Even A Global Crisis Can’t Stop Love

For nearly six months, COVID-19 brought the world to a halt. Then, as Chicago was beginning to reopen from the pandemic, rioting, looting and fires swept across the very neighborhoods that were hit the hardest by the virus.

None of this changes the mission of helping kids from under-resourced neighborhoods experience abundant life by loving and nurturing them—mind, body and soul. In fact, it is more important than ever to heighten our response as we emerge from the pandemic and begin to rebuild our communities.

By God’s grace and with your relentless generosity, we will continue meeting the urgent and ongoing needs of our students and families, for love never stops.

A PANDEMIC UNFOLDS, BY THE HAND RESPONDS

Friday, January 24

IL health officials
confirm first case

Illinois health officials announce the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus infection in the state—the second confirmed case in the U.S.

Sunday, March 8

Governor enacts
social distancing

As the number of known cases in Illinois rose, Gov J.B. Pritzker restricts large gatherings of people to halt the spread of the disease.

Friday, March 13

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Announces CPS school closures

In response to the COVID-19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker orders the closure of all public and private K-12 schools in Illinois, starting March 17.

Saturday, March 14

By The Hand mobilizes immediately

By The Hand mobilizes to support virtual learning, assessing its inventory of older Chromebooks at each site to see how many can be distributed to kids who don’t have access to a computer.

By The Hand mobilizes immediately

Monday, March 16

By The Hand assures parents on last day before closure

By The Hand begins contacting parents to assure them that we would conduct home well-being checks, needs assessment and emergency care—and connect students virtually through phone and devices. By The Hand touches base with all of our families within the first week and conducts more than 1,000 home well-being visits during the first month.

Stories

LOVE IN MOTION—WHEN IT MATTERS MOST

During the pandemic, people like you have made it possible for By The Hand Club to respond in real-time to show the love of God in tangible ways. Kids, families, staff, volunteers and supporters—bound together by prayer and acts of kindness—experiencing God’s protection and provision.

The Feet Of Love Kept Moving, Rodney
The Feet Of Love Kept Moving
Rodney
A Bridge Of Hope, Sparkle
A Bridge Of Hope
Sparkle
Changed To Bring Change, Yasenia
Changed To Bring Change
Yasenia
A Salutatorian Gets His Moment To Shine
A Salutatorian Gets His
Moment To Shine
Evan + Rebecca
Moving Mountains,<br>One Computer At A Time
Moving Mountains,
One Computer At A Time
Myra + Sarah
Never Out Of Reach
Never Out Of Reach
Bethany
Supporting Children<br>By Supporting Families
Supporting Children
By Supporting Families
Yolanda
Eyes To See
Eyes To See
Martha

Monday, March 16

By The Hand assists college and alumni students

By The Hand calls all of our college students and begins assisting with transportation from their schools and providing technology, food and other basic needs.

Tuesday, March 17

Staff prays and fasts

By The Hand provides all of its staff members a paid day off to encourage them to pray, fast and prepare for the days ahead.

Wednesday, March 18

By The Hand provides
supplies for families

By The Hand starts distributing food boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables with the help of Forty Acres Fresh Markets. In addition to groceries, hundreds of our families receive medical supplies and services, rent and utilities assistance.

By The Hand provides supplies for families
By The Hand provides supplies for families
By The Hand provides supplies for families

Wednesday, March 18

By The Hand distributes Chromebooks

Having refurbished old Chromebooks and wiped hard drives, By The Hand names each computer to identify who will receive it. Hundreds of kids receive computers for school work and to stay connected to By The Hand Club.

Thursday, March 19

By The Hand establishes prayer hour

By The Hand begins each day with an all-staff voluntary prayer hour from 9 am to 10 am. Consistently, 50 to 60 staff members join us in prayer—over 100 on some days. This has kept our eyes focused on God, His promises, His vision, all the while helping us stay connected with each other.

Friday, March 20

Construction continues despite statewide shutdown

With “construction and the building trades” considered as essential, construction on the new By The Hand – Moving Everest middle school was able to continue at an even faster rate due to school closures. The new middle school will be ready in time for our sixth-grade students to begin school in August. Praise the Lord.

Construction continues despite statewide shutdown

OUR KIDS ARE THE SOLUTION.
YOUR LOVE MAKES IT POSSIBLE.

We are honored to be part of what God is doing to keep our children moving ahead during these difficult times—helping our kids fulfill their potential as The Solution. We certainly couldn’t have predicted the events of 2020. However, by God’s grace and your faithfulness, we’ve been able to jump into action to respond to the evolving needs of the students, families and communities we serve. As we meet their urgent needs, we’ve been able to stay focused on the future. Thank you for making this possible.

By The Hand supports families in crisis

Monday, March 23

By The Hand supports families in crisis

By The Hand Crisis and Compassion group receives and responds to their first of many requests for assistance due to COVID-19, providing our first family with $1,000 to help with rent, utilities and food.

Monday, March 23

By The Hand provides internet access

By The Hand begins providing families with access to Comcast free Wi-Fi.

Friday, March 27

By the Hand delivers Emergency Care Kits

By The Hand creates a way for people to help specific families in need with “Emergency Care Kits” that our staff would pick up from volunteers and deliver to their homes.

By the Hand delivers Emergency Care Kits

Monday, March 30

By The Hand delivers catered meals

Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and John Buck Foundation donate catered meals to our families in Altgeld-Murray, Cabrini-Green and Austin.

By The Hand delivers catered meals
By The Hand delivers catered meals
By The Hand delivers catered meals
By The Hand delivers catered meals

Monday-Friday, April 6-10

By The Hand staff recharges for weeks ahead

By The Hand gives staff a paid week off for Spring Break to rest up in anticipation of the weeks ahead.

STUDENT IMPACT

9,018

Home Well-Being
Checks

599

Students Gaining
Access to Technology

5,124

Student Days in Chapel
and Small Groups

74%

Students Attended
Virtual Club

2,008

Families Receiving Fresh Food
or Catered Meal Deliveries

98%

Lexia Students Moved Forward
in Reading, Averaging
3 Months Growth

Thursday, April 9

By The Hand SEL program supports mental health

By The Hand partners with Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago to develop Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) approaches for supporting children and families’ mental health needs during the stressful and potentially traumatic time, including counseling and crisis intervention.

Monday, April 13

By The Hand redesigns VolunteerHub

By The Hand redesigns our volunteer management platform to include virtual volunteer opportunities, all of which are vitally important and life-changing for our kids. The resources and talent that volunteers contribute have had a tremendous impact on our kids, helping them experience abundant life.

Monday, April 20

By The Hand launches Virtual Club

During this time, By The Hand has transitioned from an after-school program to an out-of-school program, still committed to loving our kids—mind, body and soul. To provide continued structured programming, By The Hand launches virtual.bythehand.org, a resource page for parents and students, in addition to other connections.

By The Hand launches Virtual Club

Thursday, April 23

God blesses a Day of Prayer and Commitment

By The Hand holds a Day of Prayer and Commitment on the original date for the Spring Benefit. More than 700 friends join and 250 give, helping us raise more than $2.3M—our second largest Spring Benefit in terms of giving. Many pray through our prayer list. See bythehand.org/springcommit.

Thursday, April 30

NXT High School Cross City Virtual Chapel meets for the first time

By The Hand Club For Kids high school ministry, NXT, gathers virtually for the first time. Kids connect and learn about God while having fun or discussing important issues.

Monday, May 4

Incentive Program increases participation

As part of By The Hand Club Incentive Program, staff picks up 190 Malnati’s pizzas and delivers them to families, motivating kids to participate in virtual programming to keep learning.

Praise and Prayers

MOVING MOUNTAINS,
MOVING FORWARD

When you pray with us, in faith, nothing can keep love from moving forward—not even a global crisis exasperated by violence, poverty and racial inequity. Jesus tells us in Matthew 17:20 that we can move mountains with faith and that nothing is impossible if we have faith.

During the critical time, we need you to join us in prayer. Time doesn’t stop because of a crisis. If children can’t read proficiently by the third grade, they are eight times more likely to drop out of school. If they don’t accept Jesus by their fourteenth birthday, the odds are that they won’t. We must keep serving our kids and families. And your prayers make it possible.

DOWNLOAD PRAISE AND PRAYER LIST

Thursday, May 14

Food giveaway feeds thousands

By The Hand partners with Austin Coming Together (ACT) to kick off a six-week food giveaway program as part of the city’s COVID - 19 Racial Equity Response Program. Each week we hand out a thousand boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen meat and groceries from the By The Hand parking lot in Austin.

Food giveaway feeds thousands
Food giveaway feeds thousands
Food giveaway feeds thousands
Food giveaway feeds thousands

Sunday, May 24

Governor releases new guidelines

Gov. J.B. Pritzker releases new guidelines for allowing people to go back to work, setting the stage for summer day camps like By The Hand summer program to safely open.

Monday, May 25

George Floyd killed in Minneapolis

The killing of George Floyd by an officer kneeling on his neck while other officers watched ignites deep-seated anger at racial injustice as ex-Minneapolis policeman is charged with murder on Friday, May 29. See Letter From By The Hand Club’s Executive Director.

Tuesday, May 26

Virtual Club incentivizes children

Malnati’s provides another 190 deep dish pizzas to help motivate our kids to continue learning through By The Hand Virtual Club. A big part of the incentive program is to keep kids on track as they finish the school year.

Tuesday, May 26

Mayor releases guidelines for Phase 3 reopening

Mayor Lori Lightfoot releases industry-specific guidelines for Chicago businesses and child-care facilities as Illinois moves to loosen restrictions.

Friday-Sunday, May 29-31

Mass rioting, looting and fires compound pandemic devastation

Mass rioting, looting and fires on the South and West Sides devastate Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods—areas hit the hardest by the coronavirus crisis. The burning and looting of local stores and shutting down of public transportation leave innocent children and families stranded without basic necessities, afraid and hopeless. This heightens the need for love moving forward.

Neighborhoods

AUSTIN

“At first, parents were afraid about how the transition from going to school to staying at home would work. But the staff has been selfless, leading with their heart during this time. And our students have been blessed. Whether it’s Spanish on Mondays, talk time throughout the week, or fun hour on Fridays, we’ve tried to provide a variety of programming.”

Bernadette Ballenger, Site Director
By The Hand—Austin

ALTGELD-MURRAY

“By The Hand has used this time to support our kids and families, rallying around families who have suffered loss and delivering much needed support. We’ve also had fun. At the end of a session, we often hear, ‘Oh no! Time is up already?!’ It’s been beautiful to love on our students virtually during this time.”

Jamie Morriss-Benoit, Site Director
By The Hand—Altgeld-Murray

CABRINI-GREEN

“Our staff has been encouraged by the support they’ve received from one another—and by the joy expressed by parents when receiving assistance from By The Hand. They’ve also been touched by the unexpected messages our students have sent expressing their appreciation. We just want to be a part of helping our families during this time.”

Dezsiree Jones, Site Director
By The Hand—Cabrini-Green

ENGLEWOOD

“Our staff has made a point of conducting well-being checks on every family, taking the time to assure families in need of assistance. We’ve also developed creative programming, such as virtual trips to a dairy farm, showing how chocolate is made or using Jeopardy-type games. And, of course, our kids love the goodie bags and incentives we provide. In other words, loving and nurturing our kids and families—mind, body and soul.”

Eddie Wilson, Site Director
By The Hand—Englewood

MOVING EVEREST

“I am amazed by our staff’s creativity in coming up with innovative programming. And I am struck by their selfless willingness to do everything possible to support our kids and families, from feeding to providing medical supplies—at times with their personal resources. The love that’s flowing through our club is amazing. Just good stuff.”

LaMont Washington, Site Director
By The Hand—Moving Everest / Austin

Tuesday, June 2

Chicago Fellowship launches relief fund

Chicago Fellowship donates funding for catered meals and PPP for By The Hand Club families city-wide. Meals are purchased from neighborhood restaurants to help boost the local economy. More than 4,000 meals, 7,000 masks and 3,000 units of hand sanitizer given to date.

Chicago Fellowship donated funding

Thursday, June 4

By The Hand Club hosts pro athletes in a youth healing event

Sam Acho, Mitch Trubisky, Jason Heyward, Jonathan Toews and other pro athletes lead youth listening circles to hear how youth are feeling and how they can lead as we move forward.

By The Hand Club hosts pro athletes in a youth healing event
By The Hand Club hosts pro athletes in a youth healing event
By The Hand Club hosts pro athletes in a youth healing event
By The Hand Club hosts pro athletes in a youth healing event

Monday, June 8

By The Hand graduation celebration blesses eighth-graders

By The Hand hosts an eighth-grade graduation celebration for students, featuring a Zoom ceremony and home drive-by with yard signs and balloons along with a gift basket for each graduate.

Graduation celebration blesses eighth-graders
Graduation celebration blesses eighth-graders
Graduation celebration blesses eighth-graders
Graduation celebration blesses eighth-graders

Monday, June 8

Children and families receive hot, nutritious meals

Chicago Fellowship donates 1,500 catered meals prepared by neighborhood restaurants to our children and families.

Thursday, June 18

The school year ends

It’s the end of the 2019-2020 school year and the last day of instructional days until CPS opens again during the summer.

Thursday, June 25

By The Hand graduation ceremony honors seniors

By The Hand honors its high school graduates with a full program, celebrating their accomplishments with staff, parents and friends present. In addition to a commencement speech to the class of 2020 and recordings of grad shouts, a celebration pack with a 2020 T-shirt, $100 gift card and other goodies memorialize the moment.

Thursday, June 25

Mayor announces phase 4 re-opening

Mayor Lori Lightfoot re-opens additional businesses and public amenities with certain restrictions and capacity limits, including up to 50 people inside and 100 people outside.

Monday, July 6

By The Hand summer programming begins

By The Hand summer program begins with safeguards. Students’ participation includes chapel, small group Bible studies, reading playoffs, field trips, college tours and an array of enrichment activities—either virtually or in person per guidelines. Students have access to our technology-enabled reading program as our leaders, volunteers and reading specialists continue tutoring, mentoring and encouraging them.

Tuesday, July 7

Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party

Athletes and the By The Hand Club youth lead positive change in Austin by tearing down a liquor store and popping up a fresh food market to address the need for food, summer jobs and entrepreneurship training. Joining our youth at the event were Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Superintendent David Brown, Commissioner Roger Goodell, Alderman Emma Mitts, as well as a number of athletes and team management: Sam Acho (NFL), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks), Mitch Trubisky (Bears), Lucas Giolito (White Sox), Malcolm Subban (Blackhawks), Max Strus (Bulls), Tyler Lancaster (Packers / Northwestern), Austin & Erica Carr (Saints/Northwestern), Weston Carr (Penn State), Israel Idonije (NFL), Ryan Pace (Chicago Bears).

Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party
Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party
Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party
Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party
Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party
Liquor store tear down and fresh market pop up party

Wednesday, August 5

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces CPS schools to remain closed

Mayor Lightfoot and CEO Jackson announces Chicago Public Schools will begin the school year with remote learning. They will consider resuming in-person classes in the second quarter, beginning November 9.

Supporters

THANK YOU FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE

As we emerge from the pandemic and attempt to heal after the destruction of our neighborhoods, we are thankful for our supporters giving above and beyond, often sacrificially.

Your support has provided children and families with a constant stream of love and assistance during this time of great need. And it has kept our kids moving forward—not falling behind. Because of you, they are growing in every way—mind, body and soul. And you made all this possible.

Partners who have helped during COVID-19

  • BJB Partners
  • Cedarstone
  • Chicago Men’s Fellowship
  • Chicago Neighborhood Initiative
  • Christ Church of Oak Brook
  • The Donley Foundation
  • Fellowes Inc.
  • First Trust Portfolios
  • FT Cares
  • Grace and Peace Church
  • Grace Presbyterian Church of Winnetka
  • John Buck Company
  • Lincoln Park Preschool
  • Operation Christmas
  • Park Community Church
  • Providence Bank & Trust
  • Renew Chicago
  • Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort and United Way Worldwide
  • Wells Fargo
  • Willow Chicago

The Feet Of Love Kept Moving

RODNEY

RodneyRodney is By The Hand Club’s assistant site director in Austin. He is a faithful servant who feels called to his work and devoted to his students. But when COVID-19 struck, much of his life was turned upside down. As the world stopped around him, he noticed the ache at every level. Within his community, there was fear and confusion as people lost jobs and income. At By The Hand Club, students could no longer go to school or come to club and parents had to scramble to figure out a new normal. In Rodney’s personal life, COVID-19 didn’t pull any punches. As days passed, more and more people in Rodney’s life fell ill. Then he started getting phone calls that friends and family members had passed away. He explained, “I wasn’t even able to grieve before I got another phone call. They just kept coming.” In total, Rodney lost more than 20 people. He says, “It was a dark time for me and my family.”

“Sometimes God invites you to step out in new ways.”

Initially, he relied on the safety and shelter of his home and the saving grace of songwriting. But soon, Rodney realized he had to make a crucial decision. “Mentally, I am a minister. But every time I go to serve, I don’t know what I’m bringing back to my own family. I know I’m living by faith, but I am also seeing the facts.” He was caught between his desire to protect his household as this virus raged on and his call to serve families in the middle of the chaos. He explained, “I know the reward in seeing the faces of the families I serve. A lot of us have not scratched the surface of what God has for us in serving.” He paused, before continuing, “Sometimes God invites you to step out in new ways.”

Rodney sensed God’s invitation to him, and so he followed. He learned what things to do to protect himself, his family, and those in his community as he ministered to the brokenhearted, delivered food to the hungry and prayed with the weary. Rodney says, “This time has been hard. But it has also given life to so many golden moments, born out of desperation. “ He laughs, “When we pull up to a house to make a delivery, the kids are almost always waiting and run out to see us. I wear a mask, I wear gloves. The kids know they aren’t supposed to hug us, but it’s hard for them to stay away. We get to pray. These are golden moments for me.”

Delivering Laptops

Rodney loves that his drop offs are a mix of, in his words, “Essentials + Incentives.” The Essentials, like fresh produce boxes and emergency care boxes, are helping families survive this crisis. But the Incentives, like gift cards for doing homework or prizes for having perfect Zoom attendance, are encouraging students to thrive. “It’s during the deliveries that I see God the most. We are sharing Christ through the deliveries.”

Rodney admits that his obedience to serve helped more than just the families. “One of the things that sustained me in this season is my ability to serve. I thank God for that.” Serving helped keep Rodney’s head and heart lifted. He went on, “Storms like this, they reveal your character. It’s a chance to reflect on your life and your relationships.” And he posed a seemingly prophetic question as he considered all he’s endured, “Life is full of storms, we don’t know what is next, there may be bigger storms coming. I sure hope not, but what are you developing in this storm to help you weather what’s next?”

The love of Christ has shown up for the kids of By The Hand Club, again and again, disguised as people just like Rodney. He has loved his neighbor like himself, shown up with a sacrificial love and offered hope when hope seemed lost. Because that’s what Love does…even when COVID-19 arrived uninvited, with unprecedented consequences. This pandemic has revealed who By The Hand is in a crisis: a group of leaders, staff, volunteers and generous donors committed to removing all barriers that keep children from moving forward. At the end of the day, our children are the solution.

Rodney

A Bridge Of Hope

SPARKLE

SparkleSparkle lives up to her name. Easily. She wears joy and hope like armor against a hard world. As COVID-19 settled over the city of Chicago, Sparkle’s role at By The Hand came to a halt. She immediately knew that although in-person activities had to stop, her commitment to the kids didn’t. She asked herself, “If I can’t do my job the way I am used to doing it, what can I do?” Sparkle didn’t wait to be called on. She looked for places to join the good work already in motion. “I jumped in on the prayer line and helped do check-ins with our college students.”

“I just think of myself as a bridge, a connection point, between those who are blessed to serve and those who are blessed to receive.”

As days passed, specific needs of families became clearer, and so did the unique role God had planned for Sparkle. Someone needed to act as a conduit between the donors—quickly filling boxes with groceries and some with emergency essentials—and the families in need. Sparkle stepped up to be a driver, picking up those boxes and then delivering them. “I just think of myself as a bridge, a connection point, between those who are blessed to serve and those who are blessed to receive.”

Hugs

In between pick-ups and deliveries, she also makes space to hear the real pain and fear in the hearts of those she serves. “I got a call from Iris. She and her grandma, Ms. Hattie, weren’t seeing eye to eye on the stay-at-home order.” Sparkle knew both women and wanted to help the situation. She recounted, “Ms. Hattie had just lost her cousin and her own sister to COVID-19. Understandably, she was afraid to leave the house, fearful her life could be next.” Ms. Hattie stocked up on groceries to feed her household for weeks. She didn’t want people coming and going. And eventually, Iris started to feel cooped up and bored. The women found themselves at odds. So when Ms. Hattie finally needed more groceries, Sparkle, once again, acted as a bridge. She listened to Ms. Hattie’s story, her loss and her fear. And she also understood Iris’ frustration. Sparkle hatched a plan to help them both, “I offered to get the groceries. I agreed to Ms. Hattie’s safety rules and she let me take Iris shopping.” Together, they waited in long lines, in their masks and gloves and to get all the things Ms. Hattie needed. Sparkle’s willingness to slow down and hear the whole story meant she could brainstorm a plan that worked for everyone.

Whether she is zigzagging across Chicagoland to pick up freshly packed boxes from donors, delivering food or helping families hear one another, Sparkle brings the love of Christ with her and shares it like confetti.

Deliveries
Deliveries
Sparkle

Changed To Bring Change

YASENIA

YaseniaYasenia is clear and passionate, “It’s important for kids to learn about God and read about God, but more than anything, I want them to experience God.” It’s with that goal in mind that she plans chapel time and prepares Bible study lessons.

But making children’s spiritual development effective during the COVID-19 crisis was hard. She suddenly had to move everything she did with the kids in person to strictly virtual experiences. She worried whether they’d stay engaged and whether they would still feel connected through computer screens.

So when, near the beginning of the stay-at-home order, she opened her weekly curriculum to see the story of Moses and the tent of meeting, “Right then I smiled, because I knew God had a plan.” That week she taught the children when Moses wanted to talk with God, he would go to his tent of meeting. And there, God would meet and talk with him. “I asked the kids to find a place at home to build their own tent of meeting. They could use sheets or blankets or cushions, anything. And create a little space they could go to talk with God.”

Laptop

Yasenia knew the symbolism was important, but so was the actual creation of a sacred space. All the change and stress the kids face right now can make the world feel big and out of control. Creating a small, safe, cozy spot in their own home would give them a break from the bigness of life. “Just like Moses, they could talk to God like a friend. I had them write down their ‘conversations’ on scraps of paper and tape them to the wall of their tent.”

“Because when you have prayer, you never have to feel powerless. I wanted the kids to learn that, too.”

Yasenia continued, “It was a great way to introduce them to the power of prayer. After Moses talked to God in the tent, his face was radiant. His encounter with God made him glow. That same power is for us. Because when you have prayer, you never have to feel powerless. I wanted the kids to learn that, too.” She paused, before adding, ”I know that feeling. I don’t want them to have to feel powerless.” Yasenia connects to their stories, because they are her stories, too. She knows what it’s like to be a kid facing homelessness, to be poor, to be hungry, to see domestic violence. She knows the feeling of powerlessness. But through a redeeming and restoring relationship with Christ, she also knows strength, hope and victory. This is the precious gift she has to offer. And this is what motivates her to empty herself for the sake of her students.

Yasenia
Yasenia
Praying

A Salutatorian Gets His Moment To Shine

EVAN + REBECCA

Evan + RebeccaWhen the governor cancelled all in-person school events for the remainder of the school year, Evan knew his eighth-graders would be crushed. They had been working so hard, for so long, with one thing in mind: Eighth-Grade Graduation. The promise of proudly marking one of life’s singular moments in front of family and friends made the hard work worth it. And now, so close to the finish line, their hope was dashed.

“Honestly, it pierced my heart to hear their disappointment,” Evan lamented. “They’re calling me saying, ‘I’ve worked so hard! This isn’t fair!’ And they’re right.”

Evan + Rebecca

Rebecca’s twelfth-graders were feeling that same despair, “They’re frustrated. This time is supposed to be fun and exciting. Instead, they are stuck at home with their families.” Erika, a graduating senior from Altgeld, described having to miss prom with her friends and then her graduation ceremony with one word: grief. This is a time they won’t get back. And the uncertainty has caused some students to feel like they are floating in the unknown.

“It’s hard, as a leader, to see how this pandemic just magnifies the challenges and hardships that already exist.”

Rebecca doesn’t want this global interruption to interrupt her students’ motivation. She confessed, “It’s hard, as a leader, to see how this pandemic just magnifies the challenges and hardships that already exist.” Which is why both she and Evan offered extra support to students as they adjusted to the new normal. Evan knew with some encouragement and help, his kids could finish strong. Like Darion, an extraordinary eighth-grader and salutatorian of his class.

Darion explained, “I was sad the school year ended like this. I like going to school. I miss being with my friends, my teachers, my classmates.” And when Darion realized there would be no graduation to celebrate his achievement? “I felt depressed,” he says, “And even angry that I didn’t get to enjoy my eighth-grade year. I had to miss my luncheon and my pinning ceremony.” In the face of so much disappointment, Darion had one thing he could count on: Evan.

Evan helped Darion work through his feelings and kept him moving. “Evan helped me by checking in on me, seeing how I’m doing. He came to my house delivering food.” And that wasn’t all. Evan helped Darion with a final school project, “He helped make sure I got it done. I got an A.”

By The Hand Club devised a plan to rejoice with those who rejoice. During a pandemic, that meant hosting drive-by eighth-grade graduation parties! Yard signs were made and gift bags were put together to surprise the students and celebrate their milestone. As Evan dropped off a gift bag to Darion, he was reminded that this unexpected twist wouldn’t have the final say in his eighth-grader’s story. And because of By The Hand’s commitment during this time, the students know it, too. Their stories, individually and as a group of students rising up, are bigger than the circumstances life throws at them.

Evan + Rebecca
Evan + Rebecca
Evan + Rebecca

Moving Mountains,
One Computer At A Time

MYRA + SARAH

Myra + SarahTechnology quickly became its own character in the story of COVID-19. As schools were suddenly thrown into a new format of learning, By The Hand realized that in order to keep kids moving forward, technology was a mountain that had to be moved. Blended learning required a specific set of resources, like working computers and reliable Internet. This created an enormous challenge for many children in and around Chicago, who were without the things they needed to participate in their schoolwork.

Sarah, Amber and Arielle saw the need and jumped into action. They weren’t going to let these barriers stand. Together, they found and sorted every refurbished computer they could get their hands on. As they distributed these computers, they realized they might need more. They applied for grants and asked for donations. And it’s a good thing they did, because a bright and tenacious fourth-grader named NiQuear wasn’t about to take no for an answer.

Video Call
Video Call
Video Call

NiQuear was stuck at home and frustrated she didn’t have a computer to do her schoolwork or to participate in her class meetings. She knew her team leader, Myra, wanted that for her, too. So she called Myra. And called her. And called her. Myra smiled as she recalled “NiQuear said she needed me to get her one of those computers so she could do her work. She was very motivated. We got her one, and her mom walked all the way down to the club to pick it up for her.”

But the computer was only part of the equation. Next, NiQuear needed help getting the Internet, email and her necessary apps set up. “On one afternoon, I spent more than five hours on the phone with Comcast to get NiQuear’s Wi-Fi set up remotely.” Myra admits, “It was a huge investment of time. But the payoff was totally worth it! NiQuear has had perfect attendance and hasn’t missed any assignments. She’s making great progress in her reading, too. She’s doing it.”

“During this time we want to keep the connection. Let’s not cut the connection!”

NiQuear’s story is exactly what Sarah hoped for when she started distributing computers. She can even see some good from this time of blended learning. “Technology has been a life saver for many students,” she shared. “They now have the ability to see the world beyond what’s directly around them. They connect with their friends and their By The Hand groups via Zoom. A few kids couldn’t believe they got to virtually see a baby cow being born on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. It’s all that important stuff in addition to the academics.”

Sarah has watched students work through a range of reactions and emotions during this time, although they remain ecstatic to see By The Hand staff, during Zoom calls or during deliveries. Her goal is to help kids feel that they are still part of something. Remind them that they are remembered and loved. She tells them, “During this time we want to keep the connection. Let’s not cut the connection!” And technology, which started as a seemingly immovable mountain, has actually become the tool to stay connected.

Myra + Sarah

Never Out Of Reach

BETHANY

Myra + SarahBethany watched COVID-19 force most of the country to come to a halt. As businesses shuttered in an attempt to stop the spread of illness, colleges were not far behind.

Bethany knew COVID-19 wouldn’t just affect students in kindergarten through high school. By The Hand’s college students and alumni wouldn’t go untouched. This unprecedented shuttering of businesses and educational institutions would be far reaching. Bethany and her team began conducting check-ins via telephone calls, texts, Zoom calls and emails. It seemed that though the specifics were varied—trade programs were interrupted, in-person classes were cancelled and work hours were cut—the fear and uncertainty was universal.

Kanesha, a college student studying and working in Virginia, quickly felt the strain. She shared, “The situation became serious as more and more things began to close.” Eventually, her campus closed for the semester and moved to online learning. “I have an apartment here in Virginia. I still have a lease with rent and bills to pay. My job closed so I lost my source of income.”

Video Call

This put a lot of emotional stress on an already difficult situation. With limited access to her professors and classes happening on video calls, she found it difficult to concentrate and stay focused on her work. She explained, “It’s just not the same as being there in person.” Add to that, the feeling of loneliness from an empty campus, no work and being far from family. By The Hand offered to bring her home, but she recalled, “I didn’t feel comfortable traveling at the time. I have asthma, so that was a serious concern for me.”

“They gave me encouraging words like ‘don’t panic’ and ‘keep going’ and ‘you can do this.’”

But Bethany reminded Kanesha that she wasn’t alone and her By The Hand family was honored to support her during this time. They helped with rent and gift cards for groceries. Kanesha was also moved by the emotional support, “They gave me encouraging words like ‘don’t panic’ and ‘keep going’ and ‘you can do this.’”

Delivery

And Kanesha isn’t alone. By The Hand Club rallied around Huell, who at 26 unexpectedly became a single father. His baby girl, Harmoni, was born prematurely and then tragically, months later, her mom passed away. And on top of all this, Huell was furloughed from his job because of COVID-19. Huell is living a story he never could have imagined all while taking care of his brand new baby and without work. But his By The Hand Club community rushed in to surround him with support, diapers, blankets, clothes, and countless other essentials. These loving provisions will certainly help Huell and Harmoni in this heartbreaking season. But they are also tangible reminders that he and Harmoni are part of a steadfast community that continues to show up when the world falls apart.

Bethany

Supporting Children
By Supporting Families

YOLANDA

YolandaIt’s no secret that children suffer disproportionately during a crisis. Especially when education is disrupted and the chance for normal, daily childhood activities vanishes. For By The Hand, the urgent question quickly became how to care for the futures of children during a pandemic.

Yolanda, who oversees the By The Hand Club Emergency Care Fund, could see that caring for the children—mind, body and soul—might need to look different during this time. She put it plainly, “If a child doesn’t have basic needs met, they’re not going to level up in their reading or be able to focus on their homework.” By The Hand realized, in this historic moment, the best way to serve their kids was to provide extra care and support to their families. In her role, Yolanda has seen first hand that families have lost so much, whether she is sending flowers for lost loved ones, gauging financial needs due to lost jobs, checking in on parents who feel a loss of connection or referrals for additional care where there is lost hope. As this global crisis presses on, Yolanda shared, “The needs of our children and their families have obviously increased.”

She went on, “You have two or three generations at home together. And there’s a lot of fear.” Older folks are afraid of getting sick, younger folks don’t know how to make ends meet, the kids don’t know how long this will last, and nobody knows what comes next.

Veggies
Yolanda
Yolanda

Yolanda’s team has risen to the challenge as they tackle the incredible surge of needs. They regularly check in with families to pray, learn about their current situations and assess their list of needs. Groceries were often at the top of the list. So Yolanda worked out a partnership with Forty Acres Fresh Market to donate thousands of pounds of fresh produce every single week. The produce is boxed and delivered to By The Hand, full of greens, veggies, and fruit. Then, following careful safety guidelines, staff and volunteers deliver the boxes to their designated families. Like Michelle Hyles’ family. Michelle got very sick with COVID-19 and had to quarantine. “I couldn’t see my kids for two weeks. And then, I was furloughed from work for over a month with no income.” Michelle says it was a very hard and lonely time. “The fresh produce box blessed my family. I didn’t have any income to buy groceries. Plus I was so sick, I couldn’t even go outside.” She went on, “By The Hand was very concerned about me and my family’s well being. Every day someone took the time out to call and text and say a prayer. I am deeply touched by what they did for us.”

Yolanda has hundreds of similar stories, “We’ve delivered over 320 boxes so far. People are grateful for the fresh produce boxes. And the kids are ecstatic to see familiar faces!”

“The fresh produce box blessed my family. I didn’t have any income to buy groceries. Plus I was so sick, I couldn’t even go outside.”

But that’s not all. Yolanda and her team have also helped parents with rent and utilities during this strained time. Parents like Shaniqua. She shared, “I lost my job almost immediately. There was a lack of supplies and I didn’t have the income I needed to support my family.” But she soon discovered hope and help were on the way. “By The Hand brought me food and supplied me with one month of rent.” Shaniqua admits, “When I found out By The Hand was going to help, I was shocked. It felt really good.”

To meet so many additional needs, Yolanda also created an Emergency Care Kit list. She explained, “This is a list of families who need periodic help with essentials. Toothpaste, hand sanitizer, diapers, coloring books, puzzles, all kinds of things.“ In just over two months, more than 200 of these boxes have been quickly filled by donors and delivered to By The Hand families.

What better way to the fight fear and despair of a community than to fuel the futures of their children by supporting their families? And what better reason than God’s great love?

Yolanda
Yolanda

Eyes to See

MARTHA

MarthaMartha is a reading specialist who works with children from the Altgeld neighborhood. Her kids had to suspend their weekly in-person, one-on-one meetings due to COVID-19 slamming the city of Chicago. Martha decided the reading progress of her students wouldn’t be another casualty. The kids had worked too hard to be stopped by a virus.

Martha’s 35 students are from several different schools, which meant not everybody had the same access to the same resources at the same time. She says, “I knew technology would be a big barrier as schools transitioned to blended learning.” Online learning is especially difficult for students who struggle or who have already fallen behind in reading, because, now, most of the learning is done by reading a screen.

So Martha didn’t wait. “I was determined, despite lack of devices and Wi-Fi. So I created hard copies of individual reading packets and dropped them off to my students.”

She wanted to help them keep their forward momentum in reading, but she also wanted her students to feel connected. She figured she could help stave off apathy and hopelessness through staying in touch. Martha explains, “I wanted the relationships to remain engaged, even if the work looked different.”

“It’s getting easier to learn. And faster. She helps me so I don’t have to struggle and get mad with it. I feel really good about my reading.”

One such student is Richard, a friendly and outgoing fourth-grader. Richard worked so hard leading up to the stay-at-home order that Martha offered to meet with Richard over Zoom five days a week. He gladly agreed. Richard notices a difference because of Martha, “It’s getting easier to learn. And faster. She helps me so I don’t have to struggle and get mad with it. I feel really good about my reading.”

Then, during one of their Zoom calls, Martha noticed something. As Richard fidgeted with his glasses, he turned his head and one of the temple pieces was missing! Martha couldn’t help but point out, “Richard, your glasses are broken. Is that making it hard for you to read?” He simply responded, “Yes.” So she asked, “How would you feel about new glasses?” As if his smile didn’t give it away, Richard said back, “Amazing!”

Richard trying on glasses
Richard trying on glasses
Richard and his mother

Martha talked to his mom, Danielle, and contacted Jaclyn at By The Hand to get a new pair of glasses for Richard. They’d just need a signed prescription from his mother. When Martha stopped by Richard’s house to pick it up, she noticed something else. She recalls, “I didn’t want to overstep. But Danielle’s glasses were broken, too. She works from home now, all day on Zoom calls on her computer. So I threw it out there, ‘Danielle, would it help if we could get new glasses for you, too?”

Just a few short weeks later, both Richard and Danielle were excited to receive brand new pairs of glasses to help them see, read and work. A beautiful picture of love in action.

Martha

Message from Executive Director

Just when our city was beginning to reopen from COVID-19, we find ourselves facing a more grave situation. The very neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus have now been devastated by rioting and looting. We literally have staff and families in anguish and outrage, left even more under-resourced and isolated than before.

We at By The Hand Club are grieving. We are grieving the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the loss of far too many Black lives to list. We are grieving our long history of systemic injustice that too often extends dignity and opportunity based on color and class. We are grieving because our children, families and staff are hurting and afraid. We are grieving because of violence of any kind, including the violence of those who are deliberately taking advantage of this tragic situation to loot, riot and harm others. Some of the actors are simply wicked and others are just plain angry by a system that has failed them. Our prayers go out for both.

Thankfully, we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We know that God knows, sees, hears and is coming again. Through his prophet Isaiah, God calls us as his followers to: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1).

Pray that Jesus will help us to live our lives knowing He is coming again soon. Pray that He will help us shepherd our children through difficult times while we work toward bringing educational equity.

Created in the image of God, Black lives are invaluable and worthy of our utmost love and respect. Please pray that God will help us know how to speak out and work for justice for all as the people of God.

Donnita Travis

Donnita
Executive Director