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Volunteers Change Lives, Build Community


In the United States, a group called “Thread” has been helping young people meet their goals for more than 10 years. The non-profit organization is based in the eastern city of Baltimore, Maryland. Its volunteers help high school students with almost anything, like learning how to wash their clothes and how to get a job. Some volunteers drive students to school and help them with difficult classes. They even spend time with the young people on weekends.

Thread says it is helping to create families that are not connected by blood.

Completing paperwork for admission to college is not easy. But 18-year-old Trey is getting help from Brenda Wilson, a volunteer at Thread.

“We've all been frustrated with filling out forms and passwords and getting kicked back and forth.”

Ms. Wilson is a former teacher and lawyer. She has been advising Trey for almost two years.

“He just graduated high school, and is trying to set his goals and figure out what to do next.”

Ms. Wilson says she also talks with Trey about how he is going to vote, how he spends his time and what he likes to do.

Trey says working with Ms. Wilson has taught him that sometimes he must do things he does not like doing.

“I didn’t like working on computers, but she helped me to get out of it like, like, 'You gonna have to learn.'"

Ms. Wilson says she likes being involved with Trey.

“It doesn’t feel like volunteering -- it feels like Trey is someone I know and care about, like I would for someone in my family.”

Thread says it is working to create the kinds of deep relationships that Trey and Ms. Wilson have developed. The group wants students to feel that they are understood, cared for and appreciated.

Thread was launched 11 years ago. It was the idea of Sara Hemminger, who was a student at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The school and the hospital are in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. Ms. Hemminger wanted to do something to help young people from poor neighborhoods. She wanted to give poor students the advice and support they needed to succeed in school and in life.

Thread now has 207 student alumni and more than 750 volunteers.

Thread helps connect students who are having difficulty in high school with people who can help them change their lives. It says some of the students have a parent who is incarcerated or the students themselves may be jailed at some point during their time with Thread. They may have struggles with their attendance at school or something bad is happening at home. Thread says it stays with the students no matter what happens. It never gives up on them.

The relationships between the students and volunteers are planned to last for 10 years. The volunteers give the young people whatever kind of help they need. This might include giving the student a ride home from school or helping them with relationships. The group also helps students meet with experts to learn the skills they need to get a summer job or a permanent one.

Kiss was 15 years old when she joined the program three years ago.

“I had a lot of problems. When I moved up here I didn’t know a lot of people because I don't have family here. And so when they came into my life, it helped me with everything.”

Kiss must complete one more year of high school before she can go to college. She already knows what she wants to do with her life. She says she wants to be a dentist, and she wants to volunteer at Thread.

She has been helped by Jesse Cohen, a medical student at Johns Hopkins. He says helping Kiss has helped him.

“Kiss has taught me a lot about perseverance. She has overcome numerous obstacles to get where she is today, which is really inspiring.”

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Faiza Elmasry reported this story from Baltimore, Maryland. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

frustrated – adj. very angry or disheartened because of being unable to do or complete something

alumnus – n. someone who was a student at a given school, college or university or was active in a program or activity (alumni is the singular form of “alumnus”)

incarcerated – adj. jailed; imprisoned

perseverance – n. the quality that enables someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult

obstacle – n. something that makes it difficult to do something

inspiring – adj. causing people to want to do or create something or to lead better lives

Do volunteers work with young people in your country to help them improve their lives? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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