Charleston Women in Tech brings coding classes to the East Side

Charleston Women in Tech put on an Hour of Code at Laundry Matters in late 2015.

Charleston Women in Tech has a new project, and it’s geared toward education.

The group is launching CodeON, also known as Coding for Our Neighborhoods. It’s a free program that is taking computer science to those less fortunate. On March 2, the group will bring in computers and teachers to Laundry Matters, a laundromat and community center on the East Side’s Reid Street.

Carolyn Finch, executive director of Charleston Women in Tech said CodeON is a “community effort to provide Internet access, computers and other computer science resources in the form of inspiration and great leaders in the tech industry to teach, mentor these young students who wouldn’t typically have access to computers and Internet at home or at school.”

“It sounds great in theory to set up an awesome code shop here, which eventually we could do,” she said. But there’s a downside.

“We’re not going to be able to access the students that we want to access,” she said.

The “logistics” around starting an operation in a place like King Street wouldn’t work, she said.

“We wouldn’t penetrate the audience that we’re looking to help,” Finch said.

Charleston Women in Tech plans for the sessions to be weekly, and might expand the program to other locations in the area. Local technology firms are also involved. PeopleMatter, a software firm on King Street, is providing the computers. BoomTown, another software firm based based on Rutledge Avenue, is providing the Wi-Fi. Students at The Citadel will teach the classes.

“Laundry Matters has worked very hard to create that trusting relationship with these kids and the neighbors in that area, and they’ve been gracious enough to let us come ... bring our resources to them,” said Nina Magnesson, BoomTown community relationship manager and member of the leadership committee of Charleston Women in Tech.

Laundry Matters has already become somewhat of a haven for the East Side. It is “a community center of sorts” said Samantha Sammis, executive director of the laundromat, which is under the nonprofit Loving America Street. It serves hot chocolate in the mornings, provides books and also holds Bible study, she said. Now, it’ll offer computer science.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity to provide jobs,” Sammis said. “Coding is obviously a very unique skill, very marketable skill.”

Charleston Women in Tech tried something similar in December when it held an Hour of Code, part of an international initiative where kids are taught how to code during Computer Science Education Week.

“We had a really good turnout of kids,” Sammis said. “All the kids really, really loved it.”

Sammis did bring up one obstacle kids might face.

“A lot of the kids especially, they don’t have laptops or Internet in their homes,” she said. “We’ll see how that kind of goes.”

But for this program, Charleston Women in Tech plans to leave the laptops at the community center for people to use.

“So much of our socioeconomic prosperity’s still not, there’s still barriers ... disparities rather,” BoomTown’s Magnesson said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could come together over computer science?”

Reach Allison Prang at 843-937-5705 or follow her on Twitter @AllisonPrang.