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/

A Survey on Service at Olin

This month we asked the student body a few questions to understand how service is currently being pursued at Olin. (All good design comes from good research!) We would like to share with you some of our findings and also how we can proceed as a community doing service.
Some quantitative questions we asked were:
Do you have an individual service project you are currently doing? If yes, what is the service activity called? If not, what are some areas of opportunities you may be interested in volunteering in? If you have a specific service activity in mind, what is the name?

We were happy to receive 66 responses to the survey. The distribution of people who currently identify themselves as service participators is shown Figure 1 to the right.

fs-mar_service1According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the college student volunteering rate across the country lies at 30.5% and is 30.7% in Massachusetts. Nationally, the median annual volunteering hours per college student is 40 hours, and “44.1% of college student volunteers engage in ‘regular’ volunteering (volunteering 12 or more weeks a year with their main organization)” [1]. This demonstrates that we, as a college, have a lot of room for improvement!

The results from our survey show that 82% of people who are interested in doing service are not actually engaging in it, suggesting that service opportunities are not easily accessible for students at Olin. We want to improve to follow the fifth founding precept from the Franklin W. Olin foundation: “The college, itself, the product of philanthropy, should find ways to contribute to its community and beyond… Policies must be maintained that support these outcomes.”

For those of us who are currently participating in service, the activities that we currently do include (but are not limited to): Edisco, HonorBoard, JFK Elementary School, Food Recovery Network, Math League, therapeutic riding, Brigham and Women’s hospital, regularly donating blood, and being a peer advocate. (Email us at SERV@olin.edu to let us know of a service you do that we missed!)

For Oliners who are currently not sure how to volunteer, the graph in Figure 2 demonstrates interest in the following sectors. fs-mar_service2Among these results, there were also other interests, including: professional applications of my engineering abilities, retirement homes/hospice, robotics, social justice, sporting events, youth art centers, and any other under-served group.

So now knowing what we can improve on and also what we are interested in, how should we move forward? Last month, Service Pursuits were introduced to help students get assistance and funding to participate in any service activity they are interested in. As we brought this new opportunity to the student body, we realized that many people loved the freedom and support that they now have. However, many of us don’t know where to start.
It takes time for us to find the right service we want to pursue, and with our busy lifestyles, finding service may quickly become marginalized. So to make this process even simpler, here are some strategies.

SERV members will be tabling every week from Monday to Thursday – come talk to us if you have any interest in trying a service pursuit! Not only do we process your requests, we are also here to help you form them.
Talk with friends and see what kind of service they are participating / want to participate in! We can help each other find opportunities that really engages us.

Expect to see some more informative documents/emails in the next few weeks. We are currently in the process of taking our research and creating a simple experience for everyone to find the service that matches their interests.
Give us feedback! Honesty is the most important aspect of this whole process, and without your thoughts and opinions, we can’t become the best service community that we aspire to be. Come talk with us in the dining hall or anytime, or email us at SERV@olin.edu.

I’m excited to see the next chapter of our service story at Olin, and I hope you are too!

Citations
[1] http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/06_1016_RPD_college_full.pdf
[2] http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/rankings/States/College-Student-Volunteer-Rates/2013

Candid Interview with Rae-Anne Butera

As the newest interviewers for Frankly Speaking, we decided to team up for our first interview with new Dean of Student Life Rae-Anne Butera. Mike Maloney guided us professionally at times, and we had a fantastic time with Rae-Anne in her welcoming office.

Always fond of students and higher education, Rae-Anne was previously the Associate Dean of Students and Director of the First Year Experience at Smith College, where she made numerous contributions to improve student life. She believes in a continuum of learning that incorporates the entire college experience, both inside and outside the classroom. Rae-Anne is also currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education from UMass Amherst.

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