David Bornstein: Program helps youth with education and services

Youth participate in the Thread program in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from Facebook

A unique mentoring and incentive program in Baltimore, Maryland, is helping vulnerable youth succeed by offering them support with education, housing and other services. Author David Bornstein explores how Thread works in the first of a two-part series in The New York Times:
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.

The assistance may include 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. The philosophy is to do whatever it takes to help the teenager develop into an adult who can pursue a fulfilling life. “A volunteer may literally go at 7 a.m. and try to pick the kid up for school, a second person may go at 10 a.m., another person at noon,” explains Sarah Hemminger, a Thread co-founder and the chief executive. Volunteers take students to restaurants and movies; they hang out and talk about life; they go camping; they sometimes provide homes to students.

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.’”

Get the Story:
David Bornstein: For Vulnerable Teenagers, a Web of Support (The New York Times 3/8)

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