YouthFriends Mentor Vince Nguyen happily loses at chess each Friday. Why? Because the word "checkmate" is coming from his YouthFriend, Sang, a sixth grade student at Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School in Kansas City, Mo.
The weekly games are a tradition the two have been sharing for nearly a year and a half now.
"Every now and then we'll change things up to focus on reading, drawing or playing on the computer," Nguyen said. "But he loves playing chess and almost always beats me."
Nguyen and Sang have other bonds, too. Nguyen also attended preschool at Scuola, and both mentor and mentee have Vietnamese backgrounds. Nguyen's family came to the United States in 1978 and he was born shortly after they arrived; Sang's family arrived about five years ago. Nguyen believes their shared cultural background has strengthened their relationship.
"When I first met Sang, he barely said a word to me," he said. "But being able to speak Vietnamese and my background have helped me relate to him better. He opened up after a few months and now we enjoy jokes and conversations together."
Indeed, Sang and Nguyen have become good friends, which is obvious when seeing them together. Sang smiles when he sees Nguyen checking in at Scuola's front desk. And when Sang is asked if he looks forward to their Friday chess games, he grins at Nguyen and jokingly says, "Maybe."
Nguyen has enjoyed watching Sang's tremendous growth and has even noticed him interacting more with his classmates.
"Vince helps me learn," Sang said. "I like having a YouthFriend at my school."
Nguyen also has established a solid relationship with the school. YouthFriends Coordinator Izette Villasenor said Nguyen has been instrumental in helping school staff overcome language barriers.
"Nguyen puts a lot of effort into YouthFriends," Villasenor said.
That dedication comes from his belief in the power of mentoring.
"I would whole-heartedly recommend YouthFriends to others," Nguyen said. "The amount of time that needs to be invested with a YouthFriend is so insignificant compared to the immeasurable return both people receive. I have other friends that are currently YouthFriends and have heard nothing but great stories about the impact we have on students' lives."