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Grant

Year of the Code Program Gets $50,000 Boost From Libro Fund

By Christian Aagaard

Waterloo - There weren’t a lot of women in tech 30 years ago when Marty McFly roared through time in a souped-up DeLorean. Things have changed for the better in that regard; but there is still plenty of room for improvement. So Stephanie Rozek was all smiles Oct. 21 — Back to the Future Day — as she received a $50,000 grant for HackerGrrlz, a program under the wing of Year of Code Waterloo Region (YoCWR).

The grant moves the needle in the right direction.

HackerGrrlz will connect young women, who are in tech-related studies or early-stage tech careers, with girls in elementary school, to teach them some of the skills behind the technology that runs our lives.
“If we can get the women working with these young girls, it gives them a sense of belonging and leadership,” said Rozek, YoCWR’s project director.

And that may help reduce the number of women exiting STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) in the first third of their working years. The reasons for leaving vary, from pay gaps with male colleagues to lack of mentorships, but the shift is pronounced.

One study pegged the departure rate at 50 per cent after 12 years.

The grant for HackerGrrlz came from the Libro Credit Union Prosperity Fund, which split $500,000 this year among 31 projects in southwestern Ontario. YoCWR and Libro celebrated with pie as a symbol of prosperity, shared and enjoyed.

“The idea is to grow prosperity in the region, and part of that is the grant program to support money smarts, economic development and youth leadership,’’ said Steve Bolton, Libro president and chief executive officer.

St. Paul’s University College on the University of Waterloo campus received $47,000 to enhance youth-led social entrepreneurship in Waterloo Region. Projects supported by the Prosperity Fund this year range from a new training facility for a gymnastics club in Blenheim, to a Stratford program that arranges co-op placements in the construction industry for unskilled youth.

Local branch councils of Libro customers — owners, as the credit union calls them — review applications and recommend grants.

YoCWR wants to increase digital literacy in Waterloo Region, improve access to technology and education for groups who face barriers to entry in tech careers and raise the region’s profile as a global tech centre. The year-long campaign encourages people to try coding as a means of understanding our increasingly digital world.

In June, YoCWR became associated with Capacity Canada, under Capacity’s educational mandate.
YoCWR “fits exactly into what we are trying to do in the non-profit sector,’’ said Cathy Brothers, Capacity’s chief executive officer, adding that new technology presents opportunities for non-profits. “We’re learning a lot from Stephanie.”

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