It was 2017. I was on my beat-up, hand-me-down, 6-year-old Macbook messing around with the online code editor for Pyret, a niche coding language my science teacher had shown me in class. She had seen me messing around on one of the school computers earlier in the day and decided to give me something to do. That night I didn’t sleep or eat. I tinkered with the circles and squares I could create with code, perfecting all of the little colors, sizes, and movements. I was in a trance, completely lost in the dance of syntax and logic.

I remember the fist pumps of excitement whenever I fixed errors in my scripts, the smiles that crept onto my face whenever I took a step back and admired my creations, and the sprinting up the stairs to show my parents the latest little character that they could control with arrow keys.

Now, 6 years later, I still code. I’ve made websites, games, chatbots, and every conceivable project that sparked my imagination.

Pyret was my gateway. But it almost wasn’t.

What would have happened if that teacher hadn’t told me about the language? Would I have found this passion of mine? If I had discovered coding later, would I have developed my skills to the same level? I didn’t think so. I realized that there were a lot of kids who didn’t stumble upon these opportunities, who didn’t have that one teacher, that one website. There were a lot of kids, I realized, who lost the passions they didn’t know they had.

That’s exactly what sparked my vision for BayRise in 2021: a way to help kids find the passions they didn’t know they had.

I started small, giving computer science lessons to relatives and starting online workshops for family friends, teaching anyone who would listen. In the November of 2021, my friend, Jasper Humphreys, and I finally got together to start something real, something that would create change on a bigger scale.

I started meeting with other nonprofits and spreading the word about our classes while he focused on budgeting and securing funds. I would manage the computer science classes and oversee the organization, and Jasper would manage the financials and other initiatives.

We started growing, finding people with specialties in different subjects. The first person we found was Kaiden Carr, a Lick-Wilmerding student with a passion for art and architecture. He became our head arts & crafts teacher, helping kids explore their artistic side and giving them room to flourish. We then found Greyson Nichols, an aspiring physicist who wanted to lead physics classes with our program. We kept expanding, finding a lot of others willing to help teach classes while learning more about the subjects along the way.

We all shared one goal: to bring more educational opportunities to kids that might not usually get them.

We started reaching out to places we thought could benefit from our classes. At times, it was hard to partner with other organizations; we were high schoolers, and they had long bureaucratic processes regarding who they could work with. But we kept fighting. Not for ourselves, or against the other organizations, but for the kids. The kids who we knew we could help, whose passions were waiting to be discovered.

Eventually, we partnered with Yu Ming Charter, a middle school in Oakland, teaching after-school classes twice a week, and forming bonds with the kids who were brighter than they knew. We then partnered with Oakland Elizabeth House, a supportive housing nonprofit, to teach weekly classes, and shortly after, with the Boys & Girls Club in San Francisco to do the same thing.

In every case, we saw the kids we worked with flourish. On the arts & crafts side, kids started getting creative with projects, adding accessories to monster plushes, and little gnomes to potted pipe cleaner plants. They always wanted new projects and ways to put their own spins on them, and we were happy to deliver.

With physics, we saw kids who had never been exposed to the subject being able to explain light theory, albeit with relative simplicity, after learning about it in a demo that involved splitting light with a triangular glass prism.

On the computer science side, kids would learn the basic concepts of if statements, for loops, and even HTML syntax, and start creating their own projects, bringing characters to life in their scratch games and creating websites that showcased all of their unique interests.

It took us a while to come up with lesson formats and projects that would work for all kids, especially when our goal was to have something for everyone. We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to learn, regardless of how much they knew or how many opportunities they had in the past. That’s why we opted for a project-based curriculum, where classes usually start with a simple lecture, and then students are able to create their own projects based on the concepts taught. This approach allows us to extend individualized support to each student, ensuring everyone gets the help they need. The advanced students have the freedom to take the concepts and expand on them, letting their curiosity lead the way, while those who are new to the subject can learn at their own pace, applying the concepts to personally chosen projects that resonate with them.

To fund what we’re doing, we set up bake sales every few weeks, fostering a sense of camaraderie while raising money for our cause. We’ve also turned to online platforms such as GoFundMe, setting up campaigns to reach a wider audience and providing a convenient way for supporters to contribute, regardless of where they are.

Through our grassroots approach, we’ve fundraised over $3000, which we’ve used to buy materials for the arts & crafts classes, lab equipment for the physics classes, and laptops for the computer science classes.

With the support of our donors, the cooperation of other nonprofits, and our dedication to our mission, we’ve been able to teach 80 different kids. 80 different kids have learned how to paint using watercolors, have learned how to set up their own websites, or now understand how magnets work. 80 different kids have explored something that they may have never gotten the chance to explore. 80 different kids have been impacted by BayRise.

As I sit down to reflect on our journey, I am filled with immense pride and sense of accomplishment. From its inception as a modest effort to share my love for computer science with close relatives and friends, it has flourished into a multifaceted educational platform reaching out to diverse segments of the community, lighting the spark of curiosity, and fostering a lifelong love for learning.

BayRise's impact has not been confined to a single domain. Through the tireless efforts of our team, we've managed to extend our reach to diverse areas such as art, physics, and of course, computer science. This has allowed children from varied backgrounds and interests to find a platform where they can explore, learn, and grow.

However, the beauty of our journey does not lie solely in the expansion of our programs, but in the transformation we've seen in the children we've worked with. These children, who might have otherwise remained unaware of their hidden talents and passions, are now blossoming into confident individuals, eager to learn and grow. From turning old shirts into stuffed animals to creating their own keyboard-controlled characters or understanding the magic of gravity, these children have been given the tools to explore a world they might not have discovered otherwise.

While this is a testament to our mission at BayRise, it is also a reminder of the power of opportunity and guidance. Each child is a treasure trove of talents waiting to be unlocked, and given the right opportunity, they can surprise us with their capabilities.

And so, as I recount our journey, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly, a renewed determination to continue the work we've begun. We have achieved much, but there is still much more to achieve. As I look ahead, I am reminded of that first night with Pyret, the fascination and the joy I felt as I discovered the world of coding. I am committed to providing the same opportunities for discovery to as many children as possible.

At BayRise, our mission continues. We will persist in our efforts to enlighten, empower, and inspire the young minds in our community, providing them with the opportunities they need to discover their own unique passions, just as I discovered mine. With every child that we impact, we are one step closer to creating a more inclusive, diverse, and passionate world. And that is the vision we strive for, a world where every child has the opportunity to explore, learn, and grow.