Schoolwide Project Helps Families in Need During the Holidays

This week, students at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City are embracing the giving spirit as they give back in the school-wide “Brittany Helping Brittany” project.

“Brittany Helping Brittany” is an annual project developed by the school social worker, Mrs. Ragsdale, that has benefited families in need in the district for over 15 years, and continues to be a unifying effort at the school to assist families in having a happy holiday.

To do their part, seventh graders in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program at Brittany Woods  created and sold homemade crafts, t-shirts, candy-grams and buttons in order to raise money to buy the items that the families have determined they need most. They successfully raised $700!

Brittany Helping Brittany

Teens in Wyman's TOP at Brittany Woods Middle School made and sold t-shirts to benefit needy families in their district during the holiday season.

In addition, students are hosting a movie night, offering face-painting, collecting spare change, holding a toy drive, and more!

Contributing to projects like “Brittany Helping Brittany” certainly helps those in need, but also gives teens an opportunity to think about how they can make an impact in their community, a chance to build the skills needed to bring the project to life, and the self-confidence to continue giving back in the future.

Click here to learn more about the immersion of Wyman’s TOP in the seventh-grade curriculum at Brittany Woods Middle School.

Five Ways to Help Teens Make the Most of Their Summer

The lazy days of summer are right around the corner, and for any of us who work with teens – or parent them –  we know that their months off can be a great way to get in the experience, skills and development they need to mold their own futures and aspirations. Check out our list of things you can encourage teens to do while also enjoying time with friends and family.

1.     Plan to take your teen on a college visit

Teens are much more likely to envision themselves on a campus and thereby set goals for themselves when they see what college is really like (versus what they hear from their peers and television). Coordinate with your teen to visit schools of interest. Most Admissions Departments are designed to give tours for students at any time. Sometimes all it takes for teens to obtain the motivation and inspiration to set academic and career goals is actually seeing what the end result might look like and picturing themselves in that arena.

2.     Encourage your teen to spend their time doing something meaningful

Utilize sites like or to encourage your teen to work on a project of their own interest. Whether it’s tending to a community garden or helping build houses through Habitat for Humanity, there are many things to do that can foster a greater sense of community, work skills and empathy for your teen. Try not to dictate the activity your teen will engage in but help facilitate the conversation of their interests and what they’d like to do. If you get their friends involved, even better! Teens do better with peers and doing something positive together can only be beneficial for their friendship. Also check out:,

3.     Setup career-shadowing opportunities

A great way to help teens get a realistic sense of what it means to grow up and become a doctor, stylist, engineer, ice-cream taste tester, etc. is to have them live a week in the life of their career of choice. If your personal networks do not include any of the above careers, try calling a local professional association of whatever career path they are considering to get ideas.

4.     Encourage teens to take a summer job

Earning one’s first paycheck is one of the most memorable and meaningful events for a young teen. The correlation between hard work and wages is one that can provide life lessons that go beyond high school. Encourage teens to take on summer work as a way to keep them engaged, responsible and honing their skills and resume. Not only does working build up their potential for future success, with the right support, it also allows them to learn responsibility with finances. Everyone starts somewhere. Some of our nation’s most accomplished individuals learned the basics of hard work while bagging groceries, selling clothing, flipping burgers or lifeguarding. Check out for resources specifically tailored to high school students.

5.     Find opportunities to help them build their semi-resume

One of the biggest leaps that teens have to take from high school to college is gaining experience that is meaningful to their future aspirations. Though few expect teens to have a full-blown resume by the time they graduate, suggesting the documentation of pertinent activities takes them one step closer to their career goals. All of the activities mentioned above are legitimate experiences that colleges want to see. Compiling a preliminary resume is also a moment to look back and reflect on their work. You can utilize this process to help facilitate a discussion on whether or not they are heading in the trajectory they want to go and what support can help them get there. This is a great goal-setting process that sets the stage for a future career and lifetime of success.

Whatever you encourage your teen to do this summer; remember that your support and guidance is of the greatest importance. It’s not about WHAT they do, but how they go through the process. Being there for them will create lasting impressions beyond today and tomorrow. Have any others you’d like to add? Comment below!

A Resource Made by Teens for Teens

This post is written by Simone Bernstein, a sophomore at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., co-founder of Volunteen Nation with her brother, Jake.

Connected is one of my favorite words. So it is no wonder that being a volunteer helps me feel connected to my community. During high school, I was an avid volunteer at a local crisis nursery shelter for young children. I was invited, along with many of my peers, to join their Junior Board. The St. Louis Crisis Junior Board is comprised of young people (high school and college students) finding ways to promote the organization and assist with fundraisers for the agency. Junior Board members volunteer in the nursery with the children, help out at events and conduct their own smaller functions to benefit the Crisis Nursery Junior Board. It was an incredible opportunity for me to get involved, brainstorm, problem solve, and meet and share ideas with other dynamic youth volunteers. Teen advisory boards give youth a voice and demonstrate that adults are interested in hearing our ideas and suggestions. I was fortunate to find out about this volunteer and Junior Board opportunity from my neighbor. Yet, I was frustrated that it was so difficult to find volunteer opportunities for high school and middle school youth.

My brother and I searched online and realized there were limited opportunities for youth to volunteer on-site, since many organizations and nonprofit agencies had age restrictions due to safety, security and liability concerns. There was no regional website dedicated to youth volunteers. So my brother and I contacted local organizations that offered youth volunteer opportunities and encouraged others to create youth volunteer programs. We organized a regional website to make it easier for area youth to explore local volunteer opportunities. The success of the website inspired us to host an annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair and days of service for youth and families. The regional website serves as a resource for area schools, youth groups and nonprofit organizations.

We knew there were incredible opportunities for youth to volunteer throughout the United States at local libraries, serving on mayors’ youth advisory councils and at local hospitals, so we decided to create a national website for youth to explore and share volunteer opportunities in their communities and to encourage nonprofit agencies to find ways to include youth and families as volunteers. Every library, food bank and shelter can find ways to include youth volunteers. Youth want to get involved. wants America’s teens to give back to the community. To do this, Volunteen Nation is challenging every organization and American corporation to add a volunteer opportunity for teens to the site within the first 100 days.

Service Without Reflection is Like Eating Without Digestion

A number of youth serving organizations came together, recently, to learn about the importance of community service learning - and the impact of reflection.

“Service without reflection is like eating without digestion” – Edmund Burke

Team members from AmericaSCORES St. Louis, Wyman, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, and College Bound St. Louis spent last weekend gathered for a shared training on community service learning.  The session opened with this unique quote, which spurred great conversation, and provided an interesting new analogy for the community service learning process!

Community service learning is foundational to the AmericaSCORES curriculum, which engages elementary age students in community service learning, soccer, and poetry.  Wyman and College Bound both utilize Wyman’s evidence-based Teen Outreach Program, which includes community service learning as a vehicle to engage middle and high school age youth in developing healthy behaviors, life skills, and a sense of purpose.  The Gephardt Institute works with adults, promoting civic engagement through service across the Washington University community.

Through the community service learning process, young people plan and implement a community service activity. This training kept team members focused on a critical step to help students bring the learning full circle –  the reflection.  Just as the digestion process allows people to absorb the critical nutrients from the eating process, reflection enables young people to internalize the skills, lessons, and experiences they just had, and increases the likelihood that these “nutrients” have a positive and lasting impact.

Team members discussed, practiced, and experienced techniques to ensure that young people can examine what happened in their service process (the “what”), what meaning this has for them (the “so what”), and how they can apply these lessons moving forward (the “now what”).  Team members also delved into the concept of “multiple intelligences” – a theory first articulated by Howard Gardner which recognizes the various learning styles and preferences all people have.  Collectively, teams ensured they have an understanding of various learning styles, with a goal of ensuring that their practice of reflection truly engages all young people in their program.

View photos from the training here.

Wyman thanks these fine practitioners for coming together early on a Saturday morning, and for their willingness to share their experiences, ideas, and commitment to young people.  Practitioners across a variety of fields working with young people – education, social work, after-school, juvenile justice, college access and success, youth development, public health, and many, many others – can all better support young people by helping them actively reflect on their experiences.

Teens Engage Community and Build Social Capital

Last fall, 200 seventh-graders at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, MO met during class to plan community service learning projects they could take on to help their school or community, as part of their participation in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program.

At Brittany Woods Middle School the program is integrated with the Communications Arts curriculum for seventh graders. Last quarter, they read a book called “Caught Between the Lash and the Gun” about a boy Wyman Teen Outreach Program teens and seniors play cardswho goes back in time to his grandfather’s era and learns that the messages our elders have for us are important. This assignment led the students to write the biographies of residents in St. Louis area nursing homes. In order to write the narratives, the teens committed to visiting the nursing homes and interviewing the residents.

The response of the residents to the teens’ project attests to the success of the initiative: after receiving the students at the nursing home in October, the residents decided to take their own day trip to Brittany Woods at the end of January. Their visit to the students was filled with games, laughter, and—most of all—community.

“The choice these students made to focus on us and involve us in their project is wonderful,” said one resident. “Our visits make me grateful that there are caring young people in my community.”

In addition to receiving the benefits of community service learning, both the teens and the residents were exposed to social networks outside of their daily routines. The teens’ service to the older residents has created a bridge between the two communities that extends beyond the biographies. This social capital, according to Bowling Alone, a book examining the decline of social capital in the United States, is a necessary component for our relational health, positive perceptions of our community, and our civic engagement. Social capital is the collective value of our social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to help one another. Finally, social capital is a driving factor behind the continued friendships between Brittany Woods TOP® teens and the nursing homes’ residents.

After the games, the teens awarded the residents with their completed biographies

Jamesha H., a gregarious, thoughtful TOP® teen, comments, “The first time we went to the nursing home I was nervous and not sure how our project would go. But when we started talking to [the residents] we realized that we had a lot in common and started to feel really comfortable together.”

Jamesha adds, “Our service projects have really helped me express my ideas and given me opportunities to interact with people I wouldn’t normally hang out with [sic].”

From their project, the teens experienced the immediate effects of satisfaction from completing service, support from their peers, and increased social capital. As their involvement in Wyman’s TOP® continues, the more far-reaching outcomes of enhanced problem-solving skills, leadership abilities, and self-efficacy will continue to lead to positive results in the teens’ lives.

Are you helping your teens do something meaningful?

This morning I had the good pleasure of attending Area Resources for Community and Human Services’ (ARCHS) 5th Annual Community Partnership Breakfast. Starting the day in a room full of service providers, advocates, and funders who have a vested interest in the growth and success of the St. Louis community was a great way to start the week.

The director of Missouri’s Department of Corrections, George Lombardi, was the keynote speaker for the event. While Mr. Lombardi addressed many issues critical to our community’s success, I was struck by his focus on the power of real community service opportunities.

George Lombardi

Mr. Lombardi described the profound difference he has seen in offenders who are given the opportunity to get outside of their experiences, and have meaningful, authentic opportunities to make a difference for someone else. These are the places and spaces in which social and emotional skills are built in “real time”.

In fact, Mr. Lombardi challenged the entire room–whatever the client focus–to push our clients in the direction of doing something that is meaningful for others. And, he challenges us as professionals to do the same.

At Wyman, we appreciate and support Mr. Lombardi’s call to action. We know that when young people have opportunities for meaningful involvement, they’re nearly 50% more likely to have healthy developmental outcomes. Working in service to others is a phenomenal vehicle to create those opportunities for meaningful involvement, and to begin further building relationship skills, empathy, communication, and planning.

Wyman Teen Outreach Program teens spend quality time with older adults from the community.

In fact, community service, when taught as a learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection, can enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse indicates that youth who engage in service learning obtain the following benefits:

  • Increased sense of self-efficacy as young people learn that they can impact real social challenges, problems, and needs.
  • Higher academic achievement and interest in furthering their education.
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, and planning abilities.
  • Enhanced civic engagement attitudes, skills and behaviors.

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse indicates that not only do those who participate in service gain positive outcomes from their work, youth development organizations and after-school programs that use service-learning can benefit from this strategy as well. The site states that young people are more likely to stay engaged when they feel their participation is meaningful and they can make useful contributions through service and social action and the action itself can cultivate connections between organizations and schools.

Interested in responding to Mr. Lombardi’s call to action?  To find out what Wyman is doing to promote service-learning in our own community, check out our work and resources on community service learning.


#2 – Wyman teens give back over 6,700 hours in service

11 in ’11: As we close out the year, we reflect upon and celebrate achievements for youth in our community in 2011. Check back as we count down to the new year! Click here to view the whole list!

Even one hour of community service is a lot for a teen who is also juggling homework, extracurricular activities and their social life. But for students in our community, specifically through Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program, they gave back over 6,700 in St. Louis over the course of 2011!

According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, youth who participate in high-quality community-based service-learning are likely to benefit in a number of ways:

  • Young people gain access to the range of supports and opportunities (or developmental assets) they need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.
  • Increased sense of self-efficacy as young people learn that they can impact real social challenges, problems, and needs.
  • Higher academic achievement and interest in furthering their education.
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, and planning abilities.
  • Enhanced civic engagement attitudes, skills and behaviors. Many leaders in public service today speak about how they were nurtured, inspired, and shaped in early experiences in community service or volunteering.

Congrats to our many teens who have taken time out of their busy schedules to lend a hand. You inspire us!


#10 – St. Louis Teens Give Back Through In-School Programs

11 in ’11: As we close out the year, we reflect upon and celebrate achievements for youth in our community in 2011. Check back as we count down to the new year! Click here to view the whole list!

What may be unheard of in other communities is happening right here in our own backyard. It’s a paradigm shift from what we’re used to:  A nonprofit service provider partnering directly and wholly with a local school to build skills in teens that teachers may feel unprepared and/or overextended to address–all within the confines of a regular school day.

With the cooperation of a number of community partners, Wyman is leading the first grade-wide integration of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) in a University City School with the anticipation of better outcomes for each individual teen, the school and the entire community as a whole.

Every seventh grader at Brittany Woods Middle School is participating in Wyman’s TOP® weekly, as a part of the Communication Arts curriculum. In partnership with Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, the University City School District and Brittany Woods Middle School, this model of integration is one of the earliest of an innovative set of ideas to help support the entire teen through education, character-building and service learning.

Earlier this school year, the 200 TOP® teens at Brittany Woods Middle School participated in a large-scale community service project by visiting residents at retirement homes around St. Louis. Their learning was extended beyond the classroom as they put into practice interviewing and communication skills that they learned in class and in TOP®. The students also learned what it means to be representatives of their school and their community as they do service work in the St. Louis region. Community service learning in TOP® is a youth-driven process in which youth have voice and choice in the service project, the planning, implementation and the celebration.

In the reflection, the students valued their experiences and many raved that they had a lot of fun, enjoyed getting to know the elderly residents, and were excited to remain connected by writing a creative narrative that will be given back to the residents at the homes. One girl ecstatically remarked, “I feel like a better person!” Another student enjoyed the opportunity to work with an elderly woman with a hearing impairment. He enthusiastically used non-verbal communication, such as gestures and lip-reading, and written expression to communicate with her during their visit.

The students are working on writing about their experiences, what they learned from the residents, and making a creative cover page for their narratives. These narratives will then go back to the nursing homes to the residents as a memento and to demonstrate the students’ learning and the impact community service learning had on them.

We will be following this community-integration model throughout the school year to report learnings and highlights from this innovative model of partnership. Follow our blog to keep up!

Community Service Learning for the Holidays

If you walk the halls of Brittany Woods Middle School this December expecting to hear excited whispers of holiday plans, you might be surprised to pick up a different strain of Brittany Woods Middle School TOP Clubbuzz. Brittany Woods’ seventh graders are eagerly planning seven different community service learning projects through their Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) clubs to benefit the Brittany Helping Brittany Project, a fund that helps make holidays possible for Brittany Woods families who may need additional support this holiday season. These projects, which are student-led and orchestrated with the guidance of TOP® facilitators, include selling hot chocolate, holding a raffle to participate in a school hat day, making fleece blankets, and hosting a movie night fundraiser. The teens’ enthusiasm for their service and Brittany Woods demonstrates tenacity and the ability to think outside of the box in order to provide support to their fellow community members.

Their contribution to the Brittany Helping Brittany Holiday Project also allows TOP® students to partner with other philanthropists at Brittany Woods. The project encourages students, staff, and parents to give back to families in their community and has been in existence for over 15 years. It was founded and is run by Ms. Ragsdale, Brittany Woods’ social worker, and continues to be a unifying effort at Brittany Woods to assist families in having a happy holiday.

The students’ participation in community service learning also cultivates long-reaching positive results in their own lives. According to Benefits of Community-Based Service Learning, young people involved in service-learning gain access to the supports and opportunities that enable them to become healthy, caring, and responsible citizens. Additionally, through planning their projects students develop enhanced problem solving skills, the ability to work in teams, and a greater awareness of the contributions they can make to their community. Altogether, the gains from TOP®’s service-learning component are two-fold: increased resources for the student’s community and their enhanced sense of self-efficacy.

TOP students partner with the Salerno Art House

Students of the Beyond Housing Family Support Center’s Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP) are participating in an arts-based service-learning project with the Salerno Art House*. Inspired by TOP’s themes around promoting young people’s healthy behavior, 12 middle school students are working together to design the look and feel of a valuable storage unit for use at The House. Beginning this fall, the Nurses for Newborns organization will also be setting up offices in The House! Not only will the storage unit be expressive of young voices in the community, it will also be used to hold vital arts and nurses supplies.

*Located on Salerno Drive in Pagedale, the Salerno Art House cultivates relationships through arts and cultural programming. Community gatherings as well as  youth, teen & adult programming are all developed in collaboration with local residents and organizations. This initiative is a partnership between Beyond Housing and Rebuild Foundation.