By Penelope Amaya – It was a rainy Saturday morning in 2019, I was about to go somewhere exciting. I woke up super early because I was excited for this day to come. I was feeling like my body was ready to work and ready to go. My mom and I were going to a class I had never been to before in my whole life. I had been to dance classes, swimming classes, and art classes, but never a class as this one promised to be. This class was so brand new for me. It was a welding class!

A few weeks earlier, my mom told me that we were going to a welding class and I curiously asked, “What’s welding?” My mom responded, “Welding is when you use a torch to bring pieces of metal together.”

“This is going to be fun!” I exclaimed. My mom found out about this welding class, Tools & Tiaras was hosting on their Facebook page. I later found out that Tools & Tiaras is a non-profit organization started by Judaline Cassidy. It was designed for girls to experience different trades.

My dad dropped us off where the class was being held. I was feeling nervous and excited. The class was being held at some place called the Plumbers Union Building. The building was a short wide brick building that looked like it was very old. At first, my mom and I did not know where we were going.

As we walked into the building, I saw big, wide hallways. Some places along the hallway looked like classrooms. Finally I saw girls and a sign that looked like where we were going. “Yeah we finally made it!!” I told my mom in relief, as I wiped the raindrops from my glasses. “We are here for the Tools & Tiaras welding class,” my mom excitedly said. “Yes that’s us. Welcome. My name is Judaline Cassidy, the founder of Tools & Tiaras, and this is my co-director Andrea. And what is your name?” Judaline asked me. “Penelope,” I responded politely.

“Well Autumn and Samantha are supposed to come soon so you can talk with them when they arrive. We just need your mom to sign some papers, for liability, and photography, legal purposes,” Judaline said to me.

While my mom was signing the paperwork, I made a hot chocolate and went to sit down. I kept wondering, “Who are Autumn and Samantha? Are they going to be mean? Am I going to know anyone or be friends with anyone?”

“Come here girls and moms too,” Andrea eagerly said, as my mom and I joined in. “Do you know what you guys are doing today?” “WELDING,” we all screamed. As I looked around, I saw that there were girls of all ages. The youngest was maybe second grade and the oldest was in high school. I didn’t realize that Tools & Tiaras had a wide age range. I thought that it was for middle schoolers only. Even though it was only the start of the class, everyone was fired up. “This is my good friend (I think her name was Melissa) and she is a professional welder, so she is going to teach us how to weld,” Judaline excitedly said. “Follow me!”

After a short walk, we came into this area that looked like a classroom and we took a few minutes to introduce ourselves by saying our names, ages, and grades. I said, “Penelope, I’m twelve, and I’m in the 7th grade.” Then we watched this video about welding and what kinds of tools and safety equipment you need in order to do it. Then we continued on with the tour.

At the start of the workshop we took a tour of the building. The founder, Judaline, is a plumber and since the building was the Plumbers Union Building, she knows a lot. As I and the other girls went through the building I saw many toilets, stacked on top of each other in a little tight area.

Judaline told us that she taught a girl how to be a plumber and that there were very few women plumbers. As we walked with Judaline, she kept saying, “I am the best plumber.” This lady is fun to be around and is proud of what she has done, I thought. As we were walking through the halls she asked all of us, “What do you girls think plumbers do?” This one girl said, “Fix toilets.” Then Judaline replied, “No. We do more than that. We install the pipes that bring water into the building. If a pipe is messed up then we, as plumbers, have to fix it.” When I heard this statement from Judaline I was shocked. I didn’t know that they fix all the pipes in all buildings. In addition to this, Judaline also said that she works with everyone from masons to iron workers to carpenters. Then she showed us an area that we could see but we could not get into. Through the glass I could see a bunch of pipes that were connected to each other and wrenches of different sizes, saws, and other equipment that plumbers use.

“The tool that I used to weld was a torch. It was big, heavy, and black. When I grabbed it, I felt that I could do or make anything.”

Finally, we were almost done with the tour. The last thing that we did before we started to weld was to do a VR simulation. “Who wants to be the first to try this out?” asked Judaline. “It will be fun!” First up was Autumn, a tall girl that was one year older than me. The VR simulation made it so that other people can see what the person was doing. Overall, Autumn did really well, so I thought it was easy to do.

Then next it was my turn. I had to put on a very heavy helmet, hold an imaginary torch in my right hand, and then draw something in the air. It was very hard for me to do it because I could barely see anything since it was really dark. At the end of my turn I saw what I drew, and it was horrible; all I drew was a bunch of scribbles. Thank goodness it was only practice. Am I right? After I did it I noticed that it was hard to do and that you should not rush the process. After my turn, one or two other girls went, and then we finally got to try the real welding for the first time!

When we got to the welding stations, the room that we went into was big. It had torches and wrenches of all different sizes. First, we had to put on our gear: fireproof coat, fireproof gloves, a cap, that covers your hair and we had to already be wearing pants that could cover your entire leg. When I was about to start, I had a problem. MY PANTS HAD HOLES IN THEM. But Judaline and Gen (another lady that worked in the trades) found a way to fix the problem. They wrapped the two working coats around my legs so that I would not hurt myself.

Next, a lady cut each of us a piece of metal with this big machine that was long. After we got our metal piece we sketched what we were going to write on the metal piece. I wanted to write my name ‘Penelope’, but it was too big for my piece of metal, so I decided to go with my initials: PMA.

Now it was time for me to go into action.

While I was waiting my turn, I was curious about what the others were doing in the stalls. These stalls looked like shower stalls but the only thing that you could see was the curtain. Finally, it was my turn. I got in the stall with Julie. When we got into the stall, it was dark and there were many tools. So first she taught me the basics and told me why the room was dark.

The room was dark because if the light was on then the torch would not work. The tool that I used to weld was a torch. It was big, heavy, and black. When I grabbed it, I felt that I could do or make anything. I put on this big helmet that went over my face so that metal pieces, and so that the light of the torch did not hurt my eyes. You could not rush or else you would make a mistake in the metal or hurt yourself. Finally I was done. I felt that it took me a long time but I really didn’t. After I finished I had to cool down the metal by putting it in cold water. I want to make another one! “How was it?” Andrea said. “It was awesome!” I replied.

“Before we end, there is one last important thing that we have to do. The people that have been here for a long time know this. Here at Tools & Tiaras we have a saying”, said Judaline. “Who is AWESOME?” She shouted, “Girls… I AM! Who is fearless? I AM!”

As we were leaving, I excitedly asked my mom, “When is the next workshop? I want to go again!”

Penelope wrote this essay for school, and it was published on the Tools & Tiaras Inc. Facebook page. It is republished on Women You Should Know with the express permission of Judaline Cassidy, Founder of Tools & Tiaras. In talking about Penelope’s essay, a truly eloquent account of her experience at her very first Tools & Tiaras workshop, Judaline said, “It shows why it’s important and imperative that we expose girls to careers in the trades, teaching them that ‘Jobs Don’t Have Genders’.”