Strategic Plan 2018-2021

Planning Process

In September 2017, the Board of Directors of Join Hands approved a strategic planning process to guide future program development and fundraising. A volunteer with experience in planning worked with the Executive Director and Development Director to facilitate the process. Six stakeholder focus groups were held with: Family Mentoring mothers, staff, teens, two sets of volunteers (including some Board members), and local area residents who regularly visit the Ubuntu Center. Community partners were also surveyed.

The Join Hands Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021 was approved by the Board of Directors at its meeting on December 2, 2017.


Join Hands East St. Louis, Inc. is a small, community based not-for-profit organization founded in 1990 to serve children and families in East St. Louis, Illinois.

East St. Louis is one of the poorest cities in America, and 97% of the residents are African American. The population has dropped from a high of 82,000 in the 1950’s to about 27,000, leaving a desolate environment of abandoned buildings and crumbling infrastructure. Pervasive poverty, homelessness, incarceration, violence, drug addiction, and a failing school system create a sense of hopelessness. East St. Louis has one of the highest proportions of households led by women at 70%, and these are the families Join Hands primarily serves.

Girls and Boys Clubs.  Join Hands ESL initially focused on children in two East St. Louis housing projects. Using volunteers, Girls Club and Boys Club provided Saturday recreational outings for thirty to forty children from 8 to 13 years old. We currently serve about 70 children with 85 volunteers. Through these programs, we learned the best way to help children is to also work with their parents.

The Family Mentoring Program. In 2004, Join Hands added our Family Mentoring Program, focusing on women and their children. All ten of the original mothers in the mentoring program had been participants in Girls Club when they were younger and were motivated to continue their education and improve the lives of their children. In 2017, the Family Mentoring Program expanded to serve 30 families with over 100 children. There are 10 – 15 volunteer mentors currently.

The Alternative Education Program and Education Advocacy.  Working with the mothers in the Family Mentoring Program on their goals for themselves and their children, we identified access to quality education as critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. The public schools in East St. Louis have a long history of failing to provide an education that prepares children for college or the job market. So, in 2006 Join Hands started the Alternative Education Program, making a commitment to the women in our Family Mentoring Program to send their children to private school. Join Hands also provides education advocacy services for children in the Family and Teen Mentoring programs to ensure that each child receives the services they need to be successful in school. We currently have 20 children enrolled in private schools through AEP and 80 children receiving education advocacy services.

The Teen Mentoring Program. In 2006, we also started our Teen Mentoring Program to help teenagers attain their education and career goals. The program serves teenagers whose families are in the Family Mentoring Program, as well as teens who have aged out of Girls Club and Boys Club. We also partner with Griffin Center, an after school program in East St. Louis, to provide mentoring for their teen workers, usually about 15 – 20 teens a year. The Teen program currently serves 50 teenagers with 35 volunteer mentors.

The Dream Path Program. After many years of journeying with the original ten mothers in the Family Mentoring Program, we learned that by building relationships with the mothers and focusing on their goals, we had an effect on the trajectory of their children: 80% of their college age children went to college. In 2017, with this successful model in place, we implemented the Dream Path Program for families who have a dream for their children to reach their full potential and graduate from college or other post-secondary education.

Join Hands staff and volunteers walk with mothers and children as they set goals and expectations for themselves. To achieve their goals, we provide emotional support, mentoring, accountability, education advocacy, and as funding allows school tuition. Join Hands is built on personal relationships. Participants describe Join Hands as their extended family.

The Dream Path is whole family mentoring to achieve children’s academic success. The Dream Path Program includes participants in the Family Mentoring and Teen Mentoring programs, and includes education advocacy and alternative education services. The Dream Path is a pathway out of poverty — one family and one child at a time. The Dream Path currently includes 30 Family Mentoring Program mothers and their 100 children and 25 other teens in the Teen Mentoring Program.

Expansion of the Join Hands programs culminating in the Dream Path Program would not have been possible without acquisition of a physical location for the programs. Until 2016, Join Hands had no office space.

The Ubuntu Center for Peace. In early 2016, through a generous donation, Join Hands was able to lease space in the Orr Weathers public housing complex in East St. Louis, enabling Join Hands to open the Ubuntu Center for Peace. The space was furnished by donors.

The Ubuntu Center is a place of peace, love and hospitality. Coffee is on every morning at 9:30 and people are welcome to come and sit and have a bite to eat. As volunteer power allows, we offer mornings of reflection, yoga and meditation, and we have a peace chapel that is open to whoever has a need for some quiet space. The Ubuntu Center is an oasis in the midst of an often violent area. It is now home to all Join Hands programs, a resource for our families and children, and those in the neighborhood, as well as home to our administrative offices.

Capacity Building. About the same time Join Hands obtained the Ubuntu Center, the Board of Directors recognized the need to increase staff capacity to support the increasing number of families and children being served and the number of volunteers who needed to be coordinated and managed. Long time Executive Director of Join Hands, Sheila Burton, was able to become the full time Executive Director (after leaving her other employment), and funds were raised to add a Director of Development. The new development position is critical to Join Hands’ ability to secure the funding needed to expand programs and address staffing needs.

In 2017, the education advocate’s hours were expanded to 25 per week, and another part-time position was added to help coordinate Ubuntu Center and childrens’ programs. However, the Executive Director salary is well below comparable not for profits, and both part-time positions are underpaid and should be full-time. Additional staff positions are needed to meet the needs of current programs and families served and to expand the programs and add more families and children to the Dream Path.

Planning Process

In September 2017, the Board of Directors of Join Hands approved a strategic planning process to guide future program development and fundraising. A volunteer with experience in planning worked with the Executive Director and Development Director to facilitate the process. Six stakeholder focus groups were held with: Family Mentoring mothers, staff, teens, two sets of volunteers (including some Board members), and local area residents who regularly visit the Ubuntu Center. Community partners were also surveyed.

The Join Hands Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021 was approved by the Board of Directors at its meeting on December 2, 2017.

Vision Statement

Prior to this process, Join Hands did not have a formal vision statement. The Board approved the following Vision:

Through access to high quality education from early childhood through college, all children in East St. Louis will no longer live in poverty.


Join Hands’ mission statement had not been revised since 1990. As part of the planning process, the current mission was reviewed by the focus groups, and a new statement was developed. The Board approved the following revised mission statement:

The mission of Join Hands ESL is to empower the people of East St Louis, to walk in solidarity with those we serve, showing love and compassion to those in need, affirming and reflecting the beauty and potential of each individual. We build personal relationships with children and families through our youth programming, mentoring programs and the Ubuntu Center for Peace. We prioritize and support through our programs the pursuit of education as a pathway out of poverty.


Join Hands is guided by the following organizational values:













Goals for 2018 – 2021

Girls and Boys Clubs/Youth Programs

Goal: To build relationships, increase self-esteem, and broaden the horizons of children ages 8 to12 in two public housing projects in East St. Louis


  • To continue to provide recreational, educational, and athletic activities to about 70 children
  • To maintain the current volunteer to child ratio of 3:1 for activities and outings
  • To retain current volunteers and add new volunteers
  • To increase staff capacity to coordinate youth programming


  • Add additional children to the programs from the waiting lists as openings become available
  • Recruit additional volunteers through current volunteers, Young Professionals Board, faith based organizations, and other resources
  • Identify new opportunities for week-end outings in the metro-east and St. Louis areas
  • Develop a written volunteer manual for Girls and Boys Clubs to orient new volunteers and as a resource for all volunteers

The Dream Path Program

Goal: To empower East St. Louis families with children to fulfill their dreams of graduating from college and escaping poverty

Teen Mentoring Objectives:

  • To enable teenagers from low-income families in East St. Louis to achieve their academic and career goals
  • To continue to provide individual mentoring and group activities to about 50 teenagers (from Family Mentoring families, teens who aged out of Girls and Boys Club, and Griffin Center teens)
  • To increase access to high quality education by providing scholarships or other access to private schools for teens
  • To provide programming that addresses the unique needs of teenagers
  • To increase the number of male mentors to meet current need
  • To increase the number of mentors as more teens are added to the Dream Path Program
  • To enable every teenager who wants to go to college or pursue post-secondary education to do so
  • To increase staff capacity to manage teen programs and meet their needs

Family Mentoring Objectives:

  • To provide whole family mentoring to achieve children’s academic success to the 30 families (and 100 children) currently in the Family Mentoring Program
  • To work with parents on achieving their own education and career goals
  • To increase the types of services available to parents in the Family Mentoring Program to help them achieve their career goals
  • To provide access to quality education by providing scholarships to private school for children of Family Mentoring families through the Alternative Education Program
  • To improve academic performance by continuing to provide education advocacy services to all children in our programs whose parents consent
  • To increase the number of families in the Family Mentoring Program
  • To increase our capacity to coordinate and manage these programs and add more families and teens


  • Obtain additional training for staff and volunteers on working with teens and develop teen-specific programming
  • Develop a written manual for volunteers working with teens and families
  • Recruit 10 new male mentors in the first year by working with current volunteers, the Board, the Young Professionals’ Board, and local faith based organizations
  • In the first year, identify and recruit an intern from academic or other resource to assist with the Dream Path Program
  • Add families to the Dream Path Program over the next three years (as staff and volunteer capacity permits), by giving priority to parents of children currently in Girls or Boys Club
  • Recruit and train additional family and teen mentors as needed to add more families
  • Raise additional funding for Alternative Education Program or identify other ways to obtain private school scholarships for children and teens in the Dream Path
  • By the end of year one, add a full-time staff position of Dream Path Director to manage the Dream Path programs
  • In year two, add a second full-time staff position for Teen Mentoring Program Coordinator

The Ubuntu Center for Peace

Goal: To walk with the people of the East St. Louis community we serve and to bring light, love, and hope to all who come through our doors.


  • To provide an oasis of peace
  • To be open and welcoming to local residents
  • To continue to provide access for residents of the community from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays
  • To provide a site for Join Hands programs
  • To provide organizing activities and advocacy on issues impacting the local community and on broader justice issues


  • Offer regular yoga, meditation, and mornings of reflection
  • Increase public hours and programming for residents as staff and funding permits
  • Work with the Ubuntu Movement Sub-Committee to identify issues and ways to address community and racial justice issues
  • Collaborate with other local organizations on Ubuntu Center racial and economic justice priorities

Organizational Capacity and Resource Development

Goal: To increase Join Hands’ capacity to maintain current programs and expand the Dream Path Program


  • Expand staff capacity to meet current needs and to add families
  • Increase fundraising capacity through expansion of the Executive Fundraising Board
  • Engage in Board development and begin discussion on Board transformation and diversification to meet organizational needs
  • Secure Join Hands’ long term financial stability by raising sufficient funds to maintain reserves of 25% of the annual operating budget
  • Secure additional funding sufficient to increase salaries of current paid part-time staff to a ‘living wage’ in year one; to increase their hours to full time; to increase the salary of the Executive Director to be commensurate with similar not-for-profits; and to add two new full time positions to manage the Dream Path program
  • Increase annual operating budget from $150,000 to $600,000 within three years to support staffing and programming needs
  • Improve program evaluation and outcome tracking


  • Review Join Hands’ by-laws to ensure they are current and meet the needs of the organization, particularly with regard to Board composition and diversity, recruitment and terms, and fundraising committees
  • Implement a three year $2 million capacity building fundraising campaign, with particular focus on major gifts, increasing level of giving of current donors, and adding new annual donors
  • Research additional sources of foundation funding and apply for funding consistent with Join Hands’ mission, with priority on general operating funds
  • Increase social media presence and donor stewardship and recognition activities
  • Identify key indicators of program successes (i.e. outcomes) and develop and implement an easy system to track to them