By Emilia Egeman ’23 (Czestochowa, Poland, placed by ASSE in Wayland, MI) 

During my exchange year in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I volunteered at a local chess club. This experience opened my eyes to the transformative power of sports in fostering connections among people and addressing community needs.   

A few months following my return to Poland in 2023 after my exchange year in United States as part of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, Rozalia Naczk ’23, and Krzysztof Koziej ’23 and I decided to become City Representatives to help make change in our home communities. Holding the title of Candidate Master as a professional chess player, I sought to share my passion and promote the benefits of chess for individuals through a project called Chessmates.  

As the lead organizer, I assembled a team of alumni and fellow City Representatives, Rozalia and Krzysztof, who helped spearhead this impactful project.  

Rozalia participated in organizing fundraisers during her exchange in the United States, where, together with her host family, they collected money for refugees from Ukraine. Rozalia learned how to play chess thanks to her natural father, and she considers the game a great opportunity for self-development, which is why she decided to help organize the tournament.  

Similarly, while in the United States, Krzysztof learned about the significance of being involved and contributing to his community by serving over one hundred hours of community service, mostly through volunteering at a local church that served meals to those in need every Thursday. His exchange year sparked his passion to actively contribute to the community, which motivated him to join the Chessmates project.  

On November 19, 2023, in Czestochowa, Poland, the tournament took place with the invaluable support of the local chess club, UKS Hetman Czestochowa, and a dedicated group of sponsors. Together with the sponsors, our team established a range of awards for all participants, including trophies, diplomas, and various other prizes.  

There were 78 participants ranging from 5 to 78 years old. Among them were European and Polish champions, individuals with disabilities, and enthusiastic beginners.  

The awards ceremony was a celebration of inclusivity, with recognition given across various categories to ensure that everyone, regardless of their chess abilities, felt honored and appreciated for their participation. 

Through entry fees and voluntary donations, the FLEX alumni community successfully raised over $550 for the charity foundation Na Ratunek Dzieciom z Chorobą Nowotworową which supports children with cancer and their families at every stage of treatment. Throughout the tournament, a remarkable spirit of generosity permeated the atmosphere, fostering a strong connection among individuals united in their shared desire to make a positive impact and help others.  

Furthermore, during the tournament, a local radio station interviewed players including five-year-old Franek, the youngest player.  Franek noted that he had a good time competing and shared that he won “The Youngest Participant” award. 

The charity chess tournament was an important learning opportunity for our team, while the tournament’s success set the stage for the second edition of Chessmates and other initiatives to promote chess. The next objective of our team is to further demonstrate to the world that passion can seamlessly intertwine with contributing to a community. We believe that even the smallest actions can change lives, making a significant impact on both individuals and communities. 

Featured Alumni: 

Rozalia Naczk ’23 (Gdynia, Poland, placed by Greenheart Exchange in Syracuse, NY) 

Krzysztof Koziej ’23 (Radom, Poland, placed by American Councils in Waverly, IA) 

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