In honor of International Women’s Day, we’d like to highlight Katie Hughes, founder of Girls Build, an organization dedicated to empowering young girls and teaching them more about the construction trades through hands-on training. Procore partnered with Girls Build last October by offering support to the organization after they had been victims of robbery and vandalism, resulting in having their tools stolen and equipment ruined.
We recently had the privilege of meeting with Katie, this time at our headquarters, and got the chance to get to know her better. Here we dive into the organization she started and her journey along the way.
Can you share a little bit about what you do and the mission behind Girls Build?
Our mission at Girls Build is to inspire curiosity and confidence in girls through the world of building. At Girls Build, this looks like offering building and trades education for girls through after-school and summer programs.
During summer camp, girls are involved in over 20 workshops and exposed to 10 different trades over the course of one week. They get to work on a whole range of individual projects, from intricate woodworking pieces, to more simple bee houses and collaborative projects like playhouses. They learn how to build walls and foundations, paint and install roofing… they do it all.
At Girls Build, we incorporate a wide variety of skills and interests into our programs. We try to instill self-confidence in the girls, as well as a strong curiosity about the world around them - as in, the physical world. How are structures built? How are table legs attached to a table top? How do the lights in my bedroom turn on? Things like that.
Once they [girls] are curious, the whole world opens up to them.
Why did you decide to start Girls Build?
I taught a similar program for another nonprofit for eight years. Shortly after I left, the nonprofit eliminated the girls program I had designed. At that time, I had a lot of tradeswomen come to me and ask, “What are we going to do about educating the next generation?” After about the fifth person approached me and asked, someone finally explained, “What we mean is, what are you going to do about it?” There was clearly a need that wasn’t being met and I wasn’t the only person who noticed.
That was the beginning of Girls Build. I gathered together a group of women interested in the success and continuation of girls building programs. We ate soup in my living room, and worked on the beginnings of what is now Girls Build.
Did you have a mentor who inspired you to get into building?
A year after college, I volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build, a project where we work to build a multitude of homes in one week. I had some basic framing skills under my belt, and spent the week putting those skills to good use. I was quickly struck by a carpenter on site, a woman named Thea. She was strong, she was confident, and she had the respect of the crew she was leading. As the week progressed, I intentionally wiggled my way into her line of sight until she took notice. She not only showed me more tips and tricks, but she explained to me that I could make carpentry my profession. It was the first time someone had proposed this idea to me and it was eye opening. As I began my journey into carpentry, she was the person I called for advice, the one who would swing by my jobsite at the end of the day and someone I could count on to check in on me. Thea remained the person I could call anytime for advice or a quick tip. Ultimately, she taught me to be self-sufficient and more confident in my profession.
Did you always know you wanted to work in carpentry? How did you decide to get involved in the trades?
My father died while my mom was pregnant with me, leaving my mom a single mother with three kids. This alone inspired a lot of independence and ingenuity, which I think is important in the trades. When I was nine, we moved to 10 acres of land in Southern Oregon. We had sheep, horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, and anything else that happened to walk onto our property. The property and animals required a lot of skilled maintenance, which we kids (like all country kids) had to take part in. I don’t remember the first time I picked up a drill, skill saw, or even an axe for that matter. I do remember that our sole source of heat was a fire and we chopped the trees on our property into cords of wood we could burn. I also remember that because we didn’t have a lot of money, my mom encouraged us to fix broken appliances around the house ourselves. I never remember feeling like I couldn’t do something and we were always encouraged to try our hands at new things.
Eventually, I went to college and got my degree in Social Work. After college, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for a year through AmeriCorps. During that year, we built 11 homes from start to finish, which sharpened my skills and taught me a lot. After my year with Habitat, I began looking for a full-time job in social work, but found most of the opportunities were underpaid and required further education. All of this was simultaneous with my volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and the Blitz Build. During that week, I met Thea and was offered a job as a framer by a small construction firm. I was excited about carpentry, desperate for money and accepted the job. I never knew it would lead me down this path and I am so grateful it did.