The pandemic showed everyone how important our communities are when times get tough. TD Bank has the privilege of being a part of the local communities they serve in. That means their employees see first-hand the good work many unsung heroes are doing to make life better for others everywhere they operate. One of those heroes is Elaine Hamel, a #TDThanksYou 2022 hero and customer of the bank.
Summer Camp Sparks an Idea
Thirty years ago, Elaine was working as a contractor, who was just starting out, in New Hampshire when she unexpectedly found herself taking care of a ten-year-old girl. The girl’s parents were Elaine’s neighbors and Elaine stepped in to help when crisis hit the girl’s home. Over the summer, Elaine wanted to send the girl to camp but couldn’t afford the fees on her modest contractor’s salary.
Elaine offered to build something for the camp to cover the girl’s fees. Instead, the camp said they wanted Elaine to teach campers how to build. Elaine packed her power tools and went to summer camp.
The experience was transformative.
Girls at Work, Inc. is Born
Building alongside girls at camp showed Elaine not only that it’s possible to put power tools in the hands of young girls, but that doing so is a great way to show them their own power. Elaine saw right away that teaching girls that they are powerful is particularly important for at-risk girls. She believes that it’s important to reach them as early as possible before the message that girls can’t do as much as boys takes hold.
Inspired by her week at camp, Elaine set out to put power tools into the hands of as many at-risk girls as possible and founded Girls at Work, Inc., a nonprofit in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Girls at Work, Inc. in Action
After school, summer programs and middle school builds have helped thousands of girls build confidence, resilience, and strength through using power tools. Girls in the program have created everything from birdhouses, garden beds and simple circuitry to larger items like picnic tables and outdoor classrooms. Elaine beams when she talks about how proud the girls are of themselves once they see what they can do.
Some of the girls that come to Elaine have witnessed abuse. Some have been bullied. Some do not have safe homes or experience food insecurity. Elaine experienced some of these hardships herself.
Girls at Work, Inc. strives to reach these girls, some as young as eight, making sure they are exposed to positivity. Elaine also makes sure her girls are showered with positive messages. Girls also learn how to journal and write “Pro You” messages. They take these messages home to read when things get tough.
Elaine has already reached more than 20,000 girls, but she wants to reach many more. She knows that kids need just one person who believes in them to be successful. Elaine and her team try to be that person for every girl that walks through their door.
Sustaining Girls at Work, Inc.
Running Girls at Work, Inc. is not easy. Safety is Elaine’s top priority. That requires a big investment in safety equipment and a large enough staff to provide close supervision. Since Girls at Work, Inc. serves at-risk girls and families, it receives donations of supplies. Donors also provide winter coats, shoes, meals and grocery store gift cards.
Thanks to the donations, the camp provides scholarships to 94% of the campers. Elaine does not turn any girl away because her family can't afford the expense. While many in Manchester generously volunteer their time and make in-kind donations, it isn’t enough. This has been particularly true recently with the skyrocketing cost of lumber and other materials Girls at Work, Inc. needs to operate.
Elaine Receives Thanks
Elaine is usually focused on how much work there is still left do rather than the work she has already done
The best thanks Elaine gets is when she sees her girls gain confidence and start to believe in themselves. She knows she is doing a great job when middle school girls like Zoey tell her “This is a place where you can go where you can do everything everyone tells you can’t do.”
Nevertheless, Elaine deserves more recognition for her accomplishments. TD Store Manager Kendra Belanger, who has worked with Elaine, nominated her for #TDThanksYou.
When Elaine learned she was being recognized by TD Bank she was in shock. After so many years of pushing through obstacles Elaine is not used to this type of recognition. She was humbled to be acknowledged by a bank in her community, and she looks forward to strengthening her relationship with TD Bank and other community organizations.