Zachary Wolfson, founder and executive director of Threads of Care/ Photo courtesy of Threads of Care.
By BROOKE WANSER
Zachary Wolfson is only 18, but he has been collecting clothing for homeless and impoverished youth since childhood, now running nonprofit foundation Threads of Care as a senior at Franklin High School.
During a trip to New York City with his parents, a then six-year old Wolfson saw a homeless youth on the street.
“While we were rounding a corner on one of the snowy days, I saw a young boy about my age lying on a tattered piece of cardboard in an alley,” he said.
Wolfson, who has spent his entire life in Williamson County, said he couldn’t fathom why this boy had to suffer, while he lacked nothing. “It just seemed so wrong,” he said.
The incident stayed with him. During middle school at Battle Ground Academy, Wolfson held his first coat drive, which was successful and led to others.
Once he reached his sophomore year at Franklin High School, Wolfson was ready to go a step further.
He held another coat drive, partnering with the Oasis Teen Center in Nashville to distribute clothing donations.
“I thought there was a chance to grow this into something bigger,” he said. Threads of Care has student ambassadors now at several Williamson County high schools, with plans to expand into Nashville next.
Beginning Dec. 1, Threads of Care will be accepting new and lightly used winter clothing for a drive including coats, light jackets, gloves, hats, pants. The new items, Wolfson said, will go to Needs of Our Kids (NOOK), the Franklin Special School District’s program for underprivileged children.
Donations can be dropped off at Franklin, Independence, Page, Centennial and Brentwood high schools.
Read more about Wolfson and Threads of Care in the question and answer below.
Franklin Home Page: When did you decide you wanted to do something bigger than a coat drive?
Zachary Wolfson: A coat drive is just a singular process. I thought I could do something to streamline the process. I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to start a nonprofit. [Thread of Care is currently a nonprofit limited liability company]. Over the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I started to recruit people. I started to develop our website. When you create your company, you have to put systems in place, so I created an operations manual.
FHP: What inspired you to focus on homeless youth, specifically, and to have other teens serving them?
ZW: I was very much inspired by how they [The Oasis Center] were trying to serve impoverished teens. This would not only allow them to be served, but for us to show them that other teens care about them. I wanted teens to get involved in their community and feel like they are a part of something.
FHP: What are your plans for Threads of Care once you go off to college this next year?
ZW: I’ll be working very closely with Sidonia [Cannon, Threads of Care’s deputy director] in that first year. I’m essentially going to focus on going out into the local community, wherever I go to college, and I’ll be asking my ambassadors to do the same. I will be asking them to specifically go to that college and work with that college to spread the Threads of Care mission in high schools.
FHP: What are you working on most closely now?
ZW: On Friday is the official start of our clothing drive. We’ll be collecting winter clothing. For any gently used winter clothing we get, gloves, light jackets, coats, pants, will be donated to Nashville nonprofits Room in the Inn, the Oasis Center and the Nashville Family and Children’s Services. New items will be donated to an initiative started by the FSSD called Needs of Our Kids.
FHP: What is Sidonia’s role in the organization?
Sidonia Cannon: I first heard of Threads of Care from Zach, we were on the cross country team together. I’ve always been service-oriented, but I kind of felt like I could do more. I became one of the first ambassadors, and I’m now head of the Franklin chapter. This year, I’m the deputy director and I’m transitioning to be what Zach is currently.
FHP: So you’re a year younger than Zach; what goals do you want to achieve once he graduates and you take over?
SC: We’re still at the beginning stage. I want to become a full time nonprofit 501(c)(3) but that will take time; I hope to keep pushing us towards that. And I want to continue expanding to more schools in Williamson County and Nashville.
FHP: Zach, how do you market the organization so people know what you’re doing?
ZW: In individual chapters, we make sure to use group messaging at school, put up posters and make announcements. When we want to spread our broader messages, we use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And we write blog posts, where we mostly focus on spreading the general word about what Threads of Care is doing. We have each ambassador write a blog post every week, showing why this issue is so critical and educating others about what the issue is.
FHP: If you had one minute to educate someone on teen poverty and homelessness in the area, what statistic would you give them?
ZW: Thirty-nine percent of Franklin Special School District student are economically disadvantaged [according to district data]. No matter where you live, no matter how affluent, poverty is still going to exist. We have a very, very low unemployment rate, which is two percent, but that’s still two percent of people who are unemployed! We still need to look after the people in Williamson County and not treat this as if it’s not an issue.
FHP: Why is it so important for you to operate Threads of Care in high schools and get teens involved?
ZW: The reason it’s so important is that if you hear the word poverty in the US or homelessness, it is a very diverse group of people. If we create an organization focused on helping impoverished people, it’s such a broad range it won’t allow us to do any one thing well. We want to identify one of the specific needs. Usually nonprofits find it very difficult to get involved with high schools because of their policies. When you’re a student, schools are more open to it. We essentially act as middle men. We want to fulfill their needs, and we want to serve impoverished children and teens like us. That is the most unifying message, knowing that you can help people just like you, who, by the single role of a die, are in a completely different circumstance.