Category Archives: In The News

Mike Cote’s Business Editor’s Notebook: Building the future with life skills and a band saw

WANTED: A BUS BIG enough to contain a woodworking shop and some volunteers to help build it.

Mel Gosselin poses with inspirational messages written on the walls by former students in the workshop of Girls at Work, where she was recently named CEO. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)Mel Gosselin poses with inspirational messages written on the walls by former students in the workshop of Girls at Work, where she was recently named CEO. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Girls at Work, a Manchester nonprofit that teaches girls and women how to make things with power tools and empower themselves in the process, wants to go mobile so it can expand its reach statewide.

Think of it as a food truck that smells like sawdust.

That’s a familiar scent to the girls ages 8 to 12 who participate in the eight-week after-school sessions at Girls at Work’s headquarters at 4 Elm St., in an old school building also home to the American-Canadian Genealogical Society.

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GIRLS AT WORK HIRES CEO MEL GOSSELIN

New CEO Mell GosselinManchester, NH – The Board of Directors of Girls At Work is honored to announce the recent hire of Mel Gosselin as Chief Executive Officer.

Gosselin brings 25 years of dynamic leadership in the for-profit and non-profit worlds, including 13 years as Executive Director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.   During her tenure food distribution grew from 1.5 million to over 12 million pounds.  She was also recognized at a national level chairing and serving on a number of advocacy and research committees such as Hunger Action Month and the Feeding America National Advisory Council.

“Mel has a proven strategic track record, extensive knowledge of the New Hampshire non-profit world, and a wonderful, sincere connection with our mission of empowering girls with confidence and competence. Her experience in fundraising, program development, and capacity building are exactly what Girls At Work needs as we are poised to grow and expand our programs to reach more girls,” said Samantha Luker, chairman of the board of directors.

“I’m so excited to see Mel put her considerable experience building relationships with diverse stakeholders to work for our little builders,” said Founder and Program Director Elaine Hamel.

“From my professional experience, and as a woodworker myself, I know the empowering feeling of completing a project you weren’t sure you could do. Girls At Work puts that power in the hands of girls from our city who are told by music, movies and TV that women and girls are weak. In our classes and camps, they learn how strong they really are,” Gosselin said. “I can’t wait to share this incredible program with more girls in Manchester and beyond.”

Girls At Work is a not-for-profit organization that empowers girls through woodworking. For more than 15 years, Girls at Work has shown girls their own inner strength, resilience, and problem-solving skills, in direct contrast to a world that tells them they aren’t strong, smart or powerful. Through woodworking with power tools, we believe girls can show us all – and themselves – what they’re really made of.

nhmagazine.com: Remarkable Women 2014: Game Changers

excerpt via nhmagazine.com

Remarkable Women 2014: Game Changers

This year’s Remarkable Women know the rules of the game but aren’t afraid to shake things up.

Elaine Hamel

Working Woman

Elaine Hamel
PHOTO BY PETER J. MCGINNIS

One morning last summer, Elaine Hamel had just taught a group of young girls how to build a picnic table at her workshop in Goffstown. After they ate lunch at their very own table, too many girls piled into the nearby hammock — bringing it tumbling to the ground.

“I went over and said, ‘I guess you’ve got to fix it, don’t you?’” Using the skills they had just learned, the girls worked together to drill a new hole and install the hardware back into the tree where the hammock had been hanging — fixing it as though it had never broken.

“That’s what happens. You get them in this mindset that they can do anything, and it’s so powerful for them. That was one of my favorite moments ever,” says Hamel, the founder of Girls at Work, a nonprofit that partners with other nonprofits in New Hampshire and New England to teach at-risk girls how to use power tools to build everything from pegboards to chairs to picnic tables.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ELAINE HAMEL

Hamel’s goal is not to get girls into the construction trades, but to build up their confidence and show them that they are strong and capable. “We help them tap into their internal power tools,” says Hamel, a general contractor herself who founded Girls at Work in 2000. Since then, more than 6,000 girls have gone through the program.

Hamel has recently become an ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Manchester, not only teaching woodworking skills to the Big and Little matches but working to recruit more volunteer mentors for the kids in need of those relationships. “It’s so huge for these kids,” says Hamel. “To tell people that they can make such a small commitment and make such an enormous difference, I’m happy to venture into this.”  — Kathleen Callahan

 

> A big GAW thank you to nhmagazine! Read the story on nhmagazine.com here.

New Hampshire Union Leader- “Nashua Expo Fosters Connections”

March 13. 2014
Nashua expo fosters connections
By BARBARA TAORMINA
Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA — For Elaine Hamel, the 2014 TD Bank Community and Small Business Expo in Nashua was a chance to talk up Girls at Work Inc., a nonprofit organization that reaches out to girls at risk and teaches them how to work with wood and power tools.

Any time you’re the only booth in the exhibition hall with a table loaded with work belts and power drills, you’re likely to draw some interest. But the Community and Small Business Expo was more than a traditional business fair where visitors learn about local products and services while gathering a year’s supply of pens and refrigerator magnets.

The annual expo focuses on connections and relationships between commerce and community. Small businesses have a chance to introduce themselves to nonprofit organizations that may need or want what they’re offering. And social service organizations, cultural groups and schools and educational programs have a chance to showcase the types of opportunities they can provide for businesses and their employees.

“We’ve met some really cool people,” Hamel said. “Anytime you put nonprofits and businesses together, it’s a great experience.”

Based in New Boston, Girls at Work runs summer camp workshops and programs tailored to the interests and needs of participants. Hamel said that since the organization was founded in 2000, about 7,000 girls have learned basic building skills.

But Girls at Work also runs corporate team-building workshops that offer the chance to escape cubicles and offices and spend a day with co-workers building a picnic table or some benches for a local charity.

Girls at Work also offers a professional development program for teachers that focuses on integrating hands-on techniques with traditional classroom lessons.

The Community and Small Business Expo was a chance for Hamel to talk with a range of people who might need or benefit from those programs.

For other organizations and businesses like Hunt Senior Living, Family Dentistry, Heartfelt Therapeutic Massage and Living At Home Senior Care, the expo was an opportunity to highlight the types of health and family support services available in Nashua. The city’s ability to provide those types of services can be the deciding factor when it comes to drawing new businesses, entrepreneurs and skilled workers to the area.

“Hunt has been around for 115 years, but you always have to reach out to people and inform businesses, networks and other nonprofits about what you do,” said Judy Franseen, who was manning the booth for Hunt Senior living.

Franseen said the expo had given her the chance to tell Hunt’s story to some new faces.

Nashua Community College had a team of representatives at the expo ready to explain a range of programs that are valuable connections to the business community. In addition to courses that enhance employees skills, the college also offers WorkReady NH, a program that provides assessment, instruction and credentialing in areas that have been identified by local employers as essential for job success in southern New Hampshire.

Other organizations such as the Lutheran Social Services’ Good News Garage, which refurbishes donated cars for families in need, were able to offer ideas for individuals and business who want to give back and contribute to strengthening the community.

The expo also gave small businesses and companies new to the area a chance to introduce themselves to the Nashua business community and local nonprofits, and to network and explore potential opportunities and partnerships.

Lyn Stevens, a fit coach for Koko Fit Club, was hoping to impress business owners with what the club can do for their organizations.

“Exercise would make their companies healthier and more fit, and they would spend less on insurance,” said Stevens.

Businesses like Coffee News, which offers an alternative vehicle for advertising, were at the expo targeting other small enterprises and nonprofits with a service that’s local and affordable.

Courtesy New Hampshire Union Leader – http://www.unionleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140313/NEWS02/140319407

 

Nothing compares to helping these kids feel better about themselves,’ says Elaine Hamel, founder of the nonprofit Girls at Work, which works teaches woodworking skills to and builds confidence in at-risk girls." - PHOTO BY PETER J. MCGINNIS

New Hampshire Business Review: Q&A with Girls at Work founder Elaine Hamel

Girls at Work is a N.H. organization that works teaches woodworking skills to and builds confidence in at-risk girls

BY MELANIE PLENDA

Published: 

Elaine Hamel is dropping the “t” off of “can’t” every day of the week for girls who never dreamed they’d ever know what “can” could feel like.

Nothing compares to helping these kids feel better about themselves,’ says Elaine Hamel, founder of the nonprofit Girls at Work, which works teaches woodworking skills to and builds confidence in at-risk girls." - PHOTO BY PETER J. MCGINNIS

“Nothing compares to helping these kids feel better about themselves,’ says Elaine Hamel, founder of the nonprofit Girls at Work, which works teaches woodworking skills to and builds confidence in at-risk girls.” – PHOTO BY PETER J. MCGINNIS

As founder of the nonprofit Girls at Work Inc., Hamel partners with nonprofit agencies serving at-risk youth in New Hampshire and throughout New England. These at-risk girls then come to Hamel’s workshop in Goffstown, where they learn how to use power tools and build everything from small woodworking projects to decks. Hamel’s goal is to give the girls the confidence that comes with learning a trade and completing a project.

What started as part-time workshops and visits to summer camps has turned into a full-time job for Hamel. Since 2000, more than 6,000 girls have gone through the program, and she said, “I could not give you a story that wasn’t a success story.”

Q. What is your background and what was going on with you that this came to fruition?

A. I was a general contractor in Manchester, and I specialized in residential renovations. In my late 20s, I had a neighbor living with me — a girl I had taken in. Her parents were addicts. I wasn’t really sure what to do with a little girl in the summer because I worked all the time, so I went to a Girl Scout office, asked about summer camps and ended up signing her up for camps.

And I couldn’t afford to send her there because I was sort of a struggling contractor, so I asked if there was anything I could do. And when I gave them my business card they said, “Sure, you can come and teach the girls how to build.”

So I went off to camp 22 years ago and spent a week teaching woodworking to girls. It was insane — these kids wanted to work 24 hours a day. They were feeling so successful with what they were doing.

After that, I got calls from a couple of different camp directors asking if I would come to their camps. So I decided I was going to build a barn on my property to have a shop just for girls. That’s when I started a nonprofit, Girls at Work. It’s just amazing what happens when girls build, it’s really powerful.

Q. Talk about the transition from a part-time venture to running a full-time nonprofit.

A. It was a pretty big leap. I mean, I really struggled as a female contractor — you don’t very often see women in the trades. I think having gone through what I had gone through trying to make it as a female contractor sort of enabled me to take on pretty much any challenge.

I went full time two years ago, but it was such a no-brainer for me. I loved renovating homes, I loved working with homeowners, but I always got so much more out of working with the kids. When you can take a little kid and give them an experience that makes them feel so very proud of themselves, there’s not much else that compares to that.

Then you step it up a notch and you take girls who are at-risk, abandoned, neglected or abused, and just defeated every day. There’s a lot to be proud of, but nothing compares to helping these kids feel better about themselves.

Q. Is your ultimate goal to encourage them to go into the trades or simply to help them feel good about themselves by giving them a skill they can master?

A. That’s a question we get a lot. Early on, everyone assumed we were doing it to get girls into the trades regardless of how many community colleges or tech schools are trying to do just that. That’s far from our goal. Our goal is to take these kids and give them a power tool — everything about it says strength and success and skill, all these things that girls don’t think they have in their repertoire — and you show these girls how to use the tool. It’s such a powerful experience for them — it enables them to tap into their own power. So that they begin to understand that they are courageous and powerful.

It’s unbelievable. I wish I could really convey how powerful the experience is for these girls. They are just blown away by their own potential. And at the end of the day, they are creating success. It’s not a failing grade — it’s a tangible project. It’s a picnic table, a shed or it’s even a small woodworking project, but they mastered all these skills to be able to get there.

Q. Can you talk about your Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?

A. The struggle for us, like every nonprofit, is funding. And because our insurance costs are pretty high — we always have and we always will. But we don’t have a tremendous amount of overhead.

So I talked to a friend who did an Indiegogo campaign. Our goal ideally was to raise $25,000, which would enable us to keep our costs down. And we did manage to raise — with offline donations, where people send checks instead of money online — just under $15,000. A lot of people look at that and say, “Wow, you didn’t even come close to your goal.” But what I learned is that late spring/early summer is the absolute worst time to fundraise because there’s all these graduations, weddings, every golf tournament under the sun is starting up.

So I’m thinking, based on that, we actually did extremely well. And I think it’s really a cool idea, this whole crowd fundraising is cool because it goes viral.

But I think for us, in addition to the fundraising component, we generated a lot of awareness. We had several different stories out about us. And while it didn’t generate as many dollars as I would have hoped, it generated a lot of interest and awareness in what we are doing.

—–

This story was originally published in the New Hampshire Business Review on 8/23/13. Thank you NHBR for the coverage!

The Hippo magazine, Aug 15-21
Elaine Hamel of Girls At Work teaches Arianna Laliberte how to use a table saw. Photo by Keith Testa / Concord Insider Staff

The Concord Insider: “Every Kid Deserves Camp”

Elaine Hamel of Girls At Work teaches Arianna Laliberte how to use a table saw. Photo by Keith Testa / Concord Insider Staff

Elaine Hamel of Girls At Work teaches Arianna Laliberte how to use a table saw. Photo by Keith Testa / Concord Insider Staff

The folks at Concord’s Camp Spaulding work to make that motto a reality

By  / Insider Staff

August 13, 2013

The day was only a few hours old when a horde of exuberant young girls climbed the winding wooded trail that leads to the dining hall at Concord’s Camp Spaulding on Wednesday morning, having been displaced from the arts and crafts building because of an unexpected power outage, the suspected result of a prank gone wrong by the boy campers during the previous night. Counselors hefted milk crates full of art supplies to the dining hall’s deck in order to continue the morning activities while others went to investigate the problem.

Turns out someone had simply failed to hit the light switch with enough force, and the power had likely been on all along.

There is perhaps no better illustration of life at Camp Spaulding – from tenuously controlled chaos comes unfiltered laughter, seemingly at the flip of a switch.

It would require pretty sophisticated, perhaps yet uninvented, scientific equipment to determine whether or not Camp Spaulding actually has some sort of magnetic force field hovering around it. But there certainly seems to be something of an unseen spell at work. Just ask Bennett Nugba, a former counselor who has climbed the ranks to assistant director and is – somewhat inexplicably, by his own account – in his fifth summer at the camp.

“It’s crazy, but I just keep coming back,” Nugba said.

So just how powerful is the draw of the camp, particularly to the children between the ages of 8 and 14 who call it their home away from home during the break from school each year? Perhaps it’s best if we let Jaydean Chagnon, a veteran of several years at the camp, explain.

There was mention of her mother potentially moving to Virginia in the near future, which would seem to limit her opportunity to return for another year. Wouldn’t it?

“Ah, it’s only 12 hours,” Chagnon said of the potential commute.

Such is the pull at one of Concord’s hidden gems, an overnight summer camp run by Child and Family Services with a sliding-scale payment option to assist those with lower incomes. The camp’s motto – Every Kid Deserves Camp – is truly an adage the staffers try to live by. A handful of those staffers were once campers themselves, graduating to counselors-in-training at age 15 before securing official positions years later.

The camp has long provided an outlet many children otherwise wouldn’t have, offering four different two-week sessions each summer. Campers – who can take part in as many as two sessions each year – get to enjoy the camp’s 56-acre campus and all its amenities while building relationships and, in many cases, lasting friendships, regardless of what’s going on at home.

“The biggest thing you get from it is seeing these kids every day, telling you how much fun they’re having,” Kevin McKenney, the camp’s director, said. “For some of these kids, this is the best two weeks of their whole year.”

There’s certainly never a break in the action. Campers take part in five activity blocks per day; the fifth involves all of the campers and takes place in the evening. Energy is high all morning and afternoon – some campers play soccer or volleyball, maybe capture the flag, while others take a supervised dip in the on-site pool. Others learn trust and discover self-confidence while being instructed on the low or high ropes course. A handful work on arts and crafts while one cabin moves inside the dining hall to set up the food stations and bring utensils to the tables for lunch time.

Variety is most often found in the evening activities. There is a talent show during one evening of each session, and each session wraps up with a Thursday night dance.

“The girls show up with a dress, and the rest of the 11 days are spent trying to find a date to the dance,” Nugba said.

The camp has welcomed up to 90 children during its busiest summers in the past, and this year has had between 60 and 70 per session, McKenney said. Campers are separated into cabins based on gender and age, with each cabin housing as many as 10 campers and two counselors.

The idea is to create an atmosphere of acceptance. Campers set their own rules for each cabin and are responsible for enforcing them – a popular punishment in the boys cabins appeared to be push-ups – and each morning features mandatory clean-up time, which is followed by an evaluation from a counselor and a cleanliness grade on a scale of 1-to-5 stars. The cabins with the best scores at the end of the week receive a pizza party.

The cabin activities are designed to foster an atmosphere of unity. Although the camp is accessible to those with low income, it’s equally accessible to everyone else. Once you arrive on campus, all campers are created equal.

“We want to make sure it’s not us and them, rich kids and poor kids, one side of the tracks or the other,” Kat Strange of Child and Family Services said. “It all just blends together; they’re all just kids. That’s the beauty of Camp Spaulding.”

That beauty isn’t lost on the campers, some of whom know they might not be able to take part if it weren’t for the sliding scale based on household income.

“I used to go to a camp that cost about $1,500, but we could only get about $200 in scholarships,” Kylee Warren said. “But then we found this.”

A family from Manchester with four students at Henry Wilson Elementary School also found it, thanks in large part to a fundraising push from the Wilson School teaching staff. One member of the family came back “a changed kid” after attending camp last summer, said Nicole Duclos, a social worker at the Wilson School, and several teachers kicked their fundraising drive into high gear and came up with enough to not only send all four students to camp this year, but send them with all the supplies they would need – from clothes to sleeping bags to swimsuits to shoes to disposable cameras to capture the memories.

“It’s just a life-changing experience for them to be out of Manchester for two weeks and just be kids,” Duclos said. “They could imagine two weeks living in the woods and playing and doing everything.”
“Everything” includes a lot more than just fun and games, too. The camp takes part in several programs with educational benefits, including Girls at Work, an organization that makes weekly visits and teaches girls how to use items like power tools and work on projects most often associated with boys.

Many items like sheds and bookcases throughout the camp have been built by the girls who go through the program. Elaine Hamel of Girls at Work referred to Camp Spaulding as one of her favorite stops, particularly because she knows many of the campers she works with come from difficult backgrounds.

“There are so many ways to heal those wounds, and showing them they are capable is one,” Hamel said.

Campers also get to visit Dawn-Mar Ranch in Hopkinton, where Marcia Evans uses horses to work with those with life challenges or disabilities, helping them to “gain confidence, find acceptance and experience the joys of life through the love.”

“The kids love this,” Evans said of the visits to Dawn-Mar. “They just love getting on the horses.”
What would summer camp be without some hijinks, though? Camp Spaulding has that covered, too, be it camper or counselor initiated.

One of the camp’s unused buildings, which was most recently a staff lounge, has become known as the haunted house, and it’s where counselors bring campers at night while describing the tale of fabricated (?) camp haunt Three-Fingered Willie. Counselors hide under the building and under tables, grabbing unsuspecting ankles and feet as Nugba tells Willie’s tale. Some old televisions in the corners of the creaky building have been known to flick on to creepy static, while mysterious faces will sometimes flash in front of a window before disappearing.

When not running screaming from haunted buildings, the campers get in on the act themselves. Christian Barr listed kitchen raids among his favorite pranks, which he described as when “you go in the kitchen and steal all the good stuff.”

The staff certainly helps foster that casual atmosphere to make the campers comfortable. Counselors often return for more than one summer – McKenney said about six or seven of the 20 staff members will come back in any given year – and are shifted from building to building between sessions, giving everyone the opportunity to work with different age groups. They go through a mandatory 10-day training program prior to the camp, with lifeguards and those instructing on the ropes course coming three days earlier than that, before the focus shifts to simply making sure to provide the campers the best possible experience.

“The big thing I talk to the staff when they work with the kids is just kind of helping them be comfortable,” McKenney said. “The first night we have a staff non-talent show, where we do ridiculous things and make fools of ourselves. That kind of sets the tone, that they’re here to have a good time. There’s no reason to be nervous about anything or what people think.”

The presence alone of certain counselors can provide an educational experience, as the camp welcomes a handful of international additions each year. Counselors have hailed from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and “all over the UK,” McKenney said, among others.

“Our counselor is from the Netherlands, and he shows us all pictures of his childhood and his life,” Barr said. “It’s so cool.”

Abby Mulholland is from Scotland, and is in her first year as a counselor after taking part in an exchange program. Though she does get one query repeatedly – “my favorite question is, what language do you speak? I say, I speak the same language you do, I just have an accent,” she said – she has already turned the camp into a familiar summer home.

“I love it. It’s the best kind of summer job you can have,” Mulholland said. “It’s just the general atmosphere; they do so much. It’s so rewarding. It’s an amazing feeling, giving them so much opportunity. It gives them a lot of new chances.”

The only downside to that close relationship between counselor and camper is that four times a summer, they have to endure tearful goodbyes.

“You do get attached,” Mulholland said. “You get really close with your cabin.”

Added Andre Neumann Pratte, another first-year counselor: “You get very close to your kids. I try to make sure I know each kid on a personal basis. It’s heartbreaking (when they leave).”

Most, though, come back, succumbing to the enchanting call of Camp Spaulding that seems to make lifers out of attendees and staffers alike.

“It definitely makes a big difference for a lot of these kids,” McKenney said. “They’re just here to have a good time. They don’t have to worry about whatever they have to worry about at home.”

 

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