How One of Our Partners Has Been Empowering Youth for 125 Years

When we are going through our darkest moments, we want to know there is hope and people who care about us. The Wyman Center has been a beacon of hope for countless young people like Na’Myiah who became overwhelmed with the pressures that come with being a teenager.

“They’ve been there for me from day one,” said Na’Myiah. “They’re really passionate and excited about being able to give you advice and be there for you, and from that point on, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is the place to be.’”

This year, Wyman, a longtime United Way partner agency, celebrates 125 years of providing young people with the experiences, opportunities, and resources that will help them secure a better future.

Wyman’s CEO, Claire Wyneken said the lives they’ve been able to touch and the way their organization has been able to adjust to the ever-changing challenges young people face is what makes this anniversary so special.

“It is more about the learning and impact of this 125 years than it is about our duration,” said Claire. “This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we have evolved alongside young people over the years, how their environment and the things that have impacted their lives have changed, and how we have been able to adapt what we do with them to support them through those changes.”

Wyman gives people the tools to navigate their way through social, academic, and mental health challenges. They offer programs such as the Teen Outreach Program, Teen Connection Project, Wyman Leaders, and many more to help teens overcome obstacles by equipping them with resources to be the best they can be.

Since their inception, they have been a part of the lives of more than 1 million people, including Na’Myiah.

Na’Myiah was forced to endure a lot of difficult transitions throughout her high school career that brought a lot of adversity. The COVID-19 crisis and transitioning to remote and virtual learning posed immense challenges, she also had to abruptly transfer to a different school during her junior year, and to make matters worse, during all of this, her mother suddenly became ill. These factors began to take a toll on her psychologically and academically.

“Depression and anxiety came along and being scared of whether I would be able to see my friends again or pass my classes because you get so distracted and consumed with everything that’s going on,” said Na’Myiah.

Na’Myiah had been involved with Wyman off and on throughout her childhood and began to realize she could use them as a resource during her struggles in high school. She started participating in some of their tutoring programs to get back on track in school. Na’Myiah said Wyman’s ongoing support and guidance during challenging times is what made them special.

“Wyman is something that is definitely a constant and they don’t waver as far as if they’ll be there for you,” said Na’Myiah. “If I needed help with tutoring, applying for college, or paying for certain things, they were the first ones there.”

Na’Myiah eventually overcame her academic struggles thanks in part to Wyman. She went on to pass the High School Equivalency Test (HISET), giving her the equivalent of a high school diploma. Afterwards, she began to build the confidence to pursue higher education. She began applying to colleges in January and just recently found out that she is being accepted into Missouri State University.

Given all that she has been through, graduating from high school this month and heading off to college in the fall seems surreal.

“With all that was going on, there’s so much self-doubt, but I’m really proud of myself and all the people around me that encouraged me,” said Na’Myiah. “There were a few times where I could have just thrown in the towel and quit because I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere and I was just hitting the same wall, but having the team I have around me as far as Wyman and my parents, gave me the encouragement I needed and now I feel like I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Like Na’Myiah, almost all youth who participate in Wyman’s programs and services graduate from high school on time and a lot of them go on to postsecondary education. Claire said the joy and fulfillment that she and her staff get from helping young people reach their full potential is what drives their passion for working for Wyman.

“We’re so proud of them and we’re so overjoyed when we see them go on to thrive, not just in their education and in their work, but also in their families, their relationships, and their volunteerism,” said Claire. “It’s why we get out of bed in the morning and come do this work, but we don’t want to take credit for their success, we just want to be the best partners for young people that we can be.”

Wyman has been a United Way partner since 1924. Claire said our longtime partnership has been crucial in helping them reach this 125-year milestone.

“United Way has been a fundamental support for us for almost our entire existence and they not only help support programs that helps young people achieve the outcomes they’re seeking to achieve, but it also gives us the bandwidth to be able to be a learning organization,” said Claire. “For example, we’re able to track our data and continuously improve, we’re able to have a really strong back office to support the amazing Wyman staff, and you cannot evolve and grow and move along with any population that you’re serving if you don’t have some of those components in place and we would not be able to do that without United Way.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries

Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.