More Than Words ~ Well-Named Quasi-Social Enterprise Serving Teens

Just as I researched Cradles to Crayons before choosing them for last month’s DeClutter For Good Weekend, I checked out the organization that Time Well Spent will be gathering donations on behalf of this month.  AND, just as I was impressed with the Cradles to Crayons business model and results, so too was I impressed by this month’s organization we will “DeClutter For Good” in support of. The name of the organization is appropriately More Than Words

More Than Words logo

The More Than Words name and original logo were created by teens originally involved in the organization. The logo has since been updated to incorporate a greater than symbol, but the name and mission remain the same.

More Than Words is a non-profit but operates as a hybrid of sorts, raising a portion of their operating funding through sales of used books online and at their brick-and-mortar bookstore (and recently-added coffee stop) on Moody Street in Waltham, a large suburb north of Boston. The selling of used books is the means to the end. The true purpose lies in empowering at-risk teens with business and life skills and, I would add, in gaining a level of self-respect and self-confidence that the teens achieve through their experience at More Than Words.

I visited More Than Words last week and am so glad I did. It was certainly time well spent! Read on for all the details…

I was so fortunate and grateful to have met with the founder of More Than Words who scheduled time out of her busy day to visit with me. Her name is Jodi Rosenbaum Tillinger and she was as lovely and approachable and grounded as she was dedicated to the stewardship of her cause. Jodi fulfills her role of Founder/Director in a way that honors her vision and allows for organic growth of the program in response to the will and the needs of the community of deserving at-risk teens that More Than Words both employs and serves.  I found Jodi’s efforts and attitudes inspiring. Here’s a brief quote from an article about Jodi and More Than Words:

Jodi Rosenbaum is the founder and director of More than Words (MTW), a nonprofit empowering youth to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. Rosenbaum piloted the online bookselling venture in 2004 and has grown the enterprise to include a storefront and online bookstore, café training program, and intensive case management services and is developing plans for replication. (You may click on the link to read the entire article)

I was impressed by everything I saw, and felt, at More Than Words ~ the clean and well-organized book store space, the basement processing and inventory system (the computer application for which they are currently upgrading), the wonderful way the small but dedicated staff provides guidance and goal-setting that goes beyond business skills to life skills, and the safe community that has evolved because of  the founder’s willingness to let More Than Words grow in a way that reflected the teens’ vision of what it could be. I really had the sense of what a special place More Than Words is and was privileged to have been given a tour by one of the teens employed at More Than Words and offered a cup of tea by another, two absolute gentlemen honing their social skills quite successfully. My children could learn from their example, I have no doubt!

During my visit, Jodi described her pleasant surprise with the realization that More Than Words is changing attitudes in the community toward these teens who have already faced challenges in their young lives and deserve every chance to set and work toward goals for a positive future as a contributing member of the community.  Just as More Than Words is causing a ripple of change in attitude, so too do I envision Time Well Spent contributing to a shift in attitudes and action regarding social and environmental choices and opportunities in the suburbs.

As evidenced in the following excerpt from an article in thejusticeonline.com, as the name indicates the purpose of More Than Words goes far beyond the sale of used books:

Youth empowerment has been the bookstore’s theme from day one. Employees named the store, they interview and train applicants, and agree that they feel at home there.

“This is their house. This is their store,” Rosenbaum says. While an “adult” is always present during the store’s hours (either Rosenbaum, Gordon or volunteers), Rosenbaum calls this person “back-up.” Employees shelve books in their sections with ease and approach customers to explain items and answer questions with confidence.

When I first enter the store, I am greeted proudly by the employee behind the counter, “Hi, Welcome to More Than Words.”

The youth move up through “pods,” or positions at the store, starting out as an associate, moving up to partner, manager and then alumni after they’ve left the store. As associates, they make $7.50 an hour, $7.75 as partners and $9.25 as managers, gaining new responsibilities as they progress. … Inspiring quotes by figures like Muhammad Ali, T.S. Elliot and the youth sprinkle the walls and ceiling.

The store’s laidback, artsy atmosphere is balanced by the focused, serious nature of the employees’ job training and transitions planning. “We help them dream. We help them think through goals too,” Rosenbaum says of the balance.

Gordon, the lone, full-time transitions manager, who is currently working with around 60 youths, says her goal is for her clients not to wind up at entry-level positions “when they can do more.” Her frequent “action meetings” with each employee touch on housing, education prospects, health coverage, skills development, career interests, public speaking and professional e-mailing. ( Interested readers can read the entire article by clicking on this link )

I encourage you to visit More Than Words’ online website for some links and photos now and I’ll update the link when their new internet system for online sales is up and running.


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