East Bay Student Becomes Coding Whiz After Tough Childhood

Students Rising Above with Sherry Hu

by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce

(KPIX 5) — Abel Regalado may not have grown up with computers – it was in the 6th grade when he got his first iPod – but now he’s hooked. Technology is more than a hobby for Abel, though. It’s his salvation.

“I saw technology as a gateway … to not have to be at home and dealing with the problems that I struggled with,” said Abel. “My dad left my family, and that had a big impact on my family and myself, my sister, my mom. We all fell into depression.”

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Abel says ever since he can remember, his dad’s been a gambler. While his mother was out working 12-hour shifts, Abel says his father was “a full-time addict”.

“It was a weekend where I was supposed to spend quality time with him and instead my quality time was sitting around with him as he threw dice and cards with his friends,” said Abel. “I realized that he preferred money or gambling over us.”

When Abel was 11, his mother made the decision for her, Abel, and his sister to move to Mexico. Abel believes he learned valuable life lessons from those 18 months they spent there, living in numerous cities and attending different schools. Due to a lack of financial support from his father at times, the family lived in impoverished conditions, often not being able to put food on the table. Abel got a job at a grocery store and started to go to school at night.

This led Abel’s mother to decide the family should move back to the U.S. to Oakland. When Abel was elected Vice President of his school’s student council he said that was when he started to realize he had real leadership capabilities.

Though Abel’s father became more involved in Abel’s life when he was in middle school, during his second semester of his freshman year of high school, his father left. Abel felt a self-imposed pressure to take care of his mother and sister. This took its toll at school.

“Sometimes I couldn’t make it through class because all the emotions just rushing in,” he said.

“That’s a lot of pressure for a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old boy growing up in East Oakland,” said his adviser at the time, JR Arimboanga. “We saw his grades dropping, not coming to school, more disengaged. It really worried us.”

JR and Abel’s teachers at ARISE High School stepped in to help him open up and find his way back. Abel said he found a second family in his educators and felt the encouragement he needed to get back on track in his schoolwork.

His principal ended up introducing him to a coding bootcamp and soon, Abel discovered a passion for computer science.

“When his life reached a new low, the only way he could go was up,” said Arimboanga.

Abel’s soon developed the confidence to overcome other challenges. “If I see a problem, I don’t see it as something that’s going to stop me from continuing, but as a challenge for me to find a solution to overcome it,” Abel said.

Abel is now on a mission to share what he found. “I want to teach my peers at my school to code, since I saw the importance it had in my life,” he said. “And I want to share that impact with other students.”

When his adviser was asked if he had any worries regarding Abel’s success, Arimboanga said, “Definitely not, but I know the road is going to be challenging, it’s going to be difficult, just like for every other young man of color coming out of East Oakland.”

Abel is confident that he has found his purpose, driven by a passion to bring a better understanding of technology to his community and looking to the future with an eagerness to become the first generation of his family to be college-bound.

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