A Better Chance house: helping teens from across the nation

Mary Born

Isaiah Burch is 17 and like many kids his age, he’s debating
over what college he wants to attend in the fall. Isaiah, however, is more prepared to leave for college
than the average senior in high school because he’s been living
away from his family for four years already. A native of Dayton, Ohio, he is a part of a nationwide program called A Better Chance. Isaiah was accepted into the program his eighth grade year, and as a result was taken out of his inner-city home in Dayton and placed in Appleton so he could take advantage of the amazing public schools in the area. “It’s been life-changing for me,” he says of the program, in which the kids live together in a house under the supervision of a resident director throughout their high school years. “It’s almost like a fraternity here, we’re all friends, and when we get each other laughing.
its all good.” Isaiah is one of 5 boys who live at the Appleton A Better Chance house. Appleton is the only location in Wisconsin that has an ABC house, and it is an all-male residence. The nearest female location
is in Minnesota. The national ABC program was started in the late 60s by President Kennedy. Its mission is to “Provide academically talented minority students with the opportunity, education, guidance
and personal development to help them achieve their goals and become leaders within their communities”.
Students typically apply when they are in eighth grade, and then move to a program in a city somewhere where there is an excellent
public school system, or to one of the many renowned boarding
schools that participate in the program.
Since 1973, the Appleton A Better Chance program has been housed in a residence rented from Lawrence University, on Washington Street behind the Conservatory. Surprisingly, not many Lawrence students have heard of this amazing
program or its connection with Lawrence. The program is a privately
funded endeavor, affiliated with the national A Better Chance program, relying solely on private donations from the community to keep it going. “It’s a huge complement
to the community that we have been so successful,” says the Resident Director of the program,
Tracey Berger, “and without this partnership with Lawrence we probably wouldn’t be here.” Many Lawrence students have volunteered
at the ABC house as tutors or house-watchers, and education students have observed there as well. There are 25 public school ABC programs across the country, and Appleton’s school system is definitely competitive with all of them. 3 of the boys at the Appleton house are from California and 2 are from Ohio. The move to Appleton was definitely a culture shock: “I came from a school which was predominately black back home,” Isaiah says. “Here it is predominately
white-I feel like in a way that gets me ready for college.” Also, it isn’t necessarily always a fun transition to move away from your family when so young. “The first two years here were hard; I was homesick. You get used to it, and I think the program has made me a better person, more mature.” The program also pairs the boys up with host families who help to motive, guide and mentor them. These families give the boys a home to go to on weekends, and a feeling of security and family so far from home. Anthony Neal, 15, from Santa Anna, California, attends Appleton West high school, and his host dad is also his counselor. “Every Sunday I go to his house and hang out with his family.”
Anthony says of their relationship, “We’re pretty close.” Anthony loves his new school, and has been having a great sophomore year so far. “People here are pretty cool, and in Appleton, everyone is really nice.”
One thing these boys want people to know about this program is that it isn’t about troubled kids. “The program gets us ready for college, and gives us an opportunity to get a better education than we would at home,” says Isaiah. “It has been life changing for me.” Anthony expressed a similar
sentiment when asked what the program has done for him so far. “It’s a wonderful program. It opens up doors for people who wouldn’t otherwise have these opportunities.”
The ABC program is always looking for volunteers, so interested
students should contact Tracey Berger at RESDIRABC@yahoo.com, or check out the Volunteer Center for more information. The ABC program
is such a unique and inspiring place to be that anyone would be lucky to be a part of it. The boys are smart, articulate, fun-loving and happy. They have opportunities
here that wouldn’t have existed where they came from, and they are definitely more than deserving of them. Hopefully the Appleton A Better Chance program will continue
to thrive and help talented and gifted kids for decades to come.