PDX Kids Build: Coaching the Next Generation
There’s so much we bring to our jobs–those unique things that set us apart from our peers. Before she began leading Kids Build, before she began teaching at PNCI and Coffee Creek Correctional, and before her apprenticeship, Jen Netherwood (LU 1503) was a soccer player.
This is an important detail–understanding that and the impact it left on Jen’s approach to her work is important to understanding the incredible woman who lends so much of herself to these events and the union as a whole.
Early on, Jen realized the value of joining a union. She attributes this to her background in soccer–where you learn to work together and complement each other’s strengths much like unions do today. This mindset also helped set the tone on her first job: where the foreman told her to watch two other carpenters and pick up after them. At first, Jen chafed against the order, feeling she was being assigned a menial task. Instead, she fell back on what she had learned on the field. “I was new to the team and they needed to know ‘Am I here to help or hurt the team?’” After, once she had proved she could follow orders and do a good job, they began to trust her with bigger tasks.
That honesty, that willingness to work with people and show she’s there to support whatever team she’s on, has helped Jen find a successful career as a carpenter and instructor.
So what about Kids Build? How did it start and turn into the successful event it is today?
Originally started as an outreach campaign and joint effort by the Council and training centers, Jen had signed on to help get supplies ready (cutting wood, procuring tools, etc). As the date drew closer, Jen volunteered to lead the first one–which became such a smash hit that the event was added to Jen’s work schedule thereon after.
Jen attributes the success to how she leads the workshop, saying her brain kicks into Coaching Mode. “It says: ‘Here are my little carpenters, they need to be coached.’ It makes a big difference that I don’t view them as kids–to me, they’re already the next generation of carpenters in need of guidance.”
Nowadays, the events are in high demand, with wait lists filling up within hours after the event goes live. One Saturday a month, Jen leads a group of 30 children and their parents through the steps of building planters, toy boxes, birdhouses, and more. Jackson, Jen’s son of 11, has even gotten involved, helping her vet which projects they’ll get to build. Jen says she enjoys that this is something where she helps to get people outside of the trades excited out the trades.
Alongside Jackson (who attends every event with his own tool belt), Jen has volunteers from the area show up to help lead the event, many of whom are sister carpenters. Jen notes this visibility of female carpenters goes a long way and has the benefit of showing the children (and parents) anyone can become a carpenter, helping them truly see themselves in the role.
“It also helps people understand that carpentry is a profession–like a doctor or a lawyer, it puts it on par with other college degrees. Afterward, one parent came up to me and she told me ‘I always knew what a carpenter was, but I had no idea how you became a professional carpenter!’”
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