Fulfilling Families

In 2003, Mark and Kim Mathias celebrated their 1st year in Westport. They loved the town, but missed the racial diversity of Los Angeles.

ABC logoFriends Ivan and Sharon Fong listened with interest. Both were on the board of A Better Chance of Westport. They described ABC’s mission — “giving motivated, outstanding minority youth the opportunity to achieve their dreams through education” — and suggested the Mathiases be a host family.

It was a great idea. A decade later, the family remains passionately involved.

(Host families provide a home away from the North Avenue residence every Sunday, and 1 weekend a month. ABC scholars participate in regular family activities —  meals, movies, even chores.)

“We were very impressed by the courage these 13- and 14-year-old young men showed, leaving the comfort of their families to strive for a better education and opportunity in Westport,” Kim says.

“I was particularly intrigued by the culture shock I was sure these youth would feel, and how they handled it. ABC offers impressive support, but not everyone can handle the academic rigor, the congregate living, the rules, the fish bowl, the standing out in a high pressure community.”

The current ABC scholars (from left): Adrian, Christopher, Ruben, Rhyse, Khaliq, Luis and Thomas.

The current ABC scholars (from left): Adrian, Christopher, Ruben, Rhyse, Khaliq, Luis and Thomas.

Savion Agard was 13 he when arrived as a freshman in Westport. The Mathiases’ daughter Nicole was 6.

“We knew there would be adjustments, but Savion was to be treated as a member of the family — not a guest we entertained,” Kim recalls.

“In our family we say grace before meals. At the end of the prayer we give each other a light kiss. I was concerned about how Savion would feel.”

Nicole defused any discomfort when she blew him a kiss across the table. The ice was broken.

Savion proved a great fit for the family.

“He was easy-going — probably too easy-going when it came to his studies in the first year or so,” Kim reports.

Eventually, he found his way academically and socially.  An older ABC scholar introduced Savion to rugby, which gave him a great group of friends and plenty of confidence.

When Savion Agard graduated from Cornell, the Mathias family was there. From left: Kim, Nick, Savion, Nicole and Mark.

When Savion Agard graduated from Cornell University in 2011, the Mathias family was there. From left: Kim, Nick, Savion, Nicole and Mark.

“We watched Savion mature from a somewhat overwhelmed freshman trying to figure out how to manage his studies and all the ABC expectations placed on him, to a sophomore more comfortable with his ‘I’m not from here’ persona, to a junior who was comfortable at Staples, to a senior who had made friends and found a place for himself in the Class of 2007,” Kim says.

When a 2nd-grade friend saw a family photo and asked who Savion was, Nicole said, “That’s my big brother Savion.” The little girl wondered why he was a different color.

Instantly, Nicole replied, “You don’t have to be the same color to be a family.”

Kim was thrilled. “Neither Mark nor I had ever said those words to Nicole. She just knew it, because that was what we were living.”

A year after Savion became Nicole’s big brother, she became a big sister to her foster (now adopted) brother Nick. He and Savion developed a special relationship. It deepened after graduation.

When Savion returned to Westport to visit or work, he lived with Mathiases. The kids treated him as a rock star, racing to tackle him as he walked through the door. He calls every birthday and Christmas. Email and Facebook enable constant communication.

Some of the ABC alumni gathered for a reunion. Many visit Westport whenever they can.

ABC alumni gather for a reunion. Many visit Westport whenever they can.

After Savion went on Cornell — he’s now an IT headhunter in California — the Mathiases tried to adjust to not having a high school student in the house. (Helping him move to college, and visiting him regularly, proved to be great practice for when the Mathiases own kids are that age, Mark noted.)

In 2010, ABC asked if the Mathiases would again be a host family. They asked Savion what he thought. “Being part of your family was the highlight of my experience with ABC,” he said. The Mathiases were thrilled.

Their closeness with Savion made them concerned about replicating the experience — until they met Khaliq.

“We realized he would be a wonderful addition to our family too,” Kim says. “What a testament to ABC that they find such fine young men.”

Khaliq joins Nick, Kim, Nicole and Mark Mathias for an Easter family portrait.

Khaliq joins Nick, Kim, Nicole and Mark Mathias for an Easter family portrait.

Like Savion, Khaliq is strongly motivated.

“I attended one of the best middle schools in Georgia. I could probably go to one of the best high schools in Georgia too,” he told friends of the Mathiases.

“But when you realize that Georgia’s education system ranks 47th in the nation you think ‘big deal, my best-ranked school is  still in a school system that’s 47th in the US.  That’s when I thought maybe I should look elsewhere for my education.”

Kim says, “That’s impressive thinking at any age. It’s really impressive when you consider Khaliq was 13 years old.”

Khaliq’s academic transition to Westport was smooth. As a freshman he  dropped his free period, to add  Algebra 2.

By sophomore year Khaliq knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He was in a variety of clubs, played volleyball and  had an active social life.

This year, as a junior, Khaliq is a leader in student government and other school and extracurricular activities, while juggling what many would finding a crushing load of AP classes. Through it all, Kim says, “Khaliq maintains his balance, his cool, and his warm smile.”

When Savion Agard returned for last year's A Better Chance of Westport Dream Event, he visited the Mathiases -- and Khaliq.

When Savion Agard returned for last year’s A Better Chance of Westport Dream Event, he visited the Mathiases — and Khaliq.

The Mathiases’ journey with Khaliq continues to unfold. Nicole and Nick both call him their brother – sometimes still confounding classmates.

But there’s no confusion among the Mathiases, or anyone at ABC House. They know there are many ways to be a family.

(And many ways to be a host family — including substitutes, when the regular host family is away. ABC House is always on the lookout for more volunteers. For information, email radydian@optonline.net or nyates@post.harvard.edu.)

18 responses to “Fulfilling Families

  1. Mark, Kim, Nicole and Nick live their values, and truly enhance our community. I am grateful for their volunteerism, engaging stories, and caring hearts.

  2. Diane Johnson

    Dan, thanks for the wonderful shout-out for the ABC Host Family program and many thanks to the Mathias’ and all the wonderful families that host the ABC scholars. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a host family or substitute host family, please email me at radydian@optonline.net or Nancy Yates at nyates@post.harvard.edu.

  3. I’m so inspired by the Mathias Family. I will be starting to volunteer at Project Return this summer. I’m thinking ABC will be in my future.

    As I was reading this article, I had one word in the back of my head the whole time, which was “Khaliq.” And the, there he was, shining in this blog, as he should be! He is a good friend of my daughter’s and a great friend to many. He is really loved and adored at Staples. There is definitely a magical quality to Khaliq, a magnetism that experts call “emotional intelligence.” They say that is a bigger indicator of success than academics. Khaliq has got it all. AND, he has beautiful manners. Many kids come to my house and avoid me – Khaliq never does. I get a big hello and thank you. This is a wonderful article about some very special people in our community. This warmed me up on a very cold morning. Thanks, Dan.

  4. Sent from my iPhone

    Marty Bell 5 Covlee Westport CT 06880 (o) 203 349 5025 (m) 203 856 0607

  5. Great story — kissy, kissy love fest. Nothing snarky here.

  6. Babette d'Yveine

    What a beautiful story! The Mathiases are wonderful, generous people.

  7. At the time I started to reply, there was nothing I could say that would make a big difference. What the Mathias’ did was overwhelming, generous and loving.

  8. A beautiful story, Dan. Makes me think of doing good and seeing so far because of standing on the shoulders of the people who came before. Makes me think of opening up Westport during the Project Concern days — what? 40? 50? years ago.

  9. Dan Geraghty

    I was an honor to teach Savion when he was a sophomore at Staples. So proud.

  10. While I too commend the Mathias family, and their dedication to the ABC Scholars and the ABC Mission, I know that they would say that the gifts both Savion and Khaliq have brought to their family through this experience are greater than those that they have given to their “sons!” It is truly one of the most meaningful experiences our family has shared and I would encourage anyone who might be interested to speak to Diane Johnson or Nancy Yates.

    • Kim Mathias

      We completely agree. As an ABC host family, we have received far more from our interactions with Savion, Khaliq and the extended ABC community than anything we have given. Our lives have been enriched by these relationships and we would encourage anyone to become an ABC family or volunteer.

  11. Dan what a beautiful story and glad that there is ABC House and host families that can host these children.
    .

  12. Great post Dan. Many thanks to the Mathias family and all the great families that support the ABC program. Next weekend we’re taking the ABC boys on our annual “Snowboard Weekend” at Bolton Valley (near Burlington VT). This has become a popular activity over the past 4-5 years and big thanks to Bolton Valley (www.boltonvalley.com) and the Chill Foundation (https://www.facebook.com/ChillFoundation) for helping make this possible.

  13. Melody James

    What a wonderful story. It reminds me of my childhood and our experience with a Fresh Air Fund friend Harry Chin. He returned for several summers, stayed longer and attended my Brother’s wedding.

  14. Martha Mintzer

    I feel very fortunate to be involved with both the ABC program in Westport as well as the local Fresh Air Fund program. Helping kids reach their full potential is what it is all about! Both are amazing programs that can make a real difference in a kid’s life and future. The Fresh Air Fund as well as ABC are currently looking for host families.

  15. What a wonderful story. I’d love to hear more about the lives of these young men after they leave Westport.

    • A great place to hear about it is at the ABC “Dream Event.” It’s a fundraiser. Every year, one or two graduates return to speak (very eloquently), and updates are given. A graduating senior also speaks. There’s great entertainment, a raffle — it’s awesome.

      This year’s event is upcoming: Saturday, March 23 at the Westport Inn. For more info, click here: http://www.abetterchanceofwestport.org/