A BETTER CHANCE

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. 


a better chance darien

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. 

design darling a better chance darien

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.

a better chance darien ct

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! 

design darling abc house

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. 

abc darien

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.

abc darien ct

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.

 

abc program darien ct

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.

abc darien on design darling

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.

a better chance

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.

design darling abc program

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.

darien ct abc house

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.

abc darien scholars

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.

72 thoughts on “A BETTER CHANCE

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  1. Your parents are The Best! So inspiring to me, what exceptional role models. Thank you for writing about this incredible work. The women are inspiring too, it is incredibly hard to move, change schools and make a new home life. What an impressive group.

  2. The warmth, generosity, energy, and love provided by you, your family and your parents is incredible. The scholars/girls are simply inspirational, and I loved hearing a more in-depth take from B + P. They are just as exuberant and passionate in person about their excitement for this amazing program. Amazing post <3

  3. This was the coolest post I’ve read on a blog in a long time. What inspiring work your parents (and your family) are doing! I work with high schoolers, and it is so, so crucial that they have good role models and adults looking out for them. This was just so heartwarming to read. Thank you, Mackenzie!

  4. I cried reading this. Those girls sound absolutely incredible. I cannot believe they each maintain those packed schedules and achieve so much while being away from their families.

    Your parents sound wonderful and it seems like they were born to do this kind of work.

  5. Mackenzie, thank you for compiling this beautiful post and sharing this with us! It was a joy to read, and, already, has gotten me thinking about how I can get more involved with volunteering in the community in which I live. xo

  6. Thank you, Mackenzie, What a great piece. My mom is on the board and I am looking forward to meeting the girls at the gala Sat. night. Hope to meet you there too!

  7. Mackenzie – thank you for sharing your parent’s story – they work tirelessly and have made the program so much more than it ever was. These photos are fabulous too!

    Your parents are inspiring and the girls are amazing. I am so grateful to be a part of this organization!

  8. Wow! What an absolutely amazing post about ABC and your parents! Whom, might I add, are rock stars! As someone who LOVES to give back to the community, this is something I will certainly be checking in on to see if ABC is in my local area and promote the cause to all of my friends, family, and loved ones. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  9. Loved reading this story and learning about this amazing organization!! It’s amazing to see that your parents know all of the girls and that there is mutual love and appreciation between your family and the girls. I agree your parents are the coolest! Thanks for sharing this part of all of your lives xoxo

  10. My daughter and her family are hosting one of the lovely girls . I have met your amazing parents quite a few times . They are amazing , What a meaningful way to live your life . They are such wonderful role models for all the girls . They are the best !!!

  11. Your parents are my heroes! Wow, I am so glad you took the time to write about this. What a special thing for all involved. That house looks like a total blast to visit— good luck to all the girls this year!

  12. Oh my! As if I weren’t obsessed with your parents enough already….
    Their spirit and energy and hearts are SO BIG. We think the world of all of you.
    Thanks for sharing this story in detail and thank you Horans for what you are doing for these awesome girls.

  13. I love. At your parents actually seem to really know and love the girls. Each description of the girls made me want to know them as individuals and it really warms my heart how happy and full of life they seem to be. My younger sister went to boarding school and it’s wonderful to see people care for your people like their own.

  14. Mackenzie – I loved reading this, thank you for sharing, and thanks to your parents for their dedication and hard work! I have to ask – do they cook for that many people every night?! How is food managed?

    Thanks for sharing insight into and raising awareness of this great program.

    1. Great question! The past two years, my mom cooked five nights a week but this year the program brought in a chef who prepares dinner three nights a week and my mom does the other two. Weekends are a little different as the girls might be at the ABC house, with their local host families (usually one weekend per month), home with their real families (typically on holidays or every six weeks), or just out doing normal teenager things like grabbing pizza with friends or eating at the mall. 🙂

      1. What’s the difference between their “local host families” and your family? How far away are their real families?

        Love this post and very inspired by your parents! Just curious about some of the details!

        1. My parents and the girls live in the same house all year so they coordinate the girls’ schedules on a daily basis. The girls stay with their local host families one weekend every month and join them on those weekends for weekend trips, sporting events, dinner plans, etc. The host families often have high school students around the same age as the girls so it’s a nice way for them to get close with someone else in their grade and spend time with them outside of school. The girls’ families live throughout the tristate area in the Bronx, Queens, Newark, and Bridgeport.

  15. This is a really amazing post. Your parents are walking the walk AND talking the talk. These girls will forever be enriched by their generosity of time and love. I cried while reading it – thanks for sharing it with us.

  16. I love reading your blog but this was a really speciall piece. You clearly realize how special your parents are and how privileged you, your siblings and your ABC siblings are thanks to their generosity 😊

  17. This is so heartwarming to read. Your parents are amazing people, and probably the most amazing part is that they aren’t doing any of this for their own benefit – it’s clear that they only want to support these girls be the best they can be. Thank you for sharing!

  18. This post brought tears to my eyes! I love your blog for the happy, positive corner of the internet that it is, and it’s so easy to see where you get your positivity from coming from such a beautiful, loving family. I once used the word awesome to describe something fairly minor and someone questioned me on whether the minor thing was truly awe-inspiring.. Well, I can say without a doubt that the work your family is doing IS awesome! Thank you to your sweet parents for raising you all to be such kind people!! I will be looking to see if something similar is in my area to get involved in!

  19. I’m speechless. I love this so very much. I love you even more now ❤️🤗. This is such a testament to the love you were shown and raised with.

  20. Thanks for sharing this story Mackenzie. I don’t know your dad but your Mom and I are old frineds from Sconset. We worked together at the Moby DIck Inn for several summers. Before they started this chapter we caught up on the porch at my place with Linda Mackay and your Aunt Jill. What was supposed to be an hour long coffee lasted about four hours full of laughter and even a few tears. . I think their story is so inspiring and hope to hear more in person next summer! Plead give her my best.

  21. This is amazing! Makes me want to do something like this. I’d be interested to hear from the girls as well on their experiences in the program if they’d like to share!

  22. Awe-inspiring!! What a beautiful post about giving back to your community. You have A-MAZ-ING parents!! You and your siblings must be so proud. What a fantastic program!! Wish more of them existed. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Your parents are angels raising who are putting more angels in the world. Tell them what beautiful souls they have to love so big and unconditionally. Thanks for sharing this it gives me hope for a brighter tomorrow. 😊

  24. This is absolutely remarkable! Kudos to your parents for sharing their time, talent and treasure with these amazing girls. What a legacy! Thank you for sharing this and those joyous photos — I have tears in my eyes!

  25. I think I just found what I want to be when I grow up. All of these girls sound so intelligent and driven, and I’m so glad they get this opportunity where they might not have otherwise. I hope if they read this, they know that they have a whole community beyond ABC cheering them on. Also, your mom is a total boss for managing so many schedules like that! Would love to see that calendar sometime!

  26. Amazing! What a wonderful program, and how cool that your parents stepped up to make such a positive impact on these girls’ lives! I wish each of the girls the absolute best, please update us periodically on their progress/accomplishments! I know they’re gonna do big things!

  27. Mackenzie – how amazing is this! You have such amazing role models in your life and I can see where your compassion comes from.

    Thanks for sharing this! I always love your Q&As and this is no exception.

  28. Mackenzie, thank you so much for sharing this. My mom is involved in a similar organization in Chicago as a school liaison (she works with the students in the program who attend the high school I went to). Programs like this are so important and so needed given the unfortunate realities of education and economic disparity in our country, and the fact that your parents have taken on this live-in role is incredible. I hope to read more about the program and your family’s experience with it in the future,

  29. I couldn’t love this sweet post any more Mackenzie! What an amazing program and an incredible set of parents you have! All of these girls sound like they have the brightest future ahead of them, How special to get to be a part of it!

  30. Thank you so much for sharing this interview with your parents. It is incredibly beautiful to read about what they are doing. I am encouraged and inspired.

  31. I’ve always thought that, of all the bloggers i follow, you seem the most down-to-earth and secure with yourself and now I see why. Your parents are incredible people and I aspire to be like them. You and your siblings must be so proud. I would love to see more posts featuring them, if that’s something they’d be interested in, particularly marriage/parenting advice.

  32. Wow this is such an amazing program, it is so cool that your parents are involved! I love that you have become involved in the girls’ Lives too! So cool!

  33. Incredible! Man, your family = #goals for sure. What an awesome experience and way to give back with your whole life. I want to take parenting lessons from your parents. Please share any other wisdom they have to bestow upon our generation!!!

  34. This is absolutely incredible- both the post and your parents’ commitment to these young women! I am a high school teacher in a suburban school with over 50% of our students classified as economically disadvantaged. Working with teenagers can be so hard yet SO inspiring and rewarding. I’m so thankful programs like ABC exist, and for volunteers like your parents.

  35. What a well written post on an amazing program! Your parents are making such a big difference in the lives of these girls and are a reminder that there is still good in the world.

    Your blog has easily become my favorite to read. Please keep sharing posts like these!

  36. I”m absolutely sobbing at my desk. Your parents are incredible, plain and simple. The way that they describe each of the girls… wow. That is what good parenting looks like. Recognizing the skills and strengths of each individual. I don’t even have the right words to use, this post just hit me so deep in the heart.

    How can your readers support the program?

    1. You are so sweet! People are certainly welcome to donate to the program which can be done on their website: http://abcdarien.org/donateonline.html

      If you have a local ABC chapter, you can volunteer to be a host family (local family they spent one weekend per month with!), offer tutoring help, volunteer for carpooling, bring them on college tours, or donate items you think they might need!

  37. Could not love this more. Your parents are an inspiration and it is so wonderful to get to hear about this amazing program and your family’s involvement. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  38. Mackenzie, this was such an amazing post!!! I’m so happy for the girls in the program–it’s such a wonderful experience. Your parents sound like amazing people and I’m so glad that you also get to be a part of this wonderful organization!!

  39. Wow – this is amazing, your parents are some truly awesome people!! I loved reading about this, thanks so much for sharing about what is clearly a pig part of your family’s life. Also, those girls seem so cool. I wish I had that sense of style in high school, haha!

  40. Thanks for writing this – definitely feeling so inspired and we would all be lucky, and our communities stronger, to be half the people your parents are!

    1. Love this piece!!! I grew up in New Canaan and had really good guy friends in the ABC program. Such an incredible organization!