The Untold Riches of being an ABC Host Family

When Win Kellogg, one of the founding members of A Better Chance of Wilton, approached my husband and me about becoming a “host family” for an ABC scholar, we had no idea of the wonderful journey ahead for our family.

We had young sons, ages 7, 9 and 11, but fortunately, we did not let our busy life dissuade us because this commitment is one of the most significant and positive decisions we have ever made as a family. From the get go, Jamal, our first host son, so enriched our lives. Our boys eagerly awaited Jamal’s Sunday visits and were beyond excited to have him for the entire weekend, often times fighting for his attention. Needless to say, it was a lot of testosterone in the house! There were adjustments, as we had to learn what made Jamal comfortable, and he had to learn how to live in our household. He wasn’t always happy with our food choices, but we learned to have a bottle of hot sauce on hand which he happily put on most foods, including waffles! He learned to let our dog snuggle at his feet and how to endure his friendly licking. And as Jamal grew with us, we grew with him. There were times when he had to be reprimanded, just as we would one of our own sons, and we knew then, he was truly integrated into our family!

We watched Jamal mature from a slightly awkward sophomore into an upper classman at the high school who carried himself with grace and maturity. He became an accomplished competitive runner, and we cheered him on. You have never seen a prouder family as we watched Jamal graduate from the high school on a beautiful June day, months away from starting a college career at Amherst.

Exactly three years later with two of our sons now in high school and the youngest in middle school, Win once again asked if we would take on another scholar, Chris. As before, we had to discuss this as our lives were busy in a different way, and the new scholar would actually be younger than two of the boys. This would be an entirely different experience.

“Yes” was our decision, and Chris entered our lives. He was a shy, extremely quiet, polite young man from the Southside of Chicago. He never really had been out of the city, so the greenness and all the trees were overwhelming for him. But week-by-week his shyness evaporated, as he became a member of our family. The older boys loved having him at the high school, and they were all in the band together where they bonded. Chris had overcome great obstacles to make it from the Southside of Chicago to Wilton ABC, and he had so much to teach us, just as Jamal had done. Our youngest son wrote in his college essay, “Chris is my best friend as well as my brother. We have guided each other through the struggles of high school, talked about our problems and shared a countless amount of laughs.” Chris excelled in sports, music and academics and followed his “older brother” Jamal to Amherst where he graduated in 2012.

The experience of being an ABC host family has given us gifts we never could have imagined. Our family is fuller and more enriched in everyway. In our oldest son’s college essay, he summed up our entire family’s feelings stating, “I have loved watching Chris become part of our family. As I’ve seen Chris grow as a person, it has made me realize how important it is to work hard and be true to yourself. He has taught me how much a person can accomplish, even against significant odds, when they are dedicated and committed to what they believe in.”

Jamal and Chris are still very much a part of our family. The photo is from a family vacation this past June.

* For more on the Fuentes family and ABC, look up the story on ABC’s 15th Anniversary Gala.

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