Tag Archives: Savion Agard

ABC House Now Offers “A Better Connection”

In less than a decade and a half, A Better Chance of Westport has impacted the lives of dozens of young men. It’s helped provide excellent education, a chance at college, a boost up in life. (It’s also benefited many Westporters, who have learned plenty from the ABC scholars. But that’s another story.)

Though still in their 20s, ABC graduates are making their mark in business, finance and the arts.

And — as young as they are — they’ve already decided it’s time to give back.

A Better ChanceCharles Winslow leads the charge. Raised by his father in Brooklyn, he first heard of the national ABC program from his 8th grade guidance counselor. His initial reaction — “No way! I want to be cool in high school” — slowly gave way to the realization that it might open some doors.

He went through the process — SSATs, recommendation letters, interviews, a visit to Westport — and in 2005 arrived at Glendarcy House on North Avenue.

“I was a 13-year-old African American boy from Brooklym, in an affluent town of Caucasians,” Charles recalls.

“It was a culture shock. The academics at Staples were rigorous. I didn’t know what I got myself into. I called my dad every day.”

Charles Winslow, as an ABC scholar in 2008.

Charles Winslow, as an ABC scholar in 2008…

Like the other ABC scholars, he studied 3 to 4 hours a day. He did chores. Gradually — with help from older boys in the house, the house parents, and a cadre of ABC volunteers — he made his way.

Then he made his mark.

Charles became a 3-year volleyball starter, and senior captain (and won state and FCIAC championships every year he was on the team). He was co-vice-president of Junior Achievement, made money for the club, and traveled to Canada for a conference.

ABC graduate Savion Agard encouraged Charles to apply to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Charles was hesitant, but — with the help of Freudingman & Billings — he got in.

Charles continued to thrive at Cornell. He played club volleyball, tutored children, and spent a “life-changing” Semester at Sea, visiting the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Vietnam, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and Panama Canal.

He’s now an analyst in the real estate division of Goldman Sachs. During lunch breaks, he volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

But he wants to do even more.

and in 2013, beginning his career at Goldman Sachs.

…and in 2013, beginning his career at Goldman Sachs.

When he was at ABC House, Charles realizes, there were not yet any graduates making it in the working world. He had no professional role models from the program; no one to ask questions only a former ABC scholar would know how to answer.

Now there are.

Charles spoke with Steve Daniels — a Westporter, African American and corporate executive who’s been a great mentor to many ABC scholars. They devised an idea for an informal mentorship program, matching young ABC graduates with current scholars. ABC vice president Lori Sochol helped Charles refine the plan.

“There are so many things to talk about: grades, being away from home, assimilating, careers.” Charles says. “Every year we come back for the Dream Event [annual fundraiser], but we don’t really know the guys who are in the house now. This is a way to enhance that, so we can use the networks and relationships we’ve formed to help them.”

This month, the program — called A Better Connection (get it?) — begins. Charles has recruited a group of mentors. Each is assigned a mentee. They’ll talk for a minimum of 30 minutes every 2 weeks. Hopefully, deeper relationships will follow.

Charles envisions more, too: social events, a listserv to share ideas and information.

The 2014-15 ABC House scholars.

The 2014-15 ABC House scholars.

“As students of color, we got a great education in Westport,” Charles says. “But it’s important for those of us who are doing great things now, thanks to that, to help and network with younger students of color.”

This year’s Dream Event is Saturday, March 28 (7 p.m., Birchwood Country Club). Charles will be there, speaking about A Better Connection. He and other ABC grads will meet the current scholars — and their individual mentees.

One of Westport’s most valuable and meaningful programs is about to get even “better.”

(For more information on the Dream Event, click here.)

Fulfilling Families

In 2003, Mark and Kim Mathias celebrated their 1st year in Westport. They loved the town, but missed the racial diversity of Los Angeles.

ABC logoFriends Ivan and Sharon Fong listened with interest. Both were on the board of A Better Chance of Westport. They described ABC’s mission — “giving motivated, outstanding minority youth the opportunity to achieve their dreams through education” — and suggested the Mathiases be a host family.

It was a great idea. A decade later, the family remains passionately involved.

(Host families provide a home away from the North Avenue residence every Sunday, and 1 weekend a month. ABC scholars participate in regular family activities —  meals, movies, even chores.)

“We were very impressed by the courage these 13- and 14-year-old young men showed, leaving the comfort of their families to strive for a better education and opportunity in Westport,” Kim says.

“I was particularly intrigued by the culture shock I was sure these youth would feel, and how they handled it. ABC offers impressive support, but not everyone can handle the academic rigor, the congregate living, the rules, the fish bowl, the standing out in a high pressure community.”

The current ABC scholars (from left): Adrian, Christopher, Ruben, Rhyse, Khaliq, Luis and Thomas.

The current ABC scholars (from left): Adrian, Christopher, Ruben, Rhyse, Khaliq, Luis and Thomas.

Savion Agard was 13 he when arrived as a freshman in Westport. The Mathiases’ daughter Nicole was 6.

“We knew there would be adjustments, but Savion was to be treated as a member of the family — not a guest we entertained,” Kim recalls.

“In our family we say grace before meals. At the end of the prayer we give each other a light kiss. I was concerned about how Savion would feel.”

Nicole defused any discomfort when she blew him a kiss across the table. The ice was broken.

Savion proved a great fit for the family.

“He was easy-going — probably too easy-going when it came to his studies in the first year or so,” Kim reports.

Eventually, he found his way academically and socially.  An older ABC scholar introduced Savion to rugby, which gave him a great group of friends and plenty of confidence.

When Savion Agard graduated from Cornell, the Mathias family was there. From left: Kim, Nick, Savion, Nicole and Mark.

When Savion Agard graduated from Cornell University in 2011, the Mathias family was there. From left: Kim, Nick, Savion, Nicole and Mark.

“We watched Savion mature from a somewhat overwhelmed freshman trying to figure out how to manage his studies and all the ABC expectations placed on him, to a sophomore more comfortable with his ‘I’m not from here’ persona, to a junior who was comfortable at Staples, to a senior who had made friends and found a place for himself in the Class of 2007,” Kim says.

When a 2nd-grade friend saw a family photo and asked who Savion was, Nicole said, “That’s my big brother Savion.” The little girl wondered why he was a different color.

Instantly, Nicole replied, “You don’t have to be the same color to be a family.”

Kim was thrilled. “Neither Mark nor I had ever said those words to Nicole. She just knew it, because that was what we were living.”

A year after Savion became Nicole’s big brother, she became a big sister to her foster (now adopted) brother Nick. He and Savion developed a special relationship. It deepened after graduation.

When Savion returned to Westport to visit or work, he lived with Mathiases. The kids treated him as a rock star, racing to tackle him as he walked through the door. He calls every birthday and Christmas. Email and Facebook enable constant communication.

Some of the ABC alumni gathered for a reunion. Many visit Westport whenever they can.

ABC alumni gather for a reunion. Many visit Westport whenever they can.

After Savion went on Cornell — he’s now an IT headhunter in California — the Mathiases tried to adjust to not having a high school student in the house. (Helping him move to college, and visiting him regularly, proved to be great practice for when the Mathiases own kids are that age, Mark noted.)

In 2010, ABC asked if the Mathiases would again be a host family. They asked Savion what he thought. “Being part of your family was the highlight of my experience with ABC,” he said. The Mathiases were thrilled.

Their closeness with Savion made them concerned about replicating the experience — until they met Khaliq.

“We realized he would be a wonderful addition to our family too,” Kim says. “What a testament to ABC that they find such fine young men.”

Khaliq joins Nick, Kim, Nicole and Mark Mathias for an Easter family portrait.

Khaliq joins Nick, Kim, Nicole and Mark Mathias for an Easter family portrait.

Like Savion, Khaliq is strongly motivated.

“I attended one of the best middle schools in Georgia. I could probably go to one of the best high schools in Georgia too,” he told friends of the Mathiases.

“But when you realize that Georgia’s education system ranks 47th in the nation you think ‘big deal, my best-ranked school is  still in a school system that’s 47th in the US.  That’s when I thought maybe I should look elsewhere for my education.”

Kim says, “That’s impressive thinking at any age. It’s really impressive when you consider Khaliq was 13 years old.”

Khaliq’s academic transition to Westport was smooth. As a freshman he  dropped his free period, to add  Algebra 2.

By sophomore year Khaliq knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He was in a variety of clubs, played volleyball and  had an active social life.

This year, as a junior, Khaliq is a leader in student government and other school and extracurricular activities, while juggling what many would finding a crushing load of AP classes. Through it all, Kim says, “Khaliq maintains his balance, his cool, and his warm smile.”

When Savion Agard returned for last year's A Better Chance of Westport Dream Event, he visited the Mathiases -- and Khaliq.

When Savion Agard returned for last year’s A Better Chance of Westport Dream Event, he visited the Mathiases — and Khaliq.

The Mathiases’ journey with Khaliq continues to unfold. Nicole and Nick both call him their brother – sometimes still confounding classmates.

But there’s no confusion among the Mathiases, or anyone at ABC House. They know there are many ways to be a family.

(And many ways to be a host family — including substitutes, when the regular host family is away. ABC House is always on the lookout for more volunteers. For information, email radydian@optonline.net or nyates@post.harvard.edu.)