Checkmate for Vanita

Vanita Young beat out 600 other girls to earn a chance to represent the state at an important chess tourney in Texas. (Jarid Barringer / Staff photographer)

You know the best part of my job? Calling someone who's been in a pickle and letting them know that their troubles are over.

That was my happy task today, when I phoned Vanita Young and told her to pack her bags, she was going to Texas.

"Oh, my God! That's crazy! Thank you!" said Vanita, 17, when she learned that a benefactor had stepped forward to pay Vanita's way to the prestigious Susan Polgar Chess Invitational next month in Lubbock, TX.

The rainmaker? Philly's own U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who read my column about Vanita over breakfast this  morning and then phoned his aide Ken Smukler to say, "We've got to make it happen for this girl."

Brady suggested that Smukler call Joe Watkins at Students First PA, a pro-charter school-reform group, because Vanita attends a charter school: she's a junior at the Walter D. Palmer Charter School at N. Broad and Master streets.

"If these guys are so in favor of charter schools, they need to support the kids who go there," said Brady.

Watkins agreed, and the deal was done, within hours. In all the years I've been doing my column, I have never seen such a fast response to the written word.

"You write a helluva story, what can I say?" shrugged Brady.

The people over at the After School Activities Partnership are bowled over by response to Vanita's plight: She'd been selected to attend the most prestigious girls' chess event in the country - only one girl is invited from each state, and she would rep Pennsylvania - but could not afford to attend.

"We've had people calling with offers to help, and we have to tell them that Sen. Brady has already come through," said happy-and-stunned-sounding ASAP executive director Maria Walker, who initially contacted me about Vanita and whose group runs the chess programs that have nurtured Vanita's love of the game. "We don't want to be taking money for Vanita if the need has already been fulfilled."

That didn't matter for reader Paul Sevcik, who told ASAP to keep his donation of $20 for Vanita and use it for chess expenses at her school.

"I'm a former teacher," he told me. "I know how big a deal it is when kids find the motivation to really excel at something. I want to encourage that."

Well, yeah, of course. But Brady thinks any extra cash that comes in for Vanita should be used to let her and her chaperone have a blow-out good time by flying first-class to Texas and staying at a fancy-shmancy Lubbock hotel (if such a place exists ... I'm kidding, Texans, kidding!)

"Let her reward herself," he said. "Let her use any extra money to feel good and have a good week and feel good about herself. Why the hell not? She's a great kid. She's worked hard. She deserves it."