2020 was not without its challenges, but we are still proud of all that we accomplished. Read all that happened in 2020 here:
Our main focus for 2020 was the “Future of Work,” creating space to honor young people’s leadership. As we approached Pi515’s goals in 2020, we were driven by the desire to elevate young people to create, design and innovate. We wanted students to build future technology, not just use it. Pi515 was also able to hire 15 high school students and five college students over the course of the year at competitive wages. These students taught to peers, researched, and developed special projects. We are lucky to have so many talented student leaders in our organization.
Checkout what the Pi515 team, volunteers and our founder, Nancy Mwirotsi was up to each month of 2020…
-Worked with Facebook in Altoona for Boost with Facebook: A Nonprofit Training Event.
-Pi515 high school students taught children at the Iowa Kid’s Fest Showcase how to build electrical circuits.
-Pi515 Started a Robotic Process Automation class for high school students
-Pi515 high school students were hired by St. Anthony’s School to start a STEM Club.
-We held our first community STEM CAMP in partnership with Invest in My future- at Central Campus. Pi515 students taught. Attendees learned how to build remote cars and apps. They also explored virtual reality. The keynote address was given by our friend, City of Des Moines Human Rights Director, Joshua V. Barr.
-Three Pi515 female students (Vi, Riziki & Britney) were recognized with the Aspirations in Computing Award presented by The National Center for Women & Information.
-Nancy was also awarded the The National Center for Women & Information Educators Award for the state of Iowa.
-We were recognized by DSM Hack as one of their 2020 Non Profits.
-Our friends and developers, led by our very own Software Engineer, Eric Cheatham helped us rebrand. Thanks to our very own Mohamed Sharif for being one of the youngest developers in the room and to our board member Luke Stadtler for helping us with this project.
With the virus shutting down schools and businesses, the Pi515 team quickly refocused on how best we could help our community, students, and families during this difficult time.
We started by acting quickly to raise over $2,000 to combat hunger. The money was put to use purchasing grocery store gift cards that were distributed to local families in need. We also compiled all of the information from all central Iowa school districts on food assistance and meals for students while schools were closed. We posted various online resources via our Facebook page so students of all ages could continue STEM education at home. Pi515 also assisted students without internet access with resources to get connected for online schooling. We were also safely able to help our friends at the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative in Cedar Rapids clean, prep, and deliver hundreds of face shields to Des Moines hospitals. March was just the beginning of our efforts to support those in need during this global pandemic.
-Pi515 turned six years old!
-We donated all of our 3D printing filament to our friends at Area515 so that they could print more frames for face shields for healthcare workers.
-Our team still met every week via zoom to plan our initiatives.
-Pi515 Alumni started an initiative to serve those in need in the community (especially the elderly) by doing things such as yard work and grocery shopping.
-We hosted a youth laptop drive so students could access classes safely from home.
-Nancy met a pastor who said that his congregation was about 90% unemployed due to the pandemic. The next day, an anonymous donor dropped off $500 worth of gift cards. Nancy was able to pass them all on to the Pastor. Thank you to this anonymous donor for your kindness, generosity, and care. We hope you get to read this one day and know that you made a great impact on a group that desperately needed it.
Due to continued COVID-19 safety concerns, we had to cancel our in-person youth-led Tech Summit and decided to replace it with a Summer Virtual Global Challenge. We recognized that COVID-19 had disrupted our educational continuity and many Pi515 students had difficulties in transitioning to online curriculum. This new reality gave us an opportunity to use technology to enhance our students educational experience while home for the summer. Pi515 attended the Des Moines Foundation Community Circle Conversations to discuss these summer programming plans and the importance of continuing STEM education virtually during the pandemic.
On May 25th, 2020 the news of the death of George Floyd hit Pi515 students and leaders hard. Nancy spent time talking to young people who were hurting and said, “They feel sad, they are seeking to understand why, they are worried that things will never change for their generation. To my young people: you are valuable, I see you, I stand with you, I cry with you. You are worth it. No matter what injustice you face, be it in schools at work, anywhere, still do your best and know that I see you! You are not alone. I stand with you. Cry and feel sad if you must because it is hard. I know how hard it gets. Just don’t give up.”
Nancy started mentoring Jade. High school student who has a prototype that would be patented soon. Here is what Jade said:
The video go's here
-We were so proud, as Pi515 students graduated from high school, some being the first in their family to attend college. We were able to a raise a total of $2,500 in scholarships to award our various graduates who we have watched proudly as they overcame the difficulties of their senior year to move on to bigger and better things.-As we watched and participated in peaceful protests in the name of Black Lives Matter, Pi515 published these words: “The recent events showcasing police violence against black bodies continues to shed a light on the widespread and systemic racism that black people have had to continuously face for 400 years in this country. As an organization that works with underserved youth, many of our students represent the black community in the Des Moines and surrounding area. Some of our black youth come from families that fled civil wars only to come to this country and bear witness to another ugly form of violence. We want to say to our black students, we share your pain and grief during this tragic time. We are here for you. We promise to listen, care for, and work towards a more just world for you.” You can read more on the blog here:
Throughout June, July, and August Pi515 hosted the very first Summer Virtual Global Challenge. This event took place over six weeks and featured virtual lessons, research and homework for local students interested in STEM. The goal of the event was to develop professional and technical skills to enhance students’ understanding of the Future of Technology. We talked about challenges the county and state faced as it related to health, transportation, and agriculture and why it was important for the young generation to be at the forefront of trying to fix some of these issues using technology. The event featured the following guest lecturers:
-Former Iowa Insurance Commissioner and former FBL Financial Group Chief Administrative Officer Nick Gerhart.
-Tej Dhawan, Chief Data Officer at Principal Financial Group and prominent Greater Des Moines (DSM) startup and business innovator.
-Polk County Supervisor, Angela Connolly.
-Kyle Steele, President of SEO Expert, Senior Account Manager at Amur Equipment Finance, and author of the popular “One Minute Wednesday” videos.
-Sophia S. Ahmad, Senior Director at MercyOne Des Moines Foundation.
-Kerty Levy, Manager Director at the Techstars Iowa Accelerator.
-Robert Trebilcock, Senior Manager of Public Affairs at Cox Communications and Senior Regional Officer and Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Bank of the West.
-Casey Thayer, a data Engineer at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
-Abenazer Mekete and Cheick Camara, founders of fello.ai. Two college entrepreneurs solving the problem many students face by creating a community platform that empowers students to bring their ideas to life. (https://www.fello.ai/)
-Blackgen capital, founders Ermias Tadesse and Cheick Camara shared on creating wealth. BlackGen Capital was founded in November, 2019 at Cornell University. Like many other universities, Cornell had a prominent diversity issue, especially within its finance community. Black and Hispanic students in the school’s finance organizations consisted of less than 5% of total membership. The founders realized that underrepresented minorities had disproportionately less access to financial training and lacked the resources needed to navigate their career paths. With the help of an executive team of 7 other Cornell students, they founded BlackGen Capital to develop the next generation of industry professionals and become the first of its kind to provide active money management opportunities and close the access gap. (https://www.blackgencapital.com/)
-Several Pi515 students participated in the Youth Leadership Initiative of Des Moines.
-We entered a new partnership with Facebook to bring exclusive tech curriculum to Iowa. This project was led by Angel Nyaga, first year student at Carnegie Mellon University. Students learned how to design their own chatbot using artificial intelligence principles and create their own game with purpose using block-based coding.
-The Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa featured Nancy in an article about STEM champions. They also announced new Automotive Engineering badges, encouraging girl scouts to pursue engineering.
In August many parts of Iowa were affected by a terrible storm, called a derecho. Parts of Cedar Rapids were severely damaged, and we discovered an apartment complex, full of refugees that were struggling. Their home was literally flattened and they were living outside and in their cars to survive. Nancy shared this news on social media and took a team of people to help. On the first day Pi515, friends (The Welks andWaithanji’s who drove to Cedar Rapids ) and supporters fed 600 people at this apartment complex that was a complete loss. Our friend Courtney Reyes of One Iowa was able to collect and deliver $1455 worth of supplies in about few hours. Aubrey Alvarez of Eat Greater Des Moines, Raised about $3000 and made the trip to Cedar Rapids. Another friend, Eric Engleman dropped off 1000lbs of ice in coolers, while many of you helped get charcoal, diapers, baby wipes, camp chairs, flashlights and much more to the devastated residents. Willie Rays Q Shack, a local business stepped up to help feed the residents the night after we left. On day three, after many phone calls on behalf of the homeless residents, Linn County Supervisor Stacy Walker met with Nancy and the team. Our friend from Channel 5 in Des Moines, Eva Andersen also started accompanying the Pi515 team to Cedar Rapids to get footage and eventually publish a three part news story. On day four Iowa Economic Director, Debbie Durham sent a team to talk with Nancy and assess the damage. The Iowa State foundation led a Fema forms application drive.
Together we led a team from Des Moines, each day with supplies to support those affected by the Derecho. Thank you to each one of you for supporting families in Cedar Rapids.
By then Pi515 had established a partnership with the Intercultural Center of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. Through this partnership we were able to set up an Amazon wish list, where donors could send much needed household items to the center for distribution to families in need. We also created a Go Fund Me account for the Intercultural Center to financially support these families. In the end, thanks to so many generous donors, Many drove to Cedar Rapids with us, some sent support donation via Venmo, over 100 items were purchased from the wishlist and over $9,000 was donated. Special thanks to our friend Kate Hayden for managing the Go Fund Me account and writing this message to donors: “The Aug. 10 derecho storm in Cedar Rapids deeply affected the lives of recently settled African and Haitian refugees and immigrants, who survived for several days outside of their ruined homes with no safe food, shelter, transportation or disaster aid until private citizens in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines learned of their struggles. Through social media, a volunteer force led by Nancy Mwirotsi raised an incredible amount of supplies in a short amount of time to address immediate needs, but we have a long road to walk to help families find safe, permanent housing, transportation and other necessities. By Aug. 20, some individuals still struggled to find emergency shelter. Furniture and clothes will need to be replaced, baby and childcare supplies bought. We ask you to actively give as you are able — all funding goes directly to supplies for families; donations collected are handled by the Intercultural Center of Iowa.”
We want to express our gratitude to every donor and volunteer during this time. You saw a need and met it without hesitation. We even had a community member, Paola James, lead a Zumba class fundraiser for the victims of this tragedy. Thank you to everyone who supported this effort!
-Nancy was a featured speaker at the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI), Summit. She spoke on the topic of “Racial Equality — Walk in My Shoes.”
-Pi515 led a Code Jam fundraiser. What is a Code Jam? The idea is simple: write code and pledge to donate based on your accomplishments. You can improve existing technologies or explore and build new ones all while supporting a great organization! Think of someone donating $5 for every mile they run. But instead we’re fixing bugs, writing documentation or doing other productive IT work. Finally, a chance to catch up on some of that code “you meant to write!” Or maybe, a chance to work on that personal project you’ve been neglecting. Thank you to We Write Code, and Rocket Referrals for being part of CODE jam and supporting our work.
-TeeHee Comedy Club supported Pi515 with their “That’s What She Said” event. This was an all female standup show. Thanks to Onnalee Kelley for organizing the event on our behalf.
-Nancy helped kick off the Casey’s United Way of Central Iowa Virtual with CEO Darren Rebelez. She talked about her passion for equipping young people with opportunities to succeed and why we should do more to groom young people for future work.
-Nancy was the recipient of the $10,000 Nation of Neighbors grant from Royal Neighbors of America. Royal Neighbors of America is a philanthropy program that honors women leaders who are impacting the lives of women and girls. Nancy said, “Having role models who are the same gender as you, who look like you, who came from a similar background as yours, can go a long way in inspiring young girls in leadership, tech and entrepreneurship. The more women and minorities we can launch into STEM fields, the better for society. Diversity of thought through diversity of perspective has been proven to improve bottom lines. As a society, we should strive to create more avenues so that diversity is reflected across all fields, not just technology.” Thank you to Royal Neighbors of America for recognizing Nancy’s positive influence in our community.
In November local philanthropist John Pappajohn contacted Nancy after learning she was the recipient of the Nation of Neighbors grant. She was able to meet Mr. Pappajohn in person and he generously gifted Nancy $100,000 to help expand her . Along with the donation, we were able to develop a partnership with his team and the five John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers throughout Iowa. This allows for Pi515 students to access resources at each location to further their education. The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers strive to, “create a culture that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation and provide the tools necessary for building and improving Iowa’s businesses.” This partnership will help students recognize opportunities, gain skills, and have valuable experiences. We hope to see many Pi515 Alumni with successful businesses in the near future! A huge thank you Mr. Pappajohn for your donation and partnership.
-Nancy gave a speech to Women in Belarus. They had this to say:
Dear Nancy! We are really grateful for your speech! We are extremely lucky that you agreed to participate! I think that it was an incredible closing of the summit. You were very inspiring and we got lots of positive feedback! We had 123 viewers with more than 300 views.
-Hip Hope Inc. invited Pi515 to be part of the Young Men of Color Conference.
-We officially posted a notice that Pi515 is hiring a program manager and interns for 2021!
-To keep with past tradition, we partnered with Polk County Supervisor, Angela Connolly to donate 150 food gift cards to those in need over the holidays. Pi515 youth also helped package food at Zion Lutheran Church for 50 more families in need.
Throughout the year we were lucky to have so many people host individual fundraisers for Pi515 via Facebook or platforms like Go Fund Me. Thank you to each and every one of you. We love these words of one of our longtime supporters, Olivia Ahlrichs, “What makes PI 515 special is that the students become like family to Nancy. She is the face that these students and their families instantly recognize and take comfort in. They don’t feel alone with Nancy in their world. She does everything from teaching STEM to ensuring her female students have access to feminine hygiene products. When she sees a need in the community she is like a bridge- connecting people to opportunities.”
Special thank you to our founder, and fearless leader Nancy Mwirotsi. We love what our Pi515 Alumni, Muhumere (now a Central College Student) has to say about how awesome she is, “Nancy has been so supportive to me and my family since day one stepping in Iowa. Everything we went through, she was our leader and to this day, she is still leading us. But what I’m so proud of today is that she didn’t only lead me and my family, she taught me how to pull off what I put in my mind and now everything that I am and everything that I do, is all because of her love and kindness.”
AT&T, Bank of the West, United Way of Central Iowa, Workiva, John Deere, Kauffman Foundation, Royal Neighbors, Starbucks Foundation, PayPal Foundation, Rocket Referrals, We Write Code, Zion Lutheran Church, State of Iowa, Lutheran Church of Hope, Facebook, Foundation of the Carolinas, Community foundation, Facebook, John Pappajohn and the John Pappajohn Centers.
2021 has already started with a bang. We are in the midst of so many exciting opportunities for Pi515 and our students this year we hope to focus on the vision of helping students succeed with opportunity. We’re building a community to empower underserved youth with skills for the future. Our Mission is to challenge, inspire and teach technology skills to students with potential — empowering refugee and underserved youth to achieve success, garner influence and gain stability in their families and communities.This year we hope to:
-Serve 100 students in the Des Moines Metro and Surrounding areas (helping at least 25 to graduate high school and pursue secondary education).
-Continue the apprenticeship program with at least 15 graduates.
-Secure $400,000 operating budget by fundraising, creating partnerships, and implementing other revenue streams.
-Hire three additional team members
-Re evaluate our curriculum package.
-Recruit, train, engage and retain our awesome volunteers.
Please consider supporting our mission and helps us close the digital gap.
Pi515's "Day of Innovation" taught six important lessons: passion fuels entrepreneurship, leaving the echo chamber is necessary, great mentorship is key, diversity drives innovation, youth notice problems and the future is bright.
Together, we must create a more equitable and safe community for all children.
Jade Nettrour is a senior in high school and has already designed an early prototype of new Christmas tree lights to make the annual decorating process easier — and more cat-friendly — for her family and their five felines. Nettrour’s demonstration earned her second place in a student “Shark Tank” pitch competition in 2020, and she’s now exploring patent options.