Today’s guest post is by Antonio Perez, Executive Director for Gamer Society.

Looking back through the years, I feel very fortunate to have had the experiences that sent my life into the direction I’m in today. The thing about growing up poor is that you don’t really realize your situation until much later in life. In fact, most of my earliest memories are actually fond ones. Riding bikes to the air conditioned library to avoid the summer heat. Chasing lightning bugs. Staying out until the street lights came on.

It’s interesting what you can come to believe is normal when you’re young, though. Only to later realize that not everyone grew up the same way.

“I haven’t seen Dan for a while,” you might wonder out loud in the hallway. “Dan’s in juvie,” someone else might reply in a flat, apathetic tone. Almost as if it was only a matter of time. As if Dan wasn’t the first—or even last—to get put away that month.

The Red Zone

In education, administrators refer to the space between 3pm and 6pm as “The Red Zone.” At-risk youth are considered to be most vulnerable during this window of time, where incidents of drug and gang activity rise for many economically-challenged communities. The reason for this is that many children have no choice but to go unsupervised before their parents or caretakers get home from work. This is especially so for students coming from families that are near or below the poverty line.

I remember there was no shortage of opportunities to get in trouble in my neighborhood. Before the internet and Facebook, staying occupied usually meant leaving your house to go find something to do. Most of my formative years as a teenager were spent looking for somewhere I belonged. Somewhere where I could go to trade Magic: The Gathering cards and talk about video games.

In many ways, I guess I work now in my adult life more than ever to provide a place like that for others.

Something That Can’t Be Taken Away

Even now, I can only imagine how different my life could have been if an after-school program existed that sought to teach students real, marketable skills through interests they already have. Skills that no one can take away, repossess, or steal out of a backpack.

It’s this dream that lead me to found Gamer Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting STEAM education through game design and digital arts. Through our Young Creators Club, we’ve been lucky to partner with other incredible organizations—such as EMU Bright Futures and GameStart School in Ann Arbor, MI—to help engage students like never before.

It’s through our partners we’ve been able to provide more than 560 participation opportunities since we started three years ago. Every $10 donation helps provide a unique learning experience for one child in an underserved community. This year, we will be piloting a 16-week after-school program that uses Minecraft to teach students how to code in Java.

By engaging students through their imaginations, our hope is to increase after school retention among students. As any game developer might tell you, programming can be frustrating to learn and an abstract thing to talk about. But by using a familiar environment like Minecraft, we’re able to frame coding as something that’s meant to be broken down and picked apart. By discarding pass/fail outcomes, the students have a license to make mistakes and experiment with the course material.

If this sounds like a journey you’d like to stay connected with, I invite you to visit us at and join our newsletter. Your care and attention is just as valuable of a donation to our initiatives as any other form. Thank you Raghav and the incredible team at Black Shell Media for this guest blog opportunity! It’s through partners like you that we’re able to carry out our mission leave this world better than we found it.

Antonio is Executive Director for Gamer Society and CEO of Commodare Media. A marketer by trade, Antonio spends his time creating content for clients and organizing charity events. When he’s not writing or reading business literature, he enjoys trying to keep up with his one-year-old son Max and binging Netflix with his wife Lyndsey.