This is the third in a series of guest posts researched and written by five summer interns with the DPH Youth Violence Prevention Program. Their names are (l to r) Sanjay Raju, Lisandra Carranza, Amy Nwaobasi, Joseph Fox, and Imani Cosby.
When first walking into the More Than Words bookstore in Waltham, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary. The shop has everything you would expect in a bookseller: a wide selection of titles shelved by genre, a few comfy chairs to relax in, even a cute little café on the side. What you might not guess right away is that the store is almost entirely run by teenagers.
It’s all part of an innovative community-based youth development program for teenagers who are in foster care, court-involved, homeless or out of school. The goal of the More Than Words program is to teach young people age 16-21 how to run a business and gain work experience for the future. Participants manage everything in the More Than Words store – the bookshop, the café, and even the online business.
And that’s not all that makes the bookstore so unique. All the books for sale in the store have been donated from within the community; and any books that don’t sell are in turn donated to young people in developing countries. It’s a true community partnership.
Along with their day-to-day responsibilities in the bookstore, these young adults are also required to have what they call a “YOU” job. This “YOU” job requires each worker to set expectations and goals for themselves that they wish to accomplish, in their own words. It’s a different answer, for every person. For Jill, one employee of More than Words, it’s to stay on track to graduate from high school on time. Another employee, Amanda, wants to graduate high school and get her associate’s degree. It’s in this way that More Than Words teaches teens to take charge of their own lives.
The program starts off with a one-month training period. It’s pretty intense – the participants cannot miss any days of training or they’re removed from the program. After they’ve completed training, they become associates and are given a job. The youth work up to 30 hours a week, 2-3 days a week. Every week, they make individual “smart goals” for things that they wish to accomplish by the end of the week. As time goes on, there’s even a track for advancement, into different positions such as a partner, senior partner, veteran, and alumni.
And that’s not all. More than Words is not just about work skills – it’s also about education. Thanks to partnerships with Bentley University and Brandies University, tutors and education coaches help the youth acquire a GED or their high school diploma. As a result, 85% of of More Than Words employees achieve this vitally important educational goal.
More than Words has come very far since the start of the program in 2005. They are now expanding to a new location in Boston. Recently, they won the Young Civic Leaders award for making a difference in their community. In addition, the members who have participated in the program have found it easier to get other jobs and go to school. The program helps youth develop work skills, get an education, and realize the importance of setting and achieving goals – all part of making a successful transition into adulthood.
This program receives funding through Child and Youth Violence Prevention grants from the DPH Child and Youth Prevention unit.