Vermont camp marks 20 years of empowering young people

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) This year marks 20 years of Rosie's Girls, a camp hosted by Vermont Works for Women. This week, campers entering grades six through eight worked with metal. Our Olivia Lyons joined them at the Burlington Technical Center.

Twenty years ago, Rosie's Girls was launched in Essex. It was a way to expose young girls and gender nonconforming youth to trades they are not always given an opportunity to learn.

Campers get hands-on practice with power tools and build the creations they design.

"It makes me feel like, even though I'm a kid, people are going to listen to me and I can do really cool things," said Iris Lord, 11.

But this camp isn't just about using power tools and making sure projects look perfect. They also learn social and emotional power skills. The goal is for campers to find their voice and a place not just in the shop, but in the world.

"Are they finding an identity in the shop where they can walk in here every day, put their bandana on, feel totally comfortable, feel totally comfortable using a MIG welder, which, gosh, is unusual for middle schoolers to be using and for what society tells us usually for middle school girls to be using them," said Nell Carpenter of Vermont Works for Women.

For Addie Nevitt, 13, this is a type of strength she has never felt.

"I haven't really thought of myself as a strong, hardworking kind of girl," Nevitt said. "When I get to do this, I really have to use my muscles to shave away pieces of metal or really, it feels more empowering."

Campers are also taking part in the X-Ray Vision Challenge. It's a challenge where they cover up all mirrors and they focus on personality traits and skills like being unique, strong, smart and funny, instead of putting so much emphasis on what they look like.

Campers may be shy or a bit reluctant in the beginning, but by mid-week, they have a newfound confidence.

"When I got here, it was more than I expected. I was given a lot of freedom, so we're allowed to do kind of what we think," said Siena Demink, 11.

As for the camp being in its 20th year...

"I think it's pretty impressive and I think it's also really impressive that they've been able to find people who are like, 'Yeah! You can let a bunch of girls just use my shop all summer,'" Lord said.

This is the fifth and final week of this year's camp. It will end with a presentation of all the hard work they've done.