FIRC’s Rob Murphy makes it his mission to take care of Summit County
On a quiet Friday afternoon in December, Rob Murphy was wrapping up the end of his workday when a mother and her young girl came into his de facto office. After a shy “hello,” the preschooler’s eyes gleamed and she made her way to a stack of oversized Lego blocks. She shuffled through the blues and greens and reds while Murphy and her mother looked on, chatting about a recent holiday party and Murphy’s own young boys.
“You should’ve seen it earlier — the Legos were all over the place,” Murphy said to the mother. “I guess that’s a good thing, though. It means they’re getting used, right?”
For the past seven years, Murphy has been a fixture at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, a community nonprofit that bounced around Dillon before finding home in a green-walled building on the southern edge of Silverthorne. The newest office is low and lean, with little more than a small, nondescript sign featuring the FIRC logo at the front entrance.
Now, Murphy is far from some kind of overgrown man-child or child psychologist with more toys than degrees. He has a “grown-up” office with a computer and full-sized desk, but as community support manager for the nonprofit, he seems at ease in the front lobby with Legos and miniature plastic chairs, the sort found only in elementary classrooms. It’s where local families come to play and, when times turn bleak, where they find a helping hand. It’s Murphy’s home away from home, and there are few places he’d rather be.
When the young girl finished examining blocks, she ran to her mom and wrapped around her leg, suddenly shy again. The two had only stopped for a quick visit, and as they left Murphy’s office he waved to the girl. She waved, then quickly burrowed back into mom’s leg.
“I get to meet with tons of residents directly and guide them through the process of getting help,” Murphy said. “To encounter a person who’s going through a crisis and actually have the resources to give them a boost, to get them back into a stable situation, it’s a really fulfilling thing.”
SUMMIT BY WAY OF ST. LOUIS
Oddly enough, Murphy came across FIRC nearly by accident some two years before moving to Summit County. The Missouri native had just earned a graduate degree in social work from Saint Louis University when he met his future wife, a fellow St. Louis local who’d spent time in Colorado. She lived and worked in Denver between occasional trips to see her brother, a ski-bum type in Summit, and she wanted badly to return. She also wanted to bring Murphy with her.
But Denver was just third on his eclectic list of prospective cities, behind Kansas City at No. 2 and Washington, D.C., at No. 1. A Colorado ski town wasn’t even on his radar in 2006, when he moved to Denver for a position with Catholic Charities Denver in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As Murphy remembers, Colorado and Denver were major relief sites for Katrina refugees, thanks in large part to support from Frontier Airlines.
Before taking the Denver position, Murphy’s wife sent him a job ad for FIRC, then a much smaller nonprofit. The position wasn’t quite a perfect fit — it was heavy on speaking and public appearances, not the kind of one-on-one interaction he truly enjoys — but the description of FIRC intrigued him.
“I like the mission at FIRC,” Murphy said. “It seemed very interesting to me that Summit was a small place, surrounded by resorts, but there’s a surprising amount of diversity in such a rural place. FIRC was an organization that recognized that and adapted itself to work with everyone in the community.”
In 2007, Murphy finally applied for a juicier FIRC job — and didn’t get it. A few months later, the general assistance coordinator position at FIRC opened, and this time, it was all his.
FIRC has been a community staple since 1993, but Murphy joined the team right before local families were hit hard by the 2008 recession. Summit County felt the pain: When skiers stopped taking vacations, the local workforce was met with slashed hours and meager paychecks.
“We started seeing people we’d never seen before,” Murphy said of the recession. “These were people who had been much better off economically before they lost their jobs. It was a new, different population, like real estate brokers who had mortgage payments.”
Unlike many nonprofits, FIRC grew during the recession, and Murphy’s position expanded in turn. After a year and a half as a self-described “department of one,” he took over the manager roll and a new employee.
Murphy credits FIRC’s thrift store in Dillon for the nonprofit’s stability, particularly during tough economic times. Along with the two-year-old Breckenridge store, thrift sales account for roughly 40 percent of the nonprofit’s funding, even as its overall budget has grown significantly. The thrift stores are FIRC’s bread and butter, but they can be much more than a one-stop shop.
““We have a great community, but it’s also a little bizarre because it can be isolating at the same time,” Murphy said. “A lot of people up here don’t have great social networks, and a lot of that becomes apparent when you run into a difficult time.”
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
On a bustling, unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in December, Murphy sat at a folding table near the entrance of the Whole Foods Market, in Frisco, with his boss, FIRC executive director Tamara Drangstveit.
For three weekends, FIRC staff members and volunteers have manned the table as part of the grocery chain’s “round up” holiday campaign. When shoppers round their purchases up to the nearest dollar, Whole Foods collects the proceeds and gives them directly to FIRC.
The setting is far removed from the FIRC office — there are no Legos, just shopping carts, canvas bags and the folding table — but then again, the table is yet one more community office for Murphy. When completely off the clock, his office is at home with his two young sons. When they head off to sleep, his office is a room with an electric guitar and his array of custom, handmade effects pedals. He’s a late musical bloomer: He didn’t start playing guitar until college and was largely self-taught until a few years back, when he made a conscious decision to practice scales and picking techniques.
“It’s incredible what you can learn by just looking it up on the Internet,” said Murphy, who admits he was never good with math or science in school and hardly fiddled with electronics before delving into guitar. He’s also an avid skier, but with young kids at home, he doesn’t have much time to hit the slopes or Nordic track.
But Murphy also knows living in the mountains is bigger than skiing. Working for FIRC has showed him that firsthand, no matter what form his office takes.
“I think we have a good mission and an incredible staff dedicated to that mission,” Murphy said. “I think all those pieces have come together and allowed us to grow larger. Now we just have to sustain and fine-tune what we’ve already built.”
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