Tag Archives: empowerment

eTown recognizes Elaine Hamel – Girls at Work for “ECHIEVEMENT AWARD”

Girls are Powerful!Girls at Work, Inc. empowers girls with the tools to overcome adversity and build confidence to face current and future life challenges.

Their vision is a world where every girl feels confident and capable.

Only a handful of the girls they meet have had the opportunity to learn how to use power tools safely. They pride ourselves in providing girls with a safe and supportive environment to step out of their comfort zone and to build with other girls. Not only do they discover how capable they are, they also discover  how exciting it is to work as part of a team toward a common goal.

Click here to read more and hear the full interview.

Author Rachel Cisto

Guest post: Why I need feminism

By Rachel Cisto

I am a feminist.

I’ve never said that out loud. It’s not because feminism is a new, radical idea. I’ve never labeled myself as a feminist because these days, just the word “feminist” elicits whispers and strange looks from women, or jokes and cries of ‘man-hater!’ from men.

Which I find quite strange, since the dictionary definition of feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities.” People are shaming me for wanting to be treated like an equal? Men think I hate them because I want to be treated the same? Most of the issues I find are from people who don’t seem to understand that.

Author Rachel Cisto

Rachel Cisto

And it’s those reasons that make me a feminist. I need feminism. Women like me need feminism.

I need feminism because my male coworkers will get viewer emails talking about the stories they cover…and mine will say “your hair looked horrible” or “honey, you need a stylist”.

I need feminism because the public will base their evaluations of me not on my journalistic ethics or the way I cover my stories, but on the fact that I’m not a size 0 – and society is 100% okay with that.

I need feminism because I’ve overheard boys at my sister’s — co-ed — sports games muttering something about how it was so wrong that she won…instead of the boys.

I need it because I’ll do the same job as my colleague at the desk next to me…for a dollar less. And I’ll get a dollar less not because I’m bad at my job, but because my colleague is a man.

I need it because the last time my family bought a car, the salesman shooed 18-year-old me away when I tried to argue about an unfair price by saying “It’s your daddy’s car, sweetheart. Why don’t you let the adults talk? I think there’s some girly magazines in the front lobby.” That same salesman, later in the ordeal, told my mom that “the men didn’t need her opinion”.

I need it because I’ve met politicians and sources who look down on me because I’m a young woman, as if my gender will affect the way I write my story. One of them even wrote me back after they saw the finished piece to say “you did that pretty well, for a girl.”


I need it because the dress code for women is often more strict than the one for men.

I need it because when I moved from rural New Hampshire to Hartford, the first thing anyone asked me was if I was going to start carrying pepper spray. Or if I was going to take self-defense classes. And someone taught me how to hold my keys like a weapon. Someone else shamed me for not being afraid of the city at night.

But, trust me, feminism isn’t all about women either.

MEN need it because almost every insult you can think of has something to do with their masculinity. “You throw like a girl.” “Look at that girly-man wearing pink.”

Even when men are body-shamed, it’s done by comparing them to women. They’re made fun of for having “man-boobs”, as if having them connected to women in any way makes them less of a man. They say it as if being a girl is degrading.

It’s not about being “better” than men. It’s not about taking the world from them, or making women superior, and it’s certainly not about hating them.

It’s about treating everyone with respect. It’s all about being equals.

(Originally published in The Hartford Courant).

* * *

Rachel Cisto, of Weare, N.H., is a senior at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn., majoring in journalism and minoring in politics and government. She is a reporter for the University’s Student Television Network, the Campus Correspondent and editor-in-chief of Her Campus Hartford, and a mentor for FIRST Robotics Team 1922, from John Stark Regional and Hopkinton High School.


Still shot from NO MORE ad

“Know More.” No More.


Still shot from NO MORE ad

Still from NO MORE Super Bowl spot

The latest spot from the NO MORE campaign will debut during the Super Bowl, one of the most watched programs on television, with an estimated 110 million viewers this year. The program that’s notorious for its humorous commercials, half-time show mishaps, and competitive display of brute force, will shake things up with a little dose of reality this time.

In the middle of the Budweiser Clydesdale puppy and Doritos commercials, a somber spot will be aired. In the opening is the sound of a phone ringing; the camera pans to show a home in disarray from an apparent struggle. Then we hear the audio of a 911 call from a domestic violence victim pretending to order a pizza. The public service commercial will be one of dozens run by NoMore.org this year.  More commercials in the lineup, featuring FL players can be seen here.  The “Speechless” segment of the campaign highlights the emotional reactions of athletes and other stars when they are asked to talk about domestic and sexual violence. The deep sighs, tears and awkward silent reactions emphasize the message “Domestic violence and sexual assault are hard subjects for everyone to talk about.”

NFL Players Say NO MORE | Joyful Heart Foundation

It IS hard to talk about; it’s awkward and painful and too painstakingly real. I watch optimistically as NFL athletes and A-List celebrities promise “no more ignorance,” “no more ignoring the issue.” I can’t help but wonder, is it enough? It won’t be tolerated, but how will it be prevented? How do we ensure that the next generation of girls will never have to witness the vulnerability of their mother, sibling or peer being damaged by the wrath of violence? How do we ensure that these same girls are not the next generation of victims themselves?

Many of the young girls participating in our programs are far too familiar with violence against women; they witness it first-hand and often are victims themselves. Many victims of domestic and sexual violence become trapped in the cycle of abuse because they are dependent on their abuser and they lack a support system that could offer a judgment-free escape.

The World Health Organization lists the following as risk factors for being a victim of domestic and sexual violence:

  • Low education
  • Witnessing violence between parents
  • Exposure to abuse during childhood
  • Attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality

Builders in our program have the opportunity to escape their own realities in a safe environment as they gain hands-on experience building and using power tools.  Girls at Work hammers down the idea of gender inequality before our builders even have the opportunity to entertain such a concept. Each workshop offers an opportunity to build confidence and unleash the girls’ inner power. Girls leave our builds less vulnerable and with a greater sense of self-worth: That is the greatest defense against a very serious problem.

We can rejoice that the media decides to shed some light on these issues. There is an overwhelming call to end violence against women, but how do we stop it before it begins? This is a mission that requires an infantry, because the reality is that even the $50 million dollars of advertising during one of the most watched programs on television isn’t going to solve the problem. It is wonderful to see organizations coming to the defense of women, but we need to focus on teaching young girls how to defend themselves from their own vulnerability.

If you are among  the millions who see this campaign spot this weekend, we ask you to know more. Know more of the staggering statistics of violence against women. Know more about the organizations (like Girls at Work) who are not only taking a stand against violence, but are providing resources and prevention. Know that it will take more than just a conversation to address this painful issue. Know more. No More.

Girls at Work, Inc. logo

Girls at Work, Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers our services to organizations that work with girls from group homes, low-income families, with incarcerated parents or parents in rehab. (While our focus is at-risk girls we don’t turn anyone away.)  We also work to build partnerships with youth organizations that focus on girls at risk. We rely on funding and sponsorships to help subsidize the cost of our program. Please consider donating to our cause!

Girls building

Each build reminds us WHY girls should build



Girls building

There are so many reasons why I love to build with girls. I’m certain that if I had to make a list of those reasons, it would go on forever.

Each and every build clearly shows why building with girls is such an important and powerful experience:  it teaches girls so much about themselves and the inherent power they have within.

Last week, in our after-school program, one of the little builders was struggling through the instructional portion of our program. This is a common occurrence in so many of our builders and I am sure the reasons for this vary widely. I used the line “stay with me” at least a half dozen times. Each time, I gained the little builder’s attention for a few minutes, but soon she would drift off once again.

What surprises me most with this sort of “attention-challenged” little girl is what happens when she uses that first power tool. It is incredible to see how unbelievably focused she becomes. It is almost as if our little builders who struggle most with staying focused for instruction absorb more than those who seem overly focused on instruction. And with every tool the focus remains the same!

I spoke to some of the volunteers on hand to find out what they thought of this. My background is not in the world of academia or psychology, though at times I wish it was. But it was pretty refreshing to learn that many kids today are tactile learners, and that building is a really wonderful way to reach them. So the next time I find myself using the words “stay with me,” I will remember that I am looking at another incredible little builder.

I’ll be sure to add this to the list of why girls should build!

Elaine Hamel

Executive Director

Why we’re thankful all year

With so much unrest in the world today, at times it is hard to see that there is clearly still so much to be thankful for.

As a little kid, my dad showed me, by example, that dedicating your career to helping others makes for an extremely fulfilling life; my mom showed me that it was important to always be there for my brothers and me; my babysitter (who was more of a grandmother to us) taught me about unconditional love (and also that I needed my butt kicked once in a while!) I’m not sure any of us can ever fully comprehend how significant these roles are in our development. But I do feel that working with young girls who struggle with abandonment has opened my eyes in ways that inspire me to fight hard for these young girls.

As a young adult I had the good fortune to stumble upon a little girl who most would consider pretty abandoned. Fast forward many years and now I can look back and realize that this relationship not only fulfilled my life in ways I could have never imagined, but it mapped out the course for my dream job of empowering as many young girls as possible through building.

It takes a great deal of revenue, dedication and time to keep Girls at Work, Inc. operating, but more importantly, it takes a group of committed individuals to help our organization grow to extend the reach to many more.

Today I am extremely thankful to have a committed and talented group of individuals who see the true value in our mission of watching girls grow as we empower them through building, taking them far out of their comfort zone. Because of the skill and dedication of everyone from our Advisory Team to our Board of Directors to our many volunteers, our momentum is now stronger than ever before.

Because of these folks, we just celebrated our most successful Musicfest yet! In the beautiful auditorium at the Art Institute, filled with our individual supporters as well as our business sponsors, Common Man, Gabi’s Smoke Shack, Molloy Sound and Video,  Charles Schwabb and Mike Bonacorsi, there was no denying the energy was magical. And as always, a wonderful selection of musicians managed by our dear Chelsea Berry filled the room with wonderful music that featured our “star builder gone musician” Ava Liponis who left people speechless! An incredible bonus to our event this year was not only the appearance of Governor Maggie Hassan, but the time she took to speak on behalf of the work that we do. How wonderful to have support from a Governor who truly cares about our youth and is willing to share her time with us on such a special night.

I am also extremely thankful to all of the organizations that work tirelessly to raise additional funds to support a partnership with us. With so many nonprofits operating on a shoestring budget, yet doing such critical work, we are proud to continue to join forces with such wonderful organizations as Child and Family Services, Circle Program and our newest partner Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Manchester, just to name a few. We are also very excited about our new after-school partnerships. Together we really do accomplish more.

So if you don’t have a young person in your life who is in a better place because you believe in them… Stop. Look. Listen. I would be willing to bet you would not have to look far to find one.

Wishing you all a cozy and warm season of giving.


Women at work using power tools

Women need to be empowered, too

Women at work using power tools

I was never intimidated by boys. I have five brothers, and, as I was growing up, most of the kids in the neighborhood were boys. So I was actually more comfortable in a setting surrounded by boys. I spent a fair amount of time “tinkering” as a kid and was always intrigued by creating things with my hands. In high school, I decided to take a shop class, but was really disappointed to learn that shop was only for boys. What was this “only for boys” BS? I could throw a football as far as the rest of them, even better than some. And I know I was faster than most.

Needless to say I was not very excited about taking the sewing class that was “highly recommended.” I was told that knowing how to sew would come in really handy some day.

I’m still waiting for that day.

Still, I made the best of it and decided to “build” a pair of plaid pants. True to the building bug that was inside of me, I was obsessed with aligning each line in the pattern.

Fast-forward through high school and a couple of years in college. The urge to learn how to build had not subsided. I decided to take a woodworking class at the local technical college. I loved every minute of it and the instructor paid me no special attention because I was the only girl in the class – and the youngest student by far. I thought it quite interesting whenever I approached the massive table saw in the shop. You could almost see the tension rise as all the other students would rush to offer me advice on how to use it. They were also extremely quick to share “horror” stories of accidents that had happened while using a table saw.

Fast-forward many more years and I am sitting with a group of large men in a weeklong Blacksmithing course. Most of these men were welding instructors at universities. As they all introduced themselves, Women at work buildingand their impressive backgrounds in metalsmithing and blacksmithing, the instructor turned to me and asked “Are you sure you are in the right class?” I smiled, and responded “I am.” He had the same puzzled look as everyone else in the room when he asked why I had taken the workshop. I responded, “I built a barn out of timbers from a barn that was taken down and I’d like to learn how to build hinges for the doors I built.” Needless to say, I spent a week with some pretty wonderfully talented blacksmiths who welcomed me with many questions about my barn.

I find it so strange that on so many levels, women are seen as not capable.  I called in to a talk show on NPR one afternoon to defend the fact that women and men should make the same money on a construction site. One of the callers argued that there was not one woman who could possibly lift two bundles of shingles onto a roof (they weigh 80 pounds each). I called in to ask why anyone would lift that much weight and destroy their knees and back. I usually choose to have the shingles delivered to the roof with equipment that was designed to do just that, the heavy lifting. So YES, women deserve the same pay on construction sites because it is not about working harder, it is about working SMARTER.

I share all of this because almost 15 years ago I started Girls at Work, Inc. and the mission was to empower girls at risk through building. However, I have had so many requests to offer classes for women that it became evident it was worth considering. Unlike the young girls we build with who arrive with a tinge of fear and a great deal of excitement and curiosity, women enter the shop filled with fear. It’s amazing to see what happens when you have had a lifetime of believing you are not capable of using power tools.

Women buildingOur girls enter the shop area and are excited to try their hand at every tool that is before them while the women in our workshops rate how much they can get hurt with each power tool. However, we use a very gentle approach, acknowledging the fear – and it seems to work very well. We have even had women walk away in tears after using a compound mitre saw for the very first time because they are so overwhelmed at what they are capable of.

Although our overall goal is to provide a powerful experience to young girls who feel defined by their failures, it’s pretty rewarding to know that women overcome many of the same issues in our classes. Women add another level of excitement to our workshops as every now and then there is one who suggests that beer and cigars would add to the experience!

Regardless of the age, building is a powerful experience for girls and women and the most amazing byproduct of the experience is what you learn about yourself in the process. So if you feel that you are not a builder’ and could never learn to use power tools, sign up! We’ll be happy to convince you otherwise.

Girls at Work, Inc. logo

Are you a woman who is interested in learning how to build things and to use power tools? Learn more about our Workshops for Women!

Musicfest Girls at Work

Music, food and fun for a great cause

Musicfest Girls at Work

We have some amazing partnerships with many social service agencies throughout the state, but, unfortunately, many of those agencies don’t always have the funding needed to cover the cost of our programs. To generate revenue that helps reduce the program’s costs for those agencies, we hold an annual fundraiser so that we can bring our program – and provide a powerful experience – to many more girls throughout New England.

The event, Musicfest, brings together live music, great food, an auction and more. Past performers include Elizabeth Lorrey, The Musicfest Girls at WorkRafters, Audrey Drake and Ian Ethan Case, just to name a few. The highlight of the event last year was when a young builder named Ava Liponis joined Chelsea Berry on stage and performed for the first time. Chelsea will be back this year, along with a few new artists that may be new to many of our supporters. The combination of wonderful music and incredible energy from supporters who believe in our mission of empowering girls makes for a truly amazing event.

Since our first year, when we gathered 100 people in a beautiful Victorian house in Concord, The Common Man has been a consistent supporter and we are so grateful for the support of the staff. Each year, with their help, we ramp up our efforts to provide an amazing night for everyone. Last year’s event was no exception: Along with The Common Man, we welcomed Anthony Martino of Gabi’s Smoke Shack. Anthony parked a large smoker trailer at our location the night before our event and smoked meat through the night. Our supporters arrived last year to the smell of pulled pork, pulled chicken and Musicfest Girls at WorkTexas hot sausage. Folks are still talking about the food we had at our Musicfest last year

We also had some great South American wines that were donated by The Imported Grape, and amazing bread donated by Good Loaf.

There are many other businesses that provide food, drink and raffle prizes, and many of our individual supporters step up with incredible donations. Last year we were able to raffle two iPads and auction off some really impressive items.

If you’d like to meet some incredible folks, listen to some wonderful music, eat some amazing food and toast to our next year, we’d love to have you join us at the Art Institute in Manchester Nov. 8 from 6-9 p.m. Not only will you enjoy a wonderful evening, but your donations will go toward providing young girls an empowering summer camp experience. Get your tickets here.

Please plan to join us; it’s a win-win for everyone!

Girls at Work, Inc. logo

Girls at Work, Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers our services to organizations that work with girls from group homes, low-income families, with incarcerated parents or parents in rehab. (While our focus is at-risk girls we don’t turn anyone away.)  We also work to build partnerships with youth organizations that focus on girls at risk. We rely on funding and sponsorships to help subsidize the cost of our program. Please consider donating to our cause!


Dump the negative; make room for the positive

Girls at work

A few years ago we headed to a camp for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youths in Vermont. On the long drive to this camp I thought about how I could really have an impact on these kids in the two short days we would build with them. Upon my arrival, I spotted an extremely old picnic table on the camp site. It was so weathered that the only use I could see for it was kindling for a fire. I decided to hand each of the high school students a permanent marker and I told them to think about something that someone had once said to them that was hurtful. We talked about why it is so important to let these words go, to make room for the positive and empowering experiences they’ll have in the future.

This group of first-time builders didn’t hesitate to come up with the words they wanted to let go of. To me, it seemed sad that these hurtful words were so present in their minds; that they had no problem recalling them. I asked them to write these words on this old worn-out picnic table. After everyone else had finished, one young boy continued to write for a few more minutes. We all patiently waited. Once he was finished, he asked if I would read what he wrote out loud. I explained it was not necessary, but he insisted. After I read it to myself, I looked around and realized we were all sitting in a place of hurt and it would probably be ok to share. I read “the world would be a better place if you killed yourself you f*****’ f*****.

Hearing these words out loud was both shocking and sad. I talked about how our program typically uses tools to create, build and accomplish. But in order to make room for our creations, we would first need to demolish these negative thoughts. I pulled out a saw and showed them how to use it safely to cut up their section of the table, then toss the pieces into the fire pit. We then talked about how the fire and smoke would represent letting go of those words, making room for more positive ones. Once the old table and negative words were gone, we built a new picnic table together. Much like the act of letting go of the hurtful words, the build was an act of empowerment.

More recently, we spent a day running a similar program at The Circle Program, a long-time partner of ours. We wrote down hurtful words on old tables, cut up the tables, and then threw the pieces away. We couldn’t burn them this time, because there was paint on them, so we filled two garden carts, then teamed up and hauled them to the Dumpsters. As the girls hauled them off, the energy was low, and the atmosphere quiet and heavy. When we got to the Dumpster, I told the girls to throw the pieces into the Dumpster like they meant it.

As we headed back to build new tables, the girls asked if they could all pile into the carts. As the adult in this group, one would think I would respond responsibly and say no. However, something told me this would be a good idea and a good challenge. I told the girls that it was OK, but that they needed to stop immediately whenever I said to stop. So we all agreed to the terms and off we went. They were jammed into the carts and after I few minutes I yelled for them to stop. They were very quick to respond. I then asked them which load was heavier, the load of debris or the load of friends. They all agreed that both loads presented different challenges, but that their friends were worth carrying. We then talked about what we should carry with us and how much we all need to let go of.

There is much more to building with youth than what meets the eye. The physical application of building (and demolishing) allows us to not only talk about these kids’ feelings, but to demonstrate and communicate with them in a way they’ve never experienced before.

We know there are many more groups out there that could benefit from our program: facing real challenges and learning to use power tools. If you know of one, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, think about what you should let go of, because there are many wonderful things about you for which you might want to make room inside of yourself, so you can hold on to the good and let go of the bad.

 Girls at Work, Inc. logo

Girls at Work, Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers our services to organizations that work with girls from group homes, low-income families, with incarcerated parents or parents in rehab. (While our focus is at-risk girls we don’t turn anyone away.)  We also work to build partnerships with youth organizations that focus on girls at risk. We rely on funding and sponsorships to help subsidize the cost of our program. Please consider donating to our cause!

powerful little girls

We need to show girls in a more positive light

powerful little girls

At Girls at Work, Inc., a large part of our mission is to empower girls to shed society’s traditional standards and to become the strong, powerful and beautiful people they really are. The news this past week about Ray Rice’s abuse of his now-wife and the tepid reaction of the NFL – until the public became outraged enough to force its hand – is another reminder of why our mission is so important. Blame was heaped not only on the abuser, but on the abused as well. The round-the-clock airing of the horrific video in which Rice knocks out his then-girlfriend with a left hook has taken on the form of entertainment. What kind of message does all of this send to our young girls and to the women trapped in abusive relationships?

Our society does not encourage our girls to tap into their own power or strive to reach their full potential. Instead, the focus is on beauty and size. If you don’t meet the arbitrary standards forced upon us by television, magazines and movies, then you come to believe that makeup and diets will help you fit into the societal mold. Girls end up spending too much time trying to “fix” themselves rather than exploring the incredible potential they possess. On top of it all, they are bombarded by depictions of violent acts against women from all media. They are shown as victims. They are told they are powerless.

We need more images of strong women in all forms of media, whether it’s pictures, movies, television shows, or the Internet. The bottom line is it’s hard to be what you can’t imagine. So many girls have Strong little girlstrouble imagining what they can truly be because positive role models in their daily lives are the exception, not the norm. If a young girl can’t see an example of the strong woman she can become, she has a lesser chance of ever becoming that woman.

Next week, we will spend a couple of days at the Hillsborough County Youth Center in New Boston along with more than 50 other businesses at Construction Career Days, sponsored by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWI). Each business will provide a hands-on experience for high school students, both boys and girls, where they will be able to get experience with everything from small woodworking projects to operating heavy equipment. They will have a chance to feel the power that comes from accomplishing these things on their own. They will learn that they CAN do it!

We are so excited that we are ramping up our efforts to get girls more deeply engaged in activities that empower them and give them the self-confidence they will need to become strong women. It is time for our society to slap the face of the media that continues to air messages of powerless girls and women. We all need to become part of the solution by providing positive images of girls and women to show our girls the strength, courage and determination that they all possess. Those are the real tools they need to tap into their own potential so that they will be able to do anything that they want to do with their lives. Let’s show them what we are all made of.