Chalk the Walks event spreads its message of good will

Worldwide effort started in Vancouver

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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"You are amazing!" read a chalked sidewalk message in Medina, Ohio.

"Be proud of who you are," read one in Nashville, Tenn.

"Love everyone," read yet another chalked sidewalk message, this one in Buckingham, Va.

Pictures of positive chalked messages — and hearts, rainbows and smiley faces — beamed in Tuesday from all 50 states and Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, India, Mexico, New Zealand and Scotland, to the delight of Vancouver's Joy Team, which started Chalk the Walks in 2011. This year, more than 4,000 people participated around the world, said Michele McKeag Larsen, who co-founded the nonprofit Joy Team in 2010 with her daughter, Taryn, when her daughter was a student Hough Elementary School.

Larsen was pleased to log on to Facebook Tuesday morning and see photographs of chalked messages from far-away places posted on the event's page.

For more than two hours Tuesday, Larsen, her daughter and fellow members of the Junior Joy Team joined others in decorating sidewalks on Main Street in Uptown Village.

Unlike graffiti that the Vancouver City Council targeted Monday with new criminal and civil codes, the chalk art was welcomed. Outside of Halo Designs, for example, wrapped pieces of chalk were ready for any passer-by who wanted to join the fun.

Jay Morton, 26, drew seven characters from "Chrono Trigger," a Super Nintendo game.

"I tend to draw nerdy stuff," said Morton, a Hazel Dell resident who usually chalks outside his home and has welcomed the opportunity to participate in the annual Chalk the Walks.

While people unfamiliar with the time-travel game won't recognize the characters or know that they band together to save the world, they can appreciate the sentiment of the words Morton put with his drawings: "True friendship stands the test of time."

Morton also drew the blue Genie from "Aladdin," voiced by the late Robin Williams, with the message, "Love is the strongest magic."

The group of Hough students who formed the Junior Joy Team in 2012 are entering middle school. During their time at Hough, they spread their message through billboards and visits to businesses and the Vancouver City Council, where they'd distribute decorated note cards with encouraging words such as, "Be strong!" "Shine like a star!" and "Go and live your dream."

Taryn, 11, will be a sixth-grader at Jason Lee Middle School. She, like her mom, was thrilled with Tuesday's turnout.

"I think that's really awesome, that there are people all over the world writing on the sidewalks," she said.

Grace Hopkins, 11, will be attending Discovery Middle School and has loved her time with the Junior Joy Team.

"It's just a really fun way of spreading joy, and getting other people to feel happy makes you feel good," she said.