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Coding Hope

Student Doug Sewell and instructor Phil Dodds in a software coding class.Student Doug Sewell and instructor Phil Dodds in a software coding class.

A Charlotte community organizer is teaming up with the Knight School of Communication, a technology developer, a prison, and churches in four cities to change the future for 450 children in North and South Carolina.

Every child has a story, says Cyril Prabhu, and a community can shift the path of that story toward hope. Prabhu founded a philanthropic organization called Proverbs226 with the mission of developing children whose parents are in prison into college graduates. In his day job, Prabhu is a senior vice president at Bank of America. He says he could not enjoy the life he now leads without the intervention of strangers.

"Forty years ago in India, many people came together to help me when I didn't have a father around," Prabhu says. "Today I want to do that for someone else."

The organization is starting with the children of 230 inmates in the Kershaw Correctional Institution in South Carolina, and creating a network of individuals from churches and other community organizations who can educate, mentor and guide their development. The group connects children in Charlotte, Charleston, Columbia and Greenville with mentors, creates high expectations of academic performance, ensures that inmates can provide school supplies for them, and offers educational enrichment programs.

That's where Philip Dodds and the Knight School come in.

Dodds is the founder of Dataset.io, a Charlotte-based information technology firm. Dodds believes coding now touches everyone's lives, that it improves employment prospects enormously, and that nearly anyone can now get started in software development. The availability of free software tools, free cloud-based storage and servers, and inexpensive hardware mean that the cost of entry is extremely low.

"We've taken kids as young as 10 or 11 and taught them to build websites," Dodds says. "If you're running a small business, or a school group or a church organization, or if you're a department manager in a company, learning coding enables you to build the tools you need. Even executives benefit from learning to code. They can't make informed decisions about funding projects if they don't understand the development process."

To develop a cadre of trainers who can teach kids in Proverbs226, Dodds is leading a course in agile software development for Knight School students. After students complete the course, they'll lead weekly coding sessions in a summer educational development program. Mentors will also use Khan Academy video tutorials to improve mathematics education for the children.

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