When I first heard the term I thought it was a distant country in central Asia that the United States was planning to invade. But when you add a space between the a and the s, and capitalize the s, you end up with Papa Stan, an endearing name several young women at Crosby High School use to refer to Dr. Stanley Foster, a Waterbury plastic surgeon.
While our country has no plans to invade Papastan, Dr. Foster has been remarkably successful in his efforts to invade The Young Parent Program at Crosby High School, and infuse dozen of lives with compassion and generous financial donations.
The Young Parent Program is run by Marie Ponzillo, an enthusiastic, loving and sometimes offbeat teacher who has kept the program afloat with determination and guile. There are a lot of clumsy and stuffy ways to describe what the program is, but most end up sounding more like a corporate mission statement. What it boils down to is this – young women, some as tender as 8th graders, become pregnant and threaten to derail their future before they have emerged from their own childhood. The Crosby program provides a supportive and educational environment for the young women to go through their pregnancies, and afterwards, the program provides a place for the mothers to bring their babies while they transition back into school. The result is that more than a hundred Waterbury students in the past 16 years have managed to have a child and continue on to earn their high school degree.
The program provides the students with essential parenting skills and guidance on how to cope with responsibility. Goal setting and career counseling are critical components of the program. The program helps the young women from conception until their child is one.
“Many people have the wrong idea that we are a day care center for teenage mothers and their babies,” Ponzillo said. “That is not what goes on in here everyday. We are helping prepare the mothers and their babies for success.”
The program began in 1990 at Wilson School and came to Crosby some years later. Ponzillo took over in 1998, and with the help of Crosby Principal Barbara Carrington, they upgraded the program to be more demanding.
“We are not DCF,” Ponzillo said. “We realized that it was very difficult to help a mom with two or three kids, so we focused on preventing repeat pregnancies.”
Now each student who enters the program – and there is a long waiting list – has to sign a contract. They girls are required to attend school and maintain good grades. Each year it is extremely competitive to get one of the eight coveted spots in the program. The girls are at different stages in the child-bearing process. Some are a few months pregnant and some have just delivered a baby.
When Ponzillo took over the program her annual budget was $75 and she was forced to aggressively seek donations in the community. “Begging for me is not a problem,” Ponzillo said. “I was particularly demanding on my family. I called up my niece and told her to go to her closet and pick out a jacket. I told her to leave it out because I would be coming by to pick up her donation in a few hours.”
Ponzillo is always on the prowl for pampers, maternity clothes, baby clothes, day-old-bagels and food of any kind. The girls are fed a hearty breakfast every morning and are often sent home with bags of food for themselves and their family. Gift cards to local stores are an impactful way someone might make a donation.
Community Development now gives the program $800 a year and for that Ponzillo said she is grateful.
“There are a lot of people in this community with needs,” Ponzillo said. “It is extremely competitive to get money because there are a lot of important programs. So we have to go to the private sector for help.”
And that’s where Dr. Foster has entered into Ponzillo’s life and made a big imapact on the girls and the program. He donates money directly to the program, he has provided scholarships for students to continue their educations into college and he stops by often to see what the girls need to help better their lives.
This past August Dr. Foster checked in with Ponzillo to see how the girls were. When Ponzillo told him about one girl living in a tiny apartment with her baby, with no air conditioner, Foster sprung into action.
“He called me from the operating room and told me to go get an air conditioner and he would pay for it,” Ponzillo said.
After the operation Foster came by to help Ponzillo install the air conditioner.
“He pulled up in his Lexus and wanted to drive the air conditioner up to the apartment and install it himself,” Ponzillo said. “I advised against taking his Lexus and we went in my Honda Element. It was oppressively hot and Stan installed the air conditioner. He does so much for this program in a quiet and powerful way, and nobody knows about it.”
Other times his gestures are smaller, but equally compassionate.
“Stan is a hero to these girls,” Ponzillo said. “Just yesterday he stopped by with a birthday cake.”
Another time, one of the students needed to travel down south to visit with her mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She faced a 30-hour bus trip with her newborn baby. “Stan found out about it and said the bus trip was unacceptable,” Ponzillo said. “And he bought her a plane ticket. Stan has made a difference in these girls lives, a profound difference.”
And to honor the quiet and unassuming dedication Dr. Foster has for the Young Parent Program, he is being honored with the program’s first annual Children’s Hero award on October 25th, at a benefit dinner held at the Villa Rosa in Waterbury.
There are other individuals and organizations that have made a big impact on the program. Howard Gibson, a Waterbury resident, and the Danbury Alternative Incarceration Center that he supervises, are also being honored at the benefit dinner.
“They have been great,” Ponzillo said. “ They have provided the women and their babies with baby furniture, supplies, gift cards and clothing.”
The dinner is the first for the program and Ponzillo is nervous. “I hope we have a good turnout,” she said. “The girls are really excited.”
For more information about how an individual or organization might assist The Young Parent Program, call Marie Ponzillo at Crosby High School at 203-573-6653.