girls at work standing on milkcrate

Child & Family Services Newsletter: Girl Power – Building Strong Women

“If you sand yourself with the sander, it won’t hurt, but if you hit yourself with the hammer, it will…so don’t do that.” Mackenzie, 6th grade.

This is just one of MANY important lessons that girls learned during the Girls at Work activities presented this summer at Camp Spaulding. “Placing a power tool in the hands of a young girl takes empowerment to an all new level,” says Elaine Hamel, founder of Girls at Work, Inc.

Each week, throughout the summer season, Elaine and her team visited Child and Family Services’ Camp Spaulding where they taught girls the basics of woodworking. Girls from 8-14, and the female counselors, got to work with palm sanders, cordless drills, a drill press, branding iron, hammers and screw drivers, and followed instructions to build coat racks, a shed and picnic tables.

Through woodshop, girls get to do something that is typically a boy’s sport. Not only working with power tools, but honing their math and science skills as well. The notion that girls don’t do well in these areas is a myth; girls have the same aptitude as boys, but social stereotypes have steered them away from pursuing careers in these fields. Social misperceptions have been stifling their potential!

Today, many new initiatives are emerging that focus on encouraging and empowering girls to break those stereotypes and explore subjects such as math, science, engineering AND WOODWORKING. The days of Barbie’s famous proclamation, “Math class is tough,” are gone! (Interestingly, we couldn’t find anything in our research that depicted G.I. Joe exclaiming, “Gosh, Barbie, Home Ec baffles me, and war is pretty hard, too!”)

“I’ve seen girls shy away from woodshop in the school setting as the majority of the class includes boys, says Hamel. “But our workshop, full of girls, breaks down those walls and allows girls to try many new and different things they probably would not have attempted otherwise.” At its core, Girls at Work, Inc. exists to develop the physical, mental and social health of girls and women. Program philosophy revolves around selfesteem enhancement, independence, social skills, teamwork and learning new skills. In addition, Girls at Work makes a practice of reaching out to foster girls as well as girls from families with low income. “These girls are faced with far too many obstacles that keep them from discovering their abilities that lie within,” says Hamel.

For Hamel, this effort is the result of a lifetime of observation, and a desire to share with others the sense of accomplishment you can have when you build something with your own two hands. “You know, more and more women are living on their own now, so these kinds of skills become important to their independence,” says Hamel. “In an age where nontraditional careers are fast becoming the norm, we are excited to be the only organization, locally, to offer such an extraordinary program.” As for the girls at Camp Spaulding, when we asked if they enjoyed the Girls at Work program, they delivered a resounding, “Yeah!” after which they proudly showed off the fruits of their labor. “Today, we made a coat rack, tomorrow we’re making a shed!” says a jubilant 8-year-old named Ebony. Does she think she can do it? Confidently, Ebony assures, “Sure! Alls it is, is a roof, sides, a door…carve in some windows…ya, we can do it!” So, what does Ebony want to be when she grows up? “A judge…or maybe a lawyer. Why? “So I can make enough money to have my own house.” When we point out that she could probably build her own, Ebony looks up in revelation, “Hey, that’s right. Because of wood(shop)!”

For more information on the Girls at Work program, visit

Child and Family Services Newsletter – Summer 2008