A Very Good Neighbor

Boston group recognizes graduate student's outstanding service to the community

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Amy Murray may have gotten a relatively late start in volunteer and community service, but the BC graduate student is more than making up for lost time.

Murray, who is pursuing a joint degree in social work and pastoral ministry, has worked extensively with youths in South Boston since moving to the area in 1995. Whether starting a youth ministry program, taking teens on field trips, helping them organize parties for younger children, or simply lending an ear ó and even, she adds, making them do the same on occasion ó Murray has served as mentor, friend and role model.

She also expanded her efforts recently by assisting in the establishment of a summer program that brings together children from different ethnic backgrounds for learning and social activities.

In recognition of her efforts, Murray was selected as one of six Boston Neighborhood Fellows to receive a three-year $25,000 grant. The 10-year program, administered through the Philanthropic Initiative Inc., honors volunteers, professionals, community organizers and other individuals who have displayed leadership qualities while helping improve the lives of those around them.

Murray will formally accept the award at a ceremony Feb. 8 at the John Hancock Observatory City View Room.

"I just find it rewarding to watch these kids grow and change," said Murray, a Chicago native. "They truly appreciate the time you spend with them, and the concern you show them. Iím gratified Iíve been able to help."

The fellowship is a distinction Murray could not have envisioned when she entered Drexel University in Philadelphia as a business major. But when she joined a community service-oriented sorority, she realized she had found her calling.

"Members were supposed to do 10 hours of service each quarter," Murray recalled. "Everyone I knew had trouble meeting that goal, but I was racking up 50 to 60 hours."

Amy Murray: "I donít know where Iím going to live, or what Iím going to do, but I am not worried. So far, Iíve found that everything new I start, I love."

By the time she graduated in 1995, Murray knew she was not ready to enter the business world. Instead, she joined a lay volunteer program through the Boston Archiocese and began working at the St. Brigid School in South Boston. Later, she joined the staff of the South Boston Neighborhood Houseís program for pre-teens and adolescents.

Murray acknowledges that her first experience with the centerís program was more than a little unsettling. She found herself left alone with six young teens, who spoke loudly and aggressively ("I was afraid of teens when I was a teen," she quipped). Murrayís impression of the field trip later that day was of a senior staff member "yelling at everyone practically all the way there and back."

But in time, Murray struck a rapport with the youths, and their time together became marked as much by friendly talk and laughter.

"Deep down, kids respect authority even at that age," she said. "They really want limits. We had a rule that you couldnít say ëShut upí in public, for example, and they knew there would be consequences if they did."

Moreover, Murray said, the teenagers also appreciated the chance to serve others. During an arts-and-crafts session she and her charges held for residents at a local nursing home, Murray began talking about her interest in volunteerism with one girl.

"She told me, ëI donít quite understand why you do this,í" Murray said, "ëbut I want to be like you.í"

Murray decided in 1998 to enroll in the joint degree program at BC, choosing social work because "thatís where my heart was." But Murray did not neglect her work with youth. Working through the South Boston Neighborhood House, in 1998 she helped to organize the Camp on the Channel, an annual summer program at the Childrenís Museum for children from South Boston, Roxbury and Chinatown held in conjunction with the Greater Boston YMCA.

She may not have any immediate post-degree plans, but Murray feels no trepidation about her future.

"I donít know where Iím going to live, or what Iím going to do, but I am not worried," she declared. "So far, Iíve found that everything new I start, I love."

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