As Seattle Police Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin likes to say, the right strategy for chess applies to life, too: First, think before you make a move. Then, make the best choice, not necessarily the quickest or easiest one.
For more than a decade, Bouldin has been offering that kind of advice to her chess club, which provides a safe haven for young people of color and opportunities for all ages to interact.
When Dave Merrill heard her speak about the program at a Lions Club meeting, the owner of Merrill & Merrill Insurance knew he wanted to be involved.
“I’ve always enjoyed chess, even though I didn’t play that often,” he said. “But after hearing about how Detective Cookie relates with these kids, and how they learn life skills through the game, I was inspired.”
Merrill helps plan, set up, and host “Pop-Up Chess Parks” several times a year; each has tables with up to 20 chess boards, along with a life-size set. “These events are a way to get out, stimulate the mind, and meet all kinds of different people,” he said.
The ultimate goal, however, is the creation of the Friends of Detective Cookie Chess Park—a permanent intergenerational, multicultural space where neighbors can learn and play chess outdoors in Rainier Beach, a neighborhood in southeast Seattle.
‘What’s unique about this is that it will help foster positive engagement with law enforcement in addition to strengthening the community.’
—Michelle Benetua, Seattle Parks Foundation
“This is one of Seattle’s most diverse, vibrant neighborhoods, but it hasn’t seen similar levels of public investment as other areas,” said Michelle Benetua of the Seattle Parks Foundation, which is sponsoring the project. “What’s unique about this is that it will help foster positive engagement with law enforcement in addition to strengthening the community.”
The perfect setting
Fittingly, the park will be on a piece of land that used to be occupied by Merrill & Garrick Real Estate & Insurance—the precursor to Merrill & Merrill. Owned by the city today, the site is just six blocks from the company’s current office, which means Dave is always close by.
“These community-driven efforts simply would not happen without the time and energy given by people like Dave,” Benetua said. “Volunteers mean everything to a project like this.”
A 2020 Make More Happen Award will bring some additional funding to the table, too. The honor typically includes an initial donation of $5,000 and the opportunity to win another $5,000; however, in light of the challenges communities are facing across the country, Safeco and Liberty Mutual are donating the full $10,000 immediately to the Seattle Parks Foundation on behalf of Merrill & Merrill Insurance.
A diverse group of players
“This will allow us to build the permanent tables and overhead canopy for the park,” said Merrill, who serves on the steering committee. “These are key components to the success of this project.”
The pop-up events show that there is demand for a park like this, according to Benetua. “They attract a very diverse crowd in all categories—age, race, income level, ability,” she said. “I can’t wait to see a permanent place where anyone can drop by, and once we’re done with physical distancing, gather together for a game of chess.”