Bridgette Wallace and Carolle Nau have plans for an old Victorian on Hutchings Street in Roxbury. While other homes in the area have been turned into condos, the two entrepreneurs envision a place where young women of color can live and learn to code.
They call it the G|Code House.
The goal is to chip away at the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) gender gap with a two-year pilot program that includes nine months of classes and training, a six-month internship, followed by another nine months of specialty training while participants live in the house.
“It’s a safe space for young women,” Wallace said. “We’ll hold meet-ups and networking events and just create a nurturing environment for young women to pursue a career in tech, and have those opportunities and make those connections with other women who are already in the field.”
Nau, creative director and co-founder of the project, who has a background in product development, grew up down the street from the house. The daughter of Haitian immigrants who came to Boston and became landlords, her family has been in the area for 60 years.
Wallace, an urban planner and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in Hyde Park. In a kind of kismet, Wallace had friends who were once tenants in the house on Hutchings Street.
“Carolle and I — the connection started at a community meeting,” Wallace said recently. “We were concerned about the same issues: inclusion, gentrification, young women, barriers to opportunities they face.”
A couple of years ago the house at 43 Hutchings St. was part of a bundle of properties swept up by developers and then put up for sale, Wallace said. One night, the two women stood in front of the house and discussed their vision. They pictured a community of young women of color, 18 to 25, living, studying, and cultivating technology skills.
The curriculum starts with the basics.
“HTML, CSS Java Script,” Nau said. “Which are the technologies that give you that animation and moveability. It’s just really important that you have a strong foundation around coding because that’s going to inform everything you do in life whether you continue to stay on this career path or not.”
Nau remembers struggling through programming languages as a college student. She felt she didn’t have the aptitude to pursue it but realized later she simply lacked support.
“When you come across something that’s difficult and you’re getting the support so you can work through to get that break-through, that’s when you start to build the confidence and competencies that you need to continue on that path,” Nau said. “I didn’t have that, but looking back from today I wish I did because that’s a path I would’ve stayed on.”
Pooling their resources, Nau and Wallace made an offer, purchased the home, fought in court for months to keep it from falling back into the hands of the bank and developers, and are now partnering with local businesses to move forward with the renovation. This means adding an elevator, knocking wall downs, renovating the kitchen, turning the basement into a media lab, and converting it into a single-family home over the next 18 months.
“We’re committed,” Wallace said. “Committed to this area, committed to seeing it grow.”
In the project’s preliminary phases, Wallace and Nau has been working with global design firm Sasaki, which offered its services pro bono.
“We started out with this as our own personal pro bono project,” said Christine Dunn, principal at Sasaki and a senior design architect. “We had some volunteers from the office who came in and helped us measure the whole house and then we built a three-dimensional model of the house in our office.”
The G|Code House, according to the organizers, pays homage to settlement houses of old, particularly one famous site founded in 1899 called the White Rose Mission in New York City. Founded by Victoria Earle Matthews, a former slave, journalist, and social worker, the mission supported hundreds of African-American women who had migrated from the South by offering training in cooking and sewing.
Wallace and Nau have spoken with a representative from the Rockefeller Foundation, who contacted them about supporting the project, and with Suffolk Construction.
They’ve met with residents in the community and plan to recruit applicants from Boston Public Schools, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Who Code, and other organizations. They’ve already interviewed three young women for the program.
Nau and Wallace have estimated the need for a capital investment of $3.5 million and an annual operating expense of $350,000.
“There’s a lot of pressures a community faces once a neighborhood is deemed valuable,” Wallace said. “Once the land underneath the people is more valuable than the people then you have a problem. The forces that be are going to come in and try to take hold. We have to hold it at bay.”