Contributed by Jon Lattin
Editor's note: If you haven't read the first post, 'Let's Build a Future for Women in AEC', please read it here.
Close to one month after the inaugural Let’s Build Camp began, we have taken a deep breath and are now reflecting on the outcomes of our week. Did we accomplish what we set out to do?
Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls started as a vision to introduce young girls to the AEC industry. It was designed to allow them to explore the construction trades, architecture, engineering, and construction product manufacturing through hands on experiences and field trips. In this mission, the camp was an overwhelming success. Twenty young ladies of varying experiences and capabilities learned key construction principles as they built and finished wall sections. Through this hands on approach, they experienced carpentry, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, masonry, and painting while being exposed to green building, the principles of cement and metal roof manufacturing, and design with BIM. To see pictures of our camp, please visit www.letsbuildcamp.com.
In retrospect though, the camp was so much more than a construction camp, it became a camp of life skills training. Problem solving, managing team dynamics, respecting others, listening to instruction and executing tasks based on them are all skills that naturally evolved during the course of the weeklong camp. These are all attributes that we as adults deal with on a daily basis, both in work and at home. The girls experienced these realities of life through the course of building their walls in small teams of four.
After kicking off camp with an ice breaker activity and a factory tour, the girls were grouped by skill level and then teams were created by pulling a girl from each level. This attempt at equalizing the teams worked perfectly as the girls with more experience and skills became team mentors to the girls with less experience. Seizing this opportunity to build leaders, we were able to harness this informal mentorship to allow the girls a chance to lead the teams, resulting in confidence building for both the “leader” and the “students”. A shining moment for each team came as they turned on their lights for the first time, with smiles beaming from ear to ear as they flipped the switch and saw the results of their efforts working successfully.
Another gratifying time was the last day when the teams painted their walls. We expected the girls to paint the walls with a single color and to be finished with their work. In reality though, this was the first opportunity that they could be free to express themselves, since most of the work up to that point was defined for them by the construction documents and instruction. The teams showed creativity and style as they all added their own personal flair to their creations, resulting in five completely different wall sections.
How do you measure the effectiveness of a journey like this? One way is to gauge the effect on the lives of the girls. For me, I need not look any further than my own home. My oldest daughter Hannah (Hannah “Hammer”) was a member of the 2017 Let’s Build class. Before camp started, Hannah had absolutely no interest in participating in this camp. She took every opportunity possible to remind me that she did not want to be a part of it, but she trusted me and knew how much it meant to us, so she begrudgingly attended. After the first day, you could see the apprehension melt away and the excitement build, with Hannah pumped to attend each and every day thereafter (even considering the early morning rise). Relationships were forged, lessons were learned, and confidence was bolstered. During the end of camp festivities, we held a nailing competition and Hannah’s team finished second. To see the pride on her face as she tells people about her camp experiences and to hear her say that she can’t wait until next year to do it again brings tears to my eyes and reaffirms our reason for doing this camp.
Let’s Build required copious amounts of volunteer dedication and we were fortunate to have a very large team of committed professionals devoted to its success. From developing the curriculum, soliciting sponsors, gathering applicants, designing t-shirts and signage, managing social media, arranging the tours, executing the week, instructing and mentoring the girls, and making food runs, we depended on the entire Lehigh Valley AEC community to pull off this week. The industry is busy, but people made the time to change the lives of these girls. An outcome that we didn’t expect was the profound affect it would have on our volunteers. The energy and excitement that the girls brought to camp daily was contagious, making everyone want to work harder every day to ensure their success. Many volunteers have pledged to do even more next year and we intend to take them up on the offer.
Another aspect to the success of Let’s Build was funding, and we were fortunate that our local industry answered the call beyond expectations. Knowing that we had the funding in place to conduct the camp as we wished, without worries, was liberating, reducing the stress on volunteers and allowing them to focus on the girls.
So what do we do next year? That is the question on the table as we begin planning for our future. Do we add more weeks to incorporate more advanced lessons? Do we add a separate camp for boys? Do we take this show on the road and pull in other regions? That is all unknown at this time. All we know for certain is that year one was a success and we can’t wait for year two to commence.
Do you think this is something you want to do in your area? What are you waiting for? Now is as good a time as any to make a positive impact on your community. Feel free to reach out to me and we’ll detail even further the positive outcomes, as well as our opportunities for improvement next year.
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