Coding, Building Robots: LA Youth Center Helps Kids Access Tech

Every day, more than a hundred students make the short trek from Virgil Middle School to the Bresee Youth Center.

It's an after school haven for homework help and sports, but also the arts and technology.

"I always knew I wanted to work with the community and help out kids," said Luis Alarcon, who's now a junior at Cal State LA.

He first started working at Bresee as a high school intern, and now comes every day after his college classes to teach in the tech center.

"They love the robots, because they are tiny and they get to see it actualized, so they're not just sitting in front of a computer," Luis said. "But the main goal is to teach these students how to use java scripts; java scripts is one of the main programming languages."

"The beauty of the Tech Center is it's not all structured classes, although those are very important and we have a lot of groups that come from the outside like the Grammy Foundation and the Best Buy Geek Squad and Girls Who Code to instruct our young people," said Seth Eklund, Executive Director of the Bresee Foundation. "But it's also important to give kids that freedom, and the equipment, and the space and the time to become creative and complete projects."

High school interns are trained on the cameras and editing equipment, and then they instruct the middle-schoolers who create their own projects.

"There's a thing about teaching something to students, you really understand it once you're able to teach it and they're able to understand it," says Jacqueline Arana who's now an intern at Bresee. "It's likely a completely different level, so that totally helped learning myself."

Arana first learned about Bresee at middle school orientation.

"My mom wanted me to do cheer or dance, and I was like, that is not me," Arana said. "She was like, 'What about Bresee? They offer homework help and other workshops.'"

It was a perfect fit-- Arana discovered her passion for film making, and now as a high school student, she's tutoring kids and helping in the tech center.

"It's very nice to see them play around with everything and kind of find what they love," she said. "And just like I did, continue to learn and want to learn, and continue coming back for that."

"I think what Jackie embodies is the vision for a place like Bresee," Eklund said. "She is now taking the skills that were given to her, and she's giving that to this next generation of middle school students."

Six forward-thinking nonprofits are getting $225,000 in grants from NBC4 and the NBC Universal to support technology programs, and one of the recipients is the Bresee Foundation: an after school teen tech program designed for kids age 11 to 18 who might not otherwise have access to tech tools. The NBC Project Innovation Grant will enable them to expand the program to even more teens. Learn more about Bresee here

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