Elaine Hamel, seen here at the Goffstown-based nonprofit Girls at Work, says at-risk young girls can find inner strength and confidence by mastering power tools and building things of value out of wood. (COURTESY)

Union Leader: Girls at Work builds able young woman teaching woodworking

Union Leader Correspondent

GOFFSTOWN – Elaine Hamel is convinced that amazing things happen when troubled young girls get hold of power tools.
That’s the notion that underscores her efforts as executive director of Goffstown-based Girls at Work, a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk girls and teenagers by teaching them woodworking skills and how to safely use power tools in a team setting.

“To be able to turn them around so that they see themselves as capable, as smart, as powerful – that’s just worth a million bucks to me,” Hamel said. “So many of these kids have had adults in their lives who’ve failed them, so to get these kids to feel better about themselves is just so important.”

Recently, she delivered her message to staff members of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, who spent an afternoon at the Girls at Work barn in Goffstown in a team exercise called Corporate Build that had them constructing a picnic table from scratch using power tools.

“We take the exact same program that we do with the girls and apply that to the professional adults,” said Hamel. “We give them these puzzle pieces, and I give them time to feel just how out of their element they are.”

And then Hamel lets the adults talk about their feelings – of inadequacy, frustration, even fear.

“Then I tell them that the girls in our program struggle with those feelings all the time,” she said. “I think they’re starting to understand how important it is to get these kids to feel better about themselves.”

Gemma Waite French, vice president of public relations and marketing for the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said she understands where Hamel is coming from.

“We really had to step outside of ourselves and our day-to-day thinking,” French said. “We had to figure it out on our own. We walked in there with a pile of wood and we walked away with a beautiful picnic table. It was a very empowering experience.”

French said the picnic table currently sits in the Greater Manchester Chamber’s lobby on Hanover Street.

Although the staff hasn’t decided what to do with it, there’s talk of auctioning it off and donating a portion of the proceeds to Girls at Work.

For Hamel, the process of building something is not about getting the girls to enter the construction industry.

“It’s about getting them to apply their inner power tools,” she said.

And mastering power tools, Hamel explains, is just an outward manifestation of the confidence building that goes on inside a young person’s mind.

And while Girls at Work focuses on at-risk females, Hamel also sees the same confidence building going on in the attitudes of men who have no experience or background working to build something with their hands.

“Ironically, people think men just automatically know how to build,” said Hamel. “This whole gender issue needs to be moved aside. It’s not about being stronger; it’s about working harder and working smarter.”

Girls at Work is hoping to build relationships with other nonprofits through the Corporate Build program.

“We can go anywhere to set up shop,” said Hamel. “We’re really hoping the Corporate Build takes off.”


Union Leader story: http://www.newhampshire.com/article/20130409/NEWHAMPSHIRE1409/130409131