Starting in the Heart of Cabrini-Green

By The Hand began in 2001 with 16 kids from Cabrini-Green—one of the nation’s largest housing projects. To serve more kids across the city—those with the greatest need—we have grown to five locations in four of Chicago’s most dangerous, under-resourced and marginalized neighborhoods. Today, By The Hand serves more than 1,700 kids and plans to serve 1,800 kids by 2024.

People thought
we were crazy.

Time and time again, we have been faced with the impossible. Miracle after miracle, God provided. People thought we were crazy, but we clung to the words of Jesus. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

It’s been an incredible 20 years. What began in 2001 with 16 kids from Cabrini-Green, God has multiplied to serve 6,000 kids, giving each the opportunity for an abundant life in Christ. They are The Solution—a generation of young people ready to soar, ready to change the world.

We praise God and thank everyone who’s ever been a part of By The Hand. You helped make it possible.

23 Years of Possible.


Started with





Average GPA

3.20.2001 Using classrooms at The Moody Church, By The Hand began with 16 children from Cabrini-Green. Ms. Shanta, the first staff member, agreed to work without pay until donations were received. Donnita began sharing her God-given vision to serve 1,000 children by 2012, and continues as a full-time volunteer.

“It was the
genuine love
and connection
that these
leaders had.”

Brittany, Cabrini-Green

9.11.2001 By The Hand opened its new location in the heart of Cabrini-Green. Kids from every part of Cabrini-Green and Marshall Field Garden Apartment Homes—including those from rival gang territories—learned that they are all created in God’s image and should love and respect each other.

Student with gifts

Dec 2001 Each student received a $25 gift card for Christmas. This became Christmas-in-the-City, when By The Hand takes all the children to State Street for shopping, sight-seeing and a meal.




Average GPA

By The Hand expanded to 32 students at its new location in Cabrini-Green.





“Basically, the same services By The Hand gave me, I’m now providing to families”

Natasha, Cabrini-Green






2.1.2003 By The Hand asks CHA for a lease, and God answers. Having outgrown 419 W. Oak St., By The Hand asked to lease The Lower North Center across the street. When negotiations stalled, God encouraged Donnita through prayer that a man would talk to her about Lower North in two days. Two days later, a Moody Bible Institute staff member encouraged Donnita to pursue the lease.

6.1.2003 By The Hand launched Club For Big Kids, a high school program currently called NXT.


“Jesus is the one who will make the next 20 years possible.”

Travis, Cabrini-Green





Average GPA


of faith

God provided a new location just in time. For only $100 a month, the Chicago Housing Authority leased the Lower North Center 24,000-square-foot building in Cabrini-Green. One week later, pipes burst at the old building, which was demolished just months later. God was looking out for By The Hand.

“I wanted to work with By The Hand to give back, to love on the kids, and to influence the next generation.”

Janae, Cabrini-Green

First annual field trip to Six Flags Great America rewarded students who made all ABCs. Scheduled in June, the Six Flags Great America field trip became an annual event to incentivize kids to earn all ABCs.

Love never fails


2005 College Scholarship Fund is started by a generous donor to provide $1,500 each semester to college students who maintain a 2.5 or greater GPA.

214 Kids

2.38 Average GPA

$2M Revenue

By The Hand Club For Kids

7.1.2005 By The Hand became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and formed a board of directors.

By The Hand opens a second location to serve kids from Altgeld-Murray. By The Hand leased an empty police station in Altgeld-Murray from Chicago Housing Authority.


Tommy Nelson, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishing, publishes The Boy of Color. Written by Sherrie Nelson and illustrated by Joquese Cantrell, students at By The Hand, it is a beautiful book about prayer, beauty in diversity and the meaning of life.

The Boy of Color

4.27.2006 By The Hand has its First Annual Spring Benefit, held at the Harold Washington Library.

“I don’t think I would even have a relationship with God if it weren’t for By The Hand. They knew what stories to tell, what Scriptures to teach, that would really make sense to kids. It stuck.”

Keyshawn, Cabrini-Green








of Faith




9.4.2007 By The Hand
opened its third location
in Austin with 132 kids.




Average GPA



9.26.2007 By The Hand purchased an ideal location in Altgeld-Murray. By The Hand learned that an 8,000-square-foot Presbyterian Church on an acre of land—one of the few privately owned properties in the CHA—was about to be listed on the market. After its purchase, By The Hand began renovations in October 2007.


Cresean, Joined Altgeld-Murray in the second grade.


Cresean, Currently a junior at Clark Atlanta University.

Travis became the club’s first student to enroll in college. He joined By The Hand in 2003.

“I just want to come back and GIVE what I’ve been given. It’s only right.”

Cresean, Altgeld-Murray

CHA extended By The Hand’s five-year lease on Lower North Center by 25 years, resolving a long-term facility need in Cabrini-Green. Alderman Walter Burnett was instrumental in negotiating the long lease, asking CHA to “make a lasting place in Cabrini-Green for By The Hand.”

7.1.2008 By The Hand added a reading specialist to help children in fourth grade and up who couldn’t read; kids advanced on average two grade levels in reading during the 2008-2009 academic year.

School bus

9.1.2008 By The Hand opened its fourth location in Englewood—one of Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods—with 88 first- to fourth-grade students.

10.1.2008 By The Hand Club moved to its new location in Altgeld-Murray, expanding to serve 154 children in Altgeld-Murray.





Average GPA




of Faith

After prayer and fasting, God provided By The Hand with 17 lots from seven different owners to allow us to begin construction on a 26,000-square-foot ministry center. Only God!






By The Hand added a college specialist and started emphasizing college prep at CBK, now called NXT, our high school program.




Average GPA


Seniors Graduated




Seniors Enrolled in college or technical school


Cumulative Professions of Faith

“They truly walk with you hand in hand every step of the way.”

Madeja, Englewood


Madeja joined as a
fifth-grader and is now a
senior at Taylor University.


8.31.2010 By The Hand leased space at Wentworth Elementary School in Englewood, sharing space for the first time. This allowed By The Hand to expand to 132 kids in first to sixth grades in Englewood and a total of 726 children at four locations.

“With their help, I was able to get a master’s in business leadership. I bought myself a home, had a dream come true in buying my Mom a home, and I now manage a team of 50 people.”

Tarcell, Altgeld-Murray




Average GPA


High School Seniors Graduated


Professions of Faith





Average GPA



3.20.2011 By The Hand celebrated its 10-year Anniversary, publishing A Generation of Hope, a book that featured stories and portraits.

“I want people to see me and say ‘I can do that.’ I want them to feel all of my love and all of my hopes and desires and dreams for them. And then take what they see in me and carry into their own lives.”

Azariah, Austin

Jan. 2012 Lend To The Lord Fund was established to assist families with crisis and compassion needs.


3.7.2012 Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed June 11 By The Hand Club Literacy Day in the city of Chicago.




Average GPA


Professions of faith

12.1.2012 Donnita Travis was named Chicago Magazine’s Chicagoan of the Year.

4.26.2012 By The Hand launched “Reading Takes You Far.” Unveiled at our 7th Annual Spring Benefit, the literacy campaign was promoted with the help of NBA star Dwyane Wade and the city of Chicago.

12.17.2012 By The Hand broke ground in Austin during a ceremony for its new Austin center that will accommodate first- through twelfth-grade students.





Average GPA



By The Hand is awarded a $500,000 grant from Evan’s Life Foundation in honor of a beloved son. Every June, during Evan’s Life Month, our children complete a service project in Austin with Greg and Pat Samata to remember Evan Samata’s legacy.

By The Hand began piloting the technology-enabled learning program, which personalizes and accelerates the pace students learned to read.

6.4.2013 By The Hand has an opening ceremony for the Austin Learning Center, a $6 million, 26,000-square-foot center. The nationally acclaimed Marching Band of Proviso East High School led the way as dignitaries, families, friends and staff crossed over from the old By The Hand Austin building to what has been called the “gem of Austin.”





Average GPA


of faith

When they say


I say

“I’m possible.”

“I don’t think I would have made it this far without By The Hand’s influence. The space I was given where it was okay to be smart, do work and worship was liberating.”


1.31.2015 BTH breaks ground on a new site for Moving Everest a charter to open a K-8 school in Austin to serve 810 children. By The Hand will serve the ME children in the after-school hours.


8.4-11.2015 By The Hand has its first international missions trip, taking three students to Cali, Colombia.






High School


Attend College or technical school


Of Faith



8.22.2015 By The Hand – Moving Everest Opens. Austin children, parents, friends, neighbors and public officials celebrated the opening of the $12 million By The Hand Club and Moving Everest Charter School with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I pray to Him for anything. I don’t have to be ashamed of talking to Him anymore. God will listen to me.”

Mia, Cabrini-Green


By The Hand Club hosted its first Reading Playoffs in August, sponsored by Coeur Mining, Inc.

“I plan on being The Solution for the rest of my life.”

LaQuintion, Austin

“Miss Olivia made a big impact in my life because every time I do something bad, she talks to me about it and points me in the right direction.”

Jacari, Cabrini-Green




Average GPA




In 2017, By The Hand Club began planning for the BTH - ME middle school to take kids by the hand through eighth grade and make sure they were prepared for a high quality high school. By The Hand also started making plans to open a sixth location in North Austin.



“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked.

“Anything is possible if a person believes.”

Mark 9:23








of Faith



I Am The Solution

“I don’t even know what my life would be like without having the sense of family I’ve built with the club.”






Average GPA



Ron Burton Training Village awarded students scholarships. Keith and Camari became our first two students to win scholarships to Ron Burton Training Village (RBTV) summer camp.

By The Hand added a Social and Emotional Learning Specialist (SEL) at the Moving Everest location to train staff on SEL practices for creating a trauma-informed culture.

By The Hand took students to Washington, D.C. in August. Our Young Entrepreneurial Leaders (YEL) visited the White House, Museum of the Bible and The Gloucester Institute.

By The Hand started CrossCity Church monthly high-energy services with hip hop music, testimonies, a gospel message and fellowship to help high school students grow in their relationship with Christ.


By The Hand launched its social justice program - with the Chicago Bears and Chicago Police Department. The eight-week program included a field trip to the Chicago Police Academy and a Collaborative Community Action Project in By The Hand Club neighborhoods.

is possible
with God

—Matthew 19:26

2.1.2019 Chicago Housing Authroity completed a $6M renovation of the By The Hand - Cabrini-Green facility.




Average GPA


of faith

10.05.2019 By The Hand broke ground for Austin middle school facility. The 30,000-square-foot middle school addition will eventually serve and prepare 270 sixth- through eighth-grade students to enter one of Chicago’s best public high schools.


Love kept moving, and our students kept learning. By The Hand pivoted to a virtual learning platform when Chicago Public Schools closed, enabling our kids to continue learning and while many students across the nation fell behind.

By The Hand provides care for emergency needs.During the pandemic and economic shutdown, By The Hand was able to serve in extraordinary ways. Kids, families, staff, volunteers and supporters—bound together by prayer and acts of kindness— experienced God’s protection and provision.


Families received
fresh food or catered
meal deliveries


Students gained access
to technology


Lexia Core5 students moved
forward averaging
three months growth

8.12.2020 By The Hand – ME middle school is completed.The completion of the first BTH school- plus-after-school facility will allow 810 students from kindergarten to eighth grade to attend Moving Everest Charter School during the day and By The Hand – ME during the after-school hours.

Aug. 2020 By The Hand high school students opened Austin Harvest. The fresh food market provides residents with access to healthy food—a needed solution after neighborhood grocery stores closed due to looting and fires during the 2020 protests.

9.1.2020 In September, By The Hand crossed the milestone of enrolling 6,000 kids over the last 20 years.


8.11.2021 By The Hand broke ground on its sixth site, North Austin, located at 1841 N. Laramie Ave. Our partners, Grace and Peace Church and Intentional Sports, join us on this 10-acre campus as we team up to provide equitable access to sports, education and holistic wellness services for residents of this historically underserved community.




Average GPA




Seniors Graduated

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:27




Seniors Graduated


Average GPA




05.07.22 Austin Harvest broke ground on its permanent structure. It is exciting to see our dream of growing community through fresh food continue to become a reality!

“By The Hand helped me improve my grades, but more than that, they helped me want it for myself.”

Djeneba, Austin, Alumna


02.02.23 By The Hand’s long-awaited dream became a reality as we celebrated the ribbon cutting of our sixth site on February 2, 2023.

04.10.23 After-school programming began at our North Austin site. North Austin provides no-cost after-school programming for 400 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. 90% of our staff at North Austin are bilingual so that we are well positioned to serve our Latino students in this neighborhood. As with all of our sites, we partner with Chicago Public Schools to identify students who are reading below standards and provide holistic education services including literacy intervention, enrichment activities, college and career support and counseling services.

Student Impact




Graduated from
High School


Passed all
their Classes


Hot Nutritious Meals


Entered Higher


20th Anniversary
Memorial Wall Unveiling

A Grand Celebration of God’s Faithfulness to By The Hand Club For Kids

Crystal blue skies, bright sunshine and the spectacular Chicago skyline offered the perfect backdrop for the unveiling of our 20th Anniversary Memorial Wall at Cabrini-Green. Saturday, March 20th marked 20 Years of Possible for By The Hand Club, loving and nurturing students in Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods, mind, body and soul.

Learn More

You made nurturing possible

“I can’t miss this!”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2001


“It was the genuine love and connection that these leaders had.”

That’s the first thing that jumped out at Brittany the day she started at By The Hand in 2001. “I was struggling so much in school I didn’t think I could make it to the next grade. I didn’t think I was smart enough, and I didn’t have any drive. I thought school was boring.” She had a single mother trying to raise five kids in Cabrini-Green, so the club was a kind of gift to Brittany’s Mom, filling any gaps in her availability to help with school. Brittany was at the club every day except Sundays, and sometimes even on Sunday if they had an event. “You had to be a fool not to go to their place. They feed you, pray for you, love on you, they know your families,” Brittany reflects.

The leader who made the greatest impact on Brittany was Miss Donnita, whom she describes as someone she never saw get mad even once. She was so amazed by Miss Donnita’s example that she said to herself, “This woman can’t be real!” What also struck Brittany is that Miss Donnita came into their community and did not try to bend the kids to her own image, but adapted to their environment. “That’s God. I thank God for Miss Donnita. She’s been obedient to let her vision come to life to help young people. We need more people like her who will come into our communities and help us. She went to those places and communities where others wouldn’t go. She put her fear aside and said I’m going to step in the gap for these kids who don’t know what love is. You don’t find love like that very often. Our communities need more of it.”

“I thank God for Miss. Donnita. She’s been obedient to let her vision come to life to help young people. We need more people like her who will come into our communities and help us. She went to those places and communities where others wouldn’t go. She put her fear aside and said I’m going to step in the gap for these kids who don’t know what love is. You don’t find love like that very often. Our communities need more of it.”

HugThe family of By The Hand has also created a kind of “conscience-reinforcement system” in her mind. Throughout her life, when tempted to make a bad decision, the first thing she would think of is how devastated she would be to let down “not just my Momma, but Miss Donnita! The thought of letting so many people down at the club by making that choice - ‘Oh no, I’m not doing that. No way.’ They were always this caution in the back of my head, telling me, ‘I’m worth more. I don’t need that.’”

That idea of being “worth more” came from a Women’s Empowerment elective at the club that taught her she is fearfully and wonderfully made, full of dignity, and that she as herself is “enough.” They also instilled in her a profound optimism: “I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but I know it’s going to be great. Trust me. It’s going to be great. I am chosen.” She learned to be careful what she puts in her body and to respect both her body and others’. Brittany loved the ABC parties so much that if she was behind in a class, she would go to her teacher and ask to be assigned an extra credit project, saying, “I can’t miss this!” That’s how motivated she was by the joy of being in community with others at the ABC parties.

Today Brittany is 31 years old with two children, works as a certified nurse’s assistant, hoping to go back to school for a second degree and dreams of opening her own daycare one day. She knows By The Hand will be with her wherever she goes and that her faith in God is the most important part of everything that has happened or will happen. “I could never imagine going through the things I’ve been through since third grade until now without Him.”

She prays that in the next 20 years there will be more love and unity in the city of Chicago. She wants to see more Miss Donnitas in the world.

She just might become one of them.

You made overcoming possible

“Basically, the same services By The Hand gave me, I’m now providing to families.”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2002


Natasha, or “Tasha”, knew she was a lot to handle early on in life. “I was an out-of-control kid. I was a fighter.”

She means “fighter” in every sense of the word. Growing up in poverty, Tasha’s family fought to meet their basic need for food. She fought for attention from teachers and other kids, even if that meant getting into trouble. She had to fight just to make it to sixth grade, since until that point, she couldn’t read.

Though it took time and introspection to realize, all of this turmoil in Tasha’s life came from a long-standing conflict within. “I was told growing up that I wasn’t going to amount to anything, so I believed it for a long time.” This sense of failure and hopelessness that she’d internalized felt awful to her, but she didn’t know how to release it.


“In the Black community, we tend to ignore mental illness. We think we can overcome anything. I was raised not to talk about my feelings, but By The Hand knew I needed counseling. That was literally the best thing they’ve ever done for me.”

When Tasha arrived at By The Hand at 11 years old, she was blown away by the people who were ready to stand and take on her battles as their own. Sarah James, for one, “believed in me when no one else did and saw in me what no one else did,” despite her combativeness.

The generosity of Sarah and others at By The Hand melted Tasha’s hard heart. “They made sure me and my sisters always had food in the home and always had clothes, the things that my grandmother couldn’t provide.” Tasha also started learning to read from a specialist that Sarah found for her, and her grades improved.

This unconditional love that flowed from the staff’s faith in Jesus was especially potent during Tasha’s first Christmas at the club. “We never got anything for Christmas, but at By The Hand we got presents. I couldn’t understand this. I was amazed that someone thought of me like that and got something for me when I thought I didn’t deserve it because I was always in trouble.”

The biggest gift of all Tasha said she received from By The Hand was treatment for her mental health. It allowed her to let her guard down, understand why she felt so angry, and how it became such a problem in the first place. “In the Black community, we tend to ignore mental illness. We think we can overcome anything,” she explains. “I was raised not to talk about my feelings, but By The Hand knew I needed counseling. That was literally the best thing they’ve ever done for me.”

You made joy possible

“They had this joy, this love, this ‘reaching out for their fellow man’ that I couldn’t understand.”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2003


It all started with a disappearing act.

In the early 2000s, Travis was in a gang, and had two best friends who were also participating in gang-related activities. “They were my brothers. I still think about them to this day,” Travis says. One day, without warning, they vanished.

Travis had no idea where they had gone. He searched, and eventually learned that they had started attending a club called By The Hand. Travis went to check it out, and remembers the moment like it was yesterday: “It felt like I stepped into Narnia. Something was different - something about these people, something about this environment.” Even though it was in the center of Cabrini-Green, it seemed like an alternate universe.

One of the first people he met was Donnita, who, when he extended his hand for a handshake, surprised him by going in for a hug. Travis recalls what went through his mind at that moment: “I am actively in a gang. This lady doesn’t know the first thing about me. And yet I can feel that she truly cares about me. That she loves me. How is this possible?”

From then on, Travis knew he had to go back. He needed to find out WHY these people were the way they were. “They came from the same culture as me, faced the same struggles, they were just as flawed as me, but they had this joy, this love, this ‘reaching out for their fellow man’ that I couldn’t understand. Of course, it was Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in these people, and that just drew me.”

“They came from the same culture as me, faced the same struggles, they were just as flawed as me, but they had this joy, this love, this ‘reaching out for their fellow man’ that I couldn’t understand. Of course, it was Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in these people, and that just drew me.”


Without even knowing it was a passage from Scripture, Travis heard a voice inside inviting him to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” And yet an inherent tension existed that Travis felt was irresolvable: he didn’t think he could become a Christian because he was still in the gang. Travis’ father had been absent his entire life, and the gang had functioned as a mechanism for survival. And yet at the same time, he was observing people not only surviving, but THRIVING at By The Hand. Eventually, light overcame darkness. On a night when Travis had been invited to three different parties, he somehow opted out of all three and went to a Teen Church event where he gave his life to Christ in August of 2003.

“From there I hit the ground running.” Travis immediately started preaching the gospel to the gang, effectively becoming a youth pastor before he even knew what that was. The gang said they respected his newfound passion, but it wasn’t for them. Before Travis could even make a second try, the gentrification of Cabrini-Green pushed his friends west to neighborhoods beyond his reach. Grieved but undeterred, he showed up at high school with a Bible in hand and started sharing his testimony with anyone who would listen.

Travis’ life began in a disordered world of gang-related activity where safety is not guaranteed and little thought is given to higher education. And yet today, through By The Hand, Jesus has transformed Travis into someone who is not only a public safety officer, but also a resident director at Olivet Nazarene University (of which he is an alumnus), bringing safety, order and leadership to an educational institution. Travis formerly believed he was inevitably consigned to repeat his father’s pattern of absence, and yet today is the father of four children he is raising with his wife Karissa.

He’s been writing a multi-volume epic fantasy novel for the past 17 years, and plans to release Book 1 of the series in March of 2021. We can’t wait to read it.

In Travis’ own words, “Jesus is the one who will make the next 20 years possible.”

From a person whose early life was marked by absence and lack, to a college graduate fully present to his family and community, spilling over with creativity and making art, Travis’ story is a true testament to what God can make possible.

You made graduation possible

“I’m here. I did it!”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2004


In 2004, Janae was the new kid on the block, adjusting to life in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and trying to find her place among her peers. Upon walking through the doors of By The Hand, Janae quickly felt what she describes as the palpable “goodness” all around her. In particular, three women who impacted Janae during her time there (and beyond) were Miss Frieda, Miss Lisa and Miss Bethany. Janae says “These women exemplified the love of Christ and went above and beyond their role as team leaders to make sure that my experience as a By The Hand student was enjoyable, educational and full of God and the Holy Spirit. They showed me what it was like to be an amazing woman of God and how to truly care for others. To this day, I know that these women would have my back 100 percent and they always have my best interests at heart.”

Through the generosity of a couple named Jamie and Deby Fellowes, Janae went to college on a full ride scholarship. “We knew that Janae had plenty of potential. We wanted her to know that we supported her emotionally and spiritually. We prayed for her and tried to give her confidence,” the couple says.

But college was not easy for Janae. “For the first year it was really hard—having to micromanage my schedule and be a good steward of my time was just something that was hard for me.” And she suffered frequently from imposter syndrome, a sense of undeserving: “I’d hear all the time: ‘People would kill to be in your shoes’ and I thought ‘I am so unworthy of this experience because of how I’m handling it so poorly.’”

“I wanted to work with By The Hand to give back, to love on the kids, and to influence the next generation.”

JanaeThings finally reached a fever pitch. Janae describes it as her darkest moment, the heavy thought landing on her with a heartbreaking thud: “This is the end. I will not be graduating. I remember crying so much and asking ‘God, why would you bring me this far—to leave me?’”

She arranged to meet with the Fellowes one last time. They sat down for coffee and Janae told them she would be dropping out. But the Fellowes gently extended to her the reassurance that she already had within her the potential and the perseverance. “We wanted her to know that someone believed in her,” says Deby. Jamie takes a reflective view of their intentions: “What we really wanted to do was continue the theme of By The Hand and that is—hold her hand in walking through these college years.”

“I never expected that to happen,” Janae says. “It was symbolic, too, of my relationship with God in that moment as well—through the Fellowes, God has shown me that He was going to be there, and showed me, ‘Janae, you are worthy of this love, you are worthy of this experience, you are worthy to see this play out, and it will play out well.’”

Two years later, that worthy person called Janae donned a graduation cap and gown and a smile and graduated from Taylor University. Euphoria swirled in her head - “I’m HERE! I DID it! It was incredible because I never pictured doing that. It was the happiest moment of my life.”

As is so often the case, Janae wanted to continue the cyclical positive flow of pouring back into the place that had shaped her. Until recently, Janae was a third-grade teacher at By The Hand—a full circle moment, since third grade is when she herself started at the club. “I wanted to work with By The Hand to give back, to love on the kids and to influence the next generation.” She is currently attending Chicago State University pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

As Mr. Fellowes puts it, “She is making a huge impact in the lives of children, just as she was impacted. She is being the solution.”

In 20 years, Janae hopes to get her master’s and be a licensed school social worker, to improve the quality of lives for families and children. We look forward to continuing to watch Janae making possible for others what was made possible for her.

You made growth possible

“I would love to see By The Hand in more cities”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2005


In 2005, at just eight years of age, Keyshawn couldn’t imagine what life was like outside his neighborhood—beyond the violence he had witnessed in Cabrini-Green. He had friends and loved hanging out with them, but they were in the same boat. He was a good kid but sometimes found himself getting into trouble.

Keyshawn’s older sister had been an original member of the first By The Hand site, so he was aware that it existed, but nothing could have prepared him for that first day. It was a complete inversion of his previous circumstance. Everywhere he turned there were adults enthusiastically and freely offering the things he lacked: help with homework, activities to keep him out of trouble and new perspectives to open up his mind. “They shifted my focus from just being goofy and social to actually actively trying to improve myself.” He grew into a well-rounded, broadly-interested teenager, playing football and also participating in drama.

Before the club, Keyshawn would go to church where he heard singing. Increasing that frequency to praise and worship every day after school was a big jump (he described it as “draining”), but the cadence ultimately transformed him, and has had a lasting effect on his spiritual life. Even during a time when Keyshawn drifted away from God, praise and worship was the onramp back into relationship. “I don’t think I would even have a relationship with God if it weren’t for By The Hand. They knew what stories to tell, what Scriptures to teach, that would really make sense to kids. It stuck.”

Here is what can be made possible: a kid born in Cabrini-Green who struggled with schoolwork and never dreamed of going to college would go on to graduate from Western Illinois University, where he performed in plays written by Pulitzer Prize-winners like David Mamet and Lynn Nottage, works of art that require actors to reflect deeply on their life experiences in order to communicate profound truths from the stage.

But none of it would have happened without By The Hand. At the end of Keyshawn’s freshman year of college, he didn’t have enough money to continue on as a sophomore. “I really didn’t think I’d be back in school. I thought it was the end of college for me—one year, and then done.” But By The Hand stepped in and met his financial need, making possible the rest of his college career.


“I don’t think I would even have a relationship with God if it weren’t for By The Hand. They knew what stories to tell, what Scriptures to teach, that would really make sense to kids. It stuck.”

Looking back, Keyshawn recognizes that, as the old saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways.” There were times when he felt obligated to attend the club, like he was going through the motions, often finding himself wondering “Why am I doing all this?” Today, if he were to meet a younger version of himself and try to convince them to attend, “I would tell them to just trust the process. Listen to them. Stick with them. I promise you—you may not understand it now, but when you become an adult you’re going to realize that those people and those lessons are still with you, still helping you. God has a plan for your life—something better is coming.”

In the next 20 years, Keyshawn sees exponential growth for both himself and the organization. “I would love to see By The Hand expanded through more cities and states. And I would also one day love to start a theater right next to By The Hand in Cabrini-Green. First I want to go out and expand my horizons and then eventually come back to where it all started.”

Keyshawn, we’ll be there when the curtain comes up on the first production at that theater in Cabrini-Green. We can’t wait to see the show.

You made scholarships possible

“To have By The Hand with me every step of the way has been unimaginable.”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2005


Life begins with a heartbeat. For Malik, life at the club began with a drumbeat. At age 10 he was already a talented bucket drummer, so he joined the program with some of his friends and they volunteered all over the city—performing in places like Moody Bible Institute. The staff and volunteers at By The Hand kept Malik on his toes, “Correcting me when I was wrong, academically motivating me to perform to my highest potential, consistently inspiring me to be who they knew I could become. They were essential at that developmental point in my life, and it kept me on the steady path.”

That steady path led Malik to become a Gates Millennium Scholar, providing him a full scholarship to Howard University where he earned a degree in sports management, and a full scholarship for a master’s degree in education from the University of Phoenix. Like so many students who have gone through the club, in 20 years Malik sees himself finding ways “to sow back into where I’ve come from.” In 20 years he’ll be 45, and says he will be a serial entrepreneur owning multiple flourishing businesses (a trucking company, a real estate company, restaurants) and serving as a chairman on the board of By The Hand, “to help people transcend their circumstances the same way I’ve been able to. Especially kids that come from the same place as me—that’s what the next 20 years looks like to me: to be constantly finding ways to give back and uplift my community.”

Malik says that if his life were a book, some of the chapters would be called “Faith,” “Persistence” and “Overcoming Adversity.” Another one might be called “Resilience” - Recently, while he was working at a nonprofit in the Bronx breaking generational cycles of poverty, Malik’s grandmother and sister passed away just six days apart. He came home from New York City to help care for his family during this tragic time. His sister left behind three young children, so Malik is remaining in Chicago to support and play whatever role he might need to in their lives at the moment.

Members of the staff at By The Hand attended the funerals, and Malik says “to have them with me every step of the way has been unimaginable. A lot of people take for granted the services of the club. Whatever life throws at me, I know I can depend on the club to keep me grounded in my faith and support me throughout whatever it is in life. With God on my side, there’s nothing I can’t do.” He would urge any young kids in Cabrini to join the club because “It’s composed of people who want the best for you, my mind, body and soul. If you’re not a believer, they want to strengthen your faith and introduce you to God, to transform your circumstances. It’s a place full of people that want you to be better in all aspects of life. I don’t even know what my life would be like without having the sense of family I’ve built with the club.”

“I don’t even know what my life would be like without having the sense of family I’ve built with the club.”


One the last things his sister told him before she passed away was that she always wanted to have a vending machine business. So in honor of her memory, Malik started his own vending machine business over the course of eight months in quarantine, and By The Hand became the location to house his first two vending machines - a testament that Malik is not just talk and aspiration. He lives up to his word, takes real action, and does it all from a place of empathy and generosity, not self-gain.

And though he can think of many chapter names for the book about his life, Malik says, “I don’t know what the title of the book will be - because the story isn’t over yet.”

Mr. Chairman Malik Savage, your seat on the board awaits you.

You made trust possible

“I want to give what I’ve been given”


By The Hand – Altgeld-Murray, 2007


Prior to attending By The Hand, Cresean had a compulsive aversion to social interactions. He very rarely spoke to anyone because he had been frequently bullied about his weight. Silence can be a form of survival. But so can music. For Cresean, gospel songs were the first key that unlocked his comfortability at the club. He wasn’t sure what to think on his first day there, but when chapel started and he heard a familiar gospel song that he liked listening to with his Mom, it created an instant sense of trust: “I knew this was a place where I didn’t have to be shy.”

Today, when asked how By The Hand has impacted him physically, Cresean throws up his hands and says frankly and joyfully, “They helped me lose weight! They got me into some programs, arranged workout sessions, and boosted my self-esteem.” This process also helped him integrate his mental, spiritual and physical sense of well-being.

Before By The Hand, Cresean had only a vague idea of who God was. “But they led me on a path to discover the true meaning of God, and shaped me into finding out Who it really is that I serve, Who I’ve dedicated my life to.”

Cresean said he and his friends frequently talk about how “Being in By The Hand saved us. If we were somewhere else those afternoons we could have been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ but instead we were safe, we were nurtured, we were loved.” If Cresean were to tell a young kid in his home neighborhood of Altgeld Gardens about By The Hand, he would assure him that even if it looks unusual from the outside, “once you get inside, it’s a family. You make friends, you mature, and you grow spiritually - which is nothing you should take lightly. There’s something about being in this program that changes you spiritually, and that’s the best gift you can ever get.”

“Being in By The Hand saved us. If we were somewhere else those afternoons we could have been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ but instead we were safe, we were nurtured, we were loved.”

CreseanCresean carries By The Hand with him wherever he goes. His experiences there, the lessons he learned, the people who influenced him—he leans on them and holds them close to his heart to this day. “If it weren’t for By The Hand, I wouldn’t be where I am, because they’ve given me so many opportunities to go places and see things that I probably wouldn’t have been fortunate enough to get otherwise.”

Today, Cresean is a junior at Clark Atlanta University studying social work, a decision influenced by observing a staff member at By The Hand named Miss Martha. Cresean has noticed there is nothing even close to resembling By The Hand in Atlanta, so he has considered starting his own version of the organization there after graduation. But his heart has always wanted to return to Chicago and be a Miss Martha to someone else. Either at By The Hand, or at the school he attended. And at the end of the day, he really just wants to serve anywhere where children are carrying around unidentified traumas that can fester and grow invisibly until they manifest as maladaptive survival techniques in fully grown adults who don’t know how to regulate their emotions. He wants to intervene early, and do for those kids what By The Hand did for him.

“I just want to come back and GIVE what I’ve been given. It’s only right.”

Cresean is being the solution, and his spirit of generosity is truly something beautiful that God made possible.

We can’t wait to see you back in Chicago, Cresean, or wherever the Lord leads you. You’ve got this. He’s got this. He’s got you. The best is yet to come.

You made thriving possible

“I want to make a greater impact on the world.”


By The Hand – Altgeld-Murray, 2007


Some people live in very small worlds, never venturing beyond the bounds of their neighborhood. It’s a posture that is often passively inherited, not chosen. It’s not a character flaw—it’s a fundamental absence of opportunity to learn what else might be possible. You don’t know what you don’t know. In 2007, Lanisha’s world was small. Living in Altgeld Gardens, she never considered that there was a bigger world out there, much less that she could play a significant role in it. She describes her early years as misguided and directionless, simply trapped in the cycle of what surrounded her.

“But By The Hand pulled me away from all that. They gave me something to look forward to—which redirected my focus from negativity to an emphasis on my mind, body and soul. They taught me life skills like sign language and gave me a chance to exploit my talent of dance. Furthermore, By The Hand guided the spiritual foundation of my life with the praise and worship sessions,” Lanisha says.

But there was something more that needed to happen, and By The Hand initiated the path in which it was made possible.

In Lanisha’s own words: “I needed to get outside of Altgeld in order to grow. Living there, I felt somehow shut out. By The Hand showed me different parts of life, showed that there’s more to the world than what I could see around me. A lot of people in Altgeld have literally never been outside of the neighborhood. But By The Hand gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons — with events like Christmas in the City. They also aided in my growth by allowing me to perform at the spring benefit all the while giving me the space to network.”


By The Hand gave me something to look forward to—which redirected my focus from negativity to an emphasis on my mind, body and soul.

Being able to see outside of Altgeld is what amplified Lanisha’s passion to engage with her community when she moved to a nearby suburb—she joined organizations, volunteered and helped people, all initiated from her experiences with By The Hand.

To say that this pattern of outward engagement and civic-minded beneficence only grew from there is a gross understatement. Today, Lanisha is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a Bachelor of Science in rehabilitation and disability services. As well as a certified teacher of English as a foreign language. She has accumulated over 350 documented community service hours, is Miss Northern Illinois (2019), and has established the Princess to Queen Foundation - a mentoring program for young girls focusing on business, development and empowerment. She is also one of the founding leaders of the YBL Majorette Style Dance Team, founded on the principle of Sisterhood, as well as the In The Name Of Justice Project— which was created to raise awareness of the violence in Chicago.

Lanisha is the recipient of the Dekalb Community Action scholarship award, Mentor of The Year award, Good Citizenship scholarship award, and the Up and Coming Leader award, to name only a few. She has volunteered with AmeriCorps (Girl Scouts - 180 hours), Gigi’s playhouse (Down syndrome achievement centers), the Special Olympics and more. She interned with Mayor Deluka of Chicago Heights, and studied abroad in Paris, France where she was featured in a photo exhibit in the Champs-Élysées.

All of this by the age of 23.

Lanisha says these ventures and achievements were made possible by the Creator of the heavens and earth first and foremost, as well as By The Hand, and her supportive family - “They built my confidence, and exposed me to new experiences. Thus causing me to ask: ‘What else is possible? What else can I learn? What else is out there?’” She would tell every kid in Altgeld to join By The Hand because “it could be one of the key components to help broaden your horizons. Adhering to the fact that outside of your comfort zone is where opportunity lies.”

In 20 years, Lanisha sees herself as a wife, a mother, and an owner of multiple successful businesses and nonprofits. “I want to make a greater impact on the world.” For the city of Chicago, she dreams of an abolishment of stereotypes related to skin color in hopes of bringing communities together for generative new visions of unity. She wants to see easily accessible grocery stores with fresher produce in Altgeld and similar communities, along with senseless violence erased, and for all to have a fair chance at obtaining wealth for generations. Though above all, she would like to see peace and love spread throughout the nation.

Lanisha, If there’s anyone we can imagine contributing to any number of those aspirations, it’s you. Hands-down. We look forward to watching you be the solution.

You made confidence possible

My goal is to start a nonprofit for inner-city youth experiencing trauma


By The Hand – Altgeld-Murray, 2009


“I was an angry kid, angry at life,” Kayla describes herself 11 years ago. “I was probably going to be kicked out of school.”

Growing up in poverty made Kayla a bitter child, who “felt like there wasn’t a future for me.” She didn’t feel like she could change her circumstances so she gave up easily on school work and personal relationships. This created so much conflict with her classmates and teachers that the school put her in an anger management class. Facing the consequences of all these fights in school made her grades suffer even more—kicking off a vicious cycle that trapped Kayla for years.

When Kayla first came to By The Hand, staff helped Kayla make sense of those feelings, starting with a strong spiritual foundation. “The Bible study there taught me empathy, and that my actions affect people.” Over time, Kayla saw that the anger she had toward others originated from anger she had toward herself, so she sought peace in her identity in Christ. “They taught me that I’m important, that Jesus died on the cross for me, and made me think about how I’m going to use that gift He gave me.”

The praise and worship time at By The Hand quickly became Kayla’s favorite time of day, and though she hardly ever got to go to church on Sundays, the club’s Bible studies kept her rooted in faith. “By The Hand allowed me to grow closer to God. Without them a life of Christ would not have been known.”

By The Hand also broadened Kayla’s experiences of the world like never before; “liberating my mind,” as she puts it. “They helped me to build experiences that I otherwise probably never would have known being an inner-city kid from Chicago.” The club took Kayla on fishing, gardening, boating and camping trips over the years, just to name a few. “All these experiences have made me more of a well-rounded person and open to trying new things no matter what society says.”

Once Kayla came to understand how precious her life was and what the future had to offer, it was much easier for her to focus on academics. “It was a safe, quiet place to focus on my homework,” she recalls of the club. It was the environment she needed to not give up on herself, with motivation that really worked. “They took us to Six Flags when we got good grades – who does that?!”

“They helped me to build experiences that I otherwise probably never would have known being an inner-city kid from Chicago.”

KaylaKayla’s grades improved dramatically. This newfound confidence and intelligence was powerful—so much so that it led her to become the very first student at Butler College Prep to get a full ride scholarship to Taylor University, where she started this fall.

It’s been a strange year to start college given the pandemic, but By The Hand tried to make it as smooth a transition as possible for Kayla, buying her books and a coat for the school year. She’s pursuing a degree in psychology, with the goal of opening a nonprofit for inner-city youth experiencing trauma.

But while we wait for her to graduate and begin changing the world, she has advice to give kids from her neighborhood who grew up like her: “Being enrolled in By The Hand is a good life investment. By The Hand will teach you life skills, keep you busy and distracted from the stuff that goes on in our neighborhoods. It feeds your spirit and soul.”

Kayla’s life is a story of mind over matter to overcome hopelessness, and a story she hopes By The Hand can multiply for years of students to come. “I’m super grateful for the work they’ve done in the last 20 years and I’m excited to see what they’ll do for the next 20.”

You made hope possible

“I’d like to help other people with their feelings.”

Kyran and Na’Riya

Cabrini-Green, 2009, 2018

Kyran and Na’Riya

When we’re young, the world seems so full of unanswered questions and untried possibilities. Before coming to By The Hand, Kyran and her sister Na’riya often came home from school to the Evergreen Terrace apartments of Chicago and didn’t have much to do. To further complicate things, their usually-peaceful neighborhood had been disrupted by a series of shootings and acts of violence. Na’ryia says, “To make my neighborhood better, I’d make sure there were no more shootings.” But how?

On the weekends, Kyran would go to church and read stories in the Bible that sparked even more questions: Why did God create us? Why did Jesus die? What was it all about? All these mysteries to ponder and nowhere for them to go.

But when Kyran and Na’riya started attending By The Hand, they began to discover answers. Kyran was able to explore her thoughts about Christianity with a leader at Bible study. “I had a lot of questions at first, like why did God create the Tree of Knowledge? And why did Jesus heal people? But now I understand. I also understand that He died on the cross to pay for our sins because He really loves us.”

The adults at By The Hand helped Na’riya with her reading and homework, and she started to discover a boldness and self-assuredness she didn’t know she had. “I have so many things I like about myself. One thing is that I’m a very good artist.” Indeed, she flourishes in the arts and crafts projects she’s involved in at the club.

Five years in, Bible study is still one of Kyran’s favorite parts about the club. “I like that in each Bible study they have a different way of describing what’s happening in the Bible. For the group I’m in now, the teacher acts out what’s happening in it, which is fun.”

Kyran also has two big career aspirations: “The first is to be a dancer like Beyoncé.” She came to the club set on this goal, joining the dance class right away and adding choir class for good measure. “Another student told me it’s impossible to be a dancer, but I want to prove them wrong.” In order to do that, she’s getting help from staff at By The Hand on her homework, so she can (1) secure that dance scholarship and (2) be invited to the ABC parties they put on for students.

Her second career aspiration? “By The Hand helped me lean into people’s feelings more, so I think I should be a therapist. I used to not like talking about my feelings but now I do, and I like helping other people with their feelings.”

Na’riya doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up yet, but someday she hopes for “a house with rooms for everyone and a cute puppy” for her family. Her future beyond school is still a long way away, but she’s certain she’ll keep spreading the good news of Jesus to all who will listen to her conviction and confidence in Him. “I hope that in the next 20 years, everyone will start to follow the narrow path.”

Kyran and Na’Riya

“I hope that in the next 20 years, everyone will start to follow the narrow path.”


After she’s become a dancer and a licensed therapist, there’s one last goal Kyran wants you to know she’ll try to achieve—one that’s all too sobering for a kid with so much more innocence to enjoy. Recently, a fellow By The Hand student was caught in the crossfire of a neighborhood shootout and killed. Kyran saw how it devastated those that worked in the club, and now wants to work to get gun violence off the streets of Chicago.

Kyran and Na’riya know that By The Hand is standing by to help them both grow up and grow into whoever God wants them to be. We’ll be proud no matter what.

You make the impossible possible

Madeja made the first move


By The Hand – Englewood, 2009


On her first day at By The Hand, Madeja and her sister had no idea what to expect. Within minutes of arriving, they were swept up in the exhilaration of bucket drummers, smiling children playing everywhere and adult after adult coming up to meet them - “It was like someone coming to meet us left and right,” she remembers.

There were so many things Madeja felt were impossible in her life, chief among them going to college. When she brought this question up to By The Hand, they didn’t even hear it as a question, but rather, immediately transformed it into a given. “They were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to college. We’ll help you apply, we’ll make sure you have everything you need.’” They followed through.

Today Madeja is a senior at Taylor University on a full scholarship majoring in public relations with a minor in orphans and vulnerable children. Of the PR major she says, “I noticed being a part of By The Hand, I was comfortable at public speaking and that I wanted to be able to share stories.” Her decision to minor in orphans and vulnerable children displays a remarkable sense of self-knowledge: “I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t want to be a teacher.” She noticed that Taylor, being a Christian university, offered an applied missions minor that would enable her to study abroad and work with children in other countries. But she wondered, “Why go all the way across the world to ‘help orphans and vulnerable children’ when there are plenty of those right here in our own backyard?” Madeja wanted to work closely with kids whose story was relatable to her own.

By The Hand also played a part in Madeja’s comfortability with public speaking - in middle school the organization helped her get braces, which enabled her to overcome low self-esteem, boosted her confidence and gave this world the gift of her radiant smile.

“They truly walk with you hand in hand
every step of the way.”


One thing has been constant throughout Madeja’s high school and college years. After her first Spring Benefit in 2009 Madeja made a bold move: she looked up By The Hand’s phone number on the website and called Donnita on a Saturday. The two struck up a mentoring relationship, and they have talked on the phone every Saturday for the past 10 years - her favorite moment of the week. Psychological research shows that even just one year of mentoring helps a student become more resilient and do better in life. Today, Madeja recognizes the name “By The Hand” is more than merely symbolic or aspirational: “They truly walk with you hand in hand every step of the way.” The Saturday check-ins are holistic: Donnita asks “How are you doing physically, spiritually, academically?” They talk about the highs and lows of the week, and pray together. Other staff members call to help with classwork or send care packages.

The mentorship has been a beautiful balancing act that speaks to Donnita’s sensitivity, intuitiveness and conviction. “There have been times when I need to listen and other times when I speak biblical truth” says Donnita. To this day, Madeja writes notes repeating back things Donnita had said to her. “I didn’t know she heard me say these things. I’d like to think that Madeja would be where she is today because of God’s power in her life. But I’m the one who would have missed out if I hadn’t answered the phone that first Saturday.”

Donnita frequently reminds Madeja of the verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” the repetition of which has become the bedrock of her fortitude, resilience and hope. Twenty years from now, Madeja dreams of being able to give back to By The Hand financially, and to leave her own legacy by starting a nonprofit fostering trust between citizens and the police in her home neighborhood of Englewood.

We know Who can make that possible.

We’re rooting for you, Madeja.

You made trust possible

“The staff were so warm and welcoming.”


By The Hand – Altgeld-Murray, 2009


Myriyah fell between the cracks in middle school. The classes she’d been taking for students with learning disabilities were much too easy, but regular classes were too hard. Her social anxiety kept her distant from her peers and from feeling comfortable in her own skin.

When her teacher took notice, she suggested Myriyah attend By The Hand, but that seemed like just another place she didn’t fit in. “I was absolutely against it. I’m not going there,” was her instinct. She’d heard rumors from other kids that By The Hand made them do their homework and follow strict rules. It made her skeptical, like “it was a place where they sent juvenile delinquents.”

But from Myriyah’s first day at the club, she realized all that gossip was completely untrue. “The staff were so warm and welcoming,” she remembers, “and they just let kids be themselves.” She no longer thought of the students around her as delinquents, but as friends she could finally relate to. “I thought no one understood what I was going through at school and at home. But there were kids there in similar situations or worse, and older kids who could mentor me.”

Each day in the club had a structure and rules, sure, though Myriyah found it much more freeing than restrictive. Where her grades struggled in the crowded, fast-paced environment of the classroom, By The Hand staff made homework rewarding and less intimidating—she even became determined to excel at it. “They let me take my time and had an adult there to help me when I needed it. It eventually turned into ‘let me show them what I can do in school.’”

“Whether you’re a little one or over 25, if there’s someone at By The Hand that you can trust, let someone know what’s going on. You never know what action they can take and what impact that will have on your life. They’re there to serve and help you.”

MyriyahTurning Myriyah’s academic mindset around was one challenge; tackling her social anxiety was a whole other one. When she got to college, her home life got more complex and daily life became insurmountable. “I would get ready to go, start turning the doorknob to leave and suddenly think ‘I can’t do this today.’ That turned into an everyday thing.” Those feelings of inadequacy and isolation from grade school just wouldn’t stop nagging her and she knew she couldn’t keep pushing them down forever.

Thankfully, while attending the By The Hand college program, Myriyah opened up to her counselor, Bethany, about what was going on. She listened intently and helped her seek therapy for her anxiety, which has improved tremendously. “I missed out on so much because I was scared of life. Now I’m not as much and I’m very grateful for that.”

This new outlook on life sparked Myriyah’s passion for serving kids who struggle with the same problems she once did. She loves her job these days as the housekeeping supervisor at a Christian kids camp in Colorado.

“I bring a lot of the stuff I learned from By The Hand over the years to the kids here,” she says, including how she encourages the campers to read their Bible and see how rewarding it can be. “I was one of those kids who didn’t want to read the Bible because my grandmother made me do it all the time. But now it’s something that I do regularly on my own.”

Myriyah recently interned with By The Hand back in Chicago, alongside alumni she graduated with from the club, and wants to go back to work with them again someday. Although the program has changed so much over the years, she knows the most important part will always stay the same: the servant-hearted people on staff.

“Whether you’re a little one or over 25, if there’s someone at By The Hand that you can trust, let someone know what’s going on,” she tells current club attendees. “You never know what action they can take and what impact that will have on your life. They’re there to serve and help you.”

It’s clear that Myriyah’s already adopted that value as her own, and is ready to change the hearts and minds of the next generation.

You made dreams possible

“By The Hand took me by the hand, and now I want to take others by the hand.”


By The Hand – Altgeld-Murray, 2010


Sometimes at a young age, many of us encounter a feeling we don’t have words for. Language fails, or is beyond our grasp, so we’re stuck in a kind of nameless limbo, unable to articulate what besets us. For Tarcell, this elusiveness came in the form of feeling different from everyone around him. He wasn’t interested in sports or drugs or gang activity. But if not sports, drugs and gang activity, then what? What were his other options? All the adult men in Tarcell’s life had gone to jail, and he knew he didn’t want to follow in their footsteps, but what other footsteps were there to follow? Awash in a sea of dead-end scenarios, he battled depression and fought to keep his head above water.

But the first day Tarcell showed up to By The Hand, everything flipped so fast he could barely believe it: “I’d never had so many people hugging me and loving me at one time—people I’d never met just showing me appreciation and care. I didn’t have an adult male role model in my life, and they quickly provided that by introducing me to the person of Jesus Christ, whom I eventually accepted as my Lord and Savior.”

Talk about a 180. When he started working at the club as an assistant team leader, Tarcell found himself surrounded by other men in leadership who had the same visions, aspirations, likes and dislikes as he did. When talking about the club, Tarcell lights up and lets out a whoosh sound like someone has taken the wind out of him- “By The Hand changed my life so much, I could go on for days! They helped me fight off my demons, and with their help I was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education, then a master’s in business leadership. I bought myself a home, had a dream come true in buying my Mom a home, and I now manage a team of 50 people.”


“With their help, I was able to get a master’s in business leadership. I bought myself a home, had a dream come true in buying my Mom a home, and I now manage a team of 50 people.”

Tarcell started out as a cashier at Walmart and quickly worked his way to field leader for Asset Protection, traveling between stores tracking data to best use resources. It was a satisfying and gainful career, but something from his past tugged at Tarcell’s heart. “I wanted to get back into a position where I could hire young kids in urban areas, 18 and older, who are having a hard time finding jobs during COVID-19. I want to be able to give them that chance that I was given. By The Hand took me by the hand, and now I want to take others by the hand.” He stepped away from his lofty corporate role to work at a smaller retailer where he could hire young people from neighborhoods similar to the one he grew up in, specifically targeting those who were saying they didn’t want to go to college. He didn’t pressure them, he just said: “You don’t have to go to college, but you do have to do something.”

Growing up, Tarcell was told it was impossible for him to go to college and that he would never live outside of public housing. Today, more than merely earning two degrees and owning two homes outside of Altgeld-Murray, Tarcell has gone farther than he ever thought possible, including adventurous week-long vacations in Thailand and China. Take that, naysayers!

He credits By The Hand for giving him a fighting spirit. “Without them, I would have given up on everything that I tried and couldn’t get the first time. They gave me the belief: ‘It didn’t happen now, but it’s going to happen soon, let’s just keep fighting for it.’”

His vision for Chicago in 20 years is simple: poverty rates going down and college graduations going up.

Tarcell is ready for anything. He says, “Whatever challenges I face in life, or whatever comes my way, it’s going to be broken through the faith of the Lord that I serve. Even if it’s hard, and even if I tell myself I can’t handle it, it’s still going to break.”

Your faith and determination are an inspiration to us all, Tarcell. Keep up the good fight!

You made “I love you” possible

“In 20 years I’ll be 35, so I will probably be running for president, because that’s the legal minimum age for a candidate.”


By The Hand – Austin, 2011


The projections weren’t looking good. Azariah was born into a home where addiction, financial instability, and a personal struggle with anxiety and depression cast a deep shadow over her future. She found it difficult to express herself, and even found it hard to say “I love you.”

Azariah started attending By The Hand at age seven, and by the time she reached sixth grade, staff members recognized her need for mental healthcare, and paid for therapy. From then on, they picked up the slack at nearly every turn. “Whenever my family was struggling with money, they made sure I got food to take home. Every person who worked at By The Hand took turns driving me home when I lived too far away for the bus.” They even bought her a dress and shoes for graduation and blessed her with tickets to the Superbowl.

But more than mere material support, the club has also afforded Azariah a special kind of consistency that she often couldn’t find elsewhere: “It was the one place where I knew if I said to someone ‘I love you’, they’d say ‘I love you’ back, or they’d say it ten times back. And they’re not saying it because they pity you. They might even tell you they love you so much that it gets on your nerves.” The best way to get on someone’s nerves.

Being sent home from school because of COVID-19, quarantine life took a toll on Azariah’s mental health, but her former mentor from the club, Mr. Rodney, called her every single day to check in, making sure she had everything she needed. Azariah says “The collective love and support has really come from everyone, not just one person.” It takes a village.

She has become an optimist. She used to worry about college debt, or how she would move to another state, but her faith in Jesus changed her mindset to one of trust and recognition that all things are in His hands. By The Hand has also changed Azariah’s relationship to food. Growing up in a neighborhood where fresh produce was not readily available, she knew about the theoretical existence of fruits and vegetables, but didn’t know how to incorporate them into meals, or what proportions to use. Because of the Austin Harvest Pop-Up Market, she now comes home with fruits and vegetables and flowers every day, and is influencing others in her life to do the same. Spreading the gospel of healthy eating, you might say. Even her grandmother is now making fruit smoothies that help her boost her mood and her mobility. There is no question: Azariah is being the solution in her community.

“I want people to see me and think—‘I can do that.’ I want them to feel all of my love and all of my hopes and desires and dreams for them. And then take what they see in me and carry into their own lives.”


By The Hand has also unlocked latent dreams in her, such as wanting to play the guitar. Because she works at the Austin Harvest Pop-Up Market and earns her own paycheck, Azariah recently bought an electric guitar for herself. Beaming with delight, she told us, “I didn’t have to worry about begging my Mom for it, or being a financial burden on her.”

When asked where she sees herself in 20 years, Azariah immediately answered “In 20 years I’ll be 35, so I will probably be running for president, because that’s the legal minimum age for a candidate.” She’s got our vote.

President or not, Azariah says she wants to be an outlet for hope. “I want people to see me and think—‘I can do that.’ I want them to feel all of my love and all of my hopes and desires and dreams for them. And then take what they see in me and carry into their own lives.”

You made being outgoing possible

“God will listen to me.”


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2015


Before Mia came to By The Hand back in third grade, she was uncomfortable with her shy personality. Part of the problem was just a lack of opportunity – after school she didn’t really have a way to connect with others, remembering “I usually just stay at home.” But even when she was in front of others, there was a barrier in the way that she didn’t know how to knock down. “It was just tough to talk to other people, and I wasn’t as outgoing as I wanted to be.”

Then in 2015, Mia heard about By The Hand. “Some people in my grade were going and I wanted to know the experience they were having.” She decided it sounded too good to be left out of and she joined. It was nerve-racking that first day to be sure, now surrounded by kids and staff she didn’t know how to interact with. Eventually, that nervousness gave way to the excitement of new possibilities and even the possibility to reinvent herself.

That’s when cracks started forming in the invisible shell surrounding Mia, and some of the light that streamed in to meet her came from Miss Olivia. “She’s had a big impact on me.” She soon realized this radiance of life Miss Olivia had was actually a reflection of God’s love for her. “She talked about her experience with God and showed me the beauty in life.”

From that day on, Mia pursued all the beauty God’s creation had to offer her, chasing that instinct to explore, even if it was scary at first to the old, shy Mia. Her favorite time at By The Hand soon became “enrichment”, a weekly chance for her to do just that. From meeting kids from different schools while designing a magazine together to reading about new perspectives in book club, Mia’s wings were spreading.

This transformation wasn’t always easy though; she still had a fear that someday, somehow, she’d “mess up” and embarrass herself in what she tried. Mr. Josh was quick to come alongside her in that fear. “He talked to me about how I can start to accept myself and open up about my feelings.” This gave Mia the courage she needed to keep expanding her mind and her comfort zone.

“I pray to Him for anything. I don’t have to be ashamed of talking to Him anymore. God will listen to me.”

MiaNow 13 years old and in eighth grade, Mia can look back and appreciate how far she’s come—the growing pains it took to get to a version of herself she likes much more. “I’ve become more open to people and listening to their problems, and more talkative.”

Thinking about the future, she has an idea of how she’ll put her new, self-described “lively” personality to use: “when I grow up I’ll be either an app developer or be an engineer that fixes technological issues.” Mia hopes By The Hand can help her get a good scholarship to go to school for technology by keeping up with her school work and earn good grades. “If I could ask for anything else, it’d be for a technical kit to practice on,” she reasons. Hey, the bigger the head start the better!

On the 20-year anniversary, Mia says she’s thankful for By The Hand showing her the close relationship God wants to have with her. “They’ve shown me how to have a deep connection with Him. I pray to Him for anything. I don’t have to be ashamed of talking to Him anymore. God will listen to me.”

Looking back on who she used to be, a hesitant young girl still in her shell, Mia would tell herself, “don’t let anyone think that it’s impossible to do anything. Be true to yourself, and be accepting of others.” It’s advice she’s passing along to all of Chicago, as she hopes one day there’ll be fun, new buildings and parks to visit. Knowing the doors that have been opened for her, Mia sees how the city too can spread its wings and achieve its goals, and do “the impossible”.

We’re so proud of you for breaking out of your shell, Mia. Take flight and go wherever your heart of gold leads you!

You made having a voice possible

“I’ll teach them the Word of God.”


By The Hand – Moving Everest, 2015


Chakola spent the earliest years of her life without an anchor. Unmoored by a difficult family situation, she was tossed around like a ship on rough seas within the DCFS system until her aunt finally acquired guardianship. Still, even with this new stability, she struggled at school and felt like she wasn’t learning anything. Her aunt knew about By The Hand because she had lived nearby for 15 years, so she sent Chakola straight there.

Things weren’t immediately easy. In her early days at the club, Chakola’s shyness kept her withdrawn inside herself. “I cried a lot, and didn’t come out very much. But then one of the staff members, Ms.Yasenia, motivated me to speak out. She taught me more about God, and once I started to learn about Him, and started learning that He was on my side, and that He would work things out for me, I started believing in Him and prayed that He would help me be more talkative, to speak out more.”

Through the club, Chakola found she could learn more readily in school, and even excelled at it—so much so that she is now enrolled in high school-level math courses as a sixth-grader. In the enrichment programs at By The Hand, Chakola first studied STEM-Robotics and learned how to build 3-D cars. Now she is studying cooking: “This week we’re doing salad, next week we’re doing a meal, and the week after that we’re going to be doing a dessert.” She’s grateful for all that the club has taught her about a healthy lifestyle: “They said we should drink water every day and when we eat, we need to eat all our food and make sure our plate is colorful, with all the healthy nutrients.”


“When I grow up, I want to be a preacher. Every time I learn something new about God I get excited - it’s amazing and fun to study the Bible.”

She also knows that a healthy lifestyle goes beyond just food and drink, extending to the spiritual life. She wants to spread this message to others: “When I grow up, I want to be a preacher. Every time I learn something new about God I get excited - it’s amazing and fun to study the Bible.”

When asked where she’ll be 20 years from now, Chakola doesn’t hesitate for a moment: “20 years from now I’ll be a preacher and have my own church! On Saturdays I’ll let the homeless come in. I’ll have food for them, and I’ll teach the Word of God to them before they eat. And on Sundays I’ll let anyone come, even if they’re far away, and I’ll teach them the gospel.”

Chakola says she wants to become a preacher, but she already is one. When asked to describe the gospel in a nutshell, she instantly recites, with passion and enthusiastic hand gestures: “Jesus is God, He came from heaven to earth, He lived a perfect life, He died on the cross to pay for our sins, He rose from the dead, now He’s in heaven, offering us the free gift of eternal life.”

Sounds like she’s got it down.

Beyond the gospel, there is another definitive message Chakola wants to spread: “If you have kids you should bring them to By The Hand. It will help motivate them to do new things; give them more ideas of what they could do when they grow up.”

A natural evangelist, Chakola actively invites her friends to join the club. Already skilled in the art of persuasion, she gives specific (rather than general) examples of how they could benefit from attending: “There are tutors who help us with our math. So if you normally go home from school and have trouble with your math homework, you could instead go to By The Hand where they will help you with that.” Simple, practical, straightforward rhetoric.

Chakola is grateful that By The Hand has lived up to its name, literally walking hand in hand with her through childhood as the organization expanded: “I’m very thankful for By The Hand because at first we only had kindergarten through fifth grades, but now we have sixth through eighth grades, and we’re growing.”

When pondering her future ministry, Chakola doesn’t limit herself to just preaching and helping the homeless. She shrugs cheerfully and says “I might work at By The Hand, too!”

Preaching, helping the homeless, working at By The Hand - when you meet Chakola and see her confidence and exuberance, it’s not hard to imagine her doing all three.

Thank you, Chakola, for being the solution in your community. We can’t wait to see what God has for you in the next 20 years.

You made all ABCs possible

We hope to make peaceful streets possible

Timothy and Temeka

By The Hand – Englewood, 2015

Timothy and Temeka

Timothy and Tameka, age 11, are fraternal twins. They came from the same pregnancy, they have the same birthday, they share 50 percent of each other’s genes, and grew up in the same home. Yet, in 2016, they could not have been more different academically.

Tameka had so many academic struggles that she flunked a grade and was held back, while her brother, Timothy, was an honor roll student. But through By The Hand and Timothy consistently encouraging his sister, telling her how amazing the ABC parties were, a spark of determination was lit inside Tameka. The progress was slow, but she stayed at it and kept persevering, proving to herself first that she could raise her grades, and ultimately proving it to all the people around her when she made honor roll the very year after she had been held back. Her teacher at By The Hand, Cornell, says “She came to the club so happy, showing her As, Bs and Cs on her report card, overjoyed that she could finally go to ABC party, and proud that she had made the impossible possible.”

In 20 years, Timothy hopes to influence the world through streaming platforms like YouTube, and his sisterl Tameka, wants to beautify the women in her community by doing hair and nails. They both want to see less violence in their area (They shouldn’t have to see it in the first place), and they hope they can be a part of making peaceful streets possible.

“Tameka came to the club so happy, showing her As, Bs and Cs on her report card, proud that she had made the impossible possible.”

–Teacher at By The Hand

Timothy and TemekaTimothy is grateful to By The Hand for providing structure and order to his days: “They do good teaching us what we need to do, or what we shouldn’t do. They help us with our homework.” And both twins have become little evangelists for the club, telling their friends they should absolutely take the By The Hand forms that the teachers in school hand out. Timothy says, “It gives you a place to be,” indicating that without the club, some students might otherwise find themselves in compromising situations, or on paths that could lead to them. Timothy says, “If By The Hand wasn’t there...I don’t know where I would go.”

We’re grateful these two young twins have a place to go, and grateful for everyone who makes that place possible. Tameka’s story of leaping from flunked and held back to honor roll student and ABC party attendee in one year due to encouragement from By The Hand is one we’ll hold near to our hearts for years to come. We can’t wait to see what further leaps the twins will make.

You made discovery possible

I want to learn about the universe.


By The Hand – Cabrini-Green, 2016


The simple act of looking up at the night sky to stare at the stars above is simultaneously awe-inspiring and humbling. For many of us, it’s a frightening experience to come to terms with our smallness in the grander universe and feel like our lives aren’t as significant as we once imagined.

For Jacari however, a soft-spoken eighth-grader attending By The Hand at Cabrini-Green, it’s nothing but emboldening. He’s staring at a display of worlds just waiting to be explored. Thinking about space drives him to become his very best self, to travel down the narrow path of academic excellence it takes to attain his dream job as an astronomer.

Back in fourth grade, Jacari didn’t have any notions of pursuing astronomy, much less taking school very seriously. “Before he started attending By The Hand, he used to do what boys his age do,” his mom explains, “being a part of every argument and fight, getting distracted by friends in class, etc.”

Jacari started attending the club in 2016, when his aunt told him about how his cousins were enjoying it. Before he knew it, Jacari was having life-changing conversations. “On my first day of By The Hand, my team leader and I were talking about how Jesus died on the cross for us.”

He still remembers the song they sang that day four years ago about Jesus’s love—it really resonated with him, maybe because he felt a sense of waywardness in his life at that time. “It talked about how everyone is a sinner and no one is perfect, but that Jesus is our gateway to heaven because He died for us.”

“It talked about how everyone is a sinner and no one is perfect, but that Jesus is our gateway to heaven because He died for us.”

JacariSomething changed in Jacari that day. He started praying more and had a greater desire not just to learn more about God, but about what was being taught in school. He was naturally a quick learner and By The Hand helped add a fun, motivating structure to getting his school work done. “Once I came to the club, things just felt better. It’s so nice there – we get help with homework, they teach us about the Bible, we have game’s all just fun.”

Jacari soon met other kids and staff at By The Hand that helped him turn around his attitude, including Miss Olivia. He said, “she’s made a big impact in my life because every time I do something bad, she talks to me about it and points me in the right direction.”

He started to lean into positive decision making more and more, which his mom loved seeing. “Now he’s the one telling the class to be quiet because he can’t hear!”

One day while watching TV, Jacari came across a show talking about the planets of the solar system and was instantly hooked. His love of learning had found it’s muse: astronomy.

His mentors at By The Hand took notice of his new interest and arranged a special visit just for him. Miss Olivia took him to meet an astronomy professor at a nearby university, who could answer all his burning questions about the cosmos face to face. “I got to look through the telescope and at pictures they had taken of planets through it.” His favorite’s Jupiter, by the way.

Jacari’s now firmly set on graduating and discovering all that the stars have to offer. Looking up and out into the future, there’s one specific thing he wishes for Calibri-Green and for all the students who’ve yet to find their life passion at By The Hand: “safer streets.”

Thanks Jacari, for encouraging us all with your story to marvel at what the universe has to offer. We pray alongside you for change on the streets of Chicago, and for your journey to star-dom.

You made abundant life possible

“I plan on being The Solution for the rest of my life”


By The Hand – Austin, 2016


One day when LaQuintion’s Mom arrived home from work, he gave her a simple hug, and she hugged him back really tight, whispering “I really needed this.” He didn’t think much of it at the time, but later learned the reason was because that day she had been diagnosed with cancer. As the disease progressed, LaQuintion felt increasingly isolated and alone, with no one to talk to or cry to. His emotions felt pent-up inside with no avenue for release. Beyond the anxiety of the illness, LaQuintion says there were other factors complicating his situation: “I didn’t have a lot going for me. I was C, D and F student, with a lot of behavior issues.” It felt like walls were closing in.

The first day LaQuintion came to By The Hand, he had spent the entire school day silent, without speaking a single word. But when he arrived at the club, something about the sense of whole-hearted acceptance and encouragement was so electric in the air that he opened his mouth and expressed himself freely.

He had attended church before, but the words were hard to understand, and it felt geared toward adults. At his first chapel at the club, LaQuintion heard the Bible taught in terms and language he could understand and resonate with. “Once you get to By The Hand, they don’t just help you with homework. They show you how to pray, how to read the Bible, which Bible to read. That’s what encouraged me, that’s what gave me a piece of hope that my Mom would be okay.”


“Once you get to By The Hand, they don’t just help you with homework. They show you how to pray, how to read the Bible, which Bible to read.”

LaQuintion was in the middle of doing his homework one day when his Mom sat him down with some news from the doctor. Her cancer had been healed; his prayers had been answered, and a new chapter of health and joy would begin in their lives. During his time at By The Hand, LaQuintion’s reading excelled by three levels, an increase so significant that his school advanced him from sixth to eighth grade. He went from a C, D and F student to an A and B student. The club kept him active playing sports like football, basketball, and baseball, teaching him that movement and exercise are critical to mental health. His favorite positions in football are wide receiver and quarterback.

That LaQuintion would be comfortable in a leadership-oriented position like quarterback should come as no surprise. Two summers ago, he noticed people suffering in his community, so he started LaQuintion’s Feed the Need Mini-mart. He provided toiletries, non-perishable food and clothes for the winter. His prayer was that he could serve at least 20 people, and he ended up serving 45. Director Rodney Williams says, “Some kids By The Hand helps get ready. LaQuintion was born ready.”

Twenty years from now, LaQuintion plans to be running his own successful nonprofit in the most under-resourced neighborhood he can find, in addition to owning a Mexican or Italian restaurant, or maybe even a “Mexitalian” fusion. We can’t wait to eat there.

LaQuintion says he plans on continuing to be the solution in his community both now and wherever he is for the rest of his life, “until I have changed the whole world.”

You made success possible

“I want to help people in jail”


By The Hand – Austin, 2016


Tamera’s family moved 10 times in nine years, forever boxing and unboxing their possessions, starting over and starting over again. Possibilities for lasting human connections were constantly upended. The one constant in Tamera’s life was her sister, so it was only natural when her sister started attending By The Hand, Tamera went along to see what it was all about.

Little did she know that the club would soon provide those lasting friendships that she craved and had previously not thought possible. “They introduced me to so many people. And, more importantly, the right people.” Tamera’s mentor, Brooke, spent a lot of one-on-one time with her, imparting wisdom about faith, prayer and studying the Bible. Tamera told us, “Brooke is exceptional. She’s like my big sister who keeps me on track, but does not judge me if I’m knocked off track. If I feel like something is too challenging, she’s always the one who gives me the reassurance I need. She’s also like my spiritual mother. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. One of my biggest takeaways from By The Hand is knowing that even when life gets hard and throws you curveballs, if you follow Him, God is always there to catch you.”

Tamera is grateful that the club encouraged her in playing sports and keeping her body healthy. Because of the physical activity encouraged at By The Hand during middle school, in high school she played rugby and ran track all four years. The resilience and strength had always been within Tamera, she just needed someone to bring it out and help it flourish.

“One of my biggest takeaways from By The Hand is knowing that even when life gets hard and throws you curveballs, if you follow Him, God is always there to catch you.”


And flourish it did: Ready for a physical challenge, Tamera enlisted in the Army, and began rigorous training. Her athleticism had laid a good foundation, but there was another hurdle: “When you go to basic training, you have to be mentally prepared. I can definitely say I wasn’t ready for it.” But because of the resilience that was already within her and the tools By The Hand had given her to persevere, she eventually acclimated to the mental toughness required and successfully graduated basic training while still in high school.

Tamera isn’t the first person in her family to serve in the military - her grandfather was in the Navy. But she is the first person in her family to attend college. Tamera is attending Taylor University on a full scholarship, and she hopes one day to build a solid family where higher education is the norm. In the next few years, as her personal growth continues, Tamera is hoping to open herself up more to people at college and be more extroverted, the way she is at home. She lives with the constant possibility that at any moment she could be deployed, but she accepts this in a very matter-of-fact, non-anxious way.

After graduation, Tamera wants to initially return to Chicago to help incarcerated persons, then spread her work and her impact all over the United States. Her father went to jail when she was nine years old, and she wants to help incarcerated persons who have been dehumanized by the system to see that “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you’ve been in the tunnel for 20 years, there’s always light at the end of it. I want to help people in jail so that when they are released they can help themselves and be better for their communities.”

Today, Tamera would encourage kids in Austin to attend By The Hand using this line of reasoning: “If you want to be different from what you see around you...then go do different.”

It’s a way of thinking that has transformed Tamera’s life, and we can’t wait to see all that she will make possible in the years to come. Tamera, we salute you!