Written by: Jan Carla Santos
Mar 04, 11:45 AM
This month of March, we feature a remarkable group of women who are making a difference in the lives of the fairer sex in America and other parts of the world. In honor of International Women's Month, we got in touch with Judy Rhodes, the founder of DIVA... WOW (Women Outdoors Worldwide), an organization that empowers women by exposing them to the wonders of the great outdoors.
DIVA... WOW is a women-only organization that breaks the stereotypes of society, as if to say, "Enough with the kitchen jokes!" The DIVAS are women who know how to carry a gun and fire it, can tell the difference among shotguns, handguns, bb guns and rifles. They are women who can skillfully use a crossbow, hunt game and train dogs. And mind you, these are women with a great sense of direction and can navigate their way around the woods without using a map. All these skills they have learned through the members' skills and enthusiasm - all these they have learned all the while embracing their femininity.
We caught up with Judy Rhodes the founder of DIVA... WOW to find out more. Judy has been married for 38 years, and she credits the success of her marriage to their shared appreciation for the outdoors, which has taken them around the world for hunting and fishing trips. In turn, the success of their relationship has helped shape the fortune of the DIVA... WOW. Then known as Texas Women's Shooting Sports, she founded the organization with the support of her husband, who gave her encouragement and financial backing.
CampingRoadTrip: What is your motivation in forming DIVA... WOW?
Judy Rhodes: My motivation for forming the DIVAs is that I was raised by East Texas ranching parents who introduced me to the outdoors the old fashion way...we lived it. In 1999, I had an 'AH HA' moment. After working to raise millions of dollars for many outdoor organizations, I was very aware that USA had lost two generations of participants in outdoor activities including shooting. I decided to make a difference! I picked up the banner and began my crusade, "Introducing women to their outdoor passions through education". I knew that women were the key. We are in charge of the family... we carpool our children, we control the checkbook and many heads of the family are women in a single parent home. Women make the decisions what our children eat, learn and experience during their formative years.
Our first organizational meeting, I invited 16 friends to dinner to share my vision of empowering women in the outdoors as I was speaking I looked at my friends and said, "We are not just friends and women that enjoy the outdoors...we are DIVAS!" Chants of "DIVA! DIVA! DIVA!" rang thru the room. I might mention that this was way before DIVA was an accepted term for women today! Now it is easy to find many DIVA branded items in any store or specialty store and I thank them!
What has changed in you since founding DIVA... WOW?
I have been changed since founding DIVA... WOW as my passion has grown for introducing every woman worldwide to the outdoors! I have become the leader in the outdoors I was born to be. I have great joy when a member of any age joins our organization because I know they want to make a difference in the outdoors and believe in my vision for educating women in the outdoors, too!
Don't you get criticisms from other people for partaking in activities that are dominated by men?
When I first began this women's only organization, many people did not think a woman from Texas could reach the world on educating women in the outdoors. My critics would say, "Why do you think a woman from Texas could make a difference in the great outdoors?" That challenge was all the fuel I needed for my mission. I hit the dusty road running and have never looked back. I realize my dream was BIG but Texas women do not dream small! Attending outdoor trade shows, many men would not let me breathe their air, would not speak to me or hear my intentions to bring women and another generation to outdoors experiences. NOW, twelve years later, industry seeks me out because they realize women are the fastest growing segment in the outdoors. We say and have proven...For every ONE woman we bring to the outdoors...she brings SEVEN!
Criticism of women in the outdoors is rampant. DIVAS are criticized for wearing too much bling and having a great time. My comment, "Moths come to the flame!" Encouragement from our organization and a few simple instructions of handgun, rifle and shotgun training during one of our many clinics throughout the United States, women's negative attitudes toward weapons quickly disappear. Much to my amazement she wants to know more about shooting and she proclaims she likes the smell of gun powder. We realized at this moment, Education is the Key. We have discovered our place in the outdoors with many larger and smaller outdoor organizations. Once we clarified our purpose for introducing the outdoors through education, the way to do it became clear. We help women discover their outdoor passion and encourage experiences in the outdoors that last a life time!
Why did you choose the outdoors as the primary thrust of the organization, versus more womanly activities like knitting, baking, etc?
I did not choose the outdoors...the outdoors chose ME! When my youngest of two sons left for college, I closed down the kitchen and prayed for what I was born to be... A purpose-driven life requiring my talent and boundless energy to make a difference by empowering women. My passion for the outdoors was a natural transition for me to be a leader into an unknown frontier...women in the outdoors!
In what ways has DIVA... WOW helped women and the community in general?
DIVA... WOW has empowered women in their everyday lives with education and outdoor experiences. DIVA worldwide membership has reached 1,500. Our members boast that we are the sisters they never had and provide the courage and support to make good decisions that confront women daily. The internet has provided our membership with the luxury of staying connected worldwide. DIVA news published monthly via the internet keeps our members informed and enlightened about our members' activities and accomplishments, new products targeting women and issues concerning women in the outdoors.
What challenges has DIVA... WOW faced through the years?
DIVA... WOW's biggest challenge was reaching out to our growing membership. Cheryl Long, Life Member and Communications Director, immediately joined in 1999 after the DIVAS began our journey. Cheryl had just found her outdoor passion, handgun shooting and embraced the idea of introducing women to the outdoors. Cheryl asked how we were communicating with our membership. She presented the idea we should communicate through the internet, still in its early stages. What a great idea! I always state, I put the bricks down... Cheryl added the mortar.
What achievements make DIVA... WOW most proud?
Our outdoor and personal achievements makes us very proud! We have developed many exciting new women leaders in the outdoors. We have discovered the diamond and the DIVA in each and every woman who has joined our organization. Our success stories are vast through the education of women and youth in the outdoors, plus personal success as giving many women an outdoor voice and many pounds less because we gave her the permission of acceptance and believing in herself!
Who can join DIVA... WOW and what is expected of each member?
Founded in Texas in 1999, DIVA... WOW has evolved worldwide with membership now stretching across the USA and a fourth of the globe. DIVA membership is open to women of any age who are interested in discovering their outdoor passion. Our members are divers and include both new and experienced shooters, anglers, archers and seasoned shoppers who enjoy our activities and the friendships made in the outdoors. By reaching out and educating women of all types, ages and sizes, we have created as extraordinary membership that encourages new friendships, the sharing of ideas, active participation in individual and team events to help women become skilled shooters and women of the outdoors.
Does DIVA WOW go on camping trips?
Our group does camp but only as individuals. We have many members that own motor homes, trailers, tents and sleeping bags because of their love of sleeping under the stars.
Do you have a favorite place to camp?
Since many of our members live in Texas we go to state parks and camp. Lake Texoma State Park is one of our favorite lakes to camp because we can participate in many outdoor activities such as: fishing, boating, skiing and horse back riding and it is only an hour and half from Dallas.
Most members are from the United States, what can women from other countries do if they want to join the organization?
DIVAS are Bigger than Texas! For information on how to join DIVA... WOW, visit our website.
What message can you give to women who haven't yet discovered the great outdoors?
Jump in and swim with the Mermaids... we will welcome you with open arms. We will help you discover your outdoor passion! "The road is long... travel with a DIVA and the experience will be worth the journey!"
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