Gabrielle White, an architectural and urban designer at Robert P. Madison International, has been interested in design for as long as she can remember, but a two-week construction summer program she participated in around fifth grade inspired her to become an architect.
White remembers building projects like toolboxes, birdhouses, and bookshelves over the two years she participated in the program. A local branch of a Vermont-based program called Rosie’s Girls, the camp introduces middle school-aged girls to male-dominated fields such as engineering, construction, and architecture.
With the other students in the program, White built bridges out of popsicle sticks, went on field trips, and heard from guest speakers. She made friends and memories at the camp, and she learned about a career path she wanted to pursue.
She also met women working in construction, and one of them became her mentor.
“What I learned there is what influenced me to want to be an architect,” she said. “It definitely opened up my eyes to different possibilities that I hadn’t thought of before.”
A decade and a half later, the program is still introducing Clevelanders like White to career options viewed as nontraditional for women. White participated in Rosie’s Girls through an organization called Hard Hatted Women (HHW Ohio). In 2021, social services organization Friendly Inn Settlement brought the program to Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. As Friendly Inn nears its 150th anniversary, the local camp’s leaders hope to raise enough funds to offer an after-school version of the program as well.
A nonprofit called Vermont Works for Women launched Rosie’s Girls in 2000, and it licenses the curriculum to different organizations across the country. At Friendly Inn, most Rosie’s Girls participants live in the Central neighborhood, but participants can come from anywhere, said Yolanda Armstrong, the organization’s president and CEO. The program is free for participants and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for two weeks in the summer. Between eight to 15 students ages 11 and up participate in the camp, and the program has served about 36-40 students during its three years at Friendly Inn so far.
“To me, a program like Rosie’s Girls helps our young ladies to become more interested in that particular area that they thought they couldn’t do, or thought that that was just a man’s job and not a woman’s job,” Armstrong said.
Introducing young girls to career opportunities and role models
On Aug. 8, during the second week of camp, Rosie’s Girls participants hammered and glued blocks of wood together, making house-shaped coin banks, trains, and other projects in a classroom at Friendly Inn. A few supervisors sat at the table with the students, working on projects alongside them.
The chalkboard displayed remnants of a lesson about safety hazards. As the students worked on their creations, a facilitator posed riddles to the group, and students and instructors shouted out their guesses.
Shalaira Tyree, 11, said she enjoyed working on building projects at Rosie’s Girls camp, and one of her favorite projects at that time was a mini chest of drawers.
For many Rosie’s Girl participants, the program may be their first time trying activities like woodworking, and their first time learning about career options in the trades and technical fields. These opportunities include careers that don’t require a college degree, Armstrong said.
Ariane Kirkpatrick, the owner, president, and CEO of construction company The AKA Team, teamed up with Armstrong to bring Rosie’s Girls to Friendly Inn. Like the piano and ballet lessons that she took growing up, “you have to begin to introduce things to folks at an early age,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick didn’t learn about opportunities in construction until later on in her life, though. She remembers being the only girl in a drafting class she took as part of college prep program. She took that course because she liked working with her hands, not because people told her it could be a pathway to a career in construction.
Now, as a leader in the construction field herself, Kirkpatrick focuses on what she calls “the three E’s” while working with youth: exposure, engagement, and empowerment. Rosie’s Girls meets all three goals, she said. It teaches girls about construction and technical fields early on, gives them the space and tools to explore hands-on activities related to these fields, and introduces them to role models who show that success is attainable.
“When you do see a role model, when you do see someone that looks like you, you can almost picture yourself in that position and you know that it is possible because there’s been some folks ahead of you that’s done it,” Kirkpatrick said.
White, the Rosie’s Girls alumna now working at Robert P. Madison International, said she had “a full circle moment” in recent years when she served as a mentor and instructor at the Rosie’s Girls program at Friendly Inn.
Bringing Rosie’s Girls to Friendly Inn
White’s experience with Rosie’s Girls as a middle schooler is what inspired Kirkpatrick and Armstrong to bring the program to Friendly Inn in the first place.
Kirkpatrick and Armstrong were both longtime supporters of Rosie’s Girls. When Kirkpatrick was a board member at Hard Hatted Women, a couple came up to her at an event and thanked her for the Rosie’s Girls program. The couple shared that their goddaughter – White – was starting college that year, and that she decided to study architecture at Bowling Green State University because of the Rosie’s Girls program.
After that event, Kirkpatrick reached out to Armstrong, and the two applied to bring a franchise of Rosie’s Girls to Friendly Inn.
Funding for the Rosie’s Girls camp at Friendly Inn has come from different sources over the program’s first three years, including the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC) and the Women’s Philanthropic Union (WPU), Armstrong said.
She hopes to secure additional funding so the program can run during the school year as well as the summer, which she said students have requested.
At the beginning of the two-week program, students often say that they came to the camp because a parent said they had to, the program leaders said. But with the excitement of trying new activities, they typically warm up to the camp within the first few days, Armstrong said. At the closing ceremony, they present their work to their families and instructors.
“We have the opportunity to give young girls possibilities — a possibility to achieve something different, something that they thought that they couldn’t do,” Kirkpatrick said.
Learn more about the Rosie’s Girls program at Friendly Inn here, or call Friendly Inn at 216-431-7656.
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