Graduate Stories

Every young person who comes to More Than Words has a different story and different challenges to overcome, but one thing is consistent: Our graduates have done the work. They showed up to participate in our Core Social Enterprise Program, they learned skills, they received feedback and grew, and they made strides toward their personal goals. They graduated and took advantage of support from our Career Services team. They overcame their personal barriers to success and took charge of their lives.

Toni: More Like a Family

My mom passed away when I was five. My dad’s house was NOT a healthy environment, including that my dad was abusive and took issue with me being gay. I struggled with substance abuse and got arrested. The Department of Children and Families finally removed me at age fourteen, but I moved around to a lot of placements.

It was when I came to Waltham that I learned about More Than Words from a housemate. She asked me if I needed a job. Little did I know she probably wanted the referral bonus! When I first started at More Than Words it was just a job, but it quickly became more like a family. I learned skills like interpreting business metrics, networking, and doing my taxes. One really important lesson was how to shut my mouth when I didn’t get along with my peers. I started out getting a lot of warnings!

As I earned a promotion and got increasing responsibility, I even learned how to give my peers the chance to take initiative. More Than Words helped me come to terms with my past, search for jobs, find housing, and look at colleges. As a graduate, I got a job, finished high school, and took classes at Bunker Hill Community College.

I’m now attending Salem State University, studying social work! I hate to imagine someone my age or younger going through what I did, losing their childhood. I want to change the system before that happens to them, too.

Graduated 2018

Olivia: From Disengagement to Full-Ride Scholar

I’ve lived a lot of different places and didn’t get my first birthday cake until I turned 16. I heard about More Than Words when I was transitioning to a new foster home. I had gotten in with the wrong crowd, wasn’t taking academics seriously, and was struggling with addiction to narcotics. My clinician recommended More Than Words, but I wasn’t interested in one more program.

More Than Words isn’t like other programs, though. It has good vibes. I loved working in the store and giving tours to volunteer groups. I learned leadership and communication skills—being able to get in front of a group of people and direct them. As a shift leader I had to think on my feet and stay calm, cool, and collected under pressure. The most meaningful piece was all the support from staff, especially with college. I used a lot of my YOU time for SAT prep. Ryan, the Associate Director of Career Services, helped me—he is all about school!

As a More Than Words graduate, I came back a lot to work on my college essay, and then Ryan emailed me one day saying that he thought I’d be good for the Torch Scholarship. It offers a full ride at Northeastern University, and it’s really competitive! Ryan was with me at every step and even had to write six essays recommending me. And my customer service experience was a tremendous help on interview day. When I found out I was chosen one of only 11 students—I jumped up and down and called everyone I knew, Ryan first.

I’m now at Northeastern as a biology major. I plan to go to medical school, study pathology, and become a medical examiner. No one expects much from kids like me, but at More Than Words, we’re breaking every stereotype and taking control of lives we previously thought were out of control. I’m proof that youth like me can be so much more!

Graduated 2017

Yve: One Bold Move After Another

On the day of the earthquake in Haiti, my childhood ended. I moved on my own to the United States to live with my brother but things didn’t improve. When I was fifteen, my brother’s girlfriend started physically abusing me. I survived the ordeal when a neighbor heard my cries and called the police.

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) placed me in a foster home and my life improved tremendously. There have been many heroes who helped me along the way, like my foster mom, members of my church, and my Youth Development Manager at More Than Words.

When I first started at More Than Words I was really shy, and I didn’t know how to manage my attitude. In my 11 months in the program, I became more patient, and also mastered skills that I thought were too hard at first, like receiving books into the online inventory. My “you” job pushed me to want to finish high school, set goals for the future, and figure out what I want to do. The staff helped me with college applications and pushed me to speak up as a leader on the team. They also helped me move into independent living in Lowell. Another bold move for me!

While I do go through periods where I experience flashbacks and depression, I am now more focused, ambitious, and determined to succeed. Since I graduated, More Than Words continued to help me with all the steps to get enrolled in college, like getting financial aid. In addition to working as a Mental Health Assistant, I am attending Middlesex Community College for a degree in Human Services!

More Than Words was the perfect first job. More young people should have the opportunity.

Graduated 2016

Ty: Hope is Moving Forward

Growing up I struggled with housing and school, not because I wasn’t smart, but because of lack of support, lack of challenge, discrimination, or whatever. I felt like I was getting older without a plan. The jobs I worked didn’t care about my goals, and the schools I went to didn’t connect to my life.  I was trying to get back into high school, but I couldn’t enroll because I didn’t have an address.

Instead, they referred me to a social worker who referred me to More Than Words. At first my attitude was: More Than Words isn’t ready for ME! I thought I knew everything and had time to goof around. But Leanne, my Youth Development Manager, knew I could be more responsible. I would dodge her a lot and she would track me down and make me spit out whatever was going on. Sometimes you just need that person to tell you, even if you know, that you can do better. Leanne is someone in my life who I still dread to disappoint.

Being at More Than Words was the life-changing experience I was missing. I was acknowledged when I did good work or took initiative, and that helped me be a better leader. Amanda, my Education Manager, helped me get my diploma from Boston Day and Evening Academy. I graduated both high school and More Than Words in 2015! After graduation, I was good at finding part-time jobs, but I found that it was too easy for me to leave them as well. If I admit it, I still wasn’t fully stable and responsible. But at least I was working, and Leanne would STILL track me down! In 2019 I returned to More Than Words to work as a Maintenance and Facilities Manager—a part time role for alumni. Going back was a way to show my progress. It confirmed that I wanted more meaningful work experiences. From there, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps member with City Year.

Now, using my AmeriCorps education award, I’m enrolled as a full-time student at Southern New Hampshire University. I love learning and education. I’m also working full-time at a hospital, and I’ve been stable and living in my own place for a year. It’s tricky remembering to pay bills, but I have to OWN my responsibility. I’ve knocked down the fear of doing it for myself.

Graduated 2015

Chris: From Lockup to Career

I’ve been involved with Department of Youth Services since I was 17. I was getting into fights, and I ended up leaving school and getting my GED. While I was locked up for 6 months, DYS helped me figure out what my issues were, but they couldn’t help me conquer them.

When I got out, they helped me get my life back together. Even though things were better, I felt hopeless. With a record and no work experience, I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I was sitting at home all day—sleeping, playing video games or going to the DYS office to chat with the workers. After applying to a lot of jobs and getting a lot of closed doors, the DYS resource specialists referred me to More Than Words.

More Than Words was better than I expected—I expected a normal job, but here we were able to work on ourselves. My business job taught me that I’m a hard worker, and I’m capable of being a leader. My YOU job helped me maintain good standing in college, overcome tough parts of my personality—like difficulty talking to co-workers—and to let go of small things.

The staff and structure kept me focused: I wanted to finish college, get my computer science degree and work in the I.T. industry. At More Than Words, I learned how to advocate for myself, be positive and handle stressful situations. My personality even changed—as Youth Development Managers pushed me to get more involved with my coworkers, I overcame my shyness.

Now, I’m working at Logan Airport, and More Than Words is still checking in with me. I’m in my second year at Bunker Hill Community College—studying computer science. More Than Words held me to a high standard while giving me a second chance.

Graduated 2015

Dayja: I’m Prepared for My Future

Four years, six couches, one shelter and countless sleepless nights. I became homeless when my mother kicked me out right before my 18th birthday. Although I experienced homelessness as a child, not having a stable home is much scarier as an adult. Obtaining a job, staying safe and not knowing whether you’ll get a shower in the morning are all major worries.

The stress kept me from being my best in school and at work, and I felt stuck. I was thinking about college but didn’t know how to get there. Eventually I realized I couldn’t do it alone. I reached out for support, and one of my caseworkers at Youth Harbors told me about More Than Words. When I interviewed, I was a bit nervous—working on myself sounded like a big challenge!

The hardest part about More Than Words was definitely the YOU job—I didn’t want to talk about myself, but I knew I had to in order to move forward. The staff was patient with me and gave me a lot of chances. I also learned about college applications: the ins and outs of financial aid, loans and interviews. It made me feel really good about my future to know I’m prepared!

Now I’m in a more stable place, excelling in school and continuing to grow in my education. I just started at Roxbury Community College, and hope to transfer to a nursing school to become a midwife. I’ve established a support system, including my Youth Development Manager and Education and Employment Manager.

I’m stronger, more levelheaded and able to endure even the toughest of challenges. No matter what comes toward me in the future, I know I’ll get through it.

Graduated 2015

Kenny: Everyone Needs Someone 

I came to the US from Haiti when I was six. I never had a family that took care of me and was placed in state custody, where I spent the rest of my childhood. I went to More Than Words when I was 16 and living in a group home. I liked working there and being part of a team. I was successful but still had a hard time in the community. I got in trouble and was arrested as a juvenile. When I was 18, I faced adult charges for stealing and was put in jail with people much older than me. It was like a set up for failure.

When I got out, I completed my high school certificate, but then the Department of Children and Families closed my case and I was suddenly homeless. I didn’t know what to do. More Than Words helped me look for work and housing options. Even though I had graduated More Than Words, being homeless, you don’t think clearly. I made a desperate choice to get money and was arrested. Without the best legal representation, I took a felony plea. State prison was tough. I was assaulted, got in fights, and once had my jaw broken. Then I found out that I was facing deportation back to Haiti, and when I finished my sentence I was transferred to ICE. Jodi and Marcella at More Than Words stepped in again and said this wasn’t OK.

All I had ever known was abuse and neglect, being in foster care, being homeless, and being locked up. How could I get sent back to a place I hadn’t lived since I was a child? They found the right lawyer to help me get released. At 24 years old, I had to figure out how to live for the first time. Marcella spent a lot of time helping me find housing and mental health services. I got the opportunity to work at More Than Words as an alumnus, and Brandt, a donations manager, made sure I felt like I had a community at work every day. 

I am now getting housing through the Department of Mental Health. I also just graduated from a culinary training program at the New England Culinary Arts Institute! For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m headed in a positive direction.

Graduated 2013

Sammy: Bravery Means Never Giving Up

I was born in Puerto Rico and grew up living with my dad. When I was fourteen he took me with him to Massachusetts. I didn’t know any English. After about a year he got arrested and I was put in foster care and went from home to home. I learned about More Than Words when I was 16 and living in a group home.

At the time, MTW was just starting up in a little office in Waltham. I was one of the youth who helped open our first store on Moody Street. I learned efficiency, punctuality, and how to be professional. I learned how to work. I felt like I was really part of something—a feeling I’d never felt before. I really mattered. MTW really pushed me to get out of the streets, take school seriously, and make better choices.

I graduated from More Than Words and High School. I went straight to college, getting my associates degree at Salem State and then my bachelors at Springfield College. But despite all my success and positive choices, I landed in prison after one moment of not thinking right. I wish every day that I could undo that moment.

I used my time in prison to continue to grow and change, and also reconnected with my biological mom. Jodi at MTW was one of two people who visited me. After prison I have gotten my life on track. I have gone back to school to study business, and I am working as a regional training manager for Verizon. I got married and have a beautiful son.

I am where I am because of brave moves, like never leaving school regardless of where I had to sleep. Whether I was living in a foster home, on a park bench, or in prison: I went to school dirty but I never stopped learning. And I stayed in touch with Jodi through it all, with letters, phone calls, and visits.

I brought my son to the More Than Words summer barbeque in 2017 to meet all the current youth. It was amazing seeing the growth and knowing I had something to do with it. I could see myself in the youths’ eyes.

Graduated 2006