MAGIC Camp Builds Confidence at Gwinnett Tech

Once again this summer, Atlanta Design & Build (ADB) sponsored Project Manager Sydney Contant-Nunes as a keynote speaker and hands-on instructor for Gwinnett Technical College’s MAGIC (Mentoring a Girl in Construction) Camp. The program, established by contractor Renee Conner in 2007, has now expanded to four different locations in Georgia. It is a free, one-week day camp designed to introduce high school girls to exciting careers in construction.

(Photo above shows Sydney in the lab, explaining how to use the brad nailer to attach the sides of the box. The girls were walked through the project before they began.)

Three years ago, Kathleen Torrance, who is a Lab Assistant in Residential Construction and Carpentry at Gwinnett Technical College, contacted the NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) Atlanta office. She spoke to Executive Director Jesse Morado, who then called H. Dale Contant of ADB to ask if Sydney would be interested in getting involved in MAGIC Camp. “Sydney was willing from the very beginning,” Kathleen stated. “She had the courage to come out of her comfort zone to help.”

Each of the five days of camp is focused on a different construction specialty, so the girls get a broad exposure to the industry. Monday is OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) training day that helps the girls develop a safety-first attitude. Tuesday is carpentry day. Wednesday is electrical day where they learn to do basic wiring. Thursday is split into morning and afternoon sessions with emphases on welding and using heavy equipment. Friday the girls tour an active construction job site. Friday there is also a banquet for students and parents, during which time the girls’ projects are displayed and a highly regarded industry professional is the speaker.

Sydney’s role in past years has been as keynote speaker on carpentry day. It can be a tough challenge to walk into a classroom and face a group of high school girls who have not yet become cohesive, since it is only their second day of camp. This summer, however, Kathleen asked if Sydney could also be one of those who is responsible to instruct the girls in the carpentry lab before the lecture, and she agreed. “It was a wonderful time,” Kathleen exclaimed. “Sydney is very experienced, comfortable with tools, so encouraging, and sets the girls at ease. They loved her in the lab, and afterwards they were glad to listen to her talk. Although they were polite, they asked so many questions that she could barely make it through her presentation!”

Sydney remarked that the girls seemed more enthused this year than in 2016. “Perhaps since Sydney is closer to the ages of the high school girls they feel more relaxed around her,” Kathleen suggested.

This year the girls worked on a keepsake/jewelry box for their carpentry lab project. They were taught the basic skills of reading written instructions beforehand, careful measurement, use of basic tools (i.e. miter saw and router table), power tools, squaring things up straight, attention to detail, and team work. The camp also emphasizes getting to work on time, doing job safety analyses, and becoming familiar with the schedule. All of this training develops in them a certain level of maturity.

At MAGIC Camp, Renee emphasizes the importance of networking. She has the girls write thank you letters to the four major sponsors of MAGIC Camp. She encourages them to set up relationships with the guest instructors and fellow girl campers, and to stay in touch. Girls often contact Renee after they’ve completed MAGIC Camp, giving her feedback about solid programs they have been given the opportunity to enter. Some of them enter construction apprenticeship training, or two-year technical colleges like Gwinnett Tech after which they can get a job in construction (Gwinnett Technical College works to connect them with job possibilities), or they are pursuing a four-year engineering degree.

Kathleen feels that MAGIC Camp provides the chance for each and every girl to gain confidence in herself. It is a very supportive environment where the girls realize their opportunities are wider than they ever imagined. She recommends the camp to all high school girls, whether they are interested in construction careers or not. “I’ve seen such a variety of girls come through this camp, and I’ve not seen any girl who by the end of the week was disappointed that she came,” Kathleen states. “Some girls never wanted to do construction, but they did want to get out of the house. MAGIC Camp lights a spark even in “girlie-girls”. Some have been afraid at the beginning— but they get their hands on a power tool and two hours later they are going to town and you can’t stop them!” Kathleen says there isn’t a specific type of girl who should attend MAGIC Camp. In fact, she often feels more prone to recommend it to a girl who doesn’t think she is interested. Some of the selling points are: 1. It’s free! 2. The girls develop camaraderie with their fellow campers. 3. There is great variety so each girl finds some special aspects that she likes.

“The MAGIC Camp team is extremely grateful for Atlanta Design & Build’s sponsorship of the camp through Sydney’s participation,” Kathleen enthuses. “ADB has been so encouraging and we’re very thankful!”