Mothers' Day Special: 10 Minutes with EmpowerHER founder Cara Belvin - Dotty Dungarees Ltd

Mothers' Day Special: 10 Minutes with EmpowerHER founder Cara Belvin

Mothers' Day Special: 10 Minutes with EmpowerHER founder Cara Belvin

With a mission to empower, support and connect girls and young women who have experienced the loss of a parent, Cara Belvin set up the first nonprofit organisation to do just that, and so empowerHER was born.

Having lost her own mum at the tender age of just 9 years old, Cara wanted to help those going through similar trauma, and help give them a sense of hope.

Today empowerHER operates in both the US and UK, and has been a beacon of hope for girls and young women learning to deal with loss, as well as those who have suffered loss as children and want to give back through the Mentor Program.

This is a cause that we hold close to our heart here at Dotty, and we were eager to learn more from Cara herself this Mother’s Day...

So Cara, it is an absolute pleasure to meet you! We are so thankful for you creating such an incredible organisation to help these young girls and women reclaim their strength.

How did you come up with the idea of empowerHER? And how did you get started in making it a reality? 

My friend had the idea actually! Very serendipitously, back in 2013, I had come to meet several different young widowed fathers near my home in Boston. After getting to know their beautiful, brave daughters and seeing what a close bond we had even after one meeting, we started to spend more time together, shopping, going for ice cream after a bad day, and bonding over this one thing that makes us so very different from our peers.

Other local women started to offer to do the same and I began to think there might just be a forum for this…women in the community who could step in and show up for this young girl.

My friend called me one morning and she said, “I had a dream last night you started a charity for girls who’ve lost their mothers.  It’s called empowerHER and I just emailed you the logo!”  

Now, this was 6 o’clock in the morning and since she is a graphic designer, when she sent the logo it was beautiful!  It sent chills up my spine!  At first I thought she was crazy, and the idea that I could start my own charity was crazy. But, the idea nagged at me for about a year before I decided finally to do it! 

I spent the first year fundraising and building out a program that was non-therapeutic, community-based, and volunteer-driven. 

You’ve received a lot of support from some really big names such as CNN, The Today Show, ABC, even HBO! Did you ever think empowerHER would have such a large impact? 

No!  I certainly never dreamed i could grow and serve girls outside of my native Boston and I certainly never dreamed we would become become an international charity!  I also feared the media wouldn’t want to talk about something so sad, something that makes us all uncomfortable at our core. But, I also made a conscious effort to show hope and optimism too.

I was thinking of the girl’s mothers in all these stories, and how their mothers just needed to know their children would be okay. And so the media started to highlight the girl’s stories of loss and love, and of my mother’s story, and with a humanistic, compassionate approach that didn’t feel exploitive. The media began to show that we are real people who are not made of glass and will not shatter if you ask us about our loss. It made our stories relatable in many ways. 

What’s been your favourite memory while creating and building empowerHER? 

Those early years, sitting around my dining room table with the most inspiring, courageous and dedicated women - volunteers who were ready to do whatever I asked - and who believed in the mission from the start. Fundraising was hard, and continues to be a real challenge, but in those early years when there was no money in the bank but us women had conviction and felt more passionate about this mission than anything else we had been involved with before. Building something from nothing is, for any entrepreneur but maybe most especially for a social entrepreneur, one of the most inspiring, rewarding, and at times gruelling experiences you can ever have! 

Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and can be quite a lonely time for those who have lost their mothers. What advice would you give to someone dealing with loss and feeling alone this time of year? 

Well, for anyone who knows loss, and knows the deep pain the loss of your mother can be, I would offer this reminder, “You are not alone in your grief”.  There is a whole community out there of girls and women who will embrace you and welcome you with open arms here at empowerHER. 

And, most of all I would offer this reminder and mantra we share with all the girls enrolled, “Your feelings are a gift. It’s okay to ask for help. And, you are enough.”

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Do you have any loving rituals to honour the memory of your mum? 

For the last 8 years, I have celebrated Mother’s Day with the girls of empowerHER at the Annual Mother’s Day Retreat!  My husband Shane and our two children then make a special night for the 4 of us with dinner and gifts❤️

I hope and pray in my work at empowerHER that my children know why I do this work, why it is important to stand up for what you believe in, and how to see yourself as part of something bigger than just yourself. And most importantly, how much I love them! 

You are now a mother yourself, how do you keep your mother’s memory alive for your children? Do you tell them about their grandmother? 

We talked about Nana Kit a lot. We keep photos around and they see just how special she was as a mother and I tell them how much she would have LOVED to be their grandmother and watch them grow. 

What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self when you had just experienced the loss of your mother? 

I would remind her that it gets easier. That it gets better. And that it’s okay to talk about it. I didn’t talk about my mother for decades (hard to believe but it is true and quite common)!  It wasn’t until I started empowerHER that I truly began to see how my loss shaped me, how much I have tried to emulate her, and how much I have grown since the time of my loss. I’m proud of myself for moving forward, but I also wish desperately that I had something like empowerHER.

I felt very much alone in my grief and I wish desperately I would have known other girls powering through their grief as well. 

Was there anything in your life that was the most healing for you in terms of recovering from this loss? 

I was surrounded by an army of family and friends to rally around me, my Dad and older brother. It saved me. I always felt marinated in love!  I strongly encourage anyone who knows and loves someone who has lost a parent to simply show up for them! 

Be brave and ask them how they are doing, and don’t worry that you need to say or do the perfect thing.  You can’t say or do anything wrong if it comes from a place of love. Just be there. It made all the difference.

Can you tell us a bit about your Mentor Program. What does this involve, and how do people get involved who would love to contribute to your mission? 

We are looking for Mentors!  Our Mentors are women age 25+ who have experienced the loss of their mother at any age, to any type of loss.

Mentors are friends, they are not grief counselors or grief experts. They are adults who show a young person they care.  And Mentors can help teach, “loss is survivable”. 

What’s next for empowerHER? What would you love to do next with this organisation? 

We are expanding!  We will be expanding our programs to serve all boys and girls of any parent loss in the near future!  It has been my vision to serve any child of parent loss, and was not my narrative that boys should just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and move on.

All children of loss need a community, peer support and mentorship, in my opinion. Be on the lookout for more! 

Ok now for the quick fire questions!

Tea or Coffee? Coffee

Movie or Boxset? Movie 

YouTube or Netflix? Netflix 

Cosy night in or Night on the town? Cosy night in 

Beach BBQ or Sunday Roast? Beach BBQ

Starter or Dessert? Starter 

Summer or Winter? Summer 

Trainers or Heels? Heels for sure! 

To find out more about the beautiful work that EmpowerHER does all over the world, please visit their website: