Children spreading a message of joy on city streets (with video)

Chalk the Walks event begun in Vancouver has expanded to 47 states

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoJunior Joy Team member Faith Ahola, 10, said Tuesday she participated in Chalk the Walks in uptown Vancouver to help people feel better about themselves.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

Faith Ahola, 10, learned at Sunday school that God puts you where you're supposed to be.

That message was the first thing that came to mind Tuesday as she considered what to write for Chalk the Walks in Vancouver's Uptown Village.

Faith wrote, "Where do you belong? You belong right here," and then outlined her feet before coloring them in.

Tuesday was the third year for Chalk the Walks, which was started by the Junior Joy Team and has spread across the country via social media.

"We wanted to have positive messages all over the sidewalk, so people wouldn't feel bad about themselves," Faith said. "I wrote that because some people feel like they are not in the right place."

The Junior Joy Team, a nonprofit organization started in 2010 by Hough Elementary School parent Michele McKeag Larsen, first Chalked the Walks in 2011 in Esther Short Park. Larsen's daughter Taryn, 10, who will be in the fifth grade at Hough, and her son Kellen, 12, who will be entering the seventh grade at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, were among approximately three dozen children who decorated the sidewalks Tuesday on Main Street with chalk provided by Umpqua Bank.

Children represented a number of schools, including Fruit Valley Elementary School, Covington Middle School and Chief Umtuch Middle School.

While the Junior Joy Team first got attention for putting up billboards, Larsen said she started Chalk the Walks because she wanted a simple activity to attract more people to help the group with its mission "to build community by spreading joy, optimism and inspiration."

Her children have always liked to draw in their driveway with sidewalk chalk. What if, she thought, those bright, happy pictures and words could be found throughout the city?

Now, Chalk the Walks is held the third Tuesday each August. Larsen has heard on Facebook from groups and individuals in 47 states who planned to participate.

While she was headquartered outside Mini Mozarts Preschool, 1919 Main St., she said she encouraged people to write chalk messages around the city.

Sentiments expressed Tuesday included an adorable "U (heart) I" that was chalked by a preschooler and "Call your parents," which, Larsen admitted, was written by an adult. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt stopped by and wrote, "Smile Vancouver," with a smiley face.

"It's great to see the look on faces of people when they see the kids at work chalking the sidewalks with positive messages," Leavitt said. "Frowns turn to smiles, conversations among strangers occur and you can feel the good energy," he said. "Michele has done a fantastic job coordinating these Chalk the Walk and Spread the Joy events in our community, reminding us all that the smallest of actions and the nicest of words can really make a big, positive impact on somebody's day. I love that this is happening in Vancouver."

Faith's friend, Zoë Johnston, 11, opted for "Love your life," as her first message.

"I really wanted to show people they don't always have to be in a bad mood," Zoë said.

Some people don't like the way they look or who they are, she added.

"Look inside your soul," she said. "Everybody can find happiness if they look deep enough."

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com

View a video of the Chalk the Walks event on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.