Tag Archives: Gail Cohen

An ABC House Landmark

A Better Chance of Westport is proud of many things:  The character and work ethic of the young “scholars” in its program.

The spirit of the ABC House on North Avenue.

The support of Westport families, institutions and businesses to help the ABC scholars achieve their dreams.

Now ABC points with pride to something else:  Its 1st 2 scholars have graduated from college.

Earlier this month, Shamir Clayton walked down the aisle at Emory University.  A few days later, Anthony Soto did the same at Assumption College.

Shamir — an economics major — heads to Orlando, to work for Coca-Cola in sales and marketing.  He just bought his 1st car, and plans to pursue a graduate degree.

Anthony — a business major — may work, or enroll directly in an MBA program.

They’ve come a long way from their 1st days in Westport, back in 2002.

Anthony Soto and Shamir Clayton, during their first days in the ABC program -- 8 years ago.

 “It’s hard to be an ABC scholar,” notes ABC co-president Gail Cohen.

There are high academic standards, and social restrictions.  ABC scholars can’t drive, for example, and spend 3 hours studying each night.

“But these kids come away with a skill set that enables them to be that much more successful,” Cohen says.  “When a college sees what our kids have gone through, they realize they’re stand-up young men who can succeed on their own.

“They go to college knowing how to study, and how to interface with different kinds of people.”

Scholars maintain their relationship with ABC long after leaving Staples.  The program provides money for books in college.  Graduates are invited back for the annual Dream Event fundraiser — and asked to speak, if they want.

Anthony returned one year with his girlfriend.  He wanted to show her the place that meant so much to him, at a crucial point in his life.

“Anthony and Shamir grew up with us,” co-president Lee Bollert says. 

“When they came here, we were like new parents.  We’d never done this before.  But their families trusted us with their sons.

“We probably made some mistakes.  And they had no older kids to guide them.  They had to be brave, and be able to take risks.  We appreciate them taking us on, as much as we took them on.”

And now — like “parents” everywhere — everyone associated with ABC will wipe away a tear, wish their “sons” well, and watch proudly as Anthony and Shamir make their way in the world.

While telling them, of course, that they’re always welcome back “home.”