The black-clad woman in an orange safety helmet resembled a terrified animal as she clung to the top of a 35-foot-high wooden pole.
Just above where a mountain ridge begins its rolling plunge toward the Pacific Ocean, a trapeze swing dangled before her from a high-rope. The only way to reach it was to jump.
“You can do it, Laura!” a group of about a dozen women shouted up from the base of the pole. They’d been staring up at the frozen figure for several minutes. “Laura! You’ve come so far!”
At their urging, Laura Baron began to move. With painstaking slowness, she stood up and raised her arms out to her sides like an unsteady bird about to take flight. Then she leapt. Her hands reached toward the sky, then landed, miraculously, on the swing.
Immediately, a line of women on the ground holding the end of a safety rope tied to Baron’s back sprang into action, loosening the rope and gradually lowering the now-elated acrobat to the ground.
“Oh my God. Yeah!” Baron yelled, jumping up and down once her feet touched firm land. The others closed in around her in a human wave, hugging and congratulating her.
“That was really amazing,” one cried. “You were so strong. You trusted yourself. You just kept going!”
Welcome to Campowerment, a combination adventure and group therapy retreat in Malibu designed to serve stressed-out women looking to escape the demands of everyday life to focus — albeit briefly — on themselves. Over a three-day weekend, attendees chose from a dazzling stream of activities ranging from yoga and meditation classes, to journaling and life-coaching workshops, to zip-lining and the trapeze jump, better-known as the “Leap of Faith.” Throughout, the women were encouraged to try new experiences, face fears, embrace the support of others and develop strategies to improve their lives once they returned home. The weekend cost $975 per person, or $850 for early registrants, and included all activities, lodging and meals.
“It’s for anyone who isn’t living the life they signed up for. It’s to help women get back in touch with the person they always thought they would be,” said founder and organizer Tammi Leader Fuller, an Emmy Award-winning Los Angeles television producer and mother of two. “It’s a place to help you get laser focused. Sometimes you don’t even know what you want, and how can you when we live such fast-paced lives?”
Leader Fuller’s four-day program — held for the first time in January and scheduled again for April and November this year — takes place at Gindling Hilltop Camp, one of Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s camps, located just off of Pacific Coast Highway and overlooking the Malibu shoreline. The stunning mountaintop retreat serves as a camp for Jewish children in the summer, and its rustic facilities and atmosphere are exactly why Leader Fuller chose it for Campowerment.
As a child, Leader Fuller spent summers at a Jewish sleepaway camp in the hills of North Carolina, which she remembers as among the best days of her life. She said she created Campowerment partly out of a desire to return to those days herself. She also wanted to re-create that experience of fun, freedom, learning and friendship for other adult women.
Indeed, Campowerment includes many activities straight out of a camp counselor’s handbook: team color wars, kickball and eating s’mores around the campfire. Participants also sleep on bunk beds in shared cabins, an experience Leader Fuller said facilitates bonding and a sense of childlike fun. Yet there are also activities not fit for camp kids, such as a “get your sexy back” Zumba-style dance class, and eating vodka-soaked gummy bears at the dinner table.
It’s not the first time Leader Fuller has been involved in organizing such getaways. Between 2005 and 2007, she and five other women organized a similar series called Camp Bombshell, held mainly on the East Coast. The friends, high-flying career women then in their 40s, also wrote a book together called “Dish & Tell: Life, Love and Secrets,” detailing their struggles to balance work, family and caring for aging parents while still maintaining a sex life. The book’s popularity made them realize how many women, like themselves, needed to take a break.
“We’re all about caring for everyone else,” said Patricia San Pedro, one of the original six friends, who now conducts workshops at Campowerment on finding joy amid life’s difficulties. “We all need to make time for ourselves and not think of it as being selfish.”
For many of the 57 women at Campowerment in January, the need for quality “me” time was clearly overwhelming. Most of the women were in their mid-30s to late 50s and with demanding careers and home lives. Some were also grappling with personal tragedies, such as divorce, illness or loss of a loved one. Many were from Los Angeles, although some flew in from other parts of the country, having previously attended Camp Bombshell and eager for a repeat. Leader Fuller estimated about 70 percent of attendees were Jewish.
Joanne Koegl, a 58-year-old marriage and family therapist from Glendale, said she’d come because, in between juggling three jobs and constantly counseling others, she had little time for herself.
“I’m so busy nurturing everybody else, I just felt I needed to nurture me,” she said. “At first I thought it was going to be selfish, but now I think you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people.”
Kathleen Barrett, 50, a Camp Bombshell veteran, is a nurse and mother from Tampa, Fla. Barrett credits her experience at Camp Bombshell with saving her life at a time when she was struggling to come to terms with the murder of her best friend and had no one to talk to about it. At camp, Barrett said, she found a support network and made enduring friendships.
“I hope people come away from this with a renewed sense of who they are,” Leader Fuller said, as well as “what they want to do with their lives, with themselves, with their relationships. When you open yourself up to the possibilities, they’re endless. That’s the truth.”
For more information on Campowerment’s upcoming programs, visit Campowerment.com.