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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.

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