Washougal brothers give back

Jason and Eric Dodge, who both had near-death experiences, host YouTube ‘treasure hunts’ to give people cash, prizes

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Washougal residents Eric Dodge (left) and Jason Dodge talk about a prize during one of their "Chubby Leprechaun" YouTube videos. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Jason Dodge died in his Washougal home during the early morning hours of May 6, 2013, but was brought back to life by Washougal police officers and an automated external defibrillator three minutes later. He awoke from a medically induced coma one week later, diagnosed with sudden cardiac death syndrome. He still has no recollection of what happened to him that night.

A little more than four years later, on Oct. 23, 2017, Dodge’s brother Eric, also a Washougal resident, suffered a stroke. He recovered, but is still dealing with lingering effects, such as stuttering and memory loss, and recently stepped away from his teaching job in the Evergreen School District to focus on his health.

The Dodge brothers said their brushes with death gave them both a deeper appreciation for the important things in their lives. They don’t take anything for granted, they said, and tell their children every day how much they love them.

“We’re lucky to be alive,” Jason said. “Now we live every day to the fullest. Those incidents were life-changing. Before that night, I was just going through life, doing whatever. Now I look at it completely differently, and I think (Eric) is the same way. You love your family a little bit more. You love your neighbors a little bit more. You understand that life is fragile, and to enjoy it while you’re here. We want other people to live that way, too.”

The newfound appreciation for life prompted the brothers to launch their own YouTube channel, “The Chubby Leprechaun,” that features treasure hunts for people to win money and other prizes.

“There’s a lot of hurt and sadness in the world right now,” Jason said. “You look everywhere and people are affected. We just really wanted to spread some kindness and love and give people something they could do with their families or friends.”

Jason and Eric hide cash and other items such as wallets, shoes, games or toys in random, out of the way, but not impossible to find, locations and then give viewers clues on their “Chubby Leprechaun” videos.

“We decide an area that we want to hide something in and head that way. Then, from there, it’s random,” Jason said. “We’re just looking for safe places that people can access without just randomly walking by.”

There’s only one rule, and it’s a simple one: the first person to find the prize gets to keep it — no questions asked.

“The treasure hunt is kind of a carrot to every little kid at some point,” Eric said. “They get excited to look for treasure. It’s fun.”

After the Dodge brothers verify that a prize has been claimed, they invite the winner to join them on their next video.

“Sharing stories is a big part of what we want to do,” Jason said. “Everybody has different challenges and struggles. I think we’ll get to know more people and how we affect their lives.”

The brothers’ first winner, Tawnya Ungerman, of Boise, Idaho, found a designer purse with a $100 bill that Eric had hid in a bush during a recent visit to Idaho’s Treasure Valley.

Ungerman told Jason and Eric she planned to use the money to visit her children in Arizona, a trip she said she had been struggling to afford due to medical bills. The brothers then gifted Ungerman with an additional $283.47 and told her they’d pay for a plane ticket the next time she wants to see her kids.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more deserving winner,” Jason said.

Jason and Eric plan to hide the majority of their items in the Portland metropolitan area, but would like to expand to other cities and states — including Idaho and Utah, where many of their family members live.

“The idea was to hit this side of the United States. Then, once we could get a good following going, we could grow into other areas and hide bigger and better things,” Eric said. “It would be nice someday to go down to Florida and do the same thing for people there. Down the road – three years from now, five years from now – I envision us taking $100,000 and hiding it at some random place in the United States and writing a poem of clues and letting people take years to find it. It would be really cool to do that.”

Jason, who works as an analyst for Camas debt-collection consultant Intelitech Group, and Eric have the financial resources to cover the cost of the prizes in the short-term, but hope to eventually partner with businesses to provide additional support. They said they think the partnerships might be a good marketing tool for businesses that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At first, we were just going to hide money. It’s small, it’s flat, it’s easy,” Eric said. “But we thought that we’d have a much easier time getting sponsors if we go to buy a bunch of brand-name stuff – shoes, wallets, games, things like that. That gives us a chance to talk about the products, and we hope that, at some point, somebody will say (they want to sponsor us). We can’t continue to pay out forever. At some point we’re going to need a sponsor. We can go for a long time, but we would like it to be self-sustaining.”

“Imagine if we went to (a local business) and hid a $50 bill on the property and told people, ‘Come on down, it’s yours to keep,'” he continued. “Nobody would need to force them to buy anything when they were there. It would just happen.”

They also hope to build up their follower base, which could provide options for financial support in the future. As of Oct. 16, the YouTube page had 139 subscribers.

“We want to build that following,” Jason said. “Our first big goal – and I don’t think it’s too far away – is to get to 1,000 subscribers. It kind of becomes self-sustaining at that point.”

Long-term, “The Chubby Leprechaun” also fits in with the brothers’ desire to build community and help others in need. Recently, Jason put out a call for donations through his Facebook page and raised enough money to purchase 200 cans of chili and 200 juice boxes for the Washougal Food Bank, which had been running low on those items.

“We would love to have a local platform where we could say, ‘Here’s a problem, and here’s how we can fix it,'” Jason said. “We hope to build a sense of community and help people, and at the same time give people a chance to have fun and learn good family values. If we build a big enough community around us, we can do things like the food drives and raise money for different causes and people that need it, and still provide something fun for people to go and do.”