Learn about who we are and how we got started
Chess has the power to help kids develop forethought.
Chess strengthens cognitive skills such as perception, information management, attention, memory, logical thinking, and analysis. We assist youth in taking those skill sets and apply them to life. Our programs utilize chess to help youth develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and planning skills. Chess requires each player to consider all possibilities and outcomes before each move; in other words, think before you move.
We use chess to teach kids how to respond to a situation versus react to it.
Researchers believe that chess is also an effective method to develop emotional management skills. Chess therapy allows one to act upon his or her aggressive impulses on the chessboard. The pace and purpose of chess demands that players not cling to impulsive desires. Chess necessitates a tactical approach, and our programs infuses traditional youth development approaches with the lessons of chess. 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.
How did Chess and Community get started?
In 2002, our founder and executive director, Lemuel “Life” LaRoche began incorporating the game of chess as a therapeutic model to engage adolescents cycling through the juvenile justice system. Life decided to utilize chess to create lessons that would resonate with the young people he was trying to help. It became clear to Life that the young people that he encountered were mimicking negative behaviors that would inevitably lead them to prison even though many of the young people he was working with were making considerable efforts to avoid gang activity and beat poverty.
Life’s first step was to establish a small chess club, the Classic City Knights. The club provided an outlet for youth to come together and play chess as an alternative to street life. Life began hosting chess tournaments at the juvenile justice office, the public library, and other areas throughout the community to connect with vulnerable youth. And it worked. Life’s strategies were a clear success, but still more needed to be done.
In 2012, Life founded Chess and Community and launched its first Chess and Community Conference. The conference unified Athens stakeholders to explore solutions for youth development and community issues. The conference and the weekly and monthly programs give youth both a voice and an outlet, and since then, the work of Chess and Community has grown.
Our students travel, receive scholarships, embrace challenges, and build valuable life skills.
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.