Fifty Years Later, ‘A Better Chance’ Trains Young Scholars : NPR – or you can go to the story by clicking on the photograph below
Fifty-five boys — all poor and almost all African-American — were a part of a bold educational experiment in the early 1960s. They were placed in an intensive summer school program. If they finished, the headmasters of 16 prep schools agreed to accept them. Tuition paid.
Planning for that experiment started in 1963 at the height of the civil rights movement, one year before President Lyndon B. Johnson declared his “War on Poverty.” Today, what began with 55 students and 16 schools has become an institution celebrating its 50th anniversary. It’s called “A Better Chance.”
A Better Chance now has 300 member schools, funding from individuals, foundations and corporations, and nearly 14,000 alumni. Gov. Deval Patrick, singer-song writer Tracy Chapman and Ford Foundation President Luis Antonio Ubiñas are among the program’s beneficiaries.
You can listen to the entire story and/or read the rest of the story by clicking here, on the link above, or on the photo below.
Lori was one of the very first Guilford ABC scholars, Class of 1978. She went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and then Marshall College of Law. Lori remains in touch with us and with other Guilford ABC alumni. She lives in Georgia with her husband, Morris “Mo” Pleasure. Mo periodically produces concerts for the benefit of Guilford ABC and is planning one now for 2014. Lori met Morris during her time in Guilford, as one of the founders of Guilford ABC was Morris’ father, Robert Pleasure, the long-time principal of Guilford’s A. W. Cox Elementary School. Below is a personal note to the Guilford ABC community Lori graciously shares with us. Go here for a more detailed description of Lori’s career since graduating from Guilford High School.
By Lori Harris Pleasure
The Guilford ABC Program changed my life in so many ways and I never imagined back then the extent my Guilford experience would be become entrenched in my future. My late father-in-law, Robert Pleasure, along with Joe Arnold, Janet Poss, Connie Mermann and others, were founding members of Guilford ABC.
They were a progressive collective of individuals living in Guilford, Connecticut who chose to make a difference in the lives of promising young women; providing a vehicle to expand the world for six to eight inner city teenage girls intellectually and culturally. This was “a successful experiment of investing in human potential.” *
I was invited to participate in the second year of Guilford ABC, a program in its infancy. Arriving in Guilford a shy 15 year old, unaware of what to expect but excited about the possibilities. This was my first time away from home for an extended period of time. Traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to join a group of like-minded students from New York, Columbus (Ohio), Philadelphia, and Boston; we were from inner cities with different backgrounds, experiences and levels of maturity, yet we came together forming a bond from the desire to be the best, do our best and make a difference. The differences made, whether big or small impacted our lives, our families and the communities we now serve. Appropriately named, A Better Chance fully lives up its name and reputation.
Guilford ABC prepared me for my future endeavors and gave me the skills to handle many challenges. I not only learned study skills, I also learned people and survival skills. Placed in an environment foreign to me, where the resources I was accustomed to at home were no longer readily available. I learned how to adjust. We were strangers in this small town and became strangers at home. We learned to adapt to our new environment (i.e. we styled each others hair, swapped clothes and on occasion visited or were visited by other ABC programs). Learning how to manage to live in two separate worlds. We had very strict curfews and initially were not allowed to participate in extra curricular activities. We understood the importance of this Program and that those sacrifices ensured our success and ultimately the success of Guilford ABC. We were required to volunteer at the Hole in the Wall. We also sponsored a fashion show and a Soul Disco (entertainment provided by my husband, Morris Pleasure).
I was blessed with wonderful host families (the Goldsmiths and Mattsons) and an academic advisor (Hope Whitehead). These families invested time in my development and showed me a world beyond Cleveland, Ohio. I have many fond memories of Guilford, clambakes and sailing with Joe Arnold and annual outings to the Ebony Fashion show. On some holidays and breaks, I was unable go home. I was always invited to stay with one of the other scholars, allowing me to visit New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
This journey was only the beginning. I graduated from Guilford High School with honors, attended University of Pennsylvania and Cleveland Marshall College of Law; the first in my family to graduate from college and graduate school.
Thank you Guilford ABC and my mom, who discovered and presented me with this opportunity. I thank the Guilford ABC women, who experienced this journey with me, providing the synergy for success. Finally, I thank my husband, Morris Pleasure, who continues his parents’ legacy of “investing in human possibility” in Guilford and throughout the world.
Footnote: *Guilford ABC Newsletter.
By Pam Johnson 10/1/13
Hole in the Wall Assists Guilford ABC
Whether you’re a Hole in the Wall regular or have always wanted to peek inside the popular Boston Street consignment shop, now is a great time to check in.
To celebrate 40 years of supporting Guilford’s A Better Chance (ABC) program, Hole in the Wall’s holding a drawing to give away a sampling of the type of very special treasures that have made it a must-stop for savvy shoppers.
On Friday, Oct. 25, winners will be drawn from all entries to receive a great gift, such as a cultured pearl necklace, a strawberry-shaped McCoy cookie jar, a beautifully beaded purse, a delicate Royal Copenhagen coffee set, and much more. The prizes are all on display in the shop now. There is no cost to enter the drawing, which began accepting entries on Sept. 27, so stop by soon, said co-manager Patty Sullivan.
“All they need to do is come in and enter,” said Sullivan. “We’re doing this to thank our customers and to celebrate our 40th anniversary of being in business solely in support of Guilford ABC.”
As Guilford’s oldest and only non-profit consignment and resale shop, Hole in the Wall purveys unique consigned and donated clothes for adults as well as accessories, housewares, jewelry, shoes, furniture, and more.
“Every day, there are new treasures. We never know what’s going to come through the door,” said Sullivan.
Founded in 1968, the shop has been operating for the benefit of Guilford ABC since 1973. Guilford ABC’s residence program allows up to six exceptional young women of high school age, all from the greater New York City area, to attend Guilford High School for four years while receiving housing, meals, and tutoring here.
With an operating budget in excess of $90,000 per year (according to www.guilford.abc.org), covering staff, food, utilities, house maintenance, enrichment expenses, and supplies, Guilford ABC depends on funds raised locally. Primary sources of funding come from an annual appeal, proceeds from the ABC Secret Gardens annual tour, and for the past 40 years, proceeds from sales at The Hole in the Wall.
“We have a very loyal fan base here in Guilford and we’re very grateful to all of our customers,” said Sullivan.
Co-manager Amy Mickelson agreed, adding the shop offers a “sense of community, within the community.
“People visit, they get to know the volunteers, and they know we get amazing things here,” said Mickelson. “They also know we support a great cause-educating young women. The girls are here during the school year. Often times you’ll find them here on Sundays, when we’re open from noon to four?so come and visit us!”
Hole in the Wall is located at 35 Boston Street (Boston Commons) and is ppen weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 203-453-2088 or visit www.guilfordabc.org.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
By Ebony Walmsley
GUILFORD – Despite living away from home for four years, girls of the A Better Chance House have taken full advantage of the opportunity to expand their education and create an extended family while attending Guilford High School.
ABC House advisory board members have been working to create a level playing field educationally for the past 39 years. Girls from New York boroughs and now Bridgeport live in the Boston Post Road house throughout their four years of high school.
Some girls enter the two-level, multifamily house as young as 13 years old.
Freshman Katrina Green said she loves the house.
“It feels like a home already after two days,” Green said recently.
“I tell them all the time, I wouldn’t have the courage to leave home at 13,” said Michael Brown, chairman of the advisory board.
To be accepted into the program, the girls must show an interest in the house through an essay. Also, their grades and test scores must show promise, according to Brown. “After such a review, we invite a select group of students and their parents to come here for a personal interview,” he said.
The organization employs a resident director, live-in tutor and cook. The cook provides five meals a week. The resident director or students prepare meals as well. All students and the resident director have an evening meal together each night.
ABC girls don’t necessarily come from broken homes or run into trouble; they just weren’t being given the proper education tools to succeed, according to board members.
This year two high school seniors, two juniors and two freshmen live in the house. Six students are accepted into the program every year.
“I think the most common misconception is these students are troubled kids or they’re not good students, when in fact most of them are recommended to us by their school guidance counselor because of their grades,” board member Connie Dickinson said.
The girls are assigned an academic adviser, one of the 22 board members.
“We make sure the girls are never left alone,” Dickinson said. Girls are placed under a strict curfew. The organization also has clear rules against substance abuse, drinking and other behaviors.
Brown said only on rare occasions are girls asked to leave the program for academic or disciplinary reasons.
Brown said name formalities are out of the question. “We’re all on a first-name basis here. It’s not unusual to even be greeted with a hug when you walk in here,” Brown said.
Even in a short time, the girls have created their own, personal bonds.
Freshman Rebekah Calderon feels like she has a new group of sisters.
“People ask us if we’ve known each other a long time. We’re like ‘no, we just met each other a few days ago,’” Calderon said.
Girls also have the opportunity to receive college counseling and visit campuses.
Many ABC high school graduates have transitioned to a four-year college or university. Scholars have graduated from schools such as Connecticut College, George Washington University, Wesleyan and Tufts University, according to board member Winnie Seibert.
Funding the house accommodations and ensuring the girls have the same opportunity as their peers are imperative to the board. The organization runs the house on a $90,000 annual budget, stemming from grants and other funding.
“We’re working on a strategic plan to do a better job of fundraising,” Seibert said, adding the board receives little money from the state. “We put in an annual appeal every year, but that’s it,” she said.
But board members keep their ultimate goal in sight. “The most important thing is we always see growth and maturity in these girls,” Seibert said.
Call Ebony Walmsley at 203-789-5734.
By Melissa Dayton, member, Guilford ABC Board of Directors
Cheryl Barbour and Courtney Summa-Barbour are new members of the Guilford ABC Board, but their involvement with ABC goes back many years.
Most recently, Courtney, a 6th Grade teacher at Baldwin Middle School, served as Resident Director of the Guilford ABC House for four years before handing the keys over to RD Lisa Brady this past summer. Courtney’s mother, Cheryl, has provided bookkeeping assistance for the past several years. Growing up in Guilford, Cheryl and her siblings always knew ABC students and in the late 1970s, her brother and sister-in-law (Courtney’s uncle and aunt) served as ABC host parents.
Courtney was in her mid-20s when she answered a job ad for ABC Resident Director. Given her own biracial roots, Courtney knew her insights could help the scholars adjust and thrive in their new surroundings. Plus, she wanted to be surrounded by kids from all different places!
The first year, Courtney had her mom on speed dial almost constantly as she met the challenges of “raising” teens without the benefit of knowing them in their earlier years. Courtney recalls pacing, on the phone, the first time the girls went out for the evening — what if they don’t come back on time? Cheryl’s counsel, while often strict, was always reassuring.
Later, when afternoon coverage was needed at the house, Cheryl and her sister split the time, and Cheryl maintained Tuesday evening dinners while Courtney enrolled in graduate courses. Cheryl cherished the opportunity to develop relationships with each of the girls, not minding a bit when they greet her as Grammy.
This close mother-daughter duo incorporates family into everything they do, and ABC is a perfect way to “give back together.” Asked about the impact of the ABC program, Cheryl cites the opportunity for ABC scholars to live in a community and experience how communities work together.
It is Cheryl’s hope to see Guilford come together even more in support of its ABC scholars. Courtney emphasizes that the girls represent Guilford and do much to enrich the community. With so much to offer, it is important to support the growth of Guilford’s ABC scholars.
Celebrating Where ‘The World Opened Up’
By MARCIA CHAMBERS
Published: October 31, 1999
WHEN Cheryl McPherson, one of 10 children from a poor black family in Philadelphia, arrived in Guilford in 1974 as part of the program A Better Chance, she said she felt that she had entered a foreign land. At school she had to adjust to a rigorous academic schedule; outside school, she had to adjust to life in a town with only 8,000 residents, nearly all white.
Last month for the program’s 25th anniversary, Ms. McPherson, who went on to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and is a marketing director at Lotus in Cambridge, Mass., returned to the place she eventually came to regard as a second home.
Guilford’s A.B.C. program started in January 1974, when some of the town’s leaders, solidly Republican Yankees who wanted a different world for their children, wrote to other town residents, asking them to accept the program at Guilford High School.
A.B.C., which grew out of the civil rights movement, was meant to give disadvantaged students a better education at public and private high schools. Children are prodded by their guidance counselors to apply, and are chosen by the national A.B.C. board and local committees. Twenty-five of the original 36 programs are still operating, including one for boys that began in Madison in 1970.
A few weeks ago, 23 of the 43 Guilford High School A.B.C. graduates returned to celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary. They hugged. They reminisced. They took photographs. They exulted in the program’s success. They talked about adjustment and cultural isolation. ”Here in this small town a larger world opened up,” Ms. McPherson said. ”I extended myself more. I learned by example. But there were times when it was tough, there were times I almost left. We were young girls but we had to uphold a perfect image. We had to learn how to conduct ourselves. There were a lot of expectations.”
Ms. McPherson was among a half-dozen young women who were the first black students to enter Guilford High School through the program.
Masheri Chappelle of the South Bronx was the program’s first graduate in 1976. She went on to Smith College and is now a writer.
”I learned to write here,” said Ms. Chappelle. ”My creative writing teacher gave so much to me. The people in this town gave so much to us. They wanted to.”
”I really think that what I found here was me,” she added. ”This program just removed all sense of limitation. I give thanks every day that I went through this experience.”
Ms. Chappelle said one of her fondest memories was when the actor Moses Gunn, a Guilford resident, gave her a Shakespeare play as a gift. He inscribed it: ”Wherever you do not see yourself, place yourself, because that is the truth. You belong wherever you see you are not.” It was a lesson Ms. Chappelle said she took to heart.
To start the A.B.C. program, residents created a local board, raised money to support the program, converted a house for student use, chose a couple to live there and serve as surrogate parents, found families who volunteered to be hosts to students on weekends, hired tutors, staff and selected the students.
Joe Arnold, 81, who founded the Guilford program, recalled that it took some maneuvering to get a mortgage for the house. ”The house the A.B.C. girls were to occupy was for sale, and I put $2,500 down. But then when they heard about its teen-age occupants, no bank would take a mortgage.” He approached a friend, who called a local bank president and arranged financing. The house opened in the fall of 1974.
Then the A.B.C. students were from Roxbury, Mass., Cleveland and Philadelphia. They said they led a sheltered life in Guilford, studying a lot and dating little. They were not allowed to drive. They went on to college at Smith, Vassar, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Barnard, Cornell and Georgetown.
The school’s most recent graduate, Jomarie Cruz, 17, from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, finished in May. She is now a freshman at Smith. ”I came here and found out what the other part of the world was like,” she said. ”I now have such an advantage over my friends and my peers who never left home.”
During their reunion, the graduates visited the high school and the A.B.C. house on Church Street where they lived and where the current group of five young women resides. They went to a banquet held in their honor, which 150 residents attended. They looked at old photographs of themselves. Some of those they saw did not make it through the program; about a dozen or so left. They reminisced, talking about introducing soul music to the button-down shirted students at the high school. They remembered how they yearned to see sneakers instead of docksiders. They said that the stillness of the night had been so unnerving that they could not sleep easily.
”We were virtually the only blacks in the high school,” said Ms. McPherson. ”And we tended to stay together. In the beginning we were by ourselves a lot. Then we decided to put on a soul disco dance at the high school and that broke the ice.”
Kim Pompey, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell and a business degree from the Kellogg School at Northwestern, is now director of retail marketing for Disney in Burbank, Calif.
”The Guilford program was life pivotal, in the sense of really stretching yourself,” Ms. Pompey said. ”In the beginning we went to school together; we used to sit at lunch together, and it really took a while for the other classmates to develop friendships.”
”We had to overcome misconceptions about us,” she added. ”I played the violin in the school orchestra and I got to know other students in the pit. That helped to break those barriers down.”
Lori Harris Pleasure, a lawyer in Atlanta who graduated in 1978, said the program taught her study skills and writing skills. Without it, she said she would not have been able to gone on to the University of Pennsylvania. When a new student arrived, she recalled, he or she was immediately placed on academic probation. ”That meant she had to prove herself academically. You begin to realize you can do it.”
One criticism of the program is that it takes the best and brightest from the urban areas and that they do not return. The graduates disagreed. ”This program doesn’t diminish our home community,” Ms. Pleasure said. ”There’s so much more that we can now do.”
The A.B.C. students were not the only ones to profit from the program. Judith Ravel, a lawyer, and her husband, a doctor now deceased, were one of the original host families. As hosts, they took in one young woman for a weekend a month. ”It wasn’t just that we wanted to do something to help the girls who came,” Ms. Ravel said. ”It was perceived by those of us who started it as a positive value to our children.”
Corky Fisher, who helped start the group, ran its newsletter and served on the Guilford Board of Education during the program’s start up period, agreed. ”When you see these girls in the classroom you realize it’s a two-way street. The girls get something, but they also give.”
Guilford residents who helped start the program formed the nucleus of a group of supporters that over the years has grown to include several hundred, and they have raised $60,000 a year to pay the bills.
Before the reunion ended, the program’s early graduates, led by Ms. McPherson and Valerie Price Cornelious, a computer systems specialist from San Francisco, formed an association and raised $2,500 toward an endowment to keep the program running.
Ms. Chappelle will soon become the first graduate to join the Guilford A.B.C. board. And Mr. Arnold, who spent the reunion weekend beaming, noted also that the mortgage had been paid off.