On Saturday, October 4th, over 160 people turned out for the ABC fundraising Gala at the Country Club of New Canaan. The Gala is ABC’s major fundraising event of the year and provides almost half of our operating funds. These funds pay for housing, feeding, and supporting 8 great scholars at the ABC House. ABC of New Canaan is one of 200+ chapters across the country, but one of only 22 chapters that operate their own private house. This creates unique challenges and opportunities. The challenges include maintenance of a structure built over 100 years ago. However, the opportunities provided by the House far outweigh any drawbacks. The boys get to experience living away from home and managing their academic, personal, and social lives on a semi-independent basis which creates a much easier transition to college life. New Canaan also gets to benefit from the boys involvement in the high school, in sports and clubs and theater, and in the community through our Host Family program and personal community service projects. As has been proven over the years and again at the Gala, this ‘better chance’ has been leveraged into entrance at competitive universities and graduate schools, internship and permanent job opportunities, and lifelong relationships with their ABC family.
This year’s Gala was attended by 13 alumni of the program ranging from the Class of 1982 (Derrick Harris) to our most recent 2013 graduate (Devaun Bovell). One of our two keynote speakers was Gabriel (Gabe) Aguilera of the Class of 1985. Gabe went on to attend Stanford as an undergraduate and then earned advanced degrees from UC San Diego (Masters) and Harvard (Masters and Ph.D.). Gabe talked about what the ABC of New Canaan program meant to him. Most tellingly, he noted that when his parents immigrated to California from Mexico, their definition of achieving a great education was finishing middle school. Imagine his family’s pride attending his various graduation ceremonies. Joining Gabe at the Gala were his host Mom Marie Crispi and his host brother Peter Crispi. Gabe is currently a professor at the Air War College in Alabama where he specializes in national security issues and Latin America.
We were also joined by Jillian Joseph, an ABC grad from the Berkshire School program which is a boarding school in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Jillian provided a similar, yet different perspective. Growing up in Brooklyn, Jillian faced different challenges than Gabe, but was no less focused on leveraging the opportunities provided by the ABC program. As Gabe did, Jillian faced a big transition in moving away from home and family. Her achievements included academic and athletic excellence at the high school and college levels. After earning her degree from Colgate, Jillian graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school. After working with Skadden Arp in New York, Jillian joined GE where she is currently the General Counsel for GE Real Estate. She sits on the National Board of Directors of A Better Chance and chairs its National Advisory Council. As impressive as her career has been to date, Jillian seems far from done leveraging her ‘better chance’.
Finally, any description of the evening would not be complete without mentioning the great video created by one of our seniors – Kwaku Gyasi. Kwaku visited and filmed many of his fellow students at their homes, added interview footage, and then overlaid a sound track. Is this how Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee got started! Following the video, Kwaku talked about the impact of the program on him over the last 3+ years. He even shared some great photos and nicknames. Not to be outdone, our other senior Osaze Wilson shared his views about the program. Osaze’s imagery and story made it clear how hard it can be for a teenage boy to leave home, come to a new school, come to a new town, and be surrounded by unfamiliar faces and culture. He noted the structure of the ABC program seemed stifling to him at first, but that he grew to realize that it created a base of love and community from which he could operate and grow. All the speakers’ stories moved the audience to realize that the program really lives up to its name – A Better Chance.
Thank you to all our guests for joining us in a fun and successful evening, and to all our donors for supporting such a important program.