When Win Kellogg, a founding member of A Better Chance of Wilton, approached my husband and me about becoming a host family, we didn’t foresee the wonderful journey ahead for our family. Fortunately, we did not let our busy life with our three sons ages 7, 9, and 11 dissuade us, as this commitment was one of the most significant and positive decisions we ever made.

From the beginning, Jamal, our first host son, enriched our family with his quick wit and kind demeanor. Our boys eagerly awaited Jamal’s Sunday visits and were so excited when he stayed for the entire weekend, oftentimes fighting for his attention. Needless to say, it was a lot of testosterone in the house! There were adjustments, as we had to learn what made Jamal comfortable, and he had to learn how to live in our household. He wasn’t always happy with our food choices, but we learned to stock the kitchen with bottles of hot sauce which he happily put on most foods, including waffles! He learned to let our dog snuggle at his feet and how to endure his friendly licking. And as Jamal grew with us, we grew with him. There were times when he had to be reprimanded, just as we would one of our own sons, and we knew then, he was truly integrated into our family.

We watched Jamal mature from a slightly awkward sophomore into an upperclassman who carried himself with grace and maturity. He became an accomplished competitive runner, and we enjoyed cheering him on. Finally, we proudly watched Jamal graduate from the high school on a beautiful June day, months away from starting college at Amherst.

Exactly three years later with two of our sons in high school and the youngest in middle school, Win once again asked if we would host another scholar, Chris. As before, we discussed the commitment as our lives were busy in a different way, and the new scholar would actually be younger than two of our sons. This would be an entirely different experience.

We all agreed to host again, and Chris entered our lives that autumn. He was a reserved, extremely quiet, polite young man from the south side of Chicago. He never had been out of the city, so the greenness and the trees were overwhelming for him. Over several weeks, his shyness evaporated, as he became a member of our family. Our older sons loved having him at the high school, and bonded with him quickly as they all had band together. Chris had overcome great obstacles to make it from Chicago to ABC of Wilton, and he taught us so much, just as Jamal had done. Our youngest son wrote in his college essay, “Chris is my best friend as well as my brother. We have guided each other through the struggles of high school, talked about our problems and shared a countless amount of laughs.” Chris excelled in sports, music and academics and followed his “older brother” Jamal to Amherst, where he graduated in 2012.

The experience of being an ABC host family gave us gifts we never imagined. Our family is fuller and more enriched in every way. In our eldest son’s college essay, he summed up our entire family’s feelings saying, “I have loved watching Chris become part of our family. As I’ve seen Chris grow as a person, it has made me realize how important it is to work hard and be true to yourself. He taught me how much a person can accomplish, even against significant odds, when they are dedicated and committed to what they believe in.”

Throughout the year, ABC students stay every Sunday and one weekend a month with their host family. ABC of Wilton is still looking for families to host students this year. Those interested may call Liz McGroarty at 203-762-2463 or email mcgs46@optonline.net. Information: abcwilton.org.