Despite the sweltering heat Saturday, the seven Girl Scouts were determined to finish what they’d started earlier in the summer.
Donning hard hats and neon construction vests, the girls grabbed hammers and power drills and got to work, adding siding and roofing to two tiny A-frame houses they had constructed in June as part of a five-day Girl Scout camp in Marine on St. Croix.
“It’s about exposure and empowerment … I can’t help but think what this program would have meant to me growing up,” said Bridget Reynolds, the project’s site manager and dean of construction sciences and building technology at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis.
In June, 48 girls in grades 6 to 12 attended the first Power Girls camp at Camp Lakamaga, organized through Girl Scouts River Valleys and Dunwoody. In addition to canoeing and archery, camp activities included hands-on lessons with power tools and instruction in how to build a wall and install a window.
By the final day, the shells of the two 8-by-8-foot structures stood in the middle of a basketball court. But for some of the Scouts, the half-completed project wasn’t quite enough.
So on Saturday, seven of the girls and their parents braved the heat and worked all day to complete the exteriors.
“I wanted to come back because it’s so fun,” 14-year-old Margaret Neu said as she shimmied her way up the scaffolding to secure the roof with gasket screws. Earlier in the day, Margaret and her 12-year-old sister, Emily, had been discussing plans for using their new skills to build the treehouse they’ve long dreamed of.
The inaugural camp filled up quickly and a second camp is already in the works for next summer, when Scouts will work on the houses’ interiors. Once completed, the houses will be donated to an organization of the girls’ choice.
For years, Dunwoody has offered day programs for Girl Scouts to learn construction and engineering skills. But the tiny houses were by far the biggest such project, Reynolds said. All the materials were donated from local businesses, and Dunwoody students helped oversee the work.
“We really had no idea how this would all work out, but it was an absolute success,” Reynolds said, adding that the pilot program had already attracted the attention of several other Girl Scout councils.
For Hannah Gilbert, the STEM director at Girl Scouts River Valleys and the director of Camp Lakamaga, the Power Camp’s popularity proved what she’s long known: Girl Scouts don’t want to be associated with just friendship bracelets and cookies.
“I think this helps bust the myth about what girls are really into,” she said. At next year’s camp, she added, the Scouts will be able to earn badges including one called “Think Like an Engineer.”
Fostering those interests early is key, Reynolds said. By middle school, girls already have been exposed to peer pressure that may discourage them from taking a shop class or pursuing an interest in construction trades.
“We not only need more women in these fields, we need more young people,” Reynolds said. “But even if these girls don’t go into those fields, the skills they learned can’t be taken away.”
Maddie Olafson, 11, of Eagan, hasn’t yet decided if she’ll pursue a career in construction. But she does like wielding a hammer, she said. The day after camp ended, she walked up to her grandpa and offered to help him with a remodeling project.
“She walked downstairs, put on her hard hat and said ‘I’ll show you what I know,’ ” said Maddie’s mother, Jacci Olafson. “It’s been really cool to see that confidence.”