Behind The Scenes

Sidelines: Unique starting nine

Joe Faroni (second from right), wife Marisa (teal coat) and their ABC family.

Imagine starting life with your new wife — and seven teenagers.

Imagine starting life with your new wife and seven teenagers — and virtually everyone is a stranger to each other.

Imagine starting life with this newly formed family living under one roof for two years.

For ESPN Communications photographer Joe Faraoni and his wife Marisa, this scenario was reality from 2009 until this past spring.

They were Resident Directors for a boarding house under the auspices of a A Better Chance.

The organization helps promising youth from disadvantaged backgrounds attend schools with college preparatory curriculums.

Sometimes this means the students attend school far from their homes — in this case, the seven ABC kids were enrolled at Simsbury (Conn.) High.

Faraoni tells Front Row what the experience was like.

FR: How did you become involved with A Better Chance?

Faraoni: Marisa, my wife (fiancée at the time) was looking for a different job at the time.  She was working in the social services field and wanted to continue giving back but doing so with less stress.  A friend of Marisa’s forwarded her an email with the job posting of Resident Directors for ABC, and we knew we had to apply.

FR: How long is the commitment, and what’s involved in it?

Faraoni: We just completed our commitment of two years.  We served as any parents of seven kids would.  Our duties consisted of everything you could possibly think of that makes a house run smoothly, making sure the students are in bed at 10 p.m. as they are supposed to be, waking up for the bus, giving rides to and from practices, making sure chores are completed.  We were on-duty every weekday, and two weekends a month.  We handled everything but study hours.  Thankfully, we had tutors for that.

FR: Do you get to choose the students, or are they assigned to you?

Faraoni: We don’t get to choose the students directly.  The students go through a pretty thorough application process through the national program and applications that are a good fit get passed along to our local program’s board.  Those applications get filtered through again and a formal invite gets sent to students to come visit our house.  Based on the visit and many people’s input, the students get offered a position.

FR: Give us brief bios on the students who lived with you.

Ant: Our rookie.  Class of 2014.  Hails from Bridgeport, CT.  Loves cooking for his housemates, continually prompts goofy banter and dreams of owning his own restaurant where housemates eat for free.

Gerald:Class of 2013.  Hails from Hartford, CT.  The guy with the milliondollar smile who reminded me every 2 weeks on the discipline involved in properly caring for dreadlocks.  Everyones friend, the socialite of the home and always well-versed on the news of the day.  Interested in law.

Khari – Class of 2012. Hails from Queens, NY.  A man who is serious about his chores. Always looking out for everyone elses best interests.  Mr. Manners. Loves cars, old and new.  And willing to push the limits of style.

Gabe – Class of 2012. Hails from South Bronx, NY.  Comic relief of the house.  Sleeps more than an old cat. Dedicated athlete.  Hopeless romantic.  Looking into colleges with warm weather and high girl-to-guy ratio.

Domo – Class of 2012. Hails from South Bronx, NY.  Childhood pal of Gabe.  Wise beyond his years.  Truly loves and is inspired by music. Silent leader and the voice of reason. His career path will involve music and sound.

Tylik – Class of 2011. Hails from Harlem, NY.  Firecracker of the group and devoted rhetorical thinker.  Always pushing limits and finding loopholes. Mr. Charisma.  Attending Northeastern University on a full scholarship as part of the Torch Scholars Program. Pursuing Psychology.

Josh – Class of 2011. Hails from South Bronx, NY.  Always fashionably late.  Mr. Persistence.  Impressive hat and shoe collection.  Could talk his way into getting an extension on any assignment a week before its due.  A true entrepreneur. Attending Bucknell University on full scholarship.  Business management is his focus.

FR: What were your thoughts going in, and how did they change after the experience?

Faraoni: To be honest, I was scared. I had coached wrestling at the high school level for five years so I knew what high schoolers were like, especially boys turning men.  I didn’t know what it was going to be like living with a bunch of teenagers though.  I also wondered how our age would play a part of the whole thing.  Marisa and I aren’t even 10 years older than most these guys.  It came out later they had no idea of our age. They thought we were really old and it was never a factor.

The experience was and is amazing.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  It has to be the most challenging thing I may ever do.  My wife and I have only known married life as RDs of the ABC House.  We got married a month into it.  We learned an awful lot about each other and how we work together.  I have made some pretty amazing friends through this experience and the students are forever a part of my family.  I hope that when Marisa and I decide to have our own kids they will be around, I’ve told them that.  The students taught me a lot, whether they know it or not.  It’s a part of me.

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