ABC of Andover 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration

ANDOVER 10-07-2017 by Lynn Eikenberry — “We salute the courage of the founders and the bravery of the scholars— from the first in 1969 to those who have yet to be selected,” stated Simon McBean Yatrakis ’90, member of the National Board of Directors of A Better Chance, Inc., to a glittering room of 375 alumni, friends and supporters of A Better Chance of Andover. They were gathered to celebrate the program’s 50th Anniversary at the Opening Doors Gala this past weekend. In a nod to the many host parents in the room, Yatrakis added, “We thank those who opened up they hearts to make room for one more.”

ABC of Andover Celebrates Our 50th Anniversary

“I was in Nigeria working on a project. But when Julie Ireland Childs, Chair of ABC’s 50th Gala, asked me to come and speak at this celebration, I knew I wanted to make the trip,” stated Laurin Banner ’72. Banner was one of 57 alumni (out of 140) who returned for the gala, part of an alumni reunion weekend.

Held at Andover Country Club, it was an evening of reconnection, inspiration, laughter and deep gratitude for a program that has —in the words of the alumni in attendance—not only changed lives, but sometimes saved them as well. “Where would I be without ABC? Probably 6 feet under,” said Banner. The event raised over $75,000 for ABC of Andover programming.

Lakisha Williams ’92, the Youth & Young Adult Minister of the Antioch Baptist Church in Harlem, started the dinner off with an impassioned blessing. “If we are to go so far, we must go together, ” she intoned. She noted the powerful forces shaping our current times, the challenges from both nature and fellow human beings alike, and she finished by asking attendees to breathe in the same air of their brothers and sisters in the room, and to gather their neighbors in an embrace of friendship.

Banner took the stage next, regaling the room with a remarkable story that took him from Harlem and a C- grade average to Northeastern University, MIT graduate school and eventually around the world as a strategy consultant. He was interrupted by the friendly ribbing of fellow housemates, including Ellis Rowe and Van DeBose and several others from the "The Originals", the first housemates from graduating classes 1969-72.

Felicia Reyes ’13 choked up with gratitude while sharing her beginnings in foster care, of the way in which ABC provided her a stable, loving place within which to grow and learn. Reyes went on to graduate from the University of Southern California (on a full-ride scholarship), land an internship at the Children’s Defense Fund working for “she-ro” Marianne Wright Edelman, and win numerous academic awards. Reyes topped a dazzling four years off this past spring by appearing on stage with singer songwriter Usher as a co-presenter at the BrilliantMinds 2017 symposium in Stockholm Sweden.

At tables around the room, alumni who had lived together but hadn’t seen each other in years, or decades, reconnected. Sheila Wright ’04, now a pediatric-cardiac nurse, reunited with Brianna Glenn ’06, program director for a non-profit. “I haven’t been here in 13 years!”, said Wright. “It looks exactly the same; so familiar.”

Joel and Erlinda Parks, both past board members, sat like proud parents at a table filled completely by all three of their ABC host students: Henrica Bresil '11, Kirza Sanchez '98, and Kris Lord ’99. Eileen and Jim Reilly also shared this family table with host daughter Rolanda Green '95.

Ian Dowe ’84, and his host father Mark Jaffe toasted, insisting that each gave each other more than they got. Dowe noted that at the alumni luncheon the previous day, he was asked what was most important thing that happened to him during his time in ABC. He answered unequivocally, “Getting my host dad.” Dowe is in the process of becoming a certified wedding officiant so he can officiate his host-sister’s upcoming wedding.

At the end of the evening, alumni and guests took to the dance floor, while silent auction winner Becky Connolly tried on her winnings—a sophisticated black cocktail dress designed by alumni and fashion designer Taide Argelia Byers Broadbelt ’94.

The Gala capped off a year of events honoring the many facets of A Better Chance of Andover and of the town that took it’s own chance on a then- radical educational experiment. As Banner noted, the “exponential positive effects” that come from helping individuals to achieve academic success was on full display at Andover Country Club.

>> The Andover Townsman covered the gala in their Lifestyles feature article
A Better Chance Andover celebrates 50 years, in style

>> The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune devoted a full page of photos of the gala in their Sunday October 22nd STEPPING OUT: A Better Chance of Andover's 50th Anniversary Gala front page. Carl Russo, photographer, also covered other 50th events.

>> View pictures at ABC of Andover 50th Anniversary Alumni Weekend Photos. Many thanks to guests for their candid photos and Julia Finlayson of Emily O'Brien Photography for her professional photographs.

>> Have pictures to contribute? - see ABC of Andover 50th Anniversary.

-- Lynn Eikenberry