Group takes kids by the hand -- K thru college

January 26, 2012 3:53:17 PM PST
For nearly 300 children in the By the Hand Club for Kids, the afternoon begins with enthusiastic worship, but then gets down to business -- intense study and fun.

Donnita Travis founded the after school program, which extends the school day by about four hours and offers help with homework and one-on-one reading instruction. Once the president of an advertising agency, she turned instead to a life of volunteering.

" The mission of By The Hand Club is just like our name says. It's to take kids by the hand and to walk with them from first grade all the way through college," Travis said.

The Cabrini Green location is By the Hand Club's flagship, where the program started 10 years ago with just 16 students. Now there are sites in Austin, Englewood and Altgeld Gardens.

" We've always gone to the neighborhoods with the highest poverty and only serve kids who are scoring in the lowest quartile. That makes them 20 times more likely to drop out of school than other kids," Travis said.

Shanta Weaver, an 11-year resident of Cabrini Green, was the first parent to enroll a child in the program. She's a team leader at By the Hand.

"When you see a child that did not know their alphabet or couldn't pronounce "the" and they're starting to love reading. They smile. Their eyes light up when they see a book instead of throwing those fits that they were throwing," Weaver said.

The success also shows in the numbers.

"The year before last, only 24% of our kids were meeting or exceeding the reading standards. Well this last year, it jumped to 42%, which is an 82% growth," Travis said.

And that success translates to students -- and goes beyond the education.

"It's helped me with reading and my math," Nesitia Brown, participant, said. " I've made so many friends for the past few years since I've been here.

"You have to get all As ,Bs and Cs on your report card, they might take you roller skating, Chuckie Cheese and in the summer like in June when we get out of school, they take you to Six Flags," Leon Wilbut, participant, said. "It got me more closer to the Lord. You know, I follow his path now.

The By the Hand Club for Kids now serves 851 students and has a waiting list. It is primarily funded through private donation. Learn more or donate at