Learn about who we are and how we got started
Chess has the power to help kids develop forethought.
Chess puts them in a position where they have to think various steps ahead in order to accomplish a task which, on the chessboard, is a checkmate. It teaches them how to plan, think critically, and solve problems. Studies show that chess strengthens cognitive skills such as perception, information management, attention, memory, logical thinking, and analysis. We then assist youth in taking those skill sets and apply them to life.
We use chess to teach kids how to respond to a situation versus react to it.
Chess teaches one to plan all possibilities and outcomes before each move; in other words, think before you move. Not only does chess contribute to problem solving and project management, but research proves it to be an effective method to also manage emotions. Chess therapy allows one to act upon his or her aggressive impulses on the chessboard. Chess allows you to shed those impulsive desires and take a more tactical approach to facing the real world. Therefore, the Think Before You Move model is not only applicable in chess, but acts as a motto for how to live life.
At Chess and Community, we not only preach the chess model, but we allow students to practice these skills in the real world. We give our students the chance to travel where they face new opportunities, new ways of thinking, and new experiences where they are challenged to utilize their newfound skillsets. They learn how to apply all of these skills in order to avoid systemic traps that they will encounter throughout life.
To be successful on a chess board, it requires one to plan out the right steps, explore all of the available options, and be aware of any unintended consequences. If one can grasp that on the chess board, it then becomes our task to help them apply that in life.
Executive Director Lemuel LaRoche
Read more about the founder and how the organization got started.
In 2002, Lemuel LaRoche began incorporating the game of chess as a therapeutic model to engage adolescents cycling through generational poverty and finding themselves on the doorsteps of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The majority of the boys he encountered were products of their environment, mimicking negative behaviors programmed into their minds and repeating footsteps that led toward the prison industrial complex. Many of these boys made efforts to navigate their way out of environments prevalent with gang activity and economic disadvantages. Most did not take the time to set realistic goals and objectives for their lives, but instead equipped themselves to roll with whatever punches and hurdles life presented for them.
LaRoche began incorporating chess into his sessions and noticed how the youth became more thoughtful in their actions and behaviors at school and in their communities. LaRoche proceeded to establish a local chess club, Classic City Knights. This provided an outlet for youth to come together and play chess as an alternative to roaming the streets. LaRoche began hosting local chess tournaments at the Juvenile office in Athens and other areas throughout the community to gain interest. He took the Knights to visit Stone Mountain in Atlanta and engaged them in other enrichment activities. LaRoche organized a monthly chess and pizza program to bring the youth in contact with other youth in their community. The program served to be a success, attracting as many as 60 kids to take part in the monthly event.
In 2012, Chess and Community became an official non-profit and launched its first Chess and Community Conference. The conference unified various parts of the Athens community to explore solutions for positive youth development and community issues, allowing the youth to voice what they saw as major concerns and provide solutions for the critical issues facing their communities. The youth selected were awarded scholarships towards their post-secondary education. With the aid and support of the community, Chess and Community now has 4 core principles and serves youth in Athens and parts of Northeast Georgia.
LaRoche is the subject of a 2014 documentary, "Life the Griot". The documentary follows LaRoche in daily endeavors of engaging youth in his community. The documentary highlights some of the critical work by Chess and Community to inspire youth in the Athens community.