National Network Partner Spotlight: Hope for Miami

Hope for Miami is a coalition of several organizations in Miami-Dade County working  to connect youth to effective programs, resources and volunteer opportunities, with the mission of seeing the young people and the community will thrive. For three years, Hope for Miami has delivered the Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) as one of four prevention programs that promote positive youth development and reflect the coalition’s core values.

TOP is in alignment with one of the coalition’s core values that youth work should not patronize. They have observed that allowing teens’ voices to be heard prevents a multitude of destructive behaviors.

“TOP allows our students to explore their thought processes in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Students express their views and think through their choices, allowing them to step back and see the many different possible outcomes that their decisions can bring. Teachers and principals have commented on what a difference the curriculum has made. They have seen the number of in school fights decrease, grades improve, and suspension rates decrease among TOP students,” said Chedena Hayes, Community Program Coordinator. “One of our teens shared that the program helps him to ‘know what to do in a real world setting.'”

This year, Hope for Miami plans to deliver TOP to 1,150 middle and high school youth in Miami-Dade County. Clubs are currently running at Andover Middle School and iMater Academy; however, they have received such positive feedback from the community that requests are coming in from all over Miami-Dade County for TOP to be brought to their schools. “I think that these requests speak to the professionalism of our facilitators and the effectiveness of the TOP Curriculum,” said Hayes.

Hayes attributes a large part of the program’s success to community service learning projects. She stated that the projects give students a chance to identify passions and gives them the opportunity to become involved in creating solutions to issues particular to their community. Most recently, students from Andover Middle did a school campus make-over project.

“Students spent months planning designs for a mural, choosing the garden location, and creating slogans and designs for trash cans. Then they showed up in great numbers to clean and decorate their campus. It was amazing. There was a need, and the students chose to meet it!  The youth were actually smiling while picking up trash.  As facilitators, we encouraged them by reminding them that Andover was their school, which made it their responsibility to preserve the grounds. We challenged them to leave a legacy for the classes that would come after them, and they did. That campus looks amazing now!”

Through programs like TOP, Hope for Miami would like to see their Miami-Dade County community become a place where everyone – individuals, families, neighborhoods, institutions, organizations, businesses and even the environment – is knit together like threads in a tapestry to create healthy, flourishing neighborhoods.

Insight to Impact: Every Gift Matters

The Kohls first learned of Wyman when they lived in Wildwood, Mo., and Ruth started volunteering with the Tri-County Helpmates, a group of local volunteers. Now, Ruth and her fellow volunteers spend one morning a month at Wyman’s Eureka campus, assembling mailings, preparing meals and filling in wherever the team is needed. In addition to providing financial support and a lot of elbow grease for Wyman, Ruth and her fellow Helpmates support several nonprofit agencies in and around Eureka.

What is most commendable about the Kohl’s long history of philanthropy is that she and her husband have done so while raising a family and building a business, Consultant Lubricants, Inc., where much of their family is now employed. “We always felt like we were blessed and had an obligation to give back,” said Ruth. Wyman inducted Ruth into the Volunteer Hall of Fame in May.

By giving back to their community and Wyman, Ruth and Mel serve as role models for Wyman teens. The Kohl’s gifts have mattered to thousands of young people, who have passed through the stone arch of Camp Wyman and through the clubs and classrooms. Thank you Ruth and Mel – your gift matters!

Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program Celebrates Senior Class

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

On Friday, April 18th, more than seventy supporters of Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program (TLP) came together to celebrate the high school graduations and accomplishments of our TLP seniors.


Missouri State Scholarship recipients Alexis Creamer and Jalen Baker pictured with TLP Director Tim Kjellesvik

Thirty of the 63 graduates joined us with their families to eat a hearty meal, receive certificates of recognition and hear words of encouragement from Wyman’s President and CEO, Dave Hilliard.

One of the highlights of the night was “counting coup,” a traditional TLP observation when participants share their accounts of the program’s impact on their lives, families and communities at large.

The ceremony also included presentations from Jalen Baker and Alexis Creamer, two full-ride scholarship recipients in Wyman’s Scholars program. Baker and Creamer each received a four-year scholarship to Missouri State University.

scholarshipIn addition, each year the Saigh Foundation provides a $1,000 scholarship to a Wyman teen who is committed to community service, has exhibited outstanding academic achievement and demonstrates leadership and active participation in Wyman’s TLP. Andre Block Jr. was awarded the $1,000 Saigh Young Leader Award.

After high school graduation, our teens will transition into Wyman’s College Persistence Program, the final two years of the program. During these two years, they will receive continued social, emotional and institutional support from Wyman.

Much success to our seniors as they transition into their post-secondary endeavors!
Class of 2014 teens_1

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

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.


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.