Camarillo summer camp teaches construction skills to young women

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Instructor Daniel Bell shows Emma Fisher and Lissa Brol how to align their earlier measurements with the miter saw before making their cut. The instruction is part of a weeklong camp aimed at teaching construction techniques to teen girls. © Anthony Plascencia/VC Star
The tools may be pink, with smaller grips for smaller hands, but the work being done by the young women in the Mentoring a Girl in Construction, or MAGIC, camp in Camarillo is anything but lightweight.

Among other things, they are making picnic benches, creating sheet-metal toolboxes, doing plumbing and operating heavy equipment.

“There are so many skills to learn, and this is an opportunity for them to know this is something they can do,” said Laurie Bennett of the Fence Factory. She worked with Valerie Patscheck, manager of procurement and construction services at CSU Channels Islands, to put the program together.

The one-week camp is open to young women enrolled in the Oxnard Union High School District and is being held at Architecture, Construction and Engineering Charter High School at the Camarillo Airport from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Friday. There are 21 women enrolled this year in the program, which also is sponsored by the National Association of Women in Construction’s Ventura/Oxnard and Simi/Conejo chapters.

Eileen Gould, president of the Simi/Conejo chapter, was at the first day of camp, helping Lauren Daly, 15, a student at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, with a lesson on computer-aided design.

“I love looking at houses. They’re really pretty, and I love shopping and picking out bedspreads,” Lauren said. “I’m learning there’s more to it. I’m learning the math/technical side.”

This is the second year for the program, which makes use of the charter school’s construction technology facilities, and architecture and drafting software.

Angel Villanueva, 15, a student at the charter, said she has taken classes in construction and computer drafting and really enjoyed them. “I came here to see the opportunities I could get in construction. It’s fun doing computer drafting, you can design whatever you want.”

Melissa Gonzalez, 17, from Oxnard High School, said she was participating in the camp for a second year. “It was so much fun meeting new people. This is something women can do, instead of just men,” she said.

She said she talked her father into letting her paint her room. “I know how to paint. Before it was a nasty blue and now it’s all girlie and turquoise. I did a pretty good job and I rubbed my dad’s nose in it.”

Andy Bratz, who teaches architecture at the charter school, is enjoying teaching a class of girls this week. “Eighty percent of the students I teach are boys. Girls are a little easier. They seem to pay attention more,” he said.

Bennett said there are opportunities for women in construction and related fields, but many aren’t aware of the options. The MAGIC program allows them to learn specialized skills.

“They are learning skills from a female perspective,” Bennett said. “Maria Corodano will show the girls how to lift a 2-by-6 or other large pieces of lumber by leveraging and using their own bodies. Women learn to use their minds to perform the work.”

The class also is learning how to operate heavy construction equipment, such as a backhoe, forklift, scissor lift and boom lift.

“This helps fortify our industry,” Bennett said. “We need to encourage our young people to come into the construction industry. For everyone who is retiring, we don’t have new people coming in to take their places.”

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