CHICAGO — A suburban-based charity is paying it forward — literally, all of it.
After 20 years, the Evan's Life Foundation has dissolved but is passing on its $500,000 endowment to By The Hand Club for Kids, an after-school program that serves nearly 1,000 kids per day in Englewood, Austin, South Deering and the Cabrini-Green areas.
"It meant a great deal more to us than just the money and the impact we can make with the money — it was an honor," said Donnita Travis, founder of By The Hand Club for Kids.
Pat and Greg Samata, of suburban Barrington, started the charity after their 2-year-old son Evan was tragically struck and killed by a car in 1992.
The Evan's Life Foundation helped the Samatas cope with their loss, and the foundation supplied grants for more than 10,000 at-risk kids in Chicago during its 20 years, the Samatas said in a letter to supporters.
It was at the foundation's annual Christmas gift drive in 2012 that Pat Samata knew it was time to make the "tough decision" to move on from the foundation, she said.
"We were celebrating our 20th year, and we had a huge banner of Evan, and his face was comprised of photographs of many of the children" the foundation has helped, Samata said. "I stood back and looked at that, and it just hit me, and I thought, it feels like this is the right time. It was just kind of a gut feeling."
So, the Samatas' search for another Chicago-based charity for youth to pass their $500,000 endowment to led them to By The Hand Club for Kids. What made the organization stand out from several others considered was founder Travis, one of Chicago Magazine's 2012 Chicagoans of the Year.
"She is such a dynamic person and an amazing leader," Samata said.
When Samata called Travis with the good news, the By The Hand founder was ecstatic.
"She said, 'Do you mind if I scream?' And she let out this big scream, and then we talked about it, and she said, 'Pat, do you mind if I scream just one more time?' " Samata said, laughing. "She's just got so much life and enthusiasm, and I just thought, 'Yep, this is the right person, this is the right group.' "
Half of the gift — $250,000 — will go toward the organization's newly opened $6 million facility at 415 N. Laramie Ave. in Austin, and the other $250,000 will go to the group's own endowment for its operating costs in coming years, Travis said.
But the By The Hand Club for Kids is carrying on more than just the Evan's Life Foundation's endowment — it's carrying on its legacy.
By The Hand will etch a message about Evan's life and his foundation in the window of the new Austin facility, Travis said. And Samata said she knows she and many Evan's Life supporters will be volunteering with and donating to the By The Hand Club for Kids.
Travis has an idea of her own for Evan's memory — the By The Hand kids will be encouraged to reflect on their legacies, something she thought up after hearing Samata say this about Evan:
"He was only on this Earth for 2½ years, but through his foundation, he probably accomplished more than somebody who lived to be in their 70s in terms of giving back," Samata said. "I guess, more than anything, it’s a good demonstration of how something good can come out of a tragedy."