Taking inspiration from her Main Line sisterhood, Leader left an Emmy-winning production career to cultivate a space for women to reinvent themselves.
Tammi Leader Fuller was never a great camper. She didn’t win the awards and sometimes caused trouble. But she never forgot the enduring spirit of camaraderie and connectedness—or how summer camp was her happy place as a kid.
“I lived 10 months for those two months,” she says now.
Back in the 1970s, Fuller spent many magical summer days at Camp Akiba in the Poconos, resulting in lifetime relationships with a bevy of Main Line girls. Now in their 60s, they remain by her side in her latest venture, Campowerment, which recently shifted its West Coast headquarters to Philadelphia. A transformational educational “playground” for women in an adult weekend retreat format, Campowerment is pushing through the pandemic virtually with Zoom sessions and another online programming. It continues to help women everywhere reinvent their lives, connect and grow in the community through expert guidance enhanced by the simple potency of fun, games and sitting around the campfire. “We’re empowering women to step up and be leaders—and we need them to be,” says Fuller, its founder, and chief vision officer. “Career women needed something different, something special.”
She should know. Born in Miami, Fuller left a 34-year Emmy-winning career at the Today Show, where she was Katie Couric’s producer. Her moniker there, “Tammi for Miami,” stuck when she launched Campowerment, inspired by the likes of Shelly Lotman Fisher, Karen Cohen, Ellen Pritzker Schiffman, Wendy Weiss and Marge Matusow DellaVecchia. A year ago, she moved to Philadelphia because of them. “One by one, we re-found each other, and now the bond we share is impenetrable,” Fuller says.
The transition hasn’t been easy. Fuller’s father couldn’t understand why she left a thriving TV career to start Campowerment in 2013. It divided her parents even further when she recruited her mother, a retired creative writing professor, as her business partner and “village elder.”
In November 2018, Fuller lost Campowerment’s homebase in the massive Malibu, Calif., wildfires. “In a mere 14 hours, the place was decimated, taking with it many of our worldly possessions—but not our spirit,” Fuller says.
The following year, her mom, Joan Leader, died suddenly. Six months later, Fuller nearly lost her life to stomach complications from the stress of it all.
In March 2019, largely through a $75,000 GoFundMe campaign, Campowerment “rose from the ashes.” Up to that point, it had hosted 24-weekend camps and 50 mini-camps across the country,
“There’s something about camping that totally changes your life,” says Cohen, the Wynnewood-based friend who convinced Fuller to move to Center City. “If it’s the right camp for you, it’s an incredible experience and it totally changes the course of your life. When Tammi came up with this idea, she knew the essence of what it’s like.”
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Through college roommate Sheri Yulish, Fuller became close with former Philadelphia TV personality Gene London, who died last year. London was Yulish’s uncle, and he was a father figure to both women. Fuller helped plan his funeral in his hometown of Cleveland, handling subsequent media inquiries. “He was a big deal [in Philadelphia], and I learned a lot about the city when Gene died,” says Fuller. “The Gene London fan page on Facebook was flooded with condolences for weeks. Everyone is the real deal here. That’s what I love so much.”
Campowerment has a growing subscription base of 13,000, with a 60 percent return rate, proof that its diverse programming resonates both online and in person. Fuller’s 32-year-old daughter, Chelsea, is Campowerment’s CEO, and its pool of experts—some culled from Fuller’s years at the Today Show—inspire women to be self-activists.
“It’s holistic and inclusive,” says Cohen, who was a co-counselor with Fuller at Camp Akiba. “It’s a little medical. It’s financial. It’s meditative yoga. It’s all the things we should have in our lives, and all in one place with the freedom to be your genuine self—a self you may not even know.”
At 65, Cohen is the oldest of the “sisterhood” crew. She’s an adult speech pathologist—though, during the first 24 hours, campers aren’t permitted to say what they do professionally. This downplays the significance of career and rank. “At first, we went to essentially support Tammi,” Cohen says. “The first time someone asked me what I hoped to get out of the weekend. I said, ‘I want to be a sponge and take it all in.’ It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I ever had, sharing with women from all walks of life. I was just so touched by the emotion and power of it all.”
As a journalist, Fuller was always more comfortable running things from the background. Now she’s front and center, helping others to grow and shine. “So many people are isolated and just need to be heard—to meet and connect,” says Fuller. “People are looking to reinvent or challenge themselves. All bets are off with tomorrow. I’m 61 and starting my life over again.”
Joan Leader always told her daughter that she didn’t understand the “power of her normalcy,” inspiring Fuller the same way she now inspires others—to take a leap of faith. “I’m emerging from the most hell I’ve ever endured, and yet I’ve never been more charged up to make a difference on this planet,” says Fuller. “I may just be a sacrificial lamb, a conduit. But so what? Suck it up and be that.”