Members of South Bend, Ind., Local 153’s women’s committee volunteered their skills at an area horse therapy facility.

The South Bend, Ind., Local 153 women's committee hasn't been around long, but they're wasting no time in making a difference, both for their members and for the community.

Five women members volunteered their time to power a barn that's part of a local therapeutic horse-riding organization, Reins of Life. The work started in June and finished up in early August.

Members of the women's committee piped the entire building, built out the insulated interior and did all the lighting.

"This is a great way for the women to work together on a project that helps the community," said Local 153 Business Manager Mike Leda. "I'm really proud of what they've accomplished so far."

Reins of Life is a nonprofit that offers therapeutic riding lessons to children and adults with disabilities in Indiana and Michigan. Programs include those for people who have experienced trauma, those with developmental disabilities, for K-12 students and for veterans. So, when the 42-year-old organization reached out to Local 153 for help wiring a barn, Leda alerted the women's committee, which was happy to help.

"We had a ball working on this project," said Local 153 member Brenda Stevens, who heads the committee. "It's rare to work with more than one woman on a job, much less an all-women crew."

Stevens said the women worked on a new building that will serve as a space for storage and as a workshop. Members piped the entire building, built out the insulated interior and did all the lighting. Jennifer Martell, of Martell Electric, also donated tools and other items.

Stevens also noted the silver lining of the women having the time to work on it since they were laid off due to the coronavirus.

"We were looking for a volunteer project since we were all home," Stevens said. "In a sense, it came along at a good time."

Stevens noted that a benefit of working with other women is there's no risk of a "boys club" mentality. There's also no one recklessly muscling through anything.

"There's no ego pushing us to risk our bodies," Stevens said. "We want to still be in good shape when we're retired, so we can enjoy it. And as women, we have to think outside of the box in terms of doing certain things."

The Reins of Life project was the first for the women's committee, which had its first meeting in December and is working on getting its charter. Stevens says she's also working on a mentoring program.

"It's gotten much, much better since I started," Stevens said, noting that most of the women in the local are younger and earlier in their careers. "When I started out, there was no one to ask advice of. I don't want that to be the case for our new women coming in."

She's also looking into establishing a program to help members who are pregnant, or who have partners who are pregnant.

"We don't want any member to have to choose between starting a family and staying in the trade," Stevens said.

Stevens is looking into what IBEW locals in Oregon did recently to establish a pregnancy benefit, as well as a similar program the Ironworkers started. She's also working with Local 153's health and welfare fund.

"I love working in the trade, and so do my sisters," Stevens said. "We want to do whatever we can to make sure we can stay in this job that we love."

Stevens also noted the support of Local 153's leadership.

"We've been so blessed to have support," Stevens said. "I know that's not how it always is, and it makes a big difference."

Leda noted that the committee was off and running from the very start.

"Brenda and the other women saw a need in the local, and they took it to a new level," Leda said. "The women's committee is a great representative of not just Local 153 but the IBEW as a whole and what it stands for."