From ABC House To The Penthouse

The world knows Westporter Eileen Ogintz as a talented travel writer. Her  popular blog, Taking The Kids, chronicles the challenging/funny/eye-opening experiences taking her own 3 kids everywhere from Disney World and Yosemite to Alaska and Europe.

Last week, 2 posts described her travel adventures with 7 other Westport kids: residents of A Better Chance‘s North Avenue home.

The 7 teenage boys — outstanding students from economically disadvantaged areas across the country — attend Staples. Scores of Westporters augment the program in many ways, from tutoring to driving to offering “host homes” on weekends.

Eileen decided she’d share a prize — winning a weekend stay at the Hilton New York‘s 5-bedroom penthouse — by showing off the city’s many treasures to the ABC kids.

The ABC House students at the 9-11 Memorial.

The 2 days included Alicia Key’s Broadway play “Stick Fly“; a family-style dinner in the theater district, and visits to the 9/11 Memorial, Chinatown and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Also along: a 9-month-old (the houseparents’ younger child), and a 60-plus chaperone. But the itinerary had something for everyone. And staying in the Penthouse — with a library, living room with a baby grand piano, and access to the Executive Lounge — certainly helped.

“Stick Fly” — about an upscale African American family gathering for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard — discussed family issues like parents playing favorites, children unable to live up to parents’ expectations, girlfriends’ difficulties assimilating and class issues — that “can play out in any family,” Eileen writes.

Because the family is black, the play had special resonance, she notes. The ABC students were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour afterward.

In Chinatown, with housemother Desisree and her 9-month-old daughter.

The Tenement Museum also resonated with the ABC House teens. The 1863 apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working-class Irish, German, Italian and Jewish immigrants who, Eileen notes, “faced challenges we understand today: making a new life, working for a better future, starting a family with limited means.”

She tells her blog readers:

Every one of our boys’ parents are immigrants — from Africa, Mexico, Jamaica and Trinidad, from other places….What makes this museum so interesting is experiencing the apartments of those who lived here and hearing their stories. The saddest, we agreed, was the young German mother whose husband went to work one day and never returned — just as her great grandson failed to return on the day the Twin Towers fell.

It was a long but exciting weekend. The boys passed on the offer of a movie at night, preferring to hang out in a Penthouse in the middle of Manhattan.

ABC House students relax on the "Stick Fly" set, with Westport program co-founder Lisa Friedland.

What a memorable experience for the A Better Chance students. Westporters embrace these outstanding young men. And — thanks in part to this remarkable program — ABC graduates will one day be in a position to provide similar opportunities to the next generation of bright, curious, talented teenagers lucky enough to be in programs like this.

8 responses to “From ABC House To The Penthouse

  1. What a wonderful gesture.

  2. this is fabulous in all ways: the people, the program, the trip, the penthouse, the write-up; this, is what i think of when i think of the best of westport.

  3. The Dude Abides

    Good program, good coodinators, good kids. Thanks for the update.

  4. This is the most upbeat story, and thanks to Eileen for sharing her wonderful prize in such an original way. Sounded great, the whole weekend. Ken and I have been to the Tenement Museum, and it is as moving as was described.

  5. Holly Wheeler

    Kudos to you, Ms. Ogintz, for sharing your NYC prize with these seven boys and creating for them a beautifully planned and important weekend experience. My guess is that it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I’ve heard of A Better Chance, but I was not aware of an ABC residence on North Avenue. Is it funded by local, state, and/or federal governments or by private donations? If the latter, where can donations be sent?

    • A Better Chance is a fantastic nationwide private organization, with a particularly effective and active local chapter (aided by MANY Westporters, who donate time, energy and funds). It’s Westport at its best.

      Here’s an “06880” story from last fall about renovations to the house:

      Here’s a link to their website, including info on how to contribute, and their upcoming major fundraising event:

      THANKS for asking!

    • Holly, A Beter Chance of Westport is funded by local, private donations. We have been up and running in Westport for 10 years and have had the pleasure of seeing our graduates go on to great colleges and launch their careers. I would be happy to share more information with you, at your convenience or feel free to check the website at Donations can be sent to A Better Chance of Westport, PO Box 2153 Westport, CT 06880. We have a wonderful annual event scheduled for March 31st in Westport which you might enjoy attending. The supporters are amazing and the event a joy.
      Cheryl Scott-Daniels
      Former Board Member

  6. ABC of Westport is supported solely by private donations. We receive no federal, state or local funds. As Dan mentioned above, you can go to our website at http://www.abetterchanceofwestport,org for information on how to make a donation. This year we are celebrating our 10 year anniversary in Westport. The website will also have details and rsvp information about our upcoming fundraiser, “A Decade of Dreams,” on March 31, 2012. This is our major fundraiser for the year, and will include an auction, dinner and a special evening recounting our 10 years in Westport and celebrating our scholars and founding members. If you have any questions about the program, or would like to get involved as a host family, volunteer driver, board member, or in some other capacity, please email