It’s back to school for Baltimore.

We’re now one year into our 2018-2021 Strategic Plan, which targets exceedingly ambitious growth in students, volunteers, and infrastructure in order to reach 7 percent of freshmen in Baltimore’s traditional public high schools. To meet this goal, by 2021 we must enroll 304 new students and continue to enroll at that level annually for 10 years until we’ve reached 3,040 students (not including alumni) and over 8,200 volunteers by 2030.

Thread began fourteen years ago with only fifteen students from one Baltimore City high school. Since then, we’ve grown to four high schools, 415 students and alumni, over 1200 volunteers and collaborators, and 30+ staff and 12 AmeriCorps members. Just this year, we’ve expanded to our fourth high school and welcomed 112 new students—our largest cohort to date—up from 48 in 2017.

In addition to growing our existing communities at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the Academy for College and Career Exploration, and Frederick Douglass High School, we enrolled 32 students from our newest site: Digital Harbor High School. Although our new students have only been part of Thread for a few short months, we are already beginning to see the impact of trust and persistence through relationships that embrace lines of difference.

Small changes are particularly noticeable in Federal Hill, the neighborhood immediately surrounding Digital Harbor High School. Over the last few years, the neighborhood and school communities have experienced tension and mistrust, which made Digital Harbor a compelling choice for Thread. When building volunteer teams to support our new Digital Harbor students, we were intentional about sourcing directly from the community surrounding the school. By speaking at neighborhood meetings, connecting with community leaders, and diversifying our volunteer resource hubs to include University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Maryland, Baltimore, we were able to connect Digital Harbor students with volunteers living in close proximity to the school—opening up many new possibilities for two siloed areas to become interconnected. Targeting volunteer recruitment in this way is new to our model and is having a positive impact on neighborhood, school, and our capacity to scale.

Lauren Muratore’s Thread Family is a stellar example of what this can look like. Lauren moved to Riverside last July and heard about Thread at a neighborhood association meeting. “The association had just done their crime report which usually lays bare a lot of irrational fear and quiet racism in the neighborhood. Then Nikhil, Thread’s Community Manager at Digital, stood up and offered energy, optimism, and data about Thread as a viable solution.” Lauren signed up to become a Head of Family volunteer.

Lauren met her student, Jason, and Family Members at Family Match Day last February. Since then, they’ve been working closely together to develop strong relationships. “I feel really grateful to our student, Jason, for how engaged and open he’s been. I’m grateful for my Family Members, Richard and Beth, who are all in on this—the family steps in when I’ve needed to step back.”

Though Lauren has only been in the Thread community since the spring, she already sees changes taking root in her life and in her neighborhood. “Being a part of Thread has offered me a different level of awareness in multiple ways, including the wider city of Baltimore; the neighborhoods and systems in play; and what it’s like for students from Digital to be in this neighborhood.”

Lauren’s sentiments are echoed by school leaders at Digital Harbor, shared Abeer Said, the 2017-18 9th grade counselor. “Thread’s presence at Digital Harbor has been impactful and necessary—the volunteers have truly formed a caring bond with our students. I personally cannot wait to see those relationships and supports continue to grow as our students move through high school and beyond. Love begets love.”

Thread offers more than anecdotal stories about how we can and should do better. We have the facts and data to prove that the Thread Community Model is working. Intentions can’t bridge gaps and boundaries. Relationships can.