ProjectPlay works toward a stronger community

By Leslie Kostal
November 14, 2013

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ProjectPlayAdela Talbot, Western News
Greg Picken and Mathew Hoy, founders of ProjectPlay, have been nominated for a 2013 Pillar Community Innovation Awards for their ‘fan community’ event which serves as a fundraiser, providing play opportunities to children and families being supported by local organizations.

Almost three years ago while noshing on some chicken wings, two tech-savvy and game-friendly family men, Mathew Hoy and Greg Picken, came up with a brilliant idea. So splendid, in fact, the charity that idea spawned is now a finalist for the 2013 Pillar Community Innovation Awards.

ProjectPlay is a hands-on event, bringing together many of London’s ‘fan communities’ – the creators and players of video, card, tabletop and board games, as well as anime fans, building block enthusiasts, cosplayers, crafters, artists and so much more. The event serves as a fundraiser, providing play opportunities to children and families being supported by local organizations.

In their free time, both Hoy and Picken run websites and podcasts reviewing toys, TV shows, movies, books and, especially, video games. Hoy, Western’s senior web designer, admits those who love games – really love games – can often be isolated from one another.

“They’re kind of marginalized, just in terms of how they share their hobby. We wanted to bring people out, and hang out and have fun,” he said.  

And so they did.

Starting with the local video game community, Hoy and Picken wanted to create an event to showcase people who make games in their spare time. Soon after floating that idea around, other gaming communities got on board.

“It just kind of exploded very quickly,” said Picken, communications manager for TechAlliance in Western’s Discovery Park. “The fact people picked up on it is pretty amazing still. Board games. Card games. Strategy games. The pitch we make to people is, it has to be all-ages appropriate and has to be hands-on. Beyond that, it can be anything.”

What earned the event its Pillar nomination, however, came when the pair decided to use ticket sales from the event to help others in the community.

In its first year, the ProjectPlay event brought out more than 400 players and raised more than $5,000 for gaming bundles donated to Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre, the Women’s Rural Resource Centre of Strathroy and Area and Women’s Community House.

Take the Women’s Rural Resource Centre. That group, who support women and children impacted by abuse, asked for the games like Sorry and Angry Birds as a resource to teach kids about empathy.

Taking the ProjectPlay funds, Hoy and Picken went on an, admittedly, entertaining shopping spree.

“We had gone out and done a couple of shopping runs and it just ended up all accumulating in my basement,” Picken said. “When we went out to the Women’s Rural Resource Centre, they weren’t expecting the volume – an Xbox, a Wii, 20 games, a giant tub of board games and strategy games, a TV and a stand. They were just blown away.”

The pair picked the Wii and Xbox (with Kinect) because those systems involve physical motion and interaction. “One of the things we looked for was multi-player,” Picken said. “We wanted to pick stuff where it wasn’t just going to be one kid playing and then everybody else sitting around. You get that inclusivity where people can have fun together.”

Over the past two years, more than 800 people have helped raise almost $10,000.

“We try to give these families a break, a break from the reality of what brought them there,” Hoy continued. “In my life, gaming helps me get away some times – just like reading or music can for other people. I want to use my good fortune, and the immeasurable generosity of others, to help families who might be going through challenges in their lives. Maybe help them get away – even if for a short time,” Hoy said.

Advertising for the event is through social media and word of mouth. All monies raised goes right back into Project Play.

This year, ProjectPlay supported N’Amerind Friendship Centre, Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre and the Northwest London Resource Centre.

Sponsored by the Pillar Nonprofit Network, the Pillar Community Innovation Awards celebrate nonprofits and charities, along with the individuals, businesses and government organizations who work with them, to make London brighter.

Twelve nominees in four categories – Innovation, Leadership, Impact and Collaboration – will learn their fate at the awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the London Convention Centre.

ProjectPlay is nominated in the Innovation category. A second Western-connected organization, Oral Health, Total Health's Sharing Smiles Day, is nominated in the same category.


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