After experiencing oversized sidewalk games in Seattle, Spokane Sidewalk Games founder Ryan Oelrich saw their potential for bringing the Spokane community together.
“It was such a great experience to watch business professionals and tourists and homeless play games together,” Oelrich said. “I wanted to come back and make it uniquely our own.”
With funds from the nonprofit Terrain and other local business, Oelrich and volunteers began work in April to gather large game pieces and supplies to create the games. With the help of local artists, Oelrich built the games and began bringing chess and Connect 4 to public spaces in May.
As popularity increased, Oelrich reached out to Crosswalk Teen Shelter to staff the games.
“My hope for this project is to create a stronger community,” Oelrich said.
Homeless youth often are excluded, and he sees an opportunity to bring them back into the community.
Oelrich said he hopes to continue to expand the program through acquiring more games. Spokane Sidewalk Games is finalist for the $1 Million Play Everwhere Challenge grant from KaBOOM, a national nonprofit dedictated to increasing play opportunities for children. The winners will be announced later this month.
Already the program is expanding. In the few months since starting the organization, Oelrich has received additional sponsorship along with funds from a Go Fund Me page. With the money, Oelrich has added Chutes & Ladders and other games while expanding the programs in the area.
“We don’t have a lot of games, but we have kept very busy,” he said.
With four weekly events and dozens of other special events and venues visited, Oelrich said he has received only positive feedback.
“We’ve heard from folks who have had some nostalgia from playing the games,” Oelrich said, adding his favorite part is observing. “What’s been so exciting for me is watching the games.”
Games are stored in Riverfront Park but a planned Playzone Headquarters would serve as transportable storage and an area to play. Oelrich and other planners envision features including a magnet and chalk wall rivaling Seattle’s gum wall.
Funds from the KaBOOM grant would also help train and support more Crosswalk youth to staff games every day in the summer. Oelrich has viewed the past few months as a test run but hopes to continue to bring Spokane residents together to play.
“Spokane has rallied around this project,” Oelrich said. “It’s been exciting to see this all come together. We want to cultivate a stronger community here.”