Tag Archives: Ruben Guardado

Dream On: A Better Chance Changes Lives

Five years ago, Michael and Karen Wolfe were invited to A Better Chance of Westport‘s Dream Event.

They knew little about the organization, but were happy to support their friend. Michael expected a typical charity night: a fun cocktail party, silent auction and dinner.

Then the speeches began.

Two seniors were graduating from ABC — the program that brings academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color to Westport. They live in Glendarcy House on North Avenue, attend Staples High School, and take full advantage of the opportunity. But they give back to this community at least as much as they get.

That night, the young men spoke passionately about their 4 years with A Better Chance. Ruben Guardado talked about growing up in the San Diego barrio, and how coming to Westport opened his horizons to new worlds.

Khaliq Sanda spoke directly about overcoming metaphorical walls, and how ABC allowed his parents — immigrants from Cameroon — to fulfill their dreams of providing an excellent education for their son.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Ruben was headed to the University of Southern California, Khaliq to Duke. The Wolfes were in awe, hearing how one organization touched and changed two lives, on such profound levels.

Almost immediately, Michael and Karen decided to become more involved. Fortuitously, Diane Johnson sat at their table. She ran the host family committee. (Each ABC scholar is paired with a Westport family, with whom they spend every Sunday and one full weekend a month. The broadening experience often leads to lifelong friendships.)

The Wolfes’ own children — Jacob and Rachel, twins about to enter Staples themselves — were all in.

Over 4 years, they watched Jarod Ferguson blossom from a shy freshman from Philadelphia into a strong, capable young man, now proudly attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Jarod Ferguson (far left) with the Wolfe family.  They had dinner together every Sunday. This was their final get-together, at Compo Beach.

Last year, Michael introduced Jarod at the 2018 Dream Event. He said, “All we did was share our home over the weekend. But Jarod was willing to share his heart, his mind and his dreams with us. For that, we’re eternally grateful to him, his amazing mother Angela, and to A Better Chance of Westport.”

Michael — now ABC’s vice president of fundraising — is getting ready for this year’s Dream Event. It’s set for Saturday, March 30, at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

As he learned 5 years ago, it’s far more than a charity fundraiser. It’s a inspiring, remarkable evening. And it can be as life-changing for attendees as ABC has been for the scholars.

Once again, 2 graduating seniors will speak from the heart.

David Li and Darby Aurelien, A Better Chance of Westport’s 2 graduating seniors.

Since joining ABC 4 years ago from Queens, David Li has been active in basketball, rugby and track. He excels in art, which ABC helped facilitate.

David says:

ABC has been very helpful in my growth and development as a person. Not only have I been able to mature and better myself, but I had the opportunity to continue to pursue my interests and further my creativity.

Since sophomore year I have taken art lessons with Roe Halper. She has helped me immensely, guiding me to perfect my craft and exposing me to new styles and techniques. I am very grateful for everything that ABC and the Westport community have offered me.

“Woman,” an ink drawing by David Li.

It’s hard enough for most ABC scholars to leave their homes in 9th grade — but at least they start as new freshmen with their peers. Darby Aurelien made the transition from Teaneck, New Jersey as a sophomore.

But he too has thrived. Staples fostered his passion for music and public service. Last year Darby traveled to the Dominican Republic with Builders Beyond Borders, where he helped build classrooms. Next month, he heads to Guatemala.

He says:

My time in ABC has been filled with action-packed and memorable experiences. What was once a yearning attempt to just attend a new high school has turned into amicable relationships, wholehearted support, and a growing maturity.

The ABC program provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back. With B3 I bond with other students, learn to immerse myself in a community culture, and adapt to living conditions. It is a delight to see what we accomplished as a team to better the lives of others — as A Better Chance of Westport has done for me.

Every year Westporters head to their first Dream Event, expecting just another charity fundraiser.

Like Michael and Karen Wolfe, they never dream of the impact it will make not only on the very special scholars’ lives — but on their own.

(A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is set for Saturday, March 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For more information and tickets, click here.)

ABC House Sequel Is Really A Circle

Earlier this summer, A Better Chance was on the hunt for host families.

The wonderful program brings students from underserved schools to Westport, to attend Staples and become part of our community.

But it was  having a tough time attracting families to give the ABC scholars a weekend and vacation home away from their new home.

Last year's A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

Last year’s A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

I posted a story/plea. Board member Nancy Yates describes what happened next:

We received many inquiries from interested families after your post. Some decided that hosting might not be for them after all. But many others were enthusiastic about helping out in whatever role we could offer them.

We’re now fully manned with both primary and alternate host families for each of our 8 scholars, as well as a cadre of substitute families eager for an opportunity to fill in as needed.

That’s good news. But this is even better:

Ruben Guardado, speaking at ABC's annual fundraising dinner.

Ruben Guardado, speaking at ABC’s annual fundraising dinner.

The family who will serve as primary hosts for the new freshman whose lack of a host family prompted ABC’s request has a special connection with Ruben Guardado. He’s the former scholar whose photo was featured in the post.

Ruben was a mentor for their older son through a 4th grade book club 5 years ago. It was a very positive experience for Ruben and the young boy.

The son has just entered Staples. He’s now helping the ABC scholar acclimate to Westport.

Nancy says: “This is a perfect illustration of what you remark upon so often in your posts about ABC: The scholars give back to the Westport community, and make the town a better place.

“And now the town — which has shown it does indeed have a heart — is giving a hand up to a scholar who’s destined to repeat the cycle.”

Westport Falling Short As ABC Hosts

For well over a decade, A Better Chance of Westport has enriched the lives of youngsters from underserved communities. They in turn have given much back to Staples High School, and our entire town.

It’s not easy for young teenagers to leave homes far away — and very different lives — for Glendarcy House on North Avenue. The resident directors there — where the 8 ABC scholars live during the week — provide vital support and encouragement.

The 2016 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

The 2016 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

But they need some breaks. And the teens need to get out, become part of Westport and forge individual identities.

A special part of the ABC program pairs each scholar with a host family. They share every Sunday (except during school breaks), and one full weekend a month.

It’s a win-win. The ABC youngsters enjoy the benefits of a family life away from their real families; they in turn give their host families (including kids) a new perspective on what’s important in life, a window into another culture — and tons of fun.

Last March, at ABC’s annual fundraiser, Deirdre Teed described how excited her children were when they learned their family had been selected to host Thomas Jones. “We won! We won!” they shouted.

Over 4 years, the relationship had its ups and downs. But it grew steadily deeper, Deirdre said — and will last for years.

With Thomas on the brink of graduation, Deirdre repeated — emphatically and tearfully — “We won!”

When ABC scholars speak at the annual fundraiser, they describe with love and awe their relationshp with host families. In 2014, Ruben Guardado spoke with confidence and poise.

When ABC scholars address the annual fundraiser, they describe with love and awe their relationshp with host families. In 2014, Ruben Guardado spoke with confidence and poise.

With so many benefits flowing in both directions, you’d think there would be a long list of Westport families eager to host.

You would be wrong.

Over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult for ABC volunteers to recruit new families. Surprisingly, it’s especially tough to find those with a student or 2 of their own at Staples — the best scenario for a “new kid” trying to fit in there.

In just a few weeks, 3 new scholars arrive. The program is still 1 family short.

That means ABC can’t provide a wonderful 13-year-old coming all the way from California with the support and continuity that are the hallmarks of a host-family relationship.

He’s an honors student who plays alto sax, runs cross country and is an altar server at his church.

He values “communication, cooperation and trust,” and hopes ABC can help him fulfill his potential.

The Westport family lucky to share their lives with him will, in turn, be supported by the ABC organization.

ABC logoEach host family has an alternate family that can step in when life is just too complicated. There’s also a network of volunteers and staff, ready to consult and counsel.

ABC officials are surprised at how tough it’s been to find host families. That’s not the Westport they know. And it’s not the Westport that scholars grow to know, during their wonderful — if not always smooth — years here.

Becoming a host family is not always as easy as 1-2-3. But learning more is as simple as ABC.

For information on becoming a host family, contact Nancy Yates (nyates@post.harvard.edu) or Michael Wolfe (wolfeml@optonline.net).


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Ruben Guardado: An ABC Scholar’s A+ Speech

Yesterday, “06880” readers were inspired by a speech from Khaliq Sanda. The A Better Chance scholar spoke movingly at Saturday’s ABC gala about his 4 years in Westport.

Khaliq’s fellow senior (and roommate) Ruben Guardado also awed the large crowd. Today, “06880” readers will be similarly moved by this outstanding young man’s words. He said:

Last year, I did my junior research paper on Che Guevara. I wrote a quote that meant a lot to me in one of my notebooks. Now, as I look back on the last 4 years, it’s become even more meaningful. “The road to success,” Che said, “is pictured as one beset with perils but which it would seem an individual with the proper qualities can overcome to attain the goal. The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”

Of course, Che was talking about revolutionary struggle in Cuba and elsewhere. But I realize now that I’ve traveled the road he described.

Ruben Guardado delivers his speech at the ABC gala with confidence and poise.

Ruben Guardado delivers his speech at the ABC gala with confidence and poise.

I was a little nervous when I first came to Westport, but I was ready to dive into the world headfirst. I had visited Staples in 8th grade, and it was literally awe-inspiring. It seemed like the perfect place to go to school, but I knew that it would mean leaving behind everything — and everyone — I knew.

I grew up in San Diego, in the barrio, where everyone was Hispanic or Latino. My heritage was pretty unremarkable because it was the heritage we all shared. We didn’t think about it or talk about it. We just took it for granted: we all spoke Spanish, we all ate tamales at Christmas, we all went to quinceañeras when our cousins turned 15.

Then I moved here. And hardly anyone was Hispanic or Latino, and no one spoke Spanish — although a lot of people were trying to learn it. No one ate tamales at Christmas, and instead of quinceañeras everyone went to bar mitzvahs. Suddenly my heritage became pretty remarkable, even to me. And that is probably the most important aspect of my experience as an ABC scholar. Being here has enabled me to grow and change — but also to become more myself.

Graduating seniors Ruben Guardado (right) and Khaliq Sanda pose with Anthony Soto, the gala MC, and the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

Graduating seniors Ruben Guardado (right) and Khaliq Sanda pose with Anthony Soto, the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

When I first got here, my day-to-day interactions with the kids who became my friends, the teachers who taught me, and the adults who cared for me highlighted the differences between us. The weight of it all finally hit me. I walked around with a large lead ball in my stomach. But even though I was homesick, I had the support of my family and the A Better Chance community.

In time, I found my place in the school community, and I found activities I enjoyed and people I really liked. I stopped seeing my peers as a monolithic group of teenagers, and I started seeing them as individuals. And I think that the same thing happened to them: they stopped seeing me as a Hispanic kid and started seeing me as Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic.

It has totally been a 2-way street. We have shared and borrowed from each other’s cultures. And now I am proud to be Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic and who happens to wear Sperry Topsiders, which I can guarantee you no one in the barrio wears. When I wear them home on break, I definitely get some funny looks. But I am kind of proud of them. They are proof that I am part of 2 cultures now. I am San Diego and Westport.

As a junior — feeling more secure — Ruben chose Che Guevara as the topic for his research paper. He learned that despite his flaws, Che had a vision to help the unrepresented and oppressed. Ruben also learned that his culture is filled with leaders, pioneers, writers, artists, scientists and musicians.

Ruben thought that engineering might be a way to address some of the problems he saw in San Diego and elsewhere. He understood the importance of working together, to help others. He repeated Che’s quote: “The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”

But, Ruben continued: My way has not been lonely. Even at the beginning, when I first got here, I never felt alone. I always knew there were people who were with me every step of the way.

Volunteers for the A Better Chance gala included Staples students. The signed Joe Namath jersey on the wall was one of many auction items.

Volunteers for the A Better Chance gala included Staples students. The signed Joe Namath jersey on the wall was one of many auction items.

He thanked past and present ABC chairmen Steve Daniels and Eric Seidman, house parents Desiree and Titus McDougald, house cook Merrill Boehmer, many volunteer drivers and tutors, and his host family: Nancy Yates, Bob Andrew, and their sons Sam, Ben and Eli. Then he said:

Although only one member of my family is here, I would like to thank my dad, Ricardo, who was the motivation for everything I did. My brother Raul and sister Viri were always waiting for me to get home so we could get back to bickering, which — strangely — I missed while I was away.

And last but not least, the most important person throughout this entire process: my mother, Teresa, who was my inspiration, as well as a great friend when I needed someone to talk to. Thank you all for always being there and for supporting me in everything that I do.

Ruben paused, took a big breath, smiled, and concluded:

I’ve learned many things during the past 4 years, but the most important thing I’ve learned is who I am. As much as this has been a journey of miles, it’s been a journey of self-discovery.  I am who I am because of all of you.

Thank you.