Thread: Weaving Communities Together to Support Vulnerable Youth

Think “success,” and you might think of words like “ambition,” “intelligence,” and “passion.” It’s easy to automatically associate success with individualistic traits.

Now think of your own successes, and zoom out. Can you imagine the network surrounding each achievement? Each goal reached? Quickly, we see that while vital, those traits alone are not enough. Every “success” is surrounded by a community of support, guidance and mentorship. The people in our lives show us that we have the power to shape our own tomorrow.

Thread is a unique nonprofit transforming the lives of vulnerable youth in the Baltimore City area by surrounding them with the networks of support they need to succeed.

Thread identifies ninth grade students facing major life challenges (think poverty, homelessness, broken families, overwhelmed single parents, etc.) who are performing in the bottom 25% of their classes academically and are chronically absent from school.

These kids are not considering college. These kids cannot think about long term goals because tomorrow is consistently uncertain.

Once identified, Thread creates connections and weaves for them “a new social fabric.” They match these students with a dedicated community of up to five university and community-based volunteers and collaborators, permanently reconfiguring the social support structure of all involved. These volunteers, who have committed to support the student for almost 10 years, work together to be available 24/7, doing everything from packing lunches to driving the student to school to giving them shelter to helping them through the college application process. They do anything and everything necessary to ensure the teenager pursues a successful and purposeful life.

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The success rate is astounding. 92% of students who have been in Thread for 5 years have graduated high school. 90% of those same students have been accepted into college and 80% of alumni have completed a 4 or 2 year degree or certificate program. For context, in 2011-2012, 41.3% of Baltimore’s high school students were chronically absent and the five-year high school graduation rate was 71.7% Thread has 255 students and alumni.

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What is it about this program that makes it so incredibly successful?

The New York Times interviewed Thread student Eddie Blackstone, 23, a graduate of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and currently a junior at Towson University, and  two of his volunteers, Tong Zhang and Rose Parkinson:

One day I got into an argument and said something real hurtful to Tong, and she started to cry,” recalled Eddie. “I saw she was crying because she loves me. I had never had that. My mother wasn’t even willing to cry when she was leaving me for a cocaine dealer. I was like, ‘This relationship’s real.’”

Another time Rose grew angry with Eddie for saying that he didn’t think he was good enough for college. She threw her keys in frustration. Eddie recalled: “She was like: ‘Eddie, we know you’re better than everything you’ve been through in your life! We see it in you. Why can’t you see it?’”

“You’re not going to throw your keys at someone you don’t care about,” he added. “It gave me a family feeling — like a feeling of being wanted.”

Tong Zhang and Eddie Blackstone

Tong Zhang and Eddie Blackstone

Success is greater than ambition, boldness and tenacity. We need to be held accountable. We need people to believe in us, so that we are empowered to control our futures.

Thread, like the team at Project Picture Day, is tackling society’s greatest problems through fostering emotional wellness. By reducing isolation and giving children a system of support when they are most impressionable, Thread is setting Baltimore’s most vulnerable youth up for lifelong success.

Check out more and donate to Thread here, follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

Written by Paige Sferrazza

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