Washington Area Women's Foundation

Constructing futures, one woman at a time.

Eleven weeks doesn’t seem like enough to contain it all.

Which is probably why a latecomer asked me afterwards, “Now, how long were they in this program?”

“Eleven weeks," I respond.

His shocked expression confirms that I’m not out of line in thinking that it just doesn’t seem like enough to contain it all.

All the change, the growth, the transformation that seems to have occurred throughout the First Female Construction Employment Class implemented by the Goodwill of Greater Washington, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

As part of Stepping Stones, and based on the research in our Portrait Project, The Women’s Foundation influenced Goodwill—which has been providing job training to disadvantaged populations in the area for over 60 years—to take their co-educational pre-apprenticeship construction training program and form a new one geared specifically for women in Prince George’s County.

Today, I attended the resulting graduation ceremony, where 17 women clearly got much more than certificates.

The certificates and construction seemed almost an after-thought, in fact. The focus was instead on the importance of keeping journals and setting goals. Of being sure to reflect on your life and do what you love. Of setting high standards and expectations and meeting them. Of living and working with integrity.

Not necessarily information one needs to built a support beam.

But crucial if one is to build a support team.

Which is exactly what Goodwill has done, by looking beyond the skills to the person using them, and by working with community players to address every aspect of the challenge of changing one’s life. Mentors from the National Association of Women in Construction encouraged the trainees by sharing their own stories of struggle and success in a traditionally male-dominated field. The Goodwill Program Director, Robyn, made the women read books about life and well-being to combine with their lessons on levels. Goodwill’s Joseph Mitko led discussions with the trainees on issues personal, private and sometimes painful, that made them all much more than classmates. Construction companies around the area took the trainees on tours of important construction sites and individuals came in from various organizations and companies to lead workshops on resume writing and goal-setting and taking care of yourself when life gets crazy.

And it was clear that it did.

As one graduate said in reference to the obstacles that could have hindered their success, “The devil was really busy.”

That devil of seemingly small things that can so easily derail a dream.

Especially, it seems, for women.

Transportation.

Baby-sitters.

Sick kids.

That devil seemed to have nothing on these women, though.

They networked for each other if someone couldn’t make a job fair.  They carpooled and strategized about buses and trains.  They invited one woman’s young son into the class for the duration when her nanny quit. She was crying as she thanked them for this.  Otherwise, she would have had to have quit. 

“You could have complained,” she said.  Instead, they provided snacks and are including his name on the class plaque.

These women supported and shared their way to success.

And it was clear that’s what would keep them going. Much like with high school, it’s the relationships, the encouragement, the meeting challenges and pushing oneself that will define your future, not the algebra or the biology you may carry away.

Which may be why the women seemed a bit more excited about the “female power music mix CD” and the Passages journals they received from Goodwill than they were about their certificates.

Because while the certificates and the skills may get them where they want to go, it seemed that it’s the spirit of the CDs and the journals and the confidence of camaraderie that will keep them going.

As one graduate said, “We will never forget the great expectations you had for us…we accept the responsibility of being the first class of this type, and will achieve the success you have envisioned for us.”

Because construction skills may build buildings. But it takes much more than that to build a future.

To see pictures of the event, click here

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