HELPING HANDS: Three friends who ran a chess program at HomeFront’s Joy, Hopes and Dreams after-school program taught the game to youths who had never played the game before. They are, from left, Jinu Ryu, Winston Ni, and Arjun Kumar.
By Wendy Greenberg
When Arjun Kumar was in fifth grade, he learned to play chess and became a competitive player. Recently, the Princeton Day School (PDS) rising senior decided he would put his passion for chess to use serving the community.
Arjun, 16, and two friends set up a program that is not for competitive players, but introduces the game to youngsters, most of whom had never played it before. It went over well.
Most of the youths in the Joy, Hopes and Dreams program at HomeFront had never moved pieces across a chess board before. But now many have a new interest, said Arjun.
The program nurtures children from birth through teenage years by providing homework help, mentoring, and cultural enrichment. It provides after-school programs on weekdays and educational and recreational programs on weekends, according to the HomeFront website. HomeFront offers housing and other services to help families break the cycle of poverty.
Arjun conducted the camp, along with classmates Jinu Ryu and Winston Ni, at the Lawrence Community Center in Lawrenceville the week of June 20 through June 24. The nonprofit organization that Arjun started last fall received a grant award, the Serve This Summer Challenge, through America’s Promise Alliance. A total of 375 grants were given to summer service projects, to young adults serving their communities. The $300 grant was used to purchase chess sets.
The program was not without challenges. “When we came there were 20-30 kids each time and a variety of ages,” said Arjun in a telephone interview. “So we were trying to teach everyone to play chess, despite the difference in ages. But after one week, a lot of kids were developing a passion for it.”
Community service is not new to Arjun, who started his own nonprofit, Helping Hands of Princeton. “Helping Hands is a volunteer initiative. We have organized food drives for HomeFront and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK), a diaper drive, and a personal hygiene drive. We help local communities,” he said.
Other Helping Hands projects have included a personal care drive for Arm in Arm of Trenton, a book fair at Barnes and Noble for the benefit of the children’s library at HomeFront, and other programs.
Helping Hands was developed as a bridge to the community. “During the pandemic, I felt like I was in a bubble, disconnected, and I wanted to do community service to better connect with the community,” said Arjun.
“My hope is to teach everyone to play chess,” he said. “It can teach critical thinking skills, and the club is social as well.”
Arjun is president of his school debate club, and a SIMS (Success in Math and Science) center mentor at PDS. He is an avid chess player and was part of his school team that has placed in tournaments.
The youths of the Joy, Hopes and Dreams program “enjoyed what we did,” he said. “It was a new experience but they were engaged.”
Arjun, who is spending the summer as an intern in a clinical research lab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia studying T-cells in asthma, hopes to continue the chess programs at HomeFront, with classmates Jinu and Winston. They hope to develop a love for chess among the participants, and also hope they have fun.