A few weekends ago while in Seattle for business, Ryan Oelrich spent the afternoon playing giant board games downtown with complete strangers. Now, that inspiring experience has become the spark of a community project already well on its way to becoming a reality: Spokane Sidewalk Games.
“It was a very inspiring moment for me," Oelrich says. "I watched business professionals sit down with the homeless and smile, talk and enjoy each other’s company. I’m frequently complaining to my friends that people don’t talk to one another and connect as much as we should.”
So far, in about a week's time (he first saw the games on Feb. 20) Oelrich has secured sponsors (Global Credit Union) and ordered Spokane some of its own super-sized games — chess and Connect Four, so far. He hopes to purchase giant-sized versions of checkers, Chutes and Ladders and Tic-Tac-Toe.
Oelrich's large network of local connections has helped the project quickly move from a moment of inspiration to something he hopes to publicly debut by May. He currently serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit arts venture Terrain, and is the executive director of Priority Spokane, which supports local students who are homeless.
Because of those connections, local artists have offered to put their artwork onto game pieces. Oelrich has also found a way for the project to offer employment opportunities for local homeless youth. Teens supported by the Volunteers of America's Crosswalk Youth Shelter downtown will staff the games during weekends and other major events to encourage the public to come participate, and also to help prevent any random acts of vandalism to the game pieces (a concern that's been frequently mentioned to him). Several groups have already reached out with interest in hosting the games, including local farmers markets. The plan is to set up the games at big annual events — Bloomsday, Hoopfest, Pig Out in the Park and others — and during arts events like Terrain's October arts showcase and the Bazaar arts market in June.
"It's been such a fun project to watch come together so quickly," Oelrich says. "I love that this ties into my work of putting Crosswalk youth to work, and since I'm on the Terrain board, this brings my whole world together."
Those interested in donating to the project can contact Oelrich directly at email@example.com. Several sponsorships, which includes funds to pay youth employees, are still available.