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Camp builds path for girls to trades

Staff photo / J.T. Whitehouse Area girls who participated in the first Northeast Ohio Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls are, in front, Veronica Marvin of Niles, eighth grade; Jillian Hopkinson of Mineral Ridge, seventh grade; Macey Kapics of Poland, eighth grade; and Ava Vestal of Poland, eighth grade. In the back row are Gabriella Zorik of Poland, eighth grade; Alexandra Loftus of Poland, seventh grade; Rylee Scofinsky of Austintown, ninth grade; Jennifer Bondy of Austintown, ninth grade; and Araya Dellamorte of Lordstown, 10th grade.

CANFIELD — Nine local girls ages 12 to 15 worked electrical and plumbing jobs in a camp designed to promote building trades.

The Northeast Ohio Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center last week had two key goals: to inspire youth and to help the construction industry deal with workforce shortages.

The camp was a combined effort with the building trades unions.

It was brought to the area by Shelly Higgins, who is on the leadership team with National Women in Roofing (NWiR) out of Cleveland.

“We have to meet four NWiR pillars (on the leadership team) that include networking, recruiting, education and community service,” Higgins said. “I tried to capture all four in one project with the camp for girls.”

She started working on a one-week camp when COVID-19 hit in 2019. That delayed it for two years, but this year, with the pandemic waning, the green light was on.

She discovered another person already had begun a similar camp where girls could learn about the building trades. That camp held in Lehigh Valley was considered a success, and Higgins contacted the person who set it up, Jon Lattin, a Lehigh Valley architectural representative.

“It was suggested we joined forces — and I became the guinea pig for a national rollout,” Higgins said.

She said the Construction Specification Institute Foundation joined with the Association of Builders and Contractors and ACE Mentor (a mentorship program for the building trades) to make the MCCTC program the first in the national program to encourage girls to look at the skilled trades.

At MCCTC, nine girls ages 12 to 15, signed up from Mahoning and Trumbull counties. They began work week ago by “filling a customer order” for two finished walls with electrical and plumbing. Each day they worked with different members of the skilled trades as they assembled their product. Last Wednesday the girls worked in electrical in the morning and plumbing in the afternoon.

Rick Boyarko, the apprenticeship instructor from Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, said he has seen the change in his industry.

“When I started a few years ago, there were no women involved,” he said. “Right now I have six females in the apprentice program.”

Lattin said the number of women in trades is growing. He said his last camp had 20 girls and he believes the MCCTC camp will grow in future years as well.

Higgins said she brought together a lot of support from local unions and businesses. Some businesses donated the screws and materials needed. Milwaukee Tools donated an apron and basic tools that each girl will get to keep once the week is over, she said.

At the end of the week, the nine girls in the initial camp gained knowledge of architecture, engineering and construction through hands-on experiences and a field trip to a work site. The girls also earned bragging rights as being in the first national CSI national camp.

Higgins expects the program to grow in the coming years and looks forward to the day some of these girls join the skilled trades.

It brought back memories for Jennifer Bondy of Austintown. “It reminds me of old times with my papa (the late Fred DeBlasio). He used to flip houses,” she said.

For information on how to support future local Northeast Ohio Let’s Build Camp for Girls, contact Higgins at neoletsbuild@gmail.com.

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