Happiness, cheer, inspiration colorfully drawn on pavement

Local nonprofit organizes event to Chalk the Walks around the world

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photoBrian Larsen of The Joy Team completed the logo of the nonprofit corporation on Tuesday in Esther Short Park. Larsen’s wife, Michele, organized Chalk the Walks and hopes it will repeat annually.

(/The Columbian)

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The Joy Team

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The sidewalks at Esther Short Park were filled with color Tuesday morning as the community participated in the first Chalk the Walks.

The event was put together by The Joy Team, a nonprofit corporation Michele Larsen founded in February 2010.

“The idea is as simple as it was in childhood: Write happy messages, have fun doing it, spread some joy while you’re at it,” said Larsen, who got the idea for the event when walking to work one day and noticing some sidewalk art.

“It said, ‘You’re beautiful,’ and it just stuck with me for months and months so I thought I’d get some people together and spread some joy.”

Families and local business people decorated the sidewalks with inspirational messages and drawings, receiving chalk from Umpqua Bank and event organizers.

Open House Ministries, a family shelter housing more than 50 children younger than 17, attended the event as well.

“We’re always trying to find activities for the kids,” said Lucy Gaspar, events coordinator for the homeless shelter. “Today’s actually my day off, but we heard about it and thought it would be something fun to do.”

Larsen spread the word for Chalk the Walks through Facebook, where more than 300 people in 22 states and three countries responded to the event and posted photos.

“It spread like wildfire; almost half the U.S. states are chalking the walks,” Larsen said.

Assisting in the event was Be the Gift, a company started by Vancouver women in November 2007.

“When Michele told us about Chalk the Walks, it was a perfect match for our company; connecting people, communities and families without the use of money,” said Angie Cherry, one of the founders of Be the Gift.

Adults took photos and joined the children in decorating the sidewalks with optimistic messages.

“Sometimes we just get tied up in the hubbub and get stressed out; it’s nice to be a kid again,” said Debbie Oliver, co-founder of Be the Gift.

Larsen, who moved to Vancouver 11 years ago, works as the state director of communications for the March of Dimes. In their spare time her husband, Brian, and their children, Taryn, 8, and Kellen, 10, work together on The Joy Team events that started with placing more than 50 handmade cards throughout Portland and Vancouver, then escalated to billboards with a mission of spreading joy. For upcoming events, Larsen said she had nothing planned but “it won’t be long before we find something else.”