Chess with a philanthropic focus

Ethan Gagliano (right, black shirt) is a third-grader who raised $500 by getting people to sponsor his chess matches through Chess Without Borders. He won all five games.
Ethan Gagliano (right, black shirt) is a third-grader who raised $500 by getting people to sponsor his chess matches through Chess Without Borders. He won all five games.

BARRINGTON – When Kiran Frey’s son Rishi told her he wanted to start a chess club at Grove Avenue Elementary School in Barrington, she was a bit wary since not too many kids played it.

But what started as a modest chess club that previously held tournaments at Whole Foods has turned into a successful program with a philanthropic focus – it has donated about $90,000 to local and international charities.

“My son came to me and said, ‘Why shouldn’t children volunteer?’ ” Frey said.

When Kiran and Rishi, then 9, approached Grove Avenue School Principal Cindy Kalogeropoulos about the idea about 14 years ago, she said there was no reason not to embrace it.

“It was certainly a wonderful way to enrich the lives of students at our school,” Kalogeropoulos said. “The rest has been amazing. It’s become a global initiative.”

Children and parents volunteer at the tournaments, which are held at District 220 schools and are often attended by more than 200 people. Chess Without Borders was started with philanthropy in mind and has been dedicated to volunteerism and helping others ever since.

During the past 14 years, people involved in the program have provided more than 100,000 volunteer hours and educated about 25,000 students. Participants in Chess Without Borders range from age 5 to adults.

“I’m so happy to see these children volunteering,” Frey said.

Frey said that while her daughter was volunteering in India, she learned of a girl named Meher, who was burned at 18 months old when her mosquito net caught fire in the slums of Delhi.

Chess Without Borders has been supporting the girl for the past five years by helping to pay for her education and plastic surgeries. The group has donated about $37,000 toward her care.

Chess Without Borders also raised money used to create a computer center in New Delhi that will help provide educational opportunities to about 200 families and children. The chess group also sent $700 to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

In addition to international assistance, Chess Without Borders also donates locally to food banks and makes book donations.

Frey said the club makes money through the sale of food at the chess tournaments. Going above and beyond, some students have donated their own birthday or confirmation money to help someone in need.

The kids involved in the nonprofit organization are lucky enough to learn chess from Grandmaster Yuri Shulman, the 2008 U.S. Champion.

“I heard great things about the program,” said Shulman, who became involved in 2005. “I decided to give it a try and I really enjoyed it.”

Shulman said it was unique to find a club dedicated to charity work the way Chess Without Borders is.

“Everyone involved is so wise and thoughtful and caring,” Kalogeropoulos said.

She applauded Frey for her hard work and dedication to the group and its philanthropic mission.

Frey said the group has made a documentary about Meher, and Rishi and Shulman wrote a book together about the basic strategies and rules of chess.

Their book has been digitized so that it can be read on an iPad.

“It is a platinum project because of the values the people always brought to the program,” Kalogeropoulos said.

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