We are a Christ-centered, after-school program that takes kids by the hand and walks with them from kindergarten through college, loving and nurturing them—mind, body and soul.
Board of Directors
AT&T Attorney (Retired)
“As a follower of Christ and lover of Chicago, intervening in the lives of young Chicagoans who are in critical need of such intervention is a great way to join the Power of One movement.”
Sawyer remains active as a licensed attorney after retirement from the AT&T Law Division and Seyfarth Shaw LLP. This enables him to provide legal advice to By The Hand Club For Kids on a pro bono basis—as well as other Christian organizations, such as The Moody Church, where he serves as the vice-chairman of the Elders, a trustee, and a member of the Church’s Leadership Council. Sawyer has a JD from Indiana University School of Law and a BS from Indiana State University. He also has four daughters, two sons-in-law, and two very young grandchildren all of whom still live in Chicago. He and his wife, Jodie, homeschooled their daughters.
Attorney, Law Office of Christine A. Parker
“These students are powerful. They are breaking the cycle of poverty, broken families and hopelessness and succeeding in school—and life. Witnessing that transformation first hand has been a tremendous blessing to me.”
Passionate about providing children from disadvantaged backgrounds with hope and light, Parker applies her experience as an attorney and school director on behalf of By The Hand. She holds a JD and MBA from William & Mary School of Law and School of Business and a BS from Trinity Christian College. She currently directs a private hybrid school and is actively involved in Safe Families for Children and Compassion International, and also serves on the board of her church’s Adoption Fund and of a private Foundation. Parker loves how By The Hand not only gives kids hope for a successful and fulfilling life, but the tools to realize those hopes—and a deep and loving community. She and her husband live in Chicago and have five children—two biological and three adopted. She lives out the Power of One.
Chief Operating Officer, Urban Outreach Foundation
“By the Hand sees true value and possibility in every child, family and community. Equipping children to maximize their potential drives every heart and program as we serve them with grace.”
Education advocate and passionate coach, Jonathan Banks is motivated to see people connect with God in a deeper way by challenging them to grow and inspiring them to rise. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer at Urban Outreach Foundation serving an international group of pastors and leaders. Jonathan is an ordained minister in Chicago where he lives with his wife, Jacinta, and their courageous sons.
“Putting the Power of One into action requires courage and persistence to bring about reconciliation, establish equality for all, and help kids lift themselves from their circumstance.”
Fellowes was about to graduate from college when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April, 1968. The tragic event led to a change in plans: becoming a school teacher on Chicago’s West Side which opened his eyes to the inequality of under resourced neighborhoods. There he first experienced the joy of making a difference In the life of a youngster. Throughout his career as third generation CEO and now Chairman of Fellowes Brands, his heart has remained fixed on the issue of racial equality. He has served as Church Elder numerous times and currently serves on the boards of Culver Academies, Crossway Books, and Lyric Opera. He and his wife Deby of 50+ years have both served on By The Hand Boards and love being a part of this ministry.
Allstate Agency Owner
“Growing up in a blue collar community, my parents who were educators would encourage my friends to stay in school and think about higher education. I am able to see the difference from ones that took the advice and those that did not.”
With a love for serving people, Gomez became an Allstate agent in 2006, opening his agency later that year. He and his team take pride in assisting their clients in both English and Spanish, and are active members of their communities. Having grown up with a mother passionate about kids and their education, Gomez is especially interested in causes that help children. He says that “All the other programs focus on education, and that is worthy, but no other program combines the mind, body, and soul like By The Hand.” Gomez holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BA from Northern Illinois University. He and his wife Maria live in Chicago, close to his daughter.
Founder & Owner, Lincoln Park Preschool & Kindergarten
“High-quality education is crucial to their academic, social and emotional development. All children have high potential, yet not all children are given the opportunity. Regardless of their zip code, every child deserves access to high-quality education.”
A leader and expert in Early Childhood Education, Hickey-Kozek founded the nationally accredited Lincoln Park Preschool and Kindergarten in 1993 and has opened 3 locations in the city. LLP strives to nurture curiosity and inspire a love for learning while emphasizing character development and academic excellence. Sharon is committed to coming alongside organizations whose passion and vision is to lift up orphaned and vulnerable children—locally and globally. Lending time, talents and resources, Sharon and LLP are helping ignite the Power of One in our kids.
She and her husband Bill, who is the President, Truck and Parts at Navistar, live and attend Church in Chicago with their three children whom they adopted in 2017. Sharon earned her BS in Early Childhood Education from Bowling Green State University.
Retired Business Owner/Investor
“After visiting and supporting By The Hand for several years my compassion for the children has grown deep in me. The competent and committed servant leadership of this ministry has resulted in the Lord’s blessing of thousands of kids over 20 years. Amazing ministry that I want to serve and be a part of.”
In recent years Tim Horner has sold and wound down his major business ventures. He invests his free time consulting and spending time with his family and grandchildren who all live in the Dallas area.
Having served on many nonprofit boards over the years, he joined the By The Hand board in 2022 after becoming acquainted with the strong leadership team through Donnita Travis. He knows that effective, significant ministries must have such leadership. Tim and his wife, Peggy, live in the Dallas suburb of Plano. They invest their time and resources in many ministries and attend Prestonwood Church.
Community Relations Director, Moody Bible Institute
“I love children. And I am very concerned about the issues they face. When you are part of By The Hand, you are helping to fuel the Power of One by sharing biblical life skills with the children. I love the emphasis on education, salvation and creativity.”
Roy Patterson is the Community Relations Director at Moody Bible Institute (MBI). In this role, Roy is helping to strengthen relationships with churches, pastors and ministry partners, and facilitate racial reconciliation in Chicago. He was the station manager for Moody Radio Chicago for years, and continues to host three nationally syndicated programs, Celebration of Praise, Music for Sunday and Urban Praise. Roy is a preacher, praise and worship leader and vocalist—and has a passion for the body of Christ united through worship and sincere fellowship.
A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Trinity International University, Roy has served as a youth leader, senior pastor and substance abuse counselor. He has been married to his wife, Lynette, for over 30 years and has three children.
Managing Director, Operations & Media, The Moody Church
Michael serves as the Managing Director of Operations & Media at The Moody Church and he oversees day-to-day operations and overall direction for Moody Church Media. He came to The Moody Church in 1992 and became involved through the church’s singles ministry. Before joining the staff as Managing Director of Operations, he worked for consulting firms Towers Perrin and Arthur Andersen. He holds an MBA from Northwestern University and a BA in accounting/business from Cedarville University. He and his wife, Peggy, have a daughter, Emily, and a son, Michael.
Director of Business Development, ASAP Pharmacy, Inc.
“The times in which we live now and the future of our existence globally demand that we make our youth a priority. This can only be achieved by instilling in each one life-sustaining disciplines, principles and truths that will equip them to make the decisions necessary to make a fuller quality of life on this planet for all.”
Gilbert Russell has a deeply personal connection to the kids at By The Hand, as he was one of them—an under-resourced kid growing up in 60’s Chicago. Just like By The Hand does now, someone came to him and offered him a way out in the form of mentorship. He credits them with “showing [him] the world” and giving him the inspiration he needed to define his future. He now strives to be a mentor and a visual model to the kids at By The Hand so they can achieve whatever they put their minds to, despite how heavily the odds appear to be stacked against them.
Owner and Founder, Urban GIS
“There is no greater calling than to protect, promote and invest in our collective future and our youth. In a city where far too many have been faced with countless environmental and systemic challenges, we have an obligation and awesome opportunity to extend our collective hands to help lift them above the tides of despair.”
Keith Searles is passionate about ministry and youth mentoring, using his many skills to help organizations like By The Hand as well as kids he mentors. Professionally, he is CEO and Founder of Urban GIS, a consulting firm that provides Geographic Information Systems (GIS) services, bridging the gap between IT and public infrastructure. With 24 years of professional experience, he is also the founder of E.D.G.E. a non-profit focused on enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the geospatial industry.
Keith holds a BA in Civil Engineering with a minor in International Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Resident Director for Men, Olivet Nazarene University and eLearning Media Producer, Life University
“Something is different about By The Hand—the people, its environment. Of course, it is Jesus, the Holy Spirit in the staff and volunteers.”
Travis Smith is our first student alum to join the By The Hand board of directors. He enrolled at By The Hand – Cabrini-Green in 2002 and became our first college graduate in 2012. Currently, Travis is the Resident Director for Men at Olivet Nazarene University, his alma mater. Before that, he was a Branch Manager at Hertz Corporation, Department Manager at Best Buy, and Shift Leader for the Olivet Public Safety Department.
When Travis first attended By The Hand, he was active in a gang. But the genuine love he experienced kept him coming back. Now, quick to share the gospel and his testimony, Travis is a devoted father raising four children with Karissa, his wife—and a beloved member of the By The Hand family.
Our Leadership Team
Site Director, By The Hand—Altgeld-Murray
“My passion for serving youth began while working as a part-time youth leader over fifteen years ago at my former church. Since then, I have been passionate about creating new ways to develop and motivate youth, especially in the inner-city.”
LaKimbra has been working at By The Hand for seven years. She started out as a Team Leader for Junior High at the Austin location, then transitioned to Junior Program Manager, then to Senior Manager of Junior High and is now the Site Director at Altgeld Gardens. She is a member of New Life Covenant Southeast, has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Northern Illinois University and is also a business owner. She is happily married and is excited to see all that God is going to do through her team in Altgeld.
Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Site Director, By The Hand—Austin
"I want to unleash my Power of One by mentoring and helping youth make wise and healthy decisions. That’s how I want to serve my community."
Before joining By The Hand Club, Bernadette Ballenger was a teacher assistant at Daystar School. There she worked with first- and second-grade students during the day and first- through eighth-graders after school. She also worked with Sunshine Gospel Ministries in their after-school tutoring program. She is a mentor and Sunday school teacher at Ellis Avenue Church. Bernadette began at By The Hand as a volunteer, before becoming a team leader and then a site director. An excellent leader, she lives in the Austin community with her kids, where she lives out the Power of One every day.
Chief Financial Officer
“One of my favorite verses (Act 17:26-27) talks about God choosing where we will live and when we will live... so that we will seek Him and find Him, though He is not far. It's a blessing to work where everyone believes that, even in the most challenging areas of Chicago, we can help kids find Him.”
Felicia joined By The Hand after serving as the Controller on the By The Hand account with Cedarstone for 5 years. An avid Jesus-lover, she serves in many capacities at her church home, Wellspring Alliance Church in Wheaton. Her favorite roles there are as a kid’s storyteller, scripture reader, and creator of “Wrestle”, an opportunity in the church to dialogue about social issues and reason together about how God would have us respond. Felicia is a CPA and has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Michigan State University. She began her career at Ernst & Young and has worked in accounting for the last 20 years with a variety of profit and non-profit organizations. Ever challenging herself, she is studying to obtain her MLO license to use her love of numbers to increase minority homeownership. Felicia is part of our Power of One movement.
Chief Development Officer
“By The Hand’s reputation for faith-based service is second to none, and the ripple effect that results from its mission is so evident: one child’s life is changed…then that of their family…soon enough, an entire community is reverberating with the life-changing difference that abundant life fosters. It is so fulfilling to apply both my faith and fundraising experience to contribute to this work.”
Rachel brings with her a decade of leadership experience in both education and faith-based fundraising roles in the Midwest and across the country. She previously served as the Director of Stewardship Planning for Taylor University, a Christian liberal arts institution, where she pioneered relationships with new donors and catalyzed increased donor support by recommending tax efficient and integrated charitable strategies. During her time at Taylor, Rachel identified areas of new growth and secured significant major gift support in the form of scholarships, estate gifts and capital campaigns, including the largest hybrid gift for a key capital campaign project. Additionally, she oversaw the process for the most complex non-cash transaction in the University’s history.
As Chief Development Officer, Rachel leads our fund development team, spearheading an impactful fundraising strategy that spans donor engagement, grants, communication and events. Rachel works closely with By The Hand’s Board of Directors and Fund Development team to deepen our relationships with individuals, families, churches and corporations that share its commitment to helping Chicago youth have abundant life.
Vice President of Learning
“My desire is for all kids to learn. I love seeing them excited about something they understand, find interesting or just discovered and the smile that spreads across their faces as a result."
Michele Hoekstra loves the natural curiosity of kids and has a heart for education—especially literacy and reading instruction. She has taught kindergarten through eighth grade for 16 years at elementary schools in the South Loop, Lawndale and Austin neighborhoods. She believes being a strong reader helps to open doors of opportunities for kids. To help ignite The Power of One, she is applying all of her experience to help ensure that all of our kids are able to read at grade level.
Michele has a Master of Education in language and literacy from National Louis University and a Bachelor of Science in elementary education with a kindergarten endorsement from Taylor University. At Calvary Memorial Church, Michele has been involved with the prayer ministry and small group ministries.
Senior Vice President of Human Resources
“I love working with children and helping them recognize that they are unique gifts in the eyes of God. It’s a privilege to be providing the educational, emotional and spiritual support they need.”
Passionate about serving kids who face challenges, Omokhosen “Osen” Imoukhuede has been volunteering with kids for over 20 years. She is a member of the Citylight Church, where she also serves as the director of the Kidzcity Department and manages the programming of the children’s church. As Director of Volunteer Development, she loves connecting people, churches and organizations with volunteer opportunities within By The Hand Club For Kids. She takes a special interest in enabling volunteers to use their skills and abilities to help our students have abundant life and make a difference in their communities.
Osen has a Master’s in educational leadership from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria, and is called to the Nigerian Bar. She fuels the Power of One.
Vice President of Program Operations
“I love being able to work with children in every area of their life. And I love teaching our kids who God is and how much He cares for them.”
Sarah James loves helping kids develop their God-given talents, often helping them overcome the challenges they face to engage their Power of One. Prior to her current role at By The Hand, Sarah served as the Site Director for our Cabrini-Green and Englewood clubs, our Volunteer Coordinator and a team leader.
Her previous experience includes being an elementary school teacher for Indianapolis Public Schools, the Indianapolis Youth Program Coordinator for Baxter YMCA and a Youth Program Director for the Chicago Park District. Sarah has a Master of Arts in urban ministry from Moody Graduate School and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from the University of Indianapolis. She attends Chicago West Bible Church, and she is the proud guardian of Keewaun and Trayvon Williams, two boys from Cabrini-Green. She is part of our Power of One movement.
Site Director, By The Hand—Moving Everest
“Good leaders build products. Great leaders build cultures. Good leaders deliver results. Great leaders develop people. Good leaders have vision. Great leaders have values. Good leaders are role models at work. Great leaders are role models in life.”
Jeffrey joined By The Hand in 2018, as a part-time Team Leader for 4th grade, coming from the field of retail management. Since starting with By The Hand, he has served in several positions, such as Cohort Liaison for 2nd-4th grades, Assistant Site Director, and now Site Director. Each of these roles reflect his dedication to the growth and development of the community’s youth.
As a product of the Austin Community, Jeffrey has a profound commitment to giving back the community that helped shape him. In addition to his contributions at By The Hand, Jeffrey is a member of Greater St. John Bible Church, located in the Austin community. He has the pleasure of serving as a member of the Praise & Worship Team, which aligns with his passion for uplifting and serving others.
Jeffrey holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from HBCU Benedict College in Columbia, SC. Outside of his professional commitments, he enjoys activities such as singing, reading, action movies, spending time with family and friends, but most importantly being a devoted father to his son, Noah. He counts in an honor to be an abundant life builder, helping our students mind, body and soul.
K-12 Grade Programming Administrator
“The kids—that’s what keeps me going. My students. They are the Power of One.”
Formerly a kindergarten teacher at Cambridge Academy, Dezsiree Jones is passionate about helping our kids realize and develop their God-given potential. As site director, she is helping to fuel the Power of One by ensuring that the kids receive the encouragement, love and support that kids from under-resourced neighborhoods need. It means a lot to her when she sees a child develop a personal relationship with Christ and succeed in school—and life—as someone who desires to help others, too.
Dezsiree holds a Bachelor of Science in child psychology and criminal justice from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, IL. Dezsiree is actively involved at New Life Celebration Church of God in Dolton. She is the head Sunday school teacher for preschoolers as well as helping with the junior and senior high ministry. The children are her first priority. She fuels the Power of One.
Site Director, By The Hand—North Austin
“I am who I am today because of God and because I was given a safe place in an after-school program when I was ten years old in the exact neighborhood I am serving in today through By The Hand. After-school programs impact and protect lives. That is why I am here and God’s hand is all over it!”
Yasenia was born and raised in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago, adopted into an after-school program that catapulted her into a life of theater and dance from grammar school all the way through college. After so many years of dance and theater she thought that would be her life. But, then she experienced the love of Christ and chose to study for three and a half years in a Spanish seminary. Yasenia graduated valedictorian of her seminary class and has been teaching and serving in children’s, youth and women’s ministry for 25 years.
Yasenia believes serving at By The Hand Club For Kids is truly a part of God’s design and plan for her soul: “What two better things can one person put together: God and children! It’s perfect, perfect for me.”
Vice President of NXT
“Each student is uniquely designed by God with a plan for their lives waiting to be discovered. I am honored to be one of many who supports them along their journey.”
From the very beginning Valonda was fascinated by the arts. As a young girl her father introduced her to the world of music, dance and theater. This fascination became part of her purpose and calling when at the age of fourteen she became a Christ follower, and immediately began ministering the gospel to her peers with performing arts as her tool. She has nearly three decades of experience in youth ministry and has worked for the Chicago Park District as a Special Recreation Coordinator and Special Olympic coach for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
It was only natural that this path would lead her to By The Hand as the Enrichment and Activities Manager for high school students. It is in this role that Valonda transformed the enrichment center and created an atmosphere that inspires students to dream big dreams. By introducing students to various activities, they have been able to discover, develop and display their God given gifts and talents. In her current role as Senior Director of NXT, not only does she continue to coordinate enrichment activities, she also leads the NXT Design Team who is responsible for the development of enrichment services for the older students across all of the By The Hand sites. This includes academic support, career development and spiritual direction. She also provides training and on-going support for Coaches to encourage a culture of world readiness among the older students.
With Ephesians 2:10 being Valonda’s life verse, she wholeheartedly believes that the Power of One is seen as we embrace who God has masterfully created us to be, doing the good works that He has prepared for us to do.
Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer
“I am extremely excited to be on this incredible team of world changers. I look forward to making a positive impact on young, impressionable minds by encouraging them with the lifechanging power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also look forward to expanding the reach and building the influence of this growing organization!”
Marco resides with his wife, Dr. Akilah J. Townsend in the south suburbs of Chicago. Marco is a graduate (and former football player) of the University of Pittsburgh where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He holds a Master’s of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He also earned his Doctorate of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. Earlier this year, Marco was recognized by Pittsburgh Magazine and Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project as a 40 Under 40 honoree, an award given to the most influential young leaders in the city of Pittsburgh, PA. One of Marco’s life verses is Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”
Chief Executive Officer and President
“God is so good, and He wants us to treat all people with love and respect. I am constantly in awe of how unique and special each child is. And I have been touched by the kids and their families.”
Donnita Travis will tell you that for her, there is no greater privilege than to serve God by investing in the lives of His children—mind, body and soul. Sensing God’s call to start a holistic after-school program to help children from Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods have abundant life, Donnita resigned as president of an advertising agency to launch By The Hand Club For Kids in 2001. Under her leadership, By The Hand Club has grown from 16 kids in Cabrini-Green to serve more than 1,700 kids with six sites strategically located throughout Chicago—and an annual operating budget of more than $10M. She loves seeing how patience, love, and the positive learning environment that By The Hand provides transform the lives of kids, and is inspired by the abilities of kids.
Thankful for each child God brings to By The Hand, Donnita still serves as a volunteer, driven by her concern and love for each child. She has been widely recognized for her work with the kids of By The Hand—as Chicago’s Chicagoan of the Year 2012, the 2011 recipient of Mayor Daley’s SAGE award, and Northwestern Kellogg School of Management Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010. She holds an MBA from Northwestern University and a BA in English and communications from Spalding University. She also attended Harvard Business School for Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management after receiving the HBS Club of Chicago’s Roman Nomitch Fellowship.
Chief Human Resources Officer
“God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20
Courtney brings over 21 years of experience in Human Resources and Leadership Development to the By The Hand Club For Kids team. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication from DePaul University, is a SHRM Senior Certified Professional and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. After spending more than a decade in corporate America, serving companies across several different industries, Courtney knew that she had to bring the proven strategies she created to heart-centered organizations with purpose.
As the Senior Director of Human Resources, Courtney leads the HR team, spearheading recruitment, retention, employee engagement, benefits management, training and compliance. She works closely with By The Hand’s Leadership Team, Board of Directors and Talent Advancement Group to ensure By The Hand remains an amazing place to work. She has a passion for serving God’s people and is committed to helping youth have abundant life. She fuels the Power of One.
Vice President of Talent Advancement
“If you change the life of a child, you will change the trajectory of his or her family. If you change the child's family, you will forever change the community.”
Lamont Washington has served as a director of youth development for over 14 years, across multiple states. His responsibilities have included overseeing the day-to-day operations of the program, program compliance, the creation of assessment and measurement tools, and creating curriculum and training resources for youth development and youth employment programs. He is a proud alumnus of the historic Wilberforce University–the first privately owned institution of higher education for African Americans (HBCU). Lamont strongly believes that the community is a great ally. He is the Power of One in action.
Site Director, By The Hand—Englewood
“Throughout my life I have had the honor of being pursued by God. As I look back over my life it is obvious that even when I didn’t know Him, He pursued me. For almost 30 years, I have had the privilege of pursuing Him. It is truly my hope that I can be an example of a life lived, while not perfect, in pursuit of Him.”
Bethany is passionate about serving the Lord and serving others. Her greatest desire is to use the gifts and talents the Lord has given her to edify the body of Christ. Over the years she has served in various ministries. She has used her creative talents to lead both drama and puppet ministries. She has also served in children’s and music ministries. As an educator for more than 20 years she worked with all age groups from daycare to high school seniors. She has taught reading, French, math, and diverse learners and co-sponsored an after school Christian club for high school students. She wants to help equip and support young people to achieve and excel in life to God’s glory.
Bethany earned a Bachelor of Arts in French Language and Culture from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Masters of Secondary Education from DePaul University.
Senior Director of K-12 Programming
“I want to work with By The Hand because of its holistic approach working with students. I want to help our kids fuel their own Power of One by creating a space that is spiritually, physically and emotionally safe.”
Eddie Wilson’s positive, enthusiastic nature has a way of inspiring our kids to accomplish more than they thought possible. Eddie comes to By The Hand Club from the Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, where he was the center director. During his tenure, Eddie significantly increased program funding and exceeded recruitment goals. He has also served as the director of the Family Economic Education Center and the Community Business and Technology Center in St. Louis. Eddie was responsible for supervising seven programs and helped several micro-enterprises start successful businesses. Eddie has a Master of Business Administration from DeVry University Keller Graduate School of Management and a bachelor’s in English and communication from East-West University. He is a member of New Life Christian Fellowship Oak Park. Eddie is the Power of One.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’”