YWCA Girls Help Build Habitat Home in Huntsville

By Alison Brownlee 

HUNTSVILLE – Eight teenaged girls donned hardhats and grabbed sledgehammers in Huntsville on Saturday. 

Hannah Sutcliffe, a 16-year-old Kilworthy resident, was one of the YWCA Muskoka Strong Girls, Strong World project members learning construction and trade skills at the Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North build on Irene Street in Huntsville on Nov. 5.

“I wanted to be part of this because I want to go into construction,” said Sutcliffe. “Construction appeals to me because it’s hands-on and you get to build.”

She said the opportunity to participate in the build meant a lot to her because it offered invaluable experience toward her future career.

“I think it is important for women to feel comfortable pursuing a career in construction or trades because that is a huge part of the job market in Muskoka,” she said. “If they become comfortable and successful in that (industry), they could make a good living for themselves.”

The young women spent their seven-hour day installing rafters, floor joists, subfloor and walls at the site, using glue guns, hammers, power tools and more.

Sutcliffe noted one of her favourite experiences that morning was using a screw gun, similar to a power drill.

And she said she also appreciated being a part of building a family’s future home.

She added that, for her, the day was full of inspiration.

Sadie Cleary, a 17-year-old Gravenhurst resident, said she wanted to be involved in the build not only because she appreciates the work Habitat does for families in need of sustainable housing, but also because the volunteer opportunity was made available to her.

“I know people who have moved into Habitat houses,” said Cleary. “I remember talking to some younger kids, who moved into a house, and they were so happy and proud of their home.”

She said she had some experience with construction before the build because she had taken construction courses in high school, plus her father is a contractor.

She added there are already a few female role models working in construction in Muskoka.

Kirsten Nicolson, project co-ordinator for the YWCA program, said Strong Girls, Strong World aims to encourage civic engagement and leadership opportunities for young women with part of the project focusing on women in traditionally male-dominated careers.

“We have focused a bit on women in trades in Muskoka, which we lack,” said Nicolson.

She noted that, along with there not being many women in trades in the region, there are also not many opportunities for girls to learn trade skills.

“This has been an excellent experience for them,” she said. “They have all tried something new and have stepped out of their comfort zone.”

She added it was important for girls to gain exposure to different careers, especially those that are not women-led or women-dominated.

“A lot of the female-dominated careers are part-time with no benefits,” she said. “To give them exposure to careers they maybe could be involved in here and keep them in Muskoka is important, too. We lose a lot of young people after high school.”