Women Learn To Handle Tools Of Construction Trade

In one unique college class, the only nails you should worry about breaking are the ones you pound. The construction course is the first to be geared towards women.

"The storm has opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people," said Rhonda Small of Long Beach. "Women are going out and learning how to do construction, just because of the need."

Twenty women are enrolled in the free construction program at the Jeff Davis Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. They're getting hands-on lessons on the basics of building a house, from carpentry and plumbing, to electrical wiring and hanging sheet rock.

"I just signed up because I wanted to learn how to build homes, and how to be able to help people build their homes with the volunteers out there," Small said. "After that phase is over with, after we've been rebuilding homes, I want to be able to build my own duplex."

"I want to learn skills in order to flip houses," said Paulette Thompson of Ocean Springs. "You find a house that's on low-market that you can get for a good price, but typically it needs a lot of work. You get in there, you make it nice, so then you resell it fast."

"My house is tore up from Katrina," said Darlene Thompson of Long Beach. "After 17 months, I said, 'Okay, no one's going to come along and do it for me.'"

The only man in the room full of women is the instructor.

"It's intimidating. It's extremely intimidating," joked Matthew Johnson. "It's a little different, and there are a lot of questions, but that's okay.  That's what I'm here for."

Most of the ladies have never held a hammer before, or worn a belt that's so heavy.

"You're walking along, and the next thing you know your tool belt's hanging here," McDougald said pointing to her hips. "We're having to adjust to that."

But the women are confident their construction skills will measure up.

"We figured hey, if the men could do it, we could do it," McDougald said. "So here we are, giving it our best shot."

Students who complete the program will receive a certificate that could help them land a job or start their own business. The program is funded in part by a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Labor Grant called Pathway to Construction.