MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — When Karen Williams signed up her adopted 11-year-old son for a weeklong coding camp last summer, she cautiously warned the organizers.

"I told them, 'It might go good, or it could go really bad,'" said Williams to Spectrum News. "He comes from a broken home and has experienced a lot of trauma."

The organizers reassured her that they would take care of Wesley.

"Let's give it a try," they said.

What You Need To Know

  • Jack Segil, a 16-year-old junior at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, founded the nonprofit Code to Grow in 2022

  • Segil created Code to Grow with the mission of helping underprivileged children ages nine to 14 who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to learn coding

  • The tuition at PlanetBravo, a technology education company that provides summer STEM camps, is about $550 a week

  • He's now accepting applications for the next cohort for this summer's coding camp

Williams' adopted son was part of Code to Grow Foundation's coding program, which introduced disadvantaged children and teens to the world of computer coding.

Jack Segil, a 16-year-old junior at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, founded the nonprofit in 2022.

"I had this feeling that I wanted to help the world," said Segil. "I wanted to be a positive change in the world."

Segil fell in love with coding at an early age and has been fortunate to have access to resources that allowed him to become proficient in the subject. 

"I've always loved coding," said Segil. "I am a problem solver. I am genuinely passionate about it and have been fortunate that I've had so many opportunities to pursue it. I've had tutors, gone to camps and met others like me."

But he recalls that one day in class, he looked around and recognized that something was absent.

"You look around the room, and all of the kids are like me, privileged," said Segil, adding that many of his classmates live around the beach and use an e-bike to class. "There are so many others that are limited financially and accessibility. I wanted to help those who don't have the same opportunities. Everyone should have that opportunity."

So, he took his love for coding and yearning to make a difference and put two and two together. 

"I love coding, and I also want to make a change in the world. I said, 'What if I introduced more people to this passion and expanded on it?'" he said. "That's when I realized going to a coding camp is expensive."

The tuition at PlanetBravo, a technology education company that provides summer STEM camps, is about $550 a week. Segil has attended the summer camp for nine years, since he was a third grader.

With the help of his father, Segil created a nonprofit, Code to Grow, with the mission of helping underprivileged children ages nine to 14 who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to learn coding.

Segil reached out to different nonprofit and for-profit organizations about his mission.

Since starting in 2022, he has raised more than $200,000 to send kids to the same coding camp, Planet Bravo, that he attended for years.

In 2022, when he raised an initial $15,000 from family and friends, he was able to send four kids to coding camp.

In 2023, he sent six.

Last year, FirstMedia gave $150,000 to the cause. Segil other donations from the Jewish Community Foundation and various individual donations and corporate matching programs.

With the hundreds of thousands he has raised, he said he's looking to bring in 40 kids from across Los Angeles County.

He's now accepting applications for the next cohort for this summer's coding camp.

"I want to build them up in life," he said.

Segil said he understood that many of these kids don't have the opportunity to attend these types of summer camps because of transportation. 

He has partnered with ridesharing company HopSkipDrive to transport children to and from class. Lunch is also covered.

Additionally, for those who can't make it to class or want to further their education, he created a coding curriculum that kids can learn at home. 

James Segil, a corporate vice president at Motorola, said he's proud of his son. 

"Tzedakah," said James of the Hebrew. "It is the moral obligation we all have to help those less fortunate. It is a foundational part of Judaism. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due." 

PlanetBravo Founder and Academic Director Danny Pezzotta said Jack's mission is long overdue.

"We've been running this business for over 20 years, and it's an expensive operation," said Pezotta to Spectrum News. "Despite our scholarship program, we just can't reach the communities with underserved populations to apply and then make the daily trip to where our camps are held."

Pezzotta said Jack's Code to Grow program aims to equip the students with technology and even give them rides and meals at the camp. 

"He's eliminating the barriers that are usually in place," he said.

Pezzotta said minorities have historically been shut out of computers and coding because of lack of access, especially in public schools. Computer Science classes, he stated, are either not taught or are a requirement in most public junior and high schools. 

"It takes forward-thinking administration to start the search for qualified teachers, and then that becomes the next almost impossible hurdle," he said. "Most of the capable coders out there already have coding jobs and aren't typically looking for inner city computer science teaching roles."

"If the students of any background were to attend well-funded schools that can attract coders to teach, we wouldn't have the same disparity," he added.

For Karen Williams, the grandmother who sent her adopted grandson, Wesley, to coding camp last summer through Code to Grow, she saw an immediate positive impact. 

"He has never had a positive experience in any camps that he's ever participated in," said Williams of her grandson Wesley. "That was the most positive experience he's ever had. He wanted to go back the second week. He felt comfortable and like he was part of something."

The 11-year-old Wesley attended the camp with his 13-year-old brother, Journee, who Karen said also was "not into school." 

"He's more of a sports-minded person," she said of Journee. "After the first couple of days [at coding camp], he met new friends. It increased his level of confidence. It ignited part of his creativity that we had never experienced before."

Williams, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, said not many Blacks and minorities are exposed to these types of careers. 

They face several barriers, from lack of exposure, accessibility, and financial to mental blocks, she said. 

"Some of them don't believe they could learn coding or computer science," she said. "It's not because they are not smart. They just haven't been exposed and taught."

She hopes her grandsons can participate in the program again. 

"They want to go back and we like it for them," she said. "I'm not sure if they can go back. But this is a great opportunity for them. Considering that they are motivated, it's not some dream or unrealistic. It's not out of reach. They can make a career out of this."