For four years now, the last weekend of April is been the weekend of the annual EmpowHER retreat.
Over 400 girls are getting the chance to learn more about leadership, self-confidence and even some self-defense lessons.
Suzy Merchant is the head women’s basketball coach at Michigan State and also the Co-Chair for EmpowHER, she says she wants to help younger girls find confidence in themselves.
“For us, it’s about challenging them, making them uncomfortable in a positive way and getting them to learn a little bit more about who they are,” said Merchant.
The EmpowHER retreat was put in place to honor one of Merchant’s recruits, April Bocian, who took her life in 2015.
Amy and Travis Bocian, April’s parents, come to the retreat every year. They say the result of a growing number of girls showing up the retreat is overwhelming and wishes EmpowHER was around sooner.
“I always wonder if my daughter had something like this to go too,” said Amy Bocian.
April’s mother says was a star player in high school and had offers from more than 25 schools to continue her basketball career. Michigan State University was one of those 25.
After April committed suicide, Merchant says it was hard to wrap her head around.
“It hit me really hard and I thought over time I would shake it, and I really just couldn’t maybe being a mom, seeing what these young girls face,” said Merchant.
Merchant called Amy and Travis, wanting to help in any way after hearing the news about April. Amy says, Merchant was the only coach who called.
“When Suzy called and asked if she could do something because she just couldn’t let this go, we were just so honored and so humbled, I can’t even explain how we felt, because we knew she got how special our daughter was,” said Amy Bocian.
When it came for a date to plan for the first year of the event, the one free weekend in Merchant’s calendar was the last weekend of April, a weekend that the Bocians already had highlighted in their calendar.
“She said I honestly have one weekend, that I can do this, and she told me it was April 27th and 28th, and I said Suzy, that’s April’s birthday,” said Amy Bocian.
The event will continue through Saturday.