When one first hears the name “Tools & Tiaras,” one may think it’s a dance school, or a place that caters to beauty pageants, but it’s nothing like that. In this case, the first word is T-O-O-L-S, and rather than discussing fashion, the 501(c)(3) non-profit group is putting drills, hammers, hardhats, and wrenches – those kinds of tools – into the hands of girls six to 14 to expose them to the trades. This is the mission of Judaline Cassidy, the energetic and determined founder of Tools & Tiaras, and its Chief Visionary Officer (CVO). By introducing the trade industry to girls at a pivotal age when they’re considering future careers, they can expand their goals and pursue what were traditionally male-dominated jobs like plumbing, engineering, welding, masonry, architecture, carpentry, electrical skills, the list goes on. For T & T’s motto is “Jobs don’t have genders.(TM)”
The excitement Cassidy gives off is palpable, especially when speaking about what motivated her to start this organization. Born in Trinidad and Tobago where her “wonder woman” dreams began, she notes that education was encouraged for all genders on those colonized British Islands, and parents pushed their children very hard; education was not an afterthought. Raised by her great-grandmother, a descendant of slaves, Cassidy was pushed even harder. After the free primary and secondary school years were completed, her great-grandmother’s death and her financial situation forced Cassidy to give up on her dream of attending law school and take up a trade skill, via schooling that was provided free. Cassidy took that opportunity to the heights and became the first of three young women admitted to the trade school she attended in Trinidad and Tobago. Soon after, she and her husband moved to Staten Island with her “wonder woman” dreams intact.
Judaline Cassidy with a camper
“I grew up watching Nancy Drew, and Wonder Woman,” Cassidy explains, and is used to using phrases like “warrior girl, rebel girl” to describe her mindset. There was no reason, she thought, why it was only boys who could be big and strong. “We’re taught at an early age that we can be anything we want to be if we work hard enough for it, but then ironically as we get older that world of opportunity gets very small.” Cassidy wasn’t going to accept that. She pursued and obtained her plumbing license and was the first woman accepted into Plumbers Local 371 (Staten Island) and other achievements in the trade soon followed. But this “tradeswoman activist/warrior girl” is not done.
It was time to give back. Cassidy’s great grandmother didn’t just support her career goals but instilled in her the importance of “service.” Just as holding these plumbing tools in her hands empowered her, Cassidy knew she had to inspire the next generation of “warrior girls.” And, in 2017, Tools & Tiaras, Inc. was born. “I plan for this to be as big as the Girl Scouts of America,” she says without pause, “with chapters all around the country.” Right now, Tools & Tiaras provides workshops and events throughout the year that puts tools in young girls’ hands and teaches them the craftsmanship behind them. Every student receives a hardhat, tee-shirt, a pair of safety goggles and gloves, and the basic knowledge of electricity, plumbing, and carpentry and other skilled trades and careers in which women are still largely underrepresented. Other life skills like finances and self-defense are integrated into the instructions with no career option off limits as evidenced by a recent event where a female Jet Blue pilot introduced the students to careers in the aviation industry.
Tools & Tiaras Campers
Tools & Tiaras, Construction
Last October, T & T students took part in a “Strong-willed Warrior Plumbing Workshop” (view on Instagram) where, clad in Timberland work boots (one of many T & T partners) students connected copper pipes to create super hero figures with arms raised triumphantly. At present, T & T is headquartered in Queens and a one regional chapter in Boston with plans for more to soon launch in other parts of the U.S. and internationally. “Our trade jobs are the future,” says Cassidy, who believes that our young people “don’t have to go get a four-year college degree and put themselves in four-year college debt.”
Penelope is a former student of the workshops and now attends Energy Tech High School – a Queens high school that focuses on building a skilled workforce, via careers in engineering and technology. In an essay about her workshop experiences, she writes, “If it was not for Judaline and Tools & Tiaras, I would have not considered Energy Tech High School. Tools & Tiaras showed me that women can do anything. Since the moment I held the [welding] torch in my first Tools & Tiara’s class, I loved it.” Cassidy, like Penelope, felt empowered the moment she held and worked with the tools, with the key word here being “empowered.” Whether or not these students enter a trade profession is not the end-all of the organization, says Cassidy, “it’s also teaching these students to know their own power, that they are strong, and instill in them the confidence that they can pursue any non-traditional career, in or outside the construction trades.”
In collaboration with IAPMO (International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials), Cassidy launched a children’s coloring book focused entirely on women plumbers called, My Mom is a Plumbing Superhero – “a celebration of real-life superheroes, their awesomeness, skills and superpower of contributing to public health and safety.” Download it here.
Tools & Tiaras is always seeking tradeswomen and volunteers who will show girls that “jobs don’t have genders.” A trades background is not necessary, but those with construction skills could teach a workshop. Email email@example.com and describe how you would like to help, volunteer or instruct. For more information and upcoming workshops visit the website for Tools & Tiaras.
All photos courtesy of Tools & Tiaras