“I think that if we’re giving kids tools to think about things they want to be when they’re older, we are more likely to set them up for success.”

“I was born and raised in Pittsfield, Mass.,” Sidney Hamilton says, “and I’m still here.”

A dozen years ago, Hamilton started working as an intern at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center. She was a room assistant helping with logistics and making sure children were safe. 

Today, Hamilton works at the Brigham Center as the Empowerment Director & Eureka! Coordinator, and she’s working hard to immerse girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). She’s also a member of the second cohort of our Advocacy Network.

“When I started working with kids, it came easily to me, and I really enjoyed it. A lot of people go to work for the money, and money is great, but I’d rather have a job that I can go to every day that I know I’m going to enjoy. That’s super important to me.”

Over the years, Hamilton worked as the coordinator of one of the Brigham Center’s after school programs and as a substitute teacher in its early education program. She did outreach work, educating teenagers about healthy sexuality, self defense, and financial literacy. And along the way, Hamilton earned an associate degree in human services at Berkshire Community College as well as a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in social work at Westfield State University.

Today, she continues to be engaged by the challenges and joys of building relationships with kids.

“To be able to get to know the kids, understand them better, help them with what they need is an awesome thing. And I love being in a place where we see kids grow up. We’ve had kids from birth who are still in our programs. I started working with a young girl when she was seven, and now she’s a senior who will be graduating high school. So there are a lot of full circle moments.”

Hamilton says there’s also a need for advocacy.

“When I think about advocating for a child, it can mean talking to a parent about how their child feels, or talking to staff from a child’s school to share observations about how a child is doing. And of course, Covid made that harder.”

“Part of my job now is managing a small caseload of children who need extra support, either here or in school, so I am fully involved in knowing what goes on in their classrooms, because I know it can be challenging for the teachers.”

The other part of Hamilton’s job — as the Eureka! Coordinator — is running a STEM program for people who identify as female.

“It’s not for people who already love STEM. It’s to encourage girls to explore STEM,” Hamilton explains. “STEM careers are all around us and kids don’t realize that, so we’re teaching them that there are these paths they can take.”

Topics have included public health, microbiology, and environmental sciences.

“You don’t see a lot of kids thinking about their futures. A lot of kids just say, I don’t know. And I say, This is where I’m going to pressure you a little bit because I want you to think about it. Because while you’re thinking about it, we can formulate a plan of steps you can take to move forward.”

Hamilton heard about the Advocacy Network from the Brigham Center’s CEO Kelly Marion, who was a member of the network’s first cohort.

“I joined because I wanted a better understanding of advocacy, and I wanted to learn to advocate more,” Hamilton says

One striking part of the Advocacy Network for Hamilton is learning from her network peers about how much advocacy is going on across the state. Hamilton has also enjoyed Strategies for Children’s meet-and-greet program that introduces advocates to the state’s new, first-year legislators.

“They are really passionate, and I love that. I always say that passion drives practice.”

For her Advocacy Network project, Hamilton is working with her Brigham Center colleagues to develop STEM programming that can be regularly integrated into the center’s pre-K classes.

“It’s going to be creative. It’s going to be hands-on. And it’s going to give kids ways to explore things. One of the things we’re talking about doing is dissecting owl pellets. It’s kind of gross, right? But these kids really want to know things. So I think this will be an activity that goes over really well with them.”

“I think that if we’re giving kids tools to think about things they want to be when they’re older, we are more likely to set them up for success.”

Hamilton’s underlying goal: “I want to see immediate action. I want to see things immediately change for kids. Then, further down the line the advocacy might look like asking a legislator for change, because these programs cost money and funding can be limited.”

For Hamilton, there’s also a personal thread in this work.

“Working on the Eureka! program made me think about the times when I was interested in STEM topics: I really enjoyed my physics class, and I enjoyed my biology class, but why didn’t I end up in any STEM fields? I feel that when I was younger, I didn’t have the support or that push.”

“Now, I want to provide that support for somebody else. I can still be my social work self, and I can advocate for STEM, and I can help young kids build their futures.”