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Ray Duckler: Need a ride to the game or practice? Call Mr. Bob

  • Bob Wolfe sorts through his stack of index cards that he keeps in his shirt pocket while looking for a name on Wednesday afternoon, September 4, 2013 at Merrill Park in Concord. In order to keep track of the 350 refugees he's helped over the 13 years he's been volunteering, Wolfe uses his card system. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bob Wolfe sorts through his stack of index cards that he keeps in his shirt pocket while looking for a name on Wednesday afternoon, September 4, 2013 at Merrill Park in Concord. In order to keep track of the 350 refugees he's helped over the 13 years he's been volunteering, Wolfe uses his card system. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Brenda Yen, 11, listens to music in the backseat of Bob Wolfe's car while getting a ride home from soccer practice so that she could get ready and get a ride from Wolfe to church on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013. In addition to transporting Yen, Wolfe also had three other girls in the car that he was driving home. While he was on his route, he got a call from another group of girls who needed a ride home after soccer practice. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Brenda Yen, 11, listens to music in the backseat of Bob Wolfe's car while getting a ride home from soccer practice so that she could get ready and get a ride from Wolfe to church on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013. In addition to transporting Yen, Wolfe also had three other girls in the car that he was driving home. While he was on his route, he got a call from another group of girls who needed a ride home after soccer practice. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Aakriti Bhattarai, 9, center, cheers with her youth soccer team, the Green Ninjas, after a practice at Merrill Park on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013.  Bhattarai, originally from Nepal, gets rides and help with her youth sports from Bob Wolfe, a local volunteer. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Aakriti Bhattarai, 9, center, cheers with her youth soccer team, the Green Ninjas, after a practice at Merrill Park on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013. Bhattarai, originally from Nepal, gets rides and help with her youth sports from Bob Wolfe, a local volunteer. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • After giving six different girls rides home after soccer practice, Bob Wolfe makes arrangements over the phone with a recent refugee from the Congo to provide transportation for his son after soccer practice on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 in Concord.  Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    After giving six different girls rides home after soccer practice, Bob Wolfe makes arrangements over the phone with a recent refugee from the Congo to provide transportation for his son after soccer practice on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 in Concord. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bob Wolfe sorts through his stack of index cards that he keeps in his shirt pocket while looking for a name on Wednesday afternoon, September 4, 2013 at Merrill Park in Concord. In order to keep track of the 350 refugees he's helped over the 13 years he's been volunteering, Wolfe uses his card system. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Brenda Yen, 11, listens to music in the backseat of Bob Wolfe's car while getting a ride home from soccer practice so that she could get ready and get a ride from Wolfe to church on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013. In addition to transporting Yen, Wolfe also had three other girls in the car that he was driving home. While he was on his route, he got a call from another group of girls who needed a ride home after soccer practice. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Aakriti Bhattarai, 9, center, cheers with her youth soccer team, the Green Ninjas, after a practice at Merrill Park on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013.  Bhattarai, originally from Nepal, gets rides and help with her youth sports from Bob Wolfe, a local volunteer. Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • After giving six different girls rides home after soccer practice, Bob Wolfe makes arrangements over the phone with a recent refugee from the Congo to provide transportation for his son after soccer practice on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 in Concord.  Bob Wolfe has been volunteering his time helping resettled refugees adjust to life in the Concord area by providing rides, especially to the children who are involved in extra curricular activities. Wolfe believes that facilitating their participation in those helps them adjust and embrace life in the US. Lately, he has felt a little overburdened by the need for transportation and other assistance and is reaching out for help.  <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Bob Wolfe looked quizzical 13 years ago, when his wife asked him to join her at a church open house. Attend a forum on refugees? On a Sunday morning?

Really?

“I didn’t want to go see refugee families,” Wolfe recalled. “I was relaxing, reading the Sunday paper.”

Wolfe went, and now 350 young refugees, by his count, have been helped by the 63-year-old Concord businessman, who has owned Above Water Plumbing and Heating for 35 years.

The kids affectionately call him Mr. Bob.

He’s a shuttle service, transporting kids with nightmarish backgrounds to youth sporting events all over the city. He’s a savings account, digging into his own pocket to buy sports equipment so the kids can play. And he’s a feeder system to school teams, giving the children an outlet of patience and learning and practice before they set their sights on Rundlett Middle School and Concord High School athletics.

“He was somewhat disinterested at first,” said his wife, Mary Ann, a retired

reading teacher. “But the church was near the apartment complex where we used to live, so he went to see that and went to our church. He was emotionally impacted, and he was hooked.”

Why? What happened the day his wife coaxed him to put the newspaper down?

Simple. Wolfe learned about life in Nepal and many African countries. He met a man from Sierra Leone, who told him about a 10-year-old boy whose legs had been cut off by rebel forces. The man showed Wolfe a photo of the boy, then told him he died 24 days later.

He heard about atrocities in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and Liberia and Sudan. He heard about children, boy soldiers, who acted as scouts, drawing fire onto themselves so forces behind them could pinpoint the enemy’s location.

He heard about children being forced to kill their parents, about kids living in trees and starving, about decapitations and rape.

“We’ve got to get these kids going,” Wolfe remembered thinking. “I knew I should set something up through sports.”

Easier said than done.

The logistics involved culture shock and language barriers and post-traumatic stress disorder that weighed heavily on grade-school kids coming, through Lutheran Social Services and the State Department, to Concord, Laconia and Nashua.

He has called refugee homes and heard parents say, “Yes, yes, yes,” in response to the information on sports teams he was providing, while in reality the parents had no idea what he was saying.

Through the years, the Nepalese children tended to arrive at a younger age, with fewer children per family and an earlier educational foundation from their homeland. The African refugees proved a bigger challenge. They spoke French or Swahili, they had larger families, they were shy, and they needed a common bond to integrate them into the community.

“The city was not prepared,” Wolfe said.

So, while continuing to do his plumbing and heating gig, Wolfe turned his vehicles into taxis. He currently uses his six-passenger Ford Explorer to drive kids to games and practices for soccer, basketball, tennis, baseball and softball. He also has access to a 14-person van.

He has joined forces with officials from youth sports programs, such as the Concord Parks and Recreation Department, the Concord Express Club and Fieldhouse Sports in Bow, opening their eyes to the needs of these kids.

He files information – names, addresses, phone numbers, practice and game schedules – on index card-shaped pieces of paper, stuffed into his front pocket.

Once, just a few years ago, Messanvi Aboussa of Togo was listed on a slip of paper. He would later captain the Concord High soccer team, a sure sign of leadership skills, built before he got to high school.

“I don’t know how he keeps them all straight,” said Laura Bryant, the assistant supervisor for parks and rec. “He goes above and beyond what you would imagine to get these kids involved. A lot of these kids come from awful situations, and they can’t adjust here, but they get involved with Bob, and they have a better chance of becoming part of the community.”

“If you call him and say you have this kid who wants to play soccer, he will instantly be at the house helping with registration and equipment and getting them to practice and tryouts,” added Jocelyn Eno, the educational liaison for Lutheran Social Services. “There’s a huge importance between social and academic integration. It’s impossible what he does, but he makes it possible for hundreds and hundreds of students to get what they need.”

How much longer can he go, working with just two other volunteer drivers, both retirees? Wolfe said the driver pool has always been scarce. He worries about the lack of a formal screening process to ensure that those who do offer their time are suited to the work.

And what about funding? Wolfe’s checkbook won’t remain open forever.

He recently raided Walmarts in Concord and Manchester, spending $1,000 for soccer shoes, shin guards and socks. He said he’s spent more than $50,000 during his 13 years of volunteering.

Mary Ann is part of the team, too, having brought Wolfe’s kids to the library, chosen books for them, gotten them library cards.

But the couple’s role, the passion and time involved, means sacrifices. Like the time Wolfe brought 20 refugees to his home on Halloween. He helped them with their costumes, but lost time trick-or-treating with his grandchildren.

And then there were the times when Mary Ann pulled into their driveway after work, only to watch her husband pulling out to go give someone a ride.

“I’d wave to him when I got home,” Mary Ann said.

And now, with her career behind her and Wolfe admitting he’s grown weary in recent years, money and time are tight.

“With a fixed income now, a major bill can throw a monkey wrench into this,” Mary Ann said. “We are strong on volunteering, but take away my salary and it’s harder to maintain.”

His shuttle service remains open. He brought four girls, ages 9 to 11, to Merrill Park this week for soccer practice. One girl’s parents hammered rocks for a living in Sudan, smashing them into gravel for sale. The other girls spoke of beatings with a stick in school if they couldn’t answer a question.

On this day, with blinding sunshine and a slight breeze, they played soccer.

“He’s the man,” said their soccer coach, Kirk Beitler. “Whenever I have a travel issue with the girls, I call Bob.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler
@cmonitor.com
or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

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