You might not think a computer programming camp would be an appealing prospect for a group of kids in the summer.

But the energy and excitement was palpable on Friday as a dozen youngsters sat down at their laptops.

Soft Landing Missoula, a nonprofit that works with the local refugee and immigrant community to provide support, opportunities and programs to families once they arrive, has been hosting a coding club every week this summer.

Sipping on Capri Sun juice drinks and eating granola bars, the kids immerse themselves in Python, a computer coding language used all over the world.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest from the kids who are coming every week,” explained Carly Graf, Soft Landing Missoula’s communications and outreach manager. “And we think it’s provided a great opportunity for people to have a creative outlet while also learning new skills that could possibly be useful for them moving forward or open their eyes to possible career paths.”

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Michael Williams, a local software developer, has been donating his time and expertise to teaching the kids the basics of how to write computer code. Other Soft Landing staff members and community volunteers show up every week to help out, too.

The kids learn different functions in order to get the software to draw shapes and pictures, and they’ve also gotten social media training and basic internet literacy classes.

“I wanted to volunteer because I love coding and I love kids,” Williams explained. “I also volunteer with youth groups around town.”

His goal is to get the kids excited about something and it appears he’s succeeded. On Friday, the children were focused on their screens and excitedly pointing things out to each other as they learned new techniques.

“It’s just the perfect opportunity to hang out with kids and teach them,” Williams said.

Coders and software developers make good money in the modern economy, Williams said. So the kids will have a head start on a great career choice.

The children have settled in Missoula after leaving countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The class is voluntary, and Graf said they’ve had good numbers every week.

Shabir, 13, said he likes the class because he likes to play computer games at home.

“I really like the class,” he said. “I play computer games all the time.”

He wants to work as a computer programmer and/or a carpenter when he’s older, he said.

“I don’t want to work outside,” he said, grinning.

Ratisha, 10, said coding is a little difficult but she’s enjoying the class. However, she’s in no rush to say whether she’ll consider it as a career choice in the future.

Graf said Soft Landing Missoula has a wide variety of offerings in order to ensure everyone finds something they like. Some kids really take to running and biking, for example, while others show a keen interest in learning to use social media responsibly.

Lydia Downs-Williams, an AmeriCorps member in Missoula, is actually the person responsible for organizing the coding club in the first place. 

“I was coming in and chatting with some of the staff members here and they said they wanted to start a coding club, but they didn’t have a person who had the means to do that,” she said. “And so Mike …….


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