Parents, relatives and students between the ages of 3 and 17 — 84 people in all — were at the Digital Harbor Tech Center for the second Family Make Night on Monday building circuits and designing LED ornaments to hang on their Christmas trees.
Organized by the nonprofit Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF), the Family Make Nights provide an opportunity for students to show parents what they do in after-school programs at the Federal Hill-based tech center.
Two other people of note stopped by. One was Warnock Family Foundation executive director Olga Maltseva, who was voted the new chairperson of DHF’s eeight-person board.
The other was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. It was the mayor’s first visit to the converted rec center in Federal Hill since it re-opened as the Digital Harbor Tech Center, under the stewardship of DHF, in January 2013.
“She checked out the 3D printing stuff. It was mostly a tour,” said Andrew Coy, executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation. “It was just a really important first step.”
For the tech community in Baltimore, it was another sign that city government is beginning to take notice of its efforts, both in trying to launch startup businesses in the city and increasing city school students’ access to new digital tools such as 3D printers and Arduino circuits.
“Generally [she] has been paying a lot more attention, I’ve noticed, to the technology community here in Baltimore,” Coy said. “I don’t presume to know what influences have helped along there, but I’ve been pretty impressed lately.”
Some of the irony, however, shouldn’t be lost, as Mayor Rawlings-Blake was shown around a building that, at one time, had a precarious future. The Digital Harbor Tech Center was once the South Baltimore rec center, which was saved from closure by the city when Digital Harbor High School and the Digital Harbor Foundation stepped in, eventually converting the center into a place that now runs after-school programming courses and a summer camp focused on digital fabrication and video game development.
And, additionally, Family Make Night, a new monthly two- to three-hour event. The first one, held in November, had students and parents make 3D prints of cookie cutters. In January, families will be using the tech center’s vinyl cutter to make stickers they can affix to the back windshields of cars or the exteriors of their laptops.
“It’s proved to be a valuable experience, youth seeing adults learning and just interacting in that way,” said Coy.