Sharing Opportunity

Ilse Akbar, Executive Director

By Haily Jones

Opportunities can be hard to find, especially for students of color living in low-income communities. Many can identify their desire to learn and find their potential, but the difficulty comes in finding those opportunities and establishing a community who supports and gives generously.

In 1972, Edina ABC was established as a chapter of A Better Chance, a national chapter program that started at Dartmouth University among a group of headmasters from various private boarding schools. They aimed to address societal issues surrounding education by bringing talented students of color from all over the country to prepare them for college in high-level boarding schools.

When a couple of citizens of Edina, Minnesota, a well-established and educated community, heard about A Better Chance, they decided to develop their own chapter, and began working to discover ways to share their education and opportunities with others in Edina. They began having church meetings, house meetings, finding supporters, and eventually found a house. Thus, Edina ABC was established as a chapter of A Better Chance programs in 1972. Their goal was to provide opportunities for those who did not have them elsewhere.

Today, Edina ABC selects highly motivated students of color to participate in their education program within the Edina community for the academic school year. They are a nonprofit boarding program in connection with Edina High School, the top-ranked high school in Minnesota. The program is 100% tuition free and cost free for students, providing them a quality education without the cost.  Students can begin applying to participate at age 13, when they along with their families begin looking for educational opportunities. Most of the students do not have a high family income or access to great public school systems. Selected students participate in the program for 4 years, and 100% of the students go off to college.

A Better Chance is a unique opportunity for students to receive an incredible education. The community within Edina, Minnesota believes that these students have the drive and the talent to succeed and make the world a better place. They are talented, dedicated, and hardworking, with long term goals and determination. They see a need for a more rigorous education and they pursue it with the community’s support.

Students’ lives change within the program, but not just through education. For many, this is the first time they are living away from their families in a new society with people they have never met before. The people within their new surroundings, however, are able to support and encourage them in ways they have yet to experience.

The Edina ABC program has had the privilege to watch some remarkable students graduate through their program and continue on to do incredible things with their education. One female graduate went on to law school, and was named the first female Latina judge in Ramsey County. Another male student, who grew up in a household without parents, graduated from Edina ABC with a full ride to Stanford. At Stanford, he received his advanced degree in Electrical Engineering, and later received a PhD in Electrical Engineering. This Edina ABC graduate now does research and teaches at Stanford, and he has a patent. Students of Edina ABC are able to have remarkable success stories due to the educational opportunities given to them throughout this program.   

Edina ABC has two components to its model for success: its students, and its community.. Students are driven, kind, talented, independent, and adventurous. They make a big sacrifice in being away from their homes and their families to reach their full potential. In addition, the volunteer and donor community give their time, effort, and money in order to support the program. Every student has two host families that spend time with the students every other week. Host families tend to be involved in students’ lives even after a student graduates. Many host families have attended college graduations, been a part of their students’ weddings, and even received birth announcements. This community has a lasting connection with the students so much so that everyone who is involved within the program, whether it be students, community, or donors, feels as though they benefit greatly from their involvement.

Edina ABC believes that children with very high potential are in every community, and its community is willing to share their own opportunity with students who do not have access to as many resources in order to support them and help them grow. Once students graduate from Edina ABC, they are able to pay it forward and do incredible things throughout the world, because they were given the opportunity, through a remarkable community, to get the education they deserve. People are incredibly generous, and there are students who have a desire to be the best that they can be. What makes Edina ABC successful is that students seek opportunity and their community supports them in return.

Haily Jones is an undergraduate student in the English Education Department at N.C. State University

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