March 11, 2020

Boston nonprofit More Than Words helps young people find success through selling books

Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

More Than Words provides on-the-job training and business skills for at-risk youth in the Boston Area. They learn valuable life skills by helping to run a real book business.

Editor's Note

Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

Browsing the shelves at More Than Words, you won’t see anything out of the ordinary for a bookstore—just rows and rows of best sellers, thrillers, self-help, fiction, and nonfiction titles. But when you buy a book from this Boston-area organization, you’re not just enriching your mind, you’re helping to empower the participants of the nonprofit’s Business Job program.

These young people are in foster care, are involved in the court system, experiencing homelessness, or out of school and they’re all helping run a business. Each participant works 20 hours per week working in a variety of positions in the nonprofit’s online, retail, pop-up, and wholesale book shop. But they’re not just selling books—they’re learning valuable skills and earning a paycheck.

“Our youth manage a $3.75 million bookselling business. They lead shifts, give and receive feedback, facilitate peer-led training and weekly team meetings, track and forecast financials, and more,” wrote More Than Words’ Greg Brueck-Cassoli. Brueck-Cassoli nominated the nonprofit for a Renewal Award, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate. More Than Words is one of the 15 finalists in the running to win a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Five winners will be announced this spring.

More Than Words also offers a program called YOU Job that helps young people take important steps into adulthood, like opening a bank account and securing housing.

[Read: Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards.]

More Than Words was founded in 2004 by Jodi Rosenbaum (who describes herself on Twitter as the “crazy book lady”). Rosenbaum spent her career working in the Waltham, Massachusetts, court and school system. She had a lightbulb moment when she saw a pile of books sitting on the side of the road and thought of the potential.

“I was seeing over and over again lots of young people who were caught up in our systems, who were being disenfranchised, and I thought, ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this,’” Rosenbaum said.

Now, more than 15 years later, More Than Words serves around 380 young people each year. Nearly all of the graduates of the program go on to earn a high school diploma and 83 percent go on to find regular work.

Follow More Than Words on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.
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