(WAVY) — Teenagers who have a little more time on their hands due to the COVID-19 shutdown can still volunteer.
And we know of a group of seniors that would like to hear from them.
The Hampton Roads Chess Association is matching high school — and even some middle and elementary school students — with senior citizens, in a chess-buddy program called “Zoom Chess Pals for Seniors.”
“We’ve always wanted to reach out to seniors because we know that any kind of ‘brain game’ can help stave off dementia, (and) Alzheimer’s. And, chess is one of those games that will really keep your mind sharp,” HRCA executive director Tina Schweiss said.
The idea of “mind games” with health benefits is not new, but COVID-19 is.
The pandemic’s unpredictable impact also stopped the chess buddy idea from taking hold last winter, said Schweiss.
“We actually were set to start programs in-person with a couple of them. Of course [with the pandemic] those were the first things to go.”
Schweiss says technologies like Zoom have helped the chess club get the effort going anyway. About 20 people are involved so far. And she says there’s a lot of room for growth since the chess club has more than 200 school-aged children signed up.
So, how does it work?
“We just match kids, one-on-one, with seniors. We’re able to use Zoom out of their homes, an independent living or an assisted living facility.”
Schweiss says, for the most part, they’re getting people who don’t know anything about chess, “never touched a chessboard, and want to learn. So, the kids are actually teaching them how to play chess from scratch.”
And, something that’ll make parents proud: Schweiss says the kids are volunteering to do this.
“They’re pretty hungry for volunteer hours because they just love doing it. And most things have shut down as far as what they used to volunteer for at the library, aquarium or whatnot.”
Schweiss stresses the “Zoom Chess Pals for Seniors” program is not just two people looking only at a computer screen, pointing and clicking. Participants will be seeing and talking with each other. Club members are willing to go the extra mile to build a connection between the senior and student.
“We provide a free tournament chess set to the senior, a scorebook so they can learn how to take chess notation, and a little chess 101 book so they can kinda read up a little bit on their own. Then, at least once a week, they get on Zoom with their chess pal, they go over (lessons) and learn how to play chess.”
And, Schweiss says, just playing together is “great companionship as well.”