How it Began

Back in 1991 our founder Elaine, who was a general contractor specializing in residential renovations, opted to sign up a neighbor for summer camp.

At the time, she couldn’t afford the cost so instead offered to build something for the camp. She was asked to teach the girls how to build in exchange for the cost of summer camp. Elaine headed to camp for a week with her truck filled with power tools and converted an open pavilion to a woodworking shop. Girls signed up to learn how to safely use power tools and build. Not only did they show up early to build after the first day, but stayed late into the night completing all sorts of woodworking projects.

Before long word got out among camp directors and soon Elaine was scheduling many visits with camps all over New England to build with girls in between her renovation projects. It soon became challenging to manage both renovations and the long list of summer camp requests to teach girls how to safely use power tools to build. So with the help of a couple of carpenters Elaine had worked with for years, and a few neighbors, she built a barn at her home in New Boston from the remnants of a barn in Amherst NH that had been demolished. This would become the first location and home of Girls at Work. Two eight year old girls from the neighborhood not only worked on the barn alongside Elaine, but they decided that the name of the program should be Girls at Work!

As Elaine learned more about educating, it became clear that it was important to do a series of workshops for greater impact, not just individual workshops. Running an after school program for inner city girls from Manchester required a location in Manchester and after a few years of holding workshops in the barn in New Boston, NH it was time to relocate to Manchester NH. Alderman Barbara Shaw was an early fan of the program and was instrumental in finding us our first location in Manchester. A building that was once an elementary school Elaine had attended as a little kid, Blessed Sacrament School that was now The Genealogy Association became our first location in Manchester, NH.

Along with many volunteers, hundreds of hours and materials donated from Timberland and Timberland Pro, two old classrooms were converted into woodworking workshops that would now house our Afterschool and Summer Camp workshops. We operated for several years out of this building but then the building was placed on the market and we had to find a new location. Elaine met with Senator Maggie Hassan who was overly willing to help the organization stay in Manchester and had her office introduce Elaine to Don Bossi. Don, at the time, was the Executive Director of First Robotics in the Amoskeag Millyard. Don was happy to show Elaine some space that had been a daycare for many years in the First Robotics building, and soon Elaine was sketching plans for this new location.

A building that was once an elementary school Elaine had attended as a little kid, Blessed Sacrament School that was now The Genealogy Association became our first location in Manchester, NH.

Unlike the two classrooms in an old school building, this renovation was on a much larger scale.

The new location would provide offices, a kitchen area where all the girls would enjoy much needed snacks after school and lunch/snacks during summer camp. Also, a room to store lumber, at least two woodworking workshops, a conference room and a Kindness Closet, which was a large closet filled with much needed donations to meet the needs of the girls in our programs.

As this was such a large undertaking we needed to hire a construction company to help us manage the project. Elaine interviewed three commercial construction companies and decided that Harvey Construction out of Bedford, NH was best suited to meet our needs. Under the direction of Rob Prunier and the team at Harvey Construction could not have been more wonderful to work with. Not only did they manage our renovation during a turbulent time, beginning in 2020, they gave suppliers and subcontractors the opportunity to step up for us in many different ways from pro bono labor to donated supplies and materials. And as always, we brought large teams of volunteers in from Timberland and Timberland Pro as well as many other volunteers who have been there for us through the years. It was pretty remarkable to see so many folks step up for us with this major renovation from what used to be an empty space in an old mill building to a gorgeous space filled with the energy of what can only be best described as “Strongertogether”. We believe our girls deserve a beautiful space where they feel like they belong. We are also thrilled to let them know how many folks stepped up for them to make it all happen.

With the new woodworking shops buzzing with girls aged 8-11 years old learning how to build, we realized it was time to create programming for middle school girls. Fast forward and we now have a STEAM room equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers, a cricket and many other items to inspire girls to continue to discover what they are capable of from outside of their comfort zones.

We pride ourselves in creating a space that supports girls on so many levels with the walls in all of our shops and bathrooms covered in positive messaging and staff who believe in them wholeheartedly. While our society may limit girls because of their gender, we like to believe that being a girl is a ‘super power’.

We are excited to be piloting our STEAM workshops and it has been really exciting to see girls so engaged in programming that is not typically offered in their schools. Thanks to our partners at Revision Energy, UNH Lab girls, Network for Young Entrepreneurs and NH Environmental Education Program we were able to offer a diverse array of workshops to girls that would allow us to observe what the girls were excited about and what direction we will take as we create our curriculum for the STEAM room. We will continue to build on successful partnerships and offer field trips and ‘guest’ presenters but will also continue to introduce new partners as we create a program that inspires girls to consider the many fields available to them In partnership with the Manchester School District, it has been an honor to work with the office of the superintendent who fully believe in our mission. We hope to have workshops in STEAM not only after school but also offered throughout the day and have girls bussed in from the district. We believe it is important to inspire girls in middle school to consider the various opportunities that exist for them in careers where women tend to shy away. If they can see it they can be it and if they see women who are teaching technology they won’t think twice about these career choices.

As we look to the future, we are excited at the opportunity to also create a STEAM program geared toward high school girls.

Many businesses are creating their own training programs and looking toward high school graduates who are not burdened with college debt. It is our goal to create partnerships with these businesses to build a ‘Workforce Development Program’ for high school girls. Many girls shy away from careers they feel are ‘for men only’ but within our training program girls will begin to see themselves in new fields they otherwise would not have considered. When girls complete these training programs, businesses will be required to hire groups of graduates, not single graduates. We believe that hiring groups of girls in fields where they will be consistently outnumbered will provide necessary support to increase success rates in these companies.

The goal for all of our programs is building self confidence, self esteem, and leaving girls feeling empowered to believe they are capable of all things. What is most exciting about the ‘Workforce Development Program’ is that this is a new level of empowerment, this is economic empowerment, the opportunity to move to a place of independence and security in fields that provide livable wages. Many of the fields that women enter into do not provide economic empowerment and leave women struggling to make ends meet. We are excited to change the game for young women with this innovative programming.

Thank You!