When Dale Mauldin picked up Daniele Dickerson for their first date 7 years ago, he got an early look at her passion.
The California native had come east to spend 4 years at Ridgefield High School, through that town’s A Better Chance program. Now — after earning a degree in English literature at the University of North Carolina, and an MFA in writing — she was working at a different ABC house. Daniele tutored and mentored young girls in the nationally recognized program that offers high-performing students of color a chance to attend high-achieving schools.
Daniele was giving back to the organization that had given her so much. At Ridgefield High school she took Advanced Placement courses; was elected to the National Honor Society, and headed the Diversity Club. After college she became a freelance writer, working on arts and culture projects, while also helping with ABC.
If Dale was going to have a chance with Daniele, he had to learn about A Better Chance.
He did — quickly. The Massachusetts native and Norwich University graduate was in the middle of more than a decade as an ESPN broadcast and post-production editor. As a documentary filmmaker, he won 2 Emmys.
“I like sports. But the stories behind athletes — showing their community outreach, their impact on kids — is more interesting to me,” Dale says.
“I saw that impact when I met Daniele. She made me realize you don’t have to be rich and famous to impact someone’s life.”
Dale left ESPN to become a freelance editor, working on projects with the likes of Serena Williams, LeBron James, and a town hall meeting with President Obama. His most recent project is a documentary on Black cowboys.
They got married. They moved to Colorado, and had a daughter, Sage.
Meanwhile, Daniele reached out to A Better Chance national headquarters, in New York. She and Dale were interested in becoming resident directors — adults who live in an ABC house, oversee the daily lives of 7 or 8 teenagers, and help shape the entire experience for those scholars.
Westport was looking for new resident directors (or, as they’re now called here, executive directors of student life). During Zoom interviews, Dale and Daniele found the local board to be “the most energized, purposeful, and open to new ideas” of any they’d seen.
“It was clear we would have agency, and could shape the program,” Dale recalls.
In July, the couple — and 4-year-old Sage — moved east, into Glendarcy House on North Avenue.
Daniele had been there years before, as an ABC scholar and then a tutor. The closest Dale had come to seeing his new home was on a Zoom walk-through.
Late last month, the 7 scholars arrived. The quiet summer — unpacking, getting acclimated, getting the house ready — suddenly shifted into high gear.
“It’s a big job. It’s 24/7,” Daniele says. “We took a leap of faith.”
It’s paid off. “Having kids here is a game-changer,” Dale notes.
A former ABC scholar herself, Daniele is keenly aware of the stresses they face: leaving their families, attending a pressure-filled school in a new community, surrounded by people who don’t look like them.
Staples and Westport embrace A Better Chancc, offering time, talents, energy, enthusiasm and funding.
Still, Daniele and Dale know, the success of the program depends strongly on the types of experiences the teenage boys have living together at Glendarcy House. The student life executive directors play a key role in creating that home-away-from-home environment.
The couple will listen closely to the scholars’ ideas. “We want their input. We want them to advocate for themselves,” Daniele says.
“We want this house to feel like their home,” Dale adds. That includes art on the wall, that represents the scholars. A new additions is a striking work by Sean Ramos, an 11th grader at Glendarcy House. He calls it “ABC: A Brotherhood Created.”
Daniele and Dale will work with other ABC programs in Connecticut, helping scholars in different houses develop friendships and make bonds.
But “for their health and well-being, it’s important that the kids disconnect a bit, and be in nature,” Daniele says. “We want to go biking, camping, kayaking. We’ll take them to plays.” They’ve spoken with the Westport Country Playhouse, about possible projects, and will connect soon with the Westport Library.
“The resources here are immense,” Dale says. “Whatever our kids are interested in, there’s a group that wants them to join.”
This is the 20th anniversary of A Better Chance of Westport. Its first 2 decades have been marked by plenty of success, and a few growing pains.
“We’re proud of that first 20 years,” says Daniele, who knew the program as a student in Ridgefield and is now learning more about its history.
“And we really look forward to the next 20. But we can’t do it without community support. We want everyone — especially newcomers like us — to join us as we begin.”
(NOTE: A Better Chance of Westport can always use volunteers. Among the ways to help: Host (or alternate host) families for weekends, and transportation. Click here for more information.)
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