ENGLEWOOD — A nonprofit has finally found a home to host free after-school academic programs for youth on the South Side after more than a year of searching.
By The Hand Club For Kids, a Christ-centered youth organization, has partnered with The Salvation Army Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center in Englewood to offer after-school programs in a central location, providing young students a space where they can learn and explore the city.
Students from nearby schools can get literacy lessons, academic support and biblical lessons from the nonprofit 3-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday at the Salvation Army, 945 W. 69th St. The Salvation Army will continue to host its separate after-school programs and enrichment activities.
For more than a year, By The Hand Club conducted hybrid lessons while leaders searched for a place in Englewood to host their programs. The nonprofit has locations in five other communities, including Altgeld Gardens and Cabrini-Green.
Students split their time between learning virtual literacy lessons with computer-based programs and field trips to zoos, museums and theaters.
Now that the nonprofit has access to classrooms, an on-site gymnasium, a chapel and more at the Salvation Army, it can boost enrollment from about 30 students to more than 60, site director Eddie Wilson said. The field trips are also here to stay.
Students can hone their academic skills and grow as individuals “in a physical location they can come to each day,” Wilson said.
“This allows us, alongside the Salvation Army, to have a greater reach and deeper impact in the community,” Wilson said. “Students have a safe, accessible location in Englewood seven days a week.”
Students in the By The Hand program won’t have to worry about transportation or dinner, Wilson said.
The after-school program starts with a hot dinner catered by the organization, Wilson said.
At 3:30 p.m., a bus will travel to Stagg, Wentworth and Bond elementary schools to pick up students and take them to the program at the Salvation Army.
The same bus will drop off students at their doors at the end of each session and “won’t move until we see that someone has opened the door and the student is inside,” Wilson said.
Dinner, transportation and field trips are available through “scholarship,” or for free, Wilson said.
The free transportation convinced Captain AJ Zimmerman, corps officer at the Salvation Army, that By The Hand Club was the perfect partner for the center, he said.
For decades, the organization has relied on kids finding a way to the facility, Zimmerman said.
In meetings with police chiefs, principals and the mayor, they’ve wondered if there’s a safer way for students to get to the program without having to walk the streets, Zimmerman said.
By The Hand Club delivered a solution for the community, Zimmerman said.
“Our focus hasn’t been about making our name great, but about making our community great,” Zimmerman said. “Together, we can make a bigger impact in our community.”
Interwoven between academic tasks and literacy sessions, students will also participate in “Bible fun lessons,” Wilson said.
Because the nonprofit is a Christ-centered organization, students participate in chapel.
Younger students participate in “evangelism explosion,” six lessons that teach students about salvation and faith through hands-on activities, Wilson said. Older students read and interpret the Bible through conversations.
The nonprofit is working on a solution to meet the needs of its students and students in The Salvation Army’s programs so “they don’t have to choose between two great programs in the community,” Wilson said.
Currently, that looks like everyone in the building uniting for chapel once a week, Wilson said.
“It lets students know that this is a collective,” Wilson said. “It isn’t ‘This is By The Hand, and this is the Salvation Army.’ We are working together collectively to provide enrichment activities for our students.”
Next up for By The Hand Club is holiday field trip planning, Wilson said.
Every year, the nonprofit participates in Christmas In The City, an all-day celebration where students go Downtown to look at the decorations and shop and eat with gift cards provided by the organization.
Last year, they surprised students with free bags of Garrett’s Popcorn at the end of the night.
This year, they’ll do it again, Wilson said.
“Englewood is bursting at the seams when it comes to children, and there is so much need for literacy, safety, and mental health activities,” Zimmerman said. “There are things that kids experience in Englewood that are not the norm, and it can be very difficult and challenging. Our kids in the community need this.”
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