June 29, 2017

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Photo courtesy of Rena Crittendon

It is pure dedication that drove Rena Crittendon to return to the home of an 88-year-old woman named Elnora after an all-female DPR team completed a series of home renovations as part of Rebuilding Together San Francisco's SHEBUILDS day. It is Crittendon’s pride in her work, as part Bay Area community initiatives champion, part field office coordinator (FOC), that challenged her to go back and stucco Elnora's house herself, furthering what she learned from her teammates that day.

When women unite, they can accomplish anything.

In launching the SHEBUILDS day this year, Rebuilding Together San Francisco not only highlighted the level of need among women in the community, but also showcased the ability of women in construction and design industries to assist and empower other women in their own backyard. And the need is real; Rebuilding Together points to statistics showing that more than one in seven women and one in five children live in poverty across the U.S. In 2015, 66% of the homes repaired by Rebuilding Together San Francisco were headed by a woman.

Arundhati Ghosh, a BIM project engineer with DPR, got the ball rolling on the SHEBUILDS project after hearing about the opportunity from a colleague. She had participated on Rebuilding Together projects in the past, but Ghosh said the prospect of an all-female team was intriguing. “The group I currently work with is all men,” she said. “It was interesting to me to see how it would be if it was an all-women's group with women taking the lead instead of men.”

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The all-female DPR team completed a series of home renovations for an 88-year-old woman named Elnora. Photo courtesy of J. Rosenfeld

Ghosh reached out to Crittendon, and a team of nearly 40 of DPR's female employees, along with 10 women from other companies, joined together to tackle the much-needed home improvement project.

“There were holes in the ceiling and wall in the back bedroom behind the quilting room the woman uses, and a 10-ft.-long strip that was open to the elements. This was not going to be just a patch job,” Crittendon noted. Electrical and plumbing fixes were also needed. “We took several walk-throughs with an all-female team of experts, including a carpenter superintendent, structural engineer and others, and decided we needed more than one day to do the job.”

Finding the skilled trade workers to make up the all-female team seemed daunting, but the team ultimately secured several electricians, two skilled workers from DPR's self-perform demolition crew, a carpenter superintendent (Vic Julian, DPR’s first female superintendent), a plumber (the granddaughter of the homeowner), and many others. When planning the build day with the team, some people questioned, “can we pull this off? Can we do this with only women?” Crittendon’s answer was, “hell yes!” 

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The DPR team was made up of different experts, including a carpenter superintendent, structural engineer and others. Photo courtesy of A. Fortune

In addition to the 430 total hours of planning and building invested in the project, the DPR-led, all-female team brought a strong sense of collaboration, an innate trust in their teammates, and support for fellow team members' input and ideas. “The camaraderie was amazing,” Ghosh said. “It was really high energy all day, and it was extremely collaborative.”

Additional comments from the women who participated and were surveyed at project completion included one who said, “I gained invaluable hands-on experience with construction. I love that our community initiative activities help our employees grow their skillsets as builders.” Another commented that the personal reward was “some really great teamwork and knowing we really improved the quality of life of the person we helped.”

It is the “awesomeness” that comes out of each event that grows Crittendon’s passion for helping others even more. “The women who helped us build over the course of the two days are smart, strong and technical. They inspire me every day, and they taught me so much about building. I feel so much more confident now in my own abilities because of them,” she said.

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During the first half of 2017, Crittendon (pictured) has organized community events in the Bay Area that impacted 600 under-resourced youth who learned about construction skills and careers through education modules, mentoring and career fairs; 25 staff members at local nonprofits who participated in professional development with DPR's training staff; and one individual—Elnora—who was impacted through DPR's expertise in facility construction and renovation. Photo courtesy of Everett Rosette

Similar to how a project team builds the right relationships with the right partners (architects, owners, subcontractors) at the beginning of a job, Crittendon in her community role strives to form the right partnerships with the right organizations so DPR's employees can serve them in the best ways they know how: facility construction, career/educational opportunities and operational support. 

For Crittendon, it’s all about the long-term impact, the people who come out to volunteer, and the people they are serving. It’s the women she works with, who build great things and inspire her every day. It’s showing her kids that she can be a full-time working mom, handling two different roles at DPR while still managing to coach her daughter’s travel softball team. She is more than just passionate about all she does–she is proud.

So are we.