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 ability to teach others how to use technology—even at a young age—is what makes The Forge Initiative unique from other kid-focused organizations. Through its various programs and events, the nonprofit fosters leadership in children while encouraging learning and growth in individuals of all ages.

The open house itself was a product of this leadership training. Three recent high-school graduates (and Forge members) taking a gap year between high school and college hosted the open house as part of a feasibility study. They’re helping the Forge Initiative gather feedback from Durham families on what types of maker equipment they would use and programs, trainings and events they would participate in if the Forge Initiative expands to Durham next year.

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