Rosie’s Girls learn trade skills and confidence at camp

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(Host) During World War Two, Rosie the Riveter was a symbol of the thousands of women who worked in foundries, warehouses and lumber mills to support the war effort. Today, fewer than 4% of people working in the trades are women.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports on a Vermont summer camp designed to give young girls confidence about using their hands and teach them that there’s no such thing as “man’s work.”

(Zind) On a hot July day, what kid wouldn’t like to be at one of Vermont’s summer camps diving into a cool lake? Twelve year old Electra Bodnar of Colchester for one.

(Bodnar) “That doesn’t interest me at all. It’s really boring and pale compared to this.”

(Zind) “This” is Rosie’s Girls. A camp for young girls ages 11 to 13. Here the fun is hammering, welding, and driving heavy equipment.

It’s a sweltering afternoon at the big composting operation at Burlington’s Intervale. The air is filled with the noise of heavy equipment, curtains of dust and some pretty pungent smells. Holly Taylor works at the Intervale. Taylor is letting some of Rosie’s girls take the wheel of one of the Intervale’s big farm tractors.

(Taylor) “This is your clutch. And that double pedal there is the brake.”

(Zind) Taylor tells the girls she has a degree in botany. Working at the compost operation is an outgrowth of her interest in agriculture. She also likes to operate the equipment.

(Taylor) “Women can drive heavy equipment. It’s not about brute force. It usually means you’re going to be working in an environment where you’re mostly with men. That’s okay, but just so you know it’s a field that not a lot of women are in.”

(Zind) Policeman, fireman, lineman – our language tells us these are jobs for men. Rosie’s Girls lets girls know that only those words and cultural stereotypes stand between them and doing these jobs. The fact that there aren’t many women in the trades appeals to 12-year old Eryn Smith’s adventurous spirit.

(Smith) “I really enjoyed carpentry and I learned a bunch of new things that I wouldn’t mind doing when I’m an adult. I wouldn’t mind doing welding because I had a blast at welding. It made me want to do auto maintenance even more.”

(Zind) For the three weeks they are at camp, the girls do a variety of activities – from stand up comedy to yoga and drumming. But the heart of the program is the hands-on experience in the trades. The girls spend much of their time at the Center for Technology in Essex. Amy Judd is a carpenter who puts her work on hold to teach at Rosie’s Girls.

(Judd) “With this it’s going to be the same idea as the drill press. When you push down, you’re only going to do about a half inch at a time… (drill squeaks) like that.”

(Zind) Judd says she tried working in an office. She tried driving a truck. She found she loved carpentry and now runs her own carpentry business.

(Judd) “I love to drive nails, I just love the feel of hitting a nail into a piece of wood.”

(Judd, coaching the girls) “Yes, you’re getting there – one or two more pushes. God, you’re good.”

(Judd) “There were moments when being in a non-traditional field, I was often the only woman on a particular crew. And at times it felt really isolating because it felt like I was the only one feeling the way I was feeling.”

(Zind) The instructors talk to the girls about their own experiences. That’s gotten 13-year old Jessi Booth of Williston to see things differently.

(Booth) “Before I didn’t think much of it, but now that I’ve done all the different things, I’m thinking I’d rather do a profession in one of the trades than doing something besides that, like going into a normal thing.”

(Zind) Shelly Richmond of Cleveland, Ohio is a member of Hard Hatted Women, a support group for women in the trades. She works on a line crew for the power company. Richmond says a program like Rosie’s Girls would have given her badly needed confidence when she started work at the power company.

(Richmond) “Had I been a little more prepared physically and emotionally, I wouldn’t have gone to work every day with that hesitation, going, ‘Oh my God, what if I can’t do this?'”

(Zind) Rosie’s Girls is run by Northern New England Tradeswomen. But organizers say the camp isn’t as much about getting girls to consider careers in the trades as it is about giving them a sense of confidence in whatever they do. Liz Shayne is one of the program’s co-founders.

(Shayne) “The hope is that a girl can walk away with a sense of, ‘I can do anything.'”

(Zind) A number of the girls say they’re not particularly interested in working in the trades. Jen Chamberlin is a 12-year-old from Fairfax. She wants to be a lawyer. But she says the skills she’s learning at Rosie’s Girls will come in handy even when she’s practicing law.

(Chamberlin) “Last week we learned how to change a tire and that’s definitely good to know.”

(Zind) Rosie’s Girls is in it’s forth year. This summer, teams from five other states are visiting the program with an eye toward starting a Rosie’s Girls camp in their areas.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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