Building a More Connected Baltimore Through Relationships that Transcend Race, Class, and Zip Code
If you ask a policy-maker or CEO what is the biggest problem facing their city or state, they’re likely to say crime, addiction, high dropout rates, or weak job growth. What this diagnosis often misses is a shared underlying cause that is increasingly understood to be the single greatest factor behind an individual’s success in life: social isolation. There is a growing body of evidence showing that the strength of an individual’s personal relationships and networks play a crucial role in their educational achievement, health, and life outcomes. Our connections to each other may in fact be the single greatest predictor of how we will fare.
If social isolation is the problem, trusting relationships (as found in strong families) are the solution. Thread creates this family by rallying community members around Baltimore’s most academically underperforming young people – 9th graders in the lowest 25% of their class academically. 3-4 Thread volunteers form a "Thread Family" around a single student. These volunteers spend time with their student, getting to know each other and learning to trust each other. For example, a Thread volunteer may pick up a student from school, help them with their homework, and explore career options together. Thread volunteers are trained from the start to be vulnerable, to be ready to learn as well as teach. The words “mentor” and “program” are banned. Volunteers and students become part of each other’s extended network, sharing graduations, births and deaths together and supporting each other unconditionally. Thread never gives up on a single student and stays with every student for ten years (volunteers commit for one). The results are astounding.
Thread's innovative solution has transformed the academic, personal, and professional outcomes of all its participants—volunteers, students, and the community. Historically, only 6% of Baltimore’s 9th graders with GPAs less than 1.0 graduate from high school in four years. Thread students beat those odds by more than 10x (65% versus 6%). 87% of Thread students graduate high school within six years. And 83% of Thread students have completed a two or four-year degree or certification. Thread currently works with 527 students and alumni and over 1,000 volunteers, and plans to expand its impact to ultimately reach 7% of Baltimore’s 9th graders by 2021. Thread’s innovative model has been covered in the NY Times, Forbes Magazine, the Financial Times, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.