RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Through a nonprofit organization in Ridgefield called A Better Chance, eight teenage girls are getting a chance to reach their maximum potential — all while giving back to their community.
According to RABC Co-President Jeanne Manto, Ridgefield's chapter is one of 26 community school programs in the United States associated with A Better Chance Inc. Its mission is to provide educational opportunities to gifted minority students from schools in impoverished areas.
“Once you get to know these girls one-on-one, it brings a whole new meaning to this program," Manto said.
"These girls work hard. They have to maintain a certain grade point average to stay in the program," she said, adding that the average house GPA is 3.72.
RABC helps the girls develop — both socially and academically, so that they are not only prepared for college, but also can excel in their future careers.
The program is free for the girls. There is a competitive interview process to be accepted, and they all need to be strong students, according to Manto.
The eight girls — who are in grades 9 to 12 — live together in a house in town and all attend Ridgefield High School.
To stay in the program, they must maintain good grades and participate in their share of household chores and responsibilities.
The girls are provided with a cook, as well as a driver for transportation to school-related functions and activities.
While they live in the house, they're under the care of the resident directors with the guidance of other program volunteers.
The girls must adjust to a lot at a young age, said Manto, a Ridgefield resident.
"At the age of 13, being put into a dormitory-type situation and going to a school that’s drastically different from what they're used to can sometimes be hard for them," she said.
But the community benefits enormously from the diversity brought by the ABC scholars. Ridgefield High students get the opportunity to form connections with peers from different racial and social and economic backgrounds.
"These girls open the eyes to other kids about people with different backgrounds and [possibly different] viewpoints on life.
"These are the types of relationships the students will be encountering for the rest of their lives," she said.
In addition, RABC students volunteer at local boys and girls clubs and food drives. "They have volunteered with Danbury Hospital, The Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, the Ridgefield Library and the Ridgefield Food Pantry,” she said.
Manto said she sees first-hand the positive impact of the program.
"I see them go on to college and come back and speak to the current girls about all they have accomplished," she said.
RABC spends $155,000 per year for all the scholars — or about $19,375 per scholar per year, according to Manto.
“All our money is raised through private and corporate donations in connection with our three main fundraising events: the Fall Festival, the Winter Gala and our Golf Outing,” Manto said.
Since 1987, 46 Ridgefield ABC Scholars have graduated from Ridgefield High School and gone on to major universities and colleges.
Danbury resident Michelle James of Danbury is co-president of RABC. She and Manto, who works full time as president of an international relocation company, are both volunteers with RABC.
The next fundraiser to support the group is the Ridgefield ABC Winter Gala on Friday, Feb. 3, at the Salem Golf Club. For more information or to buy a ticket, click here .