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NEWS | March 2, 2021

Outside of Work, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division Engineer Gives Back to Community

By Esmi Careaga NSWC Port Hueneme Division

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) Combat Systems Project Engineer Dan Ritchey saw a need in a community near his home he couldn’t ignore, and with his family’s support, he was able to make a difference outside of the workforce by creating a nonprofit organization that focuses on supporting and giving back to those who face personal challenges.

After retiring in 2003 from serving in the U.S. Navy, Ritchey took a position with PHD as an electronics engineer while living in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 2004, he transferred to San Diego, California as a weapons training specialist, and a few years later, became a Littoral Combat Ship test coordinator. Ritchey now works as a combat systems project engineer for PHD’s new combat systems construction availability branch alongside systems engineers from PHD, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command and numerous organizations, ensuring that complex combat systems-related issues are fully understood, properly documented and resolved.

While working for the command is very fulfilling, Ritchey said he saw a need and an opportunity he could not ignore outside of the workforce in a North San Diego County community.

In 2014, Ritchey and his wife, Toni Ritchey, started the nonprofit organization Empower Me Up (EMU) in San Marcos, California.

The motivation behind starting the nonprofit sprouted from the family’s own struggles. The Ritchey’s daughter, Danielle Ritchey, battled depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

However, the Ritcheys found comfort in sharing their story and discovered that they weren’t alone. Additionally, they learned that many families and young people face similar challenges.

“We felt we had to do something to help empower these individuals and to make long-term therapeutic programs dedicated to helping this population realize its potential,” Dan Ritchey said.  

EMU’s program helps motivate, educate and inspire struggling families, teens and young adults, Ritchey said, by offering them in-person interpersonal skill-building groups, character development activities, motivational speakers, parent and teen workshops, special projects, therapy games, technology and equipment and transportation projects.

In addition, EMU also provides photography classes, jewelry making, inspirational poster designing, bonfire gatherings, green screen photo shoots and movie nights.

Before the pandemic, EMU held an eight-week class with parents and students. During the group session, a parent approached the Ritcheys about their daughter’s anxiety and self-esteem issues.

“The first night we opened with an icebreaker exercise called personal bingo, and it was too much for the girl, and she started crying and could not participate,” Dan Ritchey said. “We let her know this was a safe place, and if she didn’t want to take part, it was OK.”

After eight months of attending EMU family courses, the girl’s anxiety and self-esteem issues began to fade. She was able to build up her confidence, stay in school and was even cast in a school play.

The Ritcheys said situations and outcomes like this inspire them to keep working hard and helping others.

Toni Ritchey said seeing the impact the nonprofit was making in the community has also touched their hearts.

“We are able to make a difference in their lives and ours,” Toni Ritchey said. “We work with several schools in North San Diego County, and are now working with a therapeutic school in Hurricane, Utah.”

As running EMU is a volunteer effort, it would not be possible without his full-time job, Dan Ritchey explained. His position has also taught him skills that have helped him become a stronger leader outside of work.