Cyril Prabhu is leading a Charlotte-based initiative to help children whose parents are in prison. Image by Maggie Shiflett.

Coding new hope for inmates’ kids

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A Charlotte community organizer is teaming up with a technology developer, a university, 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 comes 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 students in the Knight School of Communications at Queens. After students complete the course, they’ll lead weekly coding sessions in a summer educational development program. Mentors are also using Khan Academy video tutorials to improve mathematics education for the children.

Prabhu is optimistic about the future. He says 2.3 million people are in prison in the United States, and 63 percent are men who are also fathers. Proverbs226 is designed to make a small, local start toward preventing their children from following in their path.

Bob Page is editor of Digital Charlotte. Image by Maggie Shiflett. Video production by Chelsea Ellsworth.

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