My Brother's Workshop crafts chess tables to put in V.I. parks

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ST. THOMAS - Chess soon could be as popular as dominoes in the Virgin Islands with the help of a few community leaders.

The territory now is accessorizing its parks with handcrafted chess tables as part of an effort called "Chess in the Parks," an initiative put forward by first lady Cecile deJongh.

"It's something that one can do from 2 to 100," deJongh said Tuesday at Roosevelt Park, the first park on St. Thomas and in the territory to receive its new tables.

St. Thomas and St. Croix will have eight tables each, and St. John will have two.

Initially, deJongh had wanted to purchase the tables from a stateside company, though each would have cost about $2,500. Instead, she turned to a local nonprofit, My Brother's Workshop.

The men at My Brother's Workshop, which helps at-risk youths turn their lives around through carpentry and hands-on skill sets, accepted the challenge to build more than a dozen tables for deJongh's efforts.

"Just about all of them had some kind of hand in making them," said Scott Bradley, co-founder of My Brother's Workshop.

About 18 young men with the program worked on the pine wood tables, each of which has a painted chess board in large black and white squares. The tables cost the nonprofit about $250 each to make, and that expense was covered by deJongh's fundraising efforts.

"For years to come, they'll be able to pass by something that they did," Bradley said.

Two members of the V.I. Chess Federation appeared for the announcement of the initiative, which they are excited to see promoting their game of choice.

"You see most major cities have chess tables in their parks," said Frank Jackson, a longtime member of the federation who qualified for this year's Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, in August. It is uncertain if he will attend on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands as of yet.

"Kids especially need to be challenged," Jackson said, admitting that most of the people playing chess in the parks are older, but also noting that the local federation was a mix of young and old.

Eventually, the federation would like to begin an intramural chess program within the territory.

Already, many of the schools have chess teams that participate in chess district-wide tournaments on a quarterly basis, according to Robert Collins, who has been teaching chess to third- through 12th-graders for years.

"They pick it up so quick," Collins said.

While the tables at Roosevelt Park were the first to be put into place, the remainder of the tables will be installed during the next month.

DeJongh said Tuesday that extra fundraising money would allow for the purchase of pieces to go with the tables. The pieces will be stored with local agencies near the parks that could sign them out free to the public.

For more information about the V.I. Chess Federation, contact 719-1990.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email

Where to play

St. Thomas

- Alvin McBean Recreation Complex - one chess table.

- Emancipation Garden - one chess table.

- Veterans Park - four chess tables.

- Lindbergh Bay Park - two chess tables.

St. Croix

- Altona Lagoon (Susana Ocasio Santana Park) - one chess table.

- Limpritch Park - four chess tables.

- Vincent Mason Sr. Coral Resort - two chess tables.

- Verne I Richards Veterans Park - one chess table.

St. John

- Frank E. Powell Park - two chess tables.

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