On a recent Saturday in July, the American Underground’s Main Street campus buzzed with energy and activity. But that’s not unusual for the startup hub—even for a Saturday. What was abnormal about this day, was that the average age in the room was 10-20 years younger than typically seen in American Underground. Kids outnumbered adults three to one.
Durham children and their families were invited to the American Underground for an open house hosted by the Forge Initiative, the Cary-based non-profit organization formerly known as Wake Robotics whose mission is, “to empower families and individuals of all ages to collaboratively explore, learn and lead using technology and engineering.”
But many of the children weren’t there just to play with the Legos, robots and other high-tech gear. They were teaching other kids and adults (myself included) how to use the equipment.
In the hour I was there, a nine-year-old explained to me how to make music with carrots using an invention kit called Makey Makey, and a seven-year-old showed me how to make electronic connections using littleBits.
The feasibility study for the Underground Forge is still in the works, so a cost estimate for the Underground space is not yet available. But architectural plans for the space are already drawn and include an ARTtech area where users can explore engineering and art simultaneously.
Despite the funding gap, and lack of a home, the leaders and students of the Forge Initiative are overwhelmingly positive. In an email, Whipker wrote, “The delays have required extra effort within the organization to keep the feeling of community among current TFD members. (…) TFD will be a unique place in Cary where families will be able to explore and learn together. We will find the right funding.”
If the dedication and passion the leaders have shown in keeping the organization running is any predictor of future success, they’re likely to achieve their goals. After all, the organization is 100% volunteer led, with over 13,000 hours donated from adult volunteers in a year during which they faced difficult challenges. In an update on their Kickstarter page, the Forge leaders even admitted to considering closing shop. But when they imagined a world without The Forge Downtown, they were saddened. The many ways in which their kids have benefited kept them working toward those permanent spaces where more and more families can learn and play together.
As Klein says, “At the end of the day, the Forge partnership is about sparking a fun and curious generation of students who love technology and creating new technology. Our hope is that the Forge furthers that passion in Durham’s youth and that it also provides a great opportunity for adults in Durham to connect with a great asset where they can learn to do new things on fantastic equipment.”