You might not think that a computer programming camp would be an attractive prospect for a group of kids in the summer.
But the energy and excitement was palpable on Friday as a dozen young people sat down in front of their laptops.
Soft Landing Missoula, a nonprofit that works with the local refugee and immigrant community to provide support, opportunities, and programs for families once they arrive, hosted a weekly coding club this summer.
Sipping Capri Sun juices and eating granola bars, kids immerse themselves in Python, a computer coding language used around the world.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest from the children who come each week,” said Carly Graf, communications and outreach manager for Soft Landing Missoula. “And we think it’s provided a great opportunity for people to have a creative outlet while learning new skills that could potentially help them move forward or open their eyes to possible career paths.”
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Michael Williams, a local software developer, donated his time and expertise to teach children the basics of writing computer code. Other Soft Landing staff and community volunteers also show up weekly to help.
The children learn different functions in order to obtain the software to draw shapes and pictures, and they also received social media training and basic courses on the Internet.
“I wanted to volunteer because I love coding and I love kids,” Williams explained. “I also volunteer with youth groups around town.”
His goal is to get the kids excited about something and it looks like he succeeded. On Friday, the children were focused on their screens and excitedly showing off while learning new techniques.
“It’s just the perfect opportunity to hang out with kids and teach them,” Williams said.
Coders and software developers make a lot of money in the modern economy, Williams said. Thus, the children will have a head start on an excellent career choice.
The children settled in Missoula after leaving countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The class is voluntary and Graf said they have good numbers every week.
Shabir, 13, said he liked the course because he liked playing computer games at home.
“I really like the class,” he said. “I play video games all the time.”
He wants to work as a computer programmer and/or carpenter when he’s older, he said.
“I don’t want to work outside,” he said, smiling.
Ratisha, 10, said the coding is a bit difficult but she is enjoying the course. However, she is in no rush to say whether she will consider this a career choice in the future.
Graf said Soft Landing Missoula has a wide variety of offerings to ensure everyone finds something they like. Some kids really enjoy running and biking, for example, while others show a keen interest in learning how to use social media responsibly.
Lydia Downs-Williams, an AmeriCorps member in Missoula, is actually the person responsible for organizing the coding club in the first place.
“I was walking in and talking to some staff here and they said they wanted to start a coding club, but they didn’t have anyone who could afford it,” she said. “And so Mike here is a volunteer and I was able to reach out to him and ask if he wanted to help and teach kids.”
Downs-Williams said she was amazed at how much the children enjoyed the class. In fact, the whole class exists because the young people demanded it.
“Amazingly, it was something the kids had asked for the year before,” she said. “So we got a lot of interest that way.”