Playing the game of chess has been known to have many benefits. Chess encourages players to have a sense of community; helps focus; builds confidence; and exercises the brain in ways that promote and strengthen decision making. Starting in February of 2018, a number of JESPY clients began learning to play chess and the results have been positive in ways that the organization couldn’t have imagined.

“The clients, who are both verbal and non-verbal, have responded positively,” said William Mercer, Day Facilitator at JESPY’s Transitions program. “For the non-verbal clients, the look in their eyes when they catch on to a particular strategy or move is priceless.”

More than 16 clients have participated since the start of the club and at least eight currently participate on a continual basis. Those clients were recently recognized by JESPY with certificates for their hard work, dedication and efforts.

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Based on the number of match wins, clients were given first, second, and third place certificates. Those clients were Katerina P. (1st), Rodell H. (2nd), and Thomas F. (3rd). A number of other clients also received certificates for participating in the program.

“I like competing,” says Katerina. “Learning to play was hard at first but after I got the hang of it, it was easy.”

The club meets once a week for two hours. During that time, participants play a minimum of two games per session. Each game takes about one hour to complete. If a game isn’t completed by the end of the allotted time, the points are added up and the client with the most points wins.

“I like winning,” shares Rodell. “I’ve known about the game of chess since I was 12 years old and now I’m playing it. That's exciting!” Rodell isn’t the only client who was somewhat familiar with the game before joining the club. “I always wanted to play chess,” beams Lesley B. “I love to play and I want to be the best player. That’s my goal.”

During JESPY's certificate ceremony, a client who rarely gets up to speak in front of others shared how participating in the chess club empowers her. “I like playing. My stepfather loved chess and I’m playing chess for him,” she said.

Mercer, who explains that clients now look forward to competing with each other, wanted a new outlet to keep them engaged. “I started the club because I felt the clients needed something that was more challenging and educational but fun at the same time,” he said.

Mercer cites critical thinking at the top of the list of what clients have learned. “By using critical thinking skills when playing chess, clients are able to look ahead and say to themselves, ‘If I do this, what will happen next?’ They can then decide if it’s the right thing to do as opposed to just making decisions without thinking through the next few steps.”

Clients have also learned to become better sports men and women and to support their peers through wins and losses. All of the skills clients learn through the chess club are essential to their overall independence.

“Playing chess is fun,” added Katerina. “I like how it makes me think and I know that I can learn other things too.”

Established in 1978, JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 71.

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