On Wednesday, May 14th current student residents of the ABC House of New Canaan, gathered together with co-resident directors, some current board members and a group who pushed for funding of the program back in the early 1970’s, for an informal “Founder’s Dinner”.
In attendance were seven of the eight ABC Students, Mike Curran-President, John and Laura Walsh-co-resident directors, Board Members, Candace Curran, Amy Berger and Kelly Newton, Alan Haas, New Canaan High School Principal 1971-1975, Former Guidance Counselor, Robert Jeffries, NCHS Class of 1973, Maryann (Ruggerio) Gabriel, Class of 75 Jennifer James, Class of ’73, Janice Benson, ABC House Cook and Current Selectman, Beth Jones and ABC House Tutor, Tony Adams.
Benson, a New Canaan resident who works as a nurse on the maternity floor at Stamford Hospital, said she was among the group of students who pushed to get more African-American students at the high school—there were 22 at the time, in a student body of about 1,700.
“We presented the idea to Robert Jeffries who was the only African-American guidance counselor at the time, and we asked him to speak to Mr. Haas who presented the idea on our behalf,” Benson recalled.
Soon the program was in place and Benson’s own sister went to prom that year with an ABC student (whose first name was ‘Terry,’ she couldn’t remember the last name, though no doubt our reliable “If You’re Really from New Canaan, you’d know …” Facebook group will fetch that name immediately).
It changed Benson’s high school experience, she said.
“It just was a different feeling in the whole school, in the sense that we had more people to participate in more activities,” Benson said.
Benson was joined by Jennifer James, whose mother Marietta James was one of the original ABC cooks. Jennifer James also had the exact same years at the high school as then-principal Haas (’71-’75).
Haas, a town resident who serves on the board of the New Canaan Community Foundation, said the time was right for the introduction of the ABC program at the high school.
“I had at New Canaan High School during a very rough time in the 1970s—Civil Rights, Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam, all of those things going on, heroin and LSD,” he recalled. “But I had a small group of African-American kids in the school, and nearly all of them were girls.”
When Haas learned of a program that would bring in more African-American students, and boys, he became an immediate and enthusiastic supporter.“When they came to me to see if it was OK, I said, ‘You betcha.’ I was a believer,” Haas said.