Restoring Justice for the Most Vulnerable with Thrive Collective

March 27, 2017

Thrive Collective mobilizes students, parents, artists, and community stakeholders to partner with public schools for transformational change. Their core programs—Murals, Music, Media, and Mentoring—provide quality arts education and committed adult mentors in predominantly low-income communities throughout New York City.

And they’re one of our newest Hope for New York affiliates! We asked Thrive Collective founder, Jeremy Del Rio, to tell us a little about how Thrive came to be, why art, and what kind of impact they’re making—and hoping to make—on the city! We’re so excited for their partnership.

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What led you to start Thrive Collective?

Thrive Collective grows out of 35 years of inner-city ministry in Manhattan's Lower East Side that began when my parents founded Abounding Grace Ministries in 1982. Then, in 1996, we opened a neighborhood youth center across the street from a public K-8 school.

For 15 years, upwards of 80-90 percent of our students came from that school. We were content to be good neighbors until we got frustrated that many of our graduates struggled to find good jobs. If the gospel is "good news for the poor," as Jesus said in Luke 4, then, at the very least, our kids should be able to find decent work after school.

Something was missing in our approach. My brother Jonathan started teaching middle school math across the street, and everything about our relationship with the school changed. Within four years, it was an A-rated school and the principal credited the math department with leading the change.

Thrive Collective began as an awareness campaign in 2008 to inspire other community groups and churches to partner with schools the way Abounding Grace partners with PS/MS 34. We incorporated in 2011 to facilitate partnerships, and as our partners served more schools, principals consistently asked for help with arts and mentoring programs. We began providing arts education and school-based mentoring programs as enhancements to the work our partners were already providing in 2014. Read more about this journey here.

Why art?

We can't imagine a world without visual or performing arts, music or film, or any expression at all...and neither can you. Yet we sentence 250,000 of our most vulnerable New Yorkers to that kind of artless education everyday. At 419 public schools in the lowest-income neighborhoods, there is no art teacher of any kind.

Theologically, Creator is the first revelation of God in Scripture. The first three chapters of Genesis describe God as an artist, and culminate with God creating mankind in his image and likeness, and empowering us to actively co-create with him. When school budgets are cut and the first things slashed are music and arts programs, we rob students of the experiences that awaken the creative imagination God hard-wired into their souls.

What is the best part about being involved with Thrive Collective?

The point for us is never a mural or film festival, a music recital or mentoring relationship. Those outputs simply confirm that our process works. The larger point—the "why" Thrive exists—is the hope and opportunity our programs create, which produce exponential impacts long after the programs end.

Take, for example, Victoria, a high school student from the Bronx. She shared part of her story in a short documentary about our work:

"It's not every day where a kid like me, who came out of a one-bedroom apartment with six brothers or sisters, sitting down thinking she's not going to get anywhere—it's not everyday where someone like Jeremy is going to come up to me and be like, I have a special role for you, and I want you to take part of it.

"I thank God that I'm able to get this opportunity. And I think that He sent people like them to come to me and pick me up out of what I've been through."

How is Thrive Collective making an impact on the city?

Our project-based, collaborative learning experiences reset the bar of possibility for all who participate. In 2016, we served 2,800 Victorias—students enrolled in our visual arts, music, and film classes in 23 schools. Together, they created 7,000 square feet of public art with 15 school mural projects, 40 student films, and three music recitals. Every one of the graduating seniors from our Mentors program were accepted and enrolled in four-year colleges this fall.

In 2016, Thrive Collective and more than 120 community partners provided 150 programs and services that together served 53,000 students at 100 schools in 25 NYC public school districts.

What can volunteers expect when serving with Thrive Collective?

Our volunteers empower students to create masterpiece lives as they beautify the world around them. Our collaborative teams embrace student-led public art as a vehicle for awareness, change, and wrap-around supports necessary for all NYC students and schools to thrive—without exception or condition.

What does being an affiliate with HFNY mean to you and to Thrive Collective?

Being an affiliate with Hope for New York provides access to highly motivated, dedicated, skilled, and passionate individuals who genuinely desire to enrich our City. We want to give every one of them meaningful opportunities to connect with children and youth in the communities where they live, work, or worship.

What do you most want people to understand about Thrive Collective?

Thrive Collective seeks the peace and prosperity of our city, because if it thrives, we all thrive. We do this by restoring justice for the most vulnerable among us—the half-a-million children who live in poverty everyday and the 1.1 million who attend our public schools. Bring Art Back—and all of our programs—is about justice for 419 low-income schools and 250,000 of our most vulnerable students.