Implementing Collective Impact to Ensure Community Returns

Teen Leadership Program alumnaeAt a recent Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program alumni gathering, 21 young adults gathered to reminisce, laugh, share, and dine together. Over the course of an evening, they shared 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. Throughout the conversations, each teen expressed goals that affirmed their commitment to and passion for service to others.

Each story of service was unique. One alum is preparing to volunteer for a service trip to New Orleans, where she will provide relief after Hurricane Karina. She had already provided support after Hurricane Sandy, and desires to continue to give back to hurricane-affected communities. Another alum is applying for Teach for America after college graduation, while a third is a Golden Apple Scholar in Illinois, and is 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, which has linked him 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.

In planning for their future, these alumni are wonderful examples of how, with proper supports, all young people can achieve success. Since 2002, Saint Louis
area community leaders, corporations, foundations, and the local United Way have invested in Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program teens. By working together to provide cross-functional supports, the providers in our community made intentional investments in the futures of these young people.

Because of these investments, each young person had supportive and caring adult relationships throughout his or her teen years, opportunities to learn how to successfully lead others, a sense of belonging with a positive peer group, a focus on their future and their abilities, challenging educational experiences, and the chance 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, nationwide.


National Network Spotlight: Project Vida Health Center

Certified Replication Partners in our National Network are successfully replicating Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) across the country. The National Network Spotlight highlights a partner and celebrates their positive outcomes.

Deep in Texas, close to the Mexican border, young people ages 12 to 21 are developing exceptional characteristics as they realize that their opinions and experiences are valued in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program®. Through Project Vida Health Center (PVHC), Wyman’s TOP® serves more than 200 teens, some of whom are first-time offenders. For them, TOP® is more than a program that provides valuable life skills and give them a desire to positively impact the world—it is a second chance at regaining the trust of their community.

Project Vida Health Center Staff

Project Vida Health Center Staff

“TOP® gives [young people] the opportunity to rejoin their community as caring, responsible teens,” Sandra Rodriguez, TOP® coordinator, said. “Our participants have expressed how much TOP® helps them to be a better person and teaches them to be grateful for the friendships they’ve established through their experiences.”

For PVHC and its teens, the real impact comes from the community service learning (CSL) component of TOP®. PVHC first became interested in offering TOP® because of the program’s incorporation and structure of CSL. After adopting TOP®, facilitators quickly noted how CSL projects have the power to fully engage young people and, in doing so, create a greater impact on their behavior and choices.

“The fact that teens have a choice and voice when selecting their projects makes a huge difference. Through CSL, the participants feel and see the impact their work is capable of generating. The most rewarding experience is seeing the glow on our teens’ faces after a CSL project is completed and they realize the difference they made,” added Rodriguez.

The CSL projects include canned food drives, toy drives, fundraisers to benefit animal shelters and children’s hospitals as well as outreach to support homeless children and immigrant youth. Through consistent recruitment efforts, PVHC facilitators and coordinators hope to expose more teens to TOP® and the benefits of CSL. Their recruitment efforts comprise of visiting schools, attending health fairs and distributing community flyers to reach more young people. PVHC also joined a local coalition to bring on additional partners and spread the word about the program. Through these efforts, PVHC will bring TOP® to many more teens in the El Paso, TX region throughout 2014.

Texas Department of State Health Services Joins Wyman’s National Network

Wyman’s National Network is excited to welcome its newest partner, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). DSHS is a state agency of Texas that works cross-functionally to provide state-operated health care services. As a new partner, DSHS plans to provide Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® to all school districts across Texas. Implementing TOP® in Texas schools will help DSHS continue to work towards its mission of a healthy Texas while addressing the well-being of all Texas youth.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with school districts across the state to expose our youth to TOP®,” DSHS Media & State-wide Resource Specialist Crystal Starkey said. “We will be delivering [the program] during the school day, and look forward to how it will enable students to build a bright future for themselves.”

TOP® appealed to DSHS because of its evidence-based practices and inclusion of community service learning as a core aspect of the curriculum.

“Service learning provides a wealth of opportunity to youth, and in building it into the program, everyone involved can be confident that young people are receiving an excellent education,” Starkey added.

National Network Spotlight: The Greater St. Louis Federation of Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers

Certified Replication Partners in our National Network are successfully replicating Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) across the country. The National Network Spotlight highlights a partner and celebrates its positive outcomes.

In the St. Louis metro area and East St. Louis, Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® Coordinators Sharon Williams and Kayla Bryant are witnessing how TOP® is changing the lives of 150 teens for the better. Williams and Bryant are a part of TOP® at the Greater St. Louis Federation of Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers, a Wyman National Network partner since 2010. The Federation has 10 TOP® clubs serving students in high school and middle school, and incorporates curriculum-guided group discussions and community service learning to provide young people with the skills and abilities they need to navigate life. For Bryant and Williams, the curriculum is key to creating impactful lessons and helping students make sound decisions about their future.

IMAG1657“I enjoy the freedom of the curriculum,” said Bryant. “It allows me to modify aspects of the lesson without changing the integrity of what is being taught.”

During lessons, the discussions are youth-led with a facilitator acting as mediator. For the sexuality lessons, Williams noticed how the teens led the facilitators through knowledge they gained from other programs and social services agencies. This opportunity to take initiative is one of the reasons why teens in the program are invested in their experience.

“Some of our teens have graduated from high school and still come back to be a part of club,” said Williams.

IMAG1650-1This approval from past and present TOP® participants drives the success of the program. According to Bryant, spreading the news of TOP® through the teens currently is the best source of advertisement for the clubs.

“Word of mouth truly works, and maintaining an energy around the program is what keeps students coming back year after year,” Bryant added. “We have a lot of returning teens this year, and it’s been great getting to see true measurable growth in their behavior and attitudes.”

Apply for a St. Louis Area Scholarship

CollegeCentral_blue-bkg-small (2)Are you a high school senior or soon-to-be graduate student looking for funding for college? St. Louis Graduates’ Scholarship Central currently has dozens of scholarships and interest-free loans available!

Scholarship Central is a free, online system which any student in the St. Louis area can use to access and apply to St. Louis area scholarships and interest-free loans. Simply visit the site and sign up with a valid email address to create a secure user profile that will allow you to quickly and easily find and apply to many funding opportunities through a common application. It’s easy to get started; click here to learn how to complete the free online application and see what funding opportunities are available for you.

St. Louis Graduates, a Wyman partner, is a coalition of educators, service providers, business people and philanthropic leaders who have come together to help first-generation and low-income students get ready, get in and get through a post-secondary degree.

Empowering Teens in 2014

Jennie Blakeney is a Wyman Teen Outreach Program® trainer for the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium. As a TOP® trainer, she has trained 58 facilitators who have worked directly with more than 1,000 teens. Jennie recognizes how TOP® empowers teens to navigate their education, engage with their communities, identify their values and make better decisions. Her knowledge does not simply come from facilitating the program for teens; 20 years ago, Jennie was a TOP® participant! Faced with difficult times during her adolescence, Jennie overcame adversity with help from meaningful lessons and community service learning experiences in TOP®.

Jennie’s story is an example of the powerful impact TOP® has in a teen’s life. And, the TOP® that she experienced is the same evidence-based best practice program that today’s teens encounter.  Our commitment to fidelity, collective impact and outcome accountability is necessary to delivering a program that will consistently and persistently ensure healthy choices, safety, connectedness and productivity for teens from low-resource environments.

I encourage you to watch Jennie’s story and consider the tens of thousands of teens that our nationwide initiatives reach. 2014 will be an exciting time as Wyman continues to grow and evolve to reach even more teens. I look forward to sharing the new year’s successes, partnerships and collaborations with you as Wyman—with your help—brings a message of persistence and empowerment to a whole new generation of young people.

For the teens,
Dave Hilliard

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.

Train the Trainer Sessions Continue Thanks to Ronald McDonald House Charities

Ronald McDonald House Charities

Thanks to Ronald McDonald House Charities’ $50,000 grant, Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® trained 14 additional youth practitioners from Missouri, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and the District of Columbia in Wyman’s Train the Trainer session last week. The training is designed so national TOP® partners can return to their region and deliver TOP® training to facilitators locally while maintaining the integrity of the program. Because of ”Train the Trainer”, TOP® can expand to reach more teens in more states.

“Our vision is that these trained partners will take Wyman’s TOP® program into cities across the country to positively impact the teens and their communities,” Hilliard said.

Wyman’s TOP® helps teens make better choices in life by promoting positive development in teens aged 12-18 through evidence-based curriculum and community service learning.

For pictures from this and past “Train the Trainer” sessions, check out Wyman’s Facebook page.

One Student at a Time: Advancing the Goal of Degree Completion in the St. Louis Region

Join St. Louis Graduates on November 13th for One Student at a Time: Advancing the Goal of Degree Completion in the St. Louis Region. At the forum St. Louis Graduates will release a new report on how low-income students are fairing in accessing and completing a postsecondary degree.

Guest speakers include:

Terry Jones, Ph.D., professor of political science and public policy administration at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and lead researcher on the new report

Joe Reagan, president and chief executive officer, St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association

St. Louis Graduates, a select panel will provide an update on implementation of the St. Louis Graduates’ regionwide college access/success plan
When: November 13, 2012 @ 8:00 am – 10:00 am

Where: Norman K. Probstein Golf Club House 6141 Lagoon Dr., St Louis, MO 63112

Cost: Free


RSVP by November 5th!

Wyman’s TOP Teens Visit Local Senior Centers

“There’s a school bus outside! They’re finally here!”

You could sense the excitement as a dozen residents of Senior Living at Cambridge Heights eagerly shuffled into their building’s community gathering room to wait for their visitors to enter. The guests were not family or even fellow seniors—instead, they were more than thirty 7th grade students in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) at Brittany Woods Middle School.

This visit with seniors was their first experience of community service learning (CSL), an important component of the TOP curriculum. Through CSL, these teens will realize their potential to positively impact their community, learn to successfully work in teams, and gain a greater self-awareness of how their actions impact others.

Community service learning also benefits the communities the teens serve. Senior citizens at Cambridge Heights partnered with Brittany Woods’ TOP clubs last year, and after several positive experiences, they were anxious to meet this new group of 7th graders.

After a quick round of chaotic introductions, the teens proceeded to ask the seniors questions about their lives. The teens had brainstormed their questions during TOP club, and each student chose a question from a manila folder. The questions covered everything from civil rights to birthdays, but they all had a central theme: who are you and what can I learn from your life?

Laughter burst out across the room after a boy asked the seniors about the happiest moment of their lives. “This one right now,” one woman replied before chuckling. Their lighthearted responses and shared glances implied that their understanding of life—its hardships, joys, and transience—was on a different level than the young people before them. This age and cultural gap was celebrated as seniors reflected on their favorite foods and games and learned the interests of this future generation.

Advice for today’s teens was a topic seniors were quick to answer. “I’m worried about the decisions that most young people are making, but I can tell you guys are a good group,” one resident said before continuing with advice. “Stay in school, be very selective of your friends, and watch your attitude.”

By providing the right supports and opportunities through TOP, Wyman plans to make the seniors’ hopes for this generation a reality.


To check out more pictures from this event, visit Wyman on Facebook.