Though born of unfathomable sadness, the Barrington-based Evan’s Life Foundation has enriched the lives of thousands of at-risk children during the past 20-plus years.
Although the foundation itself ceased operations just before what would have been Evan Samata’s 24th birthday late last year, his legacy has new life.
With the help of their priest and close friends, Greg and Pat Samata of Barrington started the Evan’s Life Foundation shortly after the death of their 2-year-old. Evan Samata died in June 1992 after the toddler darted into traffic during a trip to San Francisco.
In the process of closing the foundation in the fall, however, the Samatas and foundation board members decided to provide a $500,000 endowment to Chicago-based By the Hand Club for Kids. The organization operates an after-school program, providing tutoring and other services to children in some of Chicago’s most troubled neighborhoods, such as Altgeld-Murray, Austin and Englewood.
“We help with homework. We have reading specialists and reading coaches,” said Donnita Travis, founder and executive director of By the Hand. “We have enrichment programs, providing eyeglasses, dental health ... and we serve the kids a hot meal at night time before they go home. So it really is holistic.”
By the Hand serves annually about 900 children ranging in age from first-graders through high school seniors. The organization also maintains contact throughout college, Travis said.
The endowment, Travis added, is a Godsend, and one that will be cherished with as much love as it was given.
“It’s a very large gift and it will have just an incredible and lasting impact in terms of how we’re using it on the lives of kids here in Chicago,” Travis said. “I just get really excited about how we can inspire our kids with Evan’s story and the Samatas’ story to think about their stories ... it’s not about the money, although I’m the first one to say, ‘no money, no mission.’
“But it’s also about helping them to become better people as a result of being part of this,” she said, adding that participants of the By the Hand Club will lead a service project in Evan’s honor. “It will get the kids to think about, hey, what would you like for your legacy to be?”
The money, which was provided in October, is already helping the organization better serve its population.
“Half of it went in to a new facility that we built in the Austin neighborhood,” Travis said. “It’s a new 26,000-square-foot facility. We were leasing an 8,000-square-foot building and it didn’t have classrooms. It was very noisy, very crowded, and we really couldn’t fulfill our mission there.”
In the lobby of the new facility will be an etched window telling Evan’s story, Travis added.
“It’s important that everything we do with that money keeps the mission of the Evan’s Life Foundation and the memory of Evan alive,” she said.
With half going toward the new Austin facility, the rest of the endowment will be invested to provide continuing operating funds for By the Hand.
The Samatas said they believe they could not have found a better home for the money.
“There’s a deep and meaningful organization there driven by a woman who is dedicated at the same level as we were, if not more, for kids who are at-risk in Chicago,” Greg Samata said. “There’s a synergy there that was just undeniable.”