By Liam Martin ’10
Michael Rubenstein was like any other senior at Brophy College Prep in 2008, looking forward to graduation and enjoying his last year of high school.
He played on the state championship football team, enjoyed spending time with his friends and dreamed of going to Notre Dame—until his world crashed down around him.
In the spring of his senior year, he had a fight with his stepfather that ended with him leaving the house and staying the night at a friend’s.
Shortly afterward, his stepfather suddenly moved the rest of the family to Hawaii for work, leaving Rubenstein to live at friends’ houses.
“It just happened out of the blue, and I had to react in a short amount of time,” Rubenstein said.
Before he even graduated from high school Rubenstein was, for all intents and purposes, left homeless and alone.
“But for the kindness of some people in the Brophy community who allowed him to be in their homes, he would have been on the streets. We don’t think about it happening to (teenagers,) and it does,” said Brophy Director of Development Mrs. Patti Franz, who was a member of a team of volunteers dedicated to aiding and advising Rubenstein through his troubles.
An Open Table
This team of volunteers formed a group known as a “table,” a model originated by Brophy alumni Austin Holt ’09 and Scott Ferreira ’09, and propagated by their organization, Open Table. The model is called a table because the members of the group meet around a table for discussion and planning.
According to the Open Table Web site, the program is “a team of specialists and supporters, who work together with the person/family being helped to overcome the obstacles that can hinder self-sufficiency. Those obstacles can include limited access to health care, housing, employment, legal matters and education, just to name a few.”
Each member is known as a chair and is responsible for the development and improvement of a certain area of the person’s life, such as education, occupation, finance, health or housing.
Holt and Ferreira helped run the organization through their church, and approached Brophy Principal Mr. Bob Ryan several years ago while still students about bringing the project to campus.
“I never really saw a good way to make the connection,” Mr. Ryan said. But after talking with Rubenstein, he realized that “this was the perfect case for (an Open) Table.”
The word was put out in fall 2008 and the concept of the Open Table was explained to Brophy parents and community members at an informational meeting.
“I just said what happened with my mom and step dad,” Rubenstein said of that first meeting, “and I asked them ‘If there’s any way you guys could help me out for a little bit, that’d be awesome, just to get back on my feet.’”
About 10 people did respond, forming the core of Rubenstein’s “Table,” which would meet several times a month, along with volunteers called accelerators who helped out in whatever area they were needed.
Mrs. Franz and her husband Tom Franz were the finance chairs, helping Rubenstein to manage money efficiently and create and keep a budget.
“Many of us have parents who are still supplementing our income or our expenses, but he was in a situation where he needed kind of an accelerated class on life skills like that,” Mrs. Franz said.
Dean of Students Mr. Jim Bopp and his wife Mandy McDevitt Bopp served as the education and vocation chairs.
“Just because a guy grabs a diploma and walks across a stage doesn’t mean Brophy is done with him, or that Brophy can’t continue to reach out and help.” Mr. Bopp said. “If you know someone needs … a helping hand, just because they’re not part of your institution anymore doesn’t mean they’re not still part of the community.”
Rubenstein had originally planned to go to Notre Dame, but for various reasons—including an insufficient GPA—he soon realized that was not a feasible goal.
“My heart was broken—I cried—and then I moved on to what needed to happen after that,” Rubenstein said.
What needed to happen turned out to be trade school at Gateway Community College, where he is currently working towards a certification in Water Technology.
“We talked to people (at GCC) about … where he’d get a decent job,” Mr. Bopp said. “It turned out that there’s a lot of demand for wastewater treatment, and wastewater management programs.”
Rubenstein started taking the Water Technology courses in June, and said by late December he should qualify to be employable by the City of Phoenix in a job that, according to Mrs. Franz, pays in the $40,000-50,000 a year range.
He is working several jobs in the meantime, including one at a telemarketing company and one as a server at a retirement home, while studying for his certification and has so far paid all his bills on time.
Outside of his studies and jobs, Rubenstein was a Brophy junior varsity football coach this past season, and could be seen on the sidelines of most home varsity games.
“That was his way, I think, of giving back to the community,” Mr. Bopp said.
Rubenstein said he plans to one day go back and get his associates and bachelors degree, and hopes to continue his education by going to Notre Dame to get his master’s degree.
“I’m so grateful for having people take me in when I thought I had nothing left, and bring light back into my life, and give me another chance to make something out of my life,” Rubenstein said. “I have an enormous amount of respect and love for them. Without them … I would be lost.”
The Table officially finished in October 2009, but Rubenstein still keeps in contact with the members of the Table, talking over major changes in his life and seeking their advice.
“We sometimes think of helping people by throwing money at the problem, or we just go in, do a quick service trip, paint a house, build a building, do whatever, and then we leave, and … getting somebody from a spot where they don’t have a lot of resources and they’re on the edge of homelessness to self-sufficiency is actually a really difficult, challenging thing,” Mr. Bopp said.
“Just giving food to a food bank may not be enough to really help someone get out of homelessness. And for that reason I hope there continues to be an Open Table here at Brophy, and that a new group of people step up to help a new person.”