New 'parents,' big family at ABC house

Brian and Sally O'Rourke made the move from Vermont down to Andover in mid-August with their two children, Tiernen, 10, and Dierdre, 4. Already, they feel right at home at the A Better Chance house on Main Street -- where they are parents, of sorts, to 10 more children.
"It's like having a really big family," said Sally O'Rourke, co-resident director of Andover's ABC program with her husband. "The biggest difference for us is the all-girls (aspect). We get to eat dinner all together. It's much more of a community and a family thing."

The O'Rourkes now live with 10 female Andover High School students, minorities originally from educationally disadvantaged schools who moved to town for a better education as part of the A Better Chance program, currently in its 30th year.
The O'Rourkes have nearly two decades of residence life experience between them. ABC program resident directors receive free housing but are not paid for the position.

Sally O'Rourke, an AHS councilor from 2001 to 2006, will return to the school in October, when a staff member goes on maternity leave, according to Principal Peter Anderson.
Having a councilor in the role as mentor, academic adviser and mother away from home to the 10 ABC students should be a good fit, Anderson said, noting there are nearly a dozen different roles that the resident director job entails.
"I think they have some knowledge pieces that I don't think others have," said Anderson of councilors. "You have to be able to wear a whole bunch of hats. You need to be pretty even-tempered. You need to be flexible."
With experience as a resident director at Tufts University for three years, O'Rourke said she and her husband were eager to get started at the ABC house. Brian O'Rourke has also served as the dean of resident life at a boarding school.
"It's great; we're loving it," said Sally O'Rourke. "We've had a lot of residential experience between the two of us. But they've (the ABC girls) truly been the best so far, right off the bat. The girls have been wonderful."

Trips to the beach, musical theater and a ropes course have only added to the family feel at the ABC house, O'Rourke said. The students are also very involved with the O'Rourke children, she said.
"Tiernan has taken right to it," said O'Rourke of the ABC students and her son. "The next thing I know they're out throwing the football with him. It's nice, because a lot of them do have (younger) siblings."
Aixa de Kelley, the guidance program adviser at Andover High School, believes Sally O'Rourke is ideal for the role as ABC resident director. After visiting the house for dinner recently after a day of work at the high school, de Kelley was impressed with O'Rourke's energy and engagement with the students.

"After a long day at work with high school kids I'm thinking, 'Oh goodness,'" said de Kelley. "She sees it as a fun role. ... Sally is a very motivated person and she loves working with kids. She's is perfect for the position. She has great listening skills and she really knows how to put herself in the position of the girl and see it from their perspective."

The O'Rourkes are taking over for Andover High School teacher Stephanie Ragucci, who served as resident director at the ABC house for three years, according to Anderson.
"I know Stephanie was held in high regard over there," said Anderson.
O'Rourke said she is surprised with how involved the Andover community is with supporting the ABC students, as people host them for weekends and provide rides to after-school activities.
"It's an amazing amount of coordination between a lot of people in town that support these girls," said O'Rourke. "I didn't quite know how involved the Andover community was with supporting the house."
That teamwork also exists within the house too, she said.
"They really work together," said O'Rourke. "They're really great models for my kids."