Summer camp inspires new generation of Rosie the Riveters

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The Rosie's Girls summer camp enjoyed a Career Day during which over 30 women in the trades networked, held interactive exhibits, and developed bonds with campers on Tuesday, July 9, 2019..

Think you had a busy summer?

Perhaps you haven’t met Rosie’s Girls, a fearless group of 30 sixth, seventh and eighth graders from Richmond and San Pablo.

Just reading through their six-week summer itinerary is exhausting. Four days in Yosemite. Ropes course at Fort Miley. Silk-screening at the Richmond Art Center. Tours of the Mission Science Center, the Chevron Richmond Refinery, the SS Red Oak Victory and the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. A Career Day at Kennedy High with more than 30 women who work jobs formerly considered exclusive to men.

And when they weren’t traveling about, the campers were toiling away in the Kennedy High welding lab, learning welding and carpentry from professionals employed in the industry today.

A whirlwind, for sure. But honestly, is there a better way to capture the spirit of Rosie the Riveter?

Becoming Rosie

In its 10th year, Rosie’s Girls summer camp continues to evolve and blossom as a positive force in the lives of local girls. Rosie the Riveter Trust partnered with the National Park Service and city of Richmond to provide girls from low-income families with full scholarships to experience an adventure akin to those embarked by the iconic Rosie the Riveters who rose to the occasion during WWII.

The latest camp, which began June 7, never ceased to challenge the young proverbial Rosies. Prior to the start of camp, each were interviewed, given job descriptions and trained in leadership skills. Later they visited Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, where they learned the history of women who broke barriers in the industrial workplace while supporting troops in the war effort. The girls also toured the SS Red Oak Victory ship for a glimpse into the accomplishments of women in welding, engineering, electrical work, and more, according to city of Richmond officials.

Think these girls were simply handed camp T-shirts? Rather, they spent two days at Richmond Art Center learning to silkscreen their own.

After a safety training in carpentry and welding, they dove into their projects. This year, the West Contra Unified School District opened up its brand new welding lab at Kennedy High to the Rosie’s Girls camp.

After 10 years, the program not only has improved facilities, it has built a positive reputation in the community. Tetteh Kisseh, Richmond Recreation Department supervisor, said he was approached this year by Marsha Mather-Thrift, executive director of Rosie the Riveter Trust, about a possible partnership with Rosie’s Girls. He leapt at the opportunity.

Rosie’s Girls learn how to strap on and apply a safety construction harness during the 5th Career Day held for the Rosie’s Girls summer camp.

“As soon as Marsha mentioned it, I immediately said, We’re doing it. Please bring this to us,” Kisseh said.

The city provided two staff members to the program and recruited a carpenter and a welder to lead trainings.

Also serving as mentors were four former Rosie’s Girls campers, who earned a stipend at the end of the program.

When the campers weren’t on field trips, their typical daily routine began with a dialogue aimed at promoting self-confidence and bonding.

“They talk to each other about who they are, how they feel, what their lives are like,” said Mather-Thrift. “Then they go into the workshops and either do welding or carpentry. And in the afternoon, they debrief on how their day has gone, discuss their artistic inspirations and emotional things that have come out of the day. We feed [the results of that discussion] back into the design for the welding and carpentry projects.”

Career Day

A summer highlight is Career Day, now in its fifth year at Rosie’s Girls Camp.

Dozens of women working in professions formerly considered traditionally for men, along with a few male trades professionals, gathered at Kennedy High to chat with Rosie’s Girls and lead them in interactive demonstrations, including strapping on a construction harness, learning about industrial machinery, and taking turns on a $10,000 wire feed virtual welder supplied by the Carpenters Training Committee of Northern California (CTCNC). The CTCNC is an educational organization that provides Apprentice, Journey-level, and related training services for Union Carpenters and Union Contractors across Northern California.

Hector Lopez, CTCNC coordinator, led Rosie’s Girls in a virtual welding simulation at the Rosie’s Girls Career Day at Kennedy High.

Also taking part at Career Day: Richmond firefighters, police officers, members of the National Park Police, construction teams from Overaa, Cahill, and multiple representatives of local labor unions.

An industry ravenous for skilled workers isn’t the only reason to inspire young women to take an interest in the trades, said Hector Lopez, CTCNC coordinator. Adding diversity to the building industry only heightens quality and innovation in projects, he said.

“Any competitive workforce will not only include, but actively recruit women on their teams,” Lopez said. “People in general bring a diversity of thought and approach that leads to faster, more efficient projects. It’s about diversity of thought.”

Tanya Lewis, a carpenter by trade and a Senior Safety Coordinator with Cahill Contractors, said this was her fifth year volunteering at Career Day.

Tanya Lewis, a carpenter by trade and a Senior Safety Coordinator with Cahill Contractors, volunteers every year at Rosie’s Girls Career Day in order to give back and to let young girls know they can make a good living in her line of work.

“I volunteer to give back to the community, and give back to the young ladies and let them know that a girl can do it,” Lewis said. “I started at 19 years old and now I’m 45, and I want to let them know that you can get a career and make a good living out of this. And beat the odds.”

Day at the Chevron Refinery

Lopez’s sentiments were echoed at the Chevron Richmond Refinery only two days after Career Day, when members of Chevron Women’s Executive Group, Women in Progress, invited the Rosie’s Girls for a day of activities.

The Women’s Executive Group volunteers at mentoring events throughout the year for local girls. This time, they provided the campers a tour of the Refinery, followed by an all-woman panel about career that included a chemical engineer, IT business analyst, and four attorneys with different legal specialties, including, environmental and patent law.

When she was in middle and high school, those who knew Refinery Business Manager Christine Haswell believed she’d end up an English major in college. When she returned home with a chemical engineering degree, people were surprised, she said.

Rosie’s Girls listen and take notes as a panel of members of Chevron Women’s Executive Group talk about career and women in the workplace during the Rosie’s Girls visit to the Chevron Richmond Refinery on July 11, 2019.

“I went to college, and I knew I liked the sciences, and I knew that I wanted a career that wouldn’t take me a PhD. to be able to feed myself and my family,” Haswell said. “And I started trying things.”

She took a summer job in at a plant that manufactured tissue paper. Haswell loved manufacturing.

“It was fun,” she said. “Trying to make things more efficient, and better, and making a product that people used, I really loved that idea.”

The women said they were fortunate to work in an environment at Chevron that strives for and values inclusion and diversity in its workforce.

Members of Chevron Women’s Executive Group led Rosie’s Girls camp participants in fun STEM-related activities during the camp’s visit to the Richmond Refinery on July 11, 2019.

Josetta Jones, Managing IP Counsel and a chemical engineer, said she’s particularly appreciates her career at Chevron because it has allowed her to travel worldwide.

“I just got back in May from going to Singapore, China and Japan,” she said, enabling her to learn and experience various cultures. “That’s been afforded to me based upon working in this field, and working for Chevron.”

‘Builders of the Future’

In the high-tech age, it is difficult enough to find skilled men, let alone women, said Lopez, who represents the Carpenters Training Committee that is constantly trying to lure new professionals into their trade. The nation is undergoing massive changes to its infrastructure and needs as many skilled builders as possible.

“In my opinion, the Roman Empire’s downfall had something to do with having too many paid thinkers in society and not enough doers,” he said. “Our infrastructure right here in the Bay Area needs talented builders for the Transbay Terminal, BART, the high technology companies. As we modernize how we use metals, steels and other materials, somebody has to be there to apply them in building our high rises, roads, and everything.”

The nation’s progress is at a critical junction that is, once again, calling on women to be a big part of the solution, Lopez said.

“We need all perspectives, ideas, and to maximize our nation’s huge pool of talent,” he said.

As Rosie the Riveters proved decades ago, that’s a very solid strategy.

Members of Chevron Women’s Executive Group led Rosie’s Girls camp participants in fun STEM-related activities during the camp’s visit to the Richmond Refinery on July 11, 2019.

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