More Than Words
More Than Words (MTW) empowers youth in the foster care system, homeless, court involved, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. MTW began as an online bookselling training program in 2004 and has grown into a vibrant online and retail book business, café and community space that serves as vehicle for youth to equip themselves with the skills they need for a successful transition to adulthood. In addition to their business job overseeing the store, online and café operations at MTW, youth have a second equally important job called the "YOU" job, which is very deliberate personal transition planning and case management to support youth to move on to meaningful jobs and college.
MTW has developed an innovative approach for youth development and job training for the most marginalized youth and is shifting perceptions about their potential. Through MTW, youth learn to be responsible for the entire operation of their own online and retail bookselling business and café. The model is youth-driven, starting with the application process. Experienced members of the MTW youth team interview all applicants, who are referred by their social worker, probation officer, or school counselor. Once accepted, youth have two jobs—their BUSINESS job and their YOU job.
THE BUSINESS JOB: MTW youth work as part of a team managing their bookstore 20–30 hours per week, and are integrated into all aspects of the business. Youth facilitate peer-led trainings and weekly team meetings, track and forecast the financials for the business, manage sales—both online and in the store and café, guide tours, plan and host monthly open-mic events and community workshops, and manage marketing and promotions. Youth continually expand their interpersonal and customer service skills through interactions with customers in the store and cafe. Through the BUSINESS job, youth learn marketable and transferable job skills, including public speaking, technology, inventory management, as well as critical professional skills such as showing up on time and working as a team.
THE "YOU" JOB: Youth have a second equally important job called the "YOU" job—deliberate personal transition planning and case management to ensure they have all life essentials in place and move on to meaningful jobs and college. For many MTW youth, the YOU job helps them achieve basic personal milestones such as obtaining an ID, opening a bank account, and finding housing. Youth also access exposure to potential jobs and college through regular site visits and shadow days with community partners including hotels, banks, and universities. By tackling personal barriers in their lives and gaining exposure to new opportunities, youth are able to craft their own action plans with concrete steps for pursuing education and future employment.
Youth participate in the MTW intensive training program for six to twelve months, during which time they work 2-3 business shifts, 1 transitions shift, and a Team Meeting shift per week, totaling between 20-30 hours of intensive programming per week. Youth are also engaged to attend 1-2 monthly site visits to further their exploration and understanding of opportunities available in education and employment beyond MTW. During their time with MTW, youth are expected to progress through three different levels of promotion: starting as an Associate, which is primarily adult led and provides the basic job knowledge and experience for the businesses; Partner, which is joint led between the youth and adult staff, and allows youth to work the café, train others and be shift leader, and Senior Partner, a primarily youth led experience focused on helping to manage a segment of the businesses along with formalizing transition plans beyond MTW. Upon transitioning from the store-based services, MTW provides community-based case management and support services for youth for a full 2 years to ensure their success in achieving self-efficacy and either another job or going to college.