Wilton High School is one of 300 schools around the country that hosts the A Better Chance program. The national program is an incredible opportunity for young people of color, usually from inner city areas, to have access they might not otherwise to college preparatory programs and educational opportunities.

Wilton is hosting 13 ABC scholars this year. It’s an amazing prospect, both for the students themselves as well as for town residents who become surrogate families to the teens. It’s also something very special for the many people who volunteer for ABC of Wilton, who take part in making the experience in school and out of school something worthwhile for the students.

Many of the volunteers are motivated by admiration for the scholars themselves, who, in order to get the most out of a great educational experience, make great sacrifices. The teens live away from home and family, must acclimate to a new surrounding, and have to meet the rigorous standards of the ABC program—not just academically but through public service and extracurricular involvement.

One such volunteer is Peter Kirchof, a successful businessman who has lived in Wilton for years and whose own children have also been students in Wilton’s schools. He began working with the ABC scholars by organizing seminars and sessions meant to help expose the scholars to what he called a “bigger picture.”

“The first was with some CEOs with small table groups, discussing several topics; the second was with a Top Gun Navy fighter pilot to discuss his life experience, his combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his training experience, to discuss his journey. Then we did another session with [Wilton resident] Sam Srivastava, the CEO of Magellan Health Care, that was a session on just straight leadership and we’ll do another one this year. Sam is a person of color, a Wilton guy with kids in the school system, recognizable, so I really thought it would relate to the kids.

Those individual sessions have now morphed into something Kirchof and the rest of the ABC board have dubbed the Life Skills Took Kit, a series of workshops that exposes the scholars to good, practical life information.

“It’s a program that essentially does what we do for our own children here in Wilton–something we take for granted. It’s teaching the basics of life skills—how to eat healthy, what faith means, banking and personal finance, time management, stress management, personal accountability, personal safety, being organized, and finally some basic necessities, like swimming. Things we don’t really think about, but could be very impactful for the kids,” Kirchof explained.

The last session in the series is one tailored primarily for the high school seniors in the group, on transition to college and beyond. “We’ll bring back Wilton grads, both ABC and other students, to talk about their first year in college,” Kirchof said.

The benefits are just so multilayered. First, Kirchof’s own inspiration and dedication to the ABC students is palpable, even over a phone line during an interview. He is so jazzed to have created this incredible program of opportunity for the scholars.

It’s also the classic example of what GMW is all about promoting—getting more connected within Wilton in order to make the world a better place. Kirchof has naturally drawn from his pool of Wilton friends and their connections to find people who can pay it forward with their own expertise, and the byproduct is their own strengthened connections within the community.

Those benefits were evident from the first moment we heard of the “Life Skills” program. Nutritionist Loryn Galardi, whose Comprehensive Nutrition business is Wilton based, wrote an op-ed for GOOD Morning Wilton about her experience talking to the scholars about nutrition earlier this year, and how she got as much out of it as she put in.

Clearly, Kirchof tapped a resource in the community to connect with the kids, a resource that was useful and beneficial to them. The chain of events got Galardi connected to the program in a way that she hadn’t been before.

Kirchof is modest about his own role in the impact created by the program. “It’s not that hard. Ann Arthur [Patriot National Bank] is doing the banking one, Rev. Arnold Thomas from the Wilton Congregational Church is doing “Finding your Faith,” Chris Stroup [Wilton Re] is doing “Organized, Take the Hill” and Ellen Byrne is doing one on life skills which she does as Executive Coach and Program director for Save the Children. These are all just local Wilton friends who are very happy to do this.”

They’ve created a program that is solidly structured and organized, with binders, notes and handouts that the students must keep. They have pre-work they have to do before each session as well as evaluations after each session takes place.

“We’re trying to get the program evolving in the right direction,” Kirchof explained. “It’s a work in progress, understanding that the scholars too have a lot of commitments and are tired at the end of a week! We do think it’s important, but we try to make them impactful and fun too, with some donated movie tickets and Starbucks, Wilton Coffee has done some gift certificates, as has Wilton Pizza. The idea is to keep everyone engaged.”

At the heart of it, the program is exactly what the name says—Life Skills. It’s a phenomenal resource that helps give the ABC children a great added benefit. Kirchof sees it in a matter of fact way:

“I look to my own kids, and they naturally get these opportunities because we’re their parents. These ABC children may or may not get these opportunities with their host families. Several board members discussed and suggested how making these opportunities available to the scholars would be very, very helpful. Because while they’re getting a great education in Wilton, there’s no question about that and how great the Wilton school system is, it’s still not complete, and these are the pieces that are…they’re not the most dynamic but they’re really important topics.”

In talking about what appealed to him about the ABC program, Kirchof sounded more in awe of what the ABC kids do than of his own contribution.

“You just meet them. You meet these kids, and you think about what they’re doing—leaving their homes, coming to Wilton to go to school here, live here, get a better education and to improve their ability to move through society, what I’d call to a world class education, they’re making huge sacrifices to do that. For me, I’m just giving back a little bit, comparatively what they’re doing on their own. I’m just trying to give them a leg up on their efforts to do that.”

GOOD Morning Wilton is featuring ABC as a choice for our “Season of Giving” series to encourage anyone interested in contributing their knowledge or expertise and getting involved with the “Life Skills” sessions or with ABC to reach out to Kirchof by email at pkirchof@optonline.net. Please consider donating to the ABC program for their annual fundraising campaign or getting involved in any other way. Visit the ABC of Wilton website or get in touch with John Klein at 203.952.6439.