April 29, 2020

Her family’s breadwinner, this teen leaned on the nonprofit bookstore where she works for support

For young people who were already at-risk, the COVID-19 crisis threatens their physical and mental wellbeing. Boston nonprofit More Than Words, a 2020 Renewal Awards finalist, was able to adapt immediately to meet their youths' needs.

Boston nonprofit 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.

Hi, I’m Christina and I’m a youth at More Than Words, a nonprofit that helps young people take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. More Than Words operates two bookstores in greater Boston. I found the organization through a series of coincidences that was too perfect to be anything but fate. I first came upon the store while on a walk with my friends. We stepped inside and the first thing I remember hearing is laughter, something I wouldn’t realize the importance of until the moment I turned in my application.

The first domino had been tipped over and would eventually lead to me being where I am today. The very next day in school, my guidance counselor brought up the bookstore in our conversation. I told her that I’d been there just the other day and she lit up with excitement while explaining to me what they actually do in the stores. At More Than Words, every one of us is there for a number of different reasons—whether we’re in foster care, homeless, or involved in the court-involved. Something we all have in common, though, is that More Than Words has been helping us so much, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Read more: More Than Words is a finalist for the 2020 Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate.]

When our governor first issued Massachusetts’s stay-at-home advisory, I felt completely lost. All of a sudden everything shifted in a way I wasn’t prepared for. “We have so many bills to pay. I’m the only working person in my family. What if we can’t find the food we need?” All of these thoughts raced through my head a mile a minute. And granted I’m an over-thinker, but these are very real worries. Even the memes about toilet paper shortages caused me to worry.

More Than Words was quick to put a lot of these worries to rest. Almost immediately, all of the youth were contacted about what was going on and how we were going to handle everything. We had a plan in place not only for finances but also a plan for how to keep us going as a team. We have twice weekly check-ins with our Youth Development Managers about how we’re doing, what we need, and advice on how to handle everything. This really gave me peace of mind because it let me know that someone was constantly there for me and understood most of what I was going through.

We also keep up with the things we’d normally do if we were physically going to work, such as team meetings. These have been essential to me because I seem to have forgotten how to keep track of the days of the week. Before team meetings, “oh it’s 4 a.m. already!” had become commonplace, but after they started, I had to keep time otherwise I’d fall asleep in the middle of a meeting. Something else we’re doing (and my personal favorite) is workshops! Though not required, they’ve been so helpful during the crisis. We do all sorts of things from wellness to finance to baking! My cookie-making skills have gotten significantly better over the course of quarantine, if I do say so myself.

Once More Than Words reached out, everything finally started to fall into place again. It got to the point that I could get back to the things that actually made me happy, like catching butterflies and painting … in Animal Crossing. It’s safe to say this game occupies all of my free time. It has been educational though! I’ve learned what it’s like to be in debt and also how to effectively invest in the ”stalk” market by buying and selling the one vegetable no one actually eats.

Once everything settles down again, I have so many things that I want to do. Turns out that when you have this much time on your hands, you find out about a lot of new places you can go but not actually go. Professionally, I’ve finally figured out what I want to do. Though More Than Words has become a place I don’t want to leave, they’ve helped me make huge strides in determining what my future looks like.

If all goes well, I’d really like to be a teacher! An art teacher to be more specific. Whether I’d like to teach elementary or high school students, I don’t know. But I think I’m leaning more towards elementary school kids. Middle school is out of the question. It’s a strange time in everyone’s lives and I’d rather not be reminded of the embarrassing choices I made back then.

To become a teacher, I must obtain a college degree. I never thought that was an option for me. I had resigned myself to forever be working minimum wage jobs. More Than Words made it clear to me that I could do so much more. They let me believe in myself again.


More Than Words

Christina is a junior at Waltham High School in Waltham, Massachusetts. She joined More Than Words in 2019. As part of the youth workforce at the nonprofit, she helps run every single aspect of the business: supporting online operations (sorting, shelving, picking, and sending orders), working in the store, leading tours for partners and prospective youth, participating in presentations, and collecting donations that fuel the business.
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