Faith-based after-school program takes kids from inner-city Chicago by the hand.

It was bitterly cold, typical for Chicago during the December holidays. It was also Christmas in the City, when By The Hand takes kids into downtown Chicago to see the Christmas lights, shop at the flagship Old Navy store, and eat at a nearby McDonald’s.

As the children bustled into the store, I stood on the first floor, far enough from the entrance to escape the cold snap of swirling wind with each turn of the revolving door. Familiar faces of kids, parents, staff, and volunteers from By The Hand formed a parade of bright smiles and big hellos, full of holiday cheer.

I was on the lookout for Lavonshay—a former student with whom we’d lost touch for about ten years. Lavonshay had contacted me during the early fall and said he wanted to do something with his life. That’s code for wanting to make some changes. Since then, I’d seen the 22-year-old several times. He came to the club and, after talking for a while, we decided that Year Up would be a good next step for him. There were limited spots available, but if accepted into the program, Lavonshay could complete a one-year IT training program and be among the 85 percent of its participants who landed a living wage job at completion. He applied and was accepted!

Lavonshay and I were meeting on this frigid night because he had called earlier in the day to say he didn’t have a winter coat. While we have coats at By The Hand, they are for younger children—not a 22-year-old.

It wasn’t long before Lavonshay walked into Old Navy and greeted me with a warm smile—and a big hug. We dashed off to the men’s coat section and within 15 minutes picked out exactly what he needed for the cold winter and his exciting new opportunity.

Shopping …

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