A Scituate nonprofit’s annual Mother’s Day retreat and mentorship program helps young girls on the South Shore and beyond.By Noelle Barbosa
Cara Belvin is a social entrepreneur who is committed to changing the conversation surrounding loss, grief and trauma. In 2013 she launched the nonprofit organization empowerHER with the goal of serving girls who had suffered the loss of their mother at a young age. Belvin, whose own mother passed way from breast cancer when she was just 9 years old, understands all too well how losing a loved one can make a young person feel isolated and she has made it her mission to build a supportive community that nurtures open communication and resilience.
“I didn’t grieve the loss of my mother until I left home for college,” says Belvin, a Scituate mother of two who grew up in a supportive family but never knew any other girls who had lost their mother. “I’m teaching these girls that it’s okay to talk about their moms,” says Belvin, who grew the volunteer-driven nonprofit in her spare time while operating the consulting firm Murphy & Company. In the fall of 2017, Belvin decided to quit her day job so she could focus fully on her labor of love.
EmpowerHER holds a series of group events throughout the year that offer fun social experiences and remind girls that they are not alone in their grief. The group also operates a one-on-one mentorship program that connects individual girls with female role models in the community who provide additional support throughout the year.
Members of the group attend beach bashes, writer’s workshops and yoga workshops, but one of the most meaningful event of the year is the annual Mother’s Day retreat. This year, more than 100 girls from the South Shore and the greater Boston area will convene with 20 volunteer chaperones at the Seaport Hotel in Boston for a weekend of enriching activities.
Scituate-based empowerment coach Catherine Hummel will open the event by inviting the girls to gather into a circle and set an intention for the day, the weekend or the year.
“It’s very powerful,” says Belvin, who says the circle is one of her favorite parts of the retreat. “The girls and women come together as equals and are united by a shared goal to heal, transform and connect. It harkens back to the days when women grieved together, laughed together and raised their children together.”
The afternoon includes a luncheon, skincare and makeup workshops led by Scituate-based Danielle Keefe Artistry and yoga exercises facilitated by instructors Jen Murphy and Marylee Fairbanks. “We give the girls experiences that other girls might learn with their mothers,” says Belvin. “And as the girls look around the room, they see people who can relate to their loss.”
Girls in the sixth grade and above are invited to spend the night at the hotel, enjoying dinner and further bonding with peers and chaperones. On Mother’s Day, the group gathers for brunch, participates in an activity and closes with another circle.
“The best part of the night is when we talk about our stories and let go of everything we have been feeling,” says 14-year-old Maddie Eikinas who is attending her third retreat this year. “We have an opportunity to relate to one another and it’s very powerful.”
The Hingham teen lost her mother seven years ago and was introduced to empowerHER by her grandmother. “The program shows me how these strong women can overcome something so huge and live to tell the tale. If I’m ever going through a difficult time or struggling with something, it helps me to know that I’ll be able to get through it.”
Eikinas is also part of empowerHER’s influential mentor program, which began two years ago and has so far been able to match 30 girls with mentors. Eikinas is partnered with Kristie Edelman, a speech pathologist and mother of three from Norwell who lost her mother when she was 11 years old. The two share a dynamic bond. “It’s a match made in heaven,” says Edelman who has been mentoring Eikinas for two years. “There’s so much of Maddie that reminds me of who I was at her age. Being in this type of relationship helps me to remember what I’ve gone through, where I’ve been and where I’m going.”
When it comes to selecting mentors, Belvin seeks out women who have powered through some of life’s greatest challenges. Mentors hail from all walks of life–some who lost their mother during childhood and others who still have their mother today. Currently, Belvin has a waitlist of 50 qualified women who she hopes to match with young girls.
“When I’m sitting in the circle at the Mother’s Day Retreat, I’m reminded about why I started empowerHER,” says Belvin. “I’m reminded that for decades I was desperate to meet another girl like me because I wanted to know I wasn’t alone. I was once just like them and now I’m on the other side and I’ve found the beautiful part of grief.”