Tag Archives: Mercy Learning Center

“Dr. K” Gives Back

When Gerry Kuroghlian retired in 2008 after 43 years as a Staples English teacher, he knew he would not spend leisurely hours playing golf.

If you know “Dr. K” — and everyone in Westport does — you’d know he’s not a leisurely guy.  And he is definitely not a golfer.

Dr. Gerald Kuroghlian

As soon as he left Staples, Kuroghlian headed in the opposite direction:  to Bridgeport, the city where he was born and spent his early years.  Following the lead of Westporters he knew and admired — Dick Leonard, Doris Shiller and dozens of others — he volunteered at Mercy Learning Center.

Last year he taught GED classes at the much-heraled women’s literacy and life-skills center.  This year he’s teaching English as a Second Language — influencing (and learning from) women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly.

“They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all.  They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had.”  They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late.  No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly.  “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something.  They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers.  They also go on field trips.

Kuroghlian recently took them to the library.  They paid particular attention to the children’s section, where they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

“These woman are totally motivated to improve the lives of their children,” he says.

But Mercy Learning Center is only part of Kuroghlian’s rich life.  He also volunteers at Kolbe Cathedral, the small parochial school in Bridgeport.

Westporter Bill Mitchell got Kuroghlian involved.  Mitchell is a “Shepherd” — someone who provides financial assistance and mentorship to a student during his 4 years at Kolbe — and when he introduced Kuroghlian to the school and its students, “Dr. K” was hooked.

The English instructor works with all 60 seniors on their college essays.  He offers an objective eye, and a lifetime of experience in helping the Bridgeport teenagers bring personal, individual voices to their writing.

“They’re great kids,” Kuroghlian says.  “They’re unbelievably polite, with firm handshakes — boys and girls.  They all have jobs, and do an incredible job balancing school, sports and work.”

Having watched Bridgeport decline so far from its heyday, Kuroghlian feels good about his current work — and the women and teens he works with.

“In Bridgeport, education is seen as a privilege — not something to take for granted.

“As a teacher, I’ve never felt more valued.  I’m rewarded not with money, but with thanks.

“The women at Mercy want a better life for their kids, and the kids at Kolbe want a better life for themselves.

“They all realize that education is their only way out, and they’re all killing themselves to get an education.  It’s a wonderful environment to be in.”

Bad News For Bridgeport

As Westport evaluates its response to the March storm, another disaster is unfolding 2 towns away.

A strong thunderstorm knocked down branches, and knocked out power, here yesterday.  Bridgeport fared far worse.  A tornado knocked down buildings, blew out windows, and turned that long-suffering city into a disaster zone.

Beyond volunteering at the Mercy Center, going to Sound Tigers games and driving through as quickly as possible on I-95, Westporters don’t have much to do with Bridgeport.

But today, more than ever, we are reminded what a difference a few miles makes.

Mercy Help

Mercy Learning Center, a literacy and life skills training program for women in Bridgeport, enjoys the support of many Westporters.  Each year, area residents donate thousands of volunteer hours as tutors — and thousands of dollars too.  But additional funds are always needed.

Fortunately, Mercy Learning Center is 1 of 10 finalists in the Better World Books Readers Choice Literacy Grant contest.  The winner gets $20,000.

Right now, Mercy is in 3rd place.  They’ve got until January 20 to win.  All it takes is an e-mail vote.  Click here for the link — and forward to friends!

(Here’s another Westport connection:  Geoff Schwarten — a 1996 Staples graduate — led the re-launch of Better World Books.  The organization collects used books and sells them online to raise money for literacy initiatives worldwide.)