Good Neighbors: The Spiel Foundation

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Mr. Rogers

You’ve probably heard of The Spiel – Stephen Conway and crew have been talking about games since 2006. A few years into the show they turned a fan game event into a fundraiser, and since then The Spiel Foundation has donated thousands of games to children’s hospitals and senior centers throughout the country. The mission is simple – to bring games to folks that can use more fun and playfulness in their lives.

What was the catalyst the brought about The Spiel Foundation? I started a show called The Spiel in 2006. The goal of The Spiel is to open a door to the wider world of games to as many people as we can. Within a surprisingly short period of time we gained a lot of listeners and the hobby became a business. As the business took off, I realized I wanted to find a way to share my success and show how games could have a positive impact on the community at large. And so The Spiel Foundation was born.

Side story: A generous listener donated a signed copy of Risk: Black Ops to help support the show. At the time, this game was going for a several hundred dollars online. Rather than sell it and plow the money into the business, that game became the centerpiece of the first Spiel-athon, a fundraising event that started the Foundation in earnest. We raised over $2,000 at the first event and we have been rolling ever since! How do you help the community?

The Spiel Foundation is a 501(c)3 non profit organization. The mission of the Foundation is simple: we purchase, assemble, and deliver bundles of quality games to organizations serving people who could use more fun and playfulness in their lives. My first thought was of a battered copy of Candyland or Monopoly in a hospital and a sick kid – bored and desperate for some small escape. I also thought of an abandoned set of dominoes and a dog-eared deck of cards in a senior center with a group of folks having to make house rules because of missing tiles and ripped cards.

These are examples culled from my own experience. And I bet many others have witnessed this problem first hand. I realized this was a problem The Spiel Foundation could help solve. So, the main effort of the Foundation is to raise money to purchase and deliver bundles of 5 games to children’s hospitals and senior centers across the country. By the end of 2018 we will have delivered over 2,500 games. Over half the children’s hospitals and nationally accredited senior centers in the country have received a bundle from The Spiel Foundation. And while these two venues are our main focus, we also deliver bundles to other groups who fit our mandate.

As our budget and staff grow, I hope to reach out into other play-starved communities like after-school programs, community centers, nursing homes, even prisons.

Why do you think gaming and community service are a good fit?

What follows is a heady answer to a simple question. But an important one, I think.

Play matters. Play and playfulness are lifelong endeavors. It’s not something we outgrow or should put away as adults. It’s not frivolous activity. It’s not wasted time. It’s one of the first skills we learn as children. Play is a safe space, a rehearsal space, a small world where we can experiment without real danger or lasting consequence. We try on different versions of ourselves when we play and as we learn about ourselves, we learn about the people we play with, too.

Why does play matter? Play matters because it is a fundamental expression of our humanity. It can be a powerful and positive force that shapes how we relate to the world, to ourselves, and to others.

And games provide a wonderful way for us to find a path to play. Games are vehicles for social interaction. They build bridges between people. They give us a way to interact with each other, to learn from each other, to know each other in a way that is different than the everyday world. The game provides us with safe borders defined by a table, a board, or a simple deck of cards. And, win or lose, the lasting fun and joy that comes from games comes from that place – that moment when we are able to lose ourselves to the world of the game. Each game offers a door to this experience, a meeting place – shared, common ground to all players who enter.

The contentious world we live in today is full of barriers. I believe bringing games into the community at large provides an alternative way of seeing the world, a more positive one, and one that can help us understand and engage with each other as people, not stereotypes based on race or class or gender, etc.

Have people been receptive to the idea? Yes, very much so. I hear back from many of the institutions who have received our bundles. They are very grateful and the games are put to use almost immediately. The games we select are easy to learn and have been punched and prepped so that anyone who wants to can simply open the box and go.

Long term, I hope to have a group of volunteers in each state who could serve as game teachers to get folks playing once bundles arrive.

When is your next event?

We host fundraisers at game conventions across the country called Spiel-a-thons. The next Spiel-a-thon is at BGG Con in Dallas, Texas on November 16. At the event, we raise money by playing games. The money we raise is used to buy games so we can deliver the games to others, so they can play, too. It’s kind of a virtuous circle of fun. Other Spiel-a-thons are held at Geekway to the West in St. Louis and The Gaming Hoopla in Illinois. We’re always looking to add more events to our calendar. If you’re interested in helping us host a Spiel-a-thon at a local con, let me know.

What to help? Donate directly to The Spiel Foundation or sponsor The Spiel on Patreon. Also, you can keep up with all their goings-on on Twitter, and Facebook.