Many students said this event, held at By The Hand’s Austin Club at 415 N. Laramie Ave., was the highlight of their summer and that they could not wait to display all they had learned while taking a break from regular school studies.

During the lively competition, DJs played music during elimination rounds, kids danced and country flags waved as the students were quizzed to remember answers from the books that are part of the Benjamin Blog and his Inquisitive Dog Guide series, published by Capstone Publishing. The books feature Benjamin Blog and his inquisitive dog, Barko Polo, as they travel the globe discovering the history, geography, cities, people, food and famous places of different countries.

While reading over the summer, more than a hundred students learned about various countries like China, Mexico, India and South Africa. In fun and creative ways, By The Hand staff and volunteers expanded the students’ knowledge of the world. In early August, ten teams representing each By The Hand district location gathered together in friendly competition to test their reading skills.


After several rounds of questions and intense competition, Team USA from Englewood emerged the winner.

Martha Metcalfe, Senior Reading Specialist and coordinator of the event, said, “The Reading Playoffs is our way of not only closing the summer achievement gap, but also making reading fun. It is our hope all of our students will grow to love reading. We believe reading is a significant predictor for a student’s success.”

In addition to the Reading Playoffs, one student is awarded the Dr. Anjuli Nayak Award each year for displaying academic excellence while at By The Hand. This year Key’ara Tillman, a sixth-grader from Austin, won this prestigious award. It is given by the Nayak family in honor of their late mother, a physician specialist in the field of allergy, asthma and immunology.

Events like this are made possible by the support of many volunteers and corporate sponsors. Coeur Mining, headquartered in Chicago, was the corporate sponsor for the second year in a row, and provided swag bags and officiating during the competition. Coeur employees also brightened the day by cheering the contestants.

Jennifer McHan, the Coeur Corporate Charity Committee Lead, states, “Coeur believes in giving back to the communities where we’re located, which is why we love partnering with the By The Hand Club on their Reading Playoff program. This program is a great way to invest in the youth of Chicago and see first-hand the impact we can have on the people around us.”

For the students, it was a day they will remember for a long time. “The competition was awesome and we had a great time learning about South Africa, Mexico, India and China. I also had a great time with my team and my team leaders. I would like to visit those places someday,” said Jeremiah, a fourth-grader on the winning Englewood team.

By The Hand is a Christ-centered, after-school program that takes kids by the hand and walks with them through college, helping them have abundant life—mind, body and soul. By The Hand serves nearly 1,400 students in Cabrini-Green, Austin, Englewood and Altgeld-Murray.