Alert — and proud — “06880” reader Michael Wolfe writes:
On a recent weekend in suburban Chicago, I shrugged off beautiful spring weather to sit in a dark auditorium with other proud Westport parents and their kids. We watched as over a dozen Staples students received prestigious John Drury High School Radio Awards.
As each student collected their honor, we heard extra-enthusiastic cheers from the mom or dad in attendance. So when Jarod won not 1 but 2 awards, I gave him the loudest acknowledgment I could.
But there was one major difference between me and the rest of the Westport parents that day: Jarod isn’t my son. In fact, I’ve known him less than 3 years.
Yet that morning I felt as excited for him as I would have for my own 2 kids.
In a way, that’s what he’s become.
Jarod Ferguson, born and raised in Philadelphia, is one of 7 boys from around the country living in Westport through the great local chapter of an incredible national program.
A Better Chance Of Westport was founded 15 years ago to provide academically gifted, highly motivated and economically disadvantaged young men of color (African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American) the opportunity to live in our community, and study at Staples.
In fact, one of Jarod’s Drury Radio Awards was for a broadcast about leaving his home and coming to Westport as an ABC Scholar.
Imagine this: A 9th grade boy leaves his own family and friends behind, moves to Westport to live in a home with several other boys, and is supervised closely by resident directors who live with them and help keep them on the path to success.
They are given educational opportunities they would not otherwise receive — but must give up the daily connection to family that so many of us take for granted.
That’s why the host family program is so important.
Upon entering ABC of Westport, each scholar is assigned a host family (and a 2nd alternate family). Each Sunday during the school year — and once a month, for an entire weekend — the scholar spends the day with members of the host family (usually, but not always, including other children). That family’s role is to provide comfort and support outside of the ABC house, and a connection to the kind of family life the boys have left behind in their hometowns.
Each Sunday morning at 9, we pick Jarod up at the ABC house. He comes to our home, and joins our family. We are not his babysitters, nor do we provide entertainment.
Instead, like we do for our own 2 kids — also Staples juniors — we provide encouragement, attention and support for Jarod’s activities and interests.
We offer a bit of guidance from time to time (which, as with our own teenagers, is often met with an appropriate level of eye-rolling).
We give Jarod enough space to explore his own needs and feel like a regular kid. Then, on Sunday nights at 6 when we sit down for our family dinner, Jarod takes his place at the table. He’s one of our own.
We had encouraged Jarod to explore opportunities at WWPT. It seemed like a natural for a sports nut like Jarod. It took him a while to find his way there, but his recent awards sparked a real passion. He hopes to continue with the station next year, and perhaps pursue a career in sports journalism.
It’s been less than 3 years since we began hosting Jarod. They’ve flown by.
The shy and unassuming child has grown into a more confident and outspoken young man. I hope our presence in his life has had something to do with that.
But honestly, hosting him has given back to us as much as we may have given him. My own kids have a better understanding of the world outside the Westport bubble that they’ve grown up in. They have learned the importance of giving back, and have made a friend I hope can last beyond their years here.
And my wife and I have been graciously allowed by Jarod’s mother to share in his life and achievements. We’re not quite his parents, but we feel a stake nonetheless.
All of this comes from letting an eager and humble student join us for part of our weekend. Not a bad trade-off at all.
ABC of Westport is always looking for families interested in hosting a scholar like Jarod. I encourage everyone to learn more. For more information, email email@example.com.
It’s an experience you and your family will never forget.