second birthday. On that horrific day, Brandi’s two young daughters lost more than their baby brother; in many ways, their mom as they knew her had disappeared, too.

After receiving her own Give Her Camp scholarship and attending a Campowerment retreat, Brandi’s elementary school friend Georgia knew that Brandi might find a way to thrive again, like she did, with Campowerment as the catalyst to getting there. Georgia’s experience was one of incredible joy, post-cancer, which shifted her, big time, by providing a fresh perspective on what makes her awesome…and empowering her to find a team of incredibly supportive friends to last long beyond the campfire (who have talked, texted or gathered from across the country every single day since they met). 

In her nomination, Georgia told us that “growing up as kids, Brandi was so full of joy. Since Henry passed, I see her taking care of her two daughters and making sure that they still have a childhood, and that she and her husband still have a relationship, but I don’t see her doing anything for herself.”

“I want her to have the chance to be at Campowerment so she can see that it’s OK to be happy again.”

Nine months after Georgia nominated her, and our board unanimously granted her the opportunity to write a new story for her tomorrows, Brandi showed up to Campowerment alone, cloaked in obscurity. At Campowerment, she wasn’t defined as the lost mom who lost her son. 

We’ll let Brandi share what happened from here…

My first Campowerment experience led me to the healing of my soul.  

Before I went to Campowerment, I had lost my identity, and abandoned everything that gave me joy. My friends would try to “bring me back,” but I was so far gone and wouldn’t let them reach me. 

At camp, though, by taking time — and a powerful session — out in nature, I allowed myself to open up, actually slow down and listen to the signs Henry was sending me. During meditation with Sussy, I was able to clear my mind of all the horrible clutter that was all-encompassing for me at the time. This first Campowerment led me to begin peeling away the layers of such a deep depression. I finally realized that I need to live in the present for myself and my family.

When I got home, my girls said to me, for the first time in a very long time, “Mommy, you look happy.”

At the edge of the Campowerment lake, I picked up a stick and wrote Henry’s name in the sand. Until then, I was afraid to, because I thought it would make it all so final, but when I wrote his name this time, I cried and cried and cried some more and realized that it was finally time to let that go, and move into the next phase of grief.

The friends I made at camp, the amazing women who make up this Tribe…they lifted me.

Campowerment people are just a different kind of people…there is never any judgment, just pure love and support.  There’s a bubble of safety that builds over the weekend, where you can be you and let down your guard. I came in knowing only Georgia and left with lifelong relationships: Kelly, Karen, Jodi, Brenda and Sussy to name a few. 

  • Kelly is a judge who created a special memorial for my Henry to sit with her when she is making heavy court decisions on behalf of kids.
  • Karen became Henry’s Cheetos buddy after she learned they shared an affinity for the orange staining puffs. Now, every time Karen eats Cheetos, she sends me little orange hearts to let me know that she is thinking of Henry. Every single time.
  • I laughed and cried sharing Henry stories with Jodi and Brenda
  • Sussy even came out to teach meditation to the learning-challenged students I teach.

When I am around or thinking of my Campowerment friends, I am able to straighten my crown and move on, no matter how heavy my heart.

I know we are always in each other’s thoughts and it is so empowering.

On my last day of camp, I signed up for the next year’s Campowerment weekend. I knew I had only scratched the surface of my healing, and needed to peel away more layers. During my second time at camp, I was actually able to write and write and write about my Henry.  This opened up more opportunities to share my story and keep Henry’s memory alive. And then there was the epic sunset lakeside dance party. OMG!  When DJ Tasha Blank got the music cranking, I was able to truly let myself go and finally feel free! The Stones song, “You can’t always get what you want” came on, and I danced and danced and felt so light and free, and at that moment, I had finally found peace. 

If I couldn’t have my Henry back, I knew I was getting what I needed here at this unbelievably special place.

In so many ways, Campowerment has made me a better mom. I have learned to be present for my girls, and though Henry may not be physically with me, I can now feel him, around me. 

I am finally teaching my girls how to cope with such a loss and how to find joy in the everyday…and that it is ok to be happy.  

A few weeks after returning from my first Campowerment weekend, a dear friend noticed that I had started wearing my ‘fun jewelry’ again, and she rejoiced with and for me because she knew she was ‘getting me back.’

Brandi at Love Lines on the final day of camp in 2017 (left) and 2018 (right), as she leaves with ever-expanding joy!

We’re humbled and sincerely honored to have the opportunity to offer Campowerment as the springboard so many women could use to catapult themselves into brighter futures. But we’re just the vessels; you’re the action-takers; the ones who unlock the opportunity for women to take the pen and rewrite their stories. 

If Brandi’s story moved you to offer healing, clarity, friendship like most have never known it, donate to Give Her Camp today, and help us create a ripple effect of strength, comfort and belonging to exceptional women who would otherwise lack the resources, confidence or strength to get themselves to camp. 

Make a donation today.

*FEIN: 81-1407528

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