Organizers and sponsors plan for the conference to become an annual event.
By Rebecca McCarthy
Social worker Lemuel LaRoche believes that teaching children how to play chess will help prepare them for leading positive lives.
With chess, he says, you have to consider your options. Devise a plan. Think ahead about what might go wrong. Figure out how to get out of sticky situations and keep moving forward.
“If you teach a child how to play chess, you don’t have to be there every moment,” he says. “The child learns to be forward thinking, to strategize, to figure out how to put a plan in place. He learns how to apply chess to life.”
With a master’s in social work from UGA, LaRoche divides his time between Athens and Stone Mountain. He contracts with the Office of Juvenile Justice, going into the homes of young offenders and working with them and their families. He helps them devise plans to succeed and accompanies the young people into court.
That’s his bread and butter. His passion? Chess and poetry.
All three will be on display in Athens, at the first annual “Chess and Community Conference.” The free, all-day event will unfold on Saturday, January 12, at the Georgia Center’s Mahler Auditorium. From 9am until 7pm or so, attendees—and the public is invited—will hear an inspiring keynote address, enjoy some poetry and cheer on chess teams as they compete in a tournament. Scholarship money will also be distributed to seven winners of an essay contest--and the winners will read their work.
"It's not chess alone that works, it's giving them the core lessons of thinking before you do something," LaRoche says. "What were your options and what could you have done differently? Chess teaches you to step back and look at choices and then make your move."