Sarah Hemminger: Found Family Supporting Students

Ashoka Fellow
United States, North America
Fellow Since 2013
My work: building non-traditional families to support disenfranchised students

Check out this video of Sarah Hemminger's work

Related TopicsAt risk youth, Children & Youth, Social Entrepreneurship

Citation

This profile was prepared when Sarah Hemminger was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Sarah saw that many of the kids growing up in concentrated poverty needed more than just improved financial resources or higher quality classrooms: they needed the unassailable support and deep interpersonal bonds that we traditionally derive from family. Through Incentive Mentoring Program (IMP), she thus set out to fundamentally change the way we conceive of the word “family.”

Sarah begins by surrounding at-risk students—those in the bottom 25 percent of their class, with a history of truancy and behavioral problems following their 9th grade year—with a group of six to eight volunteers. United by a common commitment to do “whatever it takes,” volunteers connect students and their biological families to community resources, by coordinating clothing, furniture and appliance donations, home renovations, and public assistance enrollment. Like Teach For America, IMP is designed to leave a lasting imprint not only on students, but on the volunteers it serves—one that they will carry with them throughout their careers. By carefully identifying and involving influential members of the community in the family structure, she has managed to transcend racial and socioeconomic boundaries within Baltimore, paving the way for a wide variety of broader systemic shifts.

IMP currently serves 135 students in two local high schools, having more than doubled in the last two years. To date, the organization has worked with more than 900 volunteers in the Baltimore community, and is in talks to expand to other cities with highly engaged college student populations, including New Haven, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New York, and other similarly situated cities. Having entered the program with an average GPA of 1.0, 100 percent of the students have graduated high school and been accepted to college, and of those in the oldest cohort, 66 percent received a college degree at the end of 2013.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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