Elise Knicely

She Is ABLE: Q & A with Elise Knicely

Elise Knicely is the Founder + CEO of Atlanta-based non-profit She Is ABLE. Get to know Elise and her awesome organization:

1. What is She IS ABLE?

She Is ABLE is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that offers outdoor trips and experiences to marginalized women. We focus our efforts on women recovering from trafficking, exploitation, abuse, and addiction. In short, we exist to provide access to outdoor experiences to women who usually wouldn’t have it.

We believe in the power of a woman, and that all women possess the qualities to be Adventurous and Brave, Leaders and Encouragers.

Elise Knicely teaching soccer in Malawi.
Elise Knicely teaching soccer in Malawi.

2.What inspired you to start a non profit?

To be honest, I never wanted to START a non-profit… I’ve always heard that it was a beast of a job, and man, that’s the truth. But She Is ABLE came to fruition through a series of small moments and collective experiences. From backpacking through New Zealand with women I met on a bus, to coaching soccer for high school women in Malawi, I have had the privilege of partnering with powerful women across the world. A few years back, I was traveling to India and decided to spend some time in the Red Light District of Mumbai. I had worked as a volunteer off and on with girls recovering from trafficking, but it wasn’t until I saw the gravity and international reach of trafficking that I knew I needed to bring awareness to the problem. I will never forget walking down a boulevard in India and seeing women lined up in cages along the back alleys of the road. It looked like a dog kennel.  In that moment I knew that working to bring healing and freedom to these women had become my purpose.  Paired with that experience, I grew up loving the outdoors.  Any chance I had, I was playing sports, hiking, rock climbing, or going to outdoors camps.  After working as a camp counselor and serving as a Camp Director in Northern California, I began to connect my heart for these women and my love of the outdoors.

I have also spent time in the corporate sector working as a consultant and human resources professional. Alongside my day job, I volunteered at a safe home.  One day, I mentioned to the volunteer coordinator that they should find a way to get the women outside.   She was elated and immediately asked how we could make that happen. Initially, I didn’t think I had the time or mental energy to take up another project.  However, as the months passed and I engaged in conversations with other organizations that were equally as eager for a women’s outdoor program, I realized that the demand existed and I was the one to make it happen.

Last September, I quit my full-time job to build the foundation of She Is ABLE. That season was by far the most challenging of my life. With a supportive spouse, friends, and family, paired with many little part-time jobs and a seemingly endless stream of “networking” coffee dates, we are finally up and running. I have an amazing board of smart and articulate people, a passionate and engaging network of She Is ABLE supporters, and organizations that lean in and are invest in our work. What we do and who we serve is a unique, challenging, and incredibly beautiful picture of redemption in the lives of women who, most often not by choice, have fallen behind. We have a special and rare opportunity to help them redefine what they are able to do and adopt a new love and care for their physical body. Their liberation feeds us, and we are grateful for the opportunity to grow beside them.

3. How can organizations or people get involved?

We have three ways that organizations can partner with us: Experience Partners, Sister Organizations, and Corporate Partnerships.

Experience Partners are outdoor programs, vendors, or camps that provide the experiences for our participants. They provide gear, guides, location, logistics, etc., i.e. whatever is needed to successfully run a trip.

Sister Organizations are organizations that are already caring for the women that we work with. These look like safe homes, emergency shelters, clinics, therapy centers, etc. They work with women recovering from a life of trafficking, exploitation, abuse, and addiction.

Corporate Partners are brands, companies, or organizations that love what we do and what we’re about. Their involvement can look like social media promotion, serving as ambassadors, fundraising event sponsors, or financial/equipment donors.

We do staff volunteers on our trips to provide friendship and relationship for our participants. We believe that something powerful happens when women from different walks of life and experiences come together and experience something together.

4.What are goals for SIA for this year?  For the next few years?

Our goals for this year are to run ten full trips and expand our partner relationships. Currently we are running trips in just the Southeast Region, but over the next few years, we would love to be able to cross the nation with our platform. I think that there is plenty of opportunity to connect shelters or clinics to programs and camps nationwide, helping organizations build relationships with local outdoor vendors in their own backyards. Big pipe dream would be to one day take some trips of women out of the country, whether it be hiking in Patagonia, surfing in Costa Rica, summiting in New Zealand, you name it!

“I live passionately, and I often weigh my happiness over practicality.”

5. Tell us about yourself!

As much as I cringe when I say it, I am your classic millennial. I live passionately, and I often weigh my happiness over practicality. I am married to an adventurous, smart, brave, and compassionate man who helps me see life as a fun journey that happens one day at a time. I am a dangerously protective big sister to my two younger sisters, and I am a family girl to the core. I have played sports all of my life, and to this day, will become over-the-top competitive in the lamest of pick up games. I’m a health and wellness junky and have developed a recent obsession with Kickboxing. I love being outside, taking risks, eating dark chocolate, and packing a backpack to go anywhere. I am fascinated by people and am endlessly intrigued with the different people and cultures of the world. I am an emotional human with a strong business sense. In summary, I’m just a 26-year-old trying to change the world by overusing “You go, girl.”

6. Why do you think it’s important for women to get outside?  Why marginalized women in particular?

REI recently published a revealing study about why women need to get outside. One survey found that “more than 85% of all women surveyed believe that the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical health, happiness, and overall well-being, and 70% reported that being outside is liberating.” Doctors and therapists are now offering “being outside” as a treatment plan for people with anxiety, depression, and other disorders. It’s no new news that being outside helps people clear their heads, get their daily dose of Vitamin D, and lift energy level and moods. Many of the women we work with have spent years in closed houses, basements, small spaces, or rehabilitation centers. Many are from low-income neighborhoods, where going on a casual Saturday hike was never an option, as access to parks, trekking, learning outdoor skills, etc. is incredibly limited.

Our participants are strong, courageous, and game-changing leaders, and we aim to communicate that through our trips. Many of our participants have experienced neglect, abuse and severe trauma. As trauma — especially sexual trauma — manifests itself in various forms, women often biologically disconnect from their bodies and their environments. This leads to declining self-care and negative feelings towards their physical beings. At She Is ABLE, we make it our mission to encourage and challenge our participants to reconnect with their physical self in order to seek deeper emotional healing and liberation. A powerful thing happens when a woman sees her body as not just a tool for abuse and neglect, but as a powerful, capable, and strong. That mental shift leads to such strong feelings of self-worth and accomplishment, and man, we love that!

About the writer:
Mikaela Hamilton is a Texas-born, Georgia-raised lifestyle photographer currently residing in a 20 sq. van named Fran.  She has a deep affinity for poetry, coffee, adventure, and encouraging others to discover their own potential.

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