GRIT spring break program helps girls and non-binary youth build confidence and trade skills

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

(From the Missoulian)

Cameron Evans - Mar 28, 2019 Updated Mar 29, 2019

While some kids spend their spring break vacationing on an island and relaxing on a beach, Shaylyn Denning, 11, was learning how to use a chop saw.

Denning is one of a dozen girls and non-binary middle school-age kids who are spending their break learning skills like carpentry and welding through Missoula YWCA's GRIT (Girls Representing in Trades) program.

The program aims to introduce girls and non-binary youth to various skilled trades such as construction, electrical, welding and auto mechanics. More broadly, it seeks to teach them that they’re capable of doing things they’re traditionally told they can’t.

By the time the students return to school, they’ll have constructed benches and a birdhouse, welded different objects, tinkered with small engines and learned the basics of bike mechanics.

“It’s really awesome to have them walk away feeling empowered to know how to pick up a torque wrench or know how to use a chop saw,” said GRIT coordinator Sam Duncan. “These skills are things they can carry for the rest of their lives.”

In addition to learning some new skills, the program gives the youth a feeling of empowerment that they can apply to all areas of their lives.

On Wednesday, Denning practiced raising and lowering the chop saw onto a piece of lumber in the woodshop of Home ReSource. It was Denning’s first time using a saw.

“It’s awesome but it’s hard because you have to press it down the whole time and push it back,” Denning said.

Denning was up for the task. She and the rest of the group watched demonstrations and practiced before constructing benches from repurposed wood. They’ll also learn to sand and stain the benches, which will eventually find a home outside the YWCA’s new domestic violence shelter that has