New Year, New Resolutions!

We are officially one week into the new year of 2019! Praise Be to God!

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? How are they going so far? Many of us make resolutions only to look back and realize a month or two later that we have already left behind our “clean slate” mentality and continued in our old ways.

Thankfully as Orthodox Christians, we believe in repentance and regularly pray for our hearts to be made clean, and renewed in spirit.

If we think of the new year “holiday” through the lens of our faith, as Fr. Steven Kostoff states:

“A ‘holiday’ is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of a ‘holy day;’ so a resolution is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of personal repentance.”

With this mindset, our new year’s resolutions are just another way for us to recommit our hearts to seeking Christ through repentance.

“As members of the Body of Christ living within the grace-filled atmosphere of the Church, we can, in turn, incorporate our resolutions within the ongoing process of repentance.”

Here are some of our resolutions from staff and friends of FOCUS. As you read through, please keep us and those we serve in your prayers! We hope you also consider your own resolutions and how they can be incorporated into our spiritual life of repentance.

Our 2019 Resolutions, from FOCUS Staff and Friends:

To be a good steward of the resources I’ve been given.

Create a center of hope and hospitality this year.

Deepen my repentance in order to cultivate more of the precious and life-giving Holy Spirit.

Be more creative, and specifically to spend more time making things with my hands!

Complete the Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Theology through Antiochian House of Studies, Balamand University, Lebanon.

Respond positively to every personal, social interaction in which I engage.

Always strive to see the best in everyone.

Attend church services more regularly.

Find joy in the present, especially in the people that are immediately in front of me.

Experience and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation every day.

What are your resolutions?

In The Spirit of St. Nicholas

This Advent season, local Orthodox Communities across the country have been partnering with FOCUS to share their blessings. In Minnesota, moving to a new home provides the growing FOCUS Center a great opportunity to meet new neighbors and share in the joy of the holidays. At FOCUS Pittsburgh, neighborhood blocks become an extended family, where neighbors offer encouragement and build one another up in times of trauma, vulnerability and need. In Detroit and West Central PA, volunteers rally around the needs of local children by packing weekend meals kids who would otherwise face food-insecurity.

Aside from these programs, and more, happening at our FOCUS Centers, FOCUS has been busy serving this winter in new communities! Throughout Washington DC, NYC, Bridgeport, Chicago, and San Francisco, a pan-Orthodox effort has been made to connect with and serve neighbors who are homeless and in need.

Volunteers from each location have been hard at work this Advent Season filling and delivering nearly 1000 totes (aka “St. Nicholas Sacks”) stuffed with hygiene kits, snacks, toys and games to individuals, families, and children. In the spirit of the works of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker himself, FOCUS encourages all to worship God through offering selfless giving and sacrificial love.

The life of St. Nicholas offers us wisdom we can use to guide our own lives. Three lessons that stand out to us at FOCUS after reading a summary of his life are: 1) be kind-hearted, 2) distribute all your inheritance to the poor, and 3) do good deeds in secret.

Be Kind-Hearted

Kindness is a virtue. In order to serve each other, and treat others in a Christian way, we must be kind to each other! In today’s world, it’s more common to ignore people than be kind to them! How many times have you been out running errands, or on your commute to work and turned to a cold heart, instead of a kind heart, to get through it? We should strive to be kind-hearted every day and see every moment as an opportunity to let love radiate from our hearts to our surroundings!

Distribute Your Inheritance to The Poor

Jesus expects us to give up everything we have and follow him. If we want to inherit eternal life, we must give up our inheritance on earth. Today, it is easy to live in a bubble of security and ignore or even forget that there are people in need right outside our doors. Our society values “earning” what you have, and doesn’t trust the idea of giving without expecting anything in return. It’s our responsibility to fight this notion, and give freely to one another in times of luxury and in times of need.

Do Good Deeds in Secret

Of all of St. Nicholas’ lessons, this one may be the hardest! One thing humans like to do in this day in age is talk about ourselves. We can do it 24 hours a day with a live audience that grants positive reinforcement on various social media platforms. When we do good deeds, we want to share them – but the bible tells us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing, and to keep our charitable deeds in secret. When we give and say nothing, we allow our gift to truly serve God instead of ourselves.

FOCUS COMPETING AGAINST TOP 5 DETROIT CHARITIES-DONATE TO HELP WIN $20,000

Detroit, MI Dec. 14, 2018— An outpouring of votes and support for FOCUS Detroit from a city-wide network of volunteers, donors, and local community members earned FOCUS Detroit a spot in Round Two of Detroit News’ Cheer for Charity campaign. FOCUS Detroit is now one of only five top charities competing for the grand prize of $20,000.

Cheer for Charity is an annual fundraiser organized by Detroit News to support local, community focused non-profit organizations during the holiday season. For Round Two of the competition, supporters must cast their vote by making a donation to their favorite cause. Each charity keeps the money they raise, and whichever raises the most, wins an additional $20,000. It’s a win-win for the children, educators, and families FOCUS serves in Detroit!

FOCUS Detroit provides impoverished and at-risk children with tools and resources they need to access opportunities for success. By partnering with schools, churches and businesses, FOCUS Detroit ensures these at-risk children have all that they need to succeed in school and in life.

FOCUS Detroit’s programs target three areas of need: childhood hunger/food insecurity, educational insufficiency, and lack of life essential resources. These needs are met through programs that include after school classes and literacy tutoring, year round weekend food sacks plus summer feeding for kids, and essentials like hygiene kits and winter coats.

  • $20 helps our tutoring program reach more kids
  • $50 feeds 20 food insecure children a healthy meal
  • $20,000 would provide 8,000 weekend food sacks for children

VOTE for FOCUS Detroit by making a small donation ($10 minimum) through our Crowd Rise Campaign! Follow our Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the competition and see how your donation is put to action every day!

Donation Link: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/focus-detroit1

FOCUS NAMED TOP CHARITY IN DETROIT-VOTE TO HELP WIN $20,000

Detroit, MI Nov. 29, 2018— Detroit News named FOCUS Detroit one of the top 15 charities in the city and launched a competition that will give one winner $20,000 towards their cause! YOU can make a difference in the lives of the children and families FOCUS Detroit serves by voting for FOCUS Detroit through the Cheer for Charity website.

Cheer for Charity is an annual fundraiser organized by Detroit News to support local, community focused non-profit organizations during the holiday season. FOCUS Detroit is honored to be among the 15 charities chosen this year.

Through our programs, FOCUS Detroit is empowering children experiencing poverty to have what they need to access opportunities, succeed, and live fruitful lives. By partnering with schools, churches and businesses, FOCUS Detroit ensures the children they serve have all they need to succeed in school.

FOCUS Detroit’s programs target three areas of need: childhood hunger and food insecurity, educational insufficiency, and lack of life essential resources. These needs are met through programs that include after school coding classes and literacy tutoring; year round weekend food sacks and summer feeding for kids; and life-essentials like hygiene kits and winter coats!

$20,000 would help us provide over 6,500 meals, 13,000 food pantry items, or 3,000 winter jackets for kids!

Now YOU can join FOCUS in making a difference in the lives of Detroit children and families by VOTING to help us win $20,000.

VOTE for FOCUS Detroit once per day per email address until December 7th. The five charities with the most votes will move on to round two in the competition!

Vote Link: http://detroitnews.secondstreetapp.com/2018-Cheer-for-Charity/gallery/135235929

Gratitude Tuesday

This month, FOCUS is preparing for GRATITUDE TUESDAY on November 27th.

You might be asking “what is Gratitude Tuesday?”

You are probably more familiar with observing “Giving Tuesday,” the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which has become a mainstream day of giving . On giving Tuesday people who have spent the past hectic days navigating black Friday crowds, and speed shopping during online-only-flash-sale frenzies, are encouraged to give back.

Don’t get us wrong – as a nonprofit, we love the idea of giving Tuesday! But, while reflecting on this nationally observed day of giving, we realized maybe this time a pause is more important than another push

and just like that, Gratitude Tuesday was born!

On Gratitude Tuesday, we want to recognize the simple gifts we can give to each other every day.

The virtues of faith, hope, knowledge, wisdom, honesty, humility, obedience, patience, courage, faithfulness, self-control, kindness, and gratitude are all gifts God gave to us by becoming man to help us live more like Him.

“Generally speaking, all of the human virtues are attributes of God Himself. They are the characteristics of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God in human flesh. They are the divine properties which should be in all human persons by the gift of God in creation and salvation through Christ. (The Virtues)

As we approach Advent, and our anticipation of the miracle of Christ’s Nativity draws closer,  we all need to work hard to embody the virtues, starting with gratitude!

The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God (cf. Jn 3.27).
In the Old Testament, thanksgiving was central in the life of God’s people. The temple liturgy offered sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise, and psalms sang continually of thanksgiving to God.

In the New Testament, thanksgiving is the very essence of the Church’s life. The word eucharist means thanksgiving, and the very center of the Church’s liturgical worship of God is when, in remembrance of all His saving acts in Christ, the faithful “lift up their hearts” and “give thanks unto the Lord.”

To thank God in everything and for everything is the result of faith and faithfulness in God. It is the result of absolute trust in the Lord who knows best what we need for our salvation and does all that He can within the evil conditions of the world to bring us to eternal life, to peace and to joy.” (The Virtues)

Keep in touch (click subscribe – top right of this page) because leading up to Gratitude Tuesday on November 27th, we have planned some ways to say thank you, and show how grateful we are to have you in our community! Stay tuned, and join us in adopting an “attitude of gratitude” as we all work towards embracing the spiritual virtues.

God Gives The Increase

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  -1Corinthians 3:6-9 

On a YES trip last weekend, our first task on a Saturday morning was to do work on a local urban farm – weeding, beautifying, and cleaning in preparation for a community event later in the day. We were divided into groups. Some of us were working patches of earth, pulling weeds and turning the soil in preparation for seed. Others were in the flower garden, cutting dead marigold blooms and sprinkling the seeds back at the base of each plant.

We worked for two hours before having to leave and move on to our next portion of the day. As we reflected on our service, we realized that we were leaving and would never see the “reward” of our actions.

Sometimes we expect instant gratification without even realizing it. So much of what goes on around us day to day reinforces the idea of instant, visible, and measurable rewards.

Because we have learned to expect instant gratification, it can be a challenge to invest our time, emotions, and efforts into something and feel like there is no difference or change. We have to recognize that any impact we make doesn’t come from us, but from God. There is always going to be a result, even if we can’t observe or participate in each step it took to get there.

Childhood Poverty: how can we take the next step?

This summer, FOCUS partnered with communities across the country who committed themselves to understanding local needs and taking action to make a difference!

There are around 15 million children in the United States who live below the federal poverty threshold (21%).

“Most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty” (NCCP).

Take a look at our social media and you’ll see we have been sharing updates from our summer projects: back to school backpacks and summer feeding. Both projects set out to mobilize communities to serve children living in poverty by sharing resources and basic needs like food, books, pens, pencils, and other items that may be out of reach in times of financial struggle for many parents, families, or even teachers.

We are so thankful that our work motivates people to get involved in their local communities! Whether you participated this summer through prayer, volunteering, or donating, we hope you consider ways you can continue serving vulnerable children in your area.

We are so thankful that our work motivates people to get involved in their local communities! Whether you participated this summer through prayer, volunteering, or donating, we hope you consider ways you can continue serving vulnerable children in your area.

Take some time to learn about childhood poverty, and how it affects your community! This interactive mapfrom Kids Count is a great resource to explore local data. Do your research. Go out and observe what needs exist, and what resources are already offered in your community. Often these two steps will lead you towards a way to get involved, whether that means volunteering as a tutor at a local school, organizing a food drive at church, or inspiration for a totally new project!

Another great resource is The National Center for Children in Povertywho publishes facts every year about childhood poverty. To close out this post, here are some facts you may not have known:

Children are more likely to be poor than adults.The percentage of low-income children under age 18 years surpasses the percentage of low-income adults. In addition, children are more than twice as likely as adults 65 years and older to be poor

Parents of poor children work hard.Many low-income and poor children have parents who work full time. About half (53.5 percent) of low-income children and 32 percent of poor children live with at least one parent employed full time, year round.

Poor children are less likely to have a stable place to call home.Research suggests that stable housing is important for healthy child development. However, children living in low-income families are 50 percent more likely as other children to have moved in the past year and nearly three times as likely to live in families that rent, rather than own, a home.

Poor children go without insurance, or depend on public programs for health care.Public insurance programs cover 40 percent of all children, an increase since 2010 (Figure 15). They reach many more economically disadvantaged children than do private plans, covering 73 percent of low-income children and 84 percent of poor children.

Only half of low-income children are receiving nutrition assistance.Among low-income children, almost half (49 percent) receive SNAP benefits. This percent has remained relatively unchanged since 2010, after peaking in 2012 at 51 percent.

 

 

Stereotypes vs. Compassionate Thinking

Last week at the OCA All American Council, about 50 teens from all over the country had a chance to visit FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis. After an introduction from Fr. Patrick, director of FOCUS Gateway City, groups formed and rotated between accomplishing needed work at the Center’s pantry and community garden, and participating in a reflection about serving in the Orthodox context with Youth Equipped to Serve (YES).

During YES Trips, there is always an effort to spend the entire first evening in preparation – going through different orientation discussions and activities that help set the tone for the entire weekend.

At the All American Council, we didn’t have the teens for a whole weekend. Instead we shared only two hours together. However, in those two hours we were able to discuss what we mean when we say “On earth as it is in Heaven.” We unpacked perceptions and stereotypes we may have when confronted with issues of poverty, homelessness, and suffering. And we left with hope and faith that we can stretch ourselves to serve the true image of Christ in each other, instead of serving a false image of ourselves.

What are stereotypes?

A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people.

Imagine the image of a homeless man sleeping on a park bench – you’re passing by on your way to work. What are some thoughts and feelings that come to mind when you walk by?

“Automatic negative stereotypes and biases that pop unbidden and unannounced into our heads are often triggered by super-simple things like the color of another person’s skin, the clothes they wear, or their style of communication.”

Let’s say when you see the homeless man sleeping on the bench, you think to yourself that he should get up and do something productive with his day instead of being lazy – then maybe he wouldn’t have to sleep outside. His life could be better if he stopped being lazy worked harder. This is a common stereotype many people have when thinking about the issue of homelessness.

Stereotypes begin as thoughts. When thoughts go unchallenged, they become beliefs. Quickly we begin to accept these beliefs as truths. Without even realizing it, false truths about humanity can influence not only our inner thoughts, but also our outward behaviors and actions – how we treat other humans.

By failing to challenge our own stereotypes we can end up living according to our own truths. Living according to our own truths allows barriers to build between ourselves and our neighbors who are also created in the image and likeness of Christ – our only Truth.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6

On your way home from work, the same man you saw before is awake and approaches you for some money for the bus. You dismiss his need, thinking to yourself if he wasn’t lazy he could have earned enough for 10 bus rides since the last time you saw him. Plus – you’ve worked hard for your money and sometimes feel financially stressed yourself so why give cash to someone who probably is going to waste or misuse what you share anyways?

All of these thoughts that stem from our stereotypes remove the opportunity we all have to respond to the man as Christ would.

So, what can we do about our stereotypes? It’s all about becoming more conscious about our beliefs and truths. “Consider the possibility that you can have thoughts without believing them.  You can learn, with time, to simply notice negative stereotypes and biases that pop into your head.  And with practice, as you get better at noticing them, they have a smaller and smaller impact on you.”

Imagine the homeless man sleeping on the bench again, and reframe your initial thoughts and stereotypes with compassion.

The man on the bench is sleeping during the day because he works the night shift at a local factory to earn enough money to pay child support for his children while saving for a security deposit for his own apartment.

Would you treat this man differently if this was his story? What if he really was lazy and spending his days sleeping instead of reaching his full potential…does this justify you treating him negatively?

The challenge of compassionate thinking is that no matter the story, or the degree of “truth” behind the stereotype we must challenge ourselves to serve the Icon of Christ that is in everyone. It’s hard work and might not always feel comfortable, but it is necessary work if we want to be a witness to the Kingdom and live “On earth as it is in Heaven.”

 

Announcement: Appointment of FOCUS Center Director

FOCUS West Central PennsylvaniaAnnouncement: Appointment of FOCUS Center Director

July 24, 2018

FOCUS North America is pleased to announce the appointment of Fr. Seraphim Moslener as Director of the FOCUS Center for West Central Pennsylvania (WCPA), effective immediately. Fr Seraphim is the Priest at St. John the Evangelist Orthodox Church and has served the community for many years in various capacities. He previously served in the capacity of Center Director for this area and will resume the role of leading service efforts to those in need, working with local volunteers and organizations and Eastern Orthodox Christian parishes to provide food and care for people in need. Among the programs of service to people in need of assistance are weekend meal packs to students, a monthly meal served to the hungry and a food pantry. Along with Fr. Seraphim, the WCPA FOCUS Center volunteers and the Advisory Board and community members have distinguished themselves by their service to those in need and will continue to seek ways to expand its services.

FOCUS North America is a national movement of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America. FOCUS has operations and youth volunteer experiences in cities throughout the United States.

For more information about FOCUS WCPA, please visit their website http://www.focuswestcentralpa.org/ and the FOCUS North America website https://focusnorthamerica.org/

FOCUS WCPA Announcement – Center Director Appointed – July 2018

These Saints Show Us How To Serve Those In Need

St. Juliana the Merciful

Lifelong Service

The life of St. Juliana the Merciful shows us how we can serve in every stage of our lives. As a young girl, St. Juliana’s mother and father died, and she lived with her aunt and cousins. St. Juliana used her gift of sewing as a ministry to the poor by secretly crafting beautiful things at night when others thought she was asleep and then using the money she received from selling what she made to buy food and clothing for those in need. She carried this love for the poor into her adulthood, constantly denying herself and serving those around her, finding “the more she helped others, the brighter and more joyful she became, and more everyone loved her.”

 

St. Myron the Wonderworker and Bishop of Crete

Selfless Giving

What would you do if someone came to steal something of yours? Your first instinct may not be to pack an extra bag of goodies for the robber before sending them happily on their way. However, this is just the example and standard St. Myron sets for us! Known for his goodness and willingness to assist everyone who turned to him for help, St. Myron even helped robbers who came to steal grain from his own farm! He gave what he had selflessly, even to robbers who intended to take what they wanted selfishly, and “by his generosity the saint so shamed the thieves, that in future they began to lead honorable lives.”

 

St. John the Merciful Patriarch of Alexandria

Recognizing Christ

St. John the Merciful considered the chief task of his archpastoral service to be charitable. Twice a week he would receive everyone in need at the cathedral. He would serve in many ways, by settling quarrels, helping the wronged, and distributing alms. His example of giving shows us that it is not up to us to decide who to serve and who to turn away – for St. John never refused anyone. Even when a beggar approached to receive charity, only to deceptively change his clothes and come back for more, St. John did not turn him away. The beggar came back a third time and servants began to chase him away but St. John stopped them, and gave the beggar double of what he had received the first two times saying “perhaps he is Christ putting me to the test.”