In Rosie's Girls, students fill their life toolbox with new skills, confidence, outlook

Camp teaches carpentry, plumbing other trades
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 12:00:08-04

CINCINNATI -- A month ago, 11-year-old Hailey Voneye had never used a hammer, didn’t know the difference between a Phillips head and flathead screwdriver and had never seen a miter saw up close.

That all changed for her just a few days into Rosie’s Girls, a YWCA-sponsored summer camp that focuses on female empowerment and career exploration in the STEM fields. The rising seventh-grader is one of 24 middle-school girls from Greater Cincinnati participating in the program this month at Holmes High School in Covington.

During the three-week camp, which has been held locally for nine years, the girls tackle projects using non-traditional skills, including carpentry, electric wiring, plumbing and welding, in hands-on workshops led by an all-female team.

Sam Redmond, 13, of Kennedy Heights works on her toolbox project with a Rosie's Girls volunteer.

“At first some of the work was a little bit scary for me,” said Hailey, of Latonia. “Once you learn how to do it, you get more comfortable. Now, it’s really fun.”

Rosie's Girls is a national program and takes its name from Rosie the Riveter, the fictional World War II icon who represented the women who went to work in shipyards and factories to fill shortages while men fought overseas. And much like Rosie the Riveter was part of a national call to recruit female workers during the country’s time of need in the 1940s, Rosie’s Girls is driven by the nation’s current need for a stronger and more diverse STEM workforce.

The problem: Women remain underrepresented in STEM-related fields – and the rapidly growing sector needs more skilled workers. The most recent statistics released by the National Girls Collaborative Project show that women compose nearly half of the overall workforce but only make up about a quarter of the STEM workforce. Minority women make up even less.

At Rosie’s Girls, all of the camp instructors are women professionals in their fields. They are assisted by an all-female group of volunteers who come from all different backgrounds.

The women serve as mentors to the girls, according to camp director Rhonda Lindon-Hammon. They also help break down gender stereotypes, she said.

“Having these positive role models to help encourage our girls is so important,” said Lindon-Hammon, YWCA of Greater Cincinnati’s director of youth services. “We live in a culture that continues to value girls for the way they look, and not for what they know and what they can do.”

Camp instructor Kourtnie Daugherty helps show the girls what they can do in the carpentry lab. She oversees the projects, but the girls do their own work, she said.

This summer the girls will complete a variety of projects, including building their own toolboxes and lamps. They’re also building park benches to donate to Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport.

With each completed project, the girls feel a greater sense of accomplishment, she said.

“It lets them know that these skills are not gender-based,” said Daugherty, who works as a journeyman carpenter for Messer Construction. “I see their confidence build every day.”

Sam Redmond, 13, said she discovered she has a knack for welding as a result of the camp this year. And she sees it as a viable career path.

“It definitely got me interested,” said Sam, of Kennedy Heights. “It’s something I would have never thought about before Rosie’s Girls.”

The camp promotes women in STEM, but it also serves as a safe haven for girls during a critical time, said Lindon-Hammon.

“Our girls have what we call the ‘Rosie spirit,’ and they support each other,” she said.

For Hailey, the camp has been a perfect fit.

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t always get treated the best at school,” she said. “Here, it’s different. It’s positive.” 

Lindon-Hammon said that camaraderie is evident at the camp’s graduation event. Parents and donors gather at the conclusion of the camp each summer to hear from the girls and see their completed projects. This summer’s event will be held July 29.

“It’s such a great experience to see the girls stand confidently with their projects,” she said. “They can talk about every single step, because they did all the work from start to finish.”

To get involved:

The YWCA will start fundraising for next year’s Rosie’s Girls camp in August. Most of the girls attend the summer camp on scholarship, and donations are needed to keep the program afloat. Volunteers are also needed for next year. Click here for details.