Caine Monroy was 9 years old when he built a cardboard arcade inside his father’s auto-parts store in east Los Angeles. His first game was inspired by a tiny basketball hoop he won at Shakey's Pizza. With boxes, tape and imagination, he went on to create an entire arcade.
No one wanted to play. Then filmmaker Nirvan Mullick stopped by to buy a door handle. He saw Caine’s arcade and asked the price of a turn. Caine told him he could have four turns for a dollar, but if he bought a Fun Pass, he could have 500 turns.
By that time Caine had filled the store with games, built himself an office and accumulated tickets, tokens and prizes. He had attached a used calculator to every game that could check Fun Pass pin numbers.
He had figured out everything except how to attract customers. Then Mullick showed up. Caine’s dad watched the first interaction on his security camera. Caine was in his element. Mullick was amazed.
He asked Caine’s dad if he could make a short film about the boy. Via Facebook he organized a flashmob at Caine’s Arcade. It went viral. NBC News showed up. Reddit went mad for the event.
Caine had no idea it was happening. His dad took him out for pizza while things were being set up. They drove back to the shop to find dozens of people cheering, waving signs and waiting to play Caine’s games. Caine was thrilled.
Mullick's video attracted over 7 million viewers and the interest of the Goldhirsh Foundation. They provided the generous grant that launched the Imagination Foundation, whose mission is "to find, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in kids” and “to raise generations of children around the globe who are engaged in building a better world.”
The foundation is creating a project-based curriculum to teach science, technology, engineering, art and math. They have plans for Maker Spaces in underserved communities, a Web platform where kids can share their creations, ‘Child Genius’ grants and imagination mentors, educator training, and much more.
In October 2012 the foundation held its first annual Global Cardboard Challenge. Over 270 events in 40 countries brought communities together for a day to celebrate the creativity and imagination of kids.
The videos from the events are a tribute to the young participants. They are testament to the creative ember that glows in everyone and just needs some nurturing and encouragement to fan it into a flame.