A homeless shelter in Boston is empowering its teenage girls in an unprecedented way: by teaching them how to code.
During the past school year, a dozen or so girls have been coming together one night a week to take coding classes in the humble basement of Brookview House, a homeless shelter and affordable housing complex in the Dorchester Center neighborhood of Boston.
There, the girls (ages 13 to 18) learn how to code small programs, apps and even video games in Scratch and Python, according to Deborah Hughes, the shelter's executive director. She explained that all the girls in the club are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
"We decided to start this club two years ago because we believe in all the beautiful possibilities for these girls," Hughes told ABC News today. "We know getting girls into the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] field[s] is a challenge, but we know what are girls are capable of and that they can overcome any challenges."
Women made up only 25 percent of the computing workforce in 2015, according to the the National Center for Women and Technology.
But Hughes said she believes clubs like Girls Who Code at Brookview can help close that gaping gender gap and show girls that computer science isn't just for boys.
One of the club's volunteer instructors, 37-year-old Charity Leschinski, told ABC News today that the club is the first of its kind to be started at a homeless shelter, to her knowledge.
Leschinski, who works full-time as a software developer, said her favorite part about volunteering is "seeing the girls gain more confidence."
"They're realizing a lot of things are possible for them," including fields in STEM that many girls were previously intimidated by, she said. "I have a girl who now wants to be a doctor, another who wants to go to law school. It's wonderful."
One club member, Shanice Escossery, told ABC News today that though she first scoffed at the idea of computer science, she's now thinking about pursuing it in higher education in the future.
"I thought it wasn't my thing at first," she said. "I'm definitely now more interested in technology. I've been getting better grades in math. I used to struggle, but now I'm getting A's."
The 15-year-old said she programmed a mini video game involving a crab moving around a beach last year -- something she had never imagined she'd be able to do. And now, she's working with other girls in the club on a final project to create an app.
"I've always wanted to be a cosmetologist, but now I'm thinking creatively of how I can combine that with tech," she said. "I'm thinking about what apps could be useful for girls into cosmetology."
Escossery added that the club is "more than just about coding."
"I've made so many new friends, many of whom know exactly what I'm going through," she said. "It just makes me so happy. I look forward to every class."