Northampton Press

Sunday, May 24, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOParticipants in the inaugural Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls join Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at Emmaus High School, for a photo at Emmaus High School. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOParticipants in the inaugural Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls join Scott Didra, retired technical education teacher at Emmaus High School, for a photo at Emmaus High School.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by The Press in Columns

First Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls is a full house

Last month, the Lehigh Valley celebrated a first when it became home to its debut construction camp for girls.

Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls welcomed teens 14 to 18 years old for a week of instruction, study and hands-on experience in construction trades, architecture, engineering and construction manufacturing. Students tried carpentry, spackling, drywall installation, masonry, plumbing and electrical work at sites from Emmaus High School to Lehigh Cement in Nazareth, design firm MKSD Architects in South Whitehall Township to metal roofing and construction company ATAS International in Upper Macungie Township and other points in between.

Scott Didra, a retired technical education teacher at Emmaus High School who served as instructor for the week of camp and among organizers of the camp, noted in an email all 20 of the girls who attended received scholarships to come to camp. An application process culled the candidates. Thanks to donations from the business community, each girl was gifted her tool belt at the end of camp.

“It was beyond expectation,” Didra said of the camp in a telephone interview July 16.

The camp is not a bad idea if you care to take a look at the numbers.

According to the website for the National Association of Women in Construction, women who work in construction earn 93.4 percent of what men make, a hopeful sign in the present work climate of the 21st century when national statistics on wage parity are sobering.

However, let’s not celebrate prematurely.

The NAWIC notes “women working in construction numbered 1.2 percent of the entire U.S. workforce in 2013.” Entire. Whole. All.

“It’s such a low statistic,” Jon Lattin, president of the Construction Specifications Institute-Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter, said by telephone July 16.

Improving such statistics should be a priority, don’t you think?

Listeners to the Story Corps podcasts may recall the stories of Barbara Moore and Olivia Fite as well as Andrea Cleveland and Monica Harwell. In the series, people tell their own stories, often through interviews by family members and friends, about often poignant events, sometimes funny circumstances and frequently compelling bits of personal history.

Olivia Fite interviewed her mother, Barbara Moore, about her work as bricklayer in Baltimore. Moore explained she met resistance by her male coworkers, some of whom felt she was taking a job from a man. “But I believed I could do that job,” Moore told her daughter.

Monica Harwell climbed electrical poles for power company Con Edison. In an interview with her daughter Andrea Cleveland, Harwell also spoke of dealing with male coworkers. “... They placed bets on me. She’ll never make it up that pole,” Harwell told her daughter of her experience.

Projects Moore completed include laying bricks at Camden Yards, home field of the Baltimore Orioles professional baseball team.

In her interview, Harwell recalls painting her fingernails atop a 50-foot pole once to make a point.

“I want them to know there’s a women up there,” Harwell said.

Interestingly, Cleveland drove a forklift for Con Edison at the time of the interview.

Fite told her mother of people stopping her on the street to ask if she was Moore’s daughter.

Anecdotal evidence of positive change, but evidence, notwithstanding.

Moore, Harwell and others like them, in going about their daily lives, are exemplars helping to move the needle, however slightly, in a positive direction. Many of the girls and young women in Let’s Build may pick up the standard, mantle, flag or symbol of your choice and lead the next generation of construction professionals. Some of the experienced campers served as mentors to other campers, including four students who studied with Didra at Emmaus High School. Campers included students studying construction work and/or taking courses in programs at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School and Emmaus High School as well as students from area middle schools. Many of the campers did not have much experience with construction trades or with the possibilities of working in the construction industry, Lattin said. Moreover, campers learned life skills such as working in teams and problem-solving. And many gained confidence, Lattin said.

“There is a need, a huge need,” Didra said, for skilled labor, apprentices and others, and programs like the camp, it is hoped, will raise an awareness for students of fields available to them beyond high school graduation.

Plans for a camp next summer are starting now, Didra said. The success of this year’s camp has sparked interest from additional sponsors and from campers, some of whom have expressed interest in returning as mentors, Lattin said.

“It impacted the girls and volunteers in a very positive way,” Lattin added.

In her coffee table book “Strong Is the New Pretty,” featuring tweens, teen girls and young women who are also athletes, scholars, chefs and other fantastic nouns, photographer Kate Parker presents readers with a photograph of Valeria, 11 years old, arms stretched wide, stating, “You can do anything.”

I think she’s right.

April Peterson

editorial assistant

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press