Catching the Building Bug: The Girls at Work Program
What do young people need from their elders in order to join the burgeoning maker movement? They need training to learn to use the right tools and encouragement that they can succeed.
For many young girls, finding both is a challenge.
On the CustomMade blog we’ve previously highlighted efforts to change attitudes towards manufacturing and building careers in general as well as programs like “Gadget Camp” that are designed to give girls hands-on experience with tools and encourage them to make careers of making things.
Girls at Work is another program that’s taken up that challenge.
Reporter Sarah Palermo of the Concord Monitor featured the Girls at Work program, founder/executive director Elaine Hamel, and a number of eager learners in her August 2011 article, “Building Unbiased.” Hamel has been running the non-profit organization for 10 years, which reaches girls ages 6-14 from low-income families through locations like Camp Spaulding and others throughout New England and teaches them to use power tools and to assert their independence.
Hamel herself overcame many obstacles en route to learning the construction trade, establishing her own contracting business, and founding the program that has now helped more than 5,000 girls. Having faced the attitudes of her family that girls should only do “girly things,” in addition to job discrimination and workplace harassment, she found her drive and conviction to make a difference for young girls. As she explains:
“Nobody would teach me; I heard ‘No’ more than you can count. The harassment, the inequality, it’s fired me to provide them with so much more,” she said. “This is my payback.”
Her payback is bringing in huge dividends, judging by the comments and attitudes of her pupils. Palermo describes the scene as 8-year old Caitlyn Dionne used the “big-girl saw,” a sliding compound miter saw, for the first time:
She grimaced, grabbed on with both hands, and lowered the whizzing, whirring blade through the wood once, then twice, and turned it off.
“Caitlyn, was it scary?” asked 10-year-old Molly Fernandes.
“Nah,” Caitlyn replied, skipping off to smooth her block with the hand sander.
At Girls At Work camps over the past four years, Jaylene McNamara has made a shelf, three coat hangers, two picnic tables, a bench, and a shed. The big items stay at Camp Spaulding, but she gets to take home the smaller ones for souvenirs.
“It was kinda scary at first, but now it’s like ‘Duh. Of course we can do that,’” she said.
Her friend Addia Bayly chimed in that watching girls new to the program was kind of funny.
“Not like funny like a mean funny,” she said, “but funny because we already know we can build things, and they don’t know it yet.”
Do you know of any other training programs aimed at the girls and boys who will be the future of custom artisanal manufacturing? Leave your comments and let us know.