Coderrific Academy grew rapidly after it launched in the summer of 2019, expanding its extracurricular coding programming for kids ages 7 to 15 into schools and community centers. In September 2019, the org outgrew the Newark Community Center where it began and moved to its own location in Newark’s Prestbury Square building.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Coderrific hard.
“Most of our clients were schools, private schools, and they had no budget for us anymore,” founder Jonathan Adly said. “We were at the bottom of the list.”
Community center programs like Christiana Cultural Arts Center’s Heart Under the Hoodie, and the free virtual coding classes for kids held soon after the pandemic hit, were community offerings, not profit-makers. By May, Coderrific shuttered, unable to sustain itself.
It was then that Adly, a pharmacist by trade, decided to try his hand at the very skill he encouraged kids to learn. While he had founded the academy, he’d hired all of the instructors, and had never done a coding project himself.
It wasn’t long before he’d learned enough coding to pull off a project. He was looking for a family project to keep them busy through a social-distanced summer.
“I asked my wife if she had a problem that needed a solution,” he said. Her answer: She wished shopping for gifts was easier, especially during COVID, when outings were reserved for essentials like groceries and not trips to the mall.
Adly took his new coding skills and created Joyful.gifts, an automated gifting service that allows members (as well as one-time users) to simply enter the demographics, maybe an interest, and a budget. Then, with the help of an AI algorithm, a gift will be selected, wrapped and sent to your recipient by the date selected. There’s also a social impact aspect: When a user signs up, Joyful.gifts will, via nonprofits they partner with, donate a gift to a child in a developing country.
In theory, you could enter the birthdays and info of every family member and friend you buy gifts for (up to 24 gifts) for the entire year, and for a subscription of about $10 a month, it’s done for you, and you’re billed for the gift, usually coming in below your budget, including gift wrapping and shipping, as the events happen. Two weeks before the event, users receive an email telling them what the gift is, giving you the option to cancel the shipment or ask for a different gift. If you don’t respond, the gift will be sent automatically.
Often the gifts rely on the interests of a certain demographic. Chances are, a 6-year-old girl will be interested in “Frozen,” for example. But it’s found more unusual gifts for recipients with an interest that is just specific enough to curate.
“For example, someone once put in that the recipient was a fan of horror movies,” Adly said. “It came up with a board game with a horror theme that they ended up really liking.”
The machine doesn’t have the final say in the gift selection — at least not yet. AI comes up with a selection of items, and a human curator makes the final selection.
After a short beta, Joyful.gifts launched in November, in time for the winter holidays. (There is still time to use it for Christmas, though time is running out.) With no marketing — or marketing budget — Adly says he is pleased with the double-digit number of users who have found the site through word-of-mouth so far.
As for Coderrific Academy, there are currently no plans for it to reopen as we head into a 2021 that will be more of a slow recovery than a quick return to “normal.” Adly’s pivot goes to show the value of learning to code, and that while coding can’t cure the world of all of its ills, it can help make life a little more convenient.-30-
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