Youth Use Summer Break to Serve Others

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Niko Touloumes was planning on using some of his summer break to do a service project, but he never thought the project would change his perspective on those in need.

Touloumes was one of 18 youth from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Christian Church in Pittsburgh who participated in the June Appalachia service trip, a ministry of FOCUS North America. The group of middle school and high school students were joined by six adult leaders.

The goal of these short term ministry trips is to build a sense of service and community by providing an opportunity for church groups to travel together, work together, serve together and grow together. Projects include home repair, landscaping, and various domestic projects for the poor living in the heart of the Appalachian region. In some parts of the Appalachian region of NC where the FOCUS NA teams serve there is an almost 20% unemployment rate.

“I was expecting to come down and help people, not necessarily interact with them,” Touloumes said.  “But I came here and found out why they’re in these situations.”

The teens and their adult leaders worked hard and always had a great attitude as they worked on graveling a driveway, painting a garage, removing a rotting deck, painting the interior of a house, moving heavy furniture and various landscaping projects.

The working poor families served by these groups are always very grateful for the help, Niko Petrogeorge, FOCUS North America ministry team intern, said.

“We painted the inside of an elderly couple’s home,” Petrogeorge said. “Mr. Upright was very appreciative of our work and wanted to help us.

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We got him started on something he wouldn’t have been able to do on his own and provided the resources and materials for the project.”

The group ended its time on their service trip withprayer at the Quiet Reflections Retreat Center nearby lead by Fr. John Touloumes.

Petrogeorge said Fr. John Touloumes, priest at Holy Trinity and leader on the trip, already wants to bring a group back next summer to serve again.

The work done for needy families and the work done in the hearts of those who serve is always a welcome benefit.

“I feel like being on this mission trip has helped me grow as an Orthodox Christian,” said Georgia Gagianas, another teen participant on the trip. “There were times when things didn’t go as planned, but we realized that this trip wasn’t about us and we just needed to be patient and do what was necessary to help the people we came to serve.”

If your church group might be interested in serving together on a FOCUS North America Appalachia service trip contact Niko Petrogeorge at JavaScript required to view address or call 1-866-267-3083.

Men Learning to be Men

“My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” —Clarence Budington Kelland

Blessings to all the dads who provide their children with the love, support, and nurturing that all children need. As another Father's Day goes by, I think it is important to recognize the true value of fathers in our lives.

Fathers have traditionally provided children with a safety net from which they have learned to explore, to take risks, and to expand our horizons as a society. Mothers have historically received the bulk of our attention and affection and rightfully so. Fathers have always been willing to accept their second-class status without much fuss, but imagine a world without fathers.

For too long we have had a one-sided conversation in America that men, in general, are optional and specifically the role of fathers in the lives of their children is overrated. Research has clearly shown that children do better with two engaged parents regardless of the race, finances, or education of the parents. Unfortunately, too many of our kids are being forced to grow up without the love, support and protection of their fathers and this is something we should not allow to happen.

Absentee fathers have become an American epidemic that reaches across racial, economic, and ethnic lines. This epidemic continues to grow with little or no media attention or action. Currently around 25% of our children are being raised without their fathers and for minority children the numbers are as high as 75%. This is a national tragedy that will lead to the suffering of millions of children in this country.

As I look back on my own life and think about all of the men that I came into contact with and how each one had a part in shaping who I am today, I wonder who the children of today will have to help shape their lives? You see I was fortunate enough to have a father in my home and also to have responsible men in my community who showed me each day the importance of being a responsible man.

We are created to be male and female, but we learn to become men and women. We learn by watching others, so in the absence of teachers how will we learn?

The mission of FOCUS North America's ReEngage Program, the life-skills ministry of FOCUS NA, is to reconnect absentee fathers with their children and to reduce the number of absentee father homes by equipping and empowering men to fulfill their mission. What is that mission? To become the men that God created them to be.

Unfortunately, there are too many men today who are suffering from anger and frustration from the separation of their children. They have nowhere to turn for support, understanding and healing. Through the FOCUS NA ReEngage Program's curriculum we provide an opportunity for these men to get the support, training and tools they need to begin the healing process. If we are to improve the lives of these men and their families, we should help facilitate this healing process so we can begin to break the cycle of absentee fathers and provide a stable, loving environment for all of our children.

Using our 12-session curriculum we create an atmosphere of healing for the men to be able to address the issues of anger, manhood, overcoming obstacles and breaking the cycles that have kept them from achieving their goals. We begin with the basics of “what is a man” and “what men do” and finish with each participant developing a personal improvement plan to use as they move forward. The men provide support for each other and help each other to create a place where all have value and are respected.

I hope that each and every father had a wonderful Father's Day, but while we are celebrating fathers let us not forget there are many fathers and children whose hearts are filled with sorrow from separation, neglect, and pain.

The Holy Prophet Elijah prophesized in Malachi 4: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet. Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

We need your help to begin this process of healing. Would you consider making a gift to the FOCUS NA ReEngage Program in the name of your father or some man who made a difference in your life?

Let us begin to give this epidemic the attention it deserves. If these children were suffering from some terrible disease or were the victims of some catastrophe we would stop at nothing to help them. Well, the epidemic of absentee fathers is just as devastating to our children, their futures, and our greater culture as well. All children deserve and need the spiritual, financial and emotional support of their fathers and today they need your help.

Thank you,
Rodney Knott
Director of FOCUS North America's ReEngage Program

Computer Lab Helps Those in Need Find Work, Housing

fgc-compWhen Mark was invited by a friend to attend the free community meal at FOCUS Gateway City, he ended up with much more than a full stomach. New to the St. Louis area, volunteers invited him to come to the computer lab and begin his search for work and housing.

“Now I’ve got a full-time job, a place to live and I am a full-time student,” Mark said.

The computer lab at the FOCUS Gateway City Center is available to guests who seek to find employment, housing, stay connected with family or develop necessary job skills.

“Many of the guests who come to use the computer lab are working on skill building,” said Eric Shanburn, Local Director of FOCUS Gateway City, said. “More than half of the people coming in need basic computer training, like using the Internet and email.”

Shanburn said that guests also work on resumes, search for jobs, and can check email for job leads and responses to applications. He wants people to come regularly so they can continue to build skills and see the job application process through.

“The guests will fill out five to ten applications each time they come in,” Shanburn said. “Once they get a response, we will coach them through their interactions with potential employers and work with them on their communication skills.”

Shanburn said he also will act as a reference if needed and make sure those who get work have adequate transportation or a means of getting to their new jobs.

“We have a few people who get jobs each month,” Shanburn said. “Mark’s is a real success story because he came to town with nothing and because of his own initiative and participating with our programs here, he has a place to live, a job and is even going to vocational school for more training.”

One challenge facing the homeless guests that frequent FOCUS Gateway City is the lack of consistent living conditions. Shanburn said that housing provides stability and without it, it is difficult for homeless men and women to find a job. He encourages the homeless guests to use the computer lab for finding housing.

Whether building skills, looking for jobs or doing housing searches, Shanburn said the computer lab is proving to be a valuable resource for FOCUS Gateway City guests in need.