In 2002, A Better Chance of Westport was just a dream.
In the 15 years since, the ABC program has fulfilled dreams. Young men have come from across America to Glendarcy House, on the corner of North Avenue and Cross Highway. They’ve attended Staples High School, and gotten deeply involved in school and community activities.
They’ve gone on to college, and embarked on careers. They’re already getting married. They’re success stories, and Westport should be enormously proud of them.
Steve Daniels sure is.
The longtime resident of Westport has led quite a life. He captained the University of Pittsburgh soccer team; been a high-level executive at RCA, TWA and Oxford Health; chaired the local United Way board; worked on senior housing with Westport’s Human Services Department, and served on TEAM Westport.
Now 77, he’s involved with his wife Cheryl Scott-Daniels’ real estate firm, CSD Select Homes.
But it’s his stints as president of A Better Chance of Westport that give him special insight into what this town means — to its residents, and those who come here from very different parts of the country.
“I love this place. Make no mistake about that,” Daniels says. “It’s much more welcoming than many other Fairfield County suburbs.”
Still, as an African American — even dressed in a suit and tie — he has been followed around in local stores. And he’s waited to be waited on, while employees ask white shoppers if they need any help.
“ABC is an important part of this community,” Daniels says. “A lot of the scholars come from circumstances that are different from Westport kids’. They have single parents. Their parents might not have degrees. They come from schools that are not as academically rigorous as Staples.”
In their new high school, they learn study skills. They choose from a broad range of subjects. They discover an array of college options. They work hard, join clubs and teams. Outside of school, they become involved in community activities.
It’s excellent preparation for “being around people who don’t look like you,” Daniels says — which is what happens after they graduate, head to college, get a job.
“It’s a tough program,” Daniels admits. “They may wonder if it’s worth it.”
In its first few years, ABC directors and many volunteers throughout Westport had to take it on faith that it was worth it.
But the benefits flow both ways.
“Westport is a bit of a bubble,” Daniels says. “We don’t have the worldwide diversity kids will enter into after college. When you grow up here, you can have a misperception of minorities.”
Staples students (and their younger siblings) get to know the ABC scholars. As friends, teammates and through host families, they hear the young men’s stories. They learn about differences — and the similarities they share.
As president, Daniels says, his biggest challenge was “getting young men to understand their potential.” They’d never been exposed to things like how to study; importance of networking; what a “good” college is, or how to do well on SATs.
But, Daniels notes, “they learn they can compete with kids who have much more than they do.”
In its 15 years, A Better Chance of Westport has accomplished much. It’s given — literally — a better chance to more than two dozen fine young men. They in turn have positively impacted their high school, and the entire town.
Now they themselves are giving back. They’ve formed their own alumni network. They return to Glendarcy House, and are available by phone and email to help the scholars who have followed them to Westport. “That building block is very solid,” Daniels says.
But what’s a success story without a celebration?
Every March, ABC holds a “Dream Event.” This year — on March 25 — the gala honors the organization’s past presidents. Besides Daniels, they’re Lee Bollert, Gail Cohen, Dave Driscoll, Harold Kamins and Eric Seidman.
There’s dinner, an auction and entertainment. But the real draw is the ABC scholars themselves.
There are heartfelt speeches from the graduating seniors (this year: Sam Larkin and Manny Ogutu). A couple of alumni add their own — now adult — perspectives.
Hearing them speak, I always tear up.
And I always leave feeling good — about these young men, my town, this program, and the importance of the work that so many people like Steve Daniels have done, for 15 great years.
(This year’s “Dream Event” is set for Saturday, March 25 [Birchwood Country Club, 7 p.m.]. For tickets and more information, click here, then scroll down. The online auction goes live on March 17, at the link above. To donate an item or service to the auction, click here.)
Here’s a look at the day in the life of ABC House: