Teen Teacher

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“It just doesn’t seem fair that I inherit good teachers, textbooks and so many advantages,” Jack Murphy said. “These kids deserve a chance.”

The children that Jack is referring to don’t have many of the advantages Jack has, including a place to call home. In fact, most of the children Jack mentioned are classified by the state of California as homeless, and are often referred to as “motel children.”

Jack, s senior at Corona del Mar High School, does his part to help by volunteering to tutor children at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn.

Bridget, Sue and Jack Murphy. Photo by Cindy Christeson

Jack and his sister, Bridget, a junior at CdM, started helping there four years ago when their mother, Sue Murphy, heard an announcement in church about a ministry to help the children with their homework one afternoon a week.

“I believe God charges us to help the poor and needy, and they are surprisingly close to where we live, work and shop.” Sue explained. “I’d been thinking for quite some time that I wanted to take Jack and Bridget to do some sort of charitable work. I wanted them to know that this isn’t real life here, not everybody gets a car for their 16th birthday.

“It was shocking and moving to witness first-hand the struggles of people in such serious situations, mere minutes away from our house,” Bridget said. “A lot of the kids came from broken families or were the fifth or sixth kid in the family. They were very eager to please and willing to learn when given the chance.

“I really liked the idea of doing something meaningful like this with my children,” Sue explained. “It also turned out to be a great way for them to earn their community service hours.”

Students in the Newport Harbor Unified School District must fulfill 40 service hours as part of their graduation requirements. Many of them serve their hours doing mission work with their church; some have helped at orphanages and building projects in Mexico, others have done the same kind of work in Africa. Some examples of local opportunities for students are volunteering at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, helping S.P.I.N. prepare food for the homeless, volunteering at the Oasis Center pancake breakfast, cleaning up Back Bay, and participating in beach clean ups.

Sue and her husband, John, enjoy going to church as a family on Sunday, but helping others together during the week was a particularly meaningful for Sue and the children.

“Driving home, bragging over what our kids did that day and how smart they were and how proud we were of them really helped our family to put things in perspective.” Bridget said.

“Some of those kids really tug at your heart and they make the most of a lousy situation.” Jack added. “They are fun to tutor and I love it when it seems like I got through to them. Plus it’s important to remember how fortunate and how blessed we are.”

“God showed us a perfect time to volunteer together,” Sue said. “An afternoon seemed to open up between school events and sports practices. It was a total God thing.”

The organization that coordinates the tutoring and other important services at Costa Mesa Motor Inn and many other locations is the Illumination Foundation (www.ifhomeless.org). Founded in 2007, Illumination Foundation is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) non-denominational dedicated to breaking the cycle of homelessness in Orange County.

IF combines housing and social services with healthcare and behavioral mental health services to lessen the impacts of homelessness and reduce vulnerability to future homelessness. Part of their vision is to empower adults with the tools to become self-sufficient and inspire children to grow into independent, productive adults.

“Sometimes I think I learned more from tutoring those kids than they did from being tutored,” Bridget admitted. “I learned how important a good education is. I learned what it means to care for a family in a bad situation. And most importantly, I learned that happiness is all about looking at what you have, not what you don’t. I would absolutely recommend it to all students.”

“Time spent helping others is more gratifying than just doing something for myself. Tutoring wasn’t a chore, it was something I looked forward to.” Jack said. “These kids face overwhelming issues; there are gang influences and some families move from motel to motel because of money problems. I was happy to give them an opportunity to escape the cycle of homelessness even if they don’t all choose to accept it.”

Cindy can be reached at [email protected]

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