The loss of a parent isn't easy for anyone. Imagine that loss coming at the young age of 8 or 9.

One Massachusetts nonprofit has set out to specifically support girls who have lost their moms through social gatherings and mentorship. The woman behind EmpowerHer is Cara Belvin, our latest Greater Bostonian. 

Belvin was just 9 years old in 1996 when her mother died of breast cancer. 

“My mom was beautiful and smart and funny. She really lit up a room," said Belvin, who lives in Scituate. "I just felt at the time that I was the only girl in the world whose mother had died. I didn’t have opportunities to meet other girls like me and who could relate to my loss,” she said.

Years later, Belvin, who had become a mother herself, realized she could help connect girls who had experienced what she did. Four years ago, Belvin started EmpowerHer, which hosts events like group rock climbs for girls who have lost their mothers.

“My vision for EmpowerHer was, really, these events that would have low pressure. They would be relaxed, and the girls would be comfortable and come together in very sort of easy-breezy events like cooking classes and writing classes and beach parties and a sleepover on Mother’s Day weekend.”

From left: Andrea Mancinello, Jess Digangi and Cara Belvin with others at a rock climbing activity organized by EmpowerHER.
Tina Martin/WGBH News

But Belvin soon realized the girls might need more than events, so two years ago, she added another component.

“I wanted to start a mentor program — a program that would look a lot like Big Brothers Big Sisters, where we could pair with a positive role model from the community. And in some cases, that woman that we make a match with is a woman who can relate to [a girl's] loss,” she explained.

Andrea Mancinelli and 18-year-old Jess Digangi, both of Lynnfield, were matched two years ago — a year after Digangi lost her mom. Digangi said the two like to watch Downton Abby together and go shopping.

“She has that mother-like role. She kind of reminds me of my mom. I do a lot of the same stuff I would do with my mom with Andrea,” Digangi said.

Andrea Mancinelli said the relationship holds rewards for her, too.

Andrea Mancinello (left) and Jess Digangi.
Courtesy of empowerHER

“It’s just really great to be able to at least try to be able to give something back to her and to help her through some tough times and also just kind of bring that fun back,” Mancinelli said. “A lot of times I’ll just text and kind of say, ‘I’m thinking of you.’”  

Belvin left her full-time job as a nonprofit consultant to run EmpowerHer, which relies entirely on donations. She believes her mom would have approved.

“She’d be proud that I was doing anything to, I guess, speak up or speak out on a topic that still, unfortunately, might even be considered more of a taboo topic,” Belvin said.

More than 100 girls of all ages attend the annual Mother’s Day retreat and other gatherings. So far, 20 of them have been paired with mentors.

Because of Belvin’s vision, the girls have a community of support and friendship.