HOMETOWN Las Vegas, Nev.
UNLIKELY INFLUENCE The Tick
KRYPTONITE Invisible paradoxes
PERSONAL MOTTO Try hard, be kind, have fun!
Every electric doodad and thingamajig inside the Big-Brained Superheroes Club is made by kids: a glowing “circuit-tree,” a lit-up recreation of the Seattle skyline, a handheld video game with an LED display. Based in a room at Yesler Community Center, the after-school drop-in program serves kids of all ages, a perfect workshop for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) education.
“We’re not going on YouTube or running through lists of instructions,” Meredith Wenger says while fiddling with a circuit magnetically attached to a wall. Instead, the BBSC founder says every creation begins with a concept—like “what’s a circuit?”—and grows organically from there.
“That’s our ‘nerd-it-up’ philosophy,” Wenger says.
It appears to be working. The juice that powers these gizmos is nothing compared to the electricity humming through their creators. The kids here aren’t just laughing and shouting—they’re actively engaged with complex projects.
For years, Wenger tried to combine her interests—“creative, technical and do-gooding stuff that’s hard to make money at”—while working in database and informational design. In 2011 she became a Yesler volunteer, first doing computer work and then as an after-school tutor.
“These kids have so much ability, so much to give, that was going to waste,” she says.
She began by engaging kids with homework-completion rewards, including a trip to see the original Avengers film, which ended with a long conversation about what makes a superhero. “We realized Captain America’s superpowers were things like kindness, teamwork and leadership,” Wenger says.
With that revelation in mind, Wenger took over an empty room in 2014 and began winging it as a teacher—and did so well that she landed a grant from Google. Now, she operates the BBSC full-time and plans to recruit volunteers—and build more gizmos—to help kids find their superpowers.
Watching an hour in the center proves out how much the kids love it, and one student can’t help but insist on Wenger’s behalf: “She just lets us do stuff!”
Photo by Steve Korn