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He’ll beat you, take your money

Seth Ruud watches Miyoung Schuler (left) play Henri Gendreau. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Seth Ruud watches Miyoung Schuler (left) play Henri Gendreau.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Young Henri Gendreau plays to raise money for Project Backpack.

A young man sits straight-backed at the round table outside Blackbird Bakery. He wears a blue button-down shirt and checked Vans sneakers with a pattern reminiscent of a chess board.

He looks around with an open expression and waits. Beside him sits a box with a sign.

“$1 to play. All money goes to Helpline’s Project Backpack.”

It isn’t long before he has a taker.

“I’m going to get killed,” Chuck Goodman says as he drops a couple of bills in the box. “I haven’t played in so long.”

Sure enough, perhaps six minutes after Henri Gendreau politely tells Goodman that white goes first, he declares “Checkmate.”

Goodman sighs.

“I didn’t take a single one of those pieces...I didn’t see that at all,” he said.

Thirteen-year-old Gendreau started playing chess five years ago and took to the game immediately.

“I just found it fascinating, the strategy of it,” he said.

He channeled his extracurricular interest into a cause two weeks ago, heeding the suggestion of his seventh grade social studies teacher that each student take on an activity this summer related to citizenship and community.

Gendreau set a fund-raising goal of $200 and looked for a place where the money would make an impact. He thought of Project Backpack, just about to get under way for the seventh year.

Project Backpack, Helpline House’s annual back-to-school collection drive, runs through the month of August, providing local school kids with backpacks and the school supplies needed to fill them such as binders, calculators, pencil cases, rulers, scissors and erasers.

Organizers estimate that it costs $50 to equip a student with backpack and school supplies, which means that Gendreau’s effort will tangibly translate into supplies for four other students.

In Gendreau’s two weeks sitting at the table in rain or shine, he’s raised $112.50, and no one has beaten him yet.

On this drippy day, he’s playing on his own board but says when it’s dry he likes to play directly on the round table, which probably hasn’t seen this much action in years.

When he reaches is fund-raising goal, Gendreau says he’ll exchange the collection of small bills and change for a couple of crisp hundreds and then take the cash to directly to Helpline House, which will accept cash donations and gift certificates as well as supplies.

Items especially needed this year are large sturdy backpacks in dark colors, three-ring binders, calculators, pencil boxes and pouches, colored pencils and thin markers, college-ruled paper and notebooks, rulers, highlighters, notebook dividers, erasers, glue sticks and sharp-pointed ‘Fiskar’ type scissors.

Gendreau, who regularly plays chess with the Black Knights chess club and also likes tennis, says he’s not sure yet what his next community service effort will be. But he’ll stay outside Blackbird until he’s made the money he set out to make.

Meanwhile, a man who introduces himself as Bob approaches the table.

“White goes first,” Gendreau says.

Bob symbolically captures his own king and then drops five dollars into the box.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” he says.

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Fill ‘er up

To register for Project Backpack, find out how to make a donation or to learn more about the program, contact Helpline House at 842-7621. Donations can be taken to Helpline House at 282 Knechtel Way from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or to donation bins at Island Fitness, BAC Express in the Pavilion, the Bainbridge Athletic Club at Meadowmeer, Viking Bank or Paper Products, Etc. Backpacks and supplies will be distributed to students who have registered for the program beginning the last week of August. All requests for assistance are kept confidential.

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