Thread is a successful and GREAT volunteer-based community working towards better educational outcomes and more equitable access to resources and opportunities for Baltimore youth and young adults by building relationships across lines of difference. Many Baltimore City youth need the greater community to help to support and to inspire their education which also improves their lives and future aspirations. You can find out more about Thread in the Catholic Review here or on their website at Thread.org/volunteer.
Weaving new relationships by connecting people from different communities
Written by Martha Thomas - Baltimore Magazine, February, 2020
When Steven Clapp was in Ninth grade at Dunbar High School, a woman came into band class and read off a list of students’ names. “I was playing snare drum and minding my own business,” Clapp, now 20, says. “She told us to follow her. I thought I was in trouble.”
The woman, who, it turns out, was employed by a nonprofit, led them to another room, where she said, “You’re gonna take this quiz, you’re gonna eat this pizza, and you’re gonna like it,” Clapp recalls.
The chosen students, identified as “high potential, low performers,” he says, had been selected to participate in Thread, an organization that provides a network of support to each student, committing to the student in various ways for 10 years.
Clapp, pictured, who didn’t have money for food that day, did as he was told and liked it. Not just the pizza, though that seems to have been a valued perk. “Thread drowned us in pizza,” he says. “Plus, we got Chipotle at midterms and finals.”
But the relationship didn’t end with a free lunch: Over the years that he’s been involved with Thread, he’s received all sorts of support—everything from a lift from Dunbar (in East Baltimore) to his brother’s house in Pikesville, to help with homework, to just having someone to hang out with on a summer afternoon. “If it weren’t for Thread, I’d be working at Wendy’s,” says Clapp, who currently freelances as a music producer and helps market a new app affiliated with Thread.
Today, more than two years after graduating from high school, he sits in a small meeting room at the Thread headquarters in Mondawmin Mall with Vince Talbert, one of his mentors—Thread calls them “volunteers”—to talk about the program. This time, there are donuts.
The two met in 2018 when Talbert, a tech entrepreneur who started the company Bill Me Later (which he later sold to PayPal) began developing an app to support Thread. The platform, called Thrive, is designed to help scale Thread’s activities by connecting its participants.
Talbert began his relationship with Thread as a “collaborator,” one of the three legs, along with the students and volunteers, of the Thread system. Collaborators donate their unique professional expertise—in Talbert’s case, software development. Other collaborators might include tutors or experts in law, college admissions, or job readiness. Talbert soon transitioned to volunteering with students and is now a “head of family” in Thread parlance. “Steven kind of recruited me,” Talbert explains. “We were working on the app research and he said, ‘You should be my volunteer.’” Talbert later hired Clapp to introduce students to the app.
Clapp is just one of Thread’s success stories: Founded in 2004 by wife and husband Sarah and Ryan Hemminger, when Sarah was a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins medical campus—a neighbor to Dunbar High School—they recruited volunteers from the School of Medicine to work with 15 at-risk students, helping them with whatever they needed. “We started with 15 students, two volunteers, and one high school,” she says. Initially, Thread took on new students every three years, and eventually graduated a class after three years. In 2019, 112 ninth graders entered the program.
This year, the organization will serve 735 students from six high schools with about 2,000 volunteers, says Sarah Hemminger.