The nonprofit that lets girls build the world they want to see

Emily Pilloton-Lam didn’t grow up in a particularly handy household, but she did spend hours and hours outside building treehouses out of logs and sticks: “I was more a spatial and physical thinker,” she says. “And making spaces and changing my environment was one of the earliest ways I began to make sense of the world.”

After studying architecture at UC Berkeley and then at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she realized that the traditional world of architecture was not for her. “I quickly discovered that I don’t work well at a cubicle, or for a boss, or without getting to build the ideas that started on paper in front of me,” she says.

She kept coming back to what made her fall in love with building: working with her hands and with other people on projects that mattered. So in 2008, at age 26, she founded a nonprofit called Project H Design (which became Girls Garage in 2013), to equip youth with the personal power and the literal power tools to build the world they want to see.

Emily Pilloton standing in the Girl Garage against a wall of tools

Emily Pilloton-Lam is the founder of Girls Garage, which provides experiential learning for kids through hands-on design and building projects. “We teach students how to use power tools,” she says, “but also how to channel their own power.”

Based in Berkeley, California, Girls Garage is a workshop space created for young women, ages nine to 18, to build things together without what Pilloton-Lam calls “the social layers and calculus of a gendered construction site.” (Currently, only 3.4% of construction trade workers are female.) Pilloton-Lam, whose 2021 TED talk “What if women build the world they want to see?” has over 2.5 million views, works with a team of female instructors, many of whom are program alumni. The immaculately organized, light-filled space has a fully outfitted woodshop (with both power tools and hand tools—all sessions begin with safety training) as well as a print studio. The girls and gender-­nonconforming youth who come here might join a weeklong workshop building a chair or making mosaics, or spend a summer or semester on more involved projects (recent ones include a mobile chicken coop for an elementary school, outdoor furniture for a community garden, a bus stop in collaboration with a state transit authority, and bookshelves and benches for a library space in transitional housing). Some 58% of students who participate do so for free or at a reduced fee.

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By: Allison Arieff
Title: The nonprofit that lets girls build the world they want to see
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Published Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2023 09:15:00 +0000


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