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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Roll out the giant chess set: Spokane Sidewalk Games back for the third year

Sophia, 4, whose mother asked that her last name not be disclosed, laughs in the afternoon sun as she plays one of in Spark Central's Sidewalk Games in Kendall Yards on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Heavy winds Wednesday toppled more than a few signs as vendors set up for the Kendall Yards farmers market, but two giant Connect Four boards stood tall.

The games signaled the beginning of the third summer of Spokane Sidewalk Games, which has put giant versions of checkers, chess, chutes and ladders and more in public spaces.

Founder Ryan Oelrich said it’s a dual-purpose venture to promote community and public interactions while employing homeless and formerly homeless young people. The games are left in public places during designated hours with young people on hand to help clean up, explain rules and invite people to participate.

“We’re asking them to step up, step out and invite the community to play,” he said.

Thanks to sponsors, the youth staff earn a stipend of $10.50 an hour. Oelrich said sidewalk games have a budget of about $10,000 this year to cover staffing and to repair games as needed.

Sixteen-year-old Anyka Patton was working her first shift at the farmers market, following training last weekend. She’s attending school at the Crosswalk youth shelter to complete her GED and said many of her peers struggle to find summer jobs that work with their school schedule at the shelter.

She’s focused on finishing school now and wasn’t looking for full-time work, but learned about staffing the games at the shelter.

“It just kind of fell into place,” she said.

Wind had made putting chess and checkers out impractical, so Patton waited as families walked by, often with kids exclaiming “Cool!” as they saw the Connect Four set-up.

So far, more than 86,000 people have played the games, Oelrich said.

Games will be available weekly on Wednesdays in Kendall Yards from 4-7 p.m. outside Spark Central, and in River Park Square on Fridays from 3-7 p.m., Saturdays from 12-6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This year, the group has added Face Drop, a game Oelrich invented, where people fill a hollow tower with balls, inset sticks into it and then try to pick them out so balls fall to their side. Pick-up sticks has also been added, and a partnership with the Spokane County Library District will allow people to check out games.

Games also can be rented directly from Spokane Sidewalk Games for events.

Sponsors include Global Credit Union, Molina Healthcare, River Park Square, Spark Central, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund and the Community Building Foundation.