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A Construction Camp for Girls Breaks Down Stereotypes
High school students learn about construction at BE&K summer camp.
Tanesha Prince went to camp this summer as an ordinary 13-year-old. After one week at BE&K’s Construction Camp for girls, she had become a bonafide "handy girl." Now, her mother Dorlinda says, "we’re prepared; we have an electrician in the house."

The construction camp was envisioned by Robin Paulding, director of communications at BE&K Inc., a large industrial and power contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. "I created this camp in response to construction groups wanting more women in the field," Paulding says. The camp was first held near Birmingham three years ago on the campus of a nearly technical high school. Since then, the number of attendees has grown from 9 girls to 52 this past summer. The camp also held a session this summer in Georgia, which was also quite popular. There is even a waiting list for next summer.

Paulding brings in women from the field to introduce the youngsters to their areas of expertise. The specialists teach the girls basics in carpentry, welding, and electrical work. The goal of the camp is to "break down stereotypes," she says.

"When the girls come out of here, they should be ready for the job," says Mary Hodge, a BE&K electrical foreman, who has been in the industry for 30 years. "I wish I would have had this opportunity when I started out." As an instructor for the program, Hodge teaches at both the Alabama and Georgia centers. Her task this summer was to teach the girls how to make lamps. "It’s easier than I thought it would be," Andrenette Poole, 15, says, about the electrical portion of her lamp project. "I got to wire it, decorate it, and make it light up."

However, the camp isn’t always full of fun and games. "I burnt my shoe when I was welding," Poole says. Fortunately, the camp is prepared with rigorous safety standards, including a strict dress code. Participants had to wear closed-toe shoes at all times. Violating any regulations would result in dismissal from the program. Camp directors also distributed hard hats to each girl. Luckily, Poole's mishap "just left a little mark," she says.

Even with these safety risks in mind, Dorlinda Prince didn’t have any qualms about sending her daughter to work with the tools formerly reserved for the men. "[I had] no fears," Prince says. "I want my children to venture out and see all things." She also felt the company was well equipped for safety, and had prepared the children well for their experiences.

The projects also helped the campers overcome the intimidation associated with industry tasks. "[Welding] was scary," Tanesha Prince says. "The welding was with fire," her mother added. [Students] "didn’t realize they had the proper protection."

Not only did campers walk away with industry knowledge, but they also received toolboxes and "Rosie the Riveter" T-shirts. The girls learned to use about a third of the tools in the camp toolbox. "We’re just as good as men," Hodge says. "We’re the future of the trade."

 



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