MANCHESTER, NH ‒ Give a girl a fish and she’ll eat for a day. Give her some power tools and a little know-how, and she’ll build herself a fishing rod – and then she’ll probably go on to show other girls how to build whatever it is they need in life.
Kaylee Richard and Samantha Grenier are proof of concept for that modified parable.
They met half their lifetimes ago at a Girls at Work summer camp when they were 8. Now, at 16, they’re inseparable – and perhaps, unstoppable. What started as a bit of a rivalry between a couple of hard-headed kids has developed into a partnership with the potential to change the world.
Not only can they finish each other’s sentences, they naturally magnify one another’s biggest ideas until they take shape.
On Tuesday, such a big idea manifested in a girls-only career fair. The two put it all together, start to finish – making calls, creating spreadsheets, doing outreach and marketing, tying up loose ends and then shining as bright as the sun when the big day arrived.
In total, some 150 female sophomores and juniors from Memorial, West and Central arrived by busloads to the Girls at Work warehouse and workshop on Bedford Street in shifts so that they could have time to explore a number of career opportunities. The event was also supported by the Manchester School District and the Gear Up program.
The moment was rewarding.
But more than that, it was Kaylee and Samantha’s way of correcting a system that, on one hand, invites girls to consider jobs in the trades but on the other hand, still skews in favor of their male counterparts.
“We had gone to a job fair a few months ago and we felt like outcasts, like we weren’t supposed to be there,” said Kaylee, a junior at Memorial High School. They saw other girls there who were also struggling to fit into the male-centric environment.
And they left feeling angry, slighted and discouraged. As they often do, they vented to “Miss Elaine” Hamel, founder and director of Girls at Work, a program designed to “shatter the lens of powerlessness” and teach girls that the most powerful tool in their toolbelt is their voice.
“We decided to take it into our own hands and create an event where every girl belongs,” said Samantha. “Our No. 1 priority is making sure that everyone feels welcome and safe.”
Samantha, a sophomore at Goffstown High School, says she’s just now starting to stress about her future.
“And Kaylee is a junior, so she’s literally like in the storm of it right now. We know a lot of other girls who still absolutely don’t know what they’re going to do, whether they want to go to college or find another kind of career. Knowing you have options is important,” Samantha says.
“Yeah, we just want to educate them and make them know that there are more opportunities for their future than what they think. A lot of kids, because of Covid, just don’t feel like they’re where they’re supposed to be right now,” Kaylee says.
For the event Kaylee and Samantha decided to limit the number of businesses to 16 and even had to turn some businesses away. But they’ve created a waiting list and are planning a full-blown career fair in the spring.
Both of them usually head over to the workshop right after school. Just as they have learned how to lead through their experiences at Girls at Work, they are also becoming mentors. Both Kaylee and Samantha have served as instructors at the same summer camp where they met, and hope to continue working with students in the after-school program.
“It’s amazing when I think about how we were once them,” says Samantha.
When asked, both of them say Girls at Work has been life-changing.
“I have so many opportunities open to me now. Miss Elaine is the type of person to move mountains and she has most certainly done that for me. She’s helped with my school life, my social life, my personal life – literally everything,” Kaylee says.
Samantha feels the same way.
“She’s just been someone who’s always been there. And with the program, there’s always people here who are willing to listen to you, 100 percent. Whether we come in screaming about school, or just when times are tough, here you can turn some of that frustration into something positive,” Samantha says.
“That’s also something we learned about here, is to jump at every opportunity that’s handed to us. Experiences are just so important to me. I don’t feel a lot of kids get that, but you really need to try things – even if you think they might not work – jump at every opportunity because you don’t know where it’s going to lead you,” Kaylee says.
“I also learned that I can do whatever I want. The sky is the limit. When people say that I used to think ‘you’re a liar’ and ‘that’s so fake.’ But I’ve learned that if I want it, I can do it,” Kaylee says.
And even with that kind of empowerment, it’s also okay to need help sometimes.
“We’ve learned that it’s important to lift people up and to always support other people because that’s something we don’t really do in our everyday lives. I wasn’t one before to tell another girl, ‘You’re so good at this!’ I wouldn’t give encouraging words, but now if Sam does something I’ll be like ‘you’re so good at this.’ When we were young we used to butt heads so much but now we’re just lifting each other up,” Kaylee says.
Samantha and Kaylee agree that they are who they are because of the program that has taught them how to build things, including one another’s sense of self.
“This place inspires you to do something better. I would not have done this career fair without my experience at Girls at Work,” Kaylee says.
“Oh yes,” adds Samantha. “We sat around and complained at first,” pausing on cue to share a spontaneous laugh with her bestie. After all, the thought that together they moved a mountain of frustration and built an opportunity for 150 peers is pretty joyful.
“I wouldn’t have thought that I had a voice in something like this. I mean like I can tell Sam and complain to Sam about stuff, but I wouldn’t use my voice or try to change things,” Kaylee says. “Here I’ve learned I have a voice.”