Gamers zero in on charity
Whoever said, “if at first you don’t succeed” might have had Zach Wigal in mind.
Wigal’s first attempt to turn his passion for gaming into something unique and fun was thwarted by a disgruntled police officer when he was 17 years old. He didn’t quit, and turned an unfortunate event into something far more fortunate – for others.
What resulted was far greater than he could have ever imagined. Despite the setback, Wigal persevered, and “Gamers for Giving” was born.
At a recent event in February at Eastern Michigan University, the video game tournament raised over $15,000 for Wigal’s Gamers Outreach charity organization.
Wigal, a former Washtenaw Community College student, reminisced on the canceled 2007 event, “I got a call from the superintendent and was told my permit was canceled.
“People who signed up were very upset, but that’s how it all began. That’s when we had the idea to make it a charity event.”
A meddling cop who didn’t like the idea of a bunch of kids congregating would have a hard time stopping that, Wigal figured. And he was right.
The first official Gamers for Giving event was held in 2008. More than 500 gamers participated, and the event raised $4,000 for the Autism Society of America. The event became the masthead for for Gamers Outreach Foundation.
“I started exploring conceptually what I could do to give back through gaming. Could video games be used for charity?” Wigal asked. “I wanted there to be a connecting point for everyone in the community in the same way walkathons and marathons have, but with video games.”
Wigal began brainstorming ideas for charity projects after learning about Child’s Play, a separate charity that organizes toy drives for children’s hospitals.
“I took a tour of a hospital in Ann Arbor and started thinking about the mobility aspect. There was no solution to transporting games to kids that can’t yet leave their beds,” Wigal said. “There was a play room, but the kids in there were, more often than not, the ones that are about to head home.”
As a result, Gamers Outreach started project GO Kart. GO Karts are video game setups on wheels, designed with ease of use and mobility in mind. Each GO Kart can be easily moved between rooms, allowing hospital staff and volunteers to bring the games directly to the children.
Wigal is 23 now, and his events have raised thousands of dollars for numerous charitable causes, but he is careful to remember the underlying goals.
“People say it’s just for making a better name for [video] games. I’ve become careful about it being just about gaming and our names,” he said. “We actually really care about the initiatives.”
Despite his humble intentions, others have recognized his great accomplishments.
Wigal has won four of Microsoft’s MVP Awards in recognition of his “exceptional technical expertise, willingness to help others make the most of their technology and for making a significant and positive impact on communities.”
David Walsh and Mike Rufail, both former professional gamers and well-known personalities within the gaming community, reached out to Wigal to help with the organization.
“After seeing what Zach had going on, I wanted to be there to help with anything,” Walsh said. “It’s rewarding doing this, and it’s so easy. I get to do gaming, which is my passion and hobby, and it goes to a purpose.”
Walsh, known by his in-game alias “Walshy,” raised more than $3,800 through his live stream channels on YouTube and Twitch.tv in support of Gamers Outreach’s efforts. The funds went toward a GO Kart for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital of Grand Rapids, Walsh’s hometown.
For Rufail, also known as “hastr0,” the mission of Gamers Outreach touched him on a personal level.
“I’ve had to spend time in the hospital for family and know that it’s really hard to keep moral up and stay happy,” Rufail said. “The kart program was genius and it helps a lot of people through the day.”
Rufail aided in the construction of a GO Kart for hospitalized veterans at the Dallas VA Medical Center in Texas.
“It means a lot to me as an American to be able to help those guys,” Rufail said. “Our soldiers love to play games and need entertainment just as much as everybody else.”
In addition to the GO Kart program, Gamers Outreach also runs “Fun For Our Troops,” which supplies video game care packages to soldiers serving overseas.
Rufail urges others to get involved in the charity, even if that means just spreading the word.
“It doesn’t take a lot,” he said. “Just donating even $10 or showing up to the events or tuning in to the live stream and telling others about it is helping out in a very big way.”
How to get involved
The Gamers Outreach Foundation runs three main charity projects:
“Fun For Our Troops” supplies care packages with video game consoles, PC games and console games to troops serving overseas within all branches of the U.S. Military.
“Project GO-Kart” create portable video game kiosks that can be easily transported and is a source of entertainment for patients who have limited amount of access to activities outside their rooms.
“Gaming4others” coordinates online video game tournaments and community game nights to help raise funds for others in need.
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