Simmons Hanly Conroy Joins Forces with Join Hands to Help East St. Louis Families Beat the Odds

Simmons Hanly Conroy Joins Forces with Join Hands to Help East St. Louis Families Beat the Odds

Law firm’s annual golf tournament raises $25,000 for the organization

Join Hands ESL Executive Director Sheila Burton brought Jaukese, 5, and Jailah, 10, to the golf tournament to meet participants. The children, their siblings, and their mother all participate in Join Hands programming.

Ten-year-old, East St. Louis native Jailah wants to be a scientist or a doctor when she grows up. Some would say those are lofty goals for a child in East St. Louis. It’s a city routinely identified as one of the most violent in the country, where only 9 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree and 99 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes. For many children and families, it can feel like the deck is stacked against them, but one organization is working hard to change that – and it recently got a significant financial boost.

More than 55 teams of 224 golfers teed off to help raise $25,000 in support of Join Hands ESL, Inc. through the 14th Annual Simmons Employee Foundation (SEF) Golf Tournament held at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton. All net proceeds from the event benefitted Join Hands, an East St. Louis organization dedicated to empowering the city’s youth and families by giving them the resources needed to find a pathway out of poverty.

Members of the SEF Board recently presented a check for $25,000 to Join Hands. From left, SEF board members Bob Cahn, Julie Bond and Melissa Coffman; Join Hands Director of Development Abby Cole and Executive Director Sheila Burton; SEF Director Tamara Ferguson; and SEF board members Emma Bosomworth, Stephanie Elliott and Dave Lando.

“The reality is that East St. Louis is not an easy environment to raise children or to even be a child,” said Sheila Burton, executive director at Join Hands. “We wanted to help and realized that the way to do that was through self-empowerment and a quality education. That’s what we strive to provide.”

Founded in 1990 to serve underprivileged children in East St. Louis, Join Hands organizers realized the best way to help the children was to help their parents. In 2004, the group’s mission expanded to include a focus on women and children through the Family Mentoring Program. In 2006, it started an Alternative Education Program, an effort to break the cycle of poverty by providing mothers the opportunity to send their children to quality private schools known for their academic excellence.

“When my husband and I first started Join Hands, we met a young girl named Norkisha when she was just 10-years-old,” Burton said. “After joining Join Hands, she became the first person in her family to graduate high school. She is now 38 and has five children: one in college and the rest enrolled in private school.  They play violin, make great grades, and are on their way to realizing their dreams – whatever those may be.”

Part of Join Hands’ success comes from the wide array of programs they offer. Utilizing family mentoring, monthly family outings, retreats for mothers, alternative education, and empowerment initiatives, hundreds of people have been impacted.

“I was recently sitting at a table with women who were part of the programs we offer,” Burton said. “Five of them had college-aged children, and of those five, four of them had kids enrolled in college. That’s huge.”

Shareholder James Huss takes a swing during the tournament.

It takes a village to make this kind of impact on the community. Burton said Join Hands doesn’t receive any money from the state to help fund their initiatives and relies solely on donations from the community. It takes 150 volunteers to successfully coordinate the organization’s programs.

“As the need for programs like ours increases, so does the need for more funding and for us to hire some staff members,” Burton continued. “We are so grateful that our friends at Simmons Hanly Conroy saw the value in our mission and are helping us to achieve those goals.”

SEF Director Tamara Ferguson said the board saw firsthand the impact Joins Hands has had in East St. Louis, making it an easy decision to support the charity through this year’s tournament.

“We heard from graduates of Join Hands programs, and their stories of transformation were incredible,” Ferguson said. “We knew instantly this was a cause we would be proud to support.”

For Jailah and her 5-year-old brother Jaukese, they are already grateful for the opportunities Join Hands has given them.

“I really like Join Hands,” Jailah said. “I actually like going to school.”

“I like my school, too,” Jaukese echoed. “My teachers tell me I’m really smart and I like that part, too.”

Join Hands representatives stop for a quick photo with SEF board members during the tournament.

The tournament, which took place June 22, was organized into a four-person scramble format, with participants donating $100 per player or $400 per team. Entry fees included green fees, cart rental, lunch or dinner, refreshments and a complimentary gift. Additional financial support came from a 50/50 raffle, and “Deal or No Deal” game.

To learn more about SEF, click here.