Thread engages underperforming high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources. We foster students’ academic advancement and personal growth into self-motivated, resilient, and responsible citizens.
The Challenge: A Disconnected Community
Baltimore neighborhoods are dramatically different than they were 60 years ago. TheSupreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of1968, and Baltimore’s loss of manufacturing jobs have caused neighborhoods that were once racially segregated but socioeconomically diverse to become polarized by both race and class. This disconnectedness has resulted in increased crime and poor educational and economic outcomes.
As pockets of concentrated poverty developed and deepened, it became increasingly difficult for families to find the support they needed to meet the needs of their youth, resulting in students’ increased susceptibility to scholastic apathy, chronic absenteeism and ultimately a failure to graduate high school. During the 2011-2012 school year, 41.3% of Baltimore’s high school students were chronically absent (Connolly and Alok Kommajesula, 2014) and the five-year high school graduation rate was 71.7% (Baltimore City Public Schools, 2013). As dropouts are estimated to earn $260,000 less than graduates over the course of their lives (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007) and a male dropout is over three times more likely than a graduate to have committed a crime that has led to his incarceration (Dillon, Sam, 2009), this dropout rate affects not only the student, but the entire Baltimore community as well.
A large percentage – and a richly diverse group – of Baltimore’s residents move to the city to attend or work at one of its prestigious colleges or universities. When these students and faculty fail to build strong relationships, both personally and professionally, in Baltimore, they leave and return to their permanent homes after receiving their degrees or finishing their tenures or residencies, draining Baltimore of valuable professional, financial, and intellectual resources. In addition, despite the geographic proximity of Baltimore City high schools and local universities, very few students have any concept of the lives being led by their counterparts just a few blocks away. The minimal interaction between these disconnected groups represents a missed opportunity to create a racially and socioeconomically diverse community and, thereby, reduce crime and improve educational and economic outcomes.
Baltimore’s employers are projected to experience their greatest hiring demand between 2012 and 2020, and many of these jobs will require at least an associate degree. One-third of Baltimore’s residents, however, have not received a high school diploma. This combination of low-level education attainment for Baltimore residents, transient university student and faculty populations, and the increasing demand for mid- to high-skilled workers is poised to create talent shortage in coming years.
The Solution: Creating Connection
Thread weaves a new social fabric by connecting students, university and community-based volunteers, and collaborators. By radically and permanently reconfiguring the social support structure of all involved, Thread breaks the cycle of crime, poor educational and economic outcomes and replaces it with a new cycle of educational attainment, service and social well-being.
Freshman students at risk of failing to graduate high school are identified based on their academic performance (bottom 25% of their class) and an abundance of challenges outside the classroom. Each Thread student is matched with a group of up to five volunteers, an extended family that does whatever it takes to provide their student and family with completely customized support. This might include packing lunches, providing rides to school, tutoring, connecting students and their families to existing community resources, and coordinating clothing, furniture, or appliance donations. Thread supports its students for nearly ten years, the remainder of high school and six years thereafter.
Thread volunteers form deep, enduring, and emotionally sustaining relationships with students, volunteers, and collaborators and grow personally and professionally from being part of the Thread community. As they get to know their student counterparts at nearby high schools, Thread volunteers quickly come to experience the Thread Value that “everybody has something to teach and everybody has something to learn.” In addition, Thread volunteers are trained and mentored as they learn the Thread Core Competencies and form relationships, not only with students, but also with collaborators throughout Baltimore, acquiring leadership skills and creating strong ties to the larger Baltimore community.
Thread collaborators make up the external component of the fabric of diverse human capital that drives Thread’s success by providing pro bono services to students, volunteers, and the organization. Rather than formulating new education, social, and community programs, Thread connects collaborators to both students and volunteers, thereby improving student outcomes and facilitating relationships between Baltimore’s businesses and organizations and a talented pool of university- and community-based volunteers, ultimately creating a leadership pipeline to support a growing Baltimore economy.
Thread is changing the fabric of Baltimore – and the future. Just this year, 415 students and alumni, 850+ volunteers and 350+ collaborators have spent over 30,000 hours together, building relationships that transcend barriers and enrich the lives of everyone involved. Thread students have performed thousands of hours of community service, primarily in Baltimore City, but also globally, joining our volunteers and collaborators as they become the next generation of agents of change. The relationships that Thread has woven have given our students an even greater opportunity to defy the odds:
of students who have been in Thread for 6 years have graduated high school
of students who have been in Thread for 5 years have been accepted to college
of student alumni have completed a 4 or 2 year degree or certificate program
In addition, by weaving together students, university- and community- based volunteers, and collaborators into a new social fabric – one that transcends barriers and works to end disconnectedness – Thread is working to interrupt the cycle of poverty, crime, and lack of education and improve the odds for all students.
My experience with Thread has been a revelation of endless opportunity that has helped me realize my own potential. Thread brings people together that normally wouldn’t know one another and uses the different perspectives, experiences and knowledge to learn from each other and cultivate better and more well rounded individuals
– Thread Student Alumnus
Thread allows for leaders across distinct organizations to link together and gain perspective from one another. The opportunities that Thread provides to lead other volunteers and develop intricate partnerships within the Baltimore community are unparalleled. Volunteering for Thread has led to an incredible career opportunity for me. … I am grateful for the wonderful people I have met within our organization and am excited about staying in Baltimore for the term and driving change.
– Thread Volunteer
The reason that I’m so inspired by Thread is that I know what it feels like to experience a sense of loss that is so profound that you feel like you’re all alone. But I also know what it feels like to have a sense of a family that’s rebuilt that’s so strong that your heart is completely overwhelmed with joy. People always talk about people being “Products of their environments” And I remember going to visit [the other] Wes…and asking him “Do you think that we’re products of our environments?” And he looked back at me and he said “I think we’re products of our expectations.” And I thought to myself “he is absolutely right.” The beauty of Thread and the beauty of this program and the beauty of you is that you define that. And the thing that I ask of you is that you define that, not just for yourselves, but you define that for others.
– Wes Moore, Thread Collaborator