We invited Girls Build Executive Director Katie Hughes and Program Manager Ev Hu to share the mission and inspiration behind Girls Build.
Girls Build is a non-profit organization based in Portland, OR, inspiring curiosity and confidence in girls through the world of building.
It was such an honor to hear Katie and Ev talk about their passion, past experience, and the lessons they have learned over the past 4 years and what their future goals are for Girls Build.
Years ago before starting Girls Build, Katie had the realization when she was teaching high school wood shop that 16-18 was often too old to bring girls in to working with their hands seriously and that they were at a disadvantage from their male classmates who were taught and encouraged to work with their hands at a younger age. While working with Oregon Tradeswomen she began doing youth programming and this really became the prototype for what is now Girls Build. Katie thought, if you can start teaching girls at age 8 with the same education their male classmates would be getting the girls can start to dream more and their minds may open up to more options when they are older.
And although Girls Build is not a pipeline to the trades it is helpful, especially in the rural areas that they reach, to plant the seeds that a job in the trades could mean the difference between making min wage and really thriving at a higher wage trade job they might not otherwise think to pursue.
To help plant these seeds they bring in women from the plumbing, electrical, auto mechanic and bike mechanic trades to share their stories and their passion for their jobs.
Ev the Program Manager started out in the newspaper industry before moving into construction, first as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. That soon became a full time job and once Girls Build was ready to hire Katie called Ev up and asked if she was interested in working with them. Ev now works full time at Girls Build putting together the class scheduling and roster while also designing and prototyping the projects, making sure they are doable but most importantly that they are fun.
What started out as a single Portland camp in 2016 has grown like wild fire to camps and workshops serving 400 girls ages 8-14 in 5 locations across Oregon, Washington and Idaho each year.
We met in their North Portland workshop which is filled with all the tools the girls need to build but in the summer their mobile workshop travels and pops up at University of Portland and to the other locations they serve.
They have worked hard to make sure all girls who want to be involved can be through scholarship programs and partnering with other non-profits that work with youth and outreach to foster care. Not only does this ensure that no girl is left out it also ensures a mix of diverse backgrounds to benefit everyone during the camps.
They rely on funding from grants / fundraising / corporate sponsorships
Portland – 80% paid / 20% scholarship
Rural – 60% scholarship / 40% paid
They also rely on donated materials, often new and also have a great selection of donated off-cuts from local wood workers.
Girls Build also works hard to ensure that while the campers are at their camps they get 2 hot meals – breakfast and lunch. This is not always a guarantee for some of their campers normal day to day.
Their camps fill up very quickly and their biggest hurdle right now is maintaining quality while trying to meet the demands to grow capacity to serve more girls without losing the quality.
Their moto for camps – less talk more do. They don’t do a ton of talking as they believe more in the doing part – fostering doing to learn vs talking for learning.
They work hard to develop projects that both excite and teach important trade skills and life skills. Their projects are a mix of solo time and collaboration so that the girls can have the experience and pride of making something on their own but also the experience of collaborating and working on a team.
Summer camps are groups of 10 – 4 different workshops throughout the day to help with rotation and also attention span. 40 campers per week with a 1 to 5 ratio campers to volunteers / instructors.
Camp Project Examples:
Their summer camp larger collaborative projects change each year. Examples are playhouse, sandbox to Chicken Coups. At the end of the week they can see the fruits of working on a team and collaborating on a project bigger then they could have imagined. At the end of the camp they donate the playhouse or project to a shelter or other non-profit that can benefit.
Solo project examples teach fine woodworking, slowing down and something to be proud of in the end that they made by themselves.
One and Done Project:
80 min project – example of this are a sheet metal lunch box that the girls make and can use the rest of the week to store their tools or lunch.
They also partner with local design firm BRIC Architecture for a yearly 8 week workshop focusing on design. By the end the girls have designed the playhouse the summer campers will construct over the summer.
Another example of successful class models is child / parent classes.
Ev showed us the amazing projects she is developing for upcoming Spring Break camps. The campers will start by making their own leather tools belts and wooden tool boxes on the first day and by the end of the week fill it with tools they build themselves and a task lamp they have also built.
We talked about the power of collaborating with other like minded groups, sharing tips, lessons and thoughts to help colleagues and friends that run similar programs nationally be successful and also sharing with people who are looking to start a similar program in their town. Being honest and transparent about what it will take to start a program like theirs and the realistic energy and funding.
Girls Build friendship with Girls Garage in Berkeley has been an example of how important colleagues and support can be for a program that very few people have tried to build from the ground up.
To learn more Girls Build has had some great press and media coverage that is fun the watch – More about Girls Build
Katie has recently written a book – Girls Who Build: Inspiring Curiosity and Confidence to Make Anything Possible
Emily Pilloton from Girls Garage has also written a book – Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See.
Interested in Volunteering with Girls Build? – They are always looking for volunteers for any skill from trade to office. Let them know your skills and how you can help – firstname.lastname@example.org
*photo credit Girls Build