WINNSBORO — A new sorority of sorts has been created at the Fairfield County Career Center, a group of four girls who are taking courses such as masonry, heating and air conditioning repair, or machine tooling — skills that traditionally were considered men’s work.
These ladies challenge that notion and according to their teachers are doing just as well or better than their male classmates. This article is the first in two-part series featuring these young ladies.
Shijetta Henry is a 17-year-old senior at Fairfield Central High School who started the career center to take health science courses. Henry thought she wanted to be a massage therapist so she chose that path. Then she saw examples of artwork that can be made from brick and realized she wanted to try something new — masonry.
“I like art and being creative and I can make things using brick,” she said.
Landscaping, colored brick work, and laying brick with people’s names in it all appeal to her but so does a more practical side to the trade.
“I can help my mom and grandma with our house if something breaks and a brick needs fixing,” she said.
Henry has an uncle who is a brick mason in Charlotte, N.C.
“He was surprised that I could help him,” she said. “He thought it was funny at first but then he saw I was serious about it.”
She said her first option for a career is to be a make-up artist. This young lady enters the career center wearing one shade of lipstick and may leave the center after her classes are done with a different shade.
She changes hair color and clothing and said she is a girly girl when she is not messing with mud, mortar and brick. She said the salary and the skill is what attracted her to masonry.
Henry said her first challenge was building up the strength to carry around the buckets of mortar and the piles of brick.
“I could get it right just like the others but it took time to learn the fast pace,” she said. “Back then I was weak and had not been lifting weights.”
Every day she got stronger as she tossed bricks and lifted barrels to make mortar.
“It’s a lot of work, but just because you are a girl does not mean you can’t do it,” she said. “You just have to encourage yourself and keep on doing it until you learn it. I want to do it because it is fun.”
She is used to working in her free time because she does a lot of volunteering in the community with her grandmother Debra McDaniel and her family, helping with activities like the back to school bash and with Christmas dinners.
“I am very tight with my family,” she said. “But I’m also a completer (meaning she finishes what she starts at the career center and in life).”
She said she became good at massage and learned to cook in culinary arts classes there. Some training came from home though. She said her sense of style and her make-up skills come from her mom, such as her trademark black, blue and purple lipstick. Henry also is considering following in her father’s footsteps and joining the Army.
Fifteen-year-old Deminic Martin first learned of welding from an older cousin who does underwater welding. But it was demonstrations during an open house at the career center that really piqued her interest in the career.
She saw demonstrations like using a torch, examples of basic welds, and saw how metal pieces can be joined into parts.
“I wanted to learn more about it after I visited the career center and saw demonstrations and the finished product,” she said.
This is not Martin’s first time working with her hands. She likes to fix cars, too, a hobby she does with her grandaddy as they work on an old pickup together.
“When I was really little, my grandaddy and I did hands-on stuff with the truck,” she said.
But, like her four classmates, she said she has been doing more than just working a wrench. She has worked out as a dancer since she was a little girl and has been a cheerleader also.
A sophomore at FCHS, Martin wants other students to realize that they do not need to limit themselves by their expectations or those imposed upon them from outsiders.
“If you feel like it is something you’d like to do, you can do it if you stick to it and are determined,” Martin said. “Some people don’t think girls can do stuff like (welding) but I am here to prove them wrong.”
She said she plans to make welding her career and is determined to show the people in her class that she has the same skill set as they have. “I want to break the mold,” she said.
Two other students, one in HVAC and the other in machine tooling courses, are looking to break the traditional mold, as well and will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Herald Independent.