Mentoring a Girl in Construction Camp began here in Georgia just a few years ago and has since made its way across much of the nation. During its first week in Bartow County, 16 girls spent five days learning industry safety standards, which were put to the test with hands-on instruction in carpentry, electrical, welding and heavy-equipment operation.
"This is to bring awareness to these young ladies that there are opportunities for them in the construction field," said Georgia Power Project Relocation Coordinator Janet Queen. "We haven't done a real good job of letting them know that they have a place here, too. You know, some of the highest paid jobs in Bartow County are in the construction field. We know the economy is slow right now, but these jobs are coming back and we want to have a workforce that is prepared and ready.
"We need to be training these students so that when the jobs are here, they're there to fill them and they don't have to leave Bartow County to work."
Renee Connor founded the camp five years ago, transformed an idea into a growing nonprofit and has enlisted the help of industry leaders. In Bartow, MAGIC Camp partnered with Georgia Power and the Bartow County Board of Education to operate out of Cass High School.
"We actually started the camps in 2007. We had one camp in Gwinnett County, Ga., and it has grown from one camp to 25 this year all across the U.S. We started with six little girls and now we're actually doing three camps in the state this year," Connor said. "For companies like Georgia Power, it's about workforce development. For schools, it's about getting students interested in taking classes, but for me, it's all about the girls. If I can get one of them an opportunity they had no idea about, that's what it's all about.
"Right now, there is a skilled labor shortage in welding. ... And the girls have no idea the money they could make. A lot of government contracts now are being tailored to minority-owned businesses, which include women-owned businesses, and they have to set aside so much of those contracts to give to those businesses and these girls have no idea -- they will after this week."
Cass High Construction Teacher Jerome Black was on hand during the camp, but each day, a new guest instructor participated in lessons to introduce campers to successful women employed within the construction field.
"We try to use the instructor from the school, but we try to bring in a woman that is certified in that trade area every day to team teach. It's just better to bring in successful women that do it every day," Connor said. "We have a speaker every day this week to talk to the girls from a different area of construction. We had a mechanic come in [Wednesday] from the [Gerdau] steel plant, and she is in the Air Force Reserves and she's closer to their age so they could see younger women in the field."
Connor, a member of the National Association of Women in Construction, owns Precision Tapping, a firm specializing in pressure tapping -- a method of connecting to a pressurized pipe without an interruption of service. Other professionals on hand during the week included Journeyman Carpenter Dottie Myrick, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.
"We're working with these girls trying to give them the basics of what we do as carpenters. We made toolboxes out of plywood the other day. ... And today, we're out there teaching them to weld -- and they're doing a very good job," Myrick said. "It's a pleasure to be a part of [MAGIC Camp]. I was asked to come out and do carpentry on Tuesday and I just had so much fun on Tuesday, I've been back every day since.
"There's nothing these young women can't do. ... For these girls, there's so much that's open to them. They can do anything they want to do, carpentry, welding, engineering, anything. And this is a good way to show them that they can do it and they can learn to do it."
Students attending the camp graduated Friday, taking home projects completed throughout the week. The day they learned carpentry, participants built a toolbox. When learning the basics of electrical wiring, campers built a lamp. In the welding shop, girls made a garden ornament from bolts and washers.
Every high school in the county was represented except Excel. At least two of the students involved, Samantha Meyers and Chelsea Maggard, hail from Cass and will have an opportunity to continue under Black's instruction.
"I think it's a phenomenal program for the young ladies opening their eyes to what is available to them in their future, not keeping them down to what people might think is traditional for a lady," Black said. "Hopefully, it will help me get a few more in my class."
Ninth-grader Samantha Meyers intends to take shop classes every year to continue her vocational skills. Following in the footsteps of family members before her, Meyers hopes to use the skills she's learning to work for Georgia Power.
"My grandfather worked on a power plant in Crystal River, Fla., and hearing all the things that he was able to do just inspired me to do it. And I work with my father in his wood shop, too. I like to work with my hands a lot," Meyers said.
Planning to enter the field of engineering, Chelsea Maggard also looks to her father for inspiration. Her dad works in robotics and the rising senior has enjoyed brushing up on her welding skills to help her later in life.
"I'm a hands-on learner and my father, he does robotics, and anytime I go up to his shop to bring him lunch or see what he's doing and I see what he's doing and it's really cool and I would love to do it," Maggard said.
Although some campers, like Maggard, came to MAGIC Camp with an understanding of construction, others were introduced to basic skills. Queen noted the impact they have had on girls by teaching many how to read a tape measurer and others how to hold a hammer, but by the end of the week all of the campers had learned how to frame a wall and use a variety of power tools.
While self-confidence and self-esteem are built up throughout the week, organizers insist the first order of business is to ensure safety measures are followed. The week began with a six-hour certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration led by instructors from Georgia Tech.
For more information, visit www.mentoringagirlinconstruction.com.