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Turning Good into Greater Good

St. Louis BWorks – Byte Works is built on the idea that everyone deserves the chance to pursue their dreams. The program is dedicated to helping vulnerable children between 8 and 17 years old improve their computer literacy.  Read more about the organization in the profile below. 

Access to a computer isn’t technically a necessity.Young boy at computer screen in classroom.

But in a country where homework assignments, job applications, and insurance forms are all handled online, living without one makes life undeniably more challenging.

Youth from under-served communities are most impacted as their access to libraries, computer centers and other resources are limited.

If their parents can’t afford to have a computer in the home, but their teachers assign work that can only be completed online, they have few options.

That’s where Byte Works comes in.

Byte Works, a 2019-2020 grantee of the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, gives kids the chance to earn a complete computer system while they complete a six-week course covering a wide range of topics, including internet safety, word processing and even programming.

Kids at computer tables in classroom.“Having technology in the home is huge, especially in 2019,” said Patrick Van Der Tuin, executive director of St. Louis BWorks. “It’s pretty much impossible to live day to day without access to technology in the home. It gives you an idea of where some of the families are coming from.”

Byte Works is part of St. Louis BWorks, which also operates Bicycle Works and Blog Works.

Over several years, staff developed the year-round program, which provides the students with five days of training in software and one day of training in hardware. ”We’d been running the bike program for a long time and in 1996 the kids asked for the computer program,” Van Der Tuin said.

“Then after the classes the kids walk out with a computer system,” Van Der Tuin said. “They get to take it home. The younger kids get desktop machines and the older kids get laptops when we have them available.”

In just six weeks, the Byte Works instructors give the students tutorials in software, including an MIT program called Scratch. They do basic programming and learn a free version of Microsoft Office.

Each student builds out a presentation and shares it with the class on the sixth day, Van Der Tuin said.

“Hardware is more of about what’s inside the computer,” Van Der Tuin said. “What’s a hard drive or what’s RAM. We walk them through the basic components that make up the computer.”

Byte Works is based in Soulard, but they also operate several offsite locations.

Boys and girls sitting in front of computers.

It doesn’t take much effort to fill up a class – the word spreads fast. ”We partner with other nonprofits to bring these programs into different communities and neighborhood,” Van Der Tuin said. “We target low income neighborhoods but we don’t block anyone from attending our classes.”

“We primarily are word of mouth advertising,” Van Der Tuin said. “The kids actually do the advertising for us. They go through the class, and they’ll invite us to come to a group in their neighborhood.”

The classes are free, except for a $25 holding fee for classes at the Soulard location that is returned once a student completes the six classes.

In 2019 alone, Byte Works helped 300 kids aged 8 to 17 learn basic software and hardware skills and sent them home with computers of their own.

With help from SOS, Byte Works was able to help pay for staff – a key need for the expansion of classes.

“The big thing is that’s helping us pay for our teachers,” Van Der Tuin said. “The volunteers are amazing, and we have a number of them, but when we can get funding that can help directly pay salaries, we drastically increase the number of students that we can work with because our paid teachers can go out into the community.

Right now, Byte Works has three paid teachers and 20 volunteer teachers, and hopes to expand to more staff and more volunteers.

“We’re always in need of computers,” Van Der Tuin added. “We really like corporate donations because we can get multiples of the same machine. We’ll also take an older machine that someone isn’t using.”

Many of the former students come by to visit, and some have gone on to college.

“This time of year is always fun because we routinely around the holidays get drop ins from students that we taught 15 years ago,” Van Der Tuin said. “I have a couple who come by and it’s great to see, 17 years later, where some of these kids have gone.”

*Profile developed and written by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative. Photos via Byte Works. 

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