It is blockbuster superhero movie season, and a sequel to a proven hit wrapped last month.
In July, 21 girls from the Lehigh Valley and beyond gathered at Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, Marcon Boulevard, Allentown, to participate in the second Let’s Build Camp, a weeklong program for young women/superheroes interested in architecture, engineering, construction, building and the construction trades.
Among many skills, campers learned to frame a wall, replace windows, make bricks, install siding and shingle roofs.
And, as in all superhero stories, transformations happened and were witnessed by others.
“The best part for me is seeing the transformation throughout the week,” Kristen M. Fallon, regional vice president of member services of ABC Inc., said by phone Aug. 19. “I get chills every time I think about it.”
Fallon, Jon Lattin, president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of Construction Specifications Institute, and Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at Emmaus High School, joined forces to debut the camp in July 2017. Didra teaches at the camp and was joined this year by Stan Dixon, building trades instructor at Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School.
“Beyond expectation actually” is how Didra described this year’s camp.
Suggestions from campers at the inaugural camp led to several additions to the curriculum. This year campers learned to put in windows. They studied heating, ventilation and air conditioning and learned how to install electrical switches.
“It was like building a house in a week,” Didra said.
And much more.
The camp, Fallon said, helps “build up a new generation of girls that will have a place in the construction industry.”
And such an effort is badly needed.
According to recent figures from the United States Department of Labor available on the agency’s website, only 9 percent of U.S. construction workers are women.
In March, CNN reported only three of the world’s largest 100 architecture practices are headed by women.
And although bookshelves and movie screens have been populated in recent years by titles about female engineers and scientists (“Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” and “Geek Girl Rising” come to mind), there is still more to be done. Lots more.
Just ask Hannah Lattin, a returning camper. In a telephone interview, Hannah mentioned noticing women on road construction crews often relegated to the position of holding and turning the signs directing drivers to stop or drive slowly.
Hannah, who attends school in Easton, joined her two best friends from Parkland schools at the camp. As an experienced camper, she helped those new to the program navigate the curriculum.
“There is no other camp like this,” Fallon said.
However, rumblings of a franchise, like Marvel Studios or D.C. Extended Universe superhero movies, are growing. According to Fallon, groups in Vermont, Oregon and New Mexico have reached out to learn about the camp. Fallon has had conference calls with interested educators in Iowa’s Department of Education. And she recently traveled to California to accept the 2017 Associated Builders and Contractors’ Best Practices Award for the camp.
Meanwhile, superheroes will continue to train locally in a third camp next summer.
Thanks to local businesses, industry groups and leading firms, including Victaulic, Home Depot, Glen-Gery, ACE and others, all of the campers attend the camp session at no charge. Thanks to Zach Burnin, a former student at EHS and now with Home Depot, all of the campers receive a tool bag, tools included, as camp swag. This year’s camp excursions included field trips to Victaulic and Glen-Gery, where campers learned about pipe couplings and made bricks, respectively.
Volunteers also give of their time, serve as mentors and answer questions during the weeklong session and beyond.
Campers work in teams of four or five to complete a project. The camp accepts applications from girls in middle school through high school.
Among this year’s campers was a young woman from New Jersey, near the New York border, who did a web search for architecture camps and found Let’s Build, Fallon said. The teen’s parents committed to her having the experience, and she attended the full week.
“The relationships they build with each other is so cool to see,” Didra said.
At the end of the week, an open house showcases what the campers have done at camp. This year campers’ families, friends and mentors saw drywall in place, exterior siding and stone finished, interior walls painted and accented with tile work, and windows and working electric lights installed.
And then there was the nailing competition.
Hannah’s team placed third this year. Her team took second in 2017.
Her favorite component of this year’s training was brick manufacturing, she said.
“We got really dirty.”
As all good superheroes do.
East Penn Press