Kids as young as 4 are learning to code in the back of a laundromat. And they love it.

This laundromat offers a whole lot more than clean clothes.

In Charleston, South Carolina, kids are learning code in the back of a laundromat.

In March 2016, the Charleston Women in Tech group, a nonprofit that supports women who are building their careers in the tech industry, started a program called CodeOn. The program's goal is to offer coding classes to kids who weren't being exposed to it at school or in their neighborhoods.

All images via Charleston Women in Tech, used with permission.


They were determined to give kids in the area the chance to learn a new skill without having to leave their community but didn't want to hold the classes at school because they thought it might be hard to get kids to commit to spending their evenings there. So when they learned about Laundry Matters — a laundromat that doubles as a community center, it seemed like a great fit. The two groups joined forces.

Their plan worked. The program kicked off on March 2, and kids ages 4 to 17 showed up, ready to learn how to code.

The laundromat where it all started.

CodeOn’s goal? To make coding accessible. And to show kids that in tech, there are opportunities.

Each week, the kids get together and work on their coding skills with their mentors, volunteers who work in various roles within the tech industry. They're given the chance to explore code — and through code, to see what they are capable of.

"The awesome thing about coding is that, if you just have a laptop and internet access, you can literally create a billion dollar company on your own," Carolyn Finch, the executive director of Charleston’s Women in Tech points out.  

Kids gathered into the back room at the laundromat, ready to learn.

"If you’re a kid living in an area in which college may or may not be on your radar, it’s something that you don’t need to have a college degree for ... it’s like a trade ... if you’re a rockstar in cybersecurity and you’re 16, you’re going to get hired by Microsoft," Finch explains.

The jobs are there. There’s an ever-increasing demand for technologists. And unlike other industries, the only barriers to entry are a computer, internet access, and a desire to learn. No college degree or even high school degree are required.

As accessible as technology can be, there are a lot of kids who don’t see a career in tech as a something that’s within their reach.

One girl tackles coding challenges with her mentor.

"There’s so many kids out there, especially from diverse backgrounds, and women and girls who may never even think they have the ability to go into tech," says Finch. "They’re never even shown that’s a possibility."

And they don’t expect every kid to love coding, but Finch says, "If they don’t like it, that’s fine. But at least they’ll have had the opportunity to try."

A young boy works on his coding skills with a mentor.

The program so far has been a hit. So many kids show up each week that they’ve outgrown the laundromat and are moving into a larger space down the street.

And in addition to gaining valuable career skills, the kids are using this as an opportunity to give back to their community.

A grocery store shut down in the neighborhood, leaving a lot of residents in a tight spot, uncertain about where to get the medications that they need. So the older kids in the program are working on building an app to address the need. The app will be a step-by-step guide to help these residents find the prescriptions they need online through trusted resources.

So focused!

"The goal is to have them work on apps that can help their community too, so that they can actually build something that they can see a tangible effect from," Finch explains. As their app comes to life, the kids are excited, and so is the rest of the community.

CodeOn has helped open the door for these kids and their families.

They’ve given the kids a skill and the knowledge that there’s an avenue out there for them. And they’ve shown them that their hard work can positively impact the people in their own communities. Coding doesn't have to be something that other people do. It's right there, at their own fingertips.

Badges of honor on their journey to mastering code.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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