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Last summer, Sarah Hemminger ’10 was featured in a New York Times article that described Thread, the remarkable Baltimore-based program that she created 15 years ago. Her goal: to address the seemingly intractable problems afflicting the city’s most troubled communities.
Thread’s results have been impressive, noted columnist David Brooks. Enrolling ninth-grade students in the bottom 25 percent of their freshman high school class, Thread “weaves an elaborate system of relationships, a cohesive village, around the task of helping kids,” he wrote. Thread also enables the five or more adults who constitute each enrollee’s extended, surrogate family to expand their own horizons and enhance their lives.
“Thread really is about coming together in a way that transforms everyone’s life,” says Hemminger. “Our goal is to reknit together a social fabric in the city that is a diverse, integrated community of people.” Ending social isolation will improve city schools and lower crime, she says.
Thread requires the students to sign a contract, committing themselves to the program for 10 years. Some later want to quit. Thread won’t let them. “We continue to persist until the relationships are formed and solid,” says Hemminger. Not one of Thread’s more than 527 enrollees or alumni has dropped out. Some 97 percent have graduated and gone on to two- or four-year colleges or advanced certificate programs.
Hemminger, 38, received the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association’s Community Hero Award in 2017 for founding and leading Thread—a career development she never anticipated when entering Johns Hopkins in 2004 as a biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate.
As a teenager, Hemminger saw a six-teacher support group help her future husband, Ryan, a high school classmate, who was failing academically because his family was coming apart at home. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999.Hemminger began Thread during her first year at Johns Hopkins simply “to connect with other people,” especially high schoolers whose problems were similar to what her husband had faced. “What happened is that over the six years of grad school, it became apparent that this is really what I was meant to do in the world.” Much as she still loves science, she says, Thread is “where I feel most useful.”