Horizons Student Enrichment Program at New Canaan Country School will host its biennial benefit at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, at the Greenwich Hyatt Regency.
Horizons at NCCS, the flagship of 28 Horizons affiliates across the country, provides academic, artistic and athletic enrichment to thousands of area children from low-income families.
The evening will be hosted by New Canaan's own Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News. The evening will feature a live auction, cocktails, dinner and dancing Motown style to the music of New York City Swing. More than 400 people from New Canaan, Stamford, Darien and Norwalk are expected to attend.
Williams, known for his commitment to educational initiatives, will help Horizons honor seven individuals for their extraordinary support of the program over many years. They are Tim Bazemore, head of New Canaan Country School and Horizons board member; Amy Downer, former Horizons board chairman and current Horizons national board member; Lydee Hummel, former Horizons board member and current member of the Horizons Board of Governors; Roy Pfeil, former Horizons board chairman and current co-chairman of the Horizons Board of Governors; Nick Thacher, head of Dedham Country Day School, Horizons national board member, former head of NCCS and Horizons board member; Jane Williams, former Horizons board chairman and current chairman of the Horizons national board; and John Ziac, NCCS director of finance and operations and Horizons board member.
Horizons was founded in 1964 by NCCS' late headmaster, George Stevens, who saw the bucolic campus, 635 Ponus Ridge, sitting empty and unused during the summer months and started what amounted to a fresh air camp. In the 50 years since, Horizons has grown to a year-round K-12 program providing local students from low-income families with hands-on opportunities.
Leah Kimmet, the executive director for four years, is only the third person to lead Horizons in its 50-year history.
"For 50 years we've taken low-income kids ages 5 to 14 from Stamford and Norwalk," said Kimmet, "and bused them to the New Canaan Country School campus for six weeks in the summer. They spend their days doing academics, arts, and athletics. They also have an in-depth swimming experience at local private pools as well as our own. But it's the sense of community, the Horizons family spirit that makes our program so unique. Our retention rate is nearly 100 percent. Basically, the only reason kids leave is if their families move away."
Through its summer and instrumental music programs, school year academic coaching, college counseling and college tours, Horizons exposes students to the possibilities of the future and gives them hope. All Horizons members of the class of 2012 graduated from high school, and 96 percent of them enrolled in college in the fall. In contrast, their peers in the Stamford and Norwalk public school systems, the graduation rates are 76 percent and 78 percent respectively.
Over the years, Horizons has continued to change and add programs. "In recent years we've added wraparound support," said Kimmet. "In addition to a summer experience and the community we create, we have a year-round tutoring program, a music academy, a tennis academy, and a family counselor who provides therapy when high need arises. We have an extensive high school program that offers academic coaching, SAT prep and college tours. Really from K-12, we're providing what we think our families need in order for our kids to graduate from high school and be prepared for college."
In describing some of her favorite parts about Horizons, Kimmet turns to the alumni, who share Horizons memories. "They remember everything. They remember every Broadway show they've gone to and every field trip they took. You can tell when they're sharing those things that we were a piece of their childhood. Horizons gave then a time when they could just be children. We gave them fond memories.
"One of my favorite outcomes is that we have a group of boys who are all alums who are now in their 20s. They've stayed friends all through high school and college. This is before we even had all that year-round high school programming. They now call themselves the `Educated Rascals.' One is an engineer, one's in business -- all are college grads. They have a Facebook group, and they do different community service projects in the area. That is their mission. It's something I'm really proud of. They're the type of people who look outward to do things for others."
In order to sustain its full scholarship program, Horizons must raise more than $1 million annually. The biennial benefit is a major source of income.
For tickets and information, call 203-972-7005 or visit www.horizonskids.org.