FOCUS ReEngage Furthers Holistic Approach to Life Recovery

KnottFOCUS North America is blessed to have Rodney Knott join its ministry team. As the Director of FOCUS ReEngage and Gifts In-Kind Solicitor for FOCUS NA, Knott will implement the successful education, mentoring and counseling initiatives of FOCUS ReEngage in FOCUS Centers nationwide.

“The FOCUS ReEngage curriculum furthers the occupational initiatives of FOCUS through its job readiness and soft skills education, while simultaneously furthering the understanding component of FOCUS by incorporating fundamental life recovery elements,” Father Justin Mathews, FOCUS North America Executive Director, said.

Knott said he is looking forward to expanding the program in other FOCUS Centers. At the heart of FOCUS ReEngage is the rebuilding of people’s lives through education, mentoring, counseling, job training, and helping individuals develop their own sense of purpose.

“The nature of poverty that we are addressing today is different than it was in the past,” Knott said. “More than just a physical lack, today people have a real emotional and spiritual lack.”

Knott said that these emotional and spiritual needs require different solutions. “If we don’t address the emotional and spiritual needs, then the efforts we put forth to address the physical needs won’t change the long term outcome for people,” he said.

One of the purposes of the FOCUS ReEngage’s Man Class, a 12-week educational component of FOCUS ReEngage, is to redefine manhood. Knott said for many men, young and old, living in impoverished communities means a definition of manhood that embraces violence, conflict, idleness, negativity, abandonment, and a lack of desire to better oneself. “If we can help these young men understand what it means to be a man—How should I behave? What is my role in my family? What is my role in my community? How can I support myself?—We can help them change the outcome of their lives,” Knott said.

“We want these men to leave the 12-week program ready to get a job, with the skills to keep a job, and with the necessary life skills to further their own life development,” Mathews said. “The FOCUS Center is the perfect environment for this curriculum to be implemented in because it provides those we serve with an in-depth, holistic life recovery program.”

FOCUS ReEngage is a work readiness program that was developed in 2009 with ReEngage, Inc. and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Social Work. The program has seen many successful pilots in 2010 and has been endorsed by Congessman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO). The FOCUS ReEngage program will eventually include a parallel curriculum to the Man Class for women. Mathews said the FOCUS ReEngage curriculum is built upon proven social work principles and a strong Orthodox foundation.

Part of the expansion of FOCUS ReEngage’s efforts will also include a secondary Man Class that will have a decidedly Orthodox Christian foundation. This second version will incorporate wisdom from the holy fathers, scripture and an Orthodox worldview, Knott said.

“The psychology of poverty for many amounts to an attitude that ‘nothing is possible,’” Knott said. “This is what we want to change for people. We want people to expand their dreams for what is possible. Empowered parents empower their children and then we begin to see communities change.”

FOCUS Appalachia Team Transformed by Serving Others

Bad weather and a last minute change of projects didn’t dampen the spirits of 21 FOCUS Appalachia volunteers who spent March 7-12 working and serving in the mountains of North Carolina.

The group of young adults from all over the Northeast set out from Pittsburgh with the vision to serve others and also to use the time together to reflect on their own spiritual needs.

Niko Petrogeorge, FOCUS North America National Ministries intern, was charged with planning and leading the trip. And although the group had planned on working together on outside home repair for a disabled couple, freezing rain dictated a necessary change in plans.

The group was rerouted to the Quiet Reflection Retreat Center in the mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina. The retreat center is run by a newly chrismated Orthodox couple who invite people to use the beautiful land and center for reflection and prayer. Badly in need of upkeep and repairs, the couple appreciated the efforts by the FOCUS Appalachia team, realizing that their hard work at the retreat center would benefit many people in the coming year.

In spite of the hard weather the group managed to erect a rock retaining wall to slow erosion, mulch, build needed chairs for the center, paint the inside of the lodge and much more.

“We realized after we arrived, that the retreat directors definitely needed our manual labor,” Petrogeorge said. “But they also needed the support of their Orthodox brothers and sisters too.” He said the couple participated with the group in the services, prayers, teaching and times of reflection.

“We had decided on the theme, Come and See, for the trip,” Petrogeorge said. “But the real theme of our trip ended up being about transfiguration. The trip really was about us saying ‘Thank you’. We went to serve, but we realized we needed to be there … It was good to be there. We were so grateful.”

Petrogeorge said the group quickly become friends and were great examples of Christ’s love to one another and the couple they were serving. He was impressed with the group’s willingness to serve and adapt to the change in projects.

“One of the young men who was with us wasn’t Orthodox,” Petrogeorge said. “He remarked after one of the services we had that he felt he had been selfish his whole life and he felt very challenged because he had never really experienced that type of love and community before.”

The FOCUS Appalachia program aims to provide meaningful short-term service and work projects for groups in the Appalachian Mountain region. Part of the FOCUS Appalachia experience also involves guided reflections, spiritual teaching, prayer and leisure time to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. Through prayer, work, teaching and time together, FOCUS Appalachia trips provide a holistic approach to retreat and service.

*If you or your church group wants to participate in a service trip with FOCUS Appalachia, please call Bryan Dahms, National Director of Ministries, at 866-267-3083 or email him at JavaScript required to view address. FOCUS NA will connect you with the appropriate project for your skills and budget and will arrange lodging, meals and other logistics.

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FOCUS Grant Enables Free Meals in Struggling Community

About a year and a half ago I met with several parishioners here at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts to see if there was some way that we could aid in the relief of the economic situation in town. St. Michael is a small older church in the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese and really had never been involved in anything like this.

Southbridge is an old mill wn like many in Massachusetts.  However it is one of the most economically depressed towns

work_for_food in Central Massachusetts.  More than 12% of the 17,000 people are on unemployment and 15% live at or below the federal poverty limit.  Additionally, 23% of children under 18 hungry. We needed to do something.

We decided that we would begin a monthly community meal. Keep in mind we have never done this before and we did not even know where to begin nor how many people would show up. That first night we fed about 45 people and it has grown steady since that first night. We are very grateful to all of the folks that come and help us serve the meal it is just as important to them as it is to the folks that partake of the meal. The meal we serve has left a lasting impact on the entire church community.

Last fall we applied for a grant from FOCUS North America with the idea of expanding the meal from once a month to twice a month, looking toward a time that we would offer this meal once a week. January of this year saw our first twice-a-month meal and in February we had so many people that we actually ran out of food—and when I say ran out I am saying we had nothing! Luckily only the workers were unable to have something to eat and all of our guests were able to eat. One thing I have noticed is that people come and eat and now they hang around and chat over a cup of coffee and a pastry and catch up with friends and really look at this as a social time for themselves. It has truly been a blessing. If it was not for the generosity of the donors to FOCUS North America and the FOCUS Board we would not have been able to expand this program. In our own small way we are able to help some very needy people survive a very trying time.

May God Bless the work of FOCUS North America!

Fr. Peter Preble is the pastor at St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Visit his website to learn more about his ministry.