On his trip to SuperNationals in Nashville Tennessee this year, Marty Grund met a true Saint named Joseph Ocol. Joseph’s selfless mission will influence where bringing chess to schools will not only save lives but most certainly foster future academic scholars. Read below about Marty's experience having been touched by this volunteer.
The Faraday team:
And here is what Marty wrote, after meeting Joseph:
A Call To Action When I gassed up my car for the trip to Super Nationals in Nashville, a 650 mile drive for me, I really had no preconceived expectations other than looking forward to seeing and meeting old friends, making new acquaintances and experiencing the pandemonium expected that 5500+ children, their parents, coaches and relatives would no doubt provide. The 10 hour drive gave me considerable time to feed my anticipation as to what might stand out with my visit to Super Nationals. Little did I know that this trip would introduce me to the penultimate volunteer andtouch me to the core of my heart. Over the last 18 years, I've had the pleasure of visiting many chess events; in each and every one I met so many who touched me in a positive way. I've been fortunate all these years to work with volunteers on a daily basis, so I am keen on those that give of themselves with no expectations of anything in return. Among them are heroes of various degrees and one in particular opened my eyes to what we could do to save lives, create positive self-images, raise academic standings and no doubt give our treasure, our children, a superior head start they all should have the opportunity to experience. It is because of them I write this letter. After a couple of days at the event I met a short, humble appearing man by the name of Joseph Ocol, a math teacher from John Marshall Metropolitan High School located in Garfield Park on the West side of Chicago. This is a neighborhood where gangs thrive and murders happen all too often. Joseph and I took a walk and I listened to him describe how several years previous he began teaching high school students chess afterschool from 3 to 6 PM, the most vulnerable time of the day for children loose on the streets. When Joseph began the afterschool curriculum, he knew that hosting these children after school would lessen the chance that they would be involved with the morbid side of activities that take place during these hours. Out of his own pocket, Joseph had to purchase chess equipment and even food, so the kids wouldn't be hungry, in order to make this happen. One afternoon, one of the young men didn't make it to the afterschool chess class because he was murdered on the street that day. Many of these children went to school hungry on a daily basis. Some had parents or brothers in prison, mothers addicted to drugs and saw horrors that most of us never see in a lifetime. That horrible reality aside, another student took a chess board home and his mother asked what it was he was carrying. When he answered, "mom, it's a chess board", she answered "you must be smart". Hearing that comment from his mother was an epiphany for him. He said "that's the first time anybody's ever said that to me, that I must be smart". What Joseph had to offer was a safe place during these dangerous hours teaching chess, an activity that not only bolstered their self-image, expanded their horizons with good decision-making but so very important, an activity that proved to markedly improve their scholastic standings. Joseph wasn't alone in his selflessness. There was another advocate of his, call her his partner, I referred to her as "Mama Bear ". Earlean Green is one of these women that when you lookinto her eyes you see a warmth that draws you in, a savvy no one could fool, a determination to protect and nurture her children and an aura of power and respect impossible to dismiss. Earlean seemed the ultimate neighborhood matriarch involved with the PTA and the Chicago public school system. The children loved and fully respected her. Over the years Joseph's afterschool chess classes gained popularity but he found limitations since he was only able to work with them 3 to 4 years before they graduated or moved on. It dawned on him that, with an elementary school right next door, if he was able to extend his afterschool activity to them too, he certainly would have greater success. The principal at Faraday Elementary School, Mr. Cederall Petties, agreed and so it began. Joseph had a brilliancy when he asked these high school chess students to mentor the elementary school children next door. No doubt we all remember from elementary school that when a highschool student visited we all looked up to them as larger than life and listened attentively. With continued wisdom, "Mama Bear" and Joseph went to Chicago Public School System (CPS) and fought for these mentors to gain credit towards graduation for their service. They succeeded. The principal of Faraday Elementary told me that prior to the introduction of chess their school suffered the worst academic ratings. Since Joseph brought chess to their afterschool activities, scholastically they have soared from worst to best academically. His quote: "It's because of chess." It was obvious to me that the academic improvements, self image gains, coupled with the shelter this afterschool chess activity offered seemed invaluable until Joseph told me, and I quote, "I save lives". Those three words struck me to the quick of my heart. It was then that I began to refer to Joseph as "Saint Joseph". I was truly moved. I told Joseph I'm a disciple and more would follow. The success of not only saving lives by keeping children away from troubled times of the day, coupled with the ultimate end of an individual's life success is a story that simply must be propagated everywhere possible. Certainly we who are involved in Scholastic chess can help pay this forward using the tools we have right in front of us with offering chess activity during, or after school, to as many children as possible. The entire team at SuperNationals enjoyed success with one young lady winning her category. I would like to think that I'm going to leave this world a little better off than how I found it, having fed and learned from all the selflessness I have had the fortune to rub elbows with during my walk in life. My hat goes off to Saint Joseph and Mama Bear! If you can help them in any way, please do so; here is the link to their school: http://www.marshallmetrohighschool.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=160751&type=u Or if you are inspired to use chess to help at risk kids in your community, I encourage you and would love to hear of your successes. One may mail a check, made out to Faraday Chess to: Faraday Elementary School 3250 W. Monroe St., Chicago, Il. 60624 Marty Grund LateKnight@Chessclub.com