A Novel Program Provides an Entire Network of Support for At-Risk Youth

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In the first of a two-part series in the New York Times, author David Bornstein puts the spotlight on a novel mentoring program being run in Baltimore City Public Schools. The organization, Thread, marshalls volunteer support for at-risk ninth graders. While the idea of utilizing volunteers to provide assistance to at-risk youth is not unique to Thread, the manner in which Thread implements this assistance is.


From the article, “Thread identifies students in ninth grade who are facing major life challenges: poverty, homelessness, family breakdown or single parents who are overwhelmed by work, illness or other problems. The students are in the bottom 25 percent of their classes academically and are often chronically absent. Thread connects them with a team of up to five volunteers who commit to support them in any way necessary, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 10 years.”


With the goal of doing whatever it takes to enable the youth to achieve success, volunteers provide assistance across a wide range of areas. Wake-up calls or rides to school, food and clothing, child care or legal help, connection to community service opportunities, help finding jobs, tutoring, SAT preparation or college admission guidance are just some examples.


The program, co-founded by Sarah Hemminger, takes what could be described as an inverted zero-tolerance policy: the student receives unyielding support and can never be expelled from the program. From the article, “The offer is unconditional support. A student will not get kicked out, no matter how hard he or she tests volunteers. ‘They have to agree to join and their guardian has to agree and sign a lot of paperwork,’ adds Hemminger. ‘We tell students: ‘Once you are in you cannot get out. This is serious. It’s not something you can undo. You’re going to want to undo this, but once it’s happened, it’s happened.'”


This unique approach has brought about some exceptional results. Bornstein writes, “Of the 176 students who have been in Thread for less than five years, 97 percent are still attending high school or have graduated. Of the 79 who have been in the program for over five years, 92 percent have graduated high school and 80 percent have enrolled in a two or four year college or certification program. (In Baltimore’s public schools, only 72 percent of students graduate high school within five years.)”


One of the foundational ideas behind this approach, as Bornstein says, “[I]s that poverty should be defined as a condition of isolation, not just a lack of money. ‘Relationships are the key things that bring about real changes,’ said Sarah Hemminger, who co-founded Thread with her husband Ryan.”


To read more please see the original article in the New York Times.