Girls at Work expands with an eye on STEM activities

Expansion to add another workshop, a Kindness Closet and space for enhanced STEM program

Work has begun on an expansion project at Girls at Work’s facility in the Manchester Millyard. Part of the added space will be used for new STEM activities. 
(Courtesy photo)

Girls at Work, a nonprofit that empowers young girls through power tools, is expanding their space in the Manchester Millyard to create another workshop and space for STEM activities.

Also included in the expansion is a Kindness Closet, where fresh food and other necessities will be available for young women to shop for items they wouldn’t normally be able to get elsewhere.

Harvey Construction is managing the expansion project, with Archway Construction on hand with a team of subcontractors to assist with the carpentry. Of course, young women in the Girls at Work programs are helping, too.

“The more I hear from these kids, the more I want to do for them,” said Elaine Hamel, Girls at Work’s founder and executive director. “It’s not that difficult to help kids. You just got to put in some effort.”

While the project is still a ways off from a woodcutting ceremony, as Hamel refers to it, the potential for expanded opportunities for the girls the organization helps is powerful.

According to Hamel, the original renovation project would have cost upwards of $600,000. But thanks to community partners, donations and general repurposing, the expansion has so far cost less than $200,000.

“Our windows came out of a dumpster. People don’t see the potential in these windows, so they throw them in a dumpster. Well, people don’t see potential in our girls either, but look what happens with them,” reflects Hamel. “Whether it’s an old window or an abandoned, neglected kid, there’s a ton of potential either way.”

Moving their existing space out by 24 feet will allow the organization to add another workshop for the girls, including the Kindness Closet and space for an enhanced STEM program.

They already have a laser cutter as well as 3D printers to use for future STEM-focused projects, but there’s room for growth, including opportunities to collaborate with women in the field.

“The goal is to bring women in different fields into the STEM room to talk to girls about different careers that they would not have contemplated otherwise. Unless they see it (women in the job), they can’t be it,” says Hamel.

According to findings from the National Science Foundation, about 44 percent of STEM jobs are filled by women, but in some fields, that percentage is significantly lower. For instance, only 28 percent of computer science jobs, 16 percent of engineering jobs and 16 percent of physics jobs are held by women.

Even more stark are statistics reported by the Census Bureau, which found that only computer network architect jobs had higher wages for women than men — one of 70 specific STEM jobs that exist. Only 8 percent of those in STEM professions are women.

New Futures for Females

Girls at Work is working to bridge that gap by helping girls build the confidence that they can, and should, enter those fields.

The nonprofit has created New Futures for Females, an event where over 90 businesses come together in a job fair-type format for young women to explore career opportunities in fields such as engineering, policing, firefighting, welding, banking, plumbing and others. The inaugural event was held last November, with another that took place in April.

“Here’s the thing: Any girl can do this work. She just needs support,” said Hamel. “They just need a platform to latch onto. We’re just giving them that platform.”

Most of the young women who participate in Girls at Work’s programs deal with traumatic experiences and/or toxic living environments, which has been proven to slow down brain development in young people.

When attending a seminar that spoke on how such trauma affects children, Hamel learned that “organizations like (Girls at Work) who are consistent, who are supportive, who are empowering, who are there for these girls, all those components actually trigger their brains to physiologically begin to grow again. It’s this new round of getting fired up about the work we’re doing.”

“We’re all healing through this work,” said Hamel.

“It’s a team of women standing together, standing strong.”

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