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VCC volunteers make a difference in Chester County each and every day. Read the volunteer profiles below to gain inspiration and learn what meaningful volunteering can accomplish.

DSCN1209Early one morning, Raman Patel, a VCC volunteer at the Chester County Family Academy, woke up to a surprise phone call from a very excited seven year-old girl.

Ayan Scott-Hicks, one of the second graders in Raman’s chess club, had entered a weekend chess tournament and taken home first place in her age group!

“The phone rang and I couldn’t believe it!” remembers Raman with a big smile. “It was a very big accomplishment—to enter a tournament; to take initiative; and to win!”

Raman is the Chester County Family Academy’s chess coach. Every Tuesday, he uses the school’s bright red cafeteria tables as his chess training ground. Ayan’s chess trophy is displayed next to the black and red chess boards. Raman coaches each student one-on-one. He uses foam disks to map the movement of each pawn, rook, knight and bishop on the board. He teaches the students how to spell the names of the pieces. He writes and sings songs to celebrate the game.

But how did Raman Patel—a native of northwest India and a retired engineer—come to teach chess at Family Academy? Well, Raman replies, “How do you give back to a society that has given you so much?” Raman Patel immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, taking a job in New York City as a mechanical engineer. At the time, he did not speak English well, and the big city, so unlike his rural upbringing, was intimidating.

One day, a Spanish co-worker who was experiencing the same challenges as Raman, pulled Raman aside and said, “I’m going to teach you how to play chess.” Chess, said Raman’s co-worker, was a way to learn confidence and decision-making. He taught Raman how to carefully move each chess piece; how to think ahead; and how to defend good decisions. He entered Raman into chess tournaments and Raman began earning 4th and even 3rd place. Then, Raman moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania. He had a new career; he stopped entering competitions and chess became an old memory for many years—until Raman retired at age 62 and decided to enroll in VCC at Family Service of Chester County.

Volunteer Chester County is a volunteer matching program for adults. Individuals can come to VCC to find unique volunteer opportunities that fit their skills and interests. When VCC Program Director Leslie Stauffer met Raman, he mentioned briefly that he played chess, but more importantly, that he wanted to work with children. “The Chester County Family Academy came to mind,” says Stauffer. “Some of our volunteers work as reading tutors there. Then, when Raman mentioned chess, it gave me an idea.”

Stauffer contacted Family Academy and asked if they would be interested in having Raman start a chess club. They were. “It was a perfect fit,” says Stauffer. Not only does Raman play chess, but he also shares the school’s mission and vision for education. The children at Family Academy come from families with financial challenges and most, like Raman, are minorities in Chester County.

“My aim is to teach them how to think, analyze, have patience, use their time wisely, focus, and speak up when it’s necessary to explain or defend their movements on the board,” says Raman. “Chess is a tool for life lessons. It’s a game of discipline. You have to learn the fundamentals and how to play right the first time. Then, you must think ahead and understand the consequences of each action you take.”

Raman is in his third year volunteering at Family Academy and according to the teaching staff, never misses a coaching session. He hopes the students will see him as a fatherly figure as he moves energetically from cafeteria table to cafeteria table, answers questions, and compliments their progress. Raman loves his position, the school, and the opportunity he has to support children and give back to his adopted community in a tangible way. “This,” says Raman, “is something I plan to do for a long time.”

At age 83, Althea Fulton was named the Downingtown Area School District Volunteer of the Year. In the same year, her husband of 54 years passed away. Althea chose to keep volunteering, three hours a week, every week.

In their letter to nominate Althea for Volunteer of the Year, staff at the school wrote to VCC:

Althea Fulton is a wonderful addition to our family at Brandywine Elementary School. The ladies in the cafeteria often have Althea come down first thing when she arrives, to help them set up for lunch. They really appreciate her help!

Althea keeps busy helping in the school office as well. She does all of our shredding and a multitude of small, but very important, jobs we need to have done. She has sharpened every pencil needed for the PSSA testing of grades 3, 4 and 5. That would be 372 pencils! The teachers appreciate this help. Teachers often need cutting, tracing and other projects for Althea to work on while she is here—she is always delighted to help.

Althea is always happy, motivated and does an excellent job, whatever that job might be. We are privileged to have her at Brandywine Wallace.

“Althea is a great representative of VCC,” says program director Leslie Stauffer. Althea has been a school volunteer since her own children were young; she brings a wealth of experience and understanding to her post.”