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The Case For a Makerspace in Downtown Fresno

Written by Janelle Smith Ozeran

Fresno Ideaworks, established in 2012 in downtown Fresno, California, is a source of a myriad of tools and creative opportunities. But, like makers everywhere, we also value our friendships, collaborative projects, the comfort of our “third space”, and the therapeutic value of getting our hands dirty as we mold clay, wood, metal, textiles, electronics, or plastics into something new and wonderful. 

Over eight years Fresno Ideaworks has grown from a small group of friendly hackers into a community workshop full of curious and creative people, eager to learn and hone new skills and share them with anyone who comes through our doors.  But since the 16th of March 2020 our doors have been closed to all regular activity – a crushing situation for people who come to the Shop for any reason, and a threatening blow to our survival as a non-profit, all-volunteer, member-driven organization. 

We immediately joined the ranks of makerspaces all over the country, manufacturing PPE for healthcare professionals and other essential workers. Collaborating with two other non-profits in Fresno – Root Access Hackerspace, and Pi Shop Fresno – we designed, manufactured, and delivered more than 4000 pieces of PPE by the first week of May to everyone from hospital nurses to bus drivers, and from mail carriers to food service workers.  We are very proud of our role in helping protect our neighbors and caregivers, but we are also very proud of the collaborative effort. We are already trying to imagine what new projects we can undertake together when our spaces are open again! 

Meanwhile, we have lost nearly 15% of our membership, and watching our family shrink is breaking our hearts. A goal for the immediate future is to establish a sponsorship fund for those former members facing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 experience. Although our membership fees are among the lowest for similar spaces, they are suddenly an impossible luxury for some, even though the emotional health benefits of making and creating would go a long way to ease the anxiety those same people are experiencing. 

We also have to focus more intently on the facility upgrades that will enable us to welcome more members with a greater diversity of skills and abilities throughout the entire space. Maintaining a historic building is already a huge challenge (one we makers welcome), but opening the whole structure to more makers will require the help of angels that embrace our mission. Downtown Fresno, and our Cultural Arts District neighborhood in particular, have suffered the adversity of economic downturn for several decades now. Ideaworks is relentlessly dedicated to being part of the growth of both the economic health of the neighborhood, and, through skill-building and fellowship, part of the economic and emotional well-being of everyone who comes through our doors. 

Please help however you can. Donations to Ideaworks general fund can also be made through our website at https://ideaworksmakerspaces.org/Donate, through Venmo at @Fresno-Ideaworksthrough, or through Givebutter (https://givebutter.com/KbPYYR). And thank you, in advance, from all of us at Fresno Ideaworks.

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She Built This City: Demi Knight Clark

She Built This City logo

STEM careers are experiencing low employment due to an industry skills gap. A whitepaper by Alexander Mann Solutions suggests, “While there is overwhelming evidence that women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, the reasons go beyond traditional stereotyping. Women may ‘shy’ away from these careers for both cultural and educational reasons, while a lack of role models doesn’t help the cause.”

She Built This City founder, Demi Knight Clark

Demi Knight Clark established She Built This City (SBTC) in December 2019 in Charlotte, South Carolina to address the labor shortage by closing the gender equity gap in construction and manufacturing. SBTC does that through scholarship-based trade
workshops, camps & clubs – hitting the “life cycle” of generations: exposing the trades to girls as young as nine, and women at any age.

SBTC is proud to have momentum thanks to donors who saw their passion and mission – such as Lowe’s Home Improvement, Novocure, and private donors – in January. “We’ve seen our “proof of concept” camps – Explorer Girls and Builder Girls Club have wait lists; and Women@Work Trade Circle & Expo events host over 200 women and male allies in Charlotte.”

She Built This City, Explorer Girls class working with representatives from Lowes.

SBTC’s program is built upon three foundational pillars. The Explorer Girls pillar is a weekend workshop for girls ages nine to twelve, providing foundational math skills, an understanding of scientific theory, and basic power tool etiquette with the opportunity to explore. Their Farm to Architecture unit has been a success by combining the necessary skills with technology. The Builder Girls Club is an in- school program for middle school girls. They spend their last period working on bigger concepts and
projects. SBTC is not targeting high school ages due to the saturation of Career Technical Education (CTE) courses available to this age group. The third pillar is the Women@Work Trade Circle that offers the “power of many” for a consortium of professional women in the construction and manufacturing industries. They also offer apprenticeships to women looking to change careers or networking for those looking to continue to climb within the industry.

SBTC is proud to partner with the following organizations: SEED20, Yale SOM, United Rentals, Duncan Parnell, NAHB, Novacure, and National Association of Women in Construction. They also participate in local events, like Women in Trade Expo, Homeowners Association Women in Building Week, and Rail Lines Classroom America.

She Built This City, Explorer Girls class working with representatives from Lowes.

Clark says that her favorite accomplishment with SBTC is giving girls the confidence for these fields. “By far, it’s seeing the ‘light bulb’ moment come on in girls who have never held a power tool or equipment. They go from being semi-terrified or at least intimidated, to saying, ‘GIMME ANOTHER ONE!’ after drilling their first screw with a power driver. It’s empowering, and it’s definitely affecting that we’re creating ideas in their heads of other things they feel confident to build or spearhead.” She states that the biggest challenge SBTC faces is funding: connecting with the right people to support these programs.

SBTC has a three year plan to scale to five major cities with all three pillars of programming, and hit their first $10M in funding by year three. “It’s the kind of impact we have to strive for if we want to change the statistics shorter-term in the industries. That helps us scale to at least 30,000 women and girls!”

Clark wishes more people knew what the construction and manufacturing industries had to offer in leadership potential. “I’ve always loved the fact that if there’s a job to do, anyone can raise their hand, just like that little girl with a power driver – and say, ‘gimme another one!’ You can rise through the ranks very quickly by taking on tasks that are short-handed or short-staffed, or challenges needing to be solved. It’s how I shaped my career in the industry. So those light bulb moments are prevalent – we need to showcase them and onboard the next generation.”

Please visit their website for more information and a full list of future events http://www.SheBuiltThisCity.org.