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C.J. Gladstone of Madison began her work with A Better Chance as a host parent. (Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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C.J. Gladstone began her work with Madison’s A Better Chance, or ABC, as a host family, but now she works to ensure both the program’s scholars and host families maximize the benefits of participating in the program.
It’s been more than 10 years since C.J. hosted an ABC scholar, but the Gladstone family is still close with him.
“He’s a third-year law student at Fordham now,” C.J. says. “He’s still an important part of the family.”
Recently, when her eldest son married, he was the best man.
“That’s what got us started on the path with ABC,” C.J. says.
Hosting a scholar requires spending a weekend each month with the hosted scholar, but often, host families—and the scholars—get so much more out of the relationship.
“Host families are such a critical part of the ABC program,” C.J. says. “They provide a really important link to the community. Host families also provide a support system for scholars. This support is crucial to the scholars’ success; it’s not easy leaving home to live somewhere else, especially at the age of 14 or 15...I admire them.
“I love hanging out with the ABC scholars. They’re really great kids and they’re fun to talk to,” she continues. “They’re smart kids who bring a lot to the program and school.”
ABC scholars attend Daniel Hand High School. Most of the ABC scholars go on to pursue a four-year degree, though some have also pursued the military or other tracks.
The scholars, C.J. says, have a strong “commitment to life as a student. They’re goal-oriented.” Acceptance into the national ABC program follows a lengthy application process that “shows their commitment” right off the bat, she says.
Since C.J., her husband Bill, and their two kids hosted a scholar, C.J. has turned her experience into helping other host families and scholars acclimate to the exciting opportunities provided by ABC.
“I helped recruit host families, and then I started doing the student affairs position,” she says.
C.J. appreciates the cultural exchange that scholars, host families, and students who have grown up in Madison experience.
“The benefits go both ways,” she says. The scholar-host family relationship can “start out awkward, but then you find your way.”
Becoming a host family begins with reaching out to ABC. Then, the family is interviewed.
“Ideally, we like to match scholars to host families who have a student entering the 9th grade,” C.J. says.
This allows the scholar and host family to approach the journey into high school scholarship together.
“Mostly, we look for a host family that’s a good fit,” C.J. adds.
Shared hobbies and interests help provide more common ground that can make the transition for both scholars and their host families smoother.
Scholars usually keep the same host family for all four years of their high school career so long as the situation continues to be mutually beneficial, “but they usually stay in touch,” C.J. says, noting she knows of a scholar who participated in the program in the 1970s and still stays in touch with his host family.
For C.J. and ABC, “the biggest challenge is that some students struggle more than others. We work to figure out how to support kids who are homesick, for example. That’s what we’re there for. Our goal is to help them have a well-rounded high school experience so they can get into a good college.”
ABC is “a really successful program and has been for over 45 years. It’s provided an opportunity to so many students to go on to higher education, but also brought a lot to our community,” C.J. says.
Earlier this month, ABC hosted a holiday concert.
“It went well,” C.J. says. “It was a good fundraiser and a nice community event.”
ABC also draws funding from the Act II Thrift Shop in Madison, but most of the program runs on community donations.
For C.J., the work she does is as rewarding as the people she gets to work with.
“I want to give a shout-out to the residential staff,” she says. “I think they’re incredible. They do a great job caring for the scholars and running the house.”
The house she refers to is the Roby House, where the scholars live when they’re not with their host families. Their work involves facilitating 2 ½ to 3 hours a day of study time for the scholars, as well as supporting their extra curricular activities.
“I really appreciate the work they put in,” she says.
“I also love everyone on the board,” C.J. adds. “It’s a hard-working group. Everyone works well together on behalf of the scholars.”
In addition to host families, the residential staff, and the board, the scholars’ families also provide an invaluable support system.
“The scholars’ families are a really important part of the program; they’re so critical to their success, as well,” C.J. says.
When she’s not working to improve the lives of students in Madison—whether they be from Madison or a different community—C.J. loves to spend time outdoors.
“I spend most of my free time hiking,” she says.
Her favorite spots are the local land trust trails and Chatfield Hollow.
“Our trail system here is pretty amazing,” C.J. says.
C.J. devotes most of her time to ensuring that the Madison community—and the Daniel Hand community—is educative, inclusive, and supportive for students and families alike.
“It’s wonderful how supportive the Madison community has been of the ABC program,” C.J. says.
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