Winter Park brother and sister respond to gun violence with tikun olam

 

Liam (l) and Claire Goodowens received several old newspaper boxes that they painted royal blue to use for the Game Exchange Library.

Special to Heritage

This is a story about a dog named Lilly, a festering dispute that emptied streets in a Winter Park neighborhood and how two young children responded with acts of tikun olam.

It all started Aug. 15 when two neighbors argued about the dog that was off leash. One neighbor, claiming the dog acted aggressively, shot Lilly in the eye. Thanks to a veterinarian who came to the rescue, Lilly recovered, but the neighborhood didn't.

Neighborhood streets that once hopped with children playing and neighbors walking dogs and chatting overnight became empty and laughter-free. The shooting incident and its aftermath especially troubled two neighborhood children, Liam Goodowens, 10, and his sister Claire, 9, who nightly walked their dog Magnolia.

As homeschoolers, Liam and Claire's school model centers around the Jewish concept of tikun olam, acts of kindness to repair or perfect the world. As an act of tikun olam, they decided, entirely on their own, to find a way, if possible, to heal the neighborhood.


They kicked around ideas. They briefly considered starting a free library. But after attending a game night at Cool Stuff Games in Maitland, Liam said, "We got bit by the board game bug." This gave Liam and Claire, whose parents are Jason and Samantha Goodowens, the idea for The Game Exchange Box.

Using the slogan, "Give a Game/Get a Game," the Game Exchange Box operates exactly like a little free library, but instead of books it lends board games. Boxes are placed in neighborhoods where residents can exchange games and interact with neighbors.

Liam and Claire realized that to launch the project they needed to find a sponsor. They wisely approached Bobby Felan, manager of the local Cool Stuff, the nation's second largest Internet provider of board games, which had inspired their decision to center on board games. Would Cool Stuff consider sponsoring the Exchange Box? The answer was yes, and Cool Stuff kicked it off by donating many new games and agreed to place donation bins in all of their locations to gather even more.

For three months, the children worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground. They called on Winter Park city officials, civic leaders and city commissioners to get approval to place boxes around the city and garner support for a city-wide game night. Early in the process, Vision Winter Park gave the children a $500 grant which helped pay for materials to rehabilitate newspaper bins donated by the city. They received immediate support from the Winter Park Public Library and made a presentation about their project to the Winter Park Parks & Recreation meeting.


By December, the children reached their first goal: They dedicated boxes at Phelps Park, the Winter Park Library and the Winter Park Train Station.

By mid-January their second goal was reached: The children co-hosted the first Winter Park Game Night at Winter Park's Community Center. It featured board game demonstartions, a food truck, cupcakes and other local vendors.

To spread the word about Game Exchange Box, the Goodowens' children created a web site, http://www.gameexchangebox.org hoping that their concept could spread worldwide. The children's plan is for people around the world to register their own Game Exchange Box creating an international database. For a small fee, they will mail an Official Registration Placard to display on boxes.

As for Lilly the dog, Claire said, "We didn't forget about her. We have set up a discretionary fund from the registration money for the vet who saved her life so he can help other families and their pets."

Now, that's a happy ending for a story about a dog, a neighborhood feud and two young children and their tikun olam.

 

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