Even with our doors closed, we were committed to doing all we could to stay connected to our fearless builder girls. For our spring session, that meant a radical shift from meeting in-person to make sawdust and sparks in the workshop together to creating a season of online curriculum from scratch. We developed a suite of distance learning programming including videos, online classes, career-guidance and college-prep group calls, and take-home builder kits that aimed to give girls a sense of agency and accomplishment while strengthening their skills and creative problem-solving. Below, we’ve shared some highlights from our work this spring.

Our distance learning programs were made possible by generous funding from Crystal + Chris Sacca, along with help from our community through the Giving Tuesday Now fundraiser. Thank you so much for supporting this work!

Online Spring Classes

With schools closed for COVID-19, we ran Girls Garage after-school classes through Zoom video conferencing. As we compiled the material kits for the virtual spring after-school classes, the words of Toni Morrison came to mind: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” While we sorely missed teaching carpentry and welding face-to-face, to look girls in the eye and stand side-by-side with them as they use power tools (some for the first time), we were still honored to share a screen with them and work “together, apart.” The things that building offers us: confidence, productivity, problem-solving, and hope… those are the things we needed more than ever.

Advanced Design/Build (9th-12th grade girls)

On Mondays, we investigated the structural capabilities of cardboard and used a variety of construction and joining methods (lamination, weaving, scoring, bending, rolling, and much more) to create cardboard masterpieces! In between AP tests, SAT prep, and online school, the 14 girls from our Advanced Design/Build cohort outdid themselves, engineering cardboard into impressive lamps and chairs. During our last class session on May 18, we had our final critique where each girl presented their work and provided feedback on each other’s projects. Every season we’re floored by the grit, creativity, and determination of our girls, and the production of these works of art during shelter-in-place is no exception.

cardboard projects from advanced design/build

Wood + Metal (9- to 14-year-old girls)

Every Tuesday, girls completed creative exercises (clay, wire, drawing, paper construction) before focusing on a wooden machine that was completed over the six-week period. After weeks of sanding, waxing, assembling, testing, and fine-tuning, girls had a smooth-moving caterpillar (or the option to admit any ill-behaving machines to our in-house caterpillar doctor, Augusta, for diagnosis and personalized care). Then, each girl gave their machine a custom look with paint, markers, and other decorations. This project required a lot of troubleshooting, craftsmanship, patience, and finesse. We’re so proud of our girls for their problem-solving and perseverance, not to mention the creativity they expressed throughout the program.

Protest + Print (9th-12th grade girls)

Each Wednesday, our group explored new artists and styles, which informed a related activity and discussion. We examined the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed and Warsan Shire and the artwork of Kara Walker, Paula J. Wilson, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Wangechi Mutu, and Melanie Cervantes. These women inspired our projects in collage, watercolor, papercutting, and creative writing. We’ve had the privilege to hear these fifteen teen girls read their original poems and to see their paintings and designs, each delivering thoughtful, beautiful responses in their own unique voices.

Take-Home Builder Kits

Over the spring session, we assembled and distributed 201 kits with all that girls needed to complete small building projects. Every other Sunday in April and May, we hosted a contactless, curbside pick-up for families to collect the kits and take home.

painted mini-toolbox

The first two projects, a mini-toolbox and a birdhouse were great activities for young and first-time builders. Each kit included pre-cut pieces, instructions, wood glue, hardware, and sandpaper.

birdhouse and mini toolbox

The third kit we offered was the Complete Starter Kit for Builder Girls, which included tools, lumber, and hardware for building multiple projects. The full-size toolbox even had a laser-etched wooden nameplate on the front, customized for each girl! These toolboxes are the perfect companion for projects in the Girls Garage book or our design/build challenges and will be useful for years of building and repairing ahead.

starter kit for builders

Online Resources for Distance Learning

We stepped up our videography game, producing a nine-episode season of Tool School and how-to videos to accompany our design challenges! Our distance learning page provides an overview of our resources for hands-on learning experiences at home.

Class of 2020 Advisory and Support Circle

Seventeen of our participating girls are seniors this year and are moving onto incredible college and career paths in STEM, the arts, and social sciences! This spring, however, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, they have missed out on many of the most seminal moments of their high school years, from prom and yearbook signings to a walk across their commencement stage. As girls navigated the combination of accomplishment and grief, we created a Friday Zoom meeting just for them that would provide a moment of togetherness. We used this space to vent, to celebrate, to share, and to ask questions. And we were joined by some helpful guests: Isela Peña-Rager, Academic Advisor from UC Berkeley, Anna Pilloton, Director of Student Services from College of Marin, and Molly Pilloton, Associate Dean from Making Waves Academy. As an organization, even if we couldn’t gather in person, it was important for us to hold this space for girls to reflect on their individual and collective accomplishments. You can read about the whole Girls Garage Class of 2020 and their bright futures in our Virtual Yearbook here!

Creating PPE for Health Workers

Throughout March and April, Emily, her family, and a small group of our teen girls created 1,576 face shields for medical professionals through the group People’s Protective Equipment. This initiative, led by Carl Bass and Chris Taggart, fabricated and shipped thousands of free CapShields to health care workers and people of the front lines! In April, KTVU came to Girls Garage to see Ally, Izzy, Simone, Eliana, and Emily make the face shields, which they covered in a segment called Berkeley’s Girls Garage Joins Battle Against Pandemic.

Girls Garage makes PPE

Much-Needed Financial Support

Thanks to a successful Giving Tuesday Now fundraiser, a large donation from dear supporters Crystal + Chris Sacca, and an awesome landlord, Girls Garage was able to dampen the financial impact of COVID-19. We were hesitant to ask for your help, knowing that the community was also impacted by the stay-at-home order, but we needed you. We asked you to support our distance learning programs, our amazing girls, and the women who teach and serve them. And, wow, did you step up! Thank you, again, for being such an incredibly supportive and inspiring community!

We saw this time not as a forced reduction in meeting our mission, but as a provocation to find new ways to help girls feel a sense of productivity and agency in the world through the act of building. Given the constraints and emotional strain of shelter-in-place, we are so proud of what our team and our girls accomplished in spring.