By Monitor staff, August 25, 2011
The first man, or woman, who put one flat stone against a cave wall and another on top of it to make a chair no doubt sat on it briefly then stood to admire the handiwork and swelled with pride. Building something useful is empowering, which is why the Girls at Work program is so valuable. The program teaches woodworking skills to young girls, including many in foster care or from low-income families, who otherwise might never get to use power tools and never find out, as one girl said, that “girls don’t need boys or men to do things for them. They’re perfectly capable.”
Education reporter Sarah Palermo visited a Girls at Work class held at Concord’s Camp Spaulding and wrote about the program and its founder, contractor Elaine Hamel, in last Friday’s Monitor. What she saw were young girls building shelves, benches, picnic tables and self-confidence.
The program is built around five tools: hammer, palm sander, drill press, branding iron, and sliding compound miter saw, otherwise known as “the big girl saw.” Asked whether she was frightened by the saw and its dangerous whirring blade, camp veteran Jaylene McNamara told Palermo, “It was kinda scary at first, but now, it’s like ‘Duh’. Of course we can do that.” To which we say, that’s awesome.
Hamel had to struggle against the prejudice experienced by women who try to make it in traditionally male occupations. She endured catcalls and constantly having her competence questioned. Her Goffstown-based school and traveling programs are her way to help end the kind of harassment and discrimination she experienced. We salute her work.
The program may steer some girls toward a career in construction, but that’s not it’s real value. The construction industry is in the doldrums and job opportunities now, and for the foreseeable future, are limited. The program’s value lies in breaking down barriers and building up girls by giving them the chance to prove to themselves that they can do something that, just hours before, or with boys around, they would have been too intimidated to try.