A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton is closing its boys’ house but keeping the one for girls.

The move is designed to secure ABC’s future sustainability and continue achievement of its mission, according to an announcement issued by the ABC of Wilton Board of Directors.

The Wilton ABC program has been in operation for 23 years, providing high school education and academic discipline to minority boys and girls from outside communities, primarily from the New York City region.

There have been 45 scholar graduates from the Wilton program who have gone on to college and successful careers.

The boys’ house in Wilton was established in 1996 in Cannondale and a girls’ house was established in 2006 near the Wilton Library. Each house has two resident directors, a full-time cook and volunteers who provide the students with rides and support.

“There are only two communities in America with ABC houses for both boys and girls, usually there is just one or the other. But Wilton had both,” said Derrel Mason, co-president ABC of Wilton.

ABC programs in nearby Westport and New Canaan serve just boys, while programs in Darien and Ridgefield only serve girls.

“I don’t see closing the boys’ house as a failure of Wilton or Wilton ABC. We took on a high bar challenge to run two houses for eight years, but we met that challenge,” Mason said.

There are two main reasons ABC of Wilton is closing the boys’ house — funding and demand, according to Mason.

The Wilton program is funded entirely through private donations from the community and businesses, and costs about $300,000 a year to support the operation of the two houses, she said.

But achieving the $300,000 annual expense has been difficult in the last few years.

“All nonprofit organizations in Wilton are facing challenges. As baby boomers retire and move away, big scholarship donors have left,” she said.

Going forward, the new budget will be $200,000 a year, for one house in Wilton, Mason said.

The ABC program in Wilton is not in financial straits, Mason said. “We are well-positioned to keep the program at the level it has been. We have a good cushion and endowment we can dive into if we need to this year. But using it constantly year after year would not be in the best interests of the program,” she said. “This is a long-term sustainability exercise.”

The other issue affecting the closure is a decrease in demand. “We’ve seen a decrease in the number of boys who have applied for the program and an increase in the number of girls,” she said.

There are currently four boys in the ABC house in Wilton, two are seniors, while two are freshmen from Bridgeport.

When the house closes next year, there will be options for the freshmen to go to an ABC program in another community or to a private school or another educational program, according to Mason.

“Though it became clear that focusing on one house would be the best course for ensuring the program's long-term sustainability, the choice over which house to keep, boys or girls, was emotionally difficult,” she said.

Over the years, she said, ABC scholars developed close relationships with the board of directors, resident directors, host families, college coaches, Wilton High School teachers and counselors, and Wilton residents at large. “No one wishes to oversee the cessation of a long line of boys or girls whose participation in our community has been so enriching,” Mason said.

Discontinuing the boys’ house was a painful process for the board. “We started with boys and believe boys in America deserve to be served with a good education,” Mason said.

pgay@wiltonbulletin.com