I’ve mentioned the A Better Chance program and my parents’ role as resident directors a few times in passing but today I’m excited to explain at length this organization that’s so near and dear to our hearts. I’ve been meaning to write this post since they first moved into the ABC house more than two years ago and today is finally the day!
I sometimes get funny looks when I explain that I have three siblings but that my parents have moved into a house where they’re helping raise eight high school girls. I join them for dinner at least once a week, tutor three of them in French, and have even introduced them to BBG workouts — it often feels like I have eight new little sisters and my life is infinitely richer with each of them in it. I’ve always thought my parents are two of the coolest people I’ll ever meet but their involvement with ABC takes that admiration to a new level. There are so many times when I’ve wanted to chat about what my family is up to in a given week and it’s felt impossible to explain without proper context, so I hope today’s post fills you in on all the fun we’ve had in the past couple years and sets the stage for more updates moving forward.
We took these pictures while playing mini golf with the girls a couple weeks ago (the game ended in an exact tie, even with six players on every hole — what are the odds?!) and then I interviewed my parents earlier this week to hear all the details in their own words. It’s truly their story to tell and my siblings, husband, and I are lucky to be a tiny part of it.
Let’s start with the basics. What does ABC stand for and what is the program’s mission?
Mom: ABC stands for A Better Chance, which is a national organization whose mission is to provide a four-year high school scholarship to academically talented students of color from underserved communities, helping them to reach their academic and social potential. ABC evaluates students’ middle school academic transcripts, their SSAT scores, and their extracurricular involvement. If selected for the program, students gain access to some of the nation’s top independent schools, whether that’s private boarding schools, private day schools, or community school programs like ours where students attend public high school and board together in that town.
Before you became involved with ABC, you both made major career changes. Can you give a little background on that?
Mom: Yes, I had already left my career in fashion in 2003 to go back to school to become a registered nurse. I graduated in 2006 and was initially an oncology nurse and then moved into the emergency department at Stamford Hospital. In 2009, we fell in love with the idea of becoming dorm parents at a boarding school after your brother Grayson attended Berkshire School. We loved the close-knit community feel on campus and felt like we could make a difference by coaching and encouraging students through their high school years. So your father started taking math classes in preparation for getting his Master’s in teaching, graduating at the end of 2016.
Dad: We thought if Mom could transition into being a school nurse and I could teach math and coach hockey, we’d be able to sell our home in Darien and spend our summers off at our house on Nantucket.
So you’d been planning on moving to a boarding school town — when did the opportunity to stay in Darien with ABC come up?
Mom: We had already prepared our resumés to submit to boarding schools when I received an email from the minister at our church in January 2016 saying that he was looking at a job description with our name on it. ABC Darien was looking for new resident directors for the start of the 2016 academic year so we forwarded our resumés, interviewed with the resident director selection committee — many of whom we knew from raising our own children in town — and the rest is history!
You had just become empty nesters when you sold our childhood home and moved into the ABC house. Did people think you were crazy to raise your four children and then jump into raising eight more? I definitely did!
Mom: We went to each of our kids and said we have this opportunity that we’re considering taking and got each of your blessings to move forward with it. I felt like we had a ton of support.
Dad: We’d been talking about doing some variation of this for a while so all our family and friends were overwhelmingly supportive.
Mom: We felt like the ABC opportunity was this less traditional twist on the boarding school plan and one where we’d get to live in a house and function as more of a family unit, which felt more personal than we could have imagined.
After your minister told you about ABC, were you both on board with the idea from the get-go?
Dad: It was a really attractive opportunity for us from the beginning. It’s not something that was on our radar but the second it came up, it was like a lightbulb went off. We could be close to our own kids in Connecticut and New York, we could live in a house, we could be in the same school system our kids had graduated from. It was similar enough to the boarding school plan we’d hatched several years earlier but gave us the chance to stay in the town where we’d raised our family and get to work with students from underserved communities.
Can you explain the logistics of the program and the house you’re living in?
Mom: The house we’re living in is owned by the ABC Darien organization. The eight girls share four bedrooms and four bathrooms upstairs and we live in an ajoining apartment on the first floor. The program has existed in Darien since 1981 and survives on donations from generous individuals and local businesses.
What is your role as resident directors for the ABC Darien house?
Mom: We act like surrogate parents and guardians while the students are in Darien during the academic year. We’re responsible for ensuring active participation in extracurricular activities, getting them involved in the community, managing their after-school tutoring, and making sure this feels like a happy place for them to come home to. We have dinner together every night to talk about classes and upcoming tests — really the same as any family with high schoolers!
Dad: Right, we really just resemble a big family with eight kids. We have a dinner table with ten place settings and talk about everything from academic successes and struggles to politics and social issues.
Right after Karys hit a hole-in-one!
What does a typical day look like for you and the girls?
Mom: Can you just take a picture of our activities calendar?
Dad: First we help ensure all eight of them are on the school bus at 6:48 every morning and then get ourselves to work until around 3:30 in the afternoon.
Mom: Right now two of the girls go to cheerleading 2-3 times a week and a hip hop class once a week then cheer at a football game on the weekend. One is running cross-country six times a week, one is a varsity volleyball player, one is on the freshman volleyball team, and one is the freshman volleyball team manager and participates in Model Congress. The two seniors both work two days a week to save up for college and volunteer 3-4 hours a week at a local organization called Person to Person that provides food and clothing to those in need. They also run or participate in several clubs at school in addition to completing college applications.
Dad: And Mom manages all of that on a seven-foot-by-four-foot calendar that’s on the wall in the dining room.
You’re 60 and 61 respectively and yet you have more energy than most twenty-somethings I know. What’s your secret?
Dad: The formula as far as I’m concerned is Beth does all the work and I take all the credit.
Mom: That’s not true! We’re supported by a highly involved board of directors as well as the scholars’ parents.
Dad: I bumped into one of my retired friends who’d decided to coach a high school track team and he told me that working with young people keeps you young, which I really agree with.
Mom: I do too. Being in a position where we can help support the girls’ goals fuels us every day.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your role at ABC?
Dad: It’s not easy for these girls to meet the challenges they face here, whether that’s making friends in a new town or trying out for a sport they’ve never played before. They weren’t born with all of the same advantages as the kids they’re going to school with, so it’s extremely rewarding to see them achieve at a high level.
Mom: I truly think we get more than we give. Seeing the girls feel successful is what it’s all about. It’s incredibly rewarding to help them figure out what their dreams are and then find ways to support them in those endeavors.
What are some of your favorite memories from your two and a half years at ABC so far?
Dad: The first senior who graduated and went off to college really brought it full-circle for me.
Mom: We took the girls camping, which was a total highlight.
Dad: Or what about white-water rafting? That was our first weekend trip with them and we just realized instanteously that this was going to be a great fit for us.
Mom: And dinnertime every night is a precious part of the day for me when I get to sit down with all of them and hear about their days. We’re pretty open with each other and what’s remarkable to me is how the older scholars counsel the younger scholars so effortlessly. Sometimes Dad and I are just spectators in a really organic learning environment being led by someone who was in the freshmen’s shoes just two or three years earlier.
Dad: We’ve gotten to take them to Broadway shows, the pumpkin patch, mini golf, on college tours… And we started an ABC Thanksgiving dinner with their teachers from school where everyone cooks a recipe that their families make on Thanksgiving.
Mom: We’ve made an effort to get them together with other ABC houses — there are boys’ houses in New Canaan and Westport where the girls have friends (and in one case, a twin brother!). And we’ve tried to make birthdays special by coordinating surprises from their family and friends.
What’s your favorite thing about each of the girls?
Mom: E’Sachi has the most generous spirit and she’s a natural teacher. She’s really, really kind.
Dad: And she’s extremely responsible.
Mom: Angie has a contagious enthusiasm for life and is very fun-loving.
Dad: If you want to know how smart Angie is, play a round of Catchphrase with her. She’s the best teammate you could have.
Mom: Hassana is a three-sport athlete and brings a lot of team spirit to the house. I think we really got to know her when we saw her interact with her special needs brother and her mother’s organization for families with special needs children.
Dad: She has no fear — she walked into a new school and in the first week ran for and won a seat on student council. She’s a natural born leader.
Mom: Lexi’s a really solid student who loves to dance, cheerlead, and participate in the school musicals. She’s the consummate big sister to the new scholars in the house.
Dad: Lexi’s very well-organized and super responsible. To give her a job is to get the job done.
Mom: Henyesi is a self-starter and a bilingual student who’s now studying her third language. Dad: She shows a lot of initiative and willingness to try new activities.
Mom: Chelsi has a kind heart and is friendly and easy-going.
Dad: She’s a hard worker. She really sees the difference between getting her homework done for the night and actually learning and studying the material.
Mom: Osaru is quiet but not shy, fiercely observant, and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes when you least expect it.
Dad: She’s inquisitive and extremely articulate. She’s very clear on her goals and it will be fun to watch her achieve them.
Mom: Karys is super sweet and stays on top of a really busy schedule.
Dad: She’s very polite, very conscientious. And she’s been an integral part of an undefeated volleyball team.
Mom: She’s just easy to live with — they all are. The harmony in this house is really amazing when you think about everyone’s different backgrounds and family structures. To come live in a house full of girls when maybe you only had brothers — it’s just quite remarkable and they all live and work really well together, whether it’s taking care of each other’s chores or helping with schoolwork or social challenges.
Anything else you would like people to know about ABC?
Mom: I think it’s worth noting that many of our current scholars will be the first in their families to attend college.
Dad: We just feel lucky to be a part of this organization and we know the girls do too. Their perspectives enrich this community and our lives so much. Also I’d include that we raised our family in Darien and I don’t think either of us fully appreciated just how generous of a community we’ve lived in. There’s so much support from the community for this program — we have volunteers for a carpool schedule on a spreadsheet that UPS would admire. Any time we call one of the co-presidents with any kind of concern, their response always starts with, “We’re on it.”
Mom: Totally. We’ll have a family who’s moving ask if we need sleeping bags and then all of a sudden we’ll put together a camping trip for the girls and have a way to house prospective students for overnight visits during their eighth grade year. Sometimes we don’t even know what we need until someone offers it — we just feel truly fortunate for all the people who have donated their time, money, and energy.