This is the question that I am on a mission to understand in 2020.
As I turn 33 this week, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what the last decade has brought me. If you had told me all the amazing and different things I would have done over this last decade of adulthood I would have thought you were lying. At 18 when I graduated from high school I had a very specific life plan. I would go to school for education and become a special ed teacher and that is what I would do for the rest of my life. I knew that I wanted to serve this population because I had been volunteering at an overnight camp for people with disabilities since I was 12 and I thought that being a special ed teacher was the way to do it.
I did become a teacher. But soon realized that there were parts of the job that I loved, but other parts that made it really challenging. I designed some technology for my classroom and turned that into a startup that I ran for four years. I literally had to google the term startup a few months into running one because I had no idea what I was doing. But we did ok. We got the technology into thousands of schools and had a good four year run. When it was clear that we could go no further with that idea I joined a media company, EdSurge, and after running their community moved into my last role as Director of Marketing. Marketing was never something that I wanted to do. But I realized that I did not understand it well in my first company and I needed to know it because the best marketer is the one who gets their message heard. After the 2016 election I realized that we needed more people who understood marketing to champion the causes that I believed were good for the world.
This last December I left that job to pursue something that has been on my heart, probably since I was twelve: Camp Linda. By 2021 I want to build a year-round space for people with disabilities and those who love them. In the summer it would function as a camp, during the year an accessible and inclusive place for families to bring their kids, a retreat space for caregivers or groups focused on a specific population.
The name Camp Linda has a dual meaning. First, the word linda in Spanish means beautiful. No one is more beautiful than when they feel included. That beauty shines from within. Having experienced 20 years at Camp Jabberwocky the beauty that shines from every soul in that place is magical. In that way, calling ourselves Camp Beautiful feels like a nod to the mission we want to build.
I also chose the name Camp Linda after the first woman who showed me that beauty and taught me about living life with a disability - my mom, Linda Levitt. She was unparalleled at creating community and fun. She was notorious for taking an ordinary day and making it feel extraordinary. When I was six, she was diagnosed with ALS and our family quickly had to learn what it meant to live with a disability. Although she passed away a few years later, her message of beauty regardless of circumstance led me to want to expand the ways that I professionally serve this community and even with 20 years of experience I know I’m just getting started.
But over this next year my goal is to learn. When you build a product they stress the importance of user research. But what does it mean to create spaces and products that are actually inclusive? Living in San Francisco, surrounded by people who are building things left and right, I am stunned by how the voices and needs of people with disabilities are at best forgotten or at worst ignored. Take the $41 million dollar library that was just constructed in Hunter’s Point NY. The project took over 15 years to complete and debuted with one major flaw: it was entirely inaccessible.
As we dream and build this inclusive space I want to learn from as many people as I can. I want to help share their stories publicly so we can all learn from their experiences, ideas, and needs and we can all work to understand and create a more inclusive world in everything that we do. My marketing background can help amplify these voices so that more people can learn and understand and transfer that into making their work and lives more inclusive.
For the next few months I plan to talk to as many people as I can and share their stories out via our Facebook and Instagram feeds and our email updates. This summer the goal is to hit the road and visit as many camps and spaces that are already doing amazing work and sharing their stories. The more we can shine a light on these organizations and stories the more awareness and inclusiveness we can create. I don’t see these as looking at competitors as is often discussed in Silicon Valley. It feels more like sharing the awesome work of your fellow teammates. It is estimated that of the 327 million people that live in the US, 50 million of them have a disability and that doesn’t include more hidden disabilities that go unreported. It also does not represent all the caregivers who support them. There are definitely more people who could use services than there are organizations to serve them.
The other goal of our travels is to find the community that we would like to put down roots and build camp. Right now we know it will not likely be in the Bay Area but it is up in the air where the best location will be. I am excited to explore all the possible communities we could make a home as we meet and share stories.
As we build this movement I will need help. Here are a few ways you can help:
This idea is so big and kind of daunting, but also really exciting. By announcing it like this it always sets you up to publically and catastrophically fail. But I am willing to take that risk because the reward of creating a space like this is so great. I am grateful to each of you that took the time to even read this far. Thank you for being invested (or curious) enough in my life to spend a few moments of your day hearing me out. Please know how much that means to me. <3
Molly Levitt Lazarus
Sharing my journey of understanding what it means to create inclusive spaces. Applying all that knowledge to develop Camp Linda alongside the population we are building for.