Maddy Sprague of Putney, 13, relaxes on the hammock she added to her self-made tree house. Sprague will be attending Rosie’s Girls Camp this summer at HatchSpace where she hopes to learn more about power tools and construction.
Fran Lynggaard Hansen/The Commons
Maddy Sprague of Putney, 13, relaxes on the hammock she added to her self-made tree house. Sprague will be attending Rosie’s Girls Camp this summer at HatchSpace where she hopes to learn more about power tools and construction.

‘We’re equally capable’

Rosie’s Girls program comes to HatchSpace to give young women a chance to learn woodworking and carpentry — and hammer home the idea that they can dream of a fulfilling career path in the construction trades

BRATTLEBORO — “I want to learn how to use tools better, create new things, and learn new stuff about building,” says Maddy Sprague, leaning in with an earnest and confident smile.

The 13-year-old Putney resident explains that she's already done some around-the-house types of repairs using tools with her mother and grandmother (Amy and Sheryl Sprague) and has also built a tree house with the assistance of her grandfather, Mark Sprague.

“The tree house is 6 or 7 feet off the ground and has a roof, a front table, a ladder, and a couple of ropes-course-type ropes that go off it to climb. It was a Covid project that my grandpa helped me create,” says Maddy with pride.

This summer, Sprague will be attending Rosie's Girls Camp, a collaboration between Vermont Works for Women, a nonprofit whose mission is to “promote economic justice by advancing gender equity and supporting women.”

The basic premise of the Rosie's Girls woodworking classes is twofold: First, the program builds confidence in the participants. And in doing so, it plants a seed, encouraging them to consider male-dominated career pathways.

Vermont Works for Women has operated Rosie's camps statewide since 2000 and this year will run programs in Alburgh, Swanton, Rutland, Lyndonville, Essex, and Montpelier. It has licensed the program to other organizations to operate in California, Rhode Island, and Oregon.

The nonprofit partners with other organizations, like HatchSpace, at 22 High St., which describes itself as a “community-supported facility dedicated to preserving the artistry of woodworkers through advancement of traditional and contemporary woodworking skills and methods.”

The organization, also a nonprofit, was founded in 2018 and moved to the former Midtown Mall building at Main and High streets in 2021.

The five-day camp runs there from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be offered for five sessions this summer starting this week, with eight campers per session.

Lars Hasselblad Torres has brought his interest in youth to HatchSpace since he was hired as executive director in 2022 and says he is excited about helping expand Rosie's Girls this summer. He has taught classes in photography, technology, and now woodworking.

“I've been a lifelong educator,” he says. “One of my passions is finding areas of exploration for young people with hands-on pieces of equipment.”

Torres believes it's “so important that youth find their own voice as creative people,” and he notes a history of tension between adults and young people handling buzzing saw blades and other equipment that can be dangerous if handled improperly or carelessly.

“Adults can get a little squeamish,” says Torres. “I was looking for a program where we could safely allow middle-school-aged girls to experiment with tools in safety. Having seen the results of last summer's Rosie's Girls, I'm very excited for this year's program.”

“I mourn the fact that we've lived so many generations with firm gender roles,” said Torres, whose daughter participated in the Rosie's Girls Camp last year. He also notes that wood shop and other trade programs have been discontinued in many schools across the state, leaving diminishing opportunity for students to have an introduction to trade skills.

To follow this mission through, Vermont Works for Women also offers trades training for women and girls, as well as another program, Rosie's Girls Weld.

VWW provides the curriculum, project examples, training, and operational support like registration, marketing, and publicity, says Caelan Keenan, youth program manager for Vermont Works for Women, who has been assisting in the facilitation of the Rosie's Girls program at HatchSpace.

“HatchSpace already has a full, working wood shop. Some of the other partners we work with don't have equipment or are space-challenged,” she notes.

“For those camps we offer low-tech, hammer-and-nails projects like bird houses, and provide all the project materials,” Keenan says. “It's essentially camp-in-a-box.”

Finding a partner

At the end of last summer, Torres asked if the Vermont Works for Women would be willing to explore a partnership with HatchSpace to bring Rosie's Girls to southern Vermont.

And thanks to the Vermont Agency of Education, no campers are required to pay the $300 fee this year.

The AOE is running “The Summer of STEM,” a celebration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Both Vermont Works for Women and HatchSpace applied for grants to cover the tuition for the Rosie's Girls sessions.

“The Agency realizes that we are working together. The result is that all 150 participants statewide will attend the program for free,” says Keenan, with excitement in her voice.

“Some people had already sent in their tuition, and we were able to refund it,” Torres said.

HatchSpace and Vermont Works for Women are into this program with a 50/50 mindset.

“They are providing their space, their staffing, their product materials. Both organizations are in it together, each offering their strengths,” says Keenan, who notes that an important part of the programming Vermont Works for Women offers is training in gender equity and terms to know, as well as gender norms and how they impact women and girls.

“We are also providing training for adult women through our organization,” she says. “Trade careers don't require a college degree, and women are underrepresented.”

Girls, especially when they are young, “don't have equal access to these things,” says Keenan, who says VWW “hopes to bring its Trailblazers girls program to southern Vermont soon.” The free program offers women and nonbinary individuals seven-week pre-apprenticeship training in construction and the renewable energy sector.

Role models in abundance

Ali Stevenson, of Dummerston, is a professional orchardist in Saxtons River. She will be one of the camp counselors at Rosie's Girls this summer.

“I applied to be a camp counselor because I attended many years of summer camp as a kid. My woodworking skills are at a basic level, so we'll all be learning together,” she says with a chuckle.

Originally from Connecticut, Stevenson found Vermont through an internship she had with the Scott Farm in Dummerston.

Most important to Stevenson about working with the middle-school-aged campers is that “everyone feels welcome, that all pronouns [be] fine and expected, and that there be a lot of sensitivity to the cultural norms that surround us. One of the hopes that we all have as adults is that people younger than ourselves have an easier time of it growing up female than the previous generation had it.

“Girls can do what boys can do in trades. We're equally capable. These kids are growing up with the notion that a person isn't locked into their identity, that you can always re-state or restart who you are.”

She is also excited that the regular woodworking classes at HatchSpace will continue while Rosie's Girls is in session.

“We aren't shutting down the space during this camp. Members do all sorts of woodworking, and we want them to feel available to our campers. It will be cool that all ages, and all genders will be able to interact while we're experimenting and learning,” she says.

'Teaching girls is my absolute passion'

During the second camp session, a special guest woodworker will arrive from Atlanta, where she is known as the “Wooden Maven.”

Char Miller-King was invited by Torres of HatchSpace to come and teach a class last summer.

“I jumped at the opportunity to share my love of woodworking,” says Miller-King. “I'd never been to Vermont, and everyone was so warm and welcoming, kind, and gracious. I'm delighted to be coming back for the second week of Rosie's Girls. Teaching girls is my absolute passion.”

Miller-King's path to woodworking began 20 years ago, when “I learned out of necessity. I couldn't afford the furniture I needed, so I began to find a way to build it myself.”

At the time, there was no YouTube, no Google - just magazines and books about doing it yourself.

“A friend cut the wood, I borrowed a drill and a screwdriver, and I made my own platform bed,” Miller-King says.

But something else happened.

“I got the woodworking bug,” she says. “I just loved creating with my hands.”

Ten years passed, and many projects came to life. “Some not as great as others, at first,” says Miller-King with a laugh.

She began to wonder what it would be like to create with wood every day. She left her corporate job in 2015, and “everything came together.”

Eventually, Miller-King “stumbled upon a maker space, like HatchSpace, a place where one can do woodworking with others.” Social media helped her create and grow her brand.

There are pros and cons in being a woman in a male field and being a young woman of color in woodworking, says Miller-King.

“My approach is different in that my focus is young people at an early age,” she says. “It's important to me to be a role model for kids. I want them to see that there is someone who looks like me and that I went after my dreams.”

Miller-King says she needs “the confidence to keep going despite what might be around me, and I want to give that same confidence to the young people with whom I work.”

Leaving the light on for them

While Miller-King will be mentoring Rosie's Girls, she'll also be working with a film crew sent by Studio 6, a division of Motel 6, who are celebrating the trades and traveling makers in their current media outreach.

Tom Bodett - yes, that Tom Bodett, the Dummerston author, voice actor, and radio personality known for his promise that Motel 6 “will leave the light on for you” - is a co-founder of HatchSpace.

A woodworker his entire life, Bodett was building houses in Alaska when his radio and writing career began to blossom. He put his love of working with wood aside to pursue this strange and unplanned opportunity in the broadcast and publishing world.

“As I became more successful, the work became more and more stressful, and my already robust drinking habits crossed the line into addiction,” Bodett says. “I became an alcoholic, and things started to come undone.”

He says that only after he stopped drinking 31 years ago did he realize that “the best of times in my life had been when I was working with my hands.”

Woodworking, he says, “doesn't pay as well, but I love what I do every single day I get to do it.”

Bodett is very proud of his sobriety and feels strongly that this kind of work is restorative.

“The first step of any person's recovery from any trauma is the restoration of their lives,” he says. “Coming in and doing some woodworking are easy wins as a person begins to evolve away from alcoholism and abuse, or simply boredom and loneliness. Making a beautiful wood project might be the first time you've felt good about yourself in years. If there is nothing else that we can agree on, addiction is a huge problem in America. I don't claim woodworking is the cure, but it can be a part of the treatment.”

Bodett believes that the power of making things and the confidence and joy that comes from being fully immersed in the process, is also common to painters, potters, and metalworkers, as well as all sorts of tradespeople and other skilled laborers.

“Making things with your hands is one of the most human things we do. This, and community, is how we reset,” he says.

HatchSpace was just beginning to find its groove when COVID-19 shut it down. Bodett notes that it had outgrown its original space at 33 Frost St. and took the pandemic as an opportunity to purchase the former Midtown Mall building.

All the floors in the building now offer space to other artisans and organizations serving them, such as the Vermont Center for Photography.

When the new space opened, many people became new members. “Covid created a hunger for community in people,” Bodett says. “We were all alone for so long.”

He adds that “the relationships and the cross-mentoring across gender, economics, age barriers is wonderful to see.”

“It's much easier to speak with someone when you're busy creating together,” says Bodett with a wide smile. “Face to face can be difficult for some. Side by side - not so much.”

A big part of the mission at HatchSpace is to fill the gap with young people - making the partnership with VWW and Rosie's Girls a perfect fit.

“If all kids do is go through school and learn how to plug into the data economy, what if they go out in the world and don't like that work?” Bodett asks.

“We want to expose young people to the art of working with their hands and let them experiment with what they can learn to do,” he says. “Who knows? It might save their lives someday, like it did mine.”

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