Pinball is everywhere in Portland, though not necessarily for everyone. If you're under 21, it's possible you've never even seen one of the 700-plus machines spread throughout the city that mostly sit sequestered away in bars and age-restricted arcades.
Related: Yes, Portland Has More Pinball Machines Than New York and Los Angeles
The Pinball Outreach Project is out to change that. Founded by Nicole Anne Reik, a former accountant and onetime ranked player, the nonprofit's goal isn't just to introduce the primitive joys of flipper-smashing to a younger generation, but to explore the game's altruistic potential.
"She wanted to marry her love of pinball with doing more for the community," says Greg Dunlap, Reik's husband and a member of the POP board.
Operating out of a tiny headquarters on Northeast 42nd Avenue—which also doubles as an all-ages arcade—the organization loans machines to children's hospitals and hosts events for the Children's Cancer Association. It's even researched pinball as a form of autism therapy. "It's not as much about the pinball as the group interactions," Dunlap says.
The POP arcade offers free play for kids under 13, with a mix of old-school predigital machines and newer, brighter models. If nothing else, at least it encourages children to look up from their phones and engage in a form of entertainment even their parents understand.
"Sometimes, you get kids in here and their eyes light up," Dunlap says. "And when they get into it, it's something that can bond across generations."
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