Joe Lee Hansley Foundation
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
From Jeff Davis Living Magazine, 2019
They say actions speak louder than words. For Joe Hansley, he now lives this truth after becoming the change he truly wanted to see in the community.
A native of Jeff Davis, he is the founder and president of the Joe Lee Hansley Foundation (JLHF) which has building bridges for youth since 2005. Although, Joe resides in Portsmouth, Virginia, he and his team have been actively providing outreach to at-risk youth through educational enrichment, leadership development, and mentorship hoping to cultivate a generation of responsible leaders.
Joe started JLHF while enlisted as active duty in the military, and a year before he was actually set to come home, he lost his brother to a drug-related shooting in 2013. This heart-wrenching loss is what strengthened Joe to push harder for himself, his family and the youth in the community.
He has a devout spirit for creating opportunities and paving alternative paths to what he experienced growing up in Hazlehurst. “All people seen was the local drug dealer or the dude that’s getting in trouble...it is not the dude you want to look up to because you’ll end up dead or in prison,” he expressed.
He continued, “I lost my father in the seventh grade. I ended up in alternative school in the eighth grade...had a mentor from middle school, who was the football coach and guidance counselor, kind of helped turn me around. Later, I started playing football and hanging around more positive people.”
Joe was pressed to channel that energy forward, as he vowed to become the positive leader and mentor that youth could look up to. ‘It’s very rewarding all the time when you get testimonials from people,” he said. “I’m a firm believer of mentoring. When we’re mentoring to the kids we like to explain to them that...a kid without a mentor is like an explorer without a map trying to get to a destination, but you keep going in circles.”
For most at-risk students, they are less likely to get a full education and aren’t able to transition successfully into adulthood. They lack access to resources that will prepare them for independence, which places them at a disadvantage. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed, and this is why Joe and his team strive for more positive outcomes than what has been placed in front of them.
Since starting JLHF, Joe doesn’t have to simply believe that his work has brought “hope, belief, love, and exposure” to the community -- the participating youth, the scholarships received, and the national partners are all proof that the foundation has given the youth “a new way of looking at life.”
Besides Georgia and Virginia, JLHF has teams located in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. They partner with schools and organizations to host events and cross-state college tours, mainly with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And because of the relationships that Joe and his team have built with these schools, they are able to get students enrolled “with zero questions asked.”
Joe expressed his gratitude for many of the supporters and volunteers that contribute. “We cater to all kids,” Joe shared. “...we try to keep activities quarterly, but we’re active in the schools daily trying to see what we can do to help.”
He works to commend students that excel in their classes, especially at Jeff Davis Elementary. “For the kids who get all A’s each quarter, they get a pizza party. And for the kids who don’t miss a day of school, we give them an opportunity to get a bicycle. We usually do a boy and girl in each grade.”
Aside from the fun, Joe is ardent about making sure that the students’ educational and leadership skills are fulfilled. “In all of the schools, we have ‘The Gentlemen’s Club’ where we go in and talk to the kids. We try to bring in people that look like them to show them that they can make it,” he shared. He also partners with the school systems, offering grants to help fund programs that align with the students’ success.
Each year, JLHF also offers scholarships to graduating high school students and hosts an annual gala in their honor. Scholarships are category-based: military, academic and sports with a certain criteria that must be met in order to qualify. This year, four seniors from Jeff Davis High School was selected, for a total of 35-40 recipients nationally, also including students from Ware, Wayne, Appling, Coffee, and Toombs counties.
“I want people to know that I’m dedicated to this...I truly believe that this is my calling. That’s why I’m grinding to change lives, not for me but for society to make it a better place.”
For more information about the Joe Lee Hansley foundation, visit jlhfoundation.com or you can visit their page on Facebook.