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Women’s work: Habitat plans all-female project

Throughout her 28-year career, one moment has always stood out in Tara Christensen’s mind.

It happened when she was a teenager taking on a summer job at her father’s construction company.

He brought her to get outfitted with safety gear and the sales clerk looked at her curiously.

After sizing her up for men’s steel-toed boots — because the safety supply store didn’t carry footwear, or anything for that matter, made for women — the female sales associate asked: “So honey, will you be the one holding the sign?”

“I was so offended,” recalled Christensen, who has since gone on to become a project manager for her family’s business, PEC Roof Maintenance, as well as the first female president of the Niagara Construction Association, a role she held from 2009-10.

As a woman in construction, it’s a feeling the now 47 year old has felt before and will likely experience again.

But from that moment, Christensen made it her mission not only to find success in the industry, but to also encourage other women looking to do the same.

That’s why she was elated when Habitat for Humanity approached her with a new initiative that was right up her alley.

The organization, which constructs homes with interest-free mortgages for low-income families, was looking to host the region’s first Women’s Build.

To take place in June, the project will see females from all walks of life and with all different skill sets come together to build two homes in the area of Bald and Frazer Sts. in Welland.

It’s a concept seen before in other Habitat communities, but never before in Niagara.

“The timing was right,” Habitat chief executive officer Alastair Davis said of the organization’s decision to embark on its inaugural Women’s Build.

“We had the land to do it and great cooperation and support from the City of Welland.”

Habitat has built more homes in Welland than anywhere else in the region, Davis said, crediting cooperation, participation and business support.

The Women’s Build adds one more element to what’s an already unique home-building experience, he said.

Theme-based builds — such as student builds or blitz builds, in which a home is built in a weekend — are often successful and garner plenty of community buy-in, he added.

“It brings people together as a team for specific reasons,” Davis said.

“This time, women get to work as a group. It’s all a part of what makes it appealing and exciting. We can’t wait for it to get underway.”

Christensen, who co-chairs the project’s steering committee alongside Yvonne Hendriks, hopes the all-female build will indicate to young people that women can work in any profession and are just as skilled as any man.

“It’s inspiring for a young girl who wants to choose construction as a job path,” she said.

While barriers still exist for females in construction, more women are seen on job sites and taking on various roles in the industry. It’s encouraging for those in or thinking about entering the field, she added.

Christensen noted she’s looking forward for the first time in her career to not being the minority on a construction site.

Her advice to potential Habitat volunteers: “Just don’t be afraid.”

Jump in, she said, and experience the sense of pride in seeing “the fruits of your labour” standing tall in the community.

For steering committee co-chair and Homes by Hendriks president Yvonne Hendriks, the Women’s Build was not only an opportunity to bring females together, but also a chance to honour the memory of her late husband, Ron.

Ron was an integral part of planning Habitat’s 2010 Blitz Build, where a house was built in Welland in just 49 hours.

“I wasn’t sure if I could do it because I was going through a transition,” Hendriks recalled of the difficult time following Ron’s death in 2013.

She ultimately decided to take on the project as a tribute to her spouse, who found great joy partnering with Habitat.

“When the actual build happened, when we were able to see the family, meet the family who was receiving the home, it was really a positive, wonderful experience,” she said of the 2010 project, adding she’s anticipating a similar experience this time around.

Hendriks, a director on the Niagara Home Builders Association board, encouraged all women, whether or not they have construction experience, to get involved with the build, learn new skills and help two deserving families in the community.

The future owners of the homes have yet to be selected and applications are still being accepted through Habitat for Humanity’s St. Catharines office.

Both Hendriks and Christensen credited members of the steering committee, including local women in the construction industry, as well as Habitat staff, for working hard to make the Women’s Build possible.

But before the project can literally get off the ground, help is needed from the community in the form of donations of materials and services, as well as money to help cover the cost of the land.

“The most meaningful way for organizations, businesses, services clubs, even churches to donate is to sponsor a day through the Adopt-a-Day program,” Davis said.

Through the program, a group sponsors one day on the job site and its members come out to spend that day working on the build.

“It’s a bonding experience. Hopefully you leave with a smile and a dirty Habitat T-shirt,” Davis said with a laugh.

“You have to do it to understand. It’s a unique and special experience.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring a day on the build site can contact Karen Dolyniuk, 905-685-7395 ext. 205. For product donations, call Keith Gowans at ext. 202.

By Maryanne Firth, The Welland Tribune. Find the original article on the Welland Tribune website.