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Women At Work: YWCA Links Trades Training to Contracting Experience

Photo by Nora Edinger Jennifer Danielson is one of two handywomen working for Y Fix It. The contracting business operates under the umbrella of the Wheeling YWCA, which hosted state-run trades training for women in 2018.

WHEELING — Jennifer Danielson keeps pictures of her favorite construction projects on her phone.

Flecked with white paint from the work of the day, she scrolls through images of a deck installed for Holy Family Childcare & Development Center with an expression of pride — and wonder.

Such a thing would not have been possible prior to her enrollment in a state-run Step Up For Women trades-training program the Wheeling YWCA hosted twice in 2018. Danielson had hammered in a nail now and then.

That was pretty much it.

“I wouldn’t have known how to install a sink or rewire a light,” she said. “I never had done anything like that before in my life.”

Her 12 weeks of training included basic electrical, plumbing and carpentry work plus an OSHA certification, according to Lori Jones, YWCA executive director.

The Y stepped in following the training to create Y Fix It, a handywoman service at least some of the participating women could effectively use as an apprenticeship of sorts.

Danielson, who is also working toward certification as a domestic violence advocate, is all in.

She works 20-24 hours each week with fellow handywoman Corah Gurley.

Longtime contractor Pat Dadrozny does the estimates, work assessments and paperwork associated with the jobs. The two women do just the actual labor for now, but Jones anticipates a day when the entire operation will be female run.

GOAL ORIENTED

In addition to the photos, Danielson has a mental tally of their accomplishments to date.

“We built a room from studs to finish,” she said of a project in a woman’s basement. “We’ve done plumbing. We’ve changed lights into ceiling fans. We’ve put down floor.”

She noted the latter can be plain tough. One project involved scraping up multiple layers of tile and linoleum. The Y Fix It team wasn’t daunted.

“If we can’t do it, we will definitely figure it out.”

In early August, on the day of her interview, she’d been working at a safe house for domestic violence survivors in Wetzel County. The handywomen were repairing water damage – putting in drywall and flooring and painting.

That setting suggests a bit of a theme for Y Fix It’s customer base. Many clients are women – including the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“Two girls are here to do the job,” Danielson said of customers’ reaction to their arrival at a work site. “I feel like they feel more comfortable.”

A LIVING WAGE

They’re not the only ones who are more comfortable, Danielson noted. Because of Y Fix It, she now makes a living wage. She can also take care of her own home and help friends do the same.

“It is empowering. I don’t need to call anyone,” she said. “My main breaker blew at the house and I was able to take care of it.”

That security is why she enrolled in the training program. “I was doing nothing,” she said. “I wanted a career versus these little jobs.”

Jones said that was the point for all of the participants, some of whom have since pursued further training and are being courted by trade unions at this point.

She said that kind of control over one’s work is particularly important for the YWCA’s clients, who are often in a precarious stage of life and have children in tow.

“When you are any age over the age of 20 and you’ve lost everything and you have to start over, it’s good not to have to wait tables and rely on people’s generosity,” Jones said of tapping into a market that has traditionally served men well.

As she’s watched this program unfold – particularly under the harsh economic conditions of COVID — Jones said she has realized more than ever what it means to a woman to have income security.

“I don’t ever doubt that I have enough money in my bank to go get gas or feed my family,” Jones said of her own life, noting that no one should have to face such worries over bare-bones needs.

Danielson hears what Jones is saying.

She’s not ready to rewire a whole house quite yet — Y Fix It doesn’t actually take on quite such a large of a job — but that day may come. She particularly enjoys electrical work and is considering the possibility of pursuing union certification at some point.

Jones smiles at such ambitions among her clients and employees. “Why shouldn’t women have these kinds of opportunities?”

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