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Boise man with Asperger syndrome starts nonprofit to bring chess and STEM education to underprivileged kids

Devin Nakano is determined to give at-risk kids in the Treasure Valley a chance at college, and a successful career in the STEM field.

Devin Nakano of Boise is the founder of Y Stem and Chess Inc., a nonprofit that is changing young lives. Since 2017, Nakano has been voluntarily teaching at-risk kids chess, math and computer coding, all in the hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty.

“It builds critical thinking, it raises your IQ, it builds math scores, reading scores and writing scores, it helps you communicate, it builds self-esteem, the list really goes on and on and on,” Nakano said of the benefits of chess and STEM education.

He volunteers his time at places like the Boys and Girls Club, Taft Elementary, and the Boise Rescue Mission. Nakano is passionate about helping underprivileged kids get to college and beyond.

“I saw a huge need. I figured if I get the kids to graduate with a STEM degree, we can break the cycle of poverty within one generation,” said Nakano. “How can I get these kids with no stem knowledge to eventually become an engineer, pursuing college?”

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Nakano has quite a story himself, and that story inspires him to give back.

“I have Asperger’s. When I was first diagnosed at three years old the doctors told my mom the prospects of me living a successful life were slim to none,” he said.

According to Autism Speaks, Asberger syndrome, or Asberger's, is a previously used diagnosis on the autism spectrum. In 2013, it became part of one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or ASD 

That little boy with Asperger syndrome went on to prove the naysayers wrong. He went through school with ease and incredible success and earned a master's degree in engineering and cybersecurity. Devin says he was given the support he needed from his mother and teachers to be a success story, and he wants the kids he works with to get that opportunity too. That’s why he started his nonprofit.

“The entire idea of this program is to empower kids and to show them what their future can hold if they work hard,” said Nakano. “We'll give you all the resources you need to be successful.”

Nakano also recruits mentors in the STEM field in the Treasure Valley to help teach his students, who believe in his mission.

“We are nonprofit, tax-exempt, all the mentors that work with these kids all come on their off-hours,” Nakano explained.

Nakano recently started a Chess Club for the Boise Rescue Mission Youth Program, which has been a huge success.

“A lot of the kids who come and stay with us at the shelter don't know what they are good at or what they like,” said Kelsey Korvela, the events coordinator for the Boise Rescue Mission. “It's just exciting to see what he inspires in them. He's going to single-handedly break the cycle of homelessness in some of their lives.”

Nakano also helps with college admissions, and financial aid and scholarship applications. He says he thrives on watching kids light up when they see the future that they can have if they work hard.

“They need someone that will day in and day out show up and have fun, teach them and mentor them," he said, "and help them empower themselves to a future that is wonderful."

Devin Nakano is determined to prove that all children can succeed with the right mentors and support.

“This is going to be my life's work," he said.

For more information on YSTEM and CHESS INC, go to their website here. You can also check out the Facebook page. People can donate to the non-profit or even apply to become a mentor.

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