Tag Archives: Steve Daniels

A Better Chance: Honoring 15 Years Of Success

In 2002, A Better Chance of Westport was just a dream.

In the 15 years since, the ABC program has fulfilled dreams. Young men have come from across America to Glendarcy House, on the corner of North Avenue and Cross Highway. They’ve attended Staples High School, and gotten deeply involved in school and community activities.

They’ve gone on to college, and embarked on careers. They’re already getting married. They’re success stories, and Westport should be enormously proud of them.

Steve Daniels sure is.

Steve Daniels

Steve Daniels

The longtime resident of Westport has led quite a life. He captained the University of Pittsburgh soccer team; been a high-level executive at RCA, TWA and Oxford Health; chaired the local United Way board; worked on senior housing with Westport’s Human Services Department, and served on TEAM Westport.

Now 77, he’s involved with his wife Cheryl Scott-Daniels’ real estate firm, CSD Select Homes.

But it’s his stints as president of A Better Chance of Westport that give him special insight into what this town means — to its residents, and those who come here from very different parts of the country.

“I love this place. Make no mistake about that,” Daniels says. “It’s much more welcoming than many other Fairfield County suburbs.”

Still, as an African American — even dressed in a suit and tie — he has been followed around in local stores. And he’s waited to be waited on, while employees ask white shoppers if they need any help.

“ABC is an important part of this community,” Daniels says. “A lot of the scholars come from circumstances that are different from Westport kids’. They have single parents. Their parents might not have degrees. They come from schools that are not as academically rigorous as Staples.”

The 2016-17 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

The 2016-17 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

In their new high school, they learn study skills. They choose from a broad range of subjects. They discover an array of college options. They work hard, join clubs and teams. Outside of school, they become involved in community activities.

It’s excellent preparation for “being around people who don’t look like you,” Daniels says — which is what happens after they graduate, head to college, get a job.

“It’s a tough program,” Daniels admits. “They may wonder if it’s worth it.”

In its first few years, ABC directors and many volunteers throughout Westport had to take it on faith that it was worth it.

A Better ChanceNow they know. Since A Better Chance of Westport began, 18 scholars have earned college degrees. Eight more are still in college. Three are in grad school: law, medicine and business.

But the benefits flow both ways.

“Westport is a bit of a bubble,” Daniels says. “We don’t have the worldwide diversity kids will enter into after college. When you grow up here, you can have a misperception of minorities.”

Staples students (and their younger siblings) get to know the ABC scholars. As friends, teammates and through host families, they hear the young men’s stories. They learn about differences — and the similarities they share.

As president, Daniels says, his biggest challenge was “getting young men to understand their potential.” They’d never been exposed to things like how to study; importance of networking; what a “good” college is, or how to do well on SATs.

But, Daniels notes, “they learn they can compete with kids who have much more than they do.”

ABC's Glendarcy House on North Avenue. Scholars spend some weekends with host families.

ABC’s Glendarcy House on North Avenue. Scholars spend some weekends with host families.

In its 15 years, A Better Chance of Westport has accomplished much. It’s given — literally — a better chance to more than two dozen fine young men. They in turn have positively impacted their high school, and the entire town.

Now they themselves are giving back. They’ve formed their own alumni network. They return to Glendarcy House, and are available by phone and email to help the scholars who have followed them to Westport. “That building block is very solid,” Daniels says.

But what’s a success story without a celebration?

Every March, ABC holds a “Dream Event.” This year — on March 25 — the gala honors the organization’s past presidents. Besides Daniels, they’re Lee Bollert, Gail Cohen, Dave Driscoll, Harold Kamins and Eric Seidman.

Sam Larkin and Manny Ogutu, this year's graduating seniors.

Sam Larkin and Manny Ogutu, this year’s graduating seniors.

There’s dinner, an auction and entertainment. But the real draw is the ABC scholars themselves.

There are heartfelt speeches from the graduating seniors (this year: Sam Larkin and Manny  Ogutu). A couple of alumni add their own — now adult — perspectives.

Hearing them speak, I always tear up.

And I always leave feeling good — about these young men, my town, this program, and the importance of the work that so many people like Steve Daniels have done, for 15 great years.

(This year’s “Dream Event” is set for Saturday, March 25 [Birchwood Country Club, 7 p.m.]. For tickets and more information, click here, then scroll down. The online auction goes live on March 17, at the link above.  To donate an item or service to the auction, click here.)

Here’s a look at the day in the life of ABC House:

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.)

“A Decade Of Dreams” For ABC

Twelve years ago, several Westport citizens had a dream. They wanted to bring A Better Chance — a national program that since 1963 has provided educational opportunities to students of color from economically disadvantaged areas — to Westport.

The challenges were daunting. Where would the students live? Who would provide supervision, meals, transportation, medical care? How would they spend weekends, holidays, school vacations? What about college prep, applications, SAT tests?

And, of course: Where would the money come from?

The founding directors — Barbara Butler, Dave Driscoll, Lisa Friedland, Peggy Kamins, Ann Pawlick — never doubted they would succeed. Their only concern was doing it right.

They certainly did.

Westport’s first ABC scholars arrived at Glendarcy House on North Avenue in 2002. Since then, nearly 2 dozen young men have benefited from the chance to study at Staples High School, and participate in extracurricular activities. Along the way they’ve been helped by hundreds of Westporters, who have volunteered their time, energy and money in areas ranging from fundraising, academic support and hosting, to renovating the residence.

At the same time, the ABC scholars have contributed greatly to the school and town. They’ve given their time, energy, unique talents and outsize personalities to countless classes, projects, organizations and causes.

On Saturday, March 31 (6:30-10:30 p.m., Unitarian Church), ABC honors itself and its scholars — and raises important funds — with a “Decade of Dreams” event. In addition to great food, exciting entertainment, and a wide-ranging live and silent auction, the evening will honor ABC’s founding fathers and mothers.

ABC of Westport founders (from left): Lisa Friedland, Dave Driscoll, Peggy Kamins, Barbara Butler, Ann Pawlick.

Dave Driscoll was the man who visualized what ABC could do and be in Westport. His roots were in the corporate world, but he worked tirelessly to make this non-profit a reality.

Barbara Butler‘s intimate knowledge of town agencies was invaluable in navigating the labyrinth of permits, permissions and other red tape necessary to make ABC House a reality.

Lisa Friedland — who knows just about everyone in Westport — was one of the program’s early, and most energetic, guiding lights.

Ann Pawlick gave ABC its “look,” through newsletters, holiday cards, invitations, gift cards, and tons of other creative, handsome graphic material.

Peggy Kamins spent her time in the back rooms, figuring out computer issues, working on spreadsheets, organizing mailings and completing monumental tasks.

Though not a founder, 2-time president Steve Daniels‘ passion for the program, and sensitivity to the challenges faced by the scholars as well as the volunteers, helped make ABC House what it is today.

None seek the spotlight. All will take deserved bows at the “Decade of Dreams.”

Current ABC of Westport scholars (from left): Emerson Lovell, Stephan Patterson, Isaiah Nieves, Luis Cruz, Khaliq Sanda, Ruben Guardaro, Rhyse McLean.

But the evening will really be about the entire town — those who live at Glendarcy House, those who make it what it is, and those who want it to succeed.

To help it continue, a “wish list” is already online (click here). Covering items like computer supplies, yearbooks for seniors, prom expenses, cap-and-gown-fees, sports logowear, snacks like Subway and Chinese food, and Netflix rentals, this allows Westporters to help out with extra costs that help the ABC scholars share the same experiences as other Staples students.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be 13 or 14 years old and leave home, friends and school, move hundreds or thousands of miles away, enter a new culture and school, and live in a group home with resident directors.

And we sometimes forget what it’s like to do all the hard work necessary to make such a program succeed — far beyond  its modest beginnings.

March 31 is a fantastic chance to remember.

(Online bidding for the auction begins Thursday [March 8]. Live auction items can be previewed at the website too. Tickets to the “Decade of Dreams” event can be purchased by clicking here.)