'Dare To Repair': Rutland How-To Course Empowers Women With Household Fixes

Jul 24, 2017

According to federal data, more single women are purchasing homes than single men. So a new how-to course in Rutland taught by – and designed for – women, is teaching students how to tackle the basics of home repair.

Laura Budde of Arlington, admits she’s of a certain age where she grew up with a clear division of labor between the sexes.

For instance, when it comes to using tools or doing basic plumbing or electrical work, she says those were not skills her parents taught her.

“Even when I moved out to my own apartment, if I needed something, I would call my dad and he would come fix it,” she says shrugging her shoulders. "So I just never learned how to do any of these things.”

That’s why she signed up for a five-week basic home repair class offered by NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.   

She says the course being just for women, it’s less intimidating and she’s not afraid to ask questions.

Morgan Overable is the instructor. She supervises contractors on home building sites in Rutland for NeighborWorks and has worked as a carpenter for nearly 20 years.

"[T]his class filled up in 48 hours and even now, we're sitting on a wait list of 25 or more ... Women want to know this information." — instructor Morgan Overable

“I was very lucky to have a very patient grandfather and a very skilled contractor father,” who taught her some of these skills she explains.

Maryann Madia, of Rutland, is one of 12 women taking a new five week home repair course taught by and for women. The class is sponsored by NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

She says the idea for the class came to her after she noticed single women were buying houses she renovated.

She approached NeighborWorks about teaching a course specially designed for women that would cover simple carpentry skills and hand tools, basic plumbing and electrical work,

“Culturally, men are just handed down this knowledge, and it’s assumed that women don’t want it,” says Overable.

But, “I have proven that that’s not the case, because this class filled up in 48 hours and even now, we’re sitting on a wait list of 25 or more. So the next class is full and then some,” she says excitedly. “Women want to know this information.”

The class, which is called, "We Can Fix It," runs for two hours on Tuesday evenings. Overable says she based her curriculum on a book especially written for women called Dare To Repair: A Do-it-Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home by Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet.

Every student who takes the course gets a copy of it, plus a tool kit worth about $150. She says they include the basic hand tools that she says every woman should have and know how to use: There’s a tape measure, level, adjustable wrench, hammer, needle nose pliers, safety glasses, chanel lock pliers, calking gun and a few other items.

During the class Overable takes time to go over each tool, their various names and how to handle them.

“The first night, there were some women who were pretty afraid of the razor knife,” she says. “So it was about trying to take the fear away. Yes, this thing can hurt you, but if you know everything about it, know how to handle it properly, it’s not going to.”

Tuition costs $25 thanks to a renovation grant from the National NeighborWorks of America Project.

To provide hands-on time for students, Overable uses some of the vacant houses she’s renovating as classrooms.

Morgan Overable has been working in carpentry since she was 15, alongside her father. She developed a new home repair course specifically for women. In this photo, she's showing her students how to find and operate a home's main water shut off.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

In the basement of one of these houses, Overable shows the women where to find the master shut off valve for the water supply and explains how the water heater and various other pipes are arranged.

Upstairs, she showed the women how to remove and check the p-shaped pipes under the bathroom sinks for clogs. 

“Maybe we'll find a diamond ring!” one woman says laughing.

"You definitely don't want to do this in my house," another woman jokes.

The easy banter sounds more like a party than a class as the women take turns removing the P-traps; laughing, teasing and helping each other master the task.

Katy Brady of Rutland smiles after successfully using her new channellock pliers.

She says neither she, nor her husband, are especially handy and she hopes the course will make her feel more confident about dealing with household problems that come up.

“So even if I’m not at the point where I can fix it, if I can say, 'okay, I think this is what’s going on.' Then you don’t feel so lost," says Brady smiling. “And I’m excited about that.”

Updated 07/25/2017 to include the name of the class.