The group from the May 31 build day. Courtesy of Gretchen McCloy

The Women Build program from Habitat for Humanity continues with students from South Portland High School. Ten students from the high school participated in a build day on May 31. The program raises funds for Habitat for Humanity, creates affordable housing, and establishes an opportunity for women to gain experience in construction.

“When I started my SoPo Cottage renovation company a dozen years ago, I was a little surprised that I never saw any women on the job site,” said Laurel LaBauve, who kickstarted the program’s resurgence. “When I researched it, I discovered that nationally, only 10 percent of women are in construction and only 3 percent actually work on job sites.  Given the lack of skilled tradespeople, this is a huge untapped market. But how do we expose women to these opportunities?

“I’ve been working with Tara Hill at Habitat for Humanity to revive the Women Build program – which has been great.  We’ve had lots of women come try their hand at home building in a supportive environment of all women.  But I quickly realized we needed to reach young women, who were thinking through their career options.  So that led to exploring a build day with high school girls.”

So far, there have been four individual Women Build days, with another two scheduled for June. Over $32,000 has been raised from participants’ fundraising and from corporate build days.

“Ever since we re-launched the series in spring 2022, there has been very high interest,” said Hill. “Women want to develop skills in construction fields, whether it be for a potential career, or just so they can feel more confident working on their own home. Learning or further developing existing skills in the very non-judgmental and open environment surrounding Women Build makes it that much more appealing. And we’ve had such enthusiastic, eager to learn groups!”

LaBauve reached out to Gretchen McCloy at South Portland High School, who found participating students, financial sponsors, and boots for the students to wear.


“One of my roles at South Portland High School is to help students explore career options,” McCloy said. “It’s really important to us to provide students with opportunities to learn about career fields that they may not know are an option for them.  Finding meaningful hands-on opportunities outside of school is one way that we help support this exploration.

“Laurel Labauve reached out to me with the opportunity to pursue a one day experience for some of our female identifying students to get to explore the trades through the Women Build Day at Habitat for Humanity.  I immediately wanted to pursue this offering, and was grateful to find funding partners who could help sponsor this opportunity for our students. All South Portland High School students were invited to apply, and we came up with a group of 10 students who were able to make the arrangements to miss a day of school and participate.”

The build day was financially sponsored by the Maine chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, and by the firms of Consigli, Great Falls Construction, Pike Industries, and Reed & Reed.

“The build day was an amazing day to see students learn many new skills. More than half of the participating students had never picked up a hammer or a drill before,” McCloy said. “Many of them were curious about the trades, but would never have had this kind of opportunity to learn these new skills in a safe, supported environment like the Habitat Build Day. The team at Habitat was great, doing on-site training and supervision throughout the day. To see the level of improvement in skills and confidence for the students from the beginning of the day, to the end of the day was remarkable. The three students I was working with, didn’t even want to stop for lunch because they were on a roll, and wanted to finish screwing in one last sheet of concrete board before they were ready to put down their tools to share a meal.

“Meal time provided an opportunity for the students to talk with our on-site building coordinators from Habitat, as well as our other volunteer, Danielle Barry, from CMP, who is an active member with the National Association of Women in Construction Maine Chapter 276, who could talk to the students more about her career, and opportunities for women in lots of various related career fields.  Even these informal conversations can make a lasting impression on our students as they consider their possible career options down the road.”

The students were helping build a house for Sarah, a single mom with four kids who will own the home.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland is currently taking applications for two new homes on Sunset Avenue.

“Habitat homes are affordable, energy-efficient and for people who never thought they could own a home.” said Hill. “Many folks would love to own their own home but think they don’t qualify for our program; in fact, applicants only need to meet our income requirements (a family of four can earn up to $77,675), be able to pay an affordable mortgage based on their income, and be willing to partner with Habitat to build their home.”

For more information on the homes to apply, visit the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland website, email Molly Lajoie at or call 207-772-2151, ext. 104.

Courtesy of Laurel LaBauve

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