Last summer he was just a 9-year-old boy in Boyle Heights making games out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s used auto parts store. Today, fifth grader Caine Monroy is inspiring kids worldwide to foster their creativity and use their imaginations.
With Caine’s Arcade, the boy has become an international star and the inspiration behind a foundation for kids. To date, he’s received nearly $220,000 in donations to his scholarship fund, traveled to Cannes and become the face of a new pilot school program.
This past weekend, the first ever Caine’s Arcade Global Challenge was held in Boyle Heights. More than 500 people attended Saturday’s local event, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jose Huizar. Caine was awarded a cardboard key to the city.
The event was planned as a worldwide playdate inviting kids to build anything out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. In addition to the Boyle Heights event, more than 250 cardboard challenges took place in 38 countries and six continents.
It was meant as a way to raise funds to foster creativity and entrepreneurship for kids, as well as a launch for the non-profit Imagination Foundation.
Caine’s Arcade became a phenomenon last spring after catching the eye of filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, who was shopping in Caine’s father’s store. Impressed by the child’s handiwork, the filmmaker organized a flash mob to show up at the arcade, which until then had been without customers.
Mullick made an 11-minute short film about the makeshift arcade and event. When he posted it online in April, it had over 1 million views in two days. Today, it has 7 million. Mullick had hoped to raise $25,000 for a scholarship fund for Caine. That goal was surpassed by four times the first day.
After the film, Caine no longer had to worry about customers. He soon had news crews and people coming from all over the world to see his creation. Last weekend’s event marked the one-year anniversary of the flash mob.
The massive reaction and outpouring of support has inspired the filmmaker to do something for all kids. In his launch video, Mullick says the idea is “to not only give kids the tools to build the things they imagine, but to imagine the world they can build.”
Mullick says the Imagination Foundation project has taken over his life for the past six months. He calls the experience “a lightning rod and a chance to have a positive impact.”
With the help of grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, which is matching donation funds up to $250,000, the Imagination Foundation has also started Caine’s Arcade School Pilot Program. Mullick says more than 100 schools in nine countries are using the film and cardboard arcade to help inspire and teach kids.
Meanwhile, Caine’s popularity continues to grow around the world. In addition to speaking in Cannes, France, Caine was a guest speaker at USC’s Marshall School of Business and received the Latino Spirit Award from the California State Assembly.
As Caine is inspiring kids worldwide, Mullick says he also hopes to impact kids in the Boyle Heights community. The Imagination Foundation is currently exploring possibilities and partnerships and looking to create a “maker space” where kids can get together and do hands-on projects and after-school programs.
To make a donation to Caine’s scholarship fund, host an event, or learn more about available educational programs, go to imagination.is.
Caine’s Arcade is located inside Smart Pants Aftermarket at 538 N. Mission Road in Boyle Heights. While it’s open most weekends, it’s best to check hours on the Caine’s Arcade Facebook page.
All photos courtesy of facebook.com/cainesarcade.