A Better Chance celebrates 20 years in Wilton

Over the last 20 years, A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton has grown from a small chapter of a nonprofit national program that brings academically promising young men and women of color to Wilton for their high school years to a staple in the Wilton community.

After garnering community support and funding for the program, which has not since waned, Wilton welcomed its first ABC scholars in 1996.

Two years earlier, Wilton High School Principal John Sullivan, Wilton Youth Council President Maureen Graham and Wilton Presbyterian Church Pastor David Graybill approached community, business and spiritual leaders with the idea of bringing the program to town.

“The first question they asked was, ‘Do you know what ABC is?’ and nobody did,” said ABC President John Klein, who got involved with the program about 14 years ago.

“Once they learned about the program, the next question was, ‘Is this a program that’s good for Wilton?’ and everybody said ‘Yes.’ They all agreed that it was the type of thing that would benefit the town from a diversity point of view and from a giving-back point of view.”

“Is this the right time?” was the last question asked, said Klein, “and everybody agreed it was.”

Once community members agreed to bring ABC to Wilton, Klein said, ABC of Wilton purchased the Goslee House at 6 Godfrey Place from Wilton Library.

The house was relocated to a new foundation to create room for expansion in the summer of 1997.


The most significant changes Wilton’s program has seen over the years has been in growth.

“The program has gotten bigger,” said Klein. “We started out with two boy scholars — one was one grade ahead of the other.”

By the early 2000s, Wilton had eight scholars, which was “a lot” for the Godfrey Place home, said Klein.

“There’s not much land there,” he said. “They wanted to play basketball and do archery and things like that, so the decision was made when Lynne Vanderslice was president to have us try and find a facility that would be more appropriate.”

ABC of Wilton purchased the former Hanson property at 15 Cannon Road in 2003 and renovated it to accommodate Wilton’s growing number of scholars.

In 2007, the scholars moved in and the program was left with an empty home on Godfrey Place.

Klein, who was in charge of strategic planning at the time, recommended that the home be “put to its best use,” he said, “and that was to be a girls house.”

After the boys moved to Cannon Road, Klein said, a “conscious decision” was made in 2008 to use the Godfrey Place home as a residence for girl scholars — making Wilton’s ABC program one of only five in the country with a residence for boys and a residence for girls.

Of Fairfield County’s five ABC programs — the others being in Darien, New Canaan, Ridgefield, and Westport — Wilton is the only one with both boy and girl scholars.

“We went years with only boys,” said Klein. “It was just about 10 years ago that we had our first class of girls.”

There are 14 scholars living in Wilton’s two ABC houses today, and nearly 40 scholars have graduated from Wilton High School since the program’s inception.

The first Wilton scholar to graduate was Ray Chambers in 1999. He went on to attend Brown University in Providence, R.I., followed by Harvard Business School in Boston.

Four Wilton ABC scholars are expected to graduate in June.

“It’s quite amazing, I think, to see how warmly our scholars are received in the high school,” said Klein.

“We’ve had scholars be homecoming kings and queens. The school community is just wonderful with the scholars.”

Klein said he will never forget attending an awards ceremony in 2014, when a scholar named Raphael Mettle not only received the ABC Academic Achievement Award but a standing ovation from his peers as well.

“When his award was given out, people weren’t just polite — they stood up and they cheered,” said Klein.

“He was a very popular scholar, and nobody else received that kind of applause and recognition.”

Raphael graduated that June and is now a student at Middlebury College in Vermont.


Wilton’s ABC program has 160 volunteers — ranging from drivers and host families to college coaches and fund-raisers — who devote their “time, energy and imagination” to the program, said Klein.

“Everybody has a job, and it’s a job that takes a lot of time,” he said.

Scholars live in their ABC homes during the school year, and they each have a host family they stay with every Sunday and one full weekend each month.

ABC of Wilton also has an all-volunteer board of directors, which is responsible for making sure the program runs smoothly and the scholars have what they need to succeed.


ABC is an “expensive program,” said Klein, and without the welcomeness and support of the community, “it wouldn’t thrive the way it does.”

Of the five ABC programs in Fairfield County, Klein said, Wilton’s is the most efficient at cost per scholar — “but that doesn’t mean we don’t spend a lot on our scholars.”

“That money all comes from the town,” he said. “We don’t get any money from ABC National — it’s all from the generosity of the town and the companies associated with the town.”

There are three types of ABC programs: independent day schools, independent boarding schools, and boarding community school programs — the latter of which Klein refers to as “community-supported programs.”

Not only is Wilton one of 23 community-supported ABC programs in the nation, said Klein, but it’s also one of only four community-sponsored programs with both boy and girl scholars.


Klein said the biggest impact of the ABC program is in the diverse cultures, experiences and points of view the scholars bring the Wilton community.

Wilton’s ABC scholars come from “very different cultures, environments and places,” said Klein.

“They’re from Massachusetts, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City; with different religions, backgrounds, life experiences — and they bring different perspectives,” he said.

“With each scholar that comes into the program, we get a whole different look at the world.”

Information: abcwilton.org.