Women get chance to build


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Jan Down loves construction.

After 16 years of volunteering with Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, the 71-year-old Iowa City resident has a special connection with Women Build, which focuses exclusively on women’s involvement in construction.

She has even participated in Women Build projects in South America and India.

“Women feel empowered to do something that perhaps they thought they couldn’t,” she said.

Down attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the third Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity Dottie Ray Women Build.

The future home, located at 2705 Whispering Meadows, will go to the Kraina family from Kosovo with two small children.

Organizers also chose to honor Iowa City fixture Dottie Ray for her community spirit. Ray has been the host of an Iowa City morning radio show for 51 years, was inducted in the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication Hall of Fame in 2008. She was the first female editor of The Daily Iowan.

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What sets the Women Build apart is its focus on the recruitment of female staff and volunteers. And officials said projects such as these are even more important, because the number of women in construction has decreased nationally.

According to the National Association of Women in Construction, more than 1 million women were in the industry in 2005, with 970,200 in 2009. Roughly 8.7 million men are in the construction industry.

Like the Women Build, the national association is also working to change commonly held misconceptions about women’s abilities.

“Women need to be educated about the variety of opportunities in the industry. One of the best ways to do this is for organizations such as National Association of Women in Construction to continue to introduce girls to the construction industry,” Debra Gregoire, the president of the association, wrote in an e-mail.

Habitat for Humanity has consistently provided opportunities for women to be coached in construction, Gregoire said. Women Build, in particular, allows women to learn comfortably at their own pace, she said.

Christy Shipley, the construction manager for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, said she too often sees how this field of work continues to be “a man’s world.”

“With the Women Build, we get to offer women the chance to see that there is nothing in the construction trades that they cannot do and do as well as our male counterparts,” she said.

In conjunction with the Women Build, Lowe’s Home Improvement, 2701 Second St., Coralville, is offering a series of Saturday morning workshops for women. The lessons — including electrical, plumbing, roofing and siding, and framing — provide hands-on experience for home maintenance and construction.

In addition to the skills learned, Down said, working with girls is one of the best parts of the Women Build.

“Working with so many women and girls from all over the community … just knowing that together we can do something that is just so special,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, constructing homes is about having fun. Her favorite part: roofing.

“People, particularly my age, they don’t think that they can wield a hammer sufficiently to build a wall,” Down said. “But I’m an example of ‘yes we can.’ ”

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