Edie Brickell to help Horizons work on its dream
Updated 7:55 am, Monday, February 21, 2011
New Canaan resident and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell is on the road touring to promote her two new releases but will return home to entertain the guests at the biennial Horizons benefit on Feb. 26 at the Greenwich Hyatt Regency.
The benefit, which raises funds for the Horizons Student Enrichment Program at New Canaan Country School, provides enough money to keep the program going for two years. Horizons, which is marking its 48th year, provides academic, athletic and cultural opportunities to some 300 low-income students from Norwalk, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien and other communities, according to its website, www.horizonkids.org. The benefit raised about $400,000 in 2009, when 350 people attended; the organizers are hoping for 400 or more this year.
"This is our bread and butter," said Sarah Casey, co-chairwoman of the benefit who also is a Country School parent and member of the board of Horizons. Grants and private donations help flesh out the budget.
With the theme of "Working on a Dream," which best represents the mission of Horizons, she said, the evening will take on a Caribbean atmosphere, including the performance of the Caribbean Eagles Steel Drums Band during the cocktail hour from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
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The Caribbean ambiance was chosen, Casey said, because with the event taking place in February "we thought people would be tired of winter and thought it would be appropriate. But we didn't think we would have such a winter."
In addition to Brickell's concert and the calypso band, the evening will feature tropical specialty drinks, a Giving Tree, dinner in the ballroom and a live auction conducted by Peter Rathbone, a Country School parent who works at Sotheby's and has been the auctioneer at previous Horizons' benefits.
Among the auction items are tickets, airfare and lodging for the Masters Golf Tournament; a week's stay in a house in Los Cabos, Mexico, overlooking the Sea of Cortés; tickets to "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" with dinner at Brasserie and accommodations at Eventi Hotel; and tickets and round-trip airfare to the 2011 NCAA men's basketball championship.
With Horizons and New Canaan Country School so interconnected, many of the auction items are donated by the private school's parents. "The Country School parents are so very generous," said Casey, herself a parent and an alumna of the school.
Casey said a video about the Horizons program also will be shown prior to the auction and a few students will address the gathering. And the disc jockey, who will play tunes for dancing after dinner and the auction, is a Horizons alum.
It is that sense of family -- both with the planning of the benefit and at Horizons itself -- that makes the enrichment program special, said Leah Kimmet, the executive director of the non-profit Horizons.
In her third-floor office at Grace Hall on the grounds of New Canaan Country School, Kimmet is eager to talk about the successes of and future plans for Horizons, which was founded in 1964 as a summer program for 20 or so children from low-income families. Four decades later, more than 300 students participate in Horizons; 270 in kindergarten to eighth grade and 100-plus in grades 9 to 12 in this academic year alone. Hundreds of applications from new students are received every year, she said.
With the goals being to close the achievement gap and open up the world to underserved kids, Horizons offers Summer, K-8 School Year, High School and Parent programs. The growth of the high school component, in particular, in her time there has been "astounding," said Kimmet, who started at Horizons as a teacher 12 years ago, then joined the administration four years ago; in 2008, she was named the executive director.
While the six-week Summer Program -- in which the curriculum includes reading, language arts, math and science and a host of cultural opportunities -- is at the core of the Horizons mission, the High School Program gives the kids a fighting chance to complete their four years. Academic coaching, college tours, financial aid workshops and PSAT and SAT preparation are among the initiatives provided to students and their parents.
The success of that program, which started eight years ago, she said, is measured by the fact that "now 100 percent of our kids are graduating from high school. The trickle-down effect of our kindergartners and our second-graders and our fifth-graders hearing that and our families hearing that and believing that 96 percent of our kids go to college has brought so much power to our organization - that we have figured out a formula that works for the kids.
She adds, "Two-thirds of our kids that start with us in their schools are really struggling. We intentionally do that -- we are taking families that need us, kids that need us. Without us, we are not sure what they would be doing in the summer and we aren't sure if they will be able to get through school."
Horizons' graduates have attended numerous two- and four-year institutions of higher learning, among them Boston, Connecticut, Ithaca and Springfield colleges and Boston, Fairfield, Temple, La Salle, Howard, Princeton and Virginia State universities as well as the universities of Connecticut, Michigan, Richmond and Hartford, and all of the schools in the state's university system.
So it is with some pride when Kimmet says, "Every kid who is thinking about life after high school, we celebrate."
With the 100-person staff -- six of them Horizons alumni -- working closely with the kids and their parents, there is a "tight-knit relationship," she said, acknowledging that the community at Horizons is like a family. "We often are the first phone in a crisis too," she noted, adding that the staff troubleshoots problems for the families such as lack of heat or food at home. "We are dealing with families who have enormous struggles trying to make ends meet in Fairfield County ... We are constantly identifying the resources in the community [to help them.]"
With culture a major component of the Horizons program, especially the music academy that runs year-round, having Brickell as the benefit's headliner is fitting.
Brickell, who is a Country School parent, was unavailable for an interview as she tours for her new solo album "Edie Brickell" and another release, "The Gaddabouts," with her new band of the same name," Kimmet said of her, "She loves Horizons, has been wonderful to Horizons, and generous to Horizons. We were so thrilled when she said she would come and do [the benefit]. I think that just having her name and coming and performing is huge."
The Feb. 26 event is the first time the benefit will feature a musical concert. Brickell will perform with Morningside, whose band members are Ryan Kimmet, the husband of the executive director, Scott Lilley and Damon Kelleher, all of whom are teachers at Horizons; and Andrew Kraemer and Chris Cacciato.
The success of the benefit and the money raised from it will enable Horizons to maintain its objectives and add to them. As for a wish list of future endeavors, Kimmet and her staff would like to create a "ninth-grade peace tour" for the summer months. Calling ninth grade a "limbo year," Kimmet would like to get those freshmen back to Horizons where they could be involved in a leadership academy or mentoring program. Instituting an 11th-grade college tour outside of the tri-state area is also on the list. She said the staff wants to continue the buddy classes, in which the older kids help the younger grades, and the community service options, where students volunteer to be able to "give back."
Kimmet's assessment of the successes of and the next steps for Horizons is reflected in a story she tells about one student. "I have one Horizons high school senior, who's at New Canaan High School, who always jokes around that she wants to run Horizons someday."
When she thinks of the possibility, she adds with a wide smile, "I would love it. I would love to hand over the program to a Horizons' alum. What power. Our job is done."