Archives For August 2012

Gaining an opportunity beyond words


Anyone who has curled up with a good book this summer knows that reading can be the ultimate pleasure.

Books in fact can sometimes be transcendent, though not usually in the way they are at More Than Words Bookstore in Waltham, Mass.

Like many other bookstores, visitors can peruse the stacks while sipping a tasty beverage.  Yet, there is so much more here than meets the eye.

All of the employees are youth in the Massachusetts foster care system. Working at the bookstore becomes the starting point on their journey toward taking charge of their own lives. They acquire hard skills like knowing how to use different computer applications and doing store inventory, as well as soft skills like how to relate to customers and send professional emails.

“While we’re teaching them all of these employability skills, what we’re really doing is giving them the sense that they matter – that they’re part of something,” said executive director Jodi Rosenbaum when I interviewed her in 2011.

They work 20-30 hours a week handling all aspects of running the store. This includes tracking financial information, doing publicity, planning and hosting author events and open-mic nights, running weekly team meetings, and training new workers. They also work to overcome whatever barriers in their lives might be preventing them from taking full advantage of the skills they are acquiring. Each is assigned a case manager who assists with such things as getting a bank account or personal ID card, helps them to get back in school or to stay in school, counsels them about what types of work they might want to do after leaving the program, and informs them of job leads.

Consider the incredible gains these kids make.

  • *82% have attained or are on course to get their GED.
  • *75% are working full-time or going to college.
  • *90% have improved their self-efficacy, which the organization tracks based on goal setting, effort, persistence, and recovery from setbacks.

Rosenbaum explained the simple reason why the model succeeds: “Work is an incredibly rehabilitative and restorative thing. To get up and have something purposeful to do, to get up where you have things that you’re immediately able to meet with success. When you learn to do things your whole self-confidence changes and so by design they meet with success when they start here and it might be little success like learning how to sort fiction from non-fiction or learning how to use a scanner gun and scan books.”

The dignity of having a roof above

There is no greater affront to the American dream than not having a place to call home.

Since 1984 Shared Housing Center has offered solutions to people in Dallas experiencing the indignities of homelessness.  Whether they are single parents with children, those with special needs, or the elderly, the organization offers both transitional and permanent housing as well as services that enable recipients to become more independent.

It offers two types of programs:

*Homeshare — People in need of affordable, shared living arrangements are paired with people who own their housing but who require companionship, special services, or rental income to remain there.  Learn more.

*Transitional housing — This program offers housing for 12-18 months to homeless single parents with young children as well as older adults.  Residents also receive case management, mental health counseling and children’s programs. Learn more.

Want to get involved?  Consider becoming a volunteer or making a donation?

Creating opportunity, one house at a time


They are building it, so will you come and join in their efforts?

The “they” are high school dropouts.   What they are building is homes in the very communities where they live.  The organization behind this terrific work is YouthBuild.  It is addressing two critical issues simultaneously:  the dropout crisis among low-income youth and the lack of access to affordable housing.

Whereas YouthBuild started small in East Harlem in 1978, it now assists low-income young people all across the United States and in several other countries around the world.  Yet, its effectiveness in fighting poverty is now in peril.  The organization relies heavily on government funding, which took a 37 percent cut last year and may be slashed further in upcoming rounds of cost-cutting budgetary negotiations.

Therefore, cultivating private sources of support is critical.  Amazingly, the organization currently only has about 300 individual donors.  These are the people so crucially needed to advocate for continued government funding  since monies from the government and foundations may not be used for this purpose.

A recent study highlighting the significant number of YouthBuild graduates who go on to become leaders in their careers and communities illustrates that this organization is a proven success!

Consider making a donation so that the thousands of young people currently turned away from YouthBuild programs due to lack of funds can get this tremendous opportunity.

Raising kids for success


When she worked several years ago in the child welfare system, Saskia Epstein’s job was to provide services to kids who, in her words, had “fallen off a cliff.”  They experienced emotional problems, were disengaged from school, and came from dysfunctional families.

More recently, as executive director of the Boston office of Room to Grow, her goal was instead to “build fences” so that kids will not ever get close to the edge of a cliff.

The key is to intervene as early as possible. A 2009 study by the nonpartisan research center Child Trends points to staggering gaps in babies’ development that are related to family income and which are apparent within the first year of life.  Room to Grow consequently strives to enrich the lives of babies born into low-income families.  From the time expecting mothers learn about the organization during their third trimester, the focus is on promoting the baby’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development and enabling parents to gain the skills and confidence they need to successfully nurture their kids throughout childhood.

Every three months until the child turns 3, parents meet with a social worker who answers questions and provides child-rearing tips as well as offers clothes, toys, books, and other material supports.  The social worker also makes referrals – to other child enrichment programs like Early Head Start or to places that can provide services to alleviate problems such as unemployment, homelessness, or domestic abuse that can severely impact parents’ capacity to do their job properly.

Supporting enrichment from birth for kids whose development will otherwise be scarred by the effects of poverty is one of the best investments we can make.  Every dollar spent to help low-income kids avert what psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley call ”the early catastrophe” can save as much as $13 in the future.  These investments reduce the chance that a child will someday become pregnant, drop out of school, abuse drugs, or go to prison; they simultaneously increase the likelihood that this person will become a productive contributor to society.  Not making these investments will, according to University of Chicago economist and Nobel Prize recipient James Heckman, have disastrous impacts on our country’s economic productivity since so many people will not become productive contributors to the workforce.  Investing in early childhood, plain and simple, makes good sense.


*Donate baby items
*Become a volunteer
*Make a contribution