This article is one of a series GOOD Morning Wilton is doing as the lead sponsor of the 2017 ABC Wilton House Tour “Opening our Doors for A Better Chance Wilton” on Friday, June 2.
A Better Chance of Wilton (ABC) just celebrated its 20th year of providing quality high school education and rigorous academic discipline to promising minority boys and girls, enhancing their chances of attending college. ABC Scholars, frequently from inner city disadvantaged areas, live during their high school years in two houses in Wilton, a boys’ and a girls’ residence, both owned by the program. Each house has a Resident Director couple who oversee the scholars and every aspect of their lives while they attend Wilton High School and participate in both high school and community activities.
The June 2 House Tour that benefits ABC is one of Wilton’s most popular and well-attended events. Participants get the chance to look inside six of Wilton’s most extraordinary and inspiring homes. You can purchase tickets on the ABC website or at Wilton Hardware, Signature Style and Open House Gift Shop.
Our series is meant to share why the program is such a special part of Wilton. Today’s article takes a look at one of the features of the ABC program that most contributes to its success–the host family aspect. Each ABC scholar is hosted by one Wilton family every Sunday and one weekend a month. The scholar/family pairing almost always stays consistent over the student’s four years in Wilton.
It’s one thing to invite your child’s friend from school to stay over for a sleepover. It’s another thing entirely to invite a student into your home–and into your family–for four years. But from the experience many ABC host families have, what really happens is that host families make room in their hearts for this new ‘family member’ for a lifetime.
We spoke with two current ABC host families–the Maggios and the Cotes–about their experiences. The Cotes are hosts to senior Darvin Molina.
The Maggio Family
Laurie and Joe Maggio have three sons–Johnny (WHS junior), Will (WHS freshman) and Tommy (2nd grade). They are in their first year as an ABC host family for Josh Darkwah, a freshman–who happens to have an older brother, Joel, who is also an ABC Wilton scholar and WHS junior. Laurie told us how the experience has been for her family.
We decided to host last year, and applied. Johnny is pretty close to Joel, and he had met Josh. I talked to a couple other families to understand what was involved–what do we have to do?–that type of thing. We met Josh at the end of August last year. And it’s been great ever since! It hasn’t been that long, but I feel like he is one of us! It doesn’t take long to assimilate. He’s pretty special, so it’s been fantastic for all of us which is so great.
He will be with us his whole high school career, the next four years and it’s nice that it coincides with Will’s time. I definitely think you have to contemplate what if this isn’t a match for everybody, or how is this going to work? But I figured this is the right time.
Also because I have such a gap between my second and third children, I have a crazy full house right now, and pretty quickly it’s going to go away–it’s just going to be me and the little guy. I think about Tommy a lot, so I definitely want to think about doing things like this later on. There may be an opportunity for us to stay involved with ABC. I think for all of us it’s a great thing, it’s a win-win. I just felt like the more the merrier.
Johnny started it. He was the one who was like, “You know I think they’re so lucky these families who get these great kids. It’s like having more family and it’s so much fun. We get to go to school with them.”
I said, “You know, it is something I always thought after you and Will, either adoption or fostering was always something I would consider.”
And then we found out that Joel has a brother and he was coming to Wilton. So I asked Will and Tommy, and they both were like, “Yeah, that would be great!” Everybody thought it could be great.
I think we were a little nervous. Just like they would be–what if it wasn’t a match? We all got so excited–Tommy especially. After we got interviewed, the next day he was like. “Do you think we can get that kid, I want that kid now.” It’s so cute now because as soon as Tommy hears Josh walk through the door on Sunday morning he comes running, and he’s like, “I’m his favorite he’s mine, everyone stay away!”
In the beginning, Will got so excited that he’d neglect doing household chores, or they wouldn’t get up to go to church. And we are definitely a church family and Josh’s mom would really like that in our lives. So I said to Joe, “We were told we should treat them like our own. So I’m knocking on the bedroom door. I’m like Josh you have to get up just like Will. You guys have to clean the basement.”
There are definitely those moments still, where things come up and I just go right at it like I would with my own kids. You have to tell yourself, maybe I won’t be as cranky sometimes that you would be with your own child–but I have to deal with this head-on. He’s a really easy kid. We’re lucky that Josh is this easy because he really does go with the flow. We just kind of go for it and tackle it. There are moments where I’ve gone back to his mother and I said something like, “I just want to tell you what happened,” and she says, “Just do what you have to do.” So I have that dialogue open with her, which is great.
We’ve had his family for brunch and church with them. The goal is to keep the brothers connected. I can tell it’s hardest on their mom and dad. Then the boys missed, I think it was a service when their grandfather passed away. There are moments when it’s hard–and I say to Josh, “Do you want to talk about this? I don’t want to interfere if you just want to be on the phone with your mom, but if you need somebody else I’m here all day, just let me know.” And a couple times things have gone on where I’ll just email her. I would go to her first. But yeah, I think it’s hardest on them.
On a typical Sunday we pick them up, typically trying to get to church by 9:30 a.m. It’s usually church, kind of lunch/brunch, and then they’re all always excited about some sports thing. Then it’s homework for a good amount of the afternoon, and then they want to play video games or basketball or whatever, and then getting ready for dinner. That is the goal, and then there are things that come up, that don’t work so well. And I’m like Josh, tonight you’re going to be eating chicken nuggets and I am so sorry. And he’s like, “It’s ok!” We’ve just gotten to know each other’s little habits well enough. I’m trying to keep that communication so open so that he feels like he’s acclimated, and doesn’t feel like he has to hesitate. He doesn’t always tell me if something is bugging him at the ABC house. I’ll try to keep my antennas up and see if anyone else is experiencing something. It’s a very strict schedule there.
It gives my kids the opportunity to realize and appreciate where we live, that they are growing up with a lot at their disposal. They know that Joel and Josh, before school when its raining they’re not getting a ride from their mom, they’re walking in the rain. It’s like getting to know someone new and a close relationship. For Will, he’s getting a close new friend. They all feel like they’re getting a new relationship in their lives. They are learning about another culture–Josh does talk about his days in Ghana when they lived there. We get a lot out of that too, and getting to know his parents too. It’s neat.
Even Tommy has had that moment, where he’s like, “Well, Josh isn’t really our brother because he’s black.” He said it in front of Josh. And Josh said, “You know what, that’s ok.” And I said, “But he needs to understand that his skin is not what makes you not his brother.” There is definitely more of that conversation going on in our house. I think it’s educational, eye-opening, and I think desensitizes them to the idea that we are living in this incredibly mostly white town. They are like wow, this is how the real world could be, why isn’t it even more like this. I think my kids really do feel that way because they are so crazy about Josh.
It’s so interesting because I take Josh out with us wherever it is on Sunday. I took him down to Rowayton, and I’m talking to this woman and she says, “I’m sorry but who is this that Will’s with?” Because obviously he’s not a Maggio.,”That’s our scholar. You open another door, and people want to know and want to hear. They say, “Oh I’ve heard about this, it’s such a great program.” Josh has gotten to know my minister, who goes up and hugs him every time he’s there. It just opens doors, I see it that way–conversations, people want to know. It’s obvious, but it’s a good thing.
It really is so rewarding, but it is definitely work. There are conversations you need to have. It makes our family think twice about every single thing and why we do it. And I like that because I don’t want everything to just be a ‘gimme’ in this world. It shouldn’t be. I think it’s positive and its been so rewarding, and I hope it stays that way.
The Cote Family
Meppy and Dave Cote lead a very active life with their three kids–Jackson (WHS senior), Mackenzie (WHS junior) and Davis (8th grade). They’ve hosted ABC scholar and senior, Darvin Molina for his four years at WHS. The Cotes offer an even larger, extended family–Meppy grew up in Wilton and her parents are still living here. Dave explains how they got involved with ABC and what having Darvin in their lives has meant.
Meppy and her mom were volunteer drivers for the girls’ program off and on for a few years and Meppy’s parents were involved in the program as both supporters and sponsors ever since they met Ray Chambers, who was the very first ABC scholar in Wilton. His host family were the Kelloggs from our church, St. Matthews. Meppy got involved and they enjoyed driving the girls around to school, the store, the mall. The girls would even babysit–they were honest, reliable, helpful and friendly and we loved being involved in the program for that aspect.
A couple of years later when we weren’t using babysitters and Meppy wasn’t driving anymore, Mark Logan and Mike McGroarty approached us about being a host family. It was nothing we ever considered. We had a family meeting and the kids were like, “Let’s do it!” and Mackenzie asked if we could get a girl and I said I don’t know if we can “get” anything, I don’t know how it works.
To be honest, Meppy and I had loved to do it but were thinking the typical ABC host family has a giant house with six extra bedrooms and extra bathrooms so the kids can have their own private, clean stuff. We’re crammed into a three bedroom house and the boys share a room, Mackenzie has a room and we don’t have another separate room. Mark and Mike said that doesn’t matter, it isn’t the point of the program. They said the point is to make them part of your family.
We wanted to give fair warning. We said, “We are very busy, we’re hardly home because our kids are doing sports and clubs and we’re on the go every weekend.” Mark and Mike said, “That’s great, drag him along! Treat him– what resonated throughout all four years is Mark and Michael saying, “Treat them like your own kids.” If you trust your own kids to be home alone when you go out, treat them like your own kids. If your kids aren’t allowed to sit on the couch and watch TV for seven hours, don’t let them do that.” They wanted to make sure that we knew that we did not have to entertain this person or have an activity planned for every waking hour of the day.
With Darvin and Jackson in the same year in school, it’s like having fraternal twins. They’re two totally different kids–two totally different circles of friends and a lot of different interests. They are literally 12 months apart in age–Darvin just turned 17 in September and Jackson turned 18 in September. Again, Michael and Mark said, “Your kids don’t have to be best friends. Your own kids themselves aren’t best friends. Is Jackson going to feel obligated to bring Darvin if he’s going to a party or game or an event? They said no, if he doesn’t want to bring him. We always offer to Darvin, “Hey, you got any plans for the weekend?” I don’t think Darvin wants to, I can count on one hand maybe the times he’s asked me to bring him somewhere or pick him up.
He is perfectly content sitting. Michael and Mark said, “Don’t be surprised if he just sleeps all weekend because those ABC kids are worked so hard and they’re so scheduled and regimented during the week that all they want to do is veg out on the weekends.” Darvin either slept, watched TV, or watched his iPad. Every once in awhile I would encourage him to come with me and walk the dog. I think out of all the Cotes, I think he liked Henry [the dog] the best. You can definitely quote me on that, he’ll get a kick out of it.
He’s so easygoing and kicked back. We almost wanted to make sure he was having a good time and that he did enjoy us. We wanted to make sure he was happy and we weren’t sure because he was so quiet and comfortable that he was happy just doing nothing.
Our feeling was, “Are we going to scare this kid?” We’re going 100 miles an hour. I thought it was our job to kind of pull him out of his shell when really it isn’t our job, it’s our job to provide them with a comfortable place to hang out on the weekend. If they continue to reiterate, treat him like your own kid. If you drag your own kids along, drag him along. If you’re comfortable leaving your own kids at home, leave him at home.
I can honestly say that we have not had one single issue with Darvin. No issues. We get a letter every quarter about his grades. We have no academic responsibility whatsoever. The only reason they’re telling us is so if something is going on, we are aware of it. Other than that, there’s no need for us to ask about how school is going and we have no responsibility to make sure he’s doing homework. He said that he wanted to get his homework done before he came to our house on Fridays so he could enjoy his time with us on the weekend. That’s pretty cool.
That’s a testament to the program that number one, that’s why he’s here, to take advantage of the academic excellence and quality of education that Wilton provides above and beyond what his school would be like in the Bronx. For him to buckle down and get his work down during the week. It’s a testament to him wanting to just relax on the weekends, to [boys’ residence directors] Mr. and Mrs. Gordon for having a schedule and a place for them to get their work done during the week.
There’s never been issue, and never once did we ever feel out of place or have anything inappropriate happen where some issue that’s racially based, would come out. Early on, I think one of the kids made a reference to him being black and he said jokingly, “Well, I’m brown,” because he’s Dominican. And that I think, opened my kids eyes to the fact that not everyone of color is black. That’s the only thing that I recall standing out.
Even this last weekend, and for the last few years, we’ve joked with Darvin that he’s gotten screwed with his host family because these other families have giant houses and go away on the weekends. I dropped him off at the house on Middlebrook Farm Rd. [for the ABC House Tour Preview Party]. I went up that driveway and it was Friday afternoon and I was filthy dirty from working outside spreading topsoil and mulch and I was wearing a tank top cut off T-shirt in the Jeep with the top down and a baseball hat. Darvin was wearing a sport coat and we pull up the driveway and I went “Boy Darvin, you surely picked the wrong host family.” When I picked him back up, he said, “Holy cow, that house was like out of a movie. There was classical music playing in the background, people walking around with trays of food.” Yesterday, Davis had a lacrosse game in Greenwich and we went down North Avenue and we’re going down past all of those giant stone houses and Darvin goes, “Holy cow, not only did I pick the wrong host family, I picked the wrong town!” We know that he’s totally joking because I think we’ve explained to him, or he’s realized, that even in Wilton there are all types of people. There are people in big giant 5,000 sq. ft. houses and people in tiny 1,500 sq. ft. houses. Maybe it’s opened his eyes a little bit too.
Darvin loves basketball, loves the NY Knicks. I tried to take him to a game last year but it didn’t work out because he had a commitment he couldn’t get out of. He was pretty bummed. This year was able to score tickets to take the boys and Darvin up to Boston to see the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers game. I surprised the boys, and we had a great night. The four of us got to spend the night together.
It’s not as big an undertaking or as big a commitment or as overwhelming as it might appear. If asked to get involved, it’s a wonderful way to open up your home and open up your family. The age of your kids doesn’t matter. It’s great to have kids of similar ages, that’s the experience we’ve had. For us it’s been wonderful. When we decided to go for it, we were told it was not a four year commitment, it was a one-year deal. After the first year, we said how can we say no. Once we did it we said, “There’s no way we’re not doing this for the full four years.”
Darvin played JV basketball one year. When he had his first home game, I secretly invited his mom and sister to come up to surprise him at the game. His sister couldn’t come but Darvin’s dad could come. I picked them up at the Cannondale train station and brought him to the game. As the three of us walked in, Darvin happened to be walking down the field house stairs, he looked and saw his mom and dad, he just stopped and said, “What are you guys doing here?” I told him, “They didn’t want to miss your first game.” His mom, writes us notes and sends us gifts and cards at Christmas. At mother’s day his mom sent Meppy a flower arrangement, and Meppy’s mom a flower arrangement. She said, “Thank you for all you do for Darvin, year after year, day after day.” And how much she appreciates it. It’s a bigger thing than just Sundays.