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Girls code, talk about social issues at BraveCamp: ‘It’s eye-opening’

Girls talk about coding and more at Brave Initiatives, which is holding five camps for girls this summer, along with monthly workshops on Saturdays — all free of cost. | Amanda Svachula/For the Sun-Times

Conversations at BraveCamp start with questions: “Who are you and what’s your story?”

Srishti Dube, 16, a rising senior at Stevenson High School, was born in India. She said she was bullied for her accent when she moved to Chicago when she was 10.

The aspiring biomedical engineer said she wanted to go to BraveCamp to talk about her own experiences as an immigrant with other girls, as well as learn about technology.

As a student from the northern suburbs, Srishti said that meeting girls from across the city and hearing their stories has been “eye-opening.”

Anu Solola, 15, takes an hourlong train ride to the five-day summer camp, which teaches Chicago high school girls coding skills — with a twist.

They create websites trying to solve Chicago’s social issues. Anu’s group is focusing on health care.

“My mom was having problems with health care and paying,” said Anu, a Southland College Prep Charter High School rising sophomore. “We’re going to find a solution.”

Anna Bethune (left), Emily Harburg and Jen Kamins co-founded Brave Initiatives to increase the number of women going into the tech force. | Brave Initiatives

Three women founded Brave Initiatives in 2015 to increase the number of women, especially women of color, in the tech force by bridging a gap that often starts in high school, co-founder Anna Bethune said.

The organization that has taught over 100 girls basic coding skills through summer camps and monthly workshops — all free of cost — is different from other existing programs, she said.

“Social impact” is at the core of Brave Initiatives’ mission “in one of the most segregated cities in the world,” Bethune said.

“Chicago really offers the unique opportunity to have so many different perspectives at the table,” she said.

Brave Initiatives is holding five camps this summer, one in Jamaica, along with monthly workshops on Saturdays. Most of the girls, ages 12 to 18, come from neighborhoods on the South and West sides, and several come from the northern suburbs. At camp, students learn basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript, along with a focus on social issues, which girls tend to be more interested in, co-founder Emily Harburg said.

“The stereotype is that coding is all about games and sitting in a basement,” she said. “You can use coding to solve important problems in the world. We shape the camp around that relevance.”

Girls have created websites that took on issues with local and national focuses such as civil rights, immigration, body image, pollution and animal rights.

A Chicago Public Schools “Hour of Code” program initially spurred Amy Roldan, 14, to learn more about coding.

The rising freshman at Lane Tech College Prep she likes BraveCamp for its “environment.”

“We’re all just high school girls having fun and learning at the same time,” she said.