Serious fun: Carmel couple opens retro video arcade to fund scholarships for IT career training


Rick Barretto knew he wanted to be a tech entrepreneur since he was a kid designing games for his Atari in the 1970s.

But the Carmel resident knows most career paths aren’t so obvious. So, after achieving success as an entrepreneur, in 2018 he and his wife, Cara Barretto, launched Hope Training Academy, which offers education, certification and apprenticeships for those exploring a career in tech.

The academy will soon open a second location on the fourth floor of Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indianapolis. Some of its students will be supported through scholarships funded by players of a collection of retro video game systems open daily to the public one floor below. Video Game Palooza Charity Arcade opened earlier this year featuring 60 classic freestanding machines with options that include Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac Man.

The Barrettos have previously taken the charity arcade on the road to various events, but this marks the first permanent home for the collection. They hope it spurs interest in Hope Training Academy – to be located in a 24,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor that previously was home to Brown Mackie College and Purdue Polytechnic High School – and Circle Centre, which is in the midst of a transformation under new ownership.

“(The space) has been sitting vacant, so we’re going to be filling that up with students and partner organizations that have wraparound services,” Rick Barretto said. “It’s really a thing to reach out to the community to drive traffic to the mall, to gain understanding, to create jobs. The arcade is just one part of that.”

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Tech entrepreneur Rick Barretto of Carmel at Video Game Palooza Charity Arcade, which he and his wife recently opened at Circle Centre Mall to support students at Hope Training Academy. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Erbacher)

‘A different angle’

Rick Barretto, a 1985 Carmel High School graduate, has long been a fan of video games, but Cara Baretto, a career educator, didn’t always see value in them.

That began to change soon after the couple married when Rick Barretto invited several professional Halo players to stay at their Village of WestClay home in between esports tournaments in the area.

“I’m going to put my teacher hat on and look at it from a different angle,” Cara Barretto said. “So, I did, and then (I saw) there is all of this coordination and strategy and all of these different things that I didn’t see as a mom.”

In 2013, the Barrettos founded Video Game Palooza, a nonprofit that aims to use video games to promote interest in STEM research and learning. Five years later, Hope Training Academy launched as part of VGP to provide formal STEM education to prepare students for jobs in IT. It aims to break the cycle of poverty through its job training programs, but the courses are open to anyone interested.

“We’ve seen people that have been in college that maybe hate their career. For some reason they got into it and they just aren’t fulfilled,” Rick Barretto said. “We get people who say, ‘I wish I could have become a programmer or game developer, but I never knew how.’ We’ve got people like that coming out, and maybe after they’ve retired, they want a different career.”

The academy initially operated in Lafayette Square Mall in west Indianapolis for several years before moving to other locations, eventually partnering with Indiana Wesleyan University to open a site within the college’s building on Priority Way in north Indianapolis. That location will remain in place with the opening of classroom space in Circle Centre.

At both campuses, students can earn a variety of IT certifications and be set up with various companies for 16-week apprenticeships to see if the work is a good fit. Some Hope Training Academy courses qualify for college credits that can transfer to accredited universities.

Dej Afuye earned an IT certification through Hope Training Academy in 2018, an experience he described as “transformative.” He now works in cybersecurity.

“My time at Hope Training Academy played a pivotal role in preparing me for this career,” Afuye said. “The practical skills I acquired, along with the certifications and internship experience, not only helped me secure my current role but also provided a strong foundation for professional growth in the IT industry.”

John Medina is working as an end user technology engineer after receiving training and certification through Hope Training Academy. He said the skills he learned are useful beyond his career.

“Landing the role has taught me confidence and knowledge on how to take risks and prepare for the technology industry,” Medina said.

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Hope Training Academy co-founder Rick Barretto, center, with former students John Medina and Dej Afuye. (Photo courtesy of Rick Barretto)

How to help

While the Barrettos are always thankful for financial donations to support Hope Training Academy, they are also seeking volunteers to share their time and expertise with students in the program.

“We’re looking for people that are interested in helping other people succeed,” Rick Barretto said. “Maybe they want to teach one or two days a week, or they want to mentor people that we’ve got in an entrepreneurship program.”

Or, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, those interested in supporting the academy can stop by the top floor of Circle Centre Mall to play a few old-fashioned video games. Visitors can play all day for $20, or pay $10 per hour, with all funds raised through the charity arcade supporting scholarships for students at Hope Training Academy.

The retro arcade is also available to host parties and corporate events.

Learn more about Video Game Palooza at and learn more about Hope Training Academy at

In the Hall of Fame

In 2019, Video Game Palooza, a nonprofit founded by Rick and Cara Barretto that aims to use video games to promote interest in STEM research and learning, was inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame.

A nomination committee that included gamers, journalists and others with ties to the industry selected the Hall of Fame inductees.