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One community goes to the ends of the earth to make Caine’s dream come true and, in return, the Caine travels the world over to challenge all “kids” – young and old – to build the world they imagine. Find, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in children, he urges.
One little boy and his powerful imagination challenge a globe of kids – young and old – to build the world they imagine
When left to their own devices, children can see things in inanimate, ordinary objects that the rest of us can’t see.
To an adult, a pile of cardboard boxes that used to hold things like motor oil and tools used at a family-owned auto repair shop would be just that – boxes that would most likely end up crushed and viewed by most as trash. As adults, sometimes it’s an impulse to look at what you’re presented with as what it is, instead of what it can be.
When a short film about a young boy’s cardboard box arcade hit the internet two years ago, it inspired a tidal wave that focused the importance of nurturing a child’s creative imagination.
But a 9-year-old boy, spending weekends and summer days at his father’s Los Angeles used auto parts store, didn’t see a stack of boxes. Instead, he saw the bells and whistles of an arcade in the making, complete with ticket dispensers, cash register, gift bags and prize tables. He saw the potential.
It sounds straightforward enough: Boy sees boxes; boy constructs his own arcade. But there’s a lesson in Caine Monroy’s story for all us, and one that is especially cogent for parents of children with disabilities. It’s one that can be hard to recognize after life experiences have whittled away at optimism. But it’s there, even if it’s heartbeat is faint.
There is a kid within all of us. A kid that dreams big and plays hard. A kid full of hope, fun and livelihood. One that wants to create, accomplish and achieve. One that simply wants to be a kid forever, or again – and, be successful at it.
In all of us, there is potential that is more often a catalyst for success than it is for failure.
And all of us, through our actions, have the ability to make a difference – and succeed – at what is of interest to us.
It all started with a boy’s imagination
Caine spent a lot of time at the Smart Parts Aftermarket, a family-owned used auto parts store operated by his father, George Monroy, in East Los Angeles, Calif. He also spends lunch with his father at a local pizza parlor that features a line of arcade games. It wasn’t just the mechanics of the game that spurred Caine’s curiosity, it was also the ins-and-outs of operating a business.
Caine would leave the arcade with a brain overloaded with ideas.
The auto parts store doesn’t bring foot traffic as it relies on online sales. Because there wasn’t much Caine could do at the store, boredom bred creation. Caine had an idea: He brought match box cars and toy army figurines from home, collected discarded cardboard boxes from out back, tapped into the store’s supply closet, and saved his arcade prize winnings from the pizza place. He made replicas of his favorite arcade games, complete with challenging soccer goals and claws that grabbed stuffed toys. He did so with great detail. But, his ultimate goal was to obtain customers.
While waiting for a person to walk through the front door, Caine would string used tickets together to make a ticket roll. He made fun passes and stuffed gift bags. He created a cardboard office with a built-in speaker system, and he places calculators on each game to confirm fun pass security codes. Caine even reorganizes prize tables, complete with recycled arcade winnings.
Over time, he created a series of arcade games which overtook the lobby of his father’s shop.
Even though Caine had built the games for fun, he was hoping to capitalize on the business aspects. He made created enticing discount quantity pricing models; made business cards and pondered – would a billboard bring in neighborhood traffic? At the moment, staff shirts with logos would suffice, especially if they designated “staff” and “boss.” He devised grand opening announcements, gleefully announcing to sidewalk strollers, “Caine’s Arcade is open for business!” and “Grand Opening – Caine’s Arcade!” He was gracious, kind, polite and quite charming.
Even though there were no actual customers, Caine knew that one day he’d have customers. His arcade was too good for people not to enjoy. He plugged away day after day creating, scheming and perfecting a better arcade.
One day, documentary filmmaker Nirvan Mullick walked into the used auto parts store and something magical happened. He could identify with this miniature entrepreneur and his detailed arcade masterpiece. Nirvan – a kid at heart who also pursues his own lifelong passion of story telling through film – had gone into the store looking for a door handle for his car. Instead, he left the shop with a new inspiration.
After spending a time with Caine as one of his first customers, Mullick saw Caine as an excellent topic for a short-subject documentary called “Caine’s Arcade.” The documentary showcases why Caine creates the arcade, and explores how and why we should support a child’s imagination. Further, the documentary addresses the importance of unharnessed creative thinking and the reward to a child’s eventual social, academic and professional development.
The documentary suggests that if we don’t harness unbridled childlike imagination and entrepreneurial spirit we might not have automobiles, telephones, computers, or the space shuttle. If Caine can create a cardboard arcade at age 9, what will he do with an engineering degree in a decade or so? They sky is the limit. Caine – and everyone, quite frankly – has potential.
Wanting to help Caine attract arcade customers, but realizing the location of the auto parts store has drawbacks, Nirvan filmed “Caine’s Arcade,” the short-film documentary and turned to social media platforms and video share to plea for flashmob participants to make one little boy’s dream come true. The video share went viral on Reddit. The rest was history. On October 2, 2011, over 100 children and adults came to play, much to Caine’s awe and excitement.
An unexpected response
After “Caine’s Arcade” went viral, there was a flurry of unexpected, yet welcome consequences. Donations came rolling in to a college fund set up for Caine. People stopped by the auto parts store to marvel at the cardboard creation that captured the nation’s imagination. Staff shirts and fun passes were a commodity requested on a global level.
But the story of the arcade didn’t end there. Caine’s ingenuity gave birth to the Imagination Foundation, which is a non-profit group that encourages individuals to find, foster and support creativity and entrepreneurship in young children. The foundation aims to help a new generation of children develop, implement and create new programs or products to help explore their interests. The theory behind the foundation’s efforts is that if every child’s creativity is supported – at school, out within the community, and at home – we’d have a much more interesting world to live within.
The Imagination’s five goals include instilling creative thinking, giving kids opportunities, fostering a community of creative children, introducing children to entrepreneurship, and celebrating the child within.
To recognize Caine’s achievement, the Foundation also created the Global Cardboard Challenge, which invites all children that want to build something out of a very basic material to design and build something that ignites their imaginations. The Foundation also introduced Caine’s Arcade for Schools, which is a creative curriculum that uses the short film as a cornerstone to enhance the curriculum.
Caine hit the road for several speaking engagements. He was invited to speak at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, where he spoke to a crowd of business students about what he learned from opening the arcade. He was one of three children featured at the 2012 “Junior Worldmakers” hosted by J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. He presented his “Out of the Box” preentation at the TEDxTeen and took part in a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His story has appeared in several business journals, including Forbes and Fast Company, and was featured on the NBC Nightly News.
The venture of the arcade also secured Caine’s future. A college fund started by Nirvan had the lofty goal of raising $25,000, but has grown to more than $230,000 with a current goal of achieving $250,000. He plans on attending college, and hopes to help a few other students realize their post-secondary endeavors, too.
Within one year of Caine’s story going viral, the child prodigy at 10-years-old was signed by the prestigious William Morris Endeavor talent agency. The agency represents celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Ashley Judd and Tyra Banks. The agency purports, “Caine shares the story behind his idea, vision and dream that has become a wonderful example of human connection and what amazing things can happen when people join to help someone fulfill a dream.” They are helping Caine’s message to go global.
Caine, now 11, has retired from the arcade business. He spends his time outside of attending school challenging children, globally, to build out of cardboard the world they imagine. But his story illustrates what can happen when a child is empowered by his or her creativity; the world can open up in ways they, or their parents could never envision. And, for the kids at heart, Caine helps them to revisit the kid within.
Although not every child in every situation could expect to get the support that Caine has received, the benefits of exercising imagination can’t be denied. If a child builds from the ground up – using even the most rudimentary materials – he or she can create arcade games, costumes, forts, go-carts, or anything else. In the process they make valuable connections within the brain that can be used for other mental tasks, like reasoning, negotiating, and decision-making.
Being creative empowers children to transform their environment. A bedroom can become a subdivision of houses. A backyard can become a forest. And an auto parts supply store becomes an arcade. And, years of accomplishing and achieving transforms creative children into inventors, business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Once children believe that what they create is worthwhile, and it’s not dismissed as merely child’s play, they’ll believe in themselves enough to keep moving forward by trying. With all of today’s distractions, like television and internet, it can be hard to foster creativity in children. But doing so has infinite rewards.
Creativity is inherent in every child – it’s not something that is based on ability. It’s in the head, and the heart of every child – young or old.
For more information on Caine Monroy and his initiatives:
A message can be verbal, or something that’s felt in the heart. What all messages have in common is that they can influence our perspectives for better or worse. Luckily, by gathering positive messages, the bad ones can be cast away.
- Accept Help
- Celebrate Your Child
- Dare to Dream
- Experience Magic
- Find and Foster Creativity
- Gain Perspective
- Get Your Mojo Back
- Keep the Family Together
- Let Go
- Love without Barriers
- Pat Yourself on the Back
- Plan Ahead
- Pursue Happiness
- Reinvent Normal
- Share Some Love
- Take a Break
- Welcome to Holland
When a child with a disability reaches adulthood, feelings about acceptance by others may linger. If young people learn to accept themselves during their formative years, explore interests, form friendships, accomplish, interact, and socialize at age-appropriate stages, it can help empower a sense of belonging when they’ve grown.