When we met with Kerry Slade, current board member at the Thomas & Woods Foundation, one theme was recurrent: relationships are the key to success. After all, the Thomas & Woods Foundation was born out of a strong relationship. Isaiah Thomas (now a city council member) and Chris Woods, co-founders of the foundation, grew up together. They played basketball together. They loved the game, but it was the lessons they learned from being involved and active that truly changed their lives. They watched friends go down different paths; many dropped out of school, and some got into violence or drugs. Even then, they knew there were a few factors that would create healthy paths for students: activities that helped to build confidence and featured adult involvement. From there, they decided to create the Thomas & Woods Foundation.
It all started about 10 years ago, when Isaiah was working as a teacher and a coach. He noticed that there was one week every year when free city programs ended and school began. The city provided a lot of free programming every summer, which was great, but that week without activities really affected kids and families. Isaiah and Chris decided to start a camp that would solve this. The camp engaged students during this specific week, while also providing them with an activity, education, and mentorship opportunities. The camp experience took off. Parents and kids alike loved the program. Many students returned and have continued to return year after year as coaches.
They realized their impact could be bigger than this one week. The two created the Thomas & Woods Foundation to formalize the camp, and also to expand into new program areas. They were and are a small organization made up of an all-volunteer board, so they were flexible and able to develop programs that matched both what they saw the community needed and their strengths as a board. Because they had a lot of political and legal representation on the board, they naturally came up with the idea of an oratory contest: the MLK Oratory Contest is now an annual event that builds students’ confidence in public speaking and asks students to think thoughtfully about an important life theme.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Philadelphia’s order cancelling all large scale youth activities this summer, the camp was not able to continue as normal. But the Foundation still found a way to advance its mission. The team worked with the City of Philadelphia and Councilman Thomas’s office has set up resource hubs around town with different activities for students. These hubs offer everything from chess, to softball, to basketball. The Thomas & Woods Foundation has also been running softball and basketball camps that cater to small groups of students, a very different, but valuable, experience. These smaller camps are currently closed due to the stay home order, but when it’s safe, they’re hoping to start them back up.
The Thomas & Woods Foundation is an incredible, small non-profit that works hard for Philly youth. The Spruce Foundation is proud to support their program. We hope you’ll continue to follow their journey!