Our graduating seniors and Thread step boldly into the future (cont’d)
When we began in 2004, with 15 high school students and a couple of volunteers, describing those relationships as “mentoring” made sense. But as our volunteers, students, and collaborators grew together, we realized that, to characterize those bonds as “mentoring” was inadequate. “Mentoring” suggests a relationship whose benefits flow in one direction. It immediately became apparent, however, that the benefits of the relationships we formed were like those shared by family members: deep, enduring and multi-directional. We faced challenges side by side, laughed and cried together; and, as we worked towards common goals, our lives became incredibly interwoven.
Who are we today? We asked students, volunteers, staff, Board members, and collaborators to identify our strengths and think about how we might best be characterized today. As anticipated, respondents noted our students’ remarkable accomplishments. But they also talked about how we build “families” and connections with the larger community, how the ties between the students and volunteers continue beyond graduation, and how our students have opportunities to intern at Hopkins, local businesses, and other organizations. They talked about how collaborators become volunteers, how students and volunteers alike are able to work alongside campus and community leaders, and how collaborators get to know our community’s next generation of leaders. In short, they talked about all the ways in which everyone’s life is enriched by the relationships we facilitate.
So what do you call an organization that connects students, volunteers, and collaborators in relationships that enhance the lives of everyone involved? We call it Thread. From now on, our organization, which began 10 years ago as the “Incentive Mentoring Program”, will be recognized as “Thread.” We’re exactly the same – but we have a name that reflects who we really are – and what we really do. We are looking to the future as a tightly woven community, one that will change the fabric of Baltimore. Watch our Thread students, volunteers and collaborators talk about the power of connection here.
When weavers design and create collaboratively, they join their threads to create a colorful, strong, beautiful tapestry, strand by strand, stitch by stitch. It’s what we’ve done and what we will continue to do. We are
Congratulations, Graduates! (cont’d)
On May 19th, in the Johns Hopkins Schafler Auditorium, the dedication and commitment of students, volunteers, and staff paid off as 30 Thread high school seniors from ACCE cohort 1 and Dunbar cohort 4 walked across the stage, marking their transition into the next stage of their lives. More than 150 friends, family, volunteers, staff, and Board members celebrated their journey and accomplishments.
Although they are graduating from their respective high schools, these students will continue to be supported by Thread Family members for another six years, totaling ten years of mutually beneficial commitment and support. In his presentation, graduating student Sae-Quan spoke of the lasting, meaningful relationships he has built through Thread, saying that it is “more than just a tutoring program” and he is glad his Thread Family will continue to be there for him as his life moves forward.
During the ceremony, all the graduating seniors were individually recognized by a member of their Thread Family who spoke about their transformations, setbacks, and triumphs over the past four years. Students were presented with framed posters featuring a word their Family had chosen to describe the contribution they have made to others’ lives. Thread students’ Families labeled them as motivated, amiable, and inspiring. The support and love in the room was tangible as the audience applauded the great strides each student had taken.
The Keynote Speaker, Judge Andre M. Davis, Senior Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, talked about advice he wished he had been given upon his graduation. He told the students that their brains belong not to them, but to their future and advised them: listen carefully when someone tells you what you can’t do, and then prove that person wrong.
One of the true marks of community is that the bond between members is so strong that each not only admires the accomplishments of others, but also feels a deep sense of pride on everyone’s behalf. At the 2014 Commencement Ceremony, everyone was deeply and lovingly proud of how far everyone in the Thread Community has come during these four years.
Congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2014, and the best of luck in wherever your journeys take you!
Connecting more threads (cont’d)
Since our founding in 2004, our small cadre of founding volunteers and 15 students have grown to more than 700 volunteers and 159 students! In 2007, 2010, and 2013, we graduated our first, second, and third cohorts of seniors attending Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (Dunbar), and in 2010, we expanded to a second site, the Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE). Accordingly, this year, we celebrated another milestone: our first combined graduation, where after almost four years of hard work, supported by their Thread Families, 14 seniors from ACCE cohort 1 joined 16 seniors from Dunbar cohort 4 at the Thread Commencement. Two additional ACCE students finished last year, ahead of their cohort.
Managed program growth, the careful weaving of a larger “new social fabric,” is a basic tenet of Thread’s Long Range Plan which states that we are committed to serving “as many students as possible, as quickly as possible, while maintaining exemplary outcomes.” One of our specific goals is to partner with a third Baltimore High School in 2014, and we are in the process of accomplishing just that. We are now working with Douglass and will soon welcome our first Douglass cohort.
Thread is dedicated to fostering relationships that, when combined, create something even more powerful: the capacity to change not only our individual lives, but also the potential to change the fabric of our community and even the future. We are also committed to responsible growth that will allow us to maintain our highly successful and efficient operations. It’s a challenging plan, but with the addition of ACCE and now Douglass, we are creating the future that we have envisioned.
Becoming Thread (cont’d)
In late 2012, the Board asked IMP’s volunteer Communications Team—Communications Officer Anirudh (AJ) Jangalapalli plus team members Susan Sachs Fleishman and Brenda Wilson—to begin the name change process by polling students, parents, volunteers, staff, Board members, and collaborators, asking them for their impressions of IMP. Words like “family,” “relationships,” and “connections,” appeared repeatedly in survey results; but, as the team probed further, phrases like “deep and enduring,” “two-way,” and “mutually beneficial” were added to the list. The team agreed that it seemed nearly impossible to sum up our unique, successful organization in a single word or phrase.
Working toward its goal, the team also welcomed several staff and Board members as well as experienced collaborators into the process. Early on, Susan Olson Bishop, a Thread collaborator with years of advertising and branding experience, volunteered to help inspire the team’s creativity and facilitate their conversations. Susan, a credentialed coach who works with individuals and organizations to define their vision and increase their impact (www.unlockedbox.com), told us: the ideal name is one that represents the essence of what we do and who we are, and also captures the attention of volunteers, collaborators, donors, and the larger community. The team also benefitted tremendously from the participation of Thread collaborator and community leader Paul Wolman, founder of Feats (www.featsinc.com), who contributed great ideas, encouraged us to think boldly, hosted several meetings and shared the expertise of his talented staff including Feats Design Director Danielle Nekimken.
As the group solicited input and contemplated ideas, it became absolutely clear that the essence of our organization lies in the relationships we foster – deep relationships whose benefits flow two ways. And when these relationships are combined, they create something profoundly significant: a deeply connected community that changes not only the lives of everyone involved, but also the larger Baltimore community and, ultimately, the future. As we continued our research and discussions, it became apparent that our organization builds relationships that enable us to appreciate what we have in common with others. We added the name “Common Thread,” to our list and felt we were getting close. Then, Kevin Hollander, a student interning with Susan Bishop, suggested, “What about just ‘Thread’?” The team considered the metaphor. Each strand of a thread is strengthened when combined with another; carefully woven together, they produce a strong fabric. Suddenly Thread seemed the perfect image to represent our community, and it was added to the short list submitted to the Board of Directors. The Board chose it from among the options presented, and “Thread” was born.
As a final step, the team developed, for the Board, several taglines to complement the new name. During this phase, the team continued to benefit enormously from the support of expert collaborators. Again, Susan Olson Bishop helped by recruiting two additional collaborators — Tim Hoppin, Creative Director at Publicis, and Scott Olson, a former creative director and copywriter — to guide the team through a substantial tagline process, both inspiring the team and contributing their own ideas. After several intense sessions, the team submitted a short list of taglines to the Board, and soon thereafter, we became “Thread: The new social fabric” – words that perfectly capture the essence of who we are and what we do.
The final step was stitching together a dynamic new website to complement the brand. Under the leadership of Brenda Wilson, Thread Communications Officer, and with guidance from Thread collaborator, Alex Atienza (User Experience Designer at ZeniMax Online Studios), Thread Communications Team members, Nick Fogarty, Laura Kelly, and Albert Wavering created Thread.org to tell our story in a powerful way.
Students are serious about their summer (cont’d)
Thread provides unique opportunities for students to grow even though school is out of session. This year, 51 Thread students will spend the summer working in laboratories, clinics, and offices across the JHU campuses and at for-profit and not-for-profit businesses throughout Baltimore. These students will participate in the Diversity and Academic Advancement Summer Institute (DAASI), a six-week paid internship and professional development program that helps students develop career specific skills throughout the summer.
All DAASI students attend weekly workshops in leadership, professionalism, computer use, and other employable skills. This year, DAASI is incorporating a new Professional Development Curriculum for students, designed by University of Maryland student Aashima Gupta, who will be interning with Thread. Thread students also have the opportunity to attend the DAASI summer camps, three day retreats with other students their age as well as post-high school Thread students, which give them a broader perspective of the positive impact Thread can have on their lives.
Thread staff member Sean Foley, who coordinates student employee recruitment, says “employers understand that our students are extremely good workers.” He explains that having a summer job is often a transformative experience. “These kids are very determined and are highly motivated in these jobs.”
Thread also provides opportunities for students to grow academically, even though school is out of session. Through the Academic Assistance Program, Thread offers students one-on-one academic tutoring to recover credits either through APEX, an online credit recovery tool, or summer school. Thread supports its student throughout the summer so that they return to school in the fall even better prepared.
Board member: Thread can be a “game changer” (cont’d)
When Jan Houbolt joined the Thread Board, he had just retired after 25 years as CEO of The LEADERship, a program of The Greater Baltimore Committee designed to create breakthrough thinking and synergetic alliances by bringing together a mix of accomplished individuals from business, nonprofits and government who might normally not interact. Today, he is still an active influence in Baltimore City’s nonprofit sector, involved with numerous programs that work to relieve the effects of poverty and provide support, guidance, and educational resources to inner city youth.
Houbolt believes Thread is unique because it targets a demographic of inner city students that often faces a myriad of challenges to their graduating from high school; yet, as he observes, “the demonstrated level of Thread’s success to date [with 100% of Thread students receiving their high school diplomas] is amazing!”
He refers to the Coleman Report, a leading source on educational equality in the US, which states that socioeconomic status and peer groups have a much greater impact on student outcome than the quality of the school they attend. Houbolt concludes, “Thread has, directly and indirectly, addressed these two variables, which are the major drivers, by creating a new extended family that, while not trying to replace the existing family, provides all the various ports and interventions that make it possible for low performing students to become academically high performing students and resilient citizens.” He explains that Thread’s students defy the odds and that one of the reasons Thread’s impact is so great is that “individuals become more empowered when they develop a set of supportive relationships that enable them, in turn, to be supportive to others.”
Houbolt believes that Thread has the potential to expand to a national level, but for now, his goal is “to keep inspiring and helping individual students to change their destiny, but also to have an impact on a systemic level” because he sees the Thread model as “a potential game changer in terms of breaking the cycle of dropouts from high school and ergo ending the cycle of poverty.”