Some 19 youngsters participated in the first-ever “Mind Over Metal” welding camp last week offered by Seven Generations Education Institute, in partnership with the Canadian Welding Association Foundation and the Rainy River District School Board.
“The kids really seemed to enjoy the camp and the experience,” enthused S.G.E.I. post-secondary co-ordinator Don Eldridge.
“I think kids in general enjoy things that make sparks . . . it’s exciting for them,” he added.
Eldridge noted nearly all the participants had no previous experience in welding prior to the start of the camp, yet several left with an idea of a possible career down the road.
“It really opened their eyes to pursuing welding as a career,” said Bruce Whalen, who instructed the camp along with his sons, Ryan and Chris.
“It’s really fun,” said participant Kathryn Fischer, 12. “It’s a really cool experience.
“I never heard of an opportunity to [weld] before and I wanted to try it.”
And Fischer felt she improved her skills over the course of the week.
“If you make a mistake, you learn from it,” she reasoned. “And it’s really neat to be using the tools all by myself.”
Tommy Jourdain of Couchiching noted he wants to be a welder when he grows up.
“I like to build and create stuff,” he remarked.
Gordy Scott, meanwhile, said he certainly will continue on with the technical programs, since he also has an interest in mechanics, and even might become a welder one day.
“Welding is more than exciting,” he enthused, noting mechanics and welding go hand-in-hand.
“I like putting stuff together and making stuff,” Scott added.
The 13 year-old said he watched his grandpa weld before and was thrilled to give it a try.
“I made a baseball bat holder for my dad,” Scott said. “I liked making that and I’m sure my dad’s going to like it.”
Eldridge noted the curriculum for the program came from the CWA Foundation.
“We made an application to run the ‘Mind Over Metal’ camp,” he recalled, adding CWA is funding more than 35 camps in almost every province across Canada.
“So we were lucky enough to get one here in Fort Frances.”
CWA provided about $5,000 of financial support for the camp, as well as all the material the students used for projects.
In addition, the school board provided financial support to help provide food and additional materials, Eldridge said.
Largely due to all this financial support, the camp was offered free of charge.
“The ages are 12-15 and they come from all over the district—from a number of the First Nation communities and the Fort Frances area,” Eldridge said of the participants, noting there also were three or four females among them.
“It’s nice to see,” he remarked. “When we put out a call looking for participants for the camp, we really wanted to try to get some girls because women are generally under-represented in the trades.
“So I know the desire has been on the board as well as Seven Gens’ perspective to see as many girls as we could possibly get to try to get more of them interested in technical programs.”
During the week-long camp, Eldridge said the youth learned about basic welding techniques, theory, and safety.
“There was also an emphasis on the impact of welding on everyday lives,” he noted.
“It’s very hard to turn around and see anything in our lives that hasn’t been impacted in some way by welding.”
The participants then worked on a number of different projects, such as making a mosquito out of a chipping hammer, business card holders, campfire roasting sticks, cowbells, and birdhouses, among others.
All of the students were provided a tool kit they got to keep, which included an arc welding helmet and a variety of hand tools.
“The toolboxes were generously provided by New Gold just to support our program,” Eldridge said.
“And a lot of the hand tools were provided at little to no cost by Acklands-Grainger.”
Eldridge, meanwhile, said feedback from the participants and parents has been very positive.
“The parents really see the benefit,” he enthused, noting they hope the “Mind Over Metal” camp helps to excite the participants about school in general.
“We also hope that they will continue on and support the high school technical programs so they’ll see the enrolments,” Eldridge added.
“And then from our perspective at Seven Gens, that they’ll flow through and we’ll see them in a couple of years applying to our post-secondary technical programs, whether its welding, build construction.”
Eldridge stressed S.G.E.I. really has put a focus on technical programs.
“A lot of people with trade tickets are under-represented in First Nation communities,” he remarked, adding they offer education and training programs that respect Anishinaabe language and culture.
“So we’re bringing these jobs here to hopefully encourage that to give the communities people with tickets, and who have the skills necessary to participate in construction and that type of thing.
“And, of course, with New Gold coming into the area and being a significant employer for the next 20-plus years, we want to make sure anyone in the area who wants to get these tickets can fully participate in that, as well,” he added.
To wrap up the camp on Friday, S.G.E.I. hosted a barbecue for the participants and supporters.
For more information on technical programs at S.G.E.I., visit www.7generations.org or call Eldridge at 274-2796.