(Photo by David Ziegler for Technical.ly Philly)
As he describes the first case — a 16-year-old girl who learned how to code (and now makes $20 an hour teaching other teenagers to code as well) — Mobley’s voice swells over the phone line.
“The kids kept calling her ‘Miss’ because thy didn’t realize she was a teenager,” Mobley explains. “And this is a kid that under most circumstances would not have access to this opportunity.”
For the second act in the former Army veteran’s pitch on why the Philly-based nonprofit — founded in 2013 — has a worthy footprint: the coveted family-member involvement.
“We had these two brothers who came to Saturday camp,” Mobley said. “They had a lot of issues going on in the household and were being raised by their uncle and grandparents because mom and dad weren’t in the picture.”
One day, as he’s headed into class, he was stopped by the uncle.
“He wanted to thank me because how much this program meant to the kids,” he said. “To be able to give something back to these kids that, through no fault of their own, have had a difficult life is a very powerful thing.”
On Sept. 30, the organization arrives at the third-year mark of offering tech education, tech industry exposure and career mentorship to children in challenging circumstances. To celebrate, they’re throwing a lil birthday bash where they will be announcing some plans for future growth.
But beyond the cake and balloons, what has the organization learned from teaching code to over 100 kids a week? Ever since that first Coded by Kids student at the Marian Anderson rec center, how has the mission changed and where is it headed?
In the program’s early days, offering weekly classes instead of monthlies didn’t seem like such a challenging task. But as Mobley quickly learned: everything changes when you offer that level of commitment.
“You are basically starting a school,” he said. “You now have to have the staff and infrastructure. Even insurance companies look at you different.”
What kept the founder going was being able to offer a different reality for kids who saw inconsistencies in every other aspect of their lives: like unstable homes or absent parents.
“If we run a four-week workshop and our kids don’t see us again for a month, we have just become just as inconsistent as everything else in their lives.”
If prompted for specific lessons from the nonprofit’s three-year run, Mobley again has not one, nor two, but three examples to offer:
1. Build relationships.
- Coding, at times, takes a backseat during the lessons at Coded by Kids. Like that time kids spent weeks discussing high schools and education itself. “We build relationships, and talk about things that makes kids happy to come.”
Not all kids will become coders, but all kids should have the opportunity
— Sylvester Mobley (@sylvestermobley) April 22, 2016
2. Think scale.
No, it’s not just worthy advice for your average tech startup. Creating a framework and a structure that meets the needs but is also scaleable can be a challenge from day one. And Mobley admits it’s a challenge even at year three. But it has to be part of the discussion.
3. Focus on connecting.
“Nine times out of ten, volunteers and kids come from very different spaces,” said Mobley. “And that’s OK, beacuse it gives the volunteer an ability to relate to someone that they wouldn’t otherwise have that possibility.” And though that connection may be challenging, for Mobley, it’s always worth it at the end of the day.-30-
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