Season’s Greetings and welcome to a special Holiday installment of Black Sheep Meets. This is the time of year for giving. That might be giving to friends and family, and it may be giving to charity. It is no secret that I work over at Card Kingdom. Their gift to me is an awesome career that allows me to support my family and be passionate about the work that I do and the company I do it for. As a company that prides itself on being part of the community, Card Kingdom places a high value on charity and community outreach.
I was fortunate to be able to sit down and interview Lyla Morris. Lyla runs the ENGAGE (www.moxboardinghouse.com/engage) program, the corporate giving and community outreach program for Card Kingdom, Inc. Lyla has dedicated her life to helping others. Outside her work in the community both before and during running the ENGAGE program, she is incredibly supportive to those around her. She has personally helped me in my cross-state move and feeling welcome in a new area. Lyla demonstrates that the positive effect of the Magic community extends far beyond the game and the people who enjoy playing it.
Sean: Lyla, first off I just want to say thank you for taking the time for this interview today. Many of our readers outside the greater Seattle area may not know who you are or what exactly the ENGAGE program is. Before we get into that, ENGAGE isn’t the first time you have been involved in community outreach. What experience did you bring with you when starting this program?
Lyla: Thanks for having me! My background is in clinical social work. I am a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the State of Washington, and have been working in the field of juvenile justice and family therapy for over 20 years. With ENGAGE, I had a rare opportunity to combine my professional skills and community outreach experience with our family business (I am married to John Morris, founder and Co-Owner of Card Kingdom), and I jumped at the chance to connect our brick and mortar stores with our geographic community.
Sean: It sounds like you have been helping others for a long time. What originally drove you into this kind of work, and what keeps you dedicating your time helping others?
Lyla: I think my unique family makeup (we happen to be a family built around international adoption) and my parents’ commitment to expose me to different points of view, standards of living, ideas about culture, and advocating for those without an opportunity for their voice to be heard, was a big part of my upbringing and my core beliefs. Moving toward the world of social work, and more specifically, family therapy, was a natural extension of my upbringing.
Sean: Getting down to it, ENGAGE is a part of Card Kingdom so it isn’t exactly a charity. How would you describe what the ENGAGE program is?
Lyla: The ENGAGE program is the charitable giving and community outreach arm of Card Kingdom. We aren’t a non-profit, but rather, an extension of our business that focuses on ways to connect our brick and mortar stores with our geographic community. When I started developing the idea for ENGAGE, I wanted to find ways for our business to give back to our actual neighbors. By design, our program committee is comprised of individuals from all pockets of our business, and they, in turn, represent the ideas and areas of interest that our employees would like to see our business participate in within our community.
Sean: Card Kingdom previously ran its charitable contributions like most companies, by writing checks. Why create the ENGAGE program, over just donating to established charities?
That is a fantastic question. It really points back to the inception of the program. Over the years, the more Card Kingdom grew both virtually and physically (eventually adding two brick and mortar stores and the gaming café- Café Mox- in the Ballard location, and now a full restaurant in our Bellevue location- Restaurant at the Mox) the more visible we became in our geographic community. Because of my intimate connection with the business, as well as my background in social work in the Seattle area, I started getting more requests from local non-profits to donate and be involved with the community. This led me to propose our first donation drive, a Giving Tree, to a local non-profit that works with homeless youth. I knew the gaming community was full of generous folk, and I wanted to see what would happen if we provided an opportunity for them to give back to their community. True to form, our gamer community not only came through, but gave *way beyond* expectations- all items on the Giving Tree were fulfilled in 3 days! Then again, a week later, a whole second tree of donation requests was fulfilled as well! Some of our employees also pooled their money to purchase many items on the treel. It was a great experience, and a catalyst to create something more formalized within our company.
Our next idea was to do a fundraiser for a local non-profit that provides quality childcare to children all across our region. Our plan was to host a family-friendly game event, and give a portion of our sales that day to the charity. The event part of the day went spectacularly, but unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped in the sales department, because marketing was not our strong suit at the time, and we hadn’t yet learned how to leverage donations. In the end, we ended up donating the amount of money we wanted to give anyway, but we clearly needed to find ways to better earn donations for our selected charities.
That less-than-stellar outcome helped to generate the idea that we should raise money using our strengths. We came up with the idea to utilize the money we would have donated to a charity, to produce a tournament that would ultimately bring more exposure and (hopefully) donations to the charity. Eight weeks later, we created “The Gauntlet: A Call to ENGAGE” to benefit Child’s Play, and raised 26K for Child’s Play (our goal was 5K). After the success of this tournament, we knew we were on to something and planned to make this event an annual fundraiser. Our second year, The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis raised 93K for Hopelink, and last year, The Gauntlet: Odyssey raised 75K for YouthCare. The Gauntlet is our biggest fundraiser to date, and we feel so encouraged that we found a way to leverage (and multiply many times over) the money we would normally have just given directly to our non-profit of choice.
Sean: When you are looking at charities to support and bring awareness to, for ENGAGE, how do you make your decision on which organizations to work with?
Lyla: In order to further formalize ENGAGE, it was important for me to get a gauge from our owners about the areas of focus that were important to them. After a long discussion, we were able to narrow down to three areas of focus, and these are the program that we chose to donate to at this time; 1) Basic Needs: programs that support basic needs like food, shelter, healthcare, and mental health, 2) Education: programs such as preschools, parent/teacher associations in K-12, higher education to include technical schools, tutoring/mentoring programs, and before/after school programs such as Math and Science Club, Chess Club, etc. and 3) Neighborhoods/Community: Programs that promote positive social connection, teambuilding, and networking within our geographic community as well as our virtual community. This is not to say other areas of focus aren’t important- this was just a way to lead our committee toward where we’d like to concentrate our efforts. Giving is a very personal endeavor, and this helped us to stay focused for the business, as requests started rolling in.
Sean: ENGAGE runs all kinds of activities, in-kind giving, fundraisers, volunteerism and community engagement. What seems the most exciting is the once a year fundraiser, The Gauntlet. Could you describe the Gauntlet event in a little more detail and how that event helps the community?
Lyla: As mentioned already, The Gauntlet has become our annual board game charity tournament and biggest fundraiser of the year. It is an invitational event, although we are open to new teams reaching out to us, as interest arises. We strive to find teams of four from companies in the game industry, or gaming community, that want to play games, battle for an amazing (actual) gauntlet trophy, and do it for a fantastic cause. We choose a different beneficiary each year, and because an important value for the ENGAGE program is to help programs within our “backyard,” we chose a beneficiary from the Puget Sound Region that we feel does stellar work WITH and FOR the underserved, disadvantaged, or vulnerable folk in our region. So far, we have given to 3 different charities, and a fourth will be in 2017. One of the most amazing outcomes of our event, has been the personal stories that have been shared from participants of our tournament who may have relied on the services of the beneficiary, or another program like it at particular times in their lives. Our tournament is more than just a fundraiser with people playing games, it’s a group of people who have a shared interest to do great things with their privilege, as well as their professional outreach. They work really hard to bring in the most money they can for the beneficiary, whilst also doing something they love with their fellow gamers. It’s pretty awesome to be in that room that day.
Sean: It seems like ENGAGE is doing an incredible amount of work. As I understand it, you run this part-time and have no dedicated employees reporting to you to get everything done. How is it possible for you to achieve as much as you have?
Lyla: I have amazing committee members that are just as passionate as I am! When they say they will do something from one meeting to the next, they get it done, and then some. Our ENGAGE committee is comprised of about 8 or 9 individuals from all areas of Card Kingdom, (online fulfillment, retail, café) who work on the committee, in addition to their regular duties. It is important to me that folks decide on their own to be on the committee, so those that sit at the table each meeting, are people who really desire to be there, and are motivated to set things in motion. Card Kingdom encourages ENGAGE members to do this work during normal work hours. Since community building is a core value of the business, they are paid for any time they put into the committee meetings. ENGAGE members know that they have an awesome opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process in choosing where to engage our business with our community, and they really take that to heart. They also communicate with co-workers and customers to find out what causes mean the most to the Card Kingdom “family.”
Sean: Is there anything new and exciting planned for ENGAGE in 2017 and the remainder of 2016?
Lyla: Yes! Now that we feel comfortable with how we produce the Gauntlet, we have started to explore other areas to expand into. This December we had our first ENGAGE sponsored War Machine tournament. It went very well, and we were able to add an additional $400 to our Giving Tree beneficiary gifts! Also, we already had plans to produce our first ENGAGE sponsored MTG tournament sometime next year, but then a great opportunity came up in the last few weeks. The tournament slated for next summer is now happening this December.
When Cassius Marsh of the Seattle Seahawks recently had his Modern and Legacy decks stolen, it created a lot of buzz in the MTG community. Many people felt connected to him, and they could empathize with losing a prized MTG collection. The community called out to see if we could make some good out of a bad situation, and luckily, we were able to put something together in a short amount of time. One of our staff reached out to Cassius and asked him if he would be willing to attend a charity event. He agreed! This Dec 30th, we are hosting a Magic tournament, with a fantastic prize payout, and all proceeds to benefit the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program of Puget Sound. Players will have a chance to play in the tournament with Cassius, and Wizards of the Coast is going to donate 5K to the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program of Puget Sound as well! We are lucky to have the support of the MTG community and the Seattle “12s” to make this a successful fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound. (Registration and info: www.moxboardinghouse.com/events/charityfnm)
Sean: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and all the work you have been doing to help the community. Where should people go if they want to contact you to donate, participate, or just learn more about ENGAGE?
Lyla: Thank you! They can go to our webpage to learn more about the scope of our program, as well as announcements about our upcoming Gauntlet event in May. www.moxboardinghouse.com/engage
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