SERV: More Than Words

This is the first installment of a monthly spotlight on volunteering opportunities in the Boston area. We’ll share the stories of organizations as well as how you can get involved! Feel free to email david.zhu@students.olin.edu for your thoughts and feedback to help me continually improve this segment.

About

If you want to empower disadvantaged youth through real-world skills such as business and interview training, More Than Words (MTW) is the perfect place to help. The organization helps youth “who are in foster care, court involved, homeless or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business.” More Than Words does this by creating a chain of bookstores that sell donated books. More importantly, the bookstore is completely run by the at-risk teens enrolled in the program. Organizers, staff, and other volunteers help and train these young adults with the entrepreneurial and people skills that they need to succeed once they graduate from the program.

Impact

More Than Words accepts at-risk adolescents who are 16-21 years-old who have “compounding risk factors and are in need of an empowering life experience” to help them rise above their current situation.

84% have recent or current involvement with the foster care system.

54% have recent or current court involvement.

~80% do not have their GED and are either not pursuing or struggling in school.

More Than Words proactively collects data to track its program’s effectiveness. 83% of MTW graduates have received or plan to receive their GED/diploma, compared to the 18% who had a GED/diploma before participating in the program. Also, 34% of graduates have enrolled in postsecondary education compared to 5% prior (illustrated in the graph below). Similarly, work-school engagement rises to 83% from 5% before the program (see the graph on the facing page). “While approximately 50% of youth come to MTW with court-involvement, this number drops to 28% when they leave the program and continues to drop to 10% within 24 months after the core program.”

Francis, a veteran of MTW, writes: “Before I came to MTW, I was getting in a lot of trouble, became court involved, and wasn’t going to school. While I was at MTW, I really enjoyed getting work experience. I learned how to give excellent customer service and how to be professional, and got my GED. I really appreciated all of the love at More Than Words. They helped me get the things I needed in life and helped me stay on track. When I transitioned, I got an internship at a hotel and now I just got a job at Bentley College. I’m working hard on my education. Education is very important to me now because I know that having an education can take you far in life.”

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History

Jodi Rosenbaum started More Than Words “after a friend saw a pile of books on the side of the road.” Jodi states: “We realized those books were worth money and a hands-on way to empower youth with real-world skills… I am particularly passionate about adolescents who are system-involved and typically seen as liabilities rather than assets. For over 15 years I have worked in the public schools, juvenile courts, and nonprofit sector and have seen so many kids fall through the cracks despite good intentions. I think too often our efforts to help focus too much on trying to fix problems or remediate. That’s what has ignited my passion. I see youths with skills and untapped potential. It is exciting to be part of a model that focuses on how to empower a spark, a hope, and that gives an opportunity for youth to do it for themselves” [1].

Do Something

All in all, More Than Words is a great social venture where you can directly help up-and-coming adults with relevant skills so that they can also become contributors to society. There are various options to participate. For a one-time thing, you can assist as a mock interviewer and give feedback to the program members to improve their interview skills. You can also run a small workshop! (Think about some really helpful things you’ve learned while at Olin.) Finally, you can get involved on a weekly or monthly basis, working with the youth managing the store or being an educational coach.

If you are interested in volunteering at MTW, let’s come together and help out as a team. SERV will connect you with other Oliners who also want to participate. Find out more about More Than Words at www.mtwyouth.org, check out the upcoming carpe, and/or talk about it during our daily tabling sessions!

Citations
[1] http://www.jewishboston.com/Molly-Parr/blogs/3857-four-questions-with-jodi-rosenbaum-executive-director-of-more-than-words
[2] https://www.mtwyouth.org/