Dani Howard: ‘Mom’ of a Guilford ABC Host Family
Now in her third year as a Guilford A Better Chance (ABC) host mom, Dani Howard is a firm believer — and a fan — of Guilford’s ABC Host Families program. As a member of the Guilford ABC board, Dani also wants to help spread the news that there are openings for two additional host families to start in the fall of 2023.
Dani, her husband Rob, and sons Jackson and Fox are currently the host family for ABC scholar and Guilford High School (GHS) junior Andrea Kaluma. Andrea joined the Howards last year, following their first year helping out another ABC scholar as a host family during the pandemic.
The Howard family moved to Guilford in 2006. Jackson is currently a junior at GHS and Fox is an 8th grader at Adams Middle School. Dani and Rob have been mentors with Guilford Youth Mentoring (GYM) in past years (Dani was also a GYM board member) and were both involved in youth coaching. Dani’s currently president of the Adams PTO and co-chair of Guilford High School Connections. She’s also a professional soprano and voice instructor.
“I’d heard about ABC for years,” says Dani. “I always wanted to get involved when we had more time.”
Once their coaching and mentoring commitments concluded, Dani signed the Howards up to volunteer as an ABC host family. She learned about the program from a friend who was serving on the ABC board. Dani recently joined the ABC board upon offering to fill a vacancy overseeing its Student Life advisory program.
Over the course of an ABC student’s GHS academic career, they receive support from volunteer community members serving as academic advisors, student life advisors, and host families.
Host families open their homes — and their family lives — once a month to welcome their ABC scholar. Ideally, the same family and scholar stay together until the scholar’s graduation from GHS.
Currently, there are six exceptional young women of color from under-served communities who are Guilford ABC scholars. During the academic year, the scholars’ home-away-from-home is the Guilford ABC House on Church Street.
The non-profit Guilford ABC program has been in town for nearly 50 years and has enhanced the community. Still, there are many here who may not know about Guilford ABC. Before his family became a host family, Jackson says, “... I would see the ABC House [sign], and I was like, ‘..why is there an alphabet house?’ I’m not sure if I would have known about it without being a host family.”
Once a month during the school year, Guilford ABC host families pick up their scholar on a Friday evening around 5 p.m. and drop them off on Sunday at about 5 p.m.
By joining a host family, each scholar is provided an opportunity to experience the community through participating in the family’s activities. At the same time, the family embraces and supports their scholar and her interests, such as attending their activities or GHS programs.
Ideally, the program tries to match the interests of ABC host families who have their own kids (usually in high school or middle school) with the interests of the scholar. Andrea plays flute and is a member of GHS Concert Band. Jackson plays violin in GHS orchestra and jazz band (the first to play violin in GHS jazz band history). Fox plays upright bass with Shoreline Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Adams eighth grade orchestra, and the Adams concert band. Both boys also play piano and, for sport, fence. Jackson notes he’s fenced against a Madison ABC scholar whom he’s come to know and who is also a mutual friend of Andrea’s. Jackson and Andrea also have in common undertaking some of the same courses at GHS, although they’re in different classes.
Dani says the schedules of such active students mean that interests and activities overlap, sometimes in interesting ways.
“There was a weekend in December where we saw Andrea three different times. She came to the concert that Jackson was playing in, and then Jackson was playing at the Madison ABC House benefit concert, and she was at that concert, and then she had her concert band concert, so we went to that!”
Attending their scholar’s concert isn’t required, but Dani wouldn’t miss it.
“It is really nice, especially since her parents can’t come most of the time, so we can send them pictures.”
Dani also talks to Andrea’s mom by phone. Both families have met in person, as well.
“Andrea’s dad and Jackson are both scouts,” says Rob of another connection made. “So when they met, right away, they were talking stories of past camp experiences.”
When Andrea visits the Howard family monthly, they may break out a board game or go out for everyone’s favorite, including Andrea’s: Indian food.
“It’s just one weekend a month, so I sort of feel like it’s camp,” says Dani, adding it did take a while for their scholar to get used to life with “...the boisterous Howard family!”
The weekends are also simply an opportunity for Andrea to decompress and spend some downtime in her room at their home, says Dani.
“It’s like everything else with kids, like with mentoring them or coaching them. The relationship can be as big as you want it to be, as long as the student is along for that. You don’t have to be their extra mom. I just am,” says Dani, laughing.
Scholars may also experience some family travel. Andrea and the Howards spent a weekend at a lake in Western Massachusetts in September; and visited Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the first year she joined them. Rob jokes Andrea “tolerates my music” when they drive (he’s an ‘80s music fan).
“Honestly, the scholars are so busy, we don’t do a lot of traveling,” adds Dani. “Since it’s the whole weekend with her, and our kids have their own stuff to do, too; and they all have tests and homework and concerts to prepare for, we’re here most of the time. It all depends on the scholar. She’s really happy just to have some downtime, and maybe get some coffee or go out for a meal or just hang out and talk or come down for family game and movie night.”
Kristen Eveland, ABC board co-chair of Host Families, says Dani is a super host mom. Kristen is also a past ABC host mom who welcomed a student, Julia, to join her family in Julia’s sophomore year at GHS. At that time, one of Kristen’s two sons was also a GHS sophomore.
“Those two became very good friends,” says Kristen. “Both my boys got so much out of it. They formed a friendship with Julia that was beautiful.”
After being a host family for three years, Kristen joined the ABC board and has been the Host Family co-chair for three years.
Unfortunately, the much-needed cadre of interested host families usually contacting Guilford ABC to volunteer took a dip during the pandemic and has been slow to return. Kristen, Dani, and the ABC board are hard at work to raise awareness about Host Family opportunities and to inspire new families to inquire about becoming a host family.
“I think it’s such a great thing to participate in, both for the program and the whole family,” says Kristen. “The dream is to have a wait list, which we haven’t had in a while.”