Nonprofit uses chess to help kids learn

RALEIGH, N.C. — Four years ago, in the dining room of his North Raleigh house, engineer Bill Clausen started teaching chess to some neighborhood children.

Today, that informal Raleigh Chess Academy has evolved into Chess Achieves, a nonprofit that uses the game as a tool to help kids develop confidence and learning skills.

Operating with an annual budget of $85,000, Chess Achieves serves roughly 90 children at six schools in Wake County, most of them private elementary schools.

And next month, Chess Achieves will serve as host to the annual North Carolina Scholastic Chess Tournament, an event expected to attract 500 kids from throughout the state to the Raleigh Convention Center.

“Chess, as a form of logic, problem-solving and discipline, is a great way to motivate young people to think for themselves and to become better students,” says Hector Perez, a co-founder and member of the board of directors of Chess Achieve and executive director of the Johnston Health Foundation in Smithfield.

The statewide tournament, which is sponsored by the North Carolina Chess Association, a licensee of the United States Chess Federation, provides a great opportunity to showcase the quality of Chess Achieves’ work, as well as the impact chess has on children and its benefit to the community, Perez says.

Clauson, whose father introduced him to the game at age 12, launched the first team at his own high school in Spring Hill, Fla.

An engineer who has worked for Siemans, John Deere, Harley Davidson, and Briggs & Stratton, mainly helping them put together assembly lines, Clauson says he was “stunned there was almost no chess for kids in Wake County.”

After he and Perez first met two years ago at the Cardinal Chess Club, and talked about the lack of local opportunities for kids to play chess, they decided to form Chess Achieves.

Working in schools and at private space it rents, the group provides lessons once or twice a week, nearly always right after the school day ends.

It also runs tournaments roughly every other Sunday afternoon, events that typically attract about 40 kids.

And it has begun offering services outside Wake County.

In December, for example, Chess Achieves held its first tournament in Johnston County, where it also has donated 100 tournament chess sets to 14 schools.

And it has donated chess books to a public school in Durham County.

Over the next three years, Clauson says, Chess Achieves aims to expand to 20 to 25 schools and a total of about 300 participants a year, growth that would increase its annual budget to between $125,000 and $150,000.

The main expense would be paying $2,700 for an instructor at each school, as well as providing them with chess sets, boards, clocks and other equipment.

Chess, says Clauson, helps kids build confidence, learn how to solve problems, develop patience and communicate ideas.

“Not only are we trying to teach children,” he says, “but we also realize we have to get adults involved in this opportunity to teach children.”

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