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Faber staff members recently spent a day of service empowering young adults to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise that serves youth aged 15 to 24 who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school. Through their bookselling enterprise, participants manage a retail business while also learning valuable life skills and gaining critical work experience.
“We were trying to find something local,” said Patricia Wolfe, Office Coordinator and Senior Administrative Assistant at Faber and coordinator of the Day of Service. “More than Words is based in Waltham, with a second location in Boston as well. We wanted a program that was relatively small where our efforts could do the most good.”
Wolfe found the organization through an internet search, but quickly learned that a couple of Faber employees had previously volunteered with them. “I figured it was the right place since our employees found it to be an interesting and worthwhile place to spend their personal time.”
The More Than Words model includes three phases. In the Business Job phase, participants manage the online, retail, pop-up and wholesale bookselling businesses. Their duties include daily pickups throughout the community, sourcing over three million donated books annually, and managing an event space. They also facilitate peer-led trainings and weekly team meetings. Through the Business job phase, these young people learn marketable and transferable job skills, including customer service, technology, and inventory management. They also gain critical professional skills that will last them a lifetime, such as punctuality and teamwork.
The second phase of the model is the YOU Job, which helps participants set and achieve measurable objectives in education, work, and life. This paid opportunity focuses on such personal goals as obtaining an ID, opening a bank account, and finding housing. Youth also make site visits to businesses, trade schools, and universities, participating in hands-on workshops, mock interviews, and education coaching with Youth Development Managers.
The model’s third phase is the Career Services Program. After 6-12 months of working in their Business and YOU jobs, participants graduate and receive at least two years of proactive support in the Career Services Program while they apply the skills and knowledge they learned throughout the program. They receive individualized case management support, along with assistance in career exploration, college applications, FAFSA completion, resume and cover letter writing and interviewing skills. More than Words graduates go on college visits, attend networking events, and receive coaching to reach their personal goals.
About 10 Faber volunteers helped participants in the Business Job phase. “We sorted, scanned and helped get shipments ready,” explained Wolfe. “We helped them sort approximately 2,700 books, which exceeded their daily goal.”
They also helped participants with their interpersonal skills. “Each of the kids have personal interaction goals. They took us on a tour of the facility, and we had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one conversations with them. They all had probing questions to ask us as conversation starters.”
More Than Words tracks graduate outcomes for up to five years post-program. “We can tell you: work really does work,” states the organization’s website. “Graduates of More Than Words pursue education and secure and keep employment at rates that far exceed their peers: 94% of our youth and graduates have or are on track to earn a High School Diploma or equivalent, and 82% are working. We’re proud of these hard-earned accomplishments and each and every young person who works with us to take charge of their lives.”
Chris is one graduate who went from youth lockup to a successful career. A 2015 graduate of the program, he was referred to More Than Words by the Department of Youth Services.
“More Than Words was better than I expected—I expected a normal job, but here we were able to work on ourselves. My business job taught me that I’m a hard worker, and I’m capable of being a leader. My YOU job helped me maintain good standing in college, overcome tough parts of my personality—like difficulty talking to co-workers—and to let go of small things.”
Chris said that the organization taught him to advocate for himself, while remaining positive and handling stressful situations. “Now, I’m working at Logan Airport, and More Than Words is still checking in with me. I’m in my second year at Bunker Hill Community College—studying computer science. More Than Words held me to a high standard while giving me a second chance.”
Dayja is another graduate with an inspirational success story. After years of homelessness and uncertainty, she was introduced to More Than Words. “The stress kept me from being my best in school and at work, and I felt stuck. I was thinking about college but didn’t know how to get there.” Dayja said the You Program was the biggest challenge for her. “I didn’t want to talk about myself, but I knew I had to in order to move forward. The staff was patient with me and gave me a lot of chances. I also learned about college applications: the ins and outs of financial aid, loans and interviews.”
Graduating from the program in 2015, Dayja attends Roxbury Community College. She plans to transfer to a nursing school with hopes of becoming a midwife. “I’m stronger, more levelheaded and able to endure even the toughest of challenges. No matter what comes toward me in the future, I know I’ll get through it.”
Working with the young adults proved extremely rewarding for the Faber volunteers. “We would all love to go back as a group and even individually,” said Wolfe. “With more than 55,000 books on hand, More Than Words is a really big enterprise for these young people. It’s an amazing facility all run by kids in the program. Kudos to them for keeping it going as long as they have.”
To learn more about More Than Words and volunteer opportunities, visit their website at https://mtwyouth.org/.