Press Room Headlines
A Better Chance is moving into a new home
By A.J. O'CONNELL
WILTON - Chris Payne, 17, a junior at Wilton High School, has lived in the grey house behind the Wilton Library since he came to Wilton two years ago. Despite the fact that he's had some good times in the house, he's excited that he'll soon be leaving it.
"There are some memories in this house, but it's time for a change," he said.
Chris is a scholar with the local branch of A Better Chance, the residential program which gives urban youth the opportunity to study at some of the nation's best schools. After years of wanting to leave their downtown home at 6 Godfrey Place, the Wilton program is less than a month from pulling up stakes and moving to a new house on Cannon Road.
"It's a lot bigger," said scholar Jeremi Lewis, 15, a sophomore who is originally from Brooklyn.
The coordinators of the program are just as excited as the scholars about the new house.
"It feels like forever," joked Lynne Vanderslice, former president of A Better Chance's local board of directors.
It's actually been only a few years. The program started in Wilton 10 years ago, and its board has been looking for a new home for a couple of years. The Cannon Road property was purchased last year.
"We didn't own the land at 6 Godfrey; we've always wanted to own our own land," said Vanderslice.
Although the house is owned by A Better Chance, the land is owned by the library.
The current president of A Better Chance's board, Barbara Myers, said the downtown location was encroaching on the group's ability to deliver its mission.
"We aren't able to provide a suburban experience at all for our boys,"
The new house at 15 Cannon Road boasts all the trappings of suburbia: a yard, more space for everyone and a long driveway with two basketball hoops.
Although downtown Wilton is hardly comparable with a big city like Chicago or New York, it will be many of the scholars' first true experience with the suburbs.
"I grew up in the middle of Chicago, I'm used to the noise and the people," said Chris. Coming to Wilton in the first place was a big deal, he said, but he doesn't think moving to a more remote setting will be a huge change for him.
Edwin Carbajal, 15, of the Bronx, is excited that he will be able to walk to Wilton High School from the new house, and to the Wilton Y, where a lot of the guys work out.
A Better Chance is a national non-profit agency which places highly-motivated minority students in public and private schools which have been recognized for excellence. Though the program serves both boys and girls in grades six through 12, the Wilton branch serves up to eight boys of high school age.
There are currently 10 people living in the Better Chance house: seven scholars and a family; resident directors John and Monisha Gibson and their 1-year-old daughter. Aside from Chris, Jeremy and Edwin, three of the boys come from New York City and one comes from Ohio.
There is room for one more scholar in the new space, but the bigger house will allow space for one other person - a live-in academic coordinator, a vital part of the program, according to Vanderslice.
"That's something we never had before," she said.
The 4,600-square-foot home on Cannon Road was designed and built last year, and is currently waiting for a certificate of occupancy from the town, the last step after the installation of the house's sprinkler system.
"I'm expecting to be moved within the month," said Myers.
Over the past few years, A Better Chance Wilton raised $900,000 for the house, Vanderslice said. Adrienne Reedy, fund-raising and events coordinator for the group, says A Better Chance isn't finished with the capital campaign for the house yet; there is still between $50,000 and $60,000 to be raised.
The agency does a fair amount of fundraising to cover its operating costs, said Reedy. Every facet of the program, which costs more than $160,000 to run every year, is supported by donations.
"It takes a lot to run our program," she said.
The group sponsors several fundraisers a year, a gala in the fall, a golf outing on May 30, and two events which are coming up in the near future. On Jan. 25, A Better Chance will present an evening at the Wilton Presbyterian Church with Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner, authors of The Faith Club, a book about three women who came together to write a children's book about the common history of their shared religions after Sept. 11. On March 18, the organization will present a gospel concert at Hope Church with the Youthful Praises choir. For those who purchase select tickets, dinner will be offered at the Wilton home of actor Joe Pantoliano and his wife, Nancy.
© The Hour Newspapers
A Better Chance
253 West 35th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone (646) 346-1310, Fax (646) 346-1311