DARIEN, Conn. — For the past three years, Jane Yezzi has helped lead A Better Chance in Darien in giving young women of color a chance at a better education. While she shares the chairmanship with Ron Hammer, she knows it isn't the 23-member board that makes the program work.
“ABC National helps with the selection process for the students, but they don't help with financing or running the program at the local level. It is really up to the community to support it,” Yezzi said as she spreads an assortment of fliers and pamphlets across a table at Panera Bread.
The pamphlets spell out what ABC is all about: taking academically bright students from underserved inner-city high schools and giving them a chance to flourish in better supported systems. Some go to boarding schools or day schools. ABC Darien, now celebrating 30 years, integrates six to eight girls each year into the town's public school system.
ABC Darien needs community support to function. Donations are one avenue of help, but plenty of other spots require a more hands-on approach. For example, the girls stay in a home overseen by resident directors Francisco Janosco and Julie Parham most of the week. (Yezzi points to their pictures in the pamphlets and praises their dedication.) On weekends, each girl stays with a host family. This is one area where ABC always can use more volunteers, Yezzi says.
Yezzi started with ABC as a driver, helping to get the girls to the resident house and to various after-school programs. That is another part of the volunteer effort that makes the program work.
Supporting the community is nothing new for Yezzi. She has long been an avid volunteer with Person-to-Person and runs several programs through them. When her own children were out of the house and through college, Yezzi had the time to delve deeper into groups such as ABC and leaped at the opportunity to help.
Yezzi's respect for the girls taking part in ABC shows in her words. She voices concern about using their successes to illustrate how great the program is, because she doesn't want them to feel singled out. They may be transplanted from New York and other areas, but for those four high school years they are as much a part of the Darien community as anyone else.
“They're just typical teens who would rather spend their time having fun and socializing. But at the same time, they realize they are here for an education and to better their chances at getting into a good college,” Yezzi said. All of the girls she knows who have gone through the program have gone to college, she says with a smile.