Nonprofit Highlight: Chess Without Borders

Below is Barrington Area Volunteer Connection’s seventh installment of their profile program, highlighting non-profits using BAVC for their volunteering needs. Keep reading for the profile of Chess Without Borders.

Interview with Kiran Frey – Director | Chess Without Borders

Chess Without Borders BarringtonHow did you become involved with Chess Without Borders?

I became involved with the Barrington chess program inadvertently in 1999. At that time my 9 year- old- son was a 4th grader at Grove Avenue Elementary School when he created the chess club at his school. Dr. Kalogeropoulos ( the Principal at the time) asked me to help out as my son was unable to teach and collect the dues from the club members. CUSD 220 was very supportive of this venture all through these years and I have not left helping out ever since. It has been enormously fulfilling to build these deep relationships that come with working together. Several children sometimes start volunteering in the program as young as 6 years old and even after graduating from high school they often stop by a tournament to help out.

What do you feel is the most important benefit your organization provides to the community? Or what do you feel is the best thing about your organization?

In Volunteering with the program I discovered that youth who sustain their service-learning over a period of time develop sound self-esteem. The other most important benefit provided to the community is the creativity, knowledge, and skills that children acquire through the nontraditional learning that the program provides. Youth take on leadership roles as chess coaches and project managers for the charities they sponsor. They discover their potential through problem-solving and deep engagement in the project. Youth also become alert to the world around them. For example, last year when 2 teenage volunteers were on vacation with their grandparents in India they noticed a school for orphans in their neighborhood. They discovered that the school was for orphans who were victims of the Sri Lankan civil war. They returned home to the US and became project leaders for this school. They raised $700 as well as simultaneously educating many of their fellow volunteers about the lives of children left behind after wars.

These youth volunteers from Chess Without Borders are invited each year to attend the UN Youth Assembly in New York with other exceptional volunteers from around the world becoming strong advocates for the community.

What advice or tips do you have for Volunteers?

My advice for volunteers would be to be involved as deeply as possible in the cause, process, and outcome of the act of volunteering. Volunteering can be as deep as you make it out to be. Study the research/history behind the cause, such as the disease or environmental disaster you are volunteering for, and help your team develop creative solutions. Volunteering is a multi-faceted, creative, intellectual, and scientific process that increases knowledge for the volunteer. This knowledge is seductive as it often drives the service. Ironically the more you do the more you want to do.

What are the benefits of volunteering as it relates to your organization?

Through Chess Without Borders, I have worked with youth to develop social entrepreneurial projects for the last 20 years. I am amazed at the social, emotional, and cognitive benefits I have witnessed in youth volunteers that stay with the program for several years. I can directly correlate the impact service has had on them and the skills they acquire as a result. As a psychiatrist, I find that these youth develop self-esteem, poise, confidence, self-awareness, creativity, drive, and an ability to cooperate. Besides emotional skills, these youth volunteers also develop marketing, publicity, technological and intellectual skills. They begin to understand the challenges of fundraising and sustaining projects. Among our long-term volunteers, the creativity mobilized through youth social entrepreneurship transforms them into adult entrepreneurs. Many of the volunteers from Chess Without Borders have gone into their own businesses and most of them continue to volunteer well into their adult lives. Sometimes they even return as adults to volunteer at a fundraising chess tournament when they are in town!

There are profound benefits for the schools and community in raising ambitious youth engaged in local, national, and global causes that threaten our world.

What advice or tips would you give to other nonprofits that need to utilize volunteers?

My advice would be to help volunteers at the onset of the service to understand all aspects of the work they are volunteering for and give them a chance to create solutions for the problem. Engaging with national and international chapters whenever possible adds intellectual rigor to a service exercise. In the case of youth participants, I never cease to be amazed at the ideas they generate to get more volunteers or more support for the project. Short videos introducing the event help to build interest and publicize the event or cause. Affiliation with the national President’s Service Program is exciting for youth. The program offers awards for hours of service and children find a little competition engaging. View their site here.

Group email lists informing volunteers about the outcome of their service is always helpful.

“Altruism is innate, but it’s not instinctual. Everybody’s wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped”. David Rakof

What else can you share with us about Chess Without Borders?

An important fact to know about CWB is that this idea of combining education with service and philanthropy was inspired by our community leader Sam Oliver. In 2000 I was serving on a mission committee at my church with Sam when I would often come home and talk about our work. After hearing these stories my 9-year-old son remarked one day at the dinner table, “we can all be like Sam Oliver”. Following up on this idea she laid the foundation for the mission of the chess program. Sam has been a strong force in the community as 100s of youth try to be like her trying their best to catch up with her example!

Chess Without Borders Barrington


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