Remember the excitement of going back to school each fall—the anticipation of homeroom, new classes, and reuniting with friends after the long summer vacation?
For too many children across America, the new school year brings another, unwelcome anxiety: worrying whether they will get enough food to eat.
Here in America – today – nearly fifteen million children live below the poverty line.
One of FOCUS’ key activities is providing nutritious meals to students who would otherwise go hungry.
Nine year-old Liam is one recipient. His parents are struggling to make ends meet. There simply isn’t enough money to feed the family throughout the week.
This autumn, FOCUS began a partnership with Liam’s school. On Friday afternoons, FOCUS volunteers bring Liam, and more than 100 of his fellow students, meals to last through the weekend. They also bring good cheer, spending time talking with Liam and his classmates. Parents, students, and school administrators have been incredibly thankful.
One recent weekend though, something surprising happened; Liam’s meals didn’t make it home.
As it turns out, on his bus ride home, Liam realized that he wasn’t the only hungry child. Little by little, he gave away his weekend meals to other children on the bus. By the time he reached his home, he had given all of his food away.
All throughout the country, FOCUS is impacting and inspiring the lives of children through initiatives like this one.“Our mission is to show the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” FOCUS Pittsburgh local director Paul Abernathy said, “But every now and then, those we seek to help show us their own beautiful acts of mercy. It’s very moving.”
Earlier this month, FOCUS, together with the Fred Jordan mission, provided 3,000 children with back-to-school supplies including shoes, backpacks, and even free haircuts!
Your support and donation to FOCUS helps to demonstrate the love of Christ by ensuring that every child goes back to school in a dignified way.
Football season is here! Team up with FOCUS advisory board member, Theodora Polamalu, and her husband, All-Pro Safety and Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Polamalu, in FOCUS North America’s Tackle Poverty campaign, the organization’s key initiative to help the homeless and working poor in America.
“Our participation in this ministry is very personal, because Troy struggled in his youth with poverty,” Mrs. Polamalu said, “By God’s grace, Troy was able to overcome the circumstances he grew up in. However, not everyone is as fortunate as Troy.”
The Tackle Poverty initiative supports FOCUS’ sustainable assistance programs, providing “hand-up, not hand-out” interventions to help poor families and individuals live self-sufficient and successful lives.
FOCUS’ programs provide targeted services, like housing assistance, job training and professional counseling that help people move off of dependency programs.
Chris Ridley came to FOCUS after hitting rock bottom and spending seven years in prison. “I messed everything up,” Ridley said. “It only took five minutes and one big mistake.”
At his lowest point, he prayed and recommitted his life to God, “I fell to my knees and said, ‘Show me what you have for my life,’” he said.
At FOCUS, Chris found the love, support and help that he needed to support his transformation. Through FOCUS’ assistance, he has built a new and productive life for himself. “My goal is to show others that no matter what a person’s past is, it’s who they are now that matters,” Ridley said. “I represent true change that can impact the world.”
“We want to hear stories like that,” Mrs. Polamalu said, “We want to hear more stories of how people can overcome their difficult circumstances and come to understand their importance in life and that God loves them. We feel that through FOCUS these stories are real possibilities.”
Join FOCUS as we continue to help serve people in need here in America. Click here to make a donation today and help Tackle Poverty.
Each Sunday, Bob Pace volunteers at the FOCUS Center in Orange County, California. He has met hundreds of people over the past two years, but one in particular stands out: a young man, Patrick, who first came to the center one Sunday evening for a meal.
“When he arrived his wife had recently left him. He was living in a motel. He was totally broken,” Pace said.
Over the next several months, Bob and Patrick ate together each Sunday evening. Over time, they shared heartfelt conversations and came to know each other well.
And then, without explanation, Patrick suddenly stopped coming to the center.
“He disappeared and I didn’t see him for six months,” said Pace. “I didn’t know what to think, but I feared the worst. It can be really tough to see someone downslide.”
One Sunday Patrick reappeared out of the blue. This time, he didn’t come for the meal.
“He came back because he missed us. His life was back on track, and he wanted us to know he was doing well,” Pace said. As they sat and talked, Patrick told Pace that through their many conversations, he had been moved to reconcile with his wife. He was able to see himself more clearly, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes he had made.
“We see everyone who comes in to the center as an image of Christ,” Pace said. “We don’t talk specifically about religion. We just talk. Differences evaporate between us as we get to know one another and share about our lives.”
At FOCUS North America, stories like Bob and Patrick’s are commonplace. Every week throughout America, FOCUS brings people together from all walks of life for programs and services. In the process, friendships are built and lives are transformed.
“When people in need walk through the doors of a FOCUS center, they find not only a warm meal and new clothes, they also find a welcoming family and a place to belong,” said Executive Director Nicholas Chakos. “Our programs and initiatives foster friendships—between and among those who come for help and our volunteers. As these relationships blossom, we see incredible change.”
Volunteering at one of the many FOCUS Centers located across the country is one of the most rewarding ways to get involved with the hands-on operations of FOCUS North America. Each month, an average of 500 volunteer hours are logged at each Center.
“It’s Orthodox Christians coming together through FOCUS and leveraging their talents to help those who need it the most,” Executive Director Nicholas Chakos said, “But while they come to help others, it’s often the volunteers who experience the greatest transformation in their lives.”
While FOCUS’ aim is to provide assistance to the homeless and working poor by moving them off of the streets and into sustainable housing and employment so they can live self-sufficient lives, the volunteers who serve with FOCUS go above and beyond providing basic outreach services. They bring true friendship and compassion to those they serve.
“I think I get a little bit more out of it than the other people do,” said Albert Salsich a volunteer, “I’ve made some friends here, not just among the volunteers but among the people who come in. It’s a community.”
Salsick first began volunteering at a local FOCUS clothing giveaway. So inspired by his experience that day, he continued to come on a weekly basis. He now volunteers twice a week and wishes he could volunteer more.
“Twice a week is not enough for me,” Salsich said, “I wish I had more time to come down.”
Volunteering with FOCUS has given him a new perspective of the city where he has lived his entire life. “I was a teacher for many years in the Suburbs. I just never spent any time in the city, and so I’ve gotten a whole new view of my hometown and what life is like. I’m just sorry I missed that so many years ago.”
FOCUS North America’s volunteer program is the largest Orthodox volunteer network in the nation and is growing exponentially. Through FOCUS, volunteers of all ages can participate in hands-on activities serving the poor. Visit focusnorthamerica.org to learn how you can volunteer at a FOCUS Center or on a short-term volunteer team.
Sdn. Paul Abernathy, graduate of St. Tikhon’s Seminary and the director of the Pittsburgh branch of FOCUS North America, speaks at the 19th Annual Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference. The conference was held May 25th-27th, 2012 at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
FOCUS North America is helping single and underserved mothers across the country find suitable housing and daycare, while providing them with many other vital services that enable them to thrive and properly care for their children.
Twenty-Four year-old, Candace Johnson was 7 months pregnant, living on the street with a three-year old daughter, but she refused to give up the hope of finding a better life.
“I was about to have a baby, and I couldn’t have my baby on the street in the snow,” she said, “There was always some sort of stipulation that prevented me from finding help. In all of the social assistance programs I went to, I was turned away and undervalued, as if it was my fault I was on the street.”
But in coming to the Pittsburgh FOCUS Center, Candace found something different.
“I told them my need and right away [Center Director] Paul Abernathy said ‘We’re going to help you.’ Period. There was no ‘I’m going to get back to you’. He told me ‘We’re going make it happen.’ And he made it happen.”
By the end of the day, FOCUS staff had successfully enrolled Candace and her daughter in transitional housing
“It’s difficult for single mothers when they’re in times of transition,” Paul Abernathy said, “Looking for work and housing is extremely challenging when you are taking care of two or three children.”
Throughout the many FOCUS Centers around the country, mothers are not only finding sustenance, but hundreds of moms are taking time out of their day to volunteer their precious time and valuable skills to help FOCUS reach out and provide crucial programs.
Meredith Burnett heard from a friend about FOCUS and immediately began volunteering four days a week with her son Samuel at the Center in Pittsburgh.
“It’s just people helping people,” she said, “I love that.”
It wasn’t long before Meredith became a key leader in the Center’s backpack feeding program.
“The program currently provides 50 children with food over the weekend,” she said, “These kids don’t eat if they aren’t receiving meals at school.”
Since her first day at FOCUS Candace Johnson has made great strides. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy and she and her children now live with her sister. She continues to come to the FOCUS center to volunteer and she participates in the Wednesday evening Bible study.
FOCUS continues to support, assist, and honor mothers, not only on Mother’s Day—but every day, as they establish and inspire value in the most rewarding and joyful job in the world.
Bobby Maddex interviews Nicholas Chakos, the new Executive Director of FOCUS North America, the Orthodox service organization devoted to serving “the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned by providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter.”