AUSTIN, Texas — Camp NAWIC is not your typical summer camp. It is a hands-on day camp created by the Austin Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 2019.
Leaders say their goal is to give girls a safe and supportive place to explore career paths in construction and gain hands-on learning experience from women in the industry.
“You don't really see a bunch of girls building things, like buildings in much of the city – just a bunch of men building them,” said 11-year-old Riley Rios, a first-year camper.
This camp is already building confidence for participants like Riley.
“It makes me feel good that I actually built it, and not just, like, bought it from the store or something,” Riley said, speaking of her planter box she made.
First-year campers learn how to use power tools to build the concrete planters, lamps and dog houses for donation to Austin Animal Center. At graduation, all first-year campers will receive a contractor’s tool bag filled with tools, including a screwdriver kit, framing hammer, drill set, ratcheting multi-bit driver, locking pliers and more.
Girls apply to be in the one-week construction camp and it is free for them to attend. Many companies within Austin’s construction industry provide financial support as well as instructors, speakers, materials and warehouse space to make this happen. Classes are held at Austin’s Carpenter Training Center. Campers also have field trips to Rosendin’s Pflugerville office, and returning campers will visit the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 286 facility.
“I wanted to come back because I'm really interested in engineering and electrical,” said 14-year-old Madelin Escamilla, a second-year camper. “I really love using the tools. That's like, one of my favorite things.”
Second- and third-year campers will build bird houses, learn welding, build solar battery kits for donation to Light for Literacy, and greenhouses for donation to local schools and community gardens. The more experienced campers also receive additional tools to add to their tool bags including a M12 Multi Tool, folding jab saw, level and framing square.
Madelin said that not only does she think this will help with her future career, she said knowing these skills will help her in life.
“I can do things myself and I don't need a man to help me with anything,” said Madelin. “I'm, like, very independent.”
Not only do these girls want to learn the skills, but the industry is in need of these young women.
“I joined the industry 16 years ago,” said Jolsna Thomas, the co-chair of Camp NAWIC and an employee with Rosendin Electric. “We've moved now to 11% of the industry being female. When we started, it was much lower. And in the trades in the field, only about 3% are female.”
She knows personally how big of an industry this is in Austin.
“I mean, you drive through Downtown Austin, how many tower cranes do you see? How many mobile cranes you see?” she said. “You see survey crews out marking up area. Yeah, the build is happening. The build is continuing to happen.”
She said this is a high-paying industry with all kinds of job opportunities, and she just wants girls to know they have these jobs as an option.
“If you don't even know this is an industry that's viable and that you're actually pretty good at, you will never pick construction technology,” said Thomas.
While these campers build their skills and confidence, they hope other girls will break the mold as well.
“Now that I look at myself from the other day,” said Riley, “now I'm wondering why I was so afraid.”
“I think everybody should experience this, because I know a lot of girls don’t get to learn how to use tools,” said Escamilla.
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