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This plumber set up a program to introduce girls to the trades in hopes they will follow in her bootsteps

(CNN)When Judaline Cassidy first tried to join the plumbers union in New York City, a seasoned union man told her to "go home and do dishes."

"Being a woman in a male-dominated space, especially being a Black immigrant woman with an accent and really small in stature, sometimes people doubt what you are capable of," Judaline Cassidy told CNN. " But this is the important part of the story; later on, he (the seasoned union man) became one of my biggest supporters."

Cassidy became the first woman to join that union. And now, more than 20 years later, she's the first woman to be elected to the union's examining board.

"Plumbers come in all sizes and colors and a lot of them look like me now. And that's what I'm trying to change-- that stereotype."

Eager to share her knowledge and help raise the low percentage of women in construction trades, Cassidy created a program that puts tools in the hands of girls as young as six years old.
Tools & Tiaras offers monthly workshops and summer camps that introduce girls to construction trades like plumbing, carpentry and electrical. The instructors are all women.

"If we make it more visible, more accessible, more women will jump on board and join the building trades."

The power of tools

Tanzira Rashid remembers attending her first Tools & Tiaras workshop at the age of 15.

"I'd never experienced anything like that. I saw so many tools around me and hard hats," Rashid said. "I was never really exposed to construction when I was younger."

Now, the scholar is headed to college to study civil engineering.

"Coming from first-generation Bengali immigrant parents, I was really pressured to either go into the medical field or become a lawyer because my parents sacrificed everything to come to the US. So, in their eyes, the only path to success was either becoming a doctor or a lawyer."

Penelope Amaya, 13, chose to attend a STEM high school after participating in a Tools & Tiaras welding workshop.

"I fell in love with it right at the start. I want to be an architect or an engineer when I get older," Amaya excitedly shared. Tools & Tiaras showed me that women can do anything."

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Tools & Tiaras made this year's camp virtual. The organization shipped kits to girls across the country.

"The best part of Tools & Tiaras are the girls. They are the magic," Cassidy said. "To see their faces all lit up when they know that they can use a power drill, it gives me a high. I call the girls 'princess warriors' because I believe women are very strong and we are also very elegant."

Inspiration in Trinidad and Tobago

Cassidy grew up on the beautiful twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago with a houseful of cousins and a great grandmother as their caretaker.

"I grew up really poor, but at the same time, it was filled with music and laughter," Cassidy recalled. "I started Tools & Tiaras because I didn't have a mother or father. I grew up not having any self-confidence in myself. I had some, but not a lot, and I didn't want any little girl to grow up feeling that way."

The Trinidadian was not exposed to the trades until high school.

"I literally got kicked out of typing class because I struggled with typing and was put into the technical drawing class," Cassidy said with a laugh. So that was my precursor for plumbing without even knowing it."

But when her great-grandmother passed, she couldn't afford to attend a university. So, she opted for a free education and applied to trade school.

"I chose plumbing like this—I said 'plumbing, you get wet, and electrical, you get shocked. Plumbing here I come!'"

Now, Cassidy travels as a speaker, spreading the importance of the trades with others.

"My mission is to really just put tools in girls' hands and let them build the world that they so desire."

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