As Prince George’s County continues to reel from being one of the hardest-hit areas in the Washington region during the financial crisis and from the slayings of six students in six months, a form of counterprogramming is happening inside a windowless room at the back of the library: tables of teenagers playing Monopoly, with the bonus of good food.
“I’ve played at home when I was a kid, but this is the Super Bowl of Monopoly,” Ronald, an eighth-grader at Drew-Freeman Middle School, said one recent evening. “I’ve never played like this before. It’s really serious.”
The library has long been popular among a group of local teenagers, librarian Victoria Johnson said. Many stay to play on the computer or hang out with friends.
The Monopoly program offers something different. The players, ages 11 to 26, may come to get away from the stresses of life. But the founder of the group hoped they would see parallels between Monopoly and the prospects of their success: Both are games of choice and chance.
“We’re trying to teach them financial literacy, but we don’t tell them that,” said Kim Carrington, the Prince George’s substitute teacher and parent activist who started the program. “We tell them what a great game it is.”
Carrington remembered the raucous games she and her husband played with their six kids, now 19 to 26. They grew up to be property owners and founders of start-ups. She attributes it to nights of debates over building houses and hotels on Boardwalk.
About a year ago, she began thinking about incorporating the board game into the lifeblood of Prince George’s, the way cutthroat chess games are played in parks and libraries in some big cities. Eventually, Carrington wants to host a countywide Monopoly competition in which the winner would receive actual money.
But first, the youths needed to learn how to play competitively, one library at a time. So Carrington worked with Spaulding to host games every few Mondays. She got her sister to cater them. By February, a small trend was born. The cost of the venture: $95.
For County Council member Mel Franklin (D-District 9), Carrington’s work represents a type of entrepreneurship of its own: a no-frills program that could make a difference in times of tight budgets and growing concern about youths in Prince George’s.
“The big concern we’re really looking at is we’re losing far too many of our youth down the wrong path,” Franklin said.
“This kind of program gives them a fun thing to do that’s positive.”
Positive, but also aggressive. Far from Ronald’s table, Carrington’s son Brian, 19, helped coach players on the finer points of the game. Before Brian started playing, the teens would just circle their pieces — the shoe, the dog and the iron among them — around the board, collecting fake money for each round and riffling it through their fingers.