How did it all start?
A Better Chance of Wilton has been an important part of the Wilton community since it was first conceptualized in 1994 by a group of community, business and spiritual leaders. That group, led by Wilton High School Principal John Sullivan, Wilton Youth Council President Maureen Graham and Wilton Presbyterian Church Pastor David Graybill, envisioned a program in which teenagers from economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods could benefit from Wilton’s commitment to education, and the Wilton community could benefit from the diversity and enthusiasm that the students would bring. Two years later, with support from all of Wilton’s houses of worship and generous financial support from its residents, ABC of Wilton opened its doors on Godfrey Place to an initial class of two high school boys.
Is it true there were two ABC houses in Wilton?
In 2003, it became apparent that the successful program was outgrowing its Godfrey Place location. Board member Lynne Vanderslice chaired a capital campaign that raised more than $700,000 and facilitated the purchase and renovation of a larger home on Cannon Road, with more suitable accommodations for the Resident Directors and Academic Coordinator.
The boys moved to Cannon Road in 2007. The question then became what to do with the suddenly vacant Godfrey Place property. After much discussion and considerable research, the Board voted in 2008 to put the Godfrey Place home to use as a residence for girl scholars. Wilton is one of just five programs in the country that operates both a residence for boys and one for girls. The others are in Williamstown, MA, Wayne, PA, Swarthmore, PA, and Edina, MN.
In 2019, after 23 years of helping minority students gain access to a challenging high school academic setting, ABC Wilton announced that it would be phasing out the boys’ residential program and would consolidate its efforts to support its girls’ program. This decision was difficult and complex, driven in part by financial reasons and also by demand. Closing the girls’ house would have left many more girls without an opportunity, while that same opportunity still existed elsewhere for boys across the state. To ensure the program’s long-term sustainability, the choice over which house to keep, boys or girls, was emotionally difficult. The transition to a girls-only program was completed in 2020.
There’s so much involved in raising a teenager. Who takes care of the ABC scholars?
We own and operate two houses, complete with paid Resident Directors and cooks. The Resident Directors act as surrogate parents for our scholars while they are away from home. The rest are volunteers. Support service volunteers are assigned to each scholar including an academic liaison, a social worker, and a college coach. We have an all-volunteer Board of Directors that makes sure the program runs smoothly and the scholars have what they need to succeed. Volunteers help in every way – there are drivers, host families, college coaches, dedicated fund raisers, and so on.
What is it like being an ABC Scholar in Wilton?
I know the program is academics driven. What do the scholars do when they’re not at school?
Our goal is to provide participating scholars with a “typical” Wilton High School experience. ABC scholars participate in sports, go to the prom, belong to the National Honor Society, or act in plays just like their classmates. Like many teenagers in town, some scholars have a part-time job and often take part in town activities like volunteering at the library or the Halloween 5K Run. Participation in extracurricular activities is, however, conditional upon high academic effort and performance. We also attempt to place our scholars in summer programs that promote personal, social or academic development and can often arrange enrollment at no cost to the scholar.
What about getting into college?
In their sophomore year, each scholar is assigned a college coach, who helps the scholar through the college application process – from taking the SAT, completing applications and financial aid forms, and taking college trips for on-site tours of desired colleges. Their full immersion into the Wilton High School experience allows ABC scholars to achieve the well-rounded experiences necessary for consideration by selective colleges.
What about weekends and holidays?
Each scholar is matched to a host family in town, with whom they spend each Sunday and one full weekend a month. This broadens the scholars’ horizons further and often builds lasting relationships that continue long after the scholar has completed his or her studies in Wilton. Scholars are with their host families only during the school year excluding holidays. Click here to learn more about being an ABC Host Family.
How is the scholar’s family involved?
We encourage our scholars’ families to be engaged in the development of their child while in our program. An Academic Liaison and a Parent Liaison keep families informed. Our scholars go home during school vacations and on most holiday weekends. The annual Welcome Picnic to kick off the school year, Family Day and of course, Graduation Day is a great time for families to meet the community that supports their child’s success.
As they say, “it takes a village” but also a lot of money. How do you fund the program?
Wilton citizens, foundations, organizations and others have been extremely generous and committed to ABC by contributing on an ongoing basis the funds necessary to maintain the quality of the program. Without our community of supporters, the ABC of Wilton program simply could not exist. A large cadre of volunteers continues to do the many functions and tasks to keep the program vital and operating. They are the heart and soul of the program through their generous contributions of time, talent, enthusiasm and funding. In return, Wilton has a richer, more diverse high school population because of some talented, dedicated and very grateful ABC Scholars.