our youth profile

More Than Words young people are ages 16-24 and are system involved. They are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, out of school, parenting, or involved in the Department of Mental Health. Nearly all are low income and many identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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    are involved in the child welfare system

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    are court-involved in the juvenile or adult justice systems

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    experience homelessness

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    have dropped out of high school

youth stories

A youth from More than Words stands amidst rows of neatly arranged bookshelves in a serene library setting

Malichi, Graduated 2022

I had been involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and ended being removed from my house. I ended up homeless at 20 because even though I was still involved with DCF on a voluntary I was too old to be placed in foster care. When you’re homeless all you can focus on is where you’re going to sleep that night. Humans need, water, food and shelter at minimum to survive and if you’re missing one of those things, it’s almost impossible to function.
Luckily, I eventually ended up being able to stay with two of my friends who happened to be More Than Words graduates, so I applied. The job was actually pretty easy for me and part of that is that the systems really make sense. I understood how a book comes off the truck, is received into our inventory, ordered and shipped out. We as young people are part all these systems and understand them. I learned a lot of skills. Maybe it’s the energy I give off or the way I speak, but I started to notice that my voice actually has power. I noticed people listened to me which made me feel like I could lead and that I mattered.

The You Job, I didn’t know it could be a simple as help with opening a bank account or getting a debit card or getting your driver’s license. Those are simple things but they’re also life essentials, and they were paying us to get those things done. Something that I am most proud of is hosting a mayoral forum with other young people. At those events, the youth were the ones asking the questions and it felt powerful.

Since graduating I’ve been working at Ocean State Job Lot and I realized I’ve carried a lot of those leadership skills to this job. The new hires really look up to me and I feel confident showing them what to do. I find myself taking initiative which is something I learned at More Than Words.

I think about the connectivity between staff and young people. What really makes it different is the fact that they have follow-up support. That shows me that they actually care. To be honest, the time after graduating More Than Words can be a little challenging but it really helps to know that they are there to support you while you figure things out.

A man stands before a book rack, displaying an assortment of books meticulously arranged in an orderly fashion

Osman, Graduated 2013

Most of my childhood was in Syria and Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t an easy road. I came to the United States when I was 15, and as the oldest male, it was my responsibility to take care of my family in the new country. But I never had a role model, and soon, I started skipping school and making bad decisions. I got arrested a few times. I was young, intoxicated, and didn’t realize what big problems that would end up causing.

That’s when I learned about More Than Words. I was so happy to have a job. I still had bad behavior outside, but at work I was on point. They taught me how to be professional. They gave me a chance to be a leader with other youth on shift. It wasn’t just a bookstore; it was a home where I felt comfortable.
After I completed the program, they always kept in touch. I was going through a drug addiction and they helped me get into a detox. After two weeks, I came back clean.

I had a job, kept working, and kept myself on the road because I didn’t want to pull myself up again. But my mistakes as a youth followed me.
I had pled guilty for shoplifting at 19, and even though I had fulfilled all my obligations I was still going to be deported. That was when Jennifer at More Than Words started to work with me.

For years and years, we were going back and forth. Jennifer helped me with the emails with the lawyers. Having help pushed me even more. A lot of the time people with cases don’t have support and people give up on them. But we tried lawyer after lawyer until we found Kelly. We worked with District Attorney Rachel Rollins to appeal all the way to the Massachusetts Superior Court. They got the case dismissed, and I got citizenship.

Now, I’ve been working as Head Chef at a North End restaurant for three years. This is just the beginning. I’m in school to finish my high school diploma. Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted, but now my mind is so clear. I didn’t come to the United States to underachieve. I came to be somebody.

A woman holding a USPS logo-adorned mail box

Ty, Graduated 2015

Growing up I struggled with housing and school, not because I wasn’t smart, but because of lack of support, lack of challenge, discrimination, or whatever. I felt like I was getting older without a plan. The jobs I worked didn’t care about my goals, and the schools I went to didn’t connect to my life.  I was trying to get back into high school, but I couldn’t enroll because I didn’t have an address.

Instead, they referred me to a social worker who referred me to More Than Words. At first my attitude was: More Than Words isn’t ready for ME! I thought I knew everything and had time to goof around. But Leanne, my Youth Development Manager, knew I could be more responsible. I would dodge her a lot and she would track me down and make me spit out whatever was going on. Sometimes you just need that person to tell you, even if you know, that you can do better. Leanne is someone in my life who I still dread to disappoint.

Being at More Than Words was the life-changing experience I was missing. I was acknowledged when I did good work or took initiative, and that helped me be a better leader. Amanda, my Education Manager, helped me get my diploma from Boston Day and Evening Academy. I graduated both high school and More Than Words in 2015! After graduation, I was good at finding part-time jobs, but I found that it was too easy for me to leave them as well. If I admit it, I still wasn’t fully stable and responsible. But at least I was working, and Leanne would STILL track me down! In 2019 I returned to More Than Words to work as a Maintenance and Facilities Manager—a part time role for alumni. Going back was a way to show my progress. It confirmed that I wanted more meaningful work experiences. From there, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps member with City Year.

Now, using my AmeriCorps education award, I’m enrolled as a full-time student at Southern New Hampshire University. I love learning and education. I’m also working full-time at a hospital, and I’ve been stable and living in my own place for a year. It’s tricky remembering to pay bills, but I have to OWN my responsibility. I’ve knocked down the fear of doing it for myself.

An adult female is standing on a bench with a child standing next to her. She is holding a microphone in one hand and a paper in the other

Shakye, Graduated 2021

I am Shakye. I am more than the stereotypes about a young mom. I am a superhero for my daughter. I am ambitious. I am a young politician in the making! I am a pharmacist technician in the making.

I remember when I first realized COVID was not a joke. I wish it was. I was in high school. I was scared. I had to stop working shifts at MTW. I still needed to provide for my daughter. I remember adapting to workshops online. I was asked what I needed. Then MTW was at my door. With food, financial support, christmas gifts. And then within just a few months, while the rest of the world stayed closed, MTW made sure youth could be back on site. MTW hasn’t missed a beat in being there for me… even in new and better ways.

A youth from More than Words, engrossed in browsing a well-stocked bookstore, amid neatly arranged shelves filled with books

Toni, Graduated 2018

My mom passed away when I was five. My dad’s house was NOT a healthy environment, including that my dad was abusive and took issue with me being gay. I struggled with substance abuse and got arrested. The Department of Children and Families finally removed me at age fourteen, but I moved around to a lot of placements.

It was when I came to Waltham that I learned about More Than Words from a housemate. She asked me if I needed a job. Little did I know she probably wanted the referral bonus! When I first started at More Than Words it was just a job, but it quickly became more like a family. I learned skills like interpreting business metrics, networking, and doing my taxes. One really important lesson was how to shut my mouth when I didn’t get along with my peers. I started out getting a lot of warnings!

As I earned a promotion and got increasing responsibility, I even learned how to give my peers the chance to take initiative. More Than Words helped me come to terms with my past, search for jobs, find housing, and look at colleges. As a graduate, I got a job, finished high school, and took classes at Bunker Hill Community College.

I’m now attending Salem State University, studying social work! I hate to imagine someone my age or younger going through what I did, losing their childhood. I want to change the system before that happens to them, too.