FOCUS Minnesota Celebrates Its New Residence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FOCUS Minnesota Celebrates Its New Residence

Minneapolis, MN (July 30, 2010) – FOCUS Minnesota, an Eastern Orthodox non-profit dedicated to serving the poor, will be celebrating its new home on Saturday, August 14.

The celebration will come one month after FOCUS Minnesota moved in to the building at1600 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis, right on the border of the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods. An Orthodox liturgy will begin at 9:30, followed by an open house and a free meal starting around 11:30.

The meal will be the second that FOCUS Minnesota has served at its new site and the third since it began operations in the Twin Cities in June. Director Vera Proctor expects more meals, along with other services to the poor, to follow in the coming months. “The new space allows us to do a number of things to help our neighbors,” she says. “We are now in the process of meeting our neighbors, connecting with other ministries in the area, and figuring out how we can best use our resources to help those in need.”

Proctor sees the liturgy, the open house, and the free meal as emblematic of FOCUS Minnesota’s ministry. “We welcome all to join us to see what we are currently planning and to help us chart our future course. We are Orthodox Christians, and everything we do is rooted in prayer and worship. We want to give freely and abundantly to help those who need it most.”

Proctor emphasizes that FOCUS Minnesota is not tied to any particular Orthodox parish or jurisdiction. The liturgy on August 14thwill be celebrated by priests and deacons from several parishes around the Twin Cities, and volunteers from over ten parishes will help serve the meal afterward. “Like the previous two meals that FOCUS Minnesota has served,” Proctor says, “this open house will be a witness to what Orthodox Christians can accomplish as a community.”

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FOCUS North America and its programs are committed to serve those in need, support Orthodox Christian social action ministries and supply parishes and others with the education, resources and training to initiate social action ministries in their own communities. In all of this, it continues in the work of Restoring Living Icons. FOCUS North America is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. For more information, visit focusnorthamerica.org.

FOCUS North America Sends Mission Team to Appalachia

Last month, 30 Focus North America volunteers (aged 9 to 69) drove the 943 miles from the Kansas City area to Bakersville, North Carolina to help do work projects for some of the needy families in the area.

Times are tough everywhere nowadays. However, Mitchell County, North Carolina has been hit especially hard since the local textile industry was outsourced overseas and left the economy with a 20% unemployment rate.

guys_in_houseThe FOCUS North America mission team was able to help several families during this difficult time.

Melvin had to quit his job in a grocery store when his back gave out, and Marcia had been unable to work since her health issues had confined her to a motorized wheel chair. This past winter, the record amount of snow caused their roof to leak and destroy their ceiling. They were able to patch the roof, but they could not fix the damage done to their ceiling. FOCUS North America purchased the materials and provided the volunteers to fix their ceiling. A team of eights served in Melvin and Marcia’s house for three days, removing and replacing the rotten ceiling panels in the living room, dining room and two bedrooms. Melvin said, “I thank my God for you (the Focus volunteers) coming and serving. You are a real blessing.”

Amber and Burt were at their wit’s end. Their ten-year-old son Gabriel was born healthy. NCT-SMHowever, right before he entered pre-school, he was diagnosed as having autism. Gabriel had an uncanny ability as an escape artist. His passion was picking locks, windows, doors—any form of containment. At first it was cute to Amber and Burt, but it became more serious when Gabriel would escape and run onto the country road at the bottom of their property. Underemployed and under-resourced, Amber and Burt could not afford the materials nor the labor to construct a safe-solution for Gabriel’s containment—a picket fence. Gabriel could not climb up and over a picket fence. Focus volunteers from Kansas City brought with them funds for concrete, rails, pickets, and hardware as well as a generator, power tools and an air compressor. Over three days, six Focus volunteers erected a Gabriel-proof containment system—a 6 foot picket fence—around the perimeter of Amber and Burt’s home. No longer fearing for her son’s safety and able to sleep at night for the first time in 5 years, Amber offered, “I don’t know what to say…this gift has changed our lives…”

Geneva Wilson has lived up in the hills for all of her 100 years. As a “colored person,” she and her husband were denied access to an education and good jobs. But they scrapped enough together during the depression to purchase land and build their home—the home Geneva still lives in on her own. Until last month, it had group_in_front_of_houseonly been painted once. Then Focus team from KC arrived with scrappers, ladders, paint, brushes and rollers. Eleven volunteers blanketed the sweet little home in the woods, lovingly applying a coat of protection on the wood that can surround Geneva for the next 100 years. Said Geneva,“I have never heard of somebody painting somebody else’s house for free—and driving a long way to do it. I want to say thank you.”

But the needs far exceed the demands. Though this first team of Focus volunteers was able to fund the materials for and complete six projects, Focus has an ever-growing list of needs in the area that now exceed 45 projects.

Focus—Appalachia is putting out a call to Orthodox Christians nation-wide. Bring a team from your church to serve. When you arrive, Focus can connect your team with appropriate projects for you skills and budget. Focus can arrange lodging, meals and logistics. Our Lord said, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the fields.” Focus is praying for God to send more teams to Appalachia. Is that you?

Click here to e-mail Bryan Dahms, National Director of Ministries, about your interest in sending a group from your parish to Appalachia.

Holy Synod of Orthodox Church in America Blesses the Work of FOCUS

[Kansas City, MO] With great joy and thanksgiving, the FOCUS North America Board of Directors with the Executive Director, Fr. Justin Mathews, is pleased to announce the blessing and endorsement of its work by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America.

In a letter dated May 23, 2010, on the Feast of Pentecost, His Eminence Metropolitan JONAH writes:

“This organization has already done great work in the short time ithas been in existence, and we encourage everyone to visit their website at http:focusnorthamerica.org…It is only by coming together to “love one another” that we can lift a person or family from despair to hope. This is what the Church is called to do on a daily basis. FOCUS assists all in finding Christ in even the most desperate situation…It is through this group that the Orthodox in North America can be focused on the ministry of assistance to those in need.”

This season of Pentecost brings to mind the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ as they set out to preach the Good News. Likewise, FOCUS North America, with its newly operational local centers and partner ministries, humbly endeavors to emulate this witness to the Gospel teachings of Christ by serving the poor and the needy in our own communities. Strengthened by the blessing and support of the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America, FOCUS North America continues to provide meals, vital life-recovery ministries and a living witness to God’s love for all mankind.

Attached to this press release is the letter from His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH in its entirety.

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FOCUS Announces Launching of New Centers

[Kansas City, MO] The FOCUS North America Board of Directors with the Executive Director, Fr. Justin Mathews, announces the recently established local FOCUS centers – FOCUS Orange County (CA), FOCUS Gateway City (St. Louis) and FOCUS Minnesota – are operational and moving forward with services to the poor and needy in their communities.

A highlight of these recent activities was the feeding and care of 61 newly arrived refugees from Nepal as well as from Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and other West African nations. Twenty-one Orthodox volunteers led by Eric Shanburn, local director of Focus Gateway City, dedicated over 75 man-hours to prepare, deliver, serve and clean-up the meal. Volunteers also coordinated transportation, using a fleet of 5 mini-van style vehicles to shuttle guests to and from the sit-down meal that featured table service and games for the children. School supplies were distributed to children as hospitality gifts at the end of the evening. Similar events are being planned in the Twin Cities (MN) and Orange County (CA).

FOCUS Gateway City has also launched a Women’s Employment Assistance Center with a specific outreach to clients of Thrive St. Louis, adding to their crisis pregnancy program occupational assistance, counseling, job placement and a professional clothing closet. Personal wardrobe selection in preparation for secured job interviews is offered to the guests by Orthodox Christian women from the surrounding parishes.

A special feature of the FOCUS ministry in Orange County will be the “Mother Maria (Skobtsova)” Hospitality Van. It is an outgrowth of the traditional Orthodox emphasis on serving the poor through hospitality, specifically healthy, home-cooked food. A hot nutritious meal is prepared in the kitchen of one of the volunteer parishes each week and then distributed to identified areas of need by the FOCUS hospitality van and ministry team. Orthodox volunteers gather to serve the food and distribute material aid onsite to those in need while Kevin Allen, local director of FOCUS Orange County, social work professionals and trained volunteers offer companionship and other life-recovery ministries to those in need.

“The establishment of these operational FOCUS Centers is a momentous occasion in the history of Orthodoxy in America,” commented Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director and CEO. “Together we offer an Orthodox Christian witness in North America through intentional social outreach ministry with our most needy neighbors. These three FOCUS Centers are the first fruits of the resources that the faithful have entrusted to FOCUS North America.”

The first operational FOCUS Centers in North America are modeled in part on Reconciliation Services-FOCUS KC, the first FOCUS Center located downstairs from the FOCUS North America headquarters in Kansas City, MO. Additional FOCUS Centers are actively being developed in Central Florida, the Appalachian Region, San Diego, CA and Pittsburgh, PA. More information about the FOCUS Centers can be found online atfocusnorthamerica.org.

FOCUS North America, with a commitment to the poor, the needy and the disadvantaged in our own communities, continues to expand its mission and vision of serving God, through the cultivating of resources, development of parish ministries and the launch of FOCUS Centers across North America. Working with the Churches and offering a place for the faithful of all ages to serve regularly, FOCUS Centers provide hot, nutritious meals, vital life-recovery ministries and hope for the hopeless.

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FOCUS North America Partners with Troy and Theodora Polamalu to Tackle Poverty

[Kansas City, MO] FOCUS North America Board Member, Theodora Polamalu, and her husband Troy, two-time Super Bowl Champion, have partnered with FOCUS North America on the “Tackle Poverty with the Polamalu Family” campaign.

Troy and Theodora realize the great need in North America and are dedicated to doing something about it. Recognizing that the poor, needy and suffering are living icons, they choose to venerate them with love and compassion by living out the gospel as related in Matthew 25 to the fullest extent.

Theodora said, “What inspired us to become involved with FOCUS is the commitment to the poor domestically, from an Orthodox perspective.” She further says that, “FOCUS implements unconditional love and a genuine interest in each individual that is served so that by God’s mercy, people are being exposed to Christ’s Church, Christ’s Holy Apostolic Church, every time they are received by FOCUS.”

Fr. Justin Mathews said, “FOCUS North America is blessed to have the Polamalu family on its team. They are extremely compassionate and amazingly zealous in their desire to support FOCUS North America and its ministry to the poor here at home. Our prayer is that all of America, but especially the Faithful, will accept the invitation of the Polamalus to join with them in supporting this vital ministry to our most needy neighbors. Every gift makes a difference.”

Recently you likely received in the mail more information about this campaign. Theodora and Troy have also done a radio interview and podcast about “Tackling Poverty with the Polamalu Family” Campaign on Come Receive the Light, a nationally syndicated radio program, and on the Ancient Faith Presents podcast.

Look also for the “Tackling Poverty with the Polamalu Family” poster that will be sent to your local Orthodox Church soon.

This Lent please join the Polamalu family in serving the poor, needy and suffering here at home through FOCUS North America.

For your convenience, you can give online directly to this campaign atfocusnorthamerica.org/tackle

FOCUS North America Serves the Poor on Skid Row

breakfast-photoThis past weekend, the FOCUS North America program Youth Equipped to Serve (YES) came to LA to serve the poor and needy. Through FOCUS North America, YES volunteers provided and served meals to the hungry. The trip ended on a high note by YES volunteers hosting a special breakfast at the Fred Jordan Mission. YES Volunteers on the trip also provided clothes and blankets for the cold and comfort to those who had none. Charles Ajalat, founder and chairman of the board for FOCUS North America, came along on the trip and in the coming days will share a reflection on his experiences. Look for photos and more great testimonies in the coming days.

ReEngage Sheds Light on the Effects of Absentee Fathers

ReEngageabsentee fathers with their children through outreach and counseling, education and preparation.

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absentee fathers were reintegrated with their families. Knott says that currently 68% of all African American children are being raised by single mothers.

children without fathers have extremely high rates of being poor the rest of their lives, dropping out of high school, becoming incarcerated and having children out of wedlock. Then the whole cycle starts again for the next generation.

takes a holistic approach to the whole situation. One of their tenants is to treat the family as a single unit and through love and support (not condemnation and resentment) to reintegrate the African America father as the head of the household.

to help set up its office.

Orthodox Peace Fellowship Applauds FOCUS

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We all have pondered Matthew 25 — the best clue we have to know by what criteria we are going to be judged on that day that ends all our earthly days. Jesus makes clear that our love for our neighbors must be made manifest, or it counts for little; our actions speak for us more than our prayers.

And what of our inaction? As Athenagoras of Athens said, “We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him.” We also need to address injustices that are being done, to speak truth to power, and to attempt to end institutionalized racism or discrimination against the poor.

FOCUS-North America brings home to us (literally, brings home,to our domestic context) the need to rouse ourselves from our comfortable existence in our nation of plenty. Its leaders believe in being primarily known, as Christians, by “how we love one another” rather than how we chant or write icons. Its message of unification and amplification across jurisdictions in the service of Christ-like love is long overdue.

Jim Forest
Alex Patico
Coordinators of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship