From the Coleman report in 1966 to Robert Putnam’s recent book “Our Kids,” there is a growing body of evidence showing that a child’s personal relationships and networks play a crucial role in their educational achievement and life outcomes. For example, a key factor for ensuring resiliency in a child is the extent to which he or she has a strong bond with a caring adult and connectedness to his or her school community. The extent of one’s personal relationships appears to be a more useful predictor of how one will fare in life than almost any other factor.
There is no doubt that Baltimore’s most vulnerable young people are disconnected and in crisis. Despite rising average high school graduation rates across the city (roughly 75 percent overall), only 41 percent of ninth grade students with early warning indicators like poor attendance, behavior problems, and course failure graduate from high school. Among students with early warning indicators AND a Grade Point Average (GPA) of less than 1.0, only six percent graduate from high school within four years. Social isolation is the critical phenomenon that underlies these outcomes and prevents our young people from accessing the resources and opportunities needed to thrive.
Like many American cities, Baltimore struggles both with a legacy of institutionalized racism, as well as rising segregation by both race and class that prevents cross connectedness of networks. Despite being the largest city in America’s wealthiest state, Baltimore’s poverty rate (24%) is more than twice the statewide poverty rate (10%). Baltimore’s median income is $30,000 less than the statewide median, and homeownership rates in Baltimore are 20% below that of the rest of Maryland. These indicators of Baltimore’s economic health reflect significant disconnections between Baltimore’s population and the opportunities and wealth throughout our state.
Thread understands that everyone needs deep interpersonal bonds to thrive. Thread seeks out the most academically underperforming students and radically reconfigures their social support in a way that transforms their lives and the lives of the entire Baltimore community.
How does it work? Thread engages students in the bottom 25 percent of their class and comes alongside them with wrap-around support. Each student has 4-5 unique volunteers – a Thread Family – that check in with students and help increase access to resources. From packing lunches, providing rides to school, or connecting families to additional support, the Thread Family does whatever it takes to care for its students.
The critical insight on how to reduce intergenerational poverty is that Thread both facilitates relationships between students, their families, volunteers, and collaborators and weaves a new social fabric for everyone involved. Everyone in Thread is encouraged to break down the artificial divide between “us” and “them.” By connecting the leaders of today and tomorrow—our students, their families, volunteers, and collaborators—Thread amasses a cadre of adaptable, resilient, and tenacious agents of change that paves the way for a wide variety of broader systemic shifts. In 2017, Thread served 303 students, engaged 850+ volunteers, and partnered with 350+ community collaborators. What’s more, 88 percent of students involved with Thread for five years graduate high school and 84 percent have been accepted into college.
In 2004, Sarah Hemminger and her husband, Ryan, founded Thread to foster relationships between Johns Hopkins volunteers and students at risk of dropping out of high school. They started with 15 students and a small group of volunteers to touch students’ lives with consistent, authentic, committed support. Since then, Thread has grown from 15 students to over 300.
Thread is a 2017 S+ Catalyst. Through participation in the Catalyst Program, Thread receives training from industry experts in organizational development, branding, measurement and growth, and strategic relationships to amplify their impact and strategically expand their reach.