For many people, the first time living away from home is freshman year of college on the verge of adulthood. Despite the fact that many teenagers are hungry for a taste of freedom and ready to explore new things, it’s still hard to leave the familiarity of friends and family.

Now imagine making this transition four years earlier.

At the tender age of 13, most adolescents still lean on their parents for so many things and middle school drama seems to be the center of the universe. It takes a special kind of person to look beyond what they know in search of a better future.

Ridgefield A Better Chance scholars possess this rare drive and make so many sacrifices in the name of a great education.

Sylvana Soto, more affectionately known as “Silver,” is one of the numerous young women who had the courage to make a life-altering decision.

“I wanted to see what I was capable of,” she said. “I didn’t think that I was going to be able to go away from home and make my own decisions; my siblings and my parents would always do that. I wanted to discover what I could do by myself.”

And she did just that.

Soto acknowledged that every day there are new challenges. She described how trying the first couple of months were, and how returning to her home in Washington Heights, N.Y., was often tempting.

She lived in a house with nine other women from different backgrounds and had to get used to daily chores like washing her own clothes.

She said having a roommate was a major adjustment. And of course, she had to merge into a new high school where so many students already knew each other.

“Making friends at the high school was very hard,” Soto said. “Everyone was already friends from middle school, so it was hard to penetrate the longstanding friend groups. I skipped lunch for two weeks in the beginning of the school year because I didn’t know where I’d be welcomed to sit.”

Contrasts

As a rising junior next fall, Soto has long since overcome this obstacle and learned to flourish. She has found her niche in the Ridgefield community as a proud member of the Keystone Club. The Boys & Girls Club has been the source of many fun memories and service opportunities for a lot of the RABC scholars.  

Soto said that coming here made her more appreciative of community.

In a large city, it is difficult to feel connected to everyone, and to target one specific area that requires the most help. The small town environment provides her and the other girls with many more chances to give back.

Surprisingly enough, one similarity that Ridgefield and Washington Heights have is the lack of diversity.

She said that at home she “was surrounded by Hispanics,” so coming to the mostly white town of Ridgefield created a stark contrast in both appearance and opinion.

Coming to a small town “opened my eyes to how the world actually is,” Soto said.

“I realized that I would not always agree with people’s opinions, but you’re going to have to face the fact that’s how things are in the real world,” she added.

Silver lining

The sudden transition from a extremely liberal environment to one that is somewhat conservative required a quick maturation.

Soto said that it was hard to come to terms with the idea that some people are still ignorant of other cultures and sometimes even discriminatory, but the realization had a silver lining.

It presented her with the opportunity to try and understand the opinions of others and convince others to understand hers.

She also was grateful to have been exposed to the “Ridgefield bubble,” because it made her realize that she had previously been in one of her own. It has prepared her for life as an adult when the workforce will be a pool of differing opinions that must work to get along.

Though the transition to Ridgefield can be a tad rough, Soto said that the tough times have a worthy outcome.

Ranging from rowdy game nights to late-night movie runs, irreplaceable memories are formed through this program.

Though she still has two years before starting the college process, Soto recognizes that RABC has gotten her one step closer to where she needs to be.

Editor’s note: The author is a member Ridgefield A Better Chance. She graduated from Ridgefield High School last month and will be attending Lehigh University in the fall.