Experiencing Returns on Community Investments

Teen Leadership Program alumnaeAs 2014 began, many news reports heralded the year-ending 25%-plus return on investment from the stock market. While I was certainly glad my retirement and my children’s college savings funds benefited from this, I was privileged to witness an even more profound return on investment when I recently shared dinner with a gathering of Wyman Teen Leadership Program alumnae.

The twenty-one young adults had gathered to reminisce, laugh, share, and dine together.  Over the course of dinner, we shared in their journeys through college and even graduate school, their stories of persistence in spite of obstacles, their jobs and job searches, and their service to our country through the military. What struck me the most, however, was the recurring commitment and passion around service to others. One alum was getting ready to do a winter break service trip to New Orleans, still providing relief after Hurricane Karina.  She had already provided support after Hurricane Sandy. Another alum is applying for Teach for America after college graduation, while a third is a Golden Apple Scholar in Illinois, dedicated to becoming a middle school math teacher for struggling schools. A fourth alum was selected to participate in a national leadership program in Washington DC that now has him linked to local and state policy efforts in Missouri. A fifth passionately continues to advance her career and studies in work with children and youth, as well as her poetry as a means of expression and sharing. And the list goes on and on.

Since 2002, our community of individuals, corporations, foundations, and local United Way have invested in these young people through Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program. Throughout their teen years, these young people had supportive and caring adult relationships, opportunities to lead themselves and others, a sense of belonging with a positive peer group, a focus on their future and their abilities, challenging learning experiences, and opportunities to give back in service to their community. And in return, they showed us what can happen. While their successes are each their own, they remind us that when communities make intentional, consistent investments in the growth and development of children and teens, good things happen. That is a return on investment we at Wyman are committed to pursuing.

How to Navigate the FAFSA

DeathtoStock_Wired2We’re a week into January, which means it’s the perfect time for college-bound high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a great way for students to gain access to funding for their education. Before the stressors of this school semester begin, use the slower period (and snow days!) in January to gather the information you will need to fill out the application. Also, be sure to review the following tips, insights and resources before submitting an application.

Early is best. The FAFSA for the 2014-2015 school year opened on January 1, 2014.  It’s vital that you submit an application as close to this date as possible because some federal and state aid will be distributed on a first come, first served basis. Remember to keep in mind the federal, state and college deadlines that could impact your application. For Missouri, the state deadline is April 1, but college deadlines will vary by institution.

No matter what your situation, fill one out. For most students, the FAFSA is the gateway to all money for college. A student is unable to receive any grants, work-study placements or loans without first filling out and submitting a FAFSA.

Beware of FAFSA scams. The most important thing to remember about the FAFSA is that it is free! No one needs to pay to submit an application or to receive help to complete one. In fact, most communities offer resources for families to use throughout the application process. The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis always offers FAFSA workshops and completion clinics to assist with their application. Review their calendar for a FAFSA help event that works best with your schedule. The Missouri Department of Higher Education also offers FAFSA frenzy sites throughout Missouri to help with FAFSA completion.

The previous year’s tax form still counts. Students can submit a FAFSA even if their family still needs to file their most recent taxes. Previous year’s tax forms are accepted on the application, however it’s very important that the FAFSA form is updated once the most recent year’s taxes are submitted. By submitting the FAFSA early and making changes to the tax information later, students are able to reserve their position in line for funding.

Have additional questions about filling out your FAFSA? Check out St. Louis Graduates for additional resources, review our past FAFSA-related articles or email your questions to info@wymancenter.org.

Giving the Gift of Presence

Blog by Grant Sneed. As a TOP® Specialist for Wyman, Grant is responsible for facilitating Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) at Normandy Middle School in St. Louis County.

“Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or trying to make up for his father’s mistakes.” – President Barack Obama.

It is the biggest holiday season of the year—school is paused, families are together and jingle bells are ringing in the air. As Christmas has been designated as the time for giving, I notice that there is one particular group that is usually left with few, if any, gifts under the tree: parents. Being a parent can sometimes be considered a thankless job, with the recipients of your hard work and sacrifice frequently wondering, “What have you done for me lately?”

This holiday season, my three children were engulfed in the “Christmas spirit” by creating wish lists and making sure I recognized their frequent good behavior. While focused on receiving, they never considered what they could give to anyone else. My wife and I used their behavior for a teachable moment, and taught them what the true “spirit of Christmas” entails. Through the lessons, I realized that I was giving my children an intangible and invaluable gift: my presence. Without realizing it, the gift that children really need and seek is time with their parents—especially their father. By giving them my time and attention, I have the opportunity to influence them and shape their futures. What a gift and a responsibility!

Thanks to my dad, I take this gift very seriously. I understand that I could never repay my father for all of the time, attention, and love he gave me. He possessed a wealth of knowledge and shared so much with me that I now repeat his words as though they are my own. I am a reflection of him and I strive each day to live up to the expectations he set for my life.

My experiences as a child and a father create a stark contrast to what I encounter in working with the students at Normandy Middle School. The majority of the students do not have a father to set expectations or impart knowledge. Instead, the teens are left making up for mistakes and missteps created by a father’s absence. In working with them, I often get overwhelmed by trying to meet their needs. Although I give them my best, my efforts can never compensate for the lack of fatherly presence in their daily lives.

A father’s role is an integral component to the success of a child, and with an ever-increasing rate of single-parent households (mostly single mothers), we need more positive male influences—especially within African-American communities. Currently, our president serves as a shining example for African-American youth. He overcame obstacles that plague communities like Normandy. While President Barack Obama overcame statistics and inspires communities with his story, more is needed to recapture the lives of young people who are currently on destructive paths.

Although I cannot single-handedly solve the issues that Normandy students face, I believe that a positive presence can produce future presidents. The influence of my father combined with my time as a parent and TOP® facilitator equips me to positively change the lives of the teens I daily encounter. Although I experience frustrating moments, my reward comes from knowing that my time spent produces increased influence. I give, receiving nothing more than a listening ear, and I take comfort in knowing that, as they listen, they will learn and grow. Although my talents may seem insufficient compared to their overwhelming needs, I will continue to offer the gift of my presence in hopes that one day I will see my students reaching goals and exceeding the expectations I have set.

“The World Will Be Changed by Those with Burning Patience”

Nearly 50 years ago, I was inspired to work for justice and opportunity for youth from disadvantaged circumstances by one young boy living in the infamous Pruitt-Igoe urban housing project in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the conditions that produced the plight of that child have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. It is true, our community is saving youth; but we’re still losing too many.

With the hindsight of a long career and the lens of working with other communities, I believe our historically fragmented, non-systemic, often competitive ways of working for youth, have kept us from achieving outcomes at scale.

At our recent Saigh Symposium on Teen Development, community members discussed how St. Louis could improve outcomes for youth through a process called “collective impact.” This conversation made me excited and hopeful for our future. There is a lot of positive energy, hunger and hope, from the grass tops to the grassroots, for a collective approach that incorporates bigger goals, better data, bolder actions, and broader partnerships. This as an opportunity to fundamentally change how we work together.

Saigh Symposium on Teen Development at Nine Network

At our Saigh Symposium on Teen Development at the Nine Network, community members gathered to discuss how St. Louis could improve outcomes for youth with a “collective impact” approach.

But, we must remember, it will take time to articulate a common community vision; build a master plan; and, establish the leadership and technical infrastructure for collective work. This will take several years and, even then, the first outcomes for youth will trail, starting 3 to 5 years out.

As Dr. Jean Walker of the United Way of Greater Atlanta told us at the Symposium, we must gird ourselves with “burning patience.” We must aggregate the collective moral authority, integrity, competence and capacity needed to work in this new way.  We’ll need to have confidence in the stability and longevity of commitments from community leadership and from those of us who work with and for youth. We need to think through how to establish capacity to continuously resource the effort.

Still, I believe we are capable. Pablo Casals once said the noblest work is to strive to make the world worthy of its children. We must remember that our young people are worth the time, the effort and the “burning patience.”

Dave Hilliard, President & CEO, Wyman Center
President of Wyman since 1975, Dave works with the Board of Trustees to define and achieve the agency vision, mission and strategic goals, which has resulted in establishing the agency as a recognized national expert in teen leadership and development.

Improving Outcomes for Youth in St. Louis

The 2013 Saigh Symposium on Teen Development built on our conversation from last year that introduced the idea of “collective impact” to improve the lives of young people through bigger goals, better data, bolder actions, and broader partnerships.

By bringing together a panel of professionals who are engaged in the collective impact process across the country, we offered an insider’s look into how a big picture approach to improving outcomes for youth could impact St. Louis.

Watch the full presentation and conversation in the video player, below, and follow along with this copy of the PowerPoint presentation.

To help us measure our success and continue to improve future conversations, please, take just 10 minutes to give us your honest feedback by completing our survey, if you attended or watched online.

To view photos from the event, visit our Facebook page.

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Presented by The Saigh Foundation in partnership with The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, Wyman’s annual Saigh Symposium fosters education and conversation on topics relevant to moving the field of youth development forward on behalf of teens in our community, region and across the country. The Saigh Symposium is part of the American Graduate Youth Impact Series, helping the St. Louis community support young people in high school graduation and future success. 

Nine Network of Public Media - St. Louis             The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis           American Graduate - Corporation for Public Broadcasting

 

Inspired by Youth: The Perks of Mentorship

Blog post by Bryan Capers, College and Community Program Manager for Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program.

Today was a special day! I was fortunate to meet a young man by the name of Jesse. Jesse is a 4th grader whose favorite subject is math, specifically, Geometry. He made this day special not because of his intrinsic motivation to go to school and achieve excellent grades—he is special because as a 4th grade student, he asks all of the right questions in preparing for his future and has a solid plan for achieving his dream!

Jesse attends Fairview Primary School in Jennings, Missouri, and it is his dream to become a basketball player. According to Jesse, he has “mad skills” and he can “take me.” I met Jesse at Fairview Primary School during the Special Friends Extended Mentor Program Fairview hosts annually. Jesse was my student aide. After talking to him for about 15 minutes, he escorted me to Mrs. Stewart’s 4th grade classroom where I was staged to speak to the class about volunteerism, community service, and careers. I walked into the classroom where Mrs. Stewart was in the middle of teaching a lesson on acrostic poetry and today’s topic was kindness. How fitting.

In keeping with the theme of kindness and staying true to character, I gave every 4th grader in the class a chance to introduce themselves and tell me something interesting about themselves before I began to speak. In the midst of my talk to the class, I revealed that I was from New York City and before I could continue, I had a hand go up. It was Jesse who had raised his hand, and I don’t think I was quite ready for what he was about to ask me. He asked me, “Did you get to see 9/11?” My initial thought was, “this is a 4th grader.” My second thought was, “wait, he is from St. Louis.” My third thought was, “wow, most adults would not have even thought to ask such a thought-provoking question—this kid is something else.”

We live in a society of political games and systems that we may never understand; however, Jesse reminded me that there is hope for our generations to come and that no matter the circumstances, be bold, brave, and inquisitive. You can have all of the intelligence in the world and still be just another player in the game — it takes just an ounce of courage to be a game changer. Jesse and his classmates are game changers and as an ode to his class, I decided to join them in the task of developing an acrostic poem on kindness.

Keeping in mind the bigger picture.

Immerse yourself in things that are beyond your own imagination.

Never give up on yourself—the moment you do, in that same moment you’ll be empty.

Dream big enough so that not only your dreams will become a reality but there is room enough for others to share that place and space.

Nourish yourself physically, emotionally, and socially.

Even if you could only touch the life of one individual, they still matter.

Strength comes from the belief in knowing nothing is impossible; never lose sight of that.

Simple, random acts of kindness can change trajectories of generations to come.

 

Bryan Capers, College and Community Program Manager for Wyman's Teen Leadership Program

 

Bryan believes that a single person holds in their hands the power to change a life, mind, or circumstance today. He currently serves as the College and Community Program Manager for Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program.

Maximizing the Impact of Community Service Learning

Guest post by Susan Philliber of Philliber Research Associates.

The original evaluation of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP) showed that the volunteer experience was a critical component in the program’s success—more important than the curriculum content.  Outcomes were most impressive when—

  • Young people did at least 20 hours of actual volunteer work;
  • They had a choice about their assignments, and
  • They perceived their work to be important.

Volunteer placements can be either group or individual experiences but when young people actually see and interact with the objects of their charity, the volunteer experience is more meaningful. Young people (like older ones) need to feel needed and like they have something to give others.  It must be, in other words, a moving, “spiritual” experience—not boring or busy work.

Over the years, TOP clubs around the country have employed various models to make this happen.  Here are some ideas:

Get a partner organization to help you find and implement placements for students.

TOP was originally owned by the Junior League in St. Louis and later by the national Junior League.  One or two members of a local League were assigned to TOP as their volunteer placement for the year.  In that capacity, they used their community contacts to find placements for students—3 at the hospital, 2 at the veterinarian’s office, 3 at the senior citizens residence and so on.  Children were given a list of potential placements at the first or second TOP session and they got to choose.  Sometimes the placements were switched during the year to give each child at least one of their preferred spots.  Community service learning (CSL) began right away and lasted all year, with students working at their sites at least once a week after school or on weekends.

This could be arranged with other organizations like the Lions Club or Rotary or with a local sorority or fraternity.  The help is free, consistent with what these civic groups normally do, and taps into a wealth of community connections.  Sometimes these adult partners can also arrange for bus passes or other transportation to a volunteer placement.

Honor and celebrate the contribution of your community partner at the end of the year, along with honoring the work your TOP students completed.

Arrange a series of group activities for students during the year. 

Contact local not-for-profits in your community and ask them if they can use your group on a project.  In Bradenton, FL, thousands of students are placed each year in such volunteer spots by a group called Manateens (the county is Manatee County). On a website set up for this purpose, agencies post their needs for volunteers and young people sign up.  These jobs can be for a day, or a weekend—short—but both the community and the TOP group benefit.  Young people also have choice with this system and they get variety.

Use student-led research to define community needs for volunteers.

One of the challenges in organizing meaningful volunteer experiences for young people is transporting them to and from their placements—whether they are group or individual.  In some communities, CSL begins with a Saturday of door-to-door research in the community around where TOP is held.  Young people do short surveys of local residents about things they may need or things they think young people could do in the community for its improvement.  Elderly residents often want gardening help, help with snow shoveling, help with painting, or cleaning. Maybe there is a vacant lot in the community that needs cleaning and landscaping (get the supplies donated).  In one dangerous neighborhood in San Diego, elderly women were afraid to go to the grocery store by themselves and so the young men of TOP formed an escort service for safety.  The research itself is fun, it makes awesome newspaper publicity about these special young people, and it gets the kids fired up.  It is also likely to generate lots of different things to do so that students have that all-important choice.

Individual volunteer placement ideas are as fruitful as your imagination.

Here are just a few ideas of placements for young people.

The hospitalThe veterinarian

Senior citizens facilities

Rehab facilities

The SPCA

The library

Food pantries

Older children can tutor younger ones

Children with some talent (e.g., musical, art sports, etc.) teaching younger ones

Paint or repair homes in the community for residents who need help

Wash cars for free

Shovel snowy walks and driveways

Clean snow off cars

Rake leaves

Load groceries for people into their cars (take no tips)

Help the Salvation Army ring their bells at Christmas time

If you are close to a rural area, ask farmers or ranchers what help they need

Pass out free cups of lemonade to people on a hot day

Clean lots, roadsides, graffiti, sidewalks, beaches, parksRead to the blind

Do arts and crafts with elderly people or in child care centers

Participate in “walks for…”

Hold a dinner or other fundraising project for a cause

Visit people who live alone

Run an “on-call” child care or babysitting service

Walk dogs for residents who find that difficult

Wash car windows for people while they shop for groceries (leave a little card on the windshield about TOP)

Work with the Red Cross to organize a blood drive

Participate in wildlife censuses

Ask local environmental people what help they need in cleaning a river, a section of land

 

A taste of service.

There is currently a TOP replication project in five states in the northwestern US that has over 100 sites.  Here they use what they call “a taste of service”—a short project begun in the first week of TOP and completed quickly before more lengthy projects begin. Young people are given t-shirts to decorate with facts and beliefs about some issue that they think is important to young people—bullying, teen pregnancy, friendship—their choices.  Then, on the service day, they wear their shirts and start conversations with their peers about their topics.  The debriefing is about how service can be many different things—including education.

Other important keys to successful service: 

  • Facilitators must role model enthusiasm and excitement about service.
  • Facilitators must put in some hours to participate in, supervise, and arrange successful service events.
  • Use publicity to help insure the kids show up and to reward them.
  • Take lots of pictures!

 

Dr. Susan Philliber, one of the founders and senior partners of Philliber Research Associates, has more than 30 years experience in evaluation and basic research. She has led a number of research evaluations for Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program.

 

“Going Deep” in the School Community

Blog post by Katrina Peoples, Senior Director of Wyman Center in St. Louis.

For the last two years, Wyman has been immersed in the community at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City. It began with the integration of our Teen Outreach Program (TOP)  into the Social Studies curriculum to serve every seventh grader at the school. As those seventh graders became eighth graders, a number of them were nominated into and selected for our Teen Leadership Program.

Most recently, we were asked by the principal, Dr. Jordan, to deepen the relationship further, and hold a team building session at the beginning of the school year to support the teachers in having fun, getting to know one another, and giving them practical instructional tools to support their classroom facilitation. Facilitated by myself and three of my colleagues, the opportunity was a great success, and worked wonders in strengthening our relationships with our partners at Brittany Woods Middle School.

Teambuilding with teachers at Brittany Woods Middle SchoolAs a result of the team building, our connection and relationships have extended beyond the 7th grade Social Studies staff, and transcended to the entire school community. Teachers from other departments now see the Wyman logo with a sense of familiarity, and connect their experience with Wyman back to “fun.”

Teambuilding with teachers at Brittany Woods Middle School

 

This opportunity was a big “aha” moment for us in terms of looking at ways we can embed ourselves deeper in the school setting and continue to establish and build some of these relationships within the entire school community. We continue to identify ways to assimilate into the school culture in our in-school delivery model of TOP, and this experience provided another powerful reminder that our relationships are the most important ingredient in establishing, and nurturing successful partnerships. With such positive feedback from Wyman staff and teachers and staff at the school, we look forward to taking Dr. Jordan up on her invitation to do it again in the Spring!

Peoples, Katrina


Katrina has over 10 years of experience working with and advocating for some of the most vulnerable youth and families. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Wyman Center in St. Louis, overseeing local delivery of our Teen Outreach Program and Teen Leadership Program.

Engaging Youth in Community Solutions

“Our youth are the future.”

While this is fundamentally true, and often used as a motivator to contribute to youth-serving organizations or programs, why aren’t more young people actively and meaningfully engaged in the ideas, innovation and solutions that are shaping the future of our communities, and impacting the issues that affect them directly?

Today, more than 104 million Americans are under the age of 24 and, according to the Presidential Youth Council, most of these young people feel they have little say in the actions of their government and communities. Too often, youth are disregarded as having little to offer. Furthermore, too many youth engagement activities are passive – simply distributing a survey or asking for input, occasionally.

Teen Town Hall

The American Graduate initiative regularly engages youth in discussions surrounding the causes of and solutions to solving the nation’s dropout crisis. Pictured here: Wyman’s TLP teens participate in an American Graduate Teen Town Hall on Wyman’s campus.

For the sake of the young people themselves, and the future success of our communities, this engagement must go further. Allowing young people to contribute to brainstorming solutions, outlining goals and taking action to achieve those goals ensures that the resulting solutions reflect a diversity of backgrounds, create a greater level of buy-in, and provide an opportunity for our young people to have the experiences and develop the skills that will make them more engaged and effective citizens in the future.

When youth are engaged and invested in their schools and communities, not only do they become more successful individuals, they gain the skills, experience and knowledge to become change agents, so they may continue to improve whole systems in the future.

When addressing issues that affect youth, let’s remember this phrase, too: “No conversations about us, without us.”

At our upcoming Saigh Symposium on Teen Development, Jairus Cater, Senior at University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Former Co-Chair of Mayor’s Child and Youth Taskforce in Nashville, will speak from experience about meaningful youth engagement in improving outcomes for youth and communities. Register to attend, or watch online!

Webinar on Becoming Evidence-based: Lessons from Wyman and BUILD Chicago

Joe Miller, Sr. VP of Wyman's National Network

Joe Miller is the Senior VP of Wyman’s National Network, and was recently selected by The Annie E. Casey Foundation as a 2013-2014 Children and Family Fellow.

Update: The recording of this webinar is now available for playback, with free registration, on PerformWell’s website. Follow the link, and click “Playback” next to “Becoming Evidence Based” under the Performance Management Series.

Original article written August 20, 2013:

PerformWell is hosting a free webinar on Thursday August 22nd at 3PM EST on what it takes to “become evidence-based,” featuring the Senior VP of our National Network, Joe Miller.

In this webinar, introduced by Kristin A. Moore from Child Trends, presenters will explore the performance management issues associated with becoming evidence-based.

Joe will discuss Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®), including how it was developed, the replication process, and how the program has evolved over time. TOP® is a highly regarded program referenced on multiple lists of evidence-based programs, including Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

In addition, representatives from Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD) in Chicago, will share their experiences from the perspective of an organization in the process of becoming evidence-based. What role does performance management play in relation to process, outcome and impact evaluations? BUILD has been recognized as a leader in the field, labeled by evaluators as a promising practice and was chosen as a required replication model in an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention grant program.

Register now.

PerformWell is a collaborative effort initiated by Urban Institute, Child Trends, and Social Solutions. PerformWell provides measurement tools and practical knowledge that human services professionals can use to manage their programs’ day-to-day performance.