Pastor Brings Chess Club to Kids in His Apartment Complex
This fall Rev. Josh Miles of Peachtree Road UMC in Atlanta started a chess club for kids at his apartment complex. With support from the church, 20 young people participated weekly over pizza. Sybil Davidson in Conference Communications checked in with him on this heartwarming and inspiring ministry.
Sybil: What gave you the idea for a Chess Club?
Josh: I still remember how my elementary school in Athens, Ga. brought in a local chess instructor during the fall of my third-grade year. We practiced. We applied ourselves. We learned new ways of critical thinking and problem solving. It was lots of fun, too.
As we continued to play chess together and be mentored by Mr. Boutwell, we actually became pretty good at the game of chess. We formed a school team, and we even got rocking t-shirts: Barnett Shoals Elementary School Chess Club! That spring, we came to Atlanta for a state-wide competition. Our hard work, practice, and problem-solving skills really paid off. We tied for first-place in the state of Georgia, and that April we were sent to the National Elementary Chess Championship competition in Peoria, Illinois to represent our state.
Looking back on it, that time of my life was so foundational for me realizing the value of mentoring, problem-solving, and self-confidence. This is the need this project seeks to address: To build community through chess, problem-solving skills, life lessons, and mentorship.
Once you had the idea, what was next?
Because that experience was so foundational, I decided to pour back into my local community with the gift of chess. I wanted to bring things to where the people are! So I offered free chess lessons and free pizza dinners to the young people who live at my apartment complex on Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta.
Each week, I brought with me lay representation from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church to help lead and facilitate the lessons. There were two youth from PRUMC who helped lead the chess club with me, and their parents came and led also! It was truly a team effort.
Additionally, the reason I was able to make this a free offering to the students is because two families at PRUMC made a financial commitment to the chess club to cover the costs for personal chess sets for every single participant, and all our weekly dinner needs as well.
How did you get the invitation to the kids?
I made flyers advertising the club in the summer, and took them to the management of my apartment complex. I already knew that our apartment complex had a nice community space, so I wanted to have the lessons in the community space after kids came home from school on Thursdays.
The community manager was surprised by the gesture, and she fully supported this happening at the complex for our young people. The community office normally closed right at 6:00 p.m., but the community manager agreed to keep the community space open a little longer each week to accommodate our dinner and chess lessons.
I started going to the bus stop in the mornings and after school to introduce myself to the young people and their parents. While at the bus stop, I handed out flyers for chess club, and I told people how I was a minister--and fellow resident--offering free chess lessons and free pizza dinners this fall at the apartment complex. I honestly think the pizza was the original draw! Many of them did not know about the game of chess, but they still showed up anyway!
Had you noticed many potential Chess Club members in your apartment complex?
After my wife and I moved to Atlanta for ministry, I noticed immediately how there were lots of young people at our apartment complex. I would see them at the community pool, at our gym, and walking around the complex. My wife and I would always be kind and say hello, but I did not get to meet the young people on a personal basis until I started going to the bus stop, introducing myself, and inviting people to the chess club.
We had 20 young people participate, ages 8-16!
What have they gotten out of Chess Club?
The young people found community with one another, great fellowship, and fun, too. They learned the game of chess, and they enhanced their problem-solving and critical thinking skills every week. I made sure that each lesson included wisdom for the students on life skills we can glean from practicing/playing the game of chess. Things like self-confidence, patience, adaptability and so much more.
At our final session together, each student received a special award, as well as a personal letter from me on the specific gifts and skills I noted them and my contact information for the days ahead. These young people are such a great blessing to the Atlanta community and to our lives personally.
What have you gotten out of this experience?
My greatest joy was seeing the young people come alive with joy as they learned new things and then put them into practice. At times, I would stand off to the side in the community space and just take it all in. I saw a diverse group of students interacting with each other and playing chess. I saw lay leaders from PRUMC being helpful with the individual matchups and showering the students with Christ-like love. I truly felt that we all developed a strong bond together that was rooted in love and genuine care for our respective journeys in life.
One week, a student named Ashton came to chess club for the very first time. He was warmly greeted by our team of lay leaders. We learned his name, and we welcomed him with open arms. Ashton was served hot pizza, a drink, and a cookie. Then I walked over to him to present him with his very own chess set for him to keep before our lesson began. Ashton paused, then he said: "Wow. This is the best day of my life!"
It is a joy and a privilege to be a part of other people's "best days"
Rev. Josh Miles is a provisional clergy member of the North Georgia Conference and serves as Associate Pastor of Peachtree Road UMC in Atlanta.