This article is part of a series on Her Campus Kenyon called “What Empowers Me.” Keep checking our site to read more articles about what makes our staff writers feel empowered!
I was fifteen the first time I ever picked up a circular saw, and I was so afraid of chopping my arm off that I held it as far away from me as possible while cutting the piece of OSB in front of me. By the end of that week, however, I enjoyed using the saw so much that my work crew had nicknamed me “Sawmaster.” Since then, I’ve always looked forward to any time in which I can utilize and build upon my construction skills. During high school, that time came for a week each summer during which my church volunteered with Appalachia Service Project (ASP), a home repair ministry based in Central Appalachia. ASP’s mission is to make homes warmer, safer, and drier, and as volunteers, we worked to help attain this goal for every family that we worked for. I did everything, from roof reconstruction and repair to complete replacement of a floor system, and I could wield a hammer or a drill with ease and the comfort of knowing what I was doing. By the time I finished high school, I considered myself to be much handier than my peers. I helped my dad with projects around the house, and I loved being that bad-ass who actually knew how to use tools.
A year later, as my freshman year of college came to a close, I began my first summer as an ASP staffer. Being on staff gave me the opportunity to learn more about the projects that I had been doing for years. I was taught how a floor system should be built, the proper terminology when discussing the structure of a roof, and the best way to repair essentially any construction issue that could arise at a house. And, not only was I given even more knowledge of building, but I was also given the responsibility of planning out and overseeing the execution of projects on multiple homes for the entire summer. Our center had up to 90 volunteers a week, and my staff and I were the ones who people consulted on anything and everything related to their projects.
Construction empowers me. I feel so remarkably capable when I have building materials and a project that lies ahead because I know that I have everything that I need to make a difference right in front of me. We’ve moved into an age in which most people don’t know much about the construction of their homes, and likewise, many have no idea where to start when something breaks. It feels good to be the person who knows where to begin and how to provide a sustainable repair. Additionally, a project becomes exponentially more gratifying when it can be done with one’s own two hands because it leads to a physical product of love and hard work. Construction empowers me because it gives me a way to express myself.
I have never considered myself to be especially “artsy.” I cannot draw. I cannot play an instrument. But, I can build things. I can create things that are unique and special in their own way. Yeah, a porch may be more practical that a painting, but it can still be a work of art and a labor of love. Construction empowers me because it breaks through traditional gender roles. Age-old traditions dictate that men do the physical labor, men get their hands dirty, and men do the heavy lifting. But, traditions are meant to be broken, though, right? I loaded and unloaded lumber on a daily basis this summer. I stood on the top rung of a ladder with my best friend for what seemed like hours in the muggy heat, balancing a roof truss in one hand and the drill that I was using to screw it into place in the other. I crawled under a house to the complete shock of the homeowner to look at a sinking floor. Coming home with mud stains and dirty hands became a source of pride. I even knew more about construction and the projects that we were doing than many of the men that volunteered with us throughout the summer. I felt empowered because not only was I doing something that was quite challenging, but I was also the most independent I had ever been, and I was able to take charge of my projects in a way that I never had before.
Each and every one of us has something that empowers us. It makes us feel happy, confident, and strong. These things are important because they form the foundation of who we are, and they allow us to dig deeper into ourselves in ways that we haven’t yet before. Construction empowers me because it reminds me that I truly am capable of anything, and it reminds me that I am always stronger than I think I am.
Image credits: Jenna Bouquot