A little over a month ago, our co-founder - Ann Poochareon - passed away after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. For those who have been following her on social media: you know she was very public about her disease and the treatments she undertook. To say she was ‘strong’ doesn’t really cut it. Ann was vibrant in the face of cancer. As her partner, in business and in life, I’ve had a front-row seat to that elegant energy.
We started Little Robot Friends after the birth of our son, with the goal that he would have access to the same type of technology education that we felt gave us a leg up in life. He is currently enrolled in our Pico Coding Club. Our dream was to make sure kids could see technology the way we do - as a tool for expression, creation, and compassion. “Skills development” is just the beneficial side-product when learning to become creative with technology.
For Ann, she had another ambition for our work with Little Robot Friends - to create a safe space for girls to gain confidence with digital tools. When Ann was young she moved from Thailand back to the USA. I say back because Ann was actually born in Missouri. At that time she was already a fireball, but as an asian teenage female who didn’t speak much English, she stood out quite a bit from her peers. Those first years were quite challenging for her, but it was then that she was introduced to a new passion - the world of computers and programming.
She eventually went on to study Computer Science, being one of only a very limited number of girls. She went on to work at a technology help desk - as the only female. During the Dotcom boom and bust (that ultimately put Ann and I in the same place at the same time) she wrote software for a start-up company, unsurprisingly as one of the lone women on the technology team. I’ve been looking through years of photos over the past weeks, and yeah… every group photo is Ann in the middle of a bunch of nerdy dudes.
The past few years we’ve been running our Coding Clubs, and Ann has marvelled the brilliance coming from the girls in those groups. Many of the students in our Micro-level clubs have been with us for years, and we’ve been able to watch their confidence and creativity blossom. There have been many hard times for us over the past years, but the knowledge that we’ve been able to light a spark that may last a lifetime is what keeps us going. This is the light that Ann wanted to give to everyone in our Little Robot Friends community.
The source of that light may no longer with us, but its glow and warmth is still within us.
This year we will be doing two things in Ann’s honour: First, we are establishing a scholarship fund for BIPOC girls to support early-childhood STEM education. Second, we will be adding a sponsorship option for all Little Robot Friends programs so you can choose to help expand access to our programs to families who may not be able to afford them. Details for both of these initiatives will be posted in the coming months.
Thank you to everyone in the community who has sent us cards, flowers, food, and more over the past few weeks. Our family is healing. Our team is also healing. Your love and support has made that so much easier.
Thanks for reading,
Mark (the Robot Guy)