At a recent Empowered Women International (EWI) luncheon, Floralba Camargo told the group that she was five months pregnant when she arrived in the U.S. from war-torn Colombia. I’ve heard pieces of her story many times, but was blown away by how polished she sounded standing in front of a room of 25 professional women. I’d encouraged her for two years to take EWI’s three-month program, Entrepreneur Training for Success. But she was shy, and didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur.
Now, the woman standing in front of us wasn’t timid at all. From our initial meeting on the sidelines of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s soccer field watching our daughters play soccer, Floralba had been transformed. As single moms, we had an affinity for one another, and before I knew it, my youngest son Shane and I were adopted by the large Camargo family. I’ve always believed that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than differences. I knew Floralba had grit, and that’s why I wanted her to participate in the EWI program. Learn more about her story here.
Five years ago, I joined the EWI board. A friend suggested I try volunteering with various organizations, and counseled that one would grab me and I’d want to get more involved. After living abroad for many years, I knew what it was like to be in a country where you didn’t speak the language or understand the “hidden code” of the land. Plus, I was a small business owner myself. EWI not only grabbed me, but has taken me on the most amazing journey. Volunteerism has enriched my life, and I’d like to think I made a difference in other people’s lives.
EWI’s mission is to provide entrepreneurial training for immigrant, refugee and American-born women as a way to gain economic and social stability. Not only do we provide the basic training, we also have an advanced program, Grow My Business, as well as ongoing small business coaching. We are often told that the community we have built is equally as important as the entrepreneurial training that we offer.
“I loved it from the first,” Camargo said of EWI. “It was grueling, but I dedicated myself to my goal. I learned a lot, and got great support from other women [who were] all following [their] passions. And I was able to help the other Spanish-speaking women. We encouraged each other. EWI has helped me gain more confidence and be a stronger woman. I now have a more positive attitude, and believe in myself.”
EWI recently celebrated its 15th anniversary at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring, Maryland. The event was packed with people listening to our panels on entrepreneurism and volunteerism, and we also announced our coming merger with the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC). LEDC Executive Director Marla Bilonick and EWI Executive Director Sarah Bodley shared how LEDC’s mission of providing the building blocks of access to home ownership, microloans and small business coaching are key to economic stability. Bodley added that by combining EWI’s entrepreneurial training with LEDC’s three pillars, we will have a powerhouse of services to offer across the DMV area.
Excited by entrepreneurism? Thrilled to try volunteering? Want to witness us in action? Join us for our upcoming graduation with keynote speaker Julie Kantor, the founder and CEO of TwoMentor.com and former executive director of the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, on Sunday, September 17 at the Rockville Executive Office Building from 12-2:30 p.m. You will be able to hear stories about our alumni’s accomplishments and visit booths displaying their journeys and businesses, as well as shop and purchase unique products and services. And don’t miss our fifth annual Artisan & Food Marketplace on Sunday, November 12 at the Silver Spring Civic Center; it’s a great way to find handmade holiday gifts before the rush, plus you can hear the story behind the product directly from the entrepreneur.
If you’re interested in volunteering as a mentor, a business coach, biz pitch judge, guest speaker or workshop presenter, go to our website and find a way to make a difference in a woman entrepreneur’s experience.
Pictured above: Carmen Vargas (EWI alum), Floralba Camargo (EWI alum), Melissa Reitkopp (EWI board), Sarah Bodley (EWI Executive Director), Hanan Daqqa (EWI alum), Megan Christensen (Manatt) and Jill DeGraff (Manatt)