In 2001, Robert Murphy was going through what he calls “a bit of a mid-life crisis.” He needed a fresh start. He needed a new direction. He began searching for volunteer opportunities and through Catholic Charities he found one that would not just help with his current life changes but change his life forever.
“I wasn’t doing anything for anybody back then, I just wasn’t really a charitable person,” he said. “When I heard about this program I couldn’t say no.”
Now, and for more than 15 years, Robert has served as a tutor for middle- and high-school aged students in Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. The students come from countries such as Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar (Burma), and are adjusting to life in the U.S. when Robert first meets them.
“I have the patience for it and the personality for it in that I’m not shocked by different cultures, I enjoy learning about them,” he said.
When Robert is paired with a student, the first couple meetings are devoted to getting to know each other and breaking the ice. Robert gives all students his cell phone number and says they can reach out to him at any time for help.
“It takes a while for them to feel comfortable calling me but soon enough I start getting texts and calls saying that homework or a project is due tomorrow and we get to work,” he said.
Robert assists with all subjects, including math, science, literature and English. The students face significant challenges in terms of language barriers but also in terms of cultural barriers. For example, when his high school students are reading The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye, Robert is there to help interpret references and slang that would otherwise be confusing.
The program only last for two years, but in many cases, Robert keeps in touch with students much longer. For some, he’s attended their high school and college graduations. He’s even gone as far as helping students with their college applications and taking them on campus visits.
“You can see the results and you can see that you’re helping them,” Robert said. “And they’re appreciative. They all have such strong work ethic and they make our communities stronger. It’s inspired me.”