When it comes to volunteering in your community, the best way to get others to join you is by finding ways to make it fun. Brandon Lasby has mastered that skill with the help of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game that that superimposes the Pokémon universe onto a real-world environment.
Every other Sunday, Lasby and his team of “Pokémoners” combine service and gaming, gathering in Osprey Park to clean the trails while hunting rare and elusive Pokémon. They were spending so much time in the park they decided to make it official, formally adopting Osprey Park through the city’s adopt-a-park program. Since September of last year, Lasby, his family, and numerous other members of the Sky Valley Pokémoners community have dedicated nearly 200 hours to ensuring that Osprey Park is clean, litter-free and welcoming to guests and residents.
He coordinates the cleanup efforts by creating events in his Pokémon-themed Facebook group, which currently boasts 84 members.
“Now we have this nexus of volunteers that continually show up,” Lasby said.
The Pokémon community is diverse, he said, including teachers, homemakers, law enforcement professionals and everyone in between. Adults, kids and even people from neighboring communities come out to join the fun.
“They actually come from Monroe out here to clean our park,” Lasby said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Originally from Woodinville, Lasby has lived in Sultan for 10 years. He and his wife own a home close to Sultan’s downtown core, where they live with their three young children.
It was really a combination of things that helped spark Brandon’s interest in giving back to the Sultan community. Sultan’s unofficial motto, “Big Heart, Little City,” is constantly exemplified through the efforts of those who live here – which is something that really had an impact on Brandon. He became increasingly motivated by the efforts of other community volunteers, enjoying regularly featured coverage in local media that highlighted volunteers and their projects.
Community advocates like Elizabeth Emmons, Jody and Tiffany Kerr, Brian and Diana Swift and Dave and Christina Sivewright, all dedicate enormous amounts of their time to community betterment. It’s something he finds incredibly inspirational, he said.
“It’s contagious,” Lasby said. “That’s what I would say about volunteering; is that you get around these people, and you realize how much they do, and you just want to mirror that.”
Sultan is unique in terms of its high level of community engagement, Brandon said.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before,” he said. “It really is something special.”
Then, in 2016, the phenomenon known as Pokémon GO took hold, seemingly overnight. The great thing about the game, said Brandon, is that it encourages people to get outside and be physically active, while exploring places they might not otherwise visit. Prior to playing the game, he hadn’t spent a lot of time in Osprey Park, and had no idea what a community asset the park is.
And the appeal of volunteerism, as demonstrated by Sultan’s robust core of “hometown heroes,” had never left his mind. Blending Pokémon GO with community service was an ideal way to help the city, and a fantastic way to introduce volunteerism to his kids and the kids of other local Pokémoners.
It’s been a great way to build relationships, and a fun way to draw people into the Sultan community. To further build Sultan as a Pokémon destination, he and his group have worked tirelessly to collect GPS information for different community features, in hopes that the game’s creators will add new PokéStops and Gyms – both integral parts of playing the game. Crosswater Church, for example, is an official Pokémon Gym, where players can battle the Pokémon of rival teams.
Although cleaning Osprey Park with the Pokémoners is his passion, it is not the only way he volunteers. In a role that is more guts than glory, Brandon serves his homeowner’s association through a position on the board of directors, a job he was thrust into roughly eight years ago. Now serving as the HOA secretary, Brandon has served as the president and treasurer in previous years.
Upon his initial involvement, the board was struggling due to low engagement. It resulted in some stressful years, but Brandon persevered, successfully building it back up to where it needs to be.
As a board member, Brandon helps oversee the budgeting process to ensure the association has adequate funds to accomplish street upkeep and preservation, along with the maintenance of other common areas. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, he spends time cleaning retention pond inlets, caring for sidewalks and unclogging drains.
He also serves on the Sky Valley Citizens for Sultan Schools committee, an organization devoted to the passage of the upcoming school levy. With three children in the Sultan School District, he wanted to gain some perspective about the schools, so he attended a school board meeting early last year. That led to his service on the committee, which includes attendance at weekly committee meetings and levy informational events aimed at educating voters on the importance of levies.
“Brandon is an active member of the Citizens for Sultan Schools campaign,” said committee chair Elizabeth Emmons. “He staffs info table events, helps with bookkeeping and goes above and beyond to get the word out about the importance of voting yes on February 13. He is determined to better the learning experience for kids throughout the Sultan School District!”
He’s been a positive presence on social media, adding balance and objectivity during online discussions about different school-related matters.
Brandon plans to continue his community involvement in the future, and would wholeheartedly like to encourage others to get involved by adopting a street or a park. It’s really easy to volunteer, Brandon said, and he is hopeful more people will get involved. And anybody interested in learning more about Pokémon GO is welcome to hit the trails with them, from 9 to 11 a.m. every other Sunday.
“We have such a great group,” Brandon said. “It really is something special when you have players from Monroe coming out here to clean parks!”