Construction Summer Camps Introduce Girls To The Trades

Learning how to use tools empowers girls and sets them up for career success.

Speaking to a room full of girls at the Tools & Tiaras’ 2022 summer camp, plumber Judaline Cassidy asks, “Who is awesome? Who is strong? Who is fearless?”

“I am!” they yell back.

They mean it. These girls just spent the week learning how to bend conduit, lay brick, design faucets, use drills and wrenches and roll paint, all while finding pride in their accomplishments. It’s particularly fun today because Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff is in the room, rocking “girl power” safety glasses for their sheet metal workshop.

These girls are about to graduate from Tools & Tiaras‘ fifth annual summer camp. Some attendees of the nonprofit’s summer and day camps leave with aspirations for careers in the trades. Others simply walk away with a boost of self-esteem.

Either way, it can be life-changing, says Cassidy.

“I grew up not loving myself, not having any self-confidence,” she says. “But picking up tools changed me, made me realize how great I was.”

What Is Tools & Tiaras?

Tools N Tiaras Girls Camp Via Instagramvia @tools_n_tiaras/instagram

Tools & Tiaras is a nonprofit that teaches girls ages six to 14 construction and other trade skills. It was founded by Cassidy, a 25-year union plumber who says the industry elevated her from poverty into the middle class.

Getting into the trades wasn’t easy for Cassidy. To be accepted into trade school, she had to do push-ups just to convince her instructor she was strong enough.

She’s gone on to become one of the first women accepted into Plumbers Local No. 371 in Staten Island and the first woman elected to the Examining Board of Plumbers Local No. 1 in New York City. She’s also earned numerous awards and recognitions, among them being named a CNN Champion for Change.

Now she and her colleagues are helping break down the barriers they faced. Their work enables younger generations to benefit from joining the trades, and empowers girls by giving them the skills and confidence to pursue any career.

“We’re built on the power of sisterhood, putting tools directly into girls’ hands, so they can realize just how strong and capable they are,” she says.

Since the non-profit’s inception in 2017, hundreds of girls have attended Tools & Tiaras workshops and camps in New York City. In 2022, to answer an ever-increasing demand, it opened its first chapter in Boston.

“Year-over-year our camps get bigger, better and bolder, thanks to our talented instructors and amazing partners who step up with us to show our girls that jobs don’t have genders,” says Cassidy.

Besides hands-on learning about tools and craftsmanship, activities included field trips to construction sites, workshops on how to unleash girls’ inner self-defense superheroes, and a talk from labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta on how to use activism to drive change.

Tools & Tiaras Camps

Tools & Tiaras offers monthly workshops and summer camps in New York City and Boston. Classes include hard skills and soft T.O.O.L.S (total ownership of life skills) learning, in addition to a history of the trades and the important role they play in shaping our societies.

They’re also a lot of fun, says 14-year-old Myah Dehaney. At the 2022 camp, Dehaney built a box for her bracelets out of sheet metal.

“I used screws, a wrench and a drill,” she says. “I learned I could do more things instead of just being on the internet. I learned that girls can do anything, no matter what anyone tells them. I also learned that even though people have differences they can accomplish anything.”

Monthly Tools & Tiaras workshops are held Saturdays in New York City and Boston, and summer camps are scheduled for 2023 in both cities. Both are taught by leading tradeswomen from various fields.

To ensure every interested girl can attend, Tools & Tiaras offers a scholarship program made possible through donations. You can also contact them if you’re interested in starting a chapter in your city.

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Karuna Eberl
Karuna writes about wildlife, nature, history and travel for magazines, newspapers and websites including National Geographic, National Parks, Discovery Channel, Atlas Obscura and the High Country News. She's also produced a number of independent films and directed the documentary The Guerrero Project, about the search for a sunken slave ship. She and her husband, Steve, wrote an award-winning guidebook to the Florida Keys and are currently completely renovating an abandoned house in a ghost town. She holds a B.A. in journalism and geology from the University of Montana. Member of OWAA, SATW.