An idea before its time

Today, we’d call them social entrepreneurs. Today, we call it a gap year.

In 1968, a tumultuous year in American history, those terms did not exist in the U.S. That year, three innovative leaders found themselves discussing the limited options for youth in their transition from high school into the real world of adulthood; the only structured options were college, the military, or entering the workforce at an entry-level.

They felt youth needed another option, one grounded in the real world where most of life takes place, that would be active and meaningful and would help each young person learn how to:

  • be confident in their own strengths and abilities
  • take the lead in one’s own life (as a precursor to leading others)
  • embrace positive, thoughtful risk-taking
  • effectively pursue their own passions or “life’s work”
  • and understand their individual place in the larger community.

They looked to their own formative experiences and to the outdoor experiential field for inspiration. They began to piece together a number of components and to look for both an ideal urban location and an equally innovative and passionate educator to lead it. They choose Worcester, Massachusetts as the site, and Bruce Berquist as the founding executive director. The doors opened for the first time in the fall of 1969.

What’s in a Name
That first year it was called The Leadership School, and enrolled only male students. Just a year later the program became coed and sought a new, unique, and inspirational name. Dynamy was soon settled on with a deeper awareness than just a simple play on “dynamic.” Active discussion of the Classical Greek and Latin root words connoting power, spirit, and force occurred. Dunamis is a Greek word that can be translated by context into power, potency, ability, and force. Anima is a Latin word meaning spirit, life, or breath. And of course, academy, an English word for a place of learning, comes from the Greek Akademeia, the peaceful grove from which Plato taught. The name was chosen, and with its uniqueness, quickly stuck.

Why Worcester?
Given the need for access to a city’s institutions and businesses for true real-world internships, the founders realized that the very largest cities may be difficult in this regard. They also realized that though they intended their program to be an alternative option for recent high school graduates, they certainly wished to be alongside the higher education community. This combination—an unpretentious mid-sized city with real access to civic, business, and nonprofit leaders and a vibrant college presence—led them to Worcester. Looking back today, it is obvious it was another inspired and before-its-time choice.

An idea with legs
Now in its fifth decade, Dynamy has clearly stood the test of time. While continuously updated to best serve each new generation of students, its core beliefs and components remain the same and seem as relevant and powerful as ever. Through the decades, Dynamy modified its expertise in experiential education and mentoring to support students and professionals in a variety of ways (Future Leaders of Worcester, Clark University graduate students, Worcester Public School teachers, etc.), and expansions to both Minnesota and Santa Rosa, CA were attempted as well.

But only one new application of the core elements and expertise of Dynamy has stood the test of time, and that’s the Youth Academy (formerly the John S. Laws Institute), a college success and leadership program for underprivileged Worcester high school students launched in 1989. The Youth Academy alumni have been very successful in not only matriculating to higher education, but also earning that all-important degree. For the past 25 years, then, Dynamy has included both the Internship Year and Youth Academy as its core programs.

The next significant change came in 2009, as Dynamy reached its 40th birthday. After a significant strategic planning process, Dynamy leadership chose to pursue a merger with a larger local nonprofit agency that had a great deal of mission overlap and similar values. Youth Opportunities Upheld, known best as Y.O.U., Inc., became Dynamy’s parent agency through the 2009 merger. As hoped for, the merger has truly strengthened both entities, and with Y.O.U. Inc.’s support and additional expertise, Dynamy Internship Year is as strong today as it’s ever been.