By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Colin Rayner never learned how to play chess, but that isnt stopping him from trying to get chess sets into every elementary and middle school in Hawaii. He also hopes to get mentors to teach students the game.
Richard Ambo The Honolulu Advertiser
Hometown: born in Saskatchewan, Canada; lives in downtown Honolulu
Position: retired waiter who worked at several local restaurants; volunteer with Americas Promise Hawaii
Accomplishment: has donated chess sets to 10 elementary and middle schools; planning to find donors to get chess sets in every elementary and middle school - more than 200 - in the state
Quote: "One couldnt seem to do anything about it as far as relieving the problems of the world. So the only thing one would say is start where youre at, with what youve got, and start it there."
Colin Rayner is a study in contrasts.
He thinks Hawaii should be the tennis capital of the world, but he doesnt play the sport.
He says Henry Louis Restaurant in Mapunapuna, where he was a waiter for more than two years, has the best barbeque ribs in the city, but hes a vegetarian.
And he firmly believes that children should learn to play chess, although he cant figure the game out himself. He cant even set the pieces correctly.
"I admire it and ones who can do it," said Rayner, rubbing his forehead with his large, thick hands. "By my mind is not geared to sitting and planning ahead."
Last March he read an article in Time magazine about how chess programs in Harlem schools helped foster students academic achievement and self-esteem. Using his own money, Rayner purchased hundreds of inexpensive chess sets and donated them to 10 elementary and middle schools around Oahu.
But after becoming seriously ill a few months ago - he suffered a heart attack and has kidney problems - Rayner gave up his waiter job at Henry Louis. Without an income, he couldnt buy chess sets anymore.
But that didnt stop him.
A volunteer mentor with S.A.V.E. (Seniors Actively Volunteering in Education), a program of Helping Hands Hawaii, Rayner figured the nonprofit organization, or its program called Americas Promise Hawaii, could help.
"Its a win-win situation," said Louise Funai, president of Helping Hands Hawaii, "because our program, Americas Promise Hawaii, advances its goals to get resources of time, talent or treasure into the public schools, and Mr. Rayner fulfills his dream of seeing the academic skills of children increase by playing chess with the sets he donates."
Using the resources available at Helping Hands Hawaiis Kalihi offices - mainly, a computer and phone - Rayner has begun the tedious process of charity work: Finding donors and volunteer mentors.
But its something he finds worthwhile.
"The challenge is on focusing on the children," he said, scanning the half-assembled chess set in front of him, "focusing on how this will help them later in life."
More than a game
There are many correlations between chess and life, chess advocates said. The game teaches players problem-solving, concentration, strategic thinking and, above all, patience.
This was the attraction for Rayner, who is disappointed over the lack of support schools receive from the local and national government. He views donating chess sets as his small way of helping out.
"Children are so important," he said. "If we try to do something on our own, without (the government), it may help tremendously."
Rayner has received letters from school principals about his contributions of chess sets. Waialae Elementary School is using its 24 sets to teach an entire grade level the game. Puuhale Elementary School is looking into starting a chess club for its afterschool program. Kalihi Elementary School is searching for volunteers to teach the children how to play the game. Each school cited the game as helping to improve students critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
Rayners goal is to supply every elementary and middle school in Hawaii - thats more than 200 schools - with multiple chess sets, and to have mentors in every school to teach interested students, advise chess clubs and run statewide chess tournaments. He already has a timetable: Hed like to accomplish all this by March 2002.
"Its so neat someone his age and with his health conditions is so bound and determined to get these chess sets to the schools," said Clara Olds, program manager of Community Supported Schools Initiative of Americas Promise Hawaii. "Hes 73 years old and he still wants to make a difference. Thats an inspiration. I wish I had 100 Colins to get resources into the schools."
What is right for you
Rayner is still searching for his place in the world.
Born in Canada, he escaped the cold weather and moved to Los Angeles as soon as he finished serving time in the Canadian army. Trained in classical piano, Rayner quickly found other interests outside music. He took up yoga, studied Hinduism and vowed to never eat meat again - radical decisions in the early 50s.
"You have to find what is right for you," he said. "You have to be able to stand up for yourself mentally."
Rayner moved to Hawaii in 1959 and worked as a waiter at several restaurants in town. It wasnt his dream job, but it was money, he said.
His recent illness has slowed him down a bit, and affected him more emotionally than physically.
"I have to be very frank: With my diet and everything else, and to end up that I have frailties like any other person as I get older, its frustrating," Rayner said.
So he seeks out projects that stimulate him mentally.
Although he has no interest in participating in teaching or politics, he has strong opinions about both. Ask him a question about a current event, and Rayner, a voracious reader, responds with a lengthy explanation.
The problems of the world seem to weigh heavily on his slumping shoulders as he discusses civil wars in Kosovo and South Africa. He speaks from a standpoint several feet back, rubs his temple with his large hands and wonders philosophically about what we all can do.
"One couldnt seem to do anything about it as far as relieving the problems of the world," he said. "So the only thing one would say is start where youre at, with what youve got, and start it there."
Those interested in helping may call Clara Olds at Americas Promise Hawaii, 440-3846. For information about chess in the schools in other places, check out www.chessintheschools.org and www.uschess.org.
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