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Downtown View: Youth and Effectiveness

In the last month I’ve met two impressive women. In age they are on either side of 40. Both are intelligent and articulate. Both have taken on risky ventures. And both are approaching their tasks with imagination and wisdom. We usually think of wisdom as coming with experience, and perhaps that is true for some people. But these women seem to have had wisdom from an early age.

Jodi Rosenbaum Tillinger, age 38, is the founder and executive director of an almost 10-year-old non-profit called More Than Words. She started the organization with a friend as a bookstore providing employment for troubled kids in Waltham. Now she has added another location on the second floor of a warehouse in the South End near the Southeast Expressway. MTW rescues both books and teens.

The books are donated—you can drop off books in good condition yourself at 242 East Berkeley Street.

The teens are troubled. Many have dropped out of school, left foster homes or are homeless, and are “court-involved,” as the polite, 18-year-old boy who recently gave a tour of the facility phrased it. The kids arrive at work and sort the books, shelve them so they can be found, take orders from purchasers, package the books and mail them out to buyers. They are basically running a fulfillment center. If you’ve bought a used book from Amazon, that book might have come from this location.

The place is well organized, clean and up to date. The activities in each stage of the process have been divided into discreet areas. It’s as if an Amazon executive designed the whole thing, but it was only Jodi and her staff.

A used-book store is at the front, so you don’t have to order a book to make use of the service. The kids who run the place are paid for their work. They are expected to be on time, groomed appropriately, and keeping track of their progress on reaching their goals, such as graduating from high school or earning their GED. They learn how to find housing, set up a bank account, save money and obtain an ID. They suffer consequences if they fall down on any measure. The intention over the two-year period that kids are involved with MTW is not just to provide passive services, but to give them the incentive to make good choices and acquire the skills they will need to be permanently employed.

Jodi and her friend pretty much thought up this whole program by themselves, and Jodi has developed it into a thriving business and successful training program. When you meet a woman like Jodi, the rest of the world seems lazy and unimaginative.

That is until you meet another woman who also has been putting her time and skills to good use. Juliette Kayyam is 44. Already she has been a civil rights attorney and Governor Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor, overseeing the Massachusetts National Guard. She has served as an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and wrote a column for the Boston Globe for two years. In addition, she has taught at the Kennedy School and, on CNN during the Marathon bombings, she was the only talking head on television who made any sense. That’s when I first noticed her.

She’s now running as a Democrat for governor of Massachusetts. Her youth and broad experience make her interesting. For example, I heard her talk about the port of Boston not being ready for the large ships that will pass through the widened Panama Canal. No one ever talks about the port of Boston.

She’ll have to get at least 15 percent of the delegates’ votes at the Democratic Convention in June to get on the September primary ballot. That will be a challenge since she is running against Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman, both experienced candidates with many friends.

I like all three Democratic candidates, and I would like the Republican candidate too if he stops denying global warming. I won’t decide for whom to vote until all the candidates have time to demonstrate what they are made of.

But like Jodi, Juliette has used imagination and hard work to make herself effective at a relatively young age. It’s good to see that the world will be in good hands for a long time to come.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at