Revolution 3.0: Teaching At-Risk Girls to Build

Power tools and lumber are helping these girls break free from childhood abuse and neglect.

Girls at Work summer program allows participants to gain new skills and a sense of satisfaction from creating something real. (Photo: Girls at Work)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Power tools, drill bits, electric sanders− these are not often thought of as appropriate toys for young girls. But one New Hampshire-based nonprofit is proving that construction skills are natural facilitators of self-esteem for the girls who learn them.

Founded by contractor Elaine Hamel, Girls at Work empowers at-risk girls by teaching them how to safely use power tools and build furniture while in a team environment. The results are nothing short of transformative.

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Hamel explains to The Huffington Post, "We work with kids that are just so, I don't even know what the word is, they're just abandoned on a lot of different levels and so I think for our program, it's so successful within these kids because it gives them a chance to be in a moment."

In after-school workshops and summer camp programs, the kids who attend learn how to construct some surprisingly complex pieces like rocking chairs, firewood sheds and picnic tables, among other types of woodworking projects. Most come without any previous exposure to this type of work and are often intimidated by the thought of approaching what’s traditionally considered a “male” pursuit.

But the fact that it can be scary seems to be the transformative part for most of the workshops’ attendees. Mastering something that previously seemed impossible teaches them that they can learn and excel in ways they’d never thought of before.

As one 7-year-old member astutely states on the organization’s website, ““It was awesome!! I want to make more stuff!!!”

But Girls at Work isn’t the only opportunity for kids to get involved in building. According to Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson, a new manufacturing movement is gaining steam where hobbyists and tinkerers of all ages are placing a growing emphasis on building actual things.

Named the “Makers” movement, its scope is broad and includes woodworking, 3-D printing, computer building, and even fiber art, as evidenced by the latest World Makers Faire. In Los Angeles, the newly formed LA MakerSpace is a communal studio where children and parents of varying skill sets can create whatever they imagine, including construction and computer-related projects.  Though the tools may be serious, the approach remains play-based.

It’s this union of imagination and tangible materials that gives participants a feeling of satisfaction from creating something that previously wasn’t there. For Girls at Work, it’s actually changing the way these children see themselves.

What do you imagine building if you had the opportunity to learn how? Let us know in the Comments.

A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com

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