Amber Grant Finalist Letter

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This post is Hammerstone’s final entry in the application process to win the $2000 Amber Grant:

January 14, 2016

We are so excited to be in the final run-off for this grant and are happy to re-answer your question: “If you were to win the $2000 Amber Grant, how would you use the money?” You are right that a lot has changed since we answered this question a year ago. What hasn’t changed is our intention to use this grant to support our scholarship fund. However, based on our experiences in the past year, we’d like to earmark the Amber Grant for a specific demographic; namely, girls and young women.

Here at Hammerstone, our mission is to increase the number of women in the trades. In our first few years, we focused mainly on teaching adults. But our experience in 2015 indicates that our approach should be broader. Most girls are reaching adulthood without the opportunity to experience how physically, emotionally, and mentally stimulating and satisfying building can be. It is no wonder there are so few women carpenters.

By way of explanation, I’d like to share a few pictures.

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These first two pictures show a group of young women from the Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS) in Ithaca, NY who came to Hammerstone for a 4-day carpentry “spring trip”. These students come from diverse backgrounds, and many of them could only attend this trip through financial aid. Their trip was supported by the $500 qualifying grant Hammerstone received last February. At the beginning of the week, many of the girls were a little timid and hesitant to show too much enthusiasm in front of their peers. By the end of the week, they were clamoring for more hours in the workday! Using just hand tools, they framed and sheathed the door, wall and roof of an 8’ x 10’ structure. The comment that struck me the most during our end of class wrap-up was: “I didn’t realize how much fun I’d have!”

But it wasn’t just this class – we explored youth programming through all of 2015:

  • In May, we offered the LACS spring trip I just described.

  • In June, another group of middle and high school girls from LACS came to build a mobile farm stand for the Youth Farm Project – a non-profi that teaches farm skills to young people and makes fresh food available in the food deserts of downtown Ithaca.

  • In July, we offered our 1-day Mother and Child class where 8-12 year olds get to work alongside their mothers (or adult female friend) learning new skills and building a sawhorse (this is a perennial favorite).

  • In August, we offered a carpentry camp for girls in conjunction with Camp Earth Connection in which eight girls built a pair of picnic tables over the course of five days.

  • Finally, in October, a group of girls participating in the Girls Venture program run by Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Rural Youth Program came for a one day carpentry workshop.

Looking forward to next year, we already have lots of youth programming lined up. The LACS spring trip, Carpentry Camp at Camp Earth Connection, and our “Mother and Child” class have become annual offerings. New programs include a 3-day Girl Scout summer camp with Camp Comstock. We’re hoping that the Girls Venture program receives funding again this year to offer another day program. We also just staffed a booth at a Girl Scout Cookie Convention to let girls know about carpentry opportunities. There was a line 10 deep the entire day to participate in our carpentry demos. You can see in the photo below how absorbed these girls are by Miwa’s demonstration. Those are our future women carpenters!

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We are so excited that all this youth programming is taking off. The fact that it is happening organically with little effort on our part indicates that the demand is there. Already, less than one week after the cookie convention, we’ve had an inquiry about putting together a program for first graders to build the bridge for their “Bridging Ceremony” as they transition to second grade.

The challenge for us is to offer programs at an affordable cost while maintaining a sustainable business model. As a business owner, I know how much it costs to offer excellent programs. As the single mother of three (a couple of whom were featured in our video!), I sometimes choose not to send my kids to wonderful camps and activities because of cost. The Amber Grant would make it possible for Hammerstone to offer youth programming at a price parents can afford, while our small business continues to grow sustainably and offer employment to young women carpenters and teachers (Miwa, Liz and Christina make up our current Hammerstone crew).

I know this is a long-winded response to your question, but I was eager to demonstrate that the qualification grant Hammerstone was awarded in February had an impact on the lives of girls and young women, and that there is an immediate demand for additional programming which the Amber Grant would make possible. If we receive the $2000 Amber Grant, the money will directly support the education of young women and girls through our scholarship fund.

Maria Klemperer-Johnson
Hammerstone: Carpentry for Women, LLC

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