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

MAXIMOS Metropolitan of Pittsburgh endorses FOCUS North America

FOCUS North America is honored to have the blessing and endorsement of His Eminence, Metropolitan +MAXIMOS of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh. We look forward to working with His Eminence and all the faithful of the region in the exciting work God has called us to in His Vineyard serving the poor. This blessing follows the resolution of SCOBA from its spring 2009 session, under the presidency of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, when it gave FOCUS North America “a warm endorsement for this welcomed initiative.”

The following letter of endorsement was also posted on the Metropolis website. (click to see pdf)

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FOCUS Adds New Partner Ministries, Awards $15,000 in Grants

[Kansas City, MO] One of the missions of FOCUS North America is to aid existing Orthodox Christian social action ministries Recently, the organization, based in Kansas City, added several new Orthodox partner ministries including Sheltering Tree, Inc.; ReEngage, Inc.; St. Herman House of Hospitality, Martha and Mary House and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Kid’s Club.

FOCUS North America gave away a total of $15,000 in grant money to these new partner ministries and to its existing partners St. Brigid’s Fellowship, St. Xenia Sisterhood, and Philoxenia House.

And in an effort to further bless Philoxenia House, FOCUS North America raised an additional $10,000 in support for them.

Each organization is grateful for both the partnership and the grant.

Ed Malouf, of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Kid’s Club said, “In these difficult economic times, uniting together to serve is all the more important in order to accomplish our common Gospel mandate to love our neighbor. We are excited to partner with FOCUS North America to extend the ministry of the St Nicholas Kids Club to help even more families in need this year. Because of the tough economy and the number of struggling families, we anticipate an increased demand at our Christmas breakfast and toy give away, but our budget was also limited.FOCUS North America is helping to fill that gap for the struggling families and many needy children we will serve together this Christmas in Los Angeles.“And Sheltering Tree President, Shirley McNally said, “Sheltering Tree is deeply grateful for the partnership with FOCUS North America through this generous grant to begin the activities of the ABLE Center (Arts, Business, Life Enhancement and Education Center) to employ and involve adults with developmental disabilities in creating and participating in business ventures of their choice and expanding their opportunities to learn and be an active part of the Omaha, Nebraska metro community…we plan to build an 18-unit housing facility with 16 residential apartments for the developmentally disabled persons with two live-in manager units, common areas for socializing, kitchen, bakery and dining.”

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, FOCUS North America continues its work Restoring Living Icons.

FOCUS Announces Pilot Kansas City Center

[Kansas City, MO] Through a unique alliance with Reconciliation Services, FOCUS North America has launched FOCUS Kansas City – the first such center of a national initiative to provide more local opportunities for volunteers and Orthodox Christian faithful to participate in hands-on ministry in the spirit of Matthew 25.

Reconciliation Services has not just chosen to be renamed Reconciliation Services – FOCUS Kansas City but has partnered with FOCUS North America for mutual support and encouragement, standing side-by-side in service of the hurting and hungry in Kansas City.

Unlike some umbrella organizations, FOCUS North America is an active, operational ministry. Reconciliation Services-FOCUS Kansas City is a pilot program – a model that FOCUS North America is actively working to replicate in 10 communities in the next five years.

An example of a Reconciliation Services-FOCUS Kansas City outreach is the yearly Thanksgiving basket program. The Center provides turkeys, pies and many other items to families who would otherwise be unable to celebrate this holiday. Reconciliation Services-FOCUS Kansas City gets at least 60 turkeys from the local food bank, Harvesters, every year for the baskets. However, this year Harvesters could only supply 24 turkeys. Because they had promised 60 families meals and had even more on a waiting list, a bit of a panic ensued. Thankfully, FOCUS North America through FOCUS Kansas City was able to provide the Thanksgiving turkeys needed. Mother Nicole, Emergency Service Director for Reconciliation Services- FOCUS Kansas City said, “If FOCUS North America hadn’t stepped in and purchased the other needed turkeys, I would have had to call the people signed up for assistance and tell them that I couldn’t help them. What a sad day that would have been.” FOCUS Kansas City provided Thanksgiving meals to 72 families-218 people.

As a vehicle through which people can live out their faith, the organization helps restore living icons – those in need in our own communities who may have fallen through the cracks and need more than a handout but real life-recovery.

“Poverty robs the poor of their human dignity. Our neighbor’s poverty here at home is a moral and social crisis that we have the responsibility to address. Through the national FOCUS Center program and the model developed in FOCUS Kansas City we are helping to unite the faithful to serve Christ and those most in need in their own communities, offering hope and a real chance at new life,” said Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director and CEO of the organization.

Charles Ajalat, Chairman of the Board, agrees that the needs the FOCUS Kansas City program meets are essential.“200 volunteers from local Orthodox Churches in the Kansas City area choose one Friday night per month and roll up their sleeves to prepare and serve meals to the city’s hurting and hungry. FOCUS Kansas City serves 14,000 meals a year. The Center is also helping people get back to work through the document recovery ministry and other counseling services. Together at the FOCUS Kansas City Center, the faithful and those they serve are truly experiencing and revealing the Kingdom of God in the city.”

And as the work is happening in Kansas City, it, too, is beginning to spread.Fr. Paisius Alschul, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services- FOCUS Kansas City, said “There is something that happens when we get together with others in other cities that are thinking along the same lines…there is a pool of people coming together through FOCUS North America that can provide the kind of support and training to other places that wouldn’t have otherwise known how to provide it themselves.”