Youth Code Jam makes computer science and coding fun, sociable, and equitable for all students and their grown-ups through inclusive programming, Teacher Professional Development, and free community events. Our programs provide a judgment-free zone where all learners - regardless of skill level, background, or economic status - can try new things, build their confidence, and envision themselves as the leaders of tomorrow.

On April 10, 2021, the Youth Code Jam board and staff met for a Strategic Planning Retreat. During the retreat, we courageously evaluated past goals and objectives and reimagined Youth Code Jam for a post-Covid future.
YCJ Board & Staff

The Kick-Off

We kicked things off with everyone sharing their burning questions about YCJ strategy in the chat.

What were our largest challenges over the past years? (including pre-Covid) —Marty Sixkiller
How do we better leverage our associate board for innovative engagement with the community and donors? —Joyce Deuley

Then, Janine Underhill shared the framework for our strategy retreat... the Strategy Story Roadmap, which helps us define a story for the future that we're excited to live into and compelled to help cause.

Our Big "WHY"s

Each participant shared his/her WHY for being part of the YCJ board or team. This word cloud captures our collective "WHY"s.

YCJ "Why" Word Cloud
"To help create opportunities in the tech industry for a range of ages and abilities" —Nikki Young
Molly Dupnick
"STEM has changed my life and I want others to have that opportunity!" —Terry Wood
Billy Cox

Looking Back to Look Forward

We courageously looked back at our strategic plan and priorities from 2018 and evaluated our progress toward our goals. We started with individual reflection using a new tool that we can go back to anytime we need to evaluate where we've been and where we need to go.

Then, Lori and Liz led a discussion about past targets and future priorities.

Successes / Wins / Targets Met

  • Elevated how we serve teachers
  • Implemented donor management software
  • Updated website
  • Reached 20,000+ students
  • Virtual events allowed us to reach kids we wouldn’t have otherwise

Targets Not Reached

  • Funding - diversification and growth (pssst.... Angelica would love to help with grant-writing!)
  • Reputation & Expanding Presence — being content expert for other youth development organizations and schools

New Questions that Emerged:

  • Do we need a committee focused on product development?
  • Do our products demystify coding and build a pathway for continued learning?
  • How can we support teachers (and truly be their partner) when they are overwhelmed with resources?
  • How can we create long-term partnerships with agencies?


We Got Our Sci-Fi On!

"Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology." —Isaac Asimov

We went into the future and imagined what life will be like if our students ARE future-ready (utopia), and what life will be like if our students ARE NOT future-ready (dystopia).

What did we see????

The future-ready student:

  • Has agency to choose to solve problems
  • Knows how to ride the movement
  • Has mentors, friends, and teams to support them
  • Takes inclusion for granted (not something they have to fight for)
  • Is acknowledged and appreciated for their creativity
  • Has empathy for those not included and the courage required to reach out and include them.
  • Can control everything from their phone, even health checks!
  • Has a mindset that technology should be used to make life better
  • Has a hyper-local focus, cultivating talent to stay in town

The student who is NOT future-ready:

  • Does not have access to programs, internet, technology, or a safe/inclusive place to learn
  • Has no tools to cope with or grace/space to process past trauma
  • Worries about tools being taken away when we swing back to “normal” (more in-person; less virtual)
  • Uses tech as a toy, not a tool
  • Has higher priorities than coding—staying safe, fed, and housed
  • Is dealing with underemployment, which means they can’t challenge the cycle of poverty.
  • Can’t keep up with the rapidly changing/evolving world
  • Has health issues and economic barriers to success
  • Is lonely, with untapped potential and no mentors

Click here to view all the notes from our sci-fi stories.

With the insights from the sci-fi writing exercise in mind, the board decided it's time for us to...

  • Get to know one another better and be a more connected board
  • Leverage our own and each others’ superpowers
  • Transform our mindset around funding and get comfortable asking for money
  • Create structure and focus on the board
  • Know who we’re serving and how we’re serving them; become trauma-informed in our approach
  • Support the YCJ staff

Reimagine Breakout Sessions

We took the insights we gained from our utopian/dystopian stories and broke into smaller groups to reimagine our approach to our top 3 board priorities: fundraising, product development, and innovation & community engagement.

Click here to go back to the Google Doc with notes from the Reimagine breakout sessions, and continue the work of reimagining what's possible.

  • Product development has to be at scale, and sustainable
  • Products should create safe, fun environment
  • We want to give every kid the chance to discover, explore, and find their place in the world.

Ideas/Questions for further re-imagination:

  • How do we frame our experience/environment as our most impactful and important "product"?
  • Would scaffolding make content more impactful?
  • What data needs to be gathered for each "product" (consider both programs and physical items)?
  • Youth leadership program
  • Opportunity for peer-to-peer engagement
  • Support kids with what THEY want to advance
  • Shadow program that allows kids to shadow board members
  • Youth Ambassador program—leverage for fundraising

Ideas/Questions for further re-imagination:

While staying true to who we are...

  • Who in the community could assist in spreading the word about our programs?
  • Who could we rely on for micro-influencing on social media?
  • Explore networking mixers, trivia nights, etc. as community engagement opportunities.
  • Need board education on how to share about the programs
  • Get clear on target market
  • Develop major individual donor program
  • National search for private funding
  • Go beyond month-to-month thinking about finances

Ideas/Questions for further re-imagination:

In a world with infinite capacity in resources...

  • In your mind, what would a small-scale YCJ fundraising event look like (ex: goal < $___)?
  • In your mind, what would a large-scale YCJ fundraising event look like (ex: goal > $___)?

now it's time to make our good ideas even better.

We’ve done great work reimagining our strategy for 2021. We want to know that we are thinking about the future in new ways. Is the strategy we have set going to get us more of what we have had or will it get us more of what we want? Here are a few quick questions to help us up-level our strategy before we unleash it on the world.

2021 can be a pivotal year for YCJ if we all commit to take action now. Let's look at what's possible for the students we serve if we take advantage of this moment and GO BIG with our commitment to see Youth Code Jam thrive.

A Letter from the future

Standing in our reimagined future one year from now—in April 2022—we each wrote a letter to our student (the same student whom we previously wrote our science fiction stories about), sharing with them all that we accomplished on their behalf after our Strategic Planning Retreat.

What will it take to make this future REAL?

What SUPERPOWERS will we bring to this newly reimagined future?

We each have something unique and impactful to bring to the Youth Code Jam community. When we know ourselves and each other as "superheroes" (not the kind who swoops in to save everyone... but the kind who has an invaluable contribution to make to the work before us), what becomes possible?

How can we leverage our own and our colleagues' superpowers to ensure a bright, sustainable future for YCJ and the students we serve?
"Know your strengths and take advantage of them." —Greg Norman
"Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses... on your powers, instead of your problems." —Paul J. Meyer
"I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together, we can do great things." —Mother Teresa
"It takes a lot of people to make a winning team. Everybody's contribution is important." —Gary David Goldberg
"The things that make us different—those are our superpowers." —Lena Waithe
"This is the true joy in life—the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one." —George Bernard Shaw


As you continue your important work, consider these the next big questions in making sure Youth Code Jam is future-ready:

—Determine who we serve and how to best communicate the outcomes and impact.
—How can we leverage Board Member expertise for Product Development? Establish a small group with expertise and experience.
—What would a hybrid model look like for Youth Code Jam? What programs fall into what categories: in-person, virtual, hybrid?
—How do we engage the associate board as an "Innovation and Community Engagement" group and explore fundraising events as community engagement?




Dr. Meredith Fox's 2019 TED Talk: Trauma Informed Teaching

Blog posts from the Crisis Prevention Institute:

The reimagined future needs some soaking time and deep listening. Youth Code Jam wants to support you by offering tools and conversations that help to build a full memory of our time together and aid you in sharing the information with others so you can keep the momentum moving forward. Allow this Digital Strategy Storybook to take you back to the conversations, ideas, and questions that emerged in our session.

  • Think about WHAT we talked about.
  • Then ask yourself the SO WHAT questions: SO WHAT does this mean, SO WHAT needs my attention, SO WHAT might a next best step be?
  • Then ask, NOW WHAT? NOW WHAT might I do to incorporate a fundamental need into the things I am working on? NOW WHAT might I begin to listen for?

Digital Strategy Storybook by IDEA360