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  • Writer's pictureLemuel LaRoche

Reaching New Heights

“Today is about overcoming your fears! Lemuel “Life” Laroche, Executive Director of Chess and Community proclaims to the youth group as they secure one another in harnesses for a Saturday afternoon of indoor rock climbing. The fears in question? Heights. Particularly falling! In one corner, C&C Intern, Clare Marshall could be heard encouraging her climber in a moment of doubt to persist up the wall.“You’re not going to fall, I’ve got ya,” Clare reassured her. With the help of the gracious staff at Active Climbing- a climbing gym just outside downtown Athens, GA, and host for the day-Chess and Community Interns Clare, Dotan, and Jaylee from UGA’s School of Social Work turned into pro belayers! (Belay: a method used in top rope climbing to anchor a climber to a partner via rope and harness.) Assisting kids climb various colorful routes of their choice to reach the top of the sizable wall. Like many of the other enrichment opportunities Chess and Community provides, the purpose of this day was centered on building confidence.

Zubayda Sutton, C&C parent and Athens-Clarke County resident, says about her two sons, both present and climbing that day, that over the years of participating in C&C she has, “seen their confidence and sense of responsibility grow.” Sutton recalls the time she chose to let go of her (completely rational) fear of letting her teenage son travel without her. Those familiar with C&C may remember the 2-week trip to Ethiopia Chess and Community and Global Education Foundation led back in 2017 with eight kids, one of whom was Sutton’s oldest son. “Were you nervous?” I asked. “Yes! I wanted to go! I was worried because he’d never left the country, flying all of that,” she laughed. “But I wasn’t gonna stop him from going, they had enough chaperones. Life said no parents and he was right.” She put her trust in the C&C chaperones to ease her worries and she says when Dionne returned, he “talked about the trip for days and showed us pictures and told us stories about the people and the structures.”

“It's not about how you fall- it's how you get back up.”

At the rock wall, LaRoche keeps spirits high, reminding everyone, “It's not about how you fall, it's how you get back up!” For the thirty or so middle and high schoolers, this day was a nice way to take a break from their virtual classes and C&C academic enrichment (one of which is virtual chess play Mondays after school-yes, prizes are awarded!) to spend some face-to-face, physically engaging time with their peers. I couldn’t help but admire the resilience of the C&C kids during these-dare I use the horribly worn out term-unprecedented times. LaRoche regularly urges the group to prioritize safety, bearing in mind the consequences of each of our actions. To adhere to social distancing guidelines in place at the gym, the kids take turns climbing in groups, while one group climbs the other waits outdoors on the court, occupied with basketball, the latest TikTok dances and of course- a chessboard. This group hardly ever fails to have a chess set ready for play. Bella,15, who is more active in the robotics club than the chess club says she managed to learn chess on the side during downtime at the robotics tournaments. That’s right, chess is encouraged but not mandated! The kids get options, for instance they may choose between public speaking or debate. The annual Chess and Community conference then spotlights a speech from one student each year. Through this ultimate test of public speaking confidence, students showcase trust in their selves and their capabilities!

Clare Marshall, a senior Social Work student at UGA and Student Intern with C&C for the 2020-2021 school year shared with us one fear- or challenge as she prefers to call it so not to embolden it- that she foresees post-graduation:

“I can't say this is a fear because then I feel as though I am giving it too much power, but I do worry about what life after graduation will look like. Up to this point my education has been my day to day for the past four years. I know in my five-year plan I will end up back at school, but not during the pandemic. My challenge will be finding my footing, finding the next nonprofit to learn from. I have learned so much with Chess and Community thus far. The lesson that has helped turn my post-grad fear into an exciting challenge is that there is always something to be learned from each stage in life.”

We trust ;) Clare will do great things on her journey!

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