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Philadelphia grade school girls embark on summer construction camp

Don Procter
Philadelphia grade school girls embark on summer construction camp
MENTORING YOUNG WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION — Eighty-eight grade school girls in Philadelphia are planning to spend their summer vacation at a construction camp building birdhouses, sheet metal tool boxes, wiring electrical outlets and visiting busy construction sites.

It might seem peculiar that 88 grade school girls in Philadelphia would want to spend their summer vacation at a construction camp building birdhouses, sheet metal tool boxes, wiring electrical outlets and visiting busy construction sites.

But organizers behind the annual camp will tell you the Grades 7 to 12 girls are there because they want to be.

Organized by Mentoring Young Women in Construction (MyWIC) for the 15th straight year, the camp gives girls, many from inner city neighborhoods, a chance to work with their hands and learn about career possibilities many of them never knew existed.  

Organized by Mentoring Young Women in Construction the summer camp for construction is in its 15th straight year.
MENTORING YOUNG WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION — Organized by Mentoring Young Women in Construction the summer camp for construction is in its 15th straight year.

“We think that builders have been missing a whole population here,” says Mary Gaffney, director of MyWIC, noting women represent only two per cent of construction workers in Philly. 

For too long skilled labor recruitment efforts have ignored women but times are changing and labor shortages are growing. 

Gaffney says it is why MyWIC has opened a second camp this summer, doubling the enrolment number of girls over last year.

Gaffney, who runs a family-owned commercial HVAC contractor in Philadelphia, says the construction camp is set up so the girls or “campers” can visit trades training facilities for carpenters, finishing trades, plumbers, electricians, sheet metal and the laborers.

During the first two days of camp, the girls get safety training, achieve a first aid certification and learn the basics of hand and power tool operation.  

“We ask them to make sure they are asking questions when they are in the trades, union halls, and we give them journals to write up what they learn,” says Gaffney.

The campers also spend a day at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies national baseball team, as part of a skilled trades event. The day includes a look at stadium operations, including HVAC, grounds keeping carpentry and electrical needs.

Gaffney says soft skills are also taught over the summer and a number of the girls help to produce a magazine on what they learned from each trade.

“By the camp’s conclusion, participants notably display increased self-confidence and a stronger sense of their potential,” says Gaffney.

“Through MyWIC, we’re cultivating the next wave of female leaders in America by immersing them in the construction and skilled trade fields.”

One the program’s star pupils is Maddie McBride. The 18-year-old first attended the summer camp when she was in Grade 6 and enjoyed it so much she came back for the next six summers.

The construction camp is set up so the girls or “campers” can visit trades training facilities for carpenters, finishing trades, plumbers, electricians, sheet metal and the laborers.
MENTORING YOUNG WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION — The construction camp is set up so the girls or “campers” can visit trades training facilities for carpenters, finishing trades, plumbers, electricians, sheet metal and the laborers.

McBride, who plans to go to university to study marketing and open a construction company with her brother and sister one day, now volunteers at the camp to assist young girls in the program.

“I help to see that they are doing OK, having fun, staying engaged.” 

The recent high school graduate says the summer camp is “super important” because a lot of schools don’t offer any industrial shop programs or classes.

“Half of these kids come here not knowing that a trade is a career option for them. This opens their eyes and shows them that this is a good option because they can get good benefits, make good money at a young age and love their job.”

McBride got her inspiration for construction from her parents, both of whom work in the industry. At a young age she ran out with her dad for lumber and supplies from local home hardware stores and then put on her personal protection equipment to help him with projects around the house.

“He’d always let me swing a hammer, put a screw in…like all the little things. I loved every minute of it.”

Gaffney says MyWIC’s agenda also includes an annual “block kids” program for Grades 1 to 6 boys and girls to interact with various trades and a scholarship program for girls.  

“To me it is really important that we have more women representation and I think that is growing,” she says. “I’ve seen a big change over the past couple of years, maybe it is just in my circle, but I think the movement is growing.”

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