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.

TLP Holds First-Ever College Application Day

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

Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program (TLP) recently hosted its first-ever College Application Day to guide TLP teens through the college application process. Leading up to the event, the TLP staff conducted quarterly on-campus visits and phone calls with our teens to support them following their summer session. From these conversations we learned that our teens were focused and driven during the summer sessions, but not as much when they were back at school. As a result, our seniors’ priorities had shifted and they were not applying to colleges in a timely manner. After careful consideration of upcoming college application deadlines, we decided to host an application day to give our teens the opportunity to apply for colleges and scholarships as well as the option to ask any pertinent questions about the college admissions process.

At the event, our staff took the time to give both our teens and their parents the support, space and materials they needed to apply. We quickly learned that most concerns were in regards to application fees. Application costs quickly add up for anyone applying to multiple colleges; thus, teens and parents were apprehensive about submitting applications and incurring these costs. Thankfully, we were able to relieve some of these financial concerns by providing application fee waivers. And, due to the support of our staff and tenacity of our teens, our attendees submitted more than 20 applications within the three-hour time frame.

TLP’s goal for the remainder of the year is to empower teens and parents to be proactive about college and career readiness. One of the ways we plan to increase proactivity in general is by being more intentional about our Families for Wyman group. Additionally, our staff will continue to provide as many resources as possible to teens and parents. From increasing the amount of college showcases we offer each semester to providing more financial aid workshops, our plan for our teens and parents is for them to achieve self-advocacy and stay informed of our upcoming deadlines and events. Our recent findings also have us considering placing preventative measures within our summer programming. Through these various means of engagement, we will consistently and continually stress college readiness in all areas of the program.


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.

Save the Date: Orange Carpet Gala March 8th!

Wyman Orange Carpet Gala 2014 - Kaleidoscope of Wonder

Please join our annual celebration of success and opportunity at the
Wyman Orange Carpet Gala: Kaleidoscope of Wonder!

Save the date and gather your friends and colleagues for an evening of drinks, dinner and dancing as we give the kaleidoscope a twist and learn what colorful wonders unfold!

Saturday, March 8, 2014
6:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis

Be part of this fun, engaging, and most colorful night in St. Louis,
presented by Ameren Missouri.

Sponsorships are available!

National Network Spotlight: Health Care Education and Training, Inc.

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.

At Indiana Youth Group (IYG) in Indianapolis, a group of teens participating in Wyman’s TOP® used the community service learning opportunity to do something positive for an organization that has been so supportive of them.

Indian Youth Group TOP Club

The club organized a talent and fashion show in order to raise funds to purchase flooring materials and provide some needed updates to Indiana Youth Group’s drop-in center.

“The youth wanted to give something back to Indiana Youth Group because IYG provides so many wonderful services for them,” Youth Development Specialist Kristopher Posthuma said.

IYG provides safe places and confidential environments where self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are empowered through programs, support services, and social and leadership opportunities, including TOP®.

Armed with a cause they were passionate about, the club organized a talent and fashion show in order to raise funds to purchase flooring materials and provide some needed updates to the largest room in the organization’s drop-in center.

“They collectively chose to do the projects, and they collectively get to enjoy and see other non-TOP® members enjoy the improvement to the center,” Posthuma said.

He said other youth and leaders of the organization were astounded at what the TOP® teens were able to accomplish and were thankful for the improvements that now benefit the whole community.

In addition to contributing to a community solution, teens were afforded the opportunity to build their own personal skills through the project.

“One of the participants was terrified of public speaking, but really wanted to push herself to get better. She volunteered to be one of the emcees for their talent show [and] was so proud of herself,” Posthuma said, “She did a phenomenal job. She now knows that she can speak in front of a crowd and do a great job.”

Throughout the process, Posthuma said that seeing the students grow and succeed over time in a youth-driven project has been most rewarding.

“We have truly learned the value of what it means to have an activity be youth-driven and youth-led. TOP® is an exercise in trust, and when we trusted the youth to pull through with an event or idea, they excelled and blew our expectations out of the water. They are truly incredible,” Posthuma said.

At IYG, Wyman’s TOP® is made possible by support from National Network partner Health Care Education and Training, Inc. (HCET). HCET works with federal, state and local health departments, and private nonprofit health organizations, like Indiana Youth Group, to improve reproductive and sexual health outcomes in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin; and currently brings TOP® to nearly 200 youth annually.

National Network Spotlight: Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County

Certified Replication Partners in Wyman’s 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.

As a National Network partner since 2011, Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County is bringing Wyman’s TOP® to over 500 teens in south Florida, including one club at John I. Leonard High School.

Teen Outreach Program club in Palm Beach County Florida

There, the school’s graduation coach selected students struggling with low attendance and grades to participate in TOP® for additional support. Now in their second year, program facilitator Denise Rye is already seeing the impact.

“I have enjoyed witnessing the changes in thoughts and even the simple gestures teens make towards one another, their growing consideration for one another, their responses for the needs of their community, and they’re learning that they can contribute, even at their age,” Rye said.

Florida teens volunteer to cheer up children at a local hospital.

TOP teens in Florida volunteered to cheer up kids at a local hospital by serving up ice cream and having some fun!

Community service learning is a core component of the program, and Rye emphasizes the importance of helping teens identify needs in the community based on their personal experiences and observations, to build personal investment and interest in the project. After much deliberation and discussion, the club at John I. Leonard High School chose to spend their time with children at a local hospital.

“They began by exploring topics that were near to their hearts and they chose children with cancer. They communicated with Quantum House, an organization which houses families whose children are in treatment at St. Mary’s. The teens began by serving these families dinner and dessert, and then serving ice cream to the children,” Rye said.

The reception by both the organization and the hospital was wonderful. They even invited the TOP® club back and the teens have made a second visit, since!

With lessons about defining values and setting goals, Rye says TOP® helps students openly share what is important to them, identify potential barriers to achieving goals, and discuss opportunities and strategies to overcome those barriers. For one student, these lessons came at the perfect time.

“She is a straight-A student and natural leader, but is facing problems with family at home – mostly concerning parents who are apathetic and unsupportive towards her homework, goals, interests, etc.,” Rye said. “TOP® has encouraged her to continue her good grades, extracurricular activities, and college aspirations. She has been an inspiration for other teens to work hard despite difficulties at home.”

Overall, the teens have greatly enjoyed TOP®. According to Rye, many have asked their friends to join and demonstrate a desire to grow the club and take on more community service opportunities.

The Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County is an independent special district established by Palm Beach County voters, who dedicated a source of funding so more children are born healthy, remain free from abuse and neglect, are ready for kindergarten, and have access to quality afterschool and summer programming.

Employees Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis Supports “Pathways to Success”

Boeing Employees Community Fund

Wyman Center received a $5,000 grant from the Employees Community Fund (ECF) of Boeing St. Louis to support “Pathways to Success” programming for teens from low-resource environments in the St. Louis community.

ECF’s support will be used to support students from middle school through their second year of post-secondary education through Wyman’s Teen Leadership and Teen Outreach Programs in St. Louis.

“We are grateful for Boeing’s support,” said Dave Hilliard, CEO of Wyman, “The funds will give teens from low-resource environments in our community a blueprint to make the right choices during a crucial time when their actions can impact the rest of their lives.”

Reaching over 1,700 teens in the St. Louis community last year, Wyman’s signature programs offer engaging and relevant curriculum, positive adult role models, peer group experiences and an emphasis on community service learning – to help teens successfully transition into adulthood as contributing citizens, employees and family members.

The ECF has been generously supporting Wyman since the mid-1980′s! Thank you to the Employees Community Fund of Boeing for your generous support and long commitment to changing the odds for Wyman teens.

The Employees Community Fund of The Boeing Company (known as ECF or the Fund) is a unique employee-owned and directed giving program that allows employees to support the needs of their local communities via tax-deductible recurring payroll deductions or one-time gifts.


Teens Learn From Story of Tuskegee Airmen

Blog post by Jocelyn Masurat, Program Manager for Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program.

To celebrate their service to the St. Louis community, several Teen Leadership Program teens were invited on a special field trip to see the play Fly at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis and have a pizza party at Racanelli’s pizza!

Tuskeegee Airmen Teach Lessons to Teens

Fly is the touching yet humorous true story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, the first African-American pilots in the then segregated United States Military.  Their courage and perseverance led to great accomplishments not only in combat, but also in civil rights. Largely due to the Tuskegee Airmen’s success, racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces was declared illegal, the country’s  first major step toward integration.

The powerful story, along with the incredible tap dancing of one of the performers, truly resonated with the TLP teens. In the wise words of TLP teen Alexis Rice-Scott, “I believe that you should work hard and try your best for what you really want and your work will pay off. And the cast of Fly portrayed that they could, and would, even though they had obstacles involving their race. Their hard work paid off.”

Wyman teens: thank you for your hard work and dedication to serving your communities, as it will pay off too!

Jocelyn Masurat - Program Manager for Wyman's Teen Leadership Program
Jocelyn currently serves as a Program Manager for the Wyman Teen Leadership Program. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work and has professional experience in youth development, outdoor education, and adolescent health education. 

St. Louis Program Helps Teens Succeed

Local news outlet KSDK recently highlighted Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®), through the story of Santez Houston, a young man who has been positively impacted by the program.

Santez, who has been in the program for more than a year, said the program has taught him valuable lessons that have allowed him to make meaningful changes in his own life.

“They taught me leadership skills, communication skills, taught me job readiness…prepared us for school, taught me about money,” Santez said. “I don’t fight as much,’cause now I learned how to actually work around people, and my grades did get better because we now have something called ‘homework time.’”

Santez participates in TOP® through Wyman’s partnership with the Greater St. Louis Federation of Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers, which is made up of eight agencies, all of whom are funded by United Way of Greater St. Louis to deliver TOP® to over 100 teens in the area.

Contributions to United Way help people every day in the St. Louis area. More than $1 million is poured into our community every week to make it a better place to live. To give, please visit helpingpeople.org.

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 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.