Camp offers new career paths for young women


Tuesday, July 24
During World War II, "Rosie the Riveter" represented women who went into traditionally male trades to help the war effort. In the iconic poster, Rosie, in a blue coverall, flexes and says, "Yes we can!"

This summer, young adolescent girls living in Windham County are following in Rosie's footsteps, learning practical skills, exploring career options, and making a contribution to the community.

They're also rock climbing, whitewater rafting, attacking a ropes course -- and making friends. Based at the Windham Regional Career Center, "Rosie's Girls" is a three-week day camp sponsored by Vermont Works for Women (formerly known as New England Tradeswomen, Inc, NNETW), Strong Foundations, Inc., and the Career Center.

When asked if they would agree to be interviewed, nearly every girl at the camp raised her hand. Five were chosen at random to represent the group. Four of the girls live in Brattleboro: Kandia Kovacs and Megan Siggins, both 11, will be sixth- graders, while Emily Lyons-Houle will be in seventh grade and Kayla Bernier-Sontag, 13, will be an eighth-grader. Haley Smith, 13, who will also be an eighth-grader, lives in Umatilla, Fla. and is spending the summer in Brattleboro with her cousin, Jacqueline.

The girls said that they were attracted to the program because of the activities and the opportunity to explore careers.

"I thought it would be cool to try out different careers, and to get a taste of what job I might have when I grow up," said Kovacs.

The camp's program is packed with activity. "Usually if we get here at 8:30, we play a game in the blue room and then we come in and change the chore charts," Lyons-Houle began. "At nine, we go to carpentry and a new trade."

Half of the girls do carpentry in the morning and the "new trade" in the afternoon, and the others follow a reverse schedule. While the campers learn and practice carpentry every day, the program also offers a brief introduction to other careers. In the first two weeks, they learned to change the oil in a car, and tried digital editing; an emergency medical technician and a veterinarian also visited the camp.

"The first trade goes until 11:15 and then it's lunch and 'Woman of the Day,'" Lyons-Houle continued. Each day, one of the campers chooses a notable woman, researches her, and presents the Woman of the Day to the whole group. After the second round of practice with a trade, the campers have a snack, a craft (they have made masks and jewelry) and a closing activity before leaving at 5 p.m.

The girls are enjoying their experience. "I like how everyone just tries their best at everything even if they've never done it before," said Siggins. "It's fun to help other people with things they've never done that you have, and it's a great opportunity for all of us to really get to know other girls who like the same stuff and share the same interests. I just think it's really awesome."

"I like being able to meet new people," Kovacs added. "At home I always try to do arts and crafts, and here I get a huge opportunity to do that."

"I liked meeting new people and exploring new things, and I like knowing that if I don't feel comfortable doing something, all the girls will support my trying," Lyons-Houle said. "And knowing that they're there for me."

"I think the best part of Rosie's Girls is stretching out of your comfort zone," Bernier-Sontag commented, adding that teachers in school try to encourage students to stretch, "but there are so many kids, and there are boys, and friends, that make it a little harder. So this setting really helps you explore new things."

In addition to the daily schedule, once a week the campers try a new challenge. At the end of the first week, they all went whitewater-rafting near Charlemont, Mass., and in the second week they went rockclimbing. The girls learned the importance of cooperation.

"I knew that whitewater-rafting would be challenging because I've never done something like that, and it's risky because it could be dangerous," Kovacs said. "And we're doing the ropes course, and you could fall. It's important to trust the people around you to make sure you don't get hurt."

"When I see a roaring river and an inflatable boat, it's really hard to think that you're going to try this and get comfortable with it," Bernier-Sontag added, "but you look around and see that everyone's just as nervous as you, and you realize that you have to take a deep breath and dive in."

The river was not the only challenge. "The power tools were a little intimidating until you used them," Smith noted.

Siggins agreed. "My dad has lots of power tools at home, but not BIG power tools," she said. "I've used the chop saw with him but I've never used it alone, so I was freaking out. The table-saw was really scary - all the guards on it made it look as if you could cut your arm off -- they just made it look scarier."

"When I came into this, I was thinking birdhouses and toolboxes with a hammer and a screwdriver," said Lyons-Houle, "and then when we came in there were these big tools like the table-saw and the chopsaw, and it was intimidating."

"It was pretty surprising how much we could do in one day," Siggins said. "We were building a playhouse, and we finished the floor and put up the frame in one day -- and that was just 12 girls, and then the next group came and they pretty much finished it. It was just amazing how everyone could pull together and make such a wonderful playhouse; we're going to make some kids happy." The campers will donate the finished playhouse to a local day care facility.

The campers have learned about themselves, as well.

"I'm surprised by how accomplished I feel," Bernier-Sontag noted. "I'm a perfectionist, so most of my work doesn't please me, no matter what it is; usually I just look at it and walk away because I'm so displeased. But I changed car oil, and I made a toolbox, and that just amazed me -- and I made a mask that I was proud of. I never am, and it always surprises me in this camp when I see something I'm proud of."

She wasn't the only one who has seen changes in herself.

"The first day we got here, I didn't know anybody and was really shy, and now I can actually talk to the people and not feel nervous," Smith said. "Now I would be more open to different careers that they've taught us about here."

"Before I came here, I didn't care what I would do for a career or what I wanted to be, but now I partially do," Kovacs commented. "I think that mechanics are really cool. If they don't know what's going on in a car, they can research it and figure out what to do. It opened my mind to new things."

"Usually I'm shy around people," said Lyons-Houle, "but now I'm more confident, knowing that I can do anything I want to do, no matter what people say or think -- like if I want to be a mechanic or a carpenter, I know that's open to me."

The girls said that they would recommend the camp to friends.

"I would tell them that it gives you a great opportunity to decide what career you're interested in," Kovacs said. "You get to meet a lot of people, and you learn carpentry and automotive, and a lot of people come in and tell you about what they do. You have a lot of fun there and you can try out new things."

"It's such a great opportunity for girls to try out careers that way back when we just couldn't do," Siggins commented. "It's really fun, and it's worth coming three weeks for. I just get so excited and I would want them to experience the same thing."

"Even if they weren't interested in what they're showing you here, it would most likely help them to think of a career on their own," Smith added. "Plus you get to do a lot of fun things like whitewater rafting and rockclimbing, and you get to meet a lot of new people and make new friends."

"Coming into it you have to be open-minded and try out different things, because even if you're not interested in, say carpentry or automotive, you get to try it out and it all pays off in the end," said Lyons-Houle. If you take a risk and try all the different things that are offered and participate, you'll have more fun and so will everyone else around you if you have a good attitude and are open to new experiences and adventures."

"Most of my friends could never see me doing carpentry, touching anywhere under a car, or even just thinking about it," concluded Bernier-Sontag. "So if I were to tell someone about my experiences, that would be proof enough that it's a great camp."

Maggie Cassidy teaches French at BUHS.


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