The inspirational and influential women of NAWIC’s Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87
First chartered in 1964, the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87 of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) has long been a place for women in the Palm Beach County construction industry to come together under a common umbrella. Since those early days, this group of industry professionals has been on a multi-pronged mission to promote fellowship, education and career advancement, and contribute to the betterment of the community and construction industry.
Currently, the chapter members number approximately 45, but their mission, message and influence are expanding, especially in the community where the organization has become an integral part of changing lives and improving women’s opportunities in construction.
The careers of the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87 members cover the gamut of the construction space—from project managers and support staff in a construction operation to building department inspectors/staff to women-owned construction, engineering, specialty trades and related sales businesses.
To name a few, President Tracy Scheihing is a Senior Buyer for the South Florida region of HD Supply Construction & Industrial – White Cap, a leading distributor of specialty hardware, tools, materials and safety supplies. The chapter Vice President, Erin O’Brien, is a Project Manager at Verdex Construction, a general contractor, while one of the chapter’s Directors, Rebecca Travis, is the Florida Division Manager for Baxter & Woodman, Inc., where she oversees the business development efforts of her company’s West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Key West offices.
Each woman joins for different reasons. Scheihing, a 35-year veteran of the construction industry, says she was very interested in the community outreach aspect and loved the idea of supporting and inspiring other women in construction. “I tend to be a little shy and being part of NAWIC got me involved in group activities and gave my confidence a boost,” she continues. “NAWIC has really increased my professional aptitude and has helped me achieve promotions in my workplace.”
O’Brien agrees and notes that for most of her career, she has been the sole woman in the field or on a project. “Joining NAWIC four years ago has been a great bonding experience for me. I’ve met many other women who face the same challenges I’ve encountered in the construction industry. Besides the friendships I’ve formed, NAWIC has provided me an opportunity to grow as a person through community service, serving the chapter and attending regional and national conferences,” she says.
Immediate Past President of the Chapter, Andrea Serraes, has a similar story. Having learned much from her father who was a general contractor, she co-founded West Palm Beach-based Serraes Construction General Contractor Inc., a general contracting firm for commercial and industrial clients, in 1984. She joined NAWIC in 1988 when a member of NAWIC saw Serraes’ name in relation to another construction association and sent her an invitation to attend a meeting.
Serraes says, “I was hooked from the start. Not only did I enjoy talking with other women working in the same profession, but I met two other woman-owned general contractors. I’d never met another local female general contractor before.”
Someone with a very different story is Veronica Vidal, the CEO/President of Jupiter, Florida-based Custom Cleaning and Management Services Corp. (CCMS) and Director of the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87. Originally from Argentina, Vidal was a stage designer with a love of creating and transforming space. When she came to the U.S. in 2001, she needed a new career path, and with impressive vision, saw a need for reliable contractors to clean up a project through all the different phases of construction. She founded CCMS in 2004, a company that includes a division focused on post-construction cleanup. Some years later, a fellow attendee at the Palm Beach County Small Business Advisory Council Committee meeting in 2016 asked if she’d heard of NAWIC, and invited Vidal to come to a meeting.
“I thought it would be a great networking opportunity—but it’s been much more than that,” Vidal says. “I love the growing number of activities in our group, including new approaches to community service, new internal procedures and really great ways to communicate with potential members, other women in construction and the community through social media.”
One of the most important and visible activities of the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87 is its community outreach.
A key mission of all NAWIC chapters is community activism. For the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87, that focus became much more defined in December 2015. At the time, Serraes had heard about a nonprofit charity in Lake Worth that raised money and in-kind donations for at-risk and homeless veterans. She says, “We realized that there are a lot of at-risk and homeless women veterans, so we asked how we can help. The charity organizers asked us to fill 150 toiletry tote bags to give to these individuals.”
That one activity was a spark for the Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87’s Project NAWIC Cares program. Soon after, the group was involved in the Habitat for Humanity Women Build and then a neighborhood cleanup.
As well, the chapter supports the annual Women in Construction (WIC) Week in March to celebrate women in construction while raising awareness of the opportunities available for women in the industry. It is also a time for local chapters to give back to their communities. For WIC Week this year, the chapter joined with United Way to talk with young women undergoing treatment for chemical dependence and addiction support at Wayside House, Inc., a local rehabilitation center, about career possibilities in construction and the free training opportunities. The group also donates to organizations such as Construction Angels, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance and grief counseling to the families of construction workers who have lost their lives while working on the job site.
The Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87 is also active in the NAWIC Education Foundation (NEF), which was established in 1972 to promote careers in construction to kids in grades K-12 with fun activities. For instance, the Block Kids Building Competition, a national building competition sponsored by NAWIC chapters and other organizations, challenges kids in grades K-6 to build with interlocking blocks and a few other items like a rock, string, foil or poster board. Last year, the chapter’s Block Kids winner from Osceola Middle School went on to win the Southeast Region competition.
In the coming year, the chapter members would like to get involved with a local Girls Go Build program, a hands-on summer learning program that introduces at-risk teens to construction.
Networking & Education
Networking and recruitment remain at the heart of the NAWIC Greater Palm Beach Chapter 87 activities.
Serraes says, “Part of the reason I stay involved is that there is an almost immediate level of understanding with the other members. We talk the same language with regard to building processes, permitting requirements, project management and more—they get it.”
The NAWIC Career Center helps local construction companies find and hire candidates with the necessary skill sets they seek. As well, the organization encourages organic mentoring that might include leadership and management development, speaking skills, exposure to new skills and technology updates. These mentorship opportunities occur at the local chapter levels as well as at regional and national conferences.
Additionally, NAWIC offers certification and educational programs for individuals who want to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of construction industry principles and practices through NEF. The foundation contracts with an external testing organization to administer the examinations for certification courses. The courses include construction document technician, construction industry specialist, construction bookkeeping technician, estimator scheduling practitioner, and construction industry technician.
Vidal adds, “Through NEF, I am now a certified estimator scheduling practitioner, which will help me continually improve my business practices and better prepare me to work with other construction companies.”
She’s not alone. Chapter President Scheihing concludes, “Everyone wants to be a success story and NAWIC offers the tools: industry involvement, education, community outreach, support, confidence, leadership training and comradery to enhance the experience. We’re proud of the work we do and hope we can inspire and influence a new generation of women in the industry as well.”