More Than ABCs

Minority students come to the Main Line for “A Better Chance.”

(From left) ABC  Radnor’s Laura Okwueze, Dalisbeth Galvez, Tamara Taylor-McDonald, Victoria David, board president Florence Hubert and Joseph RodriguezHe’s a senior at Columbia University now, but when he was in high school, he saw his mother only during visits to her shelter in New Jersey. Another student graduated from Morehouse College and is pursuing a master’s degree after starting his education as a ward of the state. Then there’s the girl from Ohio whose mom hitchhiked here from the Buckeye State to see her daughter attend her first prom.

All three are graduates of Radnor High School—success stories for the New York-based “A Better Chance,” a nationwide organization that rescues students of color from less-than-ideal environments. ABC has been selecting and referring applicants since 1963. “Many of our kids are the first in their families to graduate from high school,” says Florence Hubert, board president of ABC Radnor, which will house eight students come September on a property in Wayne.

The boys live in a century-old Victorian, the girls in an accompanying carriage house. Resident tutors and the program director share these quarters with their charges. A part-time cook is the only paid position on the roster. Investment giant SEI, headquartered in Oaks, has long been providing a financial boost, as have public donations and the board members themselves. On alternate Sundays, each student joins the activities of a local “host” family, gaining perspective and a further sense of belonging.

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There are plenty of plaudits to go around. “The real heroes of the program are the [students’] parents,” says Melissa Schorr, vice president of the Radnor board. “For them, it’s a leap of faith.”

Not to mention the transplanted kids themselves. “We’re asking a lot of them,” says Diane Nissen, board co-chair of the boys-only ABC Lower Merion in Ardmore. (A third local chapter, ABC Strath Haven, is in Swarthmore.) “They have to muster a tremendous amount of inner strength to live away, follow rules in a group home, and adjust to a new school atmosphere.”

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