Philanthropy Awards 2012: By The Hand Club for Kids

It really does take a village.

Fact—kids do better academically, socially, spiritually and emotionally when they are surrounded by a support system invested in their development. By The Hand Club for Kids is just that—a program in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods that raises kids out of poverty and helplessness toward a solid future.

Why was By The Hand Kids Club founded?

“In the late 1990s, I was a partner and president of a successful ad agency, Arian, Lowe & Travis Advertising, just a few blocks from Cabrini-Green,” says founder and president Donnita Travis. “However, I felt like God wanted me to do more with my life, so I started volunteering with kids from Cabrini-Green through my church … By 2000, my desires and passions were completely consumed by the kids and helping them have abundant life.”

Travis was so affected by this work she left advertising in 2000 to start By The Hand Club in March 2001—with 16 kids and one paid staff member. Travis herself didn’t, and still does not, take a salary.

“By The Hand and its mission are synonymous—to target children in need and mentor them so that they can make positive changes to their overall well-being.”

The organization’s holistic approach includes a structured after-school program, safe transportation, healthy snacks and hot meals, homework and tutoring assistance, counseling, health care and education, and a college staff specialist to encourage a college-going culture.

For senior manager of fund development, Sherry Arthur, the job is extremely fulfilling. “My life has so changed in the last three or four years that I am sometimes shocked. Nothing feels better than feeling like you made a difference.”

Do you have a favorite success story?

Arthur is particularly fond of Keewaun’s story—a young boy who joined the By The Hand program in third grade while living in Cabrini-Green. Having lost his mother at an early age, Keewaun lived with grandmother, eight cousins and little else.

Thanks to his involvement with By The Hand, Keewaun developed from a shy child who didn’t like going to school and could have been lost to the streets to an active, involved high schooler.

“I didn’t know it then,” he writes, “but looking back on that first day, I see how important By The Hand was to me. By The Hand Club helped me get glasses, learn my ABC’s, learn how (to) read, get new shoes and even get braces for my teeth. But what I remember most is how they made me feel on that first day.”

What makes working at By The Hand Kids Club so special?

“I find it tremendously rewarding,” Arthur says. “My passion has always been kids. When  someone cares it’s just so dramatic.”

Arthur’s also excited about the program’s expansion. “We are in the process of building a new site in Austin … It will be a community outreach site, and there’s a local community college involved. It will be much more than just for our students.”

By the Hands Kids Club—By The Numbers

Just last year, the organization was able to work with more than 850 kids in four Chicago neighborhoods that have little in the way of resources. These were kids that were underperforming in school and potentially on the path to self-destruction. Now? The numbers say it all:

  • 100% high school graduation
  • 71% enrolled in university
  • 22 in college today
  • 30% improvement in ISAT reading and 43% improvement in ISAT math scores for students who were testing below the 50th percentile
  • 75% passed all of their classes
  • 2020 goal is to serve 1,000 kids.



This article is part of our 2012 Philanthropy Awards. See more of our winners here:

By the Hand Club for Kids
Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund
Girls in the Game
Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA)
Innovations for Learning
A Safe Haven
Spark Program

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