Katherine McPhie and Milan Narula co-founded Open Sesame Coding for Kids to teach computer programming skills to children in homeless and domestic violence shelters. The two friends first joined forces in 2017 while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Convinced that kids living there could use coding skills to move past poverty, they piloted A Month of Code for children at a domestic violence shelter. Unsure of how it would go, they were thrilled to find students completely engaged. Since Milan has a passion for teaching and Katherine loves coding the two are an ideal pair, and building on that first success, they organized classes at several other shelters.

Open Sesame volunteers are now leading Friday night and Saturday morning coding sessions at nine shelters across six cities. They have recruited more than 120 high school and college students to work one-on-one with marginalized children in kindergarten through eighth grade. So far, they have helped more than 100 children learn computer skills and coding, many for the first time. The girls have written grants to raise nearly $30,000 to purchase Chromebooks and other materials.

Open Sesame’s name stems from the Arabian Nights folktale, in which Ali Baba’s brother is trapped and dies in a cave because he doesn’t know the secret code that would have freed him. Katherine and Milan want to empower all children with the code of computing as a way to open doors to opportunity.

Katherine and Milan are 2019 Barron Prize winners.

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IYH Behind the Scenes

Katherine and Milan were the first duo we filmed. We had a great time in Irvine recording their story!